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Nikon 1 J2 review: All Quiet on the Eastern Front



Launched in September 2011, the Nikon 1 system is based on a CX sensor (harkening back to the Nikon DX and FX DSLR sensors). Its 13.2 x 8.8mm size is smaller than micro 4:3 and APS-C sensors, however, the J1’s DxOMark scores were surprisingly honorable for a sensor of this size. With a DxOMark overall score of 56, the Nikon compact managed to compete with larger sensors, including 4:3 formats. Its good performance in terms of color depth and dynamic range at its lowest ISO was likewise surprising. Nevertheless, it was penalized in terms of low-light sensitivity because of its small sensor size.

Unsurprisingly, the Nikon 1 J2 doesn’t show significant progress over the Nikon 1 J1, given that they share the same sensor — one that doesn’t seem to have changed at all between the two generations.

 Strengths of the Nikon 1 J2:

  • Color depth.
  • Good dynamic range at its lowest ISO.

 Weaknesses of the Nikon 1 J2:

  • No improvement in image quality compared to its predecessor.
  • Low-light performance is penalized by the sensor size.
Nikon 1 J2
Nikon 1 J2

With a DxOMarkoverall score of 54, the Nikon 1 J2 places 133rd in the DxOMark rankings, around the same level as certain micro 4:3 compact hybrids such as the Olympus Pen E-PL1 and the Panasonic GF1.

In terms of color depth, the Nikon 1 J2 is in 125th place in the DxOMark rankings with 21.3 bits.

With a dynamic range score of 10.8EV, the Nikon 1 J2’s 1″ CMOS sensor does not come close to the potential of certain other recent Sony sensors that reach 14EV. However, it should be noted that the 1 J2 is tied in this category with the Canon Powershot G1 X.

As for low-light sensitivity, the Nikon 1 J2 is still handicapped by its modest sensor surface size. Only Fuji expert compacts with 2/3″ sensors or expert compacts with 1/1.7″ sensors do less well. The J2 scored 363 ISO on our test bench, meaning that it would not be the best choice for shooting interior shots or under low-light conditions, at least in terms of RAW file potential.

Nikon 1 J2 vs Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100: No contest, especially for dynamic range

Nikon 1 J2

Although the Nikon 1 J2 and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 both employ CMOS sensors of the same size, the differences lie in their respective resolutions. In fact, the J2 utilizes bigger pixels (3.38µm vs 2.4µm for the Sony RX100) on the same sensitive surface area. Lot of difference are measured too: with a DxOMark overall score of 66, the DSC-RX100 bests the Nikon 1 J2’s score of 54 by 12 points.

In terms of color depth, the Sony offers finer nuances than the Nikon, with 22.6 bits for the former versus 21.6 bits for the latter. The additional subtlety of the gradations is certainly a bit thin, but nonetheless represents measurable progress in our tests.  

Dynamic range is the criterion for which Sony’s 1″ CMOS sensor really racks up points: the RX100 captures 1.2EV more than the Nikon compact. This can be seen on the diagram: the dynamic range of the Sony sensor evolves more rapidly than the Nikon when the sensitivity is lowered. Equivalent at 1600 ISO for the two cameras, there is a difference of 1.2EV at 100 ISO.

Nikon 1 J2

As for low-light sensitivity, the physics retains its logic and underscores the excellent design of Sony’s new 1″ sensor as opposed to that of the Nikon 1 J2. Displayed on-screen at 1:1, the RX100’s image appears more noisy than that of the J2, but when printed, the two images are comparable in terms of noise, thanks to a smoothed signal-to-noise ratio resulting in an equivalent 8 Mpix print for the high-resolution (20 Mpix) Sony.

Nikon 1 J2
When printed at 20 x 30cm, photos by both the Sony and the Nikon have the same apparent signal-to-noise ratio.

Nikon 1 J2 vs Olympus Pen E-P3: A serious competitor

Nikon 1 J2

Bulkier and with a larger sensor, the Olympus Pen E-P3 compact hybrid (and by extension, the Pen E-PL3 and Pen E-PM1) remains a serious competitor to the Nikon 1 J2. Despite their differences, the two rivals achieve DxOMark overall scores that are fairly close (54 for the Nikon versus 51 for the Olympus). The Nikon leverages its newer sensor design, whereas the Olympus sensor has scarcely changed since micro 4:3 cameras were launched in 2008.

It’s notably in terms of dynamic range that the Nikon 1 J2 distinguishes itself from the Pen E-P3 by obtaining 10.8EV vs 10.1EV (in other words, 0.7EV better).

Conversely, the advantage for low-light sensitivity logically belongs to the micro 4:3 sensor with its larger pixels and greater sensitivity, resulting in a gain of half a stop for the Pen E-P3.

