The rumoured Nikon premium compact cameras are now a reality with the release of the DL18-50, DL24-85 and DL24-500 models. The big question for many folks is should Nikon 1 owners dump their gear and move to Nikon DL? The answer really depends on the individual needs of the photographer and whether one, or more, of the new Nikon DL models is worth the money to them.
NOTE: I’ve added a few images to create some visual relief rather than having this article be straight type. Click on images to enlarge.
These new cameras do address a range of issues that many Nikon 1 owners have been wanting for some time:
- compatibility with a range of Nikon Speedlights
- faster zoom lenses for more flexibility shooting in low light conditions
- EVF capability, either built in with the DL-24-500, or as an add on with the other models
- use of standard SD cards
- the ability to shoot 4K video at 25p and 30p
- Bluetooth SnapBridge
By incorporating the 20.8MP BSI sensor used in the Nikon 1 J5 the range of Nikon DL cameras do offer buyers improved image performance when compared to previous Nikon 1 models that had Aptina sensors. And, for many users the performance of the new BSI sensor is now close enough to M4/3 that it is acceptable for their needs.
All things considered there is much to like with the new line-up of Nikon DL cameras. So, is it a slam-dunk that Nikon 1 owners will get rid of their gear and move over to the DL line up of premium compact cameras? I don’t think so.
It will really depend on the individual needs of a photographer and whether they are willing to sell their Nikon 1 gear, or cost justify adding another body, or two, or three, to their existing arsenal of camera gear.
Many pro shooters may very well see the Nikon DL as the perfect compromise for their ‘shoot smaller with acceptable quality’ needs, especially if their work requires the use of flashes and/or faster glass. The Nikon DL’s will allow them to use their existing Speedlights, plus they can do away with the finicky micro-SD cards that they were forced to use with Nikon 1 J4/J5/V3 models. So there could be a lot of motivation for some pros and enthusiasts to transition away from Nikon 1 and over to the Nikon DL range.
It is always good to remember that the ‘pro shooter’ segment of the market, while lucrative for camera makers, is quite small in size. Many times we forget that fact and as bloggers/reviewers we make assumptions about consumer behaviour as if everyone had the same needs as professional shooters. Truth is, most camera owners don’t.
So, if you currently own Nikon 1 gear I think it is important to ask yourself some simple questions to determine if a Nikon DL premium compact camera makes sense for you.
- How often do you actually use or need a flash? If you already own a compatible Nikon Speedlight and it is an integral piece of gear for you that you use all the time then a DL body may certainly make sense. Other folks may find that the built in flashes on their Nikon 1 bodies are sufficient for their needs, or perhaps one of the affordable Nikon 1 flashes is all they really need. On a personal basis I no longer even own a flash and I don’t need one for the client work I do. I bring studio lights when required for my video work. But…that’s just me.
- How often would you actually shoot at f/1.8 to f/2.8? For many photographers being able to shoot at more open apertures is a key factor for the work they do as subject separation and bokeh are critical for them. And, if that’s the case many of them likely shoot with full frame gear anyway. Choosing a Nikon 1 or DL camera when a person’s primary photographic need is to achieve image separation and bokeh seems very counter-intuitive to me.
- Some folks may need to shoot at a more open aperture so they can use a faster shutter speed to capture action indoors or under low light conditions. If that’s the case then a DL body like the DL24-85 could make a lot of sense. It strikes me that an equivalent focal range of 24-85mm is still shorter than many folks would need for that type of shooting so I don’t know how much practical use the DL24-85 would actually deliver.
- One of the advantages of shooting with a smaller sensor format like Nikon 1 or DL is the deeper depth-of-field that comes from being able to use wider angle lenses to achieve similar angles of view at identical apertures when compared to using a larger sensor camera. Personally, I almost never shoot anything at more open apertures like f/1.8 to f/2.8 unless I’m doing client video work and lighting conditions dictate it. For the still photography I do I find that I am shooting my Nikon 1 gear at f/8 far more than I did in the past…and I almost never shoot at anything less than f/5.6…but again…that’s just me.
