Nikon 1 Ahead of Its Time?

Just over 8 years ago Nikon launched the Nikon 1 series of cameras. The last new camera model was the J5 which came to market in April 2015. As we all know, the product line was discontinued by Nikon in July 2018. The end of Nikon 1 did not come as a surprise to most people. All kinds of criticism has been heaped on Nikon regarding this product line and its demise. Lately I’ve been wondering if Nikon 1 was simply ahead of its time.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge. Photographs have been added to serve as visual breaks.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 6.7 mm, efov 18.1 mm, f/5.6, 1/200, ISO-400

No doubt the 1″ Aptina sensors in various Nikon 1 cameras had some challenges in terms of their dynamic range and colour depth performance. On the other hand, the 20.8 MP BSI sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 was a significant upgrade and performed quite well.

Deirbhile’s Twist, Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

There isn’t much to complain about with the sensor performance of the Nikon 1 J5. While the camera didn’t compare that well against APS-C cameras equipped with Sony sensors, it actually did well against Canon APS-C cameras of that time period.

Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 27.2 mm, efov 73.4 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

For example, according to DxOMark testing the 1″ 20.8 MP BSI sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 scored 12.0 EV of dynamic range. This is the same score as the Canon EOS 750 D and 760 D (both launched in February 2015).

Herbertville, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 30 mm, efov 81 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-160

According to DxOMark testing, dynamic range performance of the Nikon 1 J5 was better than a number of Canon APS-C cameras of similar or newer vintage. These include the Canon EOS M3 (Canon EOS 2000D (11.9 EV, launched Feb 2018), the Canon EOS 1300 D (11.7 EV, launched Mar 2016), the Canon EOS 4000 D (11.4 EV, launched Feb 2018). and the Canon EOS M10 (11.4 EV, launched Oct 2015).

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/640, ISO-160

I don’t recall hearing anyone criticize those Canon APS-C cameras for having poor dynamic range performance. For some reason, trolls on the internet saved their venom for Nikon 1.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 83 mm, efov 224 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-3200. 10 mm extension tube used

In terms of colour depth the Nikon 1 J5 scored 22-bits according to DxOMark. This is the same as the Canon EOS 1300 D (launched in Mar 2016) and higher than the Canon EOS 4000D (21.9-bits, launched in Feb 2018).

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 48 mm, efov 129.6 mm, f/5.6, 1/25, ISO-400

It makes a person wonder what ‘could have been’ if Nikon would have brought out a Nikon 1 V4 with a top-of-the-line 1″ Sony sensor and developed the J-Series cameras further.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261 mm, efov 704.7 mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-360, 10 frames per second

One of the performance factors that was important to me when adding Olympus gear to our kit was fast frame rates. With our E-M1X we can shoot up to 60 frames-per-second with the first frame locking focus, and up to 18 frames-per-second with continuous auto-focus. Camera reviewers have gushed about this performance in their reviews of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 250 mm, efov 675 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250

My Nikon 1 V-Series cameras are also capable of shooting at 60 frames-per-second. The V2 can shoot at 15 frames-per-second with continuous auto-focus. The V3 up to 20 frames-per-second with continuous auto-focus. Many other cameras, even today, cannot match that performance. My V2’s were launched in October 2012 and my V3’s in March 2014. It appears that Nikon 1 frame rate performance was ahead of its time and not fully appreciated.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-250

When coupled with the 1 Nikkor 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens, the V-Series cameras make a lightweight birding and nature kit that excels in moderate to good light. Even today, there’s not much on the market that can match Nikon 1 from a performance/size perspective with this subject matter (again in moderate to good light). Perhaps another example of Nikon 1 being ahead of its time.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110 mm, efov 297 mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-1400, extension tube used

For close up photography the Nikon 1 system was also terrific when used with extension tubes. The 1 Nikkor 30-110 f/3.8-5.6 is my favourite zoom lens to use for this type of photography when using the Nikon 1 system. There are plenty of articles on this website that showcase this capability.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400

Our Nikon 1 gear did yeoman’s service during our recent trips to Ireland and Italy… as it did with our various trips to New Zealand in the past. The J5 along with the 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 and the 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 make an excellent, lightweight, and flexible travel kit. Perhaps it was ahead of its time as a small and light interchangeable lens camera system…  but it is still very relevant for travel photography today.

