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
—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
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.
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.
In principle, the specifications for both the J1 and V1 sensors are the same, with the sole difference of an anti-dust window on the J1 which is absent on the V1 (equipped with a more traditional anti-dust system). This design difference shouldn’t have any effect on image quality.
Other differences include:
- A more robust magnesium housing vs. the all-plastic housing of the J1
- A 1.44Mpix electronic viewfinder, whereas the J1 uses only its screen to aim
- A better screen resolution of 0.9 Mpix vs. 0.46 Mpix for the J1
- Multiple accessories, including the ability to connect an external flash
But now let’s look a little closer at the V1’s DxOMark test results.
Nikon V1 sensor measurements
You can see the complete results here: Nikon 1 V1 measurements
No suspense here: the sensors for the Nikon V1 and the J1 are strictly the same (8.8 x 13.2 mm, 10.4Mpix). There are slight differences in the scores for each, resulting in an overall score of 54 for the V1 and 56 for the J1, but these differences are so small that they are well within the limits of measurement uncertainty and variances in manufacturing quality. (As a reminder, a difference in DxOMark scores of 5 points is equal to 1/3 stop and is barely noticeable on images.)
For more details, see the comparison between the two models here: Nikon 1 V1 vs Nikon 1 J1
It is possible, however, to raise some serious questions about the V1, as its price would tend to place it in competition with such cameras as the Nikon D5100 or even the Sony A580: Nikon V1 vs Sony A580 vs Nikon D5100
Similarly, pitted against a high-end compact such as the Fuji X100 or an entry-level DSLR such as the Sony A35, the V1 does not appear to justify its higher price: Nikon V1 vs Fuji X100 vs Sony SLT A35
In short, at this price, the V1’s sensor puts it at a disadvantage.
One last remark: the Nikon 1 RAWs are cooked
One last thing about the Nikon 1 line: we have detected some smoothing on RAW files —a first for Nikon, though a somewhat regular occurrence for Sony and Pentax cameras. As explained in more details in a previous article, such smoothing artificially suppresses noise by lightly mixing neighboring pixels, but comes at the price of a loss of resolution.
So as to fairly analyze each camera, we have estimated the amount of sensor noise prior to smoothing and indicated with a white dot each ISO for which we detected smoothing. More precisely, this smoothing is clearly apparent starting at ISO 800 and intensifies right up to the maximum ISO (ISO 6400).
The amount of smoothing also varies depending on the gray level: it is weak in highlights, but becomes proportionately stronger in the shadows.