Nikon has recently been pushing hard in the mirrorless game—after a seeming reluctance to join. Cameras like the AW1, J4, and V3 show that Nikon is finally willing to make a line of mirrorless cameras that might eat into its dominant SLR business.
Nikon has already updated the V-series and J-series several times, but it's been nearly two years since the introduction of the S1. Nikon is finally bringing an upgrade, in the form of the new Nikon 1 S2 (MSRP $449.95)... now available in Pikachu yellow.
In all seriousness, the bright yellow color isn't the only upgrade to Nikon's 1 S line. At the forefront of the changes lies a new image sensor. On paper, consumers get nothing more than a few more megapixels and some slight improvements in video options: just another incremental update to an average camera to keep it current.
We spent some time with the Nikon 1 S2 at Photokina 2014 to see whether the changes are more than superficial.
Design & Usability
S1 twin or just the S1 with a new badge?
The Nikon S2 is about as plain as it gets in the design department. If you simply imagine one of Nikon's Coolpix cameras—just about any model will do—put an interchangeable lens mount on it and there you have it: the design for the S2–or the S1 for that matter.
It's nothing unusual for a camera company to reuse designs–especially Nikon–but we actually thought that someone had just removed the S1 badge and slapped on S2 to fool us. The two cameras have a 0.3mm height and 1mm width difference from each other—a difference that is completely unnoticeable in person.
One significant difference between the 1 S2 and its predecessor is the surprising lack of a tilt-screen. The S2 has the same 3-inch 460,000 dot LCD screen... but sans tilting. We don't know why Nikon would do away with a tilt-screen, but the S2 is worse off for it. We certainly hope it had to do with keeping the cost down, and not shaving a millimeter from the depth.
As for handling, the 1 S2 holds few surprises for those familiar with other 1-series cameras. Like the 1 S1, the S2 is designed to be an interchangeable lens system for people just coming up from compacts. You won't get the kind of handling and controls you might expect out of even entry-level DSLRs. It's designed to look simple and not intimidating.
The lack of buttons means that almost all the settings are menu-driven. The menu system is unchanged from other 1-series cameras, with your main categories on the left, dropping you into sub-menus as you navigate. This gives you access to all your basic controls like ISO, white balance, and picture quality.
The few physical buttons that are on the S2 are responsive–which is more than we can say about Nikon's new S810c. The control wheel pulls double duty as a four-way directional pad with options for exposure compensation, flash, drive mode, and a customizable function button (F).
Internal changes are (hypothetical) improvements
The main internal change for the 1 S2 is, without a doubt, the brand new sensor-processor combo. Compared to the S1's 10.1MP sensor and Expeed 3A processor, the 1 S2 looks positively modern, with its 14.2MP sensor and Expeed 4A processor. The sensor appears to be brand-new to the 1-series, granting the S2 an expanded ISO range compared to its 14MP cousins, the Nikon 1 V2 and J3.
We've not yet done any lab testing with this new sensor, so we can't know for sure what kind of image quality to expect. From the show floor, the photos looked pretty good and we expect that our tests will show an improvement over the performance of the 1 S1.
Video performance was given a slight nudge in the right direction. You can now shoot 1080p and 720p at both 30fps and 60fps. You can also drop down from HD and shoot up to a staggering 1200fps, but only at a reduced resolution of 416 x 144. Speaking of fps, the new Expeed 4A processor gives the S2 a bump to 20fps, compared to the S1's 15fps continuous shooting. Both generations can shoot up to 60fps with fixed focus.
Scene modes remain unchanged with portrait, landscape, night landscape, night portrait, and close-up. The creative mode did receive a few additions such as creative pallet, HDR, easy panorama, and cross process.
A improved battery was also given to the S2, which is CIPA rated for 270 shots–up from just 230 shots on the S1.
We were shocked that Nikon didn't take the opportunity to add built-in WiFi on the S2. This would have been a solid addition, but instead you still have to purchase the WU-1a Wireless Mobile Adapter to share with your phone. The adaptor is currently available on Amazon for around $45.
While we are glad Nikon is making an effort to bring mirrorless to the masses, make no mistake that this is another incremental update for the 1 series. Only lab testing will reveal if the new sensor and processor are significantly improving image quality, and 1080/60p video and 20fps isn't anything we're going to get overly excited about.
That said, the Nikon 1 S1 brought mirrorless cameras into a new, more affordable price bracket—a trend that the S2 looks to continue. But with a current cost of $100 over its predecessor, we suggest you wait until you see official test results before you take the plunge.