Tairua, New Zealand, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 26 mm, efov 70.2 mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO-160

The camera market is certainly changing with manufacturers making a big push towards full frame gear. It makes me wonder if this shift may further erode camera market volumes. As the average age of photographers who use dedicated cameras continues to increase, it would seem logical that more people will be looking for smaller and lighter camera gear in the future. With the move to full frame maybe many of them will just stop buying camera gear and use cellphones like their kids.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/13, ISO-400

Will the potential move from a cellphone to a full frame camera be too big of a leap for a younger person to make? Many of them have no first hand experience using a dedicated camera. A smaller, lighter kit like Nikon 1 may have resonated with them, and served as a good bridge into using dedicated camera gear.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 59.4 mm, efov 160.4 mm, f/4.5, 1/15, ISO-3200, extension tube used

One thing is certain… Nikon 1 isn’t coming back. Its spirit lives on with those of us who own this unique camera system and intend to keep using it for years to come. I never thought that Nikon 1 was a bad camera system at all. It was always a great fit for our needs. Maybe the biggest problem was that it was simply ahead of its time. In my mind, Nikon 1 will always be The Little Camera That Could.

Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-1000

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-360

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25 thoughts on “Nikon 1 Ahead of Its Time?”

  1. I loved the Nikon 1 series – they were filling a unique niche at the time when they appeared: tiny ILCs with a focusing system and image quality way ahead of the times. The 32mm and the 70-300mm were just outstanding in quality and use case selection. The 18.5mm and 6.7-13mm were notable mentions. All the kit lenses were decent quality, very usable for travel.

    Unfortunately Nikon severely botched the marketing/positioning of the cameras: crippled menu system, no bracketing, no quality small pancakes for a truly portable camera (except for the 18.5mm) , exaggeratedly high price – except for the J5 – but that one was already too late.

    I handled a Z50 one of these days and it reminded me a lot of the J5: small, light, responsive, reasonably priced. On top of this, it has a flash and a real menu ported over from the DSLRs. The Nikon 1 DNA is all over the place.

    Unfortunately for Nikon I already have a Z7 and the Z50 did not seem different enough from the Iphone 11 camera to convince me to acquire it as a backup/pocket camera. And I can use the Z7 for any long lens photography…

    1. Hi Dan,

      I agree that Nikon 1 was/is a unique camera system! My wife and I still love our Nikon 1 gear. That’s what we used for our trips to Ireland and Italy this year. Great travel cameras! We thought about selling some of our Nikon 1 kit… got some interest in it… then we just couldn’t pull the plug and sell any! So… we are keeping everything we have and we plan on using it, especially for travel.

      Lots of water under the Nikon 1 bridge in terms of what could have been…

      Tom

      1. Hi Tom,

        Ironically selling my Nikon 1 kit for a very good price and amazingly fast was what allowed me to enter the Nikon Z space 6 months ago.

        I strongly recommend to try the Z50 with the two kit lenses. It feels incredibly close to the V3 handling with grip. Even better. I hesitated a long time whether to buy it but finally decided against it, as I already have the Z7 and have no real need for a second camera.

        1. Hi Dan,

          Since we already have our complete Nikon 1 system and we are now heavily invested in Olympus M4/3 adding yet another format really doesn’t make sense for us. If we were going to add a smaller body it would likely be an OM-D E-M5 Mark III… although we have no plans to go down that route. We are more than happy with the E-M1X.

          Tom

          1. I was just mentioning the Nikon 1ish feeling of the Z50. With only two kit lenses this is very far from what is needed for an enthusiast’s kit.

            1. Hi Dan,

              I agree that it will take some time for Nikon to develop a decent selection of lenses for the Z50. It will be interesting to see how well Nikon’s DX mirrorless camera does in the market.

              Tom

  2. I must be in a minority because I have no wish or need to go full frame.

    Unfortunately I think Nikon have got themselves in exactly the same place as they were years ago – maintaining three lens systems.

    I hope CX history doesn’t repeat itself with DX.

