It’s no secret the market for point-and-shoot cameras is shrinking. Ironically, the cameras themselves are significantly improving with each generation, and now provide most of the capabilities previously only found in DSLRs and mirrorless models. Nikon’s new DL family of cameras is a continuation of this trend. The three models, the DL18-50, DL24-85, and DL24-500, all feature 21MP 1-inch format sensors, which by itself have become common for high-end point-and-shoots. But it’s the feature set and performance numbers that move the DL family ahead of Nikon’s other compacts.
Compacts are starting to match and even beat DSLRs in Autofocus and Speed
The introduction of hybrid Autofocus — a system which includes phase-detect AF and contrast-detect AF — has revolutionized photography. High-speed AF was formerly the exclusive domain of bulky DSLRs, with their dedicated phase-detect AF sensors. Now that sensors themselves can contain contrast-detection elements, inexpensive cameras can achieve the same or even faster AF performance in many situations. The Nikon DL family features 105 phase-detect and 171 contrast-detect AF points, which feed data to their updated EXPEED6A processor.
Frame rates for compact and mirrorless cameras have also gone beyond those of DSLRs. Because they don’t need to slam a mirror up and down every shot, crazy-fast speeds like the 60fps maximum for the DL family are possible. The small cameras still don’t have the total package of high-end electronics and dedicated phase-detect sensors that flagship DSLRs do, so there are still plenty of applications for the more-expensive, bulkier models. But for most people, performance like that of the DL family or Canon’s newest X-series models will be more than adequate.
No more slow lenses
Compact cameras used to be further limited with “slow” lenses (those with small maximum apertures, typified by a higher minimum f-number). The DL family has “fast” lenses, with the DL18-50 and DL24-85 featuring f/1.8-2.8 variable maximum aperture lenses, and the DL24-500 and f/2.8-f/5.6 version. The faster lenses help create shallow-depth-of-focus scenes, although because the sensor is smaller than in a DSLR, the cameras still can’t isolate quite as well as a DSLR with a similarly speced lens. The faster lenses also create additional low-light shooting options.
A hotshoe for EVF or add-on Flash
Anyone used to a DSLR or rangefinder camera is also used to a viewfinder. While the 18-50 and 24-85 DL models don’t have a built-in EVF, Nikon has announced an optional add-on EVF, the DF-E1. The larger DL24-500 does include an EVF, positioned similarly to where the optical viewfinder is on a DSLR. Unlike early-generation electronic viewfinders, which were a poor substitute for optical versions, the newest model EVFs are fast, high-resolution, and provide real time previews of your camera settings. The cameras’ hot shoes also allow for an add-on flash, if the built-in version isn’t sufficient — not at the same time as the EVF of course. Nikon DSLR shooters will also like that Nikon has made the DL family controls similar to that on its higher-end cameras. Clearly one target market for the DLs is as an “every day” camera for Nikon DSLR owners.
Video and a few downsides
The DL family all support 4K UHD video recording at 30p, with audio from a built-in stereo microphone. It also has built-in optical image stabilization. As with most current high-end compacts, the DL family all feature Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth. ISO can be bumped to 12,800. The shutter speed ranges from 30 seconds to 1/2000 of a second. The cameras are on the bulky side for a point and shoot (even before you add an EVF), with the lightest, the DL18-50, weighing in at nearly 13 ounces. Sadly, there is no GPS in the unit, continuing the unfortunate trend of ignoring one of the single most helpful technologies for keeping track of your images.
Unfortunately, you can’t just rush out to the store and buy one of these cameras yet. Nikon has said they will be available in early summer. The DL18-50 has a street pre-order price of about $ 850, the DL24-85 of $ 650, and the DL24-500 of $ 1000. The DF-E1 EVF hasn’t been priced yet.
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