In my review of the Nikon V1, I subjectively rated ISO performance. It seems as though the first thing people want to do with any new camera is crank the ISO and then try to shoot in the dark (ok, I’m guilty, too). While ISO performance shouldn’t be the only judgment factor when purchasing a camera, it’s certainly true that being able to shoot at high ISOs absolutely opens up creative possibilities that didn’t previously exist. In fact, one reason I really enjoy walking around with my D3s is that I can set ISO-Auto and forget it!
Of course, walking around with a D3s and a fast lens, like the 35mm f/1.4 AFS G Nikkor means lugging around a 2,021g (4.45 lb) kit! The Nikon V1 with 10mm f/2.8 “pancake” lens weighs in at 314g (0.69 lb). While I certainly don’t expect the V1 to come anywhere near the ISO performance of the D3s, I did think it would be interesting for me to compare it to my D3oos, which uses an older CMOS sensor design.
I found my test subject (Otter) in his normal hang-out. Light was soft and muted, so I used ISO 1250 at f/2.8 with the V1 and 10mm pancake lens. I then repeated the shot using my D300s at ISO 1250 and f/2.8 at 18mm with the 14-24mm f/2.8 AFS G zoom Nikkor. Both images were shot in RAW, and I used Standard Picture Control. I exported full-size JPEGs with Capture NX 2.3, matching the WB between the two shots. NR was disabled entirely.
Nikon V1 at ISO 1250 (click here for a full-resolution image)
Nikon D300s at ISO 1250 (click here for full-resolution image)
Here are 100% crops of the OOF background, to show noise:
The differences between these two images really depend on how you view them and what you’re looking for in terms of quality. As you’re probably aware, photographers tend to be in one of two camps: tech-driven “pixel peepers,” and people who take actual photographs.
The pixel peepers will jump down to the 100% crops and say “aha! The V1 has noise at 100%!” Mind you I didn’t do any kind of NR or take any special care during processing to mitigate the noise. What I notice, however, is the relative lack of chroma noise from both cameras, meaning the noise is more like film grain than nasty colored sprinkles.
For people who actually use their gear to make photographs of things other than test charts, what you probably notice first is that the framing is different. I was able to get MUCH closer to Otter with the V1 and its tiny form-factor than I was with the D300s and the massive 14-24mm Nikkor. Second, if you compare the “web size” images above, you probably don’t see much at all in the way of quality differences. Both images are sharp, and you can probably notice the shallower DOF of the D300 image, which is a result of its significantly larger sensor size.
So one thing you need to ask yourself, as a photographer, is “what format and size will I be presenting my images?” If you are making 24×36″ prints routinely, even the D300s won’t really suffice in terms of resolution and high ISO performance. But if you make 4×6″ prints, or share your images on Flickr or Facebook/Google+, chances are that you won’t be viewing them much larger than 1024 pixels wide. And for that purpose, you get excellent results from either camera.
Criticisms of the small CX-format sensor in the Nikon 1-series cameras are valid. However, those criticisms must be put into the context of typical use. At normal photo-sharing sizes, the Nikon 1-series does a remarkable job even at relatively high ISOs.