In September 2016 it will be 5 years since Nikon launched the Nikon 1 system and it still remains much maligned and misunderstood.
Right up front, let’s get some of the negatives about the Nikon 1 system that people tend to complain about on the table.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
All we have to do is look at independent testing done by DxOMark to confirm that the performance of the Aptina 1″ CX sensors used in many Nikon 1 models lag far behind other formats such as M4/3, APC-S and full frame.
For example, the dynamic range in my Nikon 1 V2’s (launched in September 2012) is rated at 10.8 EV which is the same as a Nikon D50 or Canon EOS 350D could do back in 2005.
Colour depth with my V2 is rated at 20.2 bits, putting it 0.2 bits behind a Nikon D70 of 2004 vintage.
And, with low light performance rated at ISO-403 my V2 scores about 50 ISO points better than a Nikon D2H built back in 2003. Far from stellar sensor performance to be sure.
Changing to new BSI sensor technology with the Nikon 1 J5 has improved CX sensor performance. Dynamic range is now 12EV which is the same as a Nikon D300, a Nikon D3S, a Canon EOS 760D, or a Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.
Colour depth with the J5 has improved to 22.1 bits which is the same as a Nikon D300, Nikon D80, or a Canon EOS 600D.
Low light performance of the BSI sensor in the J5 is rated at ISO-479 which puts it at the same level as a Nikon D2X circa 2004. So, some improvement with sensor performance, but still far below what the best of modern APS-C and full frame sensors can deliver.
I purposely compared Nikon 1 CX sensor ratings against larger format sensors to illustrate how many camera buyers look at the Nikon 1 system, i.e. through the eyes of a DSLR user.
Physics being as they are it is totally unrealistic to expect a small 1″ CX sensor to deliver the same kind of performance found in the most current APS-C and full frame sensors.
Quite frankly if a camera buyer absolutely needs the best in dynamic range, colour depth and excellent low light performance, they should buy a full frame camera. For them buying any camera with a 1″ sensor would be a mistake.
Complaining about the dynamic range, colour depth or low light performance of any camera that uses a 1″ sensor is like complaining that an elephant has a trunk and large ears. It is simply stating the obvious, and for which there is no solution.
Limited lens selection
The Nikon 1 system currently offers users a total of 13 lenses. Two are Nikon 1 AW specific, three primes (10 mm 18.5 mm and 32 mm), and a total of 8 zoom lenses with some duplications, or near duplications, of focal length. These include the 10-100 mm PD and 10-100 non-PD zooms, the 10-30 mm PD and 10-30 non-PD zooms, as well as the 11-27.5 mm non-VR zoom. Other zooms include 6.7-13 mm, 30-110 mm, and the 70-300 mm.
Of course folks who own Nikkor F-Mount lenses can use many of them on Nikon 1 bodies by using an FT-1 adapter. There are some limitations with auto-focusing but many F-Mount lenses do work quite well. The 2.7 X crop factor is a consideration and many of the folks that I know that use F-Mount lenses with Nikon 1 bodies do so to get additional reach. That’s how I started my journey with Nikon 1 gear.
No doubt photographers who prefer shooting with prime lenses will be disappointed with the Nikon 1 selection of native lenses. Their needs will be likely be best served with either M4/3 or full frame formats where a broader selection of prime lenses exist.
Incompatibility with standard Nikon flashes
Sticking a large flash on a diminutive camera body has always struck me as an odd thing to want to do. It seems to defeat the entire purpose of designing a small, interchangeable lens camera system. At any rate the Nikon DL series now provides a solution for Nikon DSLR owners who would like to use their flash units on smaller camera bodies.
The legacy of Nikon 1 V3 design mistakes
Folks who dislike the Nikon 1 system love to bring up the Nikon 1 V3 as an example of what is wrong with it. And who can blame them? To say that some of the design choices Nikon made with the V3 were quirky is being kind. The detachable EVF and grip, use of micro-SD cards, and a lack of battery commonality with other models were all decisions that disappointed, and even angered, some existing Nikon 1 users. Toss in a 10-30 mm f/3.5-5.6 PD zoom lens that cannot use filters into the package and further frustration ensues.
For as much as I love using the Nikon 1 system I took a pass on the V3 as I viewed it as an expensive, jumbled concept that just didn’t fit my business needs. On the other hand I think the Nikon 1 J5 was a big step in the right direction – except for sticking with micro-SD cards!
A myriad of miscellaneous shortcomings
The list of other ‘shortcomings’ of the Nikon 1 system cited by non-users and by some Nikon 1 owners is lengthy. From what I’ve observed the majority of these ‘shortcomings’ seem to have a common thread. That being to add far more complexity to a Nikon 1 body to somehow transform it into a complicated, fully-functioned, professional grade DSLR-like camera at a fraction of the price and size/weight. I suppose we all live with our fantasies.
What was the stated purpose of the Nikon 1 system when it was launched?
Since I didn’t pay any attention to the Nikon 1 system when it was first launched I thought it would be instructive for me to go back and read the original Nikon press release.
After reading the launch release one passage really struck a chord with me as it perfectly summarized my experience with the Nikon 1 system: “The Nikon 1 system is a completely original concept, engineered specifically to strike the ultimate balance of performance, intuitive simplicity and portability to chronicle life like never before.”
Finding the right system for your needs
Obviously the Nikon 1 system doesn’t fit everyone’s needs. I’ve used FX, DX and M4/3 gear and my true love is Nikon 1.
I love the auto-focus performance of my Nikon 1 V2 – its fast, accurate and dependable. Being able to move a single AF point to exactly where I want it anywhere on the frame without having to focus and recompose an image is like a touch of magic.
I love the still image frame rate options that my Nikon 1 cameras give me. Depending on the body I choose to use I can shoot single frames, 5 fps/10 fps/15 fps/20 fps with AF-C, and also 30 fps and 60 fps with the first frame locking focus. And, a Nikon 1 body does that at full image resolution. This helps to unleash all kinds of image capturing potential and creativity.
I love the predictability and stability of my Nikon 1 RAW files and how they respond in post.
I love the fact that I can put three 1 Nikon lenses in my bag (6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6, 10-100 mm f/4-5.6, 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6) and have an equivalent field of view of 18 mm-810 mm. This allows me to roam around for hours on end and capture the world around me with a minimum of fuss.
Throw in some extension tubes and the 30-110 mm f/3.8-5.6 lens and another macro-like world also opens up for me. I have never felt ‘deprived’ due to the selection of 1 Nikon lenses available.
I love that I don’t have to get lost in a huge complicated menu to find the settings I want to use. My Nikon 1 V2’s never get in the way of my creativity…they enable it with their simplicity.
I love the diminutive size and weight of the Nikon 1 system and how it allows me to shoot hand-held at very slow shutter speeds when necessary.
I think many folks who malign the Nikon 1 system have never even held one in their hands and/or shot with it. The disappointment some Nikon 1 owners express stems from them misunderstanding that the system was never designed to be a complicated, fully-functioned DSLR-like experience.
Where is the Nikon 1 system going?
The beauty of the Nikon 1 system lies in its simplicity, portability and unique performance characteristics. It was never conceived as a Goliath of a camera system, but rather as a Mighty Mouse. I hope Nikon remembers that…fixes the design quirks with the V3… and gives us an updated V-series model to “strike an ultimate balance of performance, intuitive simplicity and portability…”
If they do, I’ll be in love for a long time to come.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the Nikon 1 system, you may want to have a look at our eBook, The Little Camera That Could. It illustrates the capability of the Nikon 1 system through hundreds of original photographs. There is also commentary and tips about the Nikon 1 system.
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