Olympus: Why PEN is mightier than the Nikon 1

Compact system rival offers a "better overall system"

Nikon V1

Update: read our V1 Nikon 1 review or J1

In an exclusive interview with TechRadar, Mark Thackara, national marketing manager, consumer products for Olympus UK spoke to us about market reaction to the new cameras.

The Olympus PEN was one of the first compact system cameras to come to market, sharing the same micro four thirds system as the Panasonic G1 which was announced a few months previously.

Since the launch of the first PEN back in 2009, the E-P1, several different versions of the PEN range have been launched, with the current line-up including the PEN E-P3, the PEN 'Lite' E-PL3 and the PEN 'Mini' E-PM1.

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Sensor sizes

Nikon's N1 range introduces another sensor size to the market, smaller than both the APS-C sized sensors of Sony's NEX and Samsung's NX ranges. The big difficulty for the industry, according to Thackara, is going to be explaining to consumers the key differences. "The big challenge is to try and explain, without resorting to a slanging match, why there are now so many sensor sizes and pixel counts," he said.

Thackara admits that it will be up to camera sellers to inform the buying public, "Much also rests with the big retailers in terms of selling the idea to the less informed buyer," he explained. "In Japan they have really embraced this and are reaching new audiences."

Compact system cameras are much more popular in Japan than they are in the UK, with more than half of the top 20 best-selling cameras being mirrorless. Highest in that list is the Olympus PEN E-P3.

Before Nikon launched its N1 range, the combined shares of Nikon and Canon had declined in Japan, with blame being attributed to a lack of a CSC model from either company.

Here in the UK however, compact system cameras haven't taken off with quite so much gusto, as demonstrated by the fact that there are no compact systems in Amazon UK's top 40 best-selling cameras.

Consumer choice

For consumers that do want to invest in a mirrorless system, they now have the choice between Nikon, Samsung, Sony, Olympus and Pentax, which, according to Thackara is a good thing.

"Choice for the consumer is good, and the [Nikon] camera itself has some new features which are a sign of what has been discussed about the potential of mirrorless for some time," he said. "I suspect we will see a lot more of that and many other performance benefits that mirrored cameras cannot match."

Nikon has been keen to point out the small form factor of its Nikon V1 and N1, which it says is the direct result of using the smaller sensor. However, Thackara points out that the smallest pen, the PEN Mini appears to be smaller, while still using the same micro four thirds sensor of its bigger brothers.

It is not size however that Thackara believes will be paramount to compact system success, but the quality of the system as a whole. "Our emphasis in the short term will be on the optics married to our established system and what they can deliver," he explained.

Some critics were disappointed by the lack of a wide-apertured lens to sit in the Nikon 1 range, while Olympus recently launched a 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens.

"There will be the usual debates about the various performance pros and cons relating to image quality, flexibility and so on, but my view is that it will be the overall system that is vital to success and battle lines are drawn," he continued.

As for why consumers should be drawn to the PEN over the new Nikon system, Thackara says that both the maturity of the system and the range of lenses should be considered, "the balance of body size, lens and sensor size offers a better overall package," he explained.

For more on how the new Nikon V1 compares with existing compact system cameras, read our Nikon V1 vs Olympus PEN E-P3 vs Sony NEX-7 comparison.