Perhaps that's why the J2 looks almost unchanged. Stand it beside the J1 and aside from the new body colours and the model number stamped in one corner, you'd be hard-pressed to tell them apart.
The Nikon 1 J2 is available to buy for around £500. But is it the same draw as its much-liked predecessor?
The appearance isn't the only thing to have stuck since last season -- the resolution hasn't budged either, with the 13.2mm by 8.8mm CMOS sensor still home to just 10.1 megapixels.
Resolution isn't the complete story when it comes to judging the worth of a camera -- 10.1 megapixels is still enough to print large A3-sized images, and beyond. But with more pixels comes greater flexibility, and that's what you'll miss with the J2. There's only so much you can do with a zoom lens -- at times you'll want to crop to a detail in post-production to recompose your shot.
Compare the J2 with Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. The Sony's sensor is the same width and height, yet it boasts 20.2 megapixels. That's twice as many as the J2, which means you could crop twice as close while retaining the same relative data. At that point the value of increased pixels becomes more apparent.
That's where the disappointment comes to an end though. The J2 is every bit as fun to use as its predecessor and the shots it produces are hard to fault.
I performed my tests using the 10-30mm lens, which has a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27-81mm. The camera was set to record JPEG and raw files side by side, but my analysis was performed with reference to the JPEGs as Adobe Lightroom doesn't yet have the drivers to access the raw shots.
The J2 has an impressive 135 focus areas. It takes around half a second to lock onto your subject if it's in a considerably different position to the last point of focus, but it's almost instantaneous if they're roughly on a plane.
The lens was sharp right across the frame and even the corners and edges can give the centre a run for its money. This is impressive, as the lens is working hard to bend the incoming light to the most extreme degree in the corners, while at the centre it's passing straight through.
It made great use of the available light and in bright direct sunlight produced vivid results that never strayed beyond the realms of reality. In the shot below, it's struck an accurate balance between the overcast sky and the grassy parade ground that falls in direct sunlight, each of which is full of colour and texture.
One of the primary benefits of squeezing fewer pixels onto the sensor is increased sensitivity to a wider range of light levels, and consequently less interference and noise in the finished result. This is an area in which the J2 excelled, with clean, sharp, colourful results a consistent feature in my tests.
However, the same could be said of the RX100's images, with its higher resolution, and so once again Nikon's decision not to bump up the resolution in the J2 by 25-50 per cent is disappointing.
Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 3,200, with exposure compensation of +/-3EV in 1/3EV steps. Even at the highest possible setting -- ISO 3,200 -- grain is almost undetectable, colours are bright and shutter speeds remain just about fast enough for you to hand-hold your shots.
It maintains low sensitivities in overcast conditions. The council chamber below was shot late in the day yet the J2 needed only ISO 100, despite the failing light. There's wide tonal variation in the image, with an even spread of tones and luminance.
Its close-up performance is flawless, as the shot of the flower below proves. The texture of the petals, surface of the pistils and minute grains of dropped pollen are all clearly and cleanly captured, The bokeh effect in the background, where the focus gently falls off, is particularly attractive.
There's no change in the impressive maximum burst shooting speed, which stands at 60 frames per second for up to 12 frames, so long as you're happy for the focus to be fixed on the first shot. If you're not -- perhaps because you're shooting an oncoming race -- it can adjust the focus between each shot and still maintain a speed of 10fps.
In regular use, shutter speeds range from a blistering 1/16,000 second to a generous 30 seconds, which is perfect for capturing night shots without a flash or city scenes with streaking headlights.
You can tweak the shutter speed and aperture in their respective priority modes using the playback zoom control on the back of the body. It's effective but slightly fiddly and a little slow. Likewise, the shutter release is well placed when shooting landscapes, but turn the J2 on its side to shoot a portrait and it's a little too far into the body for comfort if you're curling a finger around the top of the case.
The J2 shoots HD resolution video at 1,920x1,080i, 60fps, or 30fps progressive. You can bump up the frame rate to 60fps progressive if you drop the resolution to 1,920x720 pixels and opt for the kind of high-speed filming that would enable smooth slow-motion playback below that. So step down to 640x240 pixels and enjoy 400fps, or a massive 1,200fps at 320x120-pixel resolution.
The results are as crisp as its stills performance. The level of detail in the soundtrack is impressive, although in my tests, performed with the microphone set to auto-sensitivity (other options are high, medium, low or off), it also picked up a fair amount of background hiss, which somewhat spoiled the effect. I switched on wind noise reduction too, although the sound of a passing breeze is still evident on the captured footage.
Colour reproduction in well-balanced scenes is good, and an accurate representation of the original setting. But it had some difficulty accommodating very stark contrasts, such as light at the end of a tunnel, which it wasn't able to fully balance with the darker surroundings. Furthermore, its compensation for changes in the level of available light was stepped, rather than smooth.
The range of options open to you in the dedicated movie mode is impressive, with full control over the look of your footage (neutral, vivid, monochrome and so on), whether clips should fade in and out from white, black or neither, and whether or not it should use continuous or single focus.
Build and design
The J2 is as well built as its predecessor, with a metal front and sides and an upgraded screen to the rear, which is extremely fine grained and smooth to refresh.
The lenses are smaller than most of its rivals, and although the 10-30mm kit lens is still longer than Panasonic's 14-48mm kit, which extends from the front of the body by just an inch when powered down, it's nonetheless narrow and compact. It makes the 18-55mm kit lens supplied with other interchangeable compacts like the Samsung NX210 look positively bloated.
The 1 Nikkor lenses, of which there were four when the J1 launched, now number five plus a mount adaptor that gives you access to 65 existing Nikkor F-mount lenses.
There's a built-in flash that pops up from the top of the body on an inch-long stem to keep it away from the lens, and a dual power system, where pressing a lock button on the side of the lens and twisting the focus ring switches it on and off in a similar manner to the zoom ring on the Fujifilm X10.
The J2 introduces a number of new shooting modes that were absent from the J1, including creative ones for night portraits, backlighting and panoramas. The existing Motion Snapshot and Best Shot Selector are carried over from the J1. The first of these combines a 1 second movie with your photo, while the latter shoots 20 images, saves the best five and selects the one it judges has the best composition or facial expression. If you disagree, you can examine the other four and swap it out if you prefer another.
It's available in three kits, with two single-lens options covering off 11-27.5mm and 10-30mm, and a dual 10-30mm/30-110mm kit for complete flexibility.
In producing the J2, Nikon has rounded out the already impressive features of the tempting J1. It's a joy to use and a beautiful camera that produces impressive results. It's something you'd be proud to show off.
However, while resolution doesn't matter as much in an age where images are more often viewed on screen than in print, the 10.1-megapixel sensor might start to feel slightly cramped when you come to cropping and editing photos.
Each of Nikon's improvements are welcome, but the J2 is starting to feel like a boutique camera and in some ways a slightly niche product. Many possible purchasers -- myself included -- will be drawn to its looks. Others will see the potential afforded by its high-speed performance.
On either front, it's a lovely piece of kit, but the world has moved on in the 10 months since Nikon introduced the J1. The J2 feels like it hasn't quite kept up. Indeed, it now seems a little too expensive at close to £500.