Compared to Olympus E-PL3
Let’s take a look at ISO performance of the Olympus E-PL3 that has a Micro Four Thirds sensor, which that is about twice bigger than the Nikon 1 J1/V1 CX sensor. The base ISO of the Olympus sensor starts at ISO 200 and it can go all the way to ISO 12,800. Please note that the E-PL3 has a 12.3-megapixel sensor, so I had to move my camera setup back and forth to get a similar field of view. No image resizing and rescaling were performed in Photoshop – these are 100% crops. All images were shot at the same shutter speed and aperture values.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Olympus E-PL3 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 200-800)
Here is a comparison of both cameras at ISO 200 (Left: Nikon 1 V1, Right: Olympus E-PL3):
At base ISO 200, both cameras look about the same. The Olympus E-PL3 looks a tad sharper than the Nikon 1 J1/V1, most likely due to better focus or optics.
At ISO 400, the Nikon 1 J1/V1 looks slightly noisier, but the difference is not big.
Looks like ISO 800 is also more or less the same as ISO 400, with E-PL3 having a slight advantage. Let’s compare the two at higher ISOs now.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Olympus E-PL3 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-12800)
Now here is where things get interesting. The Olympus E-PL3 gets significantly worse at ISO 1600, which is clearly visible across the frame, especially in the shadows; the grain is much bigger in size. Now the Nikon 1 J1/V1 clearly takes the lead – just take a look at the difference in the shadows.
The situation is even worse at ISO 3200 for the Olympus. Large grain specks appear all over the image and in the shadows. Image detail is lost by a great deal.
ISO 6400 is even worse for the Olympus E-PL3 – now the grain is killing the details. Letters are now mixed with grain and the shadow detail is completely lost. To be honest, I do not see the reason why Olympus decided to provide ISO 12800 capability – it is simply useless, as can be seen below:
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Olympus E-PL3 Summary
As you can see from the image crops above, all three cameras perform about the same at ISO speeds between 100 and 800, although the Olympus E-PL3 seems to have slightly cleaner images. The same cannot be said about its high ISO performance though – the Nikon 1 J1/V1 take over from ISO 1600 and clearly have an advantage in the amount of noise, especially in the shadows – all the way to ISO 6400. The ISO 12800 on the Olympus E-PL3 is useless; I do not even know why Olympus decided to leave it as an option. The 2-megapixel advantage does not make much difference either; even if the image is down-sampled to 10 megapixels, the Nikon still wins in high ISO performance. A quick side note – Olympus used a 3-year-old Micro Four Thirds sensor on the E-PL3 camera. The new Micro 4/3 sensors on such cameras as Panasonic DMC-GH2/G3 perform much better in comparison. Unfortunately, I could not obtain a GH2/G3 sample on time to perform additional comparisons.
The Nikon 1 J1/V1 also has a clear lead in the autofocus area – its hybrid AF system is faster in comparison, especially in a daylight environment. In low-light situations, both cameras seem to autofocus about the same with contrast-detect AF. On the other hand, the Olympus has better ergonomics – a traditional PASM selector on the top of the camera and its video recording button is neatly placed on the top right side of the camera rear – something I wish Nikon did the same with the J1/V1. You can also buy an electronic viewfinder for the Olympus, while such an option does not exist for the J1.
The Olympus E-PL3 has the worst menu system I have seen to date. It truly is horrendous when compared to the Nikon 1 V1 and it took me a long time to figure basic things out, like finding where to change image format from JPEG to RAW. To change ISO, you have to go two levels deep from the Custom Menu and find it somewhere in the middle of the menu. It was ridiculous and I wasted too much of my precious time figuring basic things out. Sure, it has some great features like bracketing (exposure, white balance, ISO, etc), multiple exposures, customizable buttons and much more, but they are of little use if they are not easily accessible. Where Olympus right now truly has the lead is in the lens department – Olympus has a wide array of lenses that cover everything from wide-angle and macro to portraits/telephoto. It will take years for Nikon to develop good lenses for the CX mount…
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Sony NEX-5N
Let’s see how the Nikon 1 J1/V1 compares to the Sony NEX-5n, which has a much larger 1.5x crop factor sensor – a similar size sensor used on the Nikon D5100 and D7000 DLSRs. I had a hard time matching up images because there is a huge difference in resolution – the Nikon 1 J1/V1 sensor is 10 MP, while the Sony NEX-5n is 16 MP. Therefore, the Sony crops below look a little bigger.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Sony NEX-5n Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Here is a comparison of base ISO 100 on both cameras:
At base ISO 100, both cameras seem to perform about the same, although the shadows on the Sony seem to be a little brighter, probably because of the higher dynamic range.
ISO 200 seems to be a little cleaner on the Sony NEX-5n.
The same with ISO 400 – the Sony NEX-5n is a tad cleaner.
And even at ISO 800, the NEX-5n has a very slight advantage over the J1/V1. The strange thing is, while the shadows are a little brighter, they also seem to be slightly noisier on the Sony. Let’s see how the cameras compare at high ISO levels now.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Sony NEX-5n High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
Unlike the Olympus E-PL3, Sony NEX-5n does a great job at ISO 1600. There is very little grain in the image and I would say that it looks better compared to the Nikon.
Increasing ISO to 3200 adds more noise to both images, but the Sony NEX-5n still looks better. The grain is smaller and a little more manageable than on the Nikon 1 J1/V1.
