Nikon 1 S1 review: A new product line for the Nikon Hybrid system

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DxOMark Sensor

Introduction

Late to the Mirrorless Hybrid party Nikon launched their first models, the V1 and J1, in 2011 and keen to catch up, updated V2 and J2 versions quickly followed in 2012. Then January 2013 saw the release of the new Nikon 1 S1 with the same size 1-inch Nikon CX sensor used in their previous Hybrids, which is physically smaller than the Micro Four Thirds or APS-C sensors in most of the competition.

The advantage of the smaller CX sensor however is that Nikon can design tiny lenses and their 1 Nikkor range is great for travelling light. For Nikon enthusiasts though the big draw of the 1 Series is compatibility with some Nikon F mount lenses via the $189 FT1 adapter. So you can use your top quality Nikkor glass and taking account of the x2.7 ‘crop factor’ telephotos like a 300mm offer an incredible 810mm focal length. 

The Nikon 1 S1 features the same 10.1-megapixel resolution found on most Nikon Hybrids with the exception of the 14.2-megapixel V2 and J3. There’s also an increased 100 – 6400 ISO sensitivity range, 15 fps continuous shooting with autofocus and an Advanced Hybrid Autofocus system, but no hotshot or EVF.

With an initial price tag of $497 including a 11-27.5mm lens the new Nikon 1 S1 is cheaper than the 14-megapixel V2 and J3 but is over $100 more expensive than the original 10-megapixels V1 and J1. It’s true to say the S1 does pack a few more features and performance capabilities, but does that extra cash also buy you better image quality? Let’s find out.

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Nikon 1 S1: No significant improvement over previous 10-megapixel Nikon 1 Hybrids

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Although ranking in 1st place in the DxOMark Sensor Scores for Nikon 1 Series cameras the S1 is still off the pace compared with much of the Hybrid competition.

With an Overall DxOMark Sensor Score of 56 the Nikon 1 S1 ranks 129th for all camera sensors on the DxOMark Database and finishes 1st for Nikon 1 Series Hybrids. With the same Overall Score as the Nikon 1 J1 (56) and only 2 points better in comparison to the 54 achieved by the Nikon 1 V1 and J2 however, we measured no significant improvement in overall image quality compared with previous 10-megapixel Nikon 1 Series Hybrids.

What’s more ranking just 20th overall for all Hybrids results from the smaller 1-inch CX sensor don’t fare that well against its competitors. Scoring 11.1Evs for Dynamic Range the Nikon 1 S1 ranks 124th for all sensors and 18th for Hybrids. Contrast that with the 13.4Evs achieved by the top-ranking Hybrid the Sony NEX-7 that has a 2.3Evs better Dynamic Range than the S1.

21.4 bits for Color Depth places the Nikon 1 S1 in 130th Overall and in 2nd place for Nikon Hybrid cameras behind the J1 with 21.5. For Low-Light ISO the S1 score of 397 places it 158th overall and 3rd for the Nikon 1 Series, but with all of Nikon’s Hybrid offerings hovering around the 400 ISO mark their performance here is also weak compared to Hybrids with larger APS-C sensors such as the Pentax K 01 with 1135 ISO or Sony NEX-C3 with 1083 ISO.

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Whereas earlier Nikon 1 models such as the J2 smoothed RAW file Noise between 800 – 6400 ISO the new Nikon 1 S1 doesn’t but achieves very similar SNR 18% results.

Nikon 1 S1 Vs Nikon 1 J3 Vs Nikon 1 V2: Greater ISO latitude wins the day for the S1

With no discernible sensor improvement over existing 10-megapixel offerings in the Nikon 1 range how does the latest S1 compare against the higher resolution Nikon 1 J3 and V2 hybrids boasting 14-megapixels?

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The 10-megapixel S1 just nudges out its 14-megapixel siblings in the DxOMark Sensor Scores but in real world terms offers no significant improvement.

With an Overall Score of 56 compared to 52 for the J3 and 50 for the V2 the S1 has just a 1/3rd of a Stop improvement over the V2 and less over the J3. Drill down into the categories and both the Landscape and Sports Scores are similar, so it’s the Portrait (Colour Depth) score where the S1 ranks higher with 21.4 bits, compared to 20.4 bits on the J3 and 20.2 bits on the V2. That’s a +2/3rds of a Stop improvement for the S1 and it’s the result of the extended ISO range and lower minimum ISO sensitivity offered on the new Nikon 1 S1.

