Nikon has made the death of its 1 mirrorless camera system official.
Launched in 2011, the small-sensor mirrorless system had a niche following, but never made a big splash in the marketplace. Rumors are swirling that it’s going to be replaced quickly, but instead of using a relatively tiny 1-inch image sensor Nikon will opt for the 35mm full-frame format for its next swipe at making inroads into the mirrorless market.
It’s as good as time as any to look back at the 1 system and bury it, perhaps peppering a bit of praise in as well, and to see how far mirrorless tech has progressed in the years since it debuted.
Nikon put a lot of effort into the 1 system’s announcement. Picture a lavish press conference in New York City, with executives from Japan in attendance, capped off by a performance by Adam Duritz playing Counting Crows classics.
And the first pair of cameras, the J1 and V1 did things that other cameras at the time didn’t do—both offered electronic shutter with flash sync, 60fps burst capture modes, and Motion Snapshot. It combined slow-motion video and a still image and has a kindred spirit in Apple’s Live Photos, introduced many years later.
But the 1-inch sensor size, which has since found a better home in pocketable fixed-lens cameras and long zooming bridge models, suffered when compared with rival mirrorless systems. It was smaller than the popular Micro Four Thirds system and the APS-C sensors found in consumer SLRs and rival mirrorless systems from Sony and (at the time) Samsung.
Because of this, many, myself included, had mixed feelings in regards to the J1 and V1. They were closer to point-and-shoot replacements, with the benefit of interchangeable lenses. But as with any new system, lens selection was scant. Nikon promised more were coming, and it did release a dozen or so over the years, but there were big holes in the lineup. The 1 system never had a dedicated macro lens, for example.
A year after Nikon showed off the first 1 cameras, Sony released the RX100. A truly pocketable point-and-shoot with a fixed 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens and a sensor with twice the resolution, the RX100 showed off the benefits of design of fixed-lens cameras. It didn’t deliver SLR-level shallow depth of field, but could still blur backgrounds. Nikon’s zooms were more modest f/3.5-5.6 designs didn’t manage that, although they were eventually supplemented with a couple of wide aperture prime lenses.
Of course, later cameras had more robust features than the J1 and V1. Nikon released five models in what would become the midrange J series—you can read our review of the J5, which can still be found at retail. A retracting kit lens made it a bit more compact than the first entries, and its 20MP sensor still manages to shoot Raw images at 60fps, though only 20 shots at a time.
The fast shooting rates and small sensor gave the series a niche appeal. Wildlife photographers who shoot under sunlight appreciated the long telephoto reach and high-end performance offered by later models like the V3. Pairing it with the 70-300mm zoom resulted in a lightweight kit with a zoomed-in field of view similar to that of a 800mm lens on a full-frame camera and 20fps Raw shooting with focus tracking.
And there was the waterproof AW1. While there were only two waterproof lenses available (a 10mm prime and 11-27mm zoom), it could use any compatible lens on dry land. The 1-inch sensor offered better image quality than other waterproof cameras, making it an attractive option for divers and snorkelers who didn’t want to deal with a larger camera with an external housing to get better-than-point-and-shoot underwater shots. Since its release we’ve only seen a single waterproof compact camera with a 1-inch sensor released—the SeaLife DC2000.
I won’t call the 1 system a success. Like the short-lived Pentax Q system it showed that smaller sensors and interchangeable lenses make sacrifices in image quality and compactness. But it paved the way for a generation of premium point-and-shoots that marry the same size sensor to fixed lenses. Sony started the trend, but it’s been joined by Canon, Leica, and Panasonic. Nikon developed and previewed its own series of 1-inch point-and-shoot cameras, the DL series in 2016, but citing technical issues Nikon opted not to bring DL to market. It was officially cancelled in 2017.
So what’s next for Nikon? It is on record that it has a new mirrorless system under development, and that it will use a full-frame format sensor. Rumors are swirling that it’s coming soon. We’ll just have to wait and see.