Nikon 1 J2

Though the dynamic range of the two competitors is fairly similar at the lowest sensitivities, they clearly diverge as sensitivity increases, with the Pen E-PL3’s range dropping dramatically. The Nikon 1 J2 better resists the downward slide — but at the price of noise smoothing and thus a loss of resolution (see our article about half cooked raw).

The signal-to-noise ratio curve of the Pen E-P3 shows marked improvement over the Nikon 1 J1, thus highlighting the progress of the new Olympus hybrid sensor. The Nikon’s 1″ sensor can no longer compete.

Nikon 1 J2 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5


Comparing a commercial camera such as the J2 with the latest Olympus pro camera may seem a bit incongruous. However, word is that Olympus is going to use this new sensor for the entire line, including for its upcoming Olympus EPL5 and EPM2 models (DxOMark results for these two cameras will allow us to verify this).

In the meantime, it should be interesting to compare the results of this new sensor with those of the J2. The difference is significant: measurements for the OM-D’s sensor produced a DxOMark overall score of 71, putting it well ahead of other micro 4:3 compact hybrids.

This leap in progress is seen across all measurement attributes. The color depth of this new sensor surpasses that of the Nikon 1 J2 by 1.5 bits. The dynamic range, always the Achilles heel of previous Pen micro 4:3 sensors, comes in at 12.3EV for the OM-D (which should mean the same results for the Pen E-P5 and E-PL5) — also 1.5EV better than the Nikon 1. Low-light image quality for the P3 was already 0.5EV better than the J2, so it’s no surprise that this new sensor is more than a full stop more sensitive.

As shown, the progress made by the new 16Mpix CMOS sensor equipping Pen E-P5 / PL5 cameras reverses the situation with respect to the Nikon 1 J2, which loses its advantage in this area.

Nikon 1 J2 vs Fujifilm X10


Despite a larger sensor than the 2/3″ CMOS of the Fuji FinePix X10, the Nikon 1 J2 achieves a DxOMark overall score that is surprisingly close to its rival’s: 54 for the Nikon vs 50 the Fuji.

Scores for dynamic range between the two cameras are likewise very close (+0.5EV in favor of the X10).

As for low-light sensitivity, the Nikon takes a slight lead (on the order of 0.5EV).

Nikon 1 J2 vs Canon Powershot G1 X


The Canon G1 X sports a large sensor — larger than a 4:3’s, and that has a particular impact on the low-light sensitivity criterion for which it scores 644 ISO versus 363 ISO for the Nikon 1 J2. However, this advantage of nearly a full stop better for low-light is pretty much the only criterion for which the Canon G1 X is truly superior to the Nikon 1, given that their dynamic range is absolutely equivalent and their color depth is very similar.  

Nikon 1 J2 vs Canon Powershot S100


With an equally compact format, one might well prefer the Canon Powershot S100’s all-in-one solution. However, it uses a smaller sensor than the Nikon, whose 1″ sensor gives it an advantage  when it comes to low-light sensitivity. The Nikon achieves 363 ISO versus 153 ISO for the Canon S100 — that’s 1.3EV better.

The Canon provides a dynamic range that is 0.8EV more generous than the Nikon’s, but the J2 provides color depth that is 0.6 higher. These two criteria neutralize one another and so the two cameras end up with DxOMark overall scores that are in the same neighborhood (54 for the Nikon versus 50 for the Canon).

When it comes time to choose, one might well decide on the Nikon hybrid for its better sensitivity and its ability to take photos in burst mode up to 10 fps.

In terms of image quality, the Nikon 1 J2 doesn’t show a whole lot of progress with respect to its predecessor, the J1. We would have preferred to see the J2 benefit from a redesigned sensor, but it appears that Nikon has chosen instead to reserve its latest 1″ sensor technology for its expert-level camera, the Nikon 1 V2.

With respect to a conventional expert-level digital compact with a 1/1.7″ sensor, the Nikon 1 J2 stands out with its much higher sensitivity. But this advantage may well shatter once the new generation of 1/1.7″ sensors come on the scene — moving from CCD to backlit CMOS technology.

Compared to the Sony RX100, with which it shares the same size sensor and a similar footprint, the Nikon J2 lags behind primarily in dynamic range. The low-light results for the two cameras are very close.

As far as the micro 4:3 compact hybrid market goes, the Nikon 1 J2 has some seriously good points in its favor, but even so, the situation may radically change with the upcoming generation of Olympus Pen cameras that benefit from the OM-D E-M5’s new 16-Mpix sensor.

So it’s in the areas of features and ergonomics that users will find the strengths of the new generation of Nikon compact hybrids. And they are numerous: with its different creative modes, Full HD 60p video, 10 fps burst shooting, and speedy autofocus, the Nikon 1 J2 is a compact for the general public that will really shine in family and action photography.

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