  3. Hi Tom,

    I agree with you. It’s just sad that Nikon may been constrained to abandon this promising format which some say is really Nikon’s first foray into the mirrorless field. I would’ve bought the J5 (great specs at a nice price point) but then, as now, the problem is the unavailability of lenses here in the Philippines. Which is also why I envy you and your 70-300CX. I mean, even if just for that lens to be locally available, I would’ve gladly caught up with the tail-end of the Nikon 1 phase (if not the J5 then the V3 for my birding) but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

    I digress but I have to say that sourcing even the EN-EL23 battery for my Nikon B700 locally is a joke (Nikon changed the battery for the newer P1000 which may mean the imminent phaseout of the B700). Again, I’m digressing, but I just want to drive home my point on Nikon’s shortcomings here — I was toying around with upgrading my APS-C mirrorless Sony and was choosing between the Z50 and the A6400/6100. I ended up keeping myself on the Sony side of the fence — besides lens availability here (as well as the open kind of relationship with 3rd party makers like Sigma and Tamron so more options), it’s the DX backstory that makes me wary. The Z mount road map is not encouraging (sort of echoes DX history). Anyway, apologies for the digression; just want to drive home a point — Nikon is a venerable institution in photography but their missteps (veering away from their core competency with the KeyMission action cams, the discontinuing of the Nikon 1) may not bode well for its future.

    Oggie
    http://www.lagalog.com

    1. Hi Oggie,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and your concerns about Nikon. I share your concern about camera battery availability. When I was in the process of ‘future proofing’ my Nikon 1 kit one of the things I made sure to do was purchase additional batteries.

      Tom

  4. Hi Tom
    Sadly, there are no more new Nikon 1s. When DL was announced, I put money aside for two – short and long zoom ones for travels. I spent the money on ebay and own now V3s and J5s with spares, bought very cheaply. Folks giving them away sold them nearly as a bonus to a lens… Right now I am testing J5 in winterly mountains. Opponent is D850.
    Robert
    Thanks to Simon for the suggestion on V1 as Tri-X!

    1. Hi Robert,

      Sounds like you got some very good deals on your Nikon 1 gear! We started buying additional lenses, bodies and batteries about 2 years before the system was discontinued. The majority of the gear we bought was brand new and under warranty… that camera dealers were blowing out. So far I haven’t had any issues at all with my gear getting serviced by Nikon Canada. They do a super job with service support.

      Tom

  5. I have the V2 and the J5. I would have purchased the V3, but I decided not to when Nikon discontinued the line. Your enthusiasm for the camera definitely influenced me, and I still enjoy using these cameras. I have the adapter, and have been more than happy with the pictures I have taken of pelicans on the river here in Saskatoon with my 200-500 zoom. It sounds crazy, it looks crazy, but it works, and it is so much fun! I now have the Z6, and using it wasn’t that hard, because so much of it reminded me of the J5. I think Nikon did not see the potential of the Nikon 1 series, and stopped making a great little camera just as the sensor started to deliver like the bigger boys.

    1. Hi George,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with the Nikon 1 system! I agree that Nikon ended the system just as newer generation 1″ sensors were starting to deliver much improved image quality.

      Tom

  6. Thomas,
    You have definitely perfected the use of the Nikon 1 system. Nobody can argue with the quality of the images you have produced. I too was very interested in the Nikon 1 line as a light-weight birding/nature camera with lots of reach at an affordable price. My problem was that other than the Nikon Promo material, yours was the only material I could find, and when I had to put my money down, I wanted to base my choice on more than a sample of one. I went for Olympus and have not regretted it, but I too believe that Nikon “threw out the baby with the bathwater” when in discontinued the Nikon 1 series.

    1. Hi Glen,

      I don’t know that I ever ‘perfected the use of the Nikon 1 system’… but I certainly have really enjoyed using it. I can understand your decision to go with Olympus. I have not regretted my decision either! Now I have two camera systems that each bring some unique and interesting capabilities to my work. I love ’em both!

      Tom

  7. It was/is a great system with only one problem. There should have been a body with the form factor of the V2, and the sensor and control pattern from the J5. I’ve used the system to do street photography of people. It’s a little tough to guide the AF system but I’ve made some really good images on the NYC subway. Its so small especially with the 10/2.8. It kills me that there was one really great camera distributed across two or three different models. I tried a V3 but felt the viewfinder wouldn’t hold up over time in that funny hot shoe and once you tried the sensor in the J5 it’s hard to go back. That being said there’s something about the V1 and the limited dynamic range that feels like shooting pushed Tri-X. I don’t share the work as I don’t feel like having it stolen and put all over the web.

