I'm one of those people who thinks the world really does need another lens format and camera system, but I'm not sure the Nikon 1 is it. Two new camera bodies and three new lenses have been released by Nikon to start the party, built around a 1" sensor now recognised as the CX format that sits below the DX and FX monikers already familiar to Nikon owners. Nikon have decided that small is good.
I like the idea that people shopping for a light-weight camera can still access interchangeable lenses. Sony have their E-mount systems which slip onto the geek friendly NEX series, packing a larger than expected APS sized sensor and taking advantage of the inherent quality that comes with bigger chips. Samsung have a similar sized sensor for their NX format with a comparably small range of lenses to shop for. Olympus also have their PEN format with a very large range of lenses and loyal fan base, as well as adopting the Micro 4/3rds system in conjuction with Panasonic.
So what makes the Nikon 1 system worth paying attention to? We already know that Nikon make excellent lenses and the CX models will be no different. Nikon will be hoping that dedicated owners of Nikon SLR gear will buy these new models instead of looking sideways at the Sony E-mount or any of the others. Certainly the design of the new J1 and V1 models, and the lenses currently shipping, offer a point of interest for photographers who want to blend into the background instead of standing out in the crowd.
Nikon also have been pumping out really good hardware in the last decade, and the Nikon 1 range will take full advantage of that. Sony have been victim to scale of production and cutting corners a little, but Nikon don't build laptops or mobile phones and have kept their eye on the ball. These new models have quality design and even better production behind them. Expect a lot from the interface across the new J1 and V1 models, delivering consumer focused features and a more snappy experience compared to the Nikon DSLR lineup.
Nikon are making much of their new sensor design that builds the autofocus system into the same chip that is capturing the image. They needed to redesign the lens communication in order to fully utilize the new sensor technology, hence the Nikon 1 system is starting from scratch and ditching decades of legacy design contraints. The result is something very compact and very capable.
What you wont find inside the new models is a nice big sensor. In this regard the most recent Sony and Samsung formats gives us a hint at the future of digital photography, but the Nikon 1 does not. By choosing a smaller sensor than their existing DX format they herald a race to the bottom. What I want to see on the shelves are not more tiny chips with a choice of tiny lenses, but a big fat "full frame" sensor with a choice of tiny lenses.
Nikon got it right by side-stepping the mirror and skipping the 'translucent' technology that Sony have committed in their A-mount system, but got it wrong to yeild an image 1/3rd the size of a Nikon D3x. The Nikon 1 system is more evolutionary than revolutionary, and represents a missed opportunity to lead the market into new territory.