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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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