    1. Hi Simon,

      I totally agree with you that if a V4 would have been introduced with an integrated grip and EVF like the V2, along with improved sensor and more external body controls like the J5… it would have been a super camera! I think if Nikon would have done that, the company could have done very well. Nikon likely could have only kept an upgraded V-Series body and did away with the J-Series cameras… and done well with the product line.

      Tom

      1. Yes, they could have. But the profit margins were not large enough and this is the main reason why Nikon 1 line has been killed…

        As usual Nikon doesn’t really seem to care that some of its customers are being left holding the bag.

        1. Hi Dan,

          It was certainly unfortunate that the Nikon 1 camera system was discontinued. I agree that it is quite likely that Nikon simply could not generate sufficient profits from the system to keep it viable. I guess I have a more positive view of camera manufacturers. My belief is that Nikon, and its competitors, try to create products that their customers want and when a model or product line is cancelled it is based on a well reasoned business case. I think all camera manufacturers take these unfortunate decisions very seriously. I suspect all of them would realize the negative impacts that are possible when these decisions are made. I don’t think any of them would take any joy if their “customers are left holding the bag”.

          I know some of the executives at Nikon Canada personally. All of them are ethical professionals who, in my experience, care deeply about their customers.

          Tom

          1. Unfortunately they do not have a word in this. The decision has been made in the company headquarters in Japan. Something to keep in mind is that Nikon is owned by some Japanese banks and they are the ones pulling the strings.

            1. Hi Dan,

              Regardless of the company or industry, most operating divisions would have to produce sales estimates for all of the products they sell. So, operating divisions would have quite a bit of input in whether a product line remains viable or not.

              I know some photography blogs paint Japanese banks as some kind of ominous ‘boogeyman’. *Shrugs* I see this as an irrelevant issue.

              Virtually all blue chip, public-traded companies will all have major shareholders of some type. They could be banks, pension funds, investment funds, or private equity investors. All of those major investors would have the same expectations of the companies in which they invest. That is to generate a return for the shareholders and for the organization to remain sustainable and profitable over time.

              The strategy that the executive committee of a company creates and implements may involve the discontinuation of products and/or services from time to time. Ongoing product reviews and decisions are just a part of everyday business life. I doubt that Japanese banks are any better, or any worse, than other major corporate shareholders are in terms of their expectations. Discontinuation of a product line has really nothing to do with how much a company or its shareholders care about end-user customers. Products, like people, have finite lifespans.

              As camera owners I think we can quickly become emotionally invested in the gear that we own. So, it is easy for any of us to take business decisions made by the camera companies in a very personal way.

              Tom

              1. Hi Tom,

                I am a corporate drone with an MBA 😀 and I know how it works. The catch with Nikon is that their shareholders are extremely aggressive in pursuing a certain ROI, even if it means scratching large investments from the consumers’ part in various Nikon products.

                Usually there are Product Managers who make these decisions based on marketing, engineering, financial, shareholder value, strategic positioning and a few others. With Nikon they only care about shareholder value, more exactly ROI – consumers do not really count in their product management decisions.

                Also – I bought yesterday the Z50, out of curiosity and to help my friendly dealer through the Christmas season. First impression – that pancake kit zoom is much better than it has any right to be. 🙂

                1. Hi Dan,

                  Thanks for adding to the discussion! I suppose consumers do not enter into product cancellation decisions for the majority of companies. If products aren’t making the necessary ROI they end up on the chopping block. I have read that many Japanese companies, across a wide cross section of industries, are under the gun to improve their financial returns… so Nikon probably isn’t alone with its challenges.

                  It will be very interesting to read more about your impressions of the Z50. The camera is getting some very positive early reviews.

                  Tom

                  1. Reputation is something that became very prominent lately in western companies’ product management decisions. With the rise of Facebook and the social media it became very easy for disaffected customers to band together and create negative advertising for a company.

                    Obviously Nikon is not very concerned with that if they signal that they can just cancel a product line after ~6 years and leave the customers hanging in the breeze. At least this is a known quantity everybody will have to account for when deciding whether to buy a new Nikon product… I am fairly confident that they will not cancel the Z line…

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