Nikon 1 V1 ISO Performance: Pixel Peeping vs. Image Sharing

Pikes Peak alpenglow, Nikon 1 V1 at ISO 450 (hand-held)

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 1 V1 with 10mm f/2.8 lens, f/2.8 at ISO 1250

Nikon D300s at ISO 1250 (click here for full-resolution image)

Nikon D300 with 14-24mm Nikkor @f/2.8, ISO 1250

Here are 100% crops of the OOF background, to show noise:

Nikon V1:

Nikon 1 V1 at ISO 1250 (100% crop)

Nikon D300:

Nikon D300s at ISO 1250 (100% crop)


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.

11 thoughts on “Nikon 1 V1 ISO Performance: Pixel Peeping vs. Image Sharing”

  1. This is the first conclusion that I have read where common sense was used.

    I wish dpreview whod have two categories of each fourm, one for pixel peepers and one for people who like to take photos.

  2. Jason:

    You did a great real world analyses of the noise issue. The noise in the v-1 doesn’t bother me a bit. I am getting closer and closer to getting one of these. Have you ever consider of posting some pictures taken by the v-1 using the noise reduction in CNX2?

    Also a funny thing is happening is sort of happening in my field of photography, architectural photography. The overwhelming majority what to post the image on web site and only print image for marketing material which is usually only 8 1/2 X 11

    Again thanks for the review

  3. Aha! Bokeh!

    The second image has shallower DOF that’s much more flattering to the subject. I’d just as soon not see all the furniture and crap in the background. That’s the real challenge (and benefit) that smaller sensor cameras provide.

    The biggest creative limitation of the new format is the lack of DOF control it provides. I think you don’t give the format enough credit by implying it’s really ideal only for relatively low res electronic viewing. It’s good enough for decent size printing and I’m confident it’s a very capable macro photo tool.

  4. BJ-
    The point of this post was ISO performance, not DOF. You are exactly correct in that greater effective DOF with smaller has some clear advantages in certain situations.
    If you’re a bokeh chaser, the CX format isn’t ideal. My point about viewing size was in the context of High ISO performance… in other words, you don’t see noise in 4×6″ prints, or on-screen.

    Clearly, there is plenty of room for a different discussion about the merits and drawbacks of CX format.

  5. One should consider the advantages the V1 has over DSLR’s.
    1. The smaller size & weight for those that don’t want the size & weight of a DSLR.
    2. A “crop factor” of 2.7x.
    3. With the Nikon adapter, you can use all those expensive Nikon lenses.

  6. 1) Agreed. This is the reason I got one.
    2) Debatable… it’s good for getting extra DOF, not as good IQ as you might get with M4/3 or APS-C… but overall Nikon did a great job with the sensor. It mainly helps drive the size of the lenses down.
    3) Yes, but with some significant limitations… see my post from today on the FT1.

  7. Really close to jumping for one of these to go alongside my trusty D4 … ahem, D3s! … (soon, my pretty, soon) for unit stills – I’ve dreamed of a truly silent shutter for years. Thanks for the informative post. However, what I really want to say is – what a beautiful hound! He looks lovely.

  8. I shoot primarily with a D700 and now with my new D800. My V1 beats both of these monsters hands down in one category. I shoot on movie sets a lot. I cannot use the D700 or D800 when sound is being recorded for obvious reasons. That’s where the mirrorless, SILENT(using electronic shutter), V1 comes into play! Any shot with th V1 is better than no shot with the others, and unless I am in very low light situations, I am very happy with the image quality!

  9. I finally obtained a V1 following the great price reductions. I don’t like the looks of the V2, to many edges to hang on things. The only real bummer is the CX sensor and the great depth of field. I recently used a friend’s D800 and the dof is just beautiful! However, I’ve switched down to the 1 system because of medical issues. I just can’t carry a dslr and the lens’ anymore! I must say that I really liked the Fuji X-E1, it is for old photogs way of shooting & thinking. But having used Nikon for 40 yrs I felt like an apostate if I left the camera maker. I’m happy to say that I didn’t. The V1 fits the need for a light camera. I’ve got to adjust things around a bit as for my way of shooting (use to dof and slow apertures).

    Excellent review. I could care less about pixel peeping, having a gimmick, or making a statement other then “I saw this.”

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