Whereas both the J3 and V2 feature a 160 – 6400 ISO range the S1 boasts greater sensitivity latitude with a 100 – 6400 range and that has positively affected both the Portrait and Landscape Scores. This is because a Categories Overall Score is the sensor’s best score and that’s usually achieved using the lowest ISO sensitivity. As the Overall DxOMark Sensor Score is a balance between the three categories the S1’s Overall score has been positively impacted, too. It’s only in the Portrait category the S1 has an advantage though and for many photographers the higher resolution of the J3 and V2 will be more important.

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The Nikon 1 S1 offers a +2/3rds Stop improvement in Color Sensitivity over the 14.2-megapixel Nikon 1 J3 and V2 models thanks to the greater 100 – 6400 ISO latitude offered on the S1.

Nikon 1 S1 Vs Panasonic Lumix DMC GF5 Vs Fujifilm FinePix X10

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With an Overall Score of 56 the Nikon 1 S1 has a similar sensor performance to the Panasonic GF5 and Fujifilm X10, although the GF5’s larger sensor is better in low light.

So how does the S1 compare to similar price offerings like the $489 fixed lens Fujifilm X-10 or $449 interchangeable lens Panasonic GF5 Hybrid? Well the S1’s DxOMark Sensor Score of 56 stands up well against 50 achieved by both the GF5 and X-10 and offers a 1/3rd of a Stop improvement but with 2 million fewer pixels than the other two.

If Color Depth is important the S1 also wins with 2/3rds of a Stop improvement over the Portrait Scores of the GF5 and X10. One of the best results for the X10 is its Dynamic Range Score of 11.3Evs, which is almost equaled by the Nikon 1 S1’s 11.1Evs and in reality there’s no difference. Dynamic Range is weak on the Panasonic GF5 however and with a score of just 10Evs both the S1 and X10 offer +1Evs performance in this regard.

In lowlight however it’s the opposite story with the larger Micro Four Thirds sensor on the Panasonic GF5 beating both the smaller 1-inch CX sensor on the S1 and even smaller 2/3-inch model used in the Fujifilm X-10. With 573 ISO for the GF5 compared to 397 ISO for the S1 and just 245 ISO for the X-10 the Panasonic boasts a ½ Stop ISO performance improvement over the S1 and more than 2/3rds of Stop over the Fujifilm X10.

If you’re interested in Fujifilm’s fixed lens system however make sure you check back soon for our results and analysis on the X10’s upgrade – the Fujifilm X20.

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Sensor size is the key factor for ISO performance with the GF5’s APS-C variety out performing the S1’s smaller 1-inch and X10’s even smaller 2/3rd-inch sensors.

The Nikon 1 S1 does have a few things going for it most notably the rapid 15fps burst shooting, advanced hybrid autofocus system and, for Nikkor glass owners, compatibility with F mount lenses. The 1-inch CX sensor also means the native 1 Nikkor lenses should be more compact than many Hybrid systems which is great if you want to travel light.   

In the DxOMark Scores however the Nikon 1 Series does not hit the usual heights for Nikon cameras and the S1’s Image Quality is disappointing. With no Image Quality improvement over existing 10-megapixel Nikon 1 Series Hybrids the extra $100 the S1 costs is only buying extra features.

The S1’s image quality isn’t better than their 14Mp J3 or V2 offerings either. Yes it wins marginally in the Portrait Score because of its greater ISO latitude but the difference isn’t significant. What’s more if low light performance is important a larger Micro Four Thirds or APS-C sensor wins every time and further analysis of the S1 competition like the Nikon 1 S1 vs. Olympus EPL5 vs. Canon EOS M and Nikon 1 S1 vs. Sony NEX 6 vs. Pentax K01 makes interesting reading.

The Nikon 1 S1 therefore is a little expensive considering its Image Quality. If it’s the extra features you desire go for it but if you’re after good image quality on a Hybrid there are better options and if you simply want a tiny Nikon 1 camera to stick your Nikkor glass on and have a play then the older, cheaper V1 and J1 versions produce the same images.