Nikon’s maximum ISO boost is 6400 and it is the last image that I can compare against the Sony NEX-5n, which has two extra ISO levels. Again, the cameras are comparable, but the Sony NEX-5n seems to be slightly better. Both cameras seem to retain good colors at high ISOs. Here are two extra ISO levels on the NEX-5n:
The ISO 12800 crop looks pretty good, but the ISO 25600 shot is unusable for my taste.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Sony NEX-5n Down-Sampled High ISO Comparison (ISO 800-6400)
Comparing sensors with different resolutions can be challenging. The above comparisons show pixel-level performance, which is typically in favor of a lower resolution sensor. Without a doubt, a camera with more pixels per inch equals more noise due to simple physics – the smaller the pixel, the more the noise. Let’s see what happens when images from both cameras are normalized, which in this case means the Sony NEX-5n 16 MP image gets reduced to 10 MP. Since there are many different ways to down-sample an image in Photoshop, I tried a few different methods and came to a conclusion that the regular “Bicubic (best for smooth gradients)” resizing algorithm results in the least amount of noise, which is what I used for the below images.
As expected, the results are in favor of a high-resolution camera, which in this case is the NEX-5n:
The differences are obvious right at ISO 800 – the NEX-5n looks very clean with smaller grain. In fact, if you take the ISO 1600 sample from the NEX-5n and put it against the ISO 800 sample from the J1/V1, you will see that NEX-5n still looks a tad better, which means that there is more than a stop of difference between the two when down-sampled to the same resolution. The NEX-5n images will also look sharper due to this down-sampling technique.
The same story with ISO 1600 – NEX-5n looks very clean in comparison.
When putting NEX-5n ISO 3200 against J1/V1 ISO 1600, the image from the NEX-5n is still a tad cleaner, so there is still over a stop of difference between the two.
ISO 6400 on the J1/V1 has plenty of large grain, while the same on the NEX-5n looks cleaner with smaller grain.
Again, this test shows what happens when both cameras are at 10 MP – the extra 6 MP of resolution on the NEX-5n results in over a stop of high ISO advantage.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Sony NEX-5n Summary
While I provide both 100% and down-sampled image comparisons, the only proper way to look at sensor performance is by down-sampling. As you can see from the above crops, the Nikon 1 CX sensor performs very well at the pixel level. The many years Nikon has spent developing good noise reduction algorithms paid off – that’s why it looks so good when compared to the Olympus. However, the moment you down-sample an image to a lower resolution, that’s where you see the true advantage of a higher resolution sensor.
The Sony NEX-5n looks exceptionally good when its images are at 10 MP – those extra 6 MP help reduce noise and bring out the sharpness of the image. Don’t forget that the sensor of the NEX-5n is also over 3 times larger than the one on Nikon 1 J1/V1. A larger size sensor also means larger lenses – and that’s Sony’s biggest weakness. It has a very compact camera body, but much bigger camera lenses (with the exception of the 16mm pancake lens). When shooting with mirrorless cameras, the Nikon 1 J1 fit my jacket pocket much easier than the Sony NEX-5n.
At the same time, a large sensor also means two things: shallower depth of field and better dynamic range – two major factors that work in NEX-5n’s favor. Sony has a few other advantages, such as excellent grip/handle, swivel/touchscreen LCD, in-camera editing, HDR, panorama and 3D modes.
Sony’s menu system is very good but has a lot more options than on the Nikon, so beginners might find the Nikon 1 J1 easier to operate. Nikon’s stronghold is its hybrid autofocus, which works faster than Sony’s AF. So the Nikon is clearly better at tracking and shooting action/sports. On the other hand, Sony lenses have a manual focus ring and manual focus operation is much easier. Simply turning the focus ring automatically zooms in at high resolution and you can use the touchscreen to move to any area of the image you want. You could even zoom in all the way to 9.5x for even closer and more precise focus adjustment.
Overall, I liked the Sony NEX-5n much better than the J1. Sony feels like a serious camera. Add the excellent Sony electronic viewfinder from the NEX-7 and you get yourself an advanced camera with amazing image quality. The J1 feels like a consumer camera in comparison, definitely not in the same league.
Compared to Nikon D700/D3
Last, but not least, I wanted to show you how the new CX sensor compares to Nikon’s full-frame FX sensor from the D700/D3 DSLR cameras. Again, the comparison is far from being fair, so this comparison is provided simply as a reference. Please note that D700’s base ISO is 200, but the camera provides an option to boost to ISO 100.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Nikon D700 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Nikon’s legendary full-frame sensor is a reference for practically noise-free performance at low ISOs.
While the Nikon 1 J1/V1 do pretty well with noise, the difference is clear, especially at ISO 800 – the D700 is very smooth in comparison.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Nikon D700 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
Let’s take a look at what happens at high ISO levels:
At ISO 1600, the Nikon 1 J1/V1 performs well, considering how small of a sensor it has compared to the full-frame D700.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 loses plenty of detail at ISO 3200 when compared to the D700, which stays relatively clean and perfectly usable.
Boosted to ISO 6400, the Nikon 1 J1/V1 suffer and plenty of details are lost in comparison.
The extra 2 ISO levels on the D700 are very grainy, pretty much unusable for my taste.
Nikon 1 J1/V1 vs Nikon D700 Summary
I was rather surprised to see how well the Nikon 1 J1/V1 sensor performs against Nikon’s high-end full-frame sensor. With a more than 7x smaller surface area, the Nikon 1 J1/V1 is only about ~2 stops behind the D700 sensor in ISO performance. This is great news for the DSLR users because it shows how superb the future sensors will be on the upcoming Nikon DSLRs. Another good news for the Nikon 1 J1/V1 is color reproduction – colors look almost as good as on the D700.
Again, the above comparison is provided only as a reference, since we are comparing a small-sensor mirrorless camera to a high-end DSLR.
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