RIP Nikon 1

Neon, Room Service Vintage - Austin, Texas

Neon, Room Service Vintage – Austin, Texas

Last week, the news broke that Nikon officially discontinued their Nikon 1 series, their mirrorless camera system. It wasn’t surprising, they haven’t updated it for a few years. Looking all the way back to 2011, I wrote an analysis on the Nikon 1, at intro.

While I acknowledged that it was revolutionary, I had my doubts. Nikon had the potential to crush the mirrorless competition, if they didn’t cripple the camera. Now, some say, they are in trouble. With DSLR sales stalled or declining, there are rumors of another Nikon mirrorless system arriving soon. Let’s hope they are more successful with their second try. It may be their last.

Nikon was overly proud of their Nikon 1, pricing even the entry-level model at $650. The pricing fell steadily. Two and half years later, it hit rockbottom, a closeout at $199. That’s when I bought my Nikon 1 J1. For $200, it was a fun and worthwhile camera and I had a fair bit of success shooting it. Despite the typical slow kit lens (f3.5 – f5.6), I even made great shots at night with the J1.

Back in 2011 and even in 2014, the camera was super fast for a mirrorless. It even rivaled some DSLRs for speed and frame rates. I also loved its punchy colors. A Nikon friend, who owned their big DSLRs and the Nikon 1 V1, also preferred the small Nikon’s colors. One of my favorite J1 Photo Essays is from 2014 Chinese New Year, which still looks great today.

So what doomed the Nikon 1? The obvious answer is the sensor size, which was a tiny one incher. But, I think the answer is more complicated than that. The camera was aimed primary at entry-level users rather than enthusiasts. And, honestly, this is what most of the mirrorless camera makers did in the beginning, including Olympus and Sony. But, what primary drove the mirrorless market where the DSLR users downsizing to smaller cameras. The entry-level users never upgraded. They moved over to smartphones.

It’s always easy to play the “what if” game, in hindsight. But, what if Nikon came out with more capable Nikon 1 cameras for the enthusiasts? While Nikon did have a slightly more capable V series with built-in EVF, its features weren’t much better.

What was missing were the serious lenses. I was desperately hoping they would release small f2 primes with image stabilization, 28mm and 35mm equivalents, specifically. They had a 50mm equivalent at f1.8, which I bought, but it unfortunately lacked image stabilization. The really capable lenses never materialized, and I moved on. The other mirrorless companies eventually caught up with the Nikon 1’s speed and focusing.

One inch cameras are succeeding, ironically. Though they are in a pocketable form factor, like the Sony RX100 series and the Canon G7X Mark II, that I’m currently using. These cameras are actually premium devices catering to the enthusiast, some running as high as $1200. While expensive, these cameras have a high value proposition. Fast, image stabilized lenses in a very compact form factor. The Nikon 1 series, unfortunately, never got the value proposition right.

Here are the rest of my Nikon 1 series posts, if you are interested.

Rest In Peace, Nikon 1.

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5 thoughts on “RIP Nikon 1

  1. I think that Nikon could see years ago that the entry level was slowly being consumed by phone cameras and their market was going to be enthusiasts and pros.

    I consider myself an enthusiast. I have a full-frame Nikon DSLR and I have considered a smaller pocketable camera, but I have an iPhone 8. The iPhone (and pixel for that matter) have mediocre camera sensors, but amazing software to pull everything possible out of that sensor. It is not as good as a better sensor and good glass, but it is good enough for casual shooting or scouting. So, I don’t think that a smaller intermediate camera would be all that useful to me, just more gear to keep up with. I think a lot of consumers are like this so companies like Nikon have to focus on high-end DSLR and presumably mirror-less and not waste effort on the vanishing middle-ground.

    1. Hi Jason, thanks for your comment. I understand your point.

      As an enthusiast, what is the ideal combination? A big DSLR and a smartphone? A medium sized mirrorless? There are endless permutations. A lot of my friends have moved from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras.

      I think you are right. The addressable market for a small mirrorless camera, with a one inch sensor is probably limited. The compact camera with a one inch sensor makes more sense. But, still, a super fast compact Nikon 1 with small primes could make a compelling camera.

      The reality is, even if the Nikon 1 succeeded, they would still need to come out with a full frame mirrorless. DSLRs will always be around, but they are at a disadvantage to modern computer powered mirrorless cameras (in most cases).

      1. For me, it is a DSLR and an iPhone. One of the reasons that I bought the iPhone was so that it would be my secondary camera for when I didn’t want to carry around the heavy DSLR gear. The iPhone takes pretty good pictures until you want to do something advanced. But I am mainly interested in landscapes and cityscapes, so you would probably get a different answer from a wildlife or portrait photographer.

        Mirrorless or DSLR, seem to be all in whether or not it has an optical viewfinder. The camera I have is a D750 and I am satisfied with the performance. Perhaps in a few years I would get a mirrorless as a next camera. The only thing that would marry me to DSLR, all things being equal, is that I have some expensive lenses that I would have to rebuy for the mirrorless camera. Perhaps there will be a good adapter when Nikon comes out with their full-frame DSLR. I am not very worried about it right now. Both systems will probably be in the market-place for years to come.

        I am interested to see what Nikon and Canon do with mirrorless full-frame cameras so that I can compare them to their DSLRs. It is fun to be a spectator.

      2. Of course, there’s no reason to move away from DSLRs, if they are working for you.

        If and when Canon and Nikon comes out with their mirrorless cameras, there’s probably going to be a good opportunity to buy nice DSLRs cheap.

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