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Nikon 1 series: The tests

Thursday September 29 2011

Sensor Review
Interchangeable Lens cameras by Nikon | Nikon J1: a small camera with a great sensor? | Nikon V1: review of the high-end Nikon 1
Nikon J1: a small camera with a great sensor?

With this new product, Nikon is a late arrival in a market in which Panasonic, Olympus and  Sony have already carved out their places. Nikon has made a very important technological effort in order to succeed... the question is, does this effort correspond to market demands? As a response to the problem of bulkiness, the answer appears to be yes. As for image quality, the analysis of the Nikon J1 sensor below provides at least an initial response. (We will be reviewing the Nikon V1 shortly)

Nikon J1: a small camera with a great sensor?

For those who are well-acquainted with DxOMark, the measurements for the Nikon J1 will be quite surprising: the Nikon J1 sensor performs very well for a such a small sensor (8.8 x 13.2 mm for 10.4 Mpix).

With an overall score of 56, the Nikon J1 achieves a pretty good DxOMark ranking. With regard to its size, this ranking is a big surprise, as the Nikon J1 sensor manages to score close to or even better than larger sensors (including 4/3 sensors).

If we dig further into the results, we see even more nice surprises. The color depth score of 21.5 and the dynamic range score of 11 EVs are pretty good for this sensor. It is worth noting that the Nikon J1 achieves this good color and contrast at its lowest ISO setting—ISO 100, giving it a key advantage in term of dynamic range and color depth.

On the other hand, its low-light ISO score is a bit low: 372, which reflects the impact of the sensor size. Indeed, this score is naturally dependent on the sensor size: the bigger the sensor, the more light it captures. So even though the quality of the pixels provided by Nikon is very close to that of its main competitor, its sensor size physically limits the image quality.

Let’s have a look at how the Nikon compares with its main competitors:

Nikon 1 J1 vs Sony NEX-C3 vs Sony SLT A77

This isn’t the first comparison you’d expect, is it? Why would we compare a Interchangeable Lens camera to the $1400 semi-pro Sony A77?

—Simply because its sensor shares the same specifications as the new Sony NEX 7, which we haven’t measured yet. Moreover, the NEX 7 does not have a semi-translucent mirror, and thus should be able to achieve better scores than the Sony A77. So we are in fact trying to compare the J1 with its Sony competitors, the NEX-C3 and the NEX 7.

The conclusion here is obvious: if you want the best image quality and the camera size doesn’t really matter, choose the larger Sony NEX cameras. (And you should perhaps wait for the measurement results of the NEX 7 before buying a NEX.)

Nikon 1 J1 vs Olympus PEN EP3 vs Panasonic GF3

Here we compare the Nikon-CX sensor with micro 4/3 sensors.

Even if the results seem pretty close, pay particular attention to the low-light ISO score. The gap between the Nikon 1 J1 sensor and the PEN EP3 or GF3 sensors comes close to ½ stop. Under low-light conditions, this difference could be noticeable and a handicap for some moving shots. The impact of this gap will also depend on the raw converter.

Nikon J1 vs Canon G12 vs Nikon P7000

This is perhaps the key comparison for Nikon: the Nikon 1 series is a very good alternative for people who are looking for a high-end compact. Their form factors are very close, but the image quality is significantly better and its interchangeable lenses could convince a lot of beginners to choose the Nikon J1.

The Canon Powershot S100 and Nikon Coolpix P7100 measurements are not yet available, but we don’t expect the comparisons to differ significantly .

In conclusion, the Nikon J1 may disappoint some serious photographers who are used to DSLR image quality. But for those who have been waiting for good tiny camera, at $700, the Nikon J1 is a good camera for the money!

See you tomorrow for more details about the Nikon V1 and some of the Nikon 1 innovations like the Smoothed RAW.