Nikon 1 J3 review: A new midrange offering doesn’t shine

By Janice Chen - Friday February 15 2013

Camera Review
Introduction | Nikon 1 J3 sensor performance | Nikon 1 J3 versus competition | Conclusion

Nikon 1 J3 vs. Nikon 1 V2 vs. Nikon 1 J2

One of the biggest changes made between the Nikon 1 J2 and the Nikon 1 J3 is that the J3 now utilizes the same 14.2-megapixel CMOS sensor as the higher-end (and more expensive) Nikon 1 V2 (suggested list price of $899.95 with the 10-30mm lens).

Both cameras’ predecessors, the J2 and V1 respectively, also share a sensor (a 10-megapixel CMOS). While the J2 and V1 share an Overall DxOMark of 54, however, the J3 scores two points higher than its big brother, the V2 (primarily due to its higher low-light ISO score), but still comes in below its predecessor as well. Differences are too low to be noticeable on final images.

nikkon-1-j3

Much of the reason that the J3 performed worse than the J2 can be attributed to the differences in their respective ISO ranges (ISO 160 to 6400 for the J3 and ISO 100 to 6400 for the J2). For instance, the J3 achieved 2/3 stop less than the J2 in the Color Depth test.

Nikon 1 J3 vs. Panasonic Lumix DMC GF5 vs. Fujifilm FinePix X10

Two cameras that compete with Nikon 1 J3 are the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5, a similarly priced mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera, as well as the Fujifilm FinePix X10, a high-end compact camera that also lists for about $600.

The J3 actually compares fairly similarly to both of these cameras, with the same general sensor quality as measured by DxOMark. The three cameras should be equally well suited for shooting portraits with color depth scores that are equivalent across the board, with the Panasonic GF5 and Fujifilm X10 both scoring 20.5 bits and the J3 coming in at an equivalent 20.4 bits.

When it comes to shooting landscapes however, the Panasonic falls behind a bit, with the J3 scoring a full EV higher on the dynamic range test, which means it will give you better details in highlights and shadows. The Fujifilm’s score of 11.3EV is a touch higher even than the J3, but you won’t perceive much of a difference between these two cameras in terms of dynamic range.

Performance in low light is a completely different story, however, and this is where the Panasonic GF5 derives benefit from its larger Micro Four Thirds-sized sensor. With a Sports score of 573 ISO compared to 420 ISO for the Nikon 1 J3 and 245 ISO for the Fujifilm X10, the Panasonic clearly takes the lead in low light shooting, performing a half stop better than the Nikon and close to a full stop better than the Fujifilm X10. Note that Fujifilm announced the X10’s successor, the FinePix X20, at CES as well, updating it with the X-Trans CMOS II sensor it originally introduced in its interchangeable lens cameras. Check back soon for test results from the X20.

Nikon 1 J3 vs. Olympus PEN E-PL5 vs. Canon EOS M

For photographers who are looking for the best image quality from a hybrid interchangeable lens camera, some comparisons of DxOMark results from other cameras on the market reveal interesting data.

For instance, when comparing the Nikon 1 J3 with the Olympus PEN E-PL5 (which saw a price drop from $699.99 to $599.99 in December) and the higher-end Canon EOS M, which lists for $799.99, you’ll see that the J3’s performance doesn’t match up to either camera. In fact, the Olympus stands out as a great value, delivering much better performance for the same price.

The low light performance of the Olympus and Canon cameras benefit from their larger sensors, with the Canon’s APS-C sensor being the largest of the three and scoring a full stop higher than the J3.

Nikon 1 J3 vs. Sony NEX-6 vs. Pentax K 01

In another comparison with two other cameras with APS-C sized sensors – the Sony NEX-6, which sells for $749.99 and the Pentax K 01, which sells for just $449.95 – we can see that the Nikon 1 J3 doesn’t match up in terms of image quality to even the lower-priced offering. Again, the larger sized sensors deliver much better low-light performance, and the Sony and Pentax cameras also outperform the J3 significantly on both color depth and dynamic range.