The Nikon 1 lineup has now reached a second generation with a wider range of lenses, so it's time to start covering the basics of the system together in a single article.
The first generation of the Nikon 1 was the J1 and V1, and I'd also include the short-lived J2 in this generation. These were the products that kicked off Nikon's use of the 1" sensor and CX lens mount, and also introduced interesting new features such as the Motion Snapshot.
Strangely, while Nikon seemed to be super hyper about reducing parts and manufacturing complexity in the original generation of cameras, they were priced higher than many of Nikon's more complex DSLR models. At the original prices, these cameras didn't sell well, and the rough edges on the camera designs—particularly the not-really-a-mode-dial that always changed to a new setting if you looked at it cross-eyed—didn't help matters. Nikon didn't start moving significant numbers of Nikon 1 products until they did a massive discounting just prior to launching the second generation.
The second generation consists of three models:
- S1 — barebones entry level camera (10mp)
- J3 — entry level model (14mp)
- V2 — small DSLR-like mid-range model (14mp)
Many of the biggest problems with UI were fixed in this generation, and they all shoot like very sophisticated compact cameras. If you want an EVF, the V2 is your only choice. While the V2 is probably the ugliest Nikon 1 they've made, it does handle like a very (and I mean very) small DSLR.
The Nikon 1 claim to fame in mirrorless is remarkably small quality lenses that focus at DSLR speeds in reasonable light. As of the date I'm writing this, no other mirrorless camera comes close to the continuous focus performance of the Nikon 1 models. A V2 with the 30-100mm is probably the smallest camera I know of that can do reasonable birds in flight work. Couple a V2 with the FT1 lens adapter and a Nikon F-mount lens with AF-S (the 70-300mm VR is my favorite), and you have a real workhorse wildlife camera in a very small package.
The downside to the Nikon 1 models is the small sensor size: 1". As I note elsewhere on this site there's about a stop difference each time you step down in sensor size: FX (full frame) -> DX (APS) -> m4/3 -> 1". Thus, the Nikon 1 models are not low-light specialists. It's actually amazing how much quality they do produce at ISO 3200, but don't expect them to outshoot bigger sensor cameras in low light.
Nikon still seems to be overcharging for the Nikon 1 cameras compared to what they're likely worth. You can buy a very good DSLR and lens for what you can get the V2 kit for. I expect that prices will eventually fall dramatically again with the second generation as they did for the first, so if you can wait, wait.
For lenses, you're pretty much stuck with Nikkors. Fortunately, Nikon has slowly stepped to the plate and produced some marvelous lenses for these cameras. The 18.5mm f/1.8 is exceedingly good. Surprisingly, the 6.7-13mm and the 30-110mm are also extremely good lenses. The stunner to me, though, was the new 10-100mm super zoom (not the power zoom version), which may actually be better than the 10-30mm kit lens in that range and almost holds its own against the 30-100mm. I'd recommend one of the following kits:
- 6.7-13mm, 10-30mm, 18.5mm, 30-110mm
- 6.7-13mm 10-100mm, 18.5mm
Amazingly, that takes you from 18mm to approximately 300mm equivalent in two or three lenses that are very sharp and problem free, and, of course, small. The thing I find remarkable is how small I can pack a full V2 kit. I think all of my ex-girlfriend's had bigger purses. (Okay, that was a bit sexist, so sorry ladies; but for most of you it will give you a very good reference point.)
Personally, I like the Nikon 1 with a good lens on it better than almost any compact camera (though that's changing a bit with the introduction of large sensor compact cameras). Beyond that, the Nikon V2 can quickly morph into a portable wildlife shooter's pocket kit, and is probably the best very portable "long reach" option out there right now. (Why do I keep mentioning only the V2 in respect to wildlife? Because of the built-in EVF. You can't hand hold a camera in front of you with 810mm equivalent focal length very well. The extra bracing point of the face makes all the difference in the world to getting good steady shots, even with VR active.)
Don't discount the Nikon 1 line (though Nikon should ;~). It sacrifices a little (sensor size) to gain a lot (very small system size with a full lens set). If the prices were a little more reasonable (watch for sales), this system would be selling in far greater numbers than it is. When all is said and done, in most situations the Nikon 1 cameras and the excellent lenses take very good photos.