- Do you really need 4K video capability? While it is always exciting to be using more technically advanced gear the most important questions to ask ourselves are: do we really need it, and if we had it we would actually use it? I fell into this trap last year when I sold my D800 and all of my FX lenses and bought a Panasonic GH4 with some pro Panasonic glass, mainly because of the camera’s greater video capability. Once I realized that my business really didn’t need 4K video capability I came to my senses and returned the Panasonic gear for a small restocking charge, and put the cash back into my business.
- What’s the best use of your available budget? Another key consideration for the vast majority of photographers is budget. If a photographer doesn’t need to shoot at faster apertures, and they don’t care about being able to use a Nikon Speedlight, is buying a Nikon DL24-85 really a better use of their money than buying a Nikon 1 J5 with the 10-30mm PD zoom?
- In Canada the DL24-85 costs $830 compared to $550 for the J5 kit, a difference of $280.00. If someone wanted to be able to add wide angle capability it would cost an extra $1,030 in Canada to buy the DL18-50 for a total investment of $1,860 for the two DL bodies. The Nikon 1 J5 owner could add the 6.7-13mm lens for $550 for a total investment of $1,100. That’s a difference of $760.
- It’s fine for a pro shooter to ‘poo poo’ a cost difference of $280 or even $760 because of faster glass and Speedlight compatibility. For a lot of regular folks the difference in price is a serious consideration, especially since both cameras likely use the identical sensor, and for many of them the J5 would be a much better choice.
- Based on some of the published specifications for the lenses that are incorporated in the DL-series cameras it appears that the optics should be quite good. Even if we assume that the DL-series produces somewhat better image quality with the DL18-50 and DL24-85 than would a J5 with kit lenses that difference still may not be as relevant as price for many buyers, especially if they don’t print their images at large sizes.
So, while I think that the Nikon DL series of cameras have got some great features that will appeal to a lot of photographers, I’ve already decided that buying any of them makes absolutely no sense at all for my business. I’ll just continue using my Nikon 1 gear and keep my clients happy doing what I’ve been doing for them.
The Nikon 1 system has always attracted a lot of naysayers and negativity and Nikon has not done itself any favours with some of the strange decisions that the company made with the product line. Many folks who already dislike the Nikon 1 system will look at the DL-series of cameras as the ‘last nail in the coffin’ for Nikon 1. To me this overlooks important market segmentation and strategy considerations.
I see the DL-series as being targeted against other premium compact cameras from manufacturers like Sony and others. Truth is, if anyone wanted to leave the Nikon 1 system for a CX-based compact zoom camera they could have already done so by switching to another manufacturer. And, they still might. Nikon was missing the CX compact camera market niche completely and the DL-series fills a large hole in Nikon’s overall product mix.
From a marketing strategy perspective it makes no sense to me that Nikon would try to compete against interchangeable lens M4/3 cameras with the DL-series. These are different product formats aimed at different buyers. Enhancing the Nikon 1 system is the best way for Nikon to take on M4/3 ILC. The J5 is now better positioned on the lower end of the price scale, and Nikon needs a true flagship V-series model to take on the best from Olympus and Panasonic.
Am I worried that the Nikon 1 series will just wither away and die? Not really. If anything the specifications of the Nikon DL bodies make me even more optimistic about what a future V5 (I think Nikon will skip the V4 name) may look like in the future . Unlike many people I think there is real potential for a V5 to be significantly differentiated from both the J5 and the Nikon DL series, and become a true flagship model aimed at more professional shooters. Some of those thoughts were included in an earlier article that I wrote on where the Nikon 1 system may fit in the future.
Chances are I could be completely wrong of course. And, if I am I’m still not worried. I have a sufficient amount of Nikon 1 gear to last me for at least three years or so. After that I may stop doing client work anyway and I’d need to rethink my camera needs at that time.
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