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Nikon J1 vs Sony NEX-C3 Side by Side Review

Nikon J1 mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera compared to the Sony NEX-C3 side by side


Jan 7th, 2012

Nikon recently released the 10.1 MP Nikon J1 interchangeable lens camera, one of their first entries into the mirrorless compact camera market.

The Nikon J1 is positioned as the current entry level model in the new Nikon 1 system, and is designed to appeal to family and travel photographers by featuring a very compact form factor, and by offering a wide range of both user friendly automatic options and manual creative control.

Compared to Nikon's DX format F mount SLR cameras like the Nikon D3100 and D5100, the Nikon J1 offers a much more compact design by eliminating the viewfinder and incorporating a smaller sensor and lens mount.

While larger than the typical sensor found in smaller point and shoot cameras, the Nikon 1 system CX format sensor incorporated in the Nikon J1 is significantly smaller versus Nikon's traditional DX format sensor.

Based on the difference in sensor size, the lens focal length multiplier effect for the Nikon CX format system is 2.7x compared to 1.5x for the Nikon DX format SLR camera system.

The standard kit lens for the Nikon J1 is the Nikon 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR Nikkor wide-angle zoom lens, which when taking into account the lens focal length multiplier effect offers a very similar field of view to the standard Nikon DX AF-S 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 IF ED VR Nikkor lens that can be purchased in kit form with the Nikon D3100 and D5100 SLR's.

The Nikon 1 Nikkor 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR zoom provides a wide-angle to telephoto field of view from approximately 27mm - 81mm in 35mm terms. (10mm x 2.7 multiplier effect for DX format = 27mm and 30mm x 2.7 = 81mm)

In comparison, the Nikkor AF-S DX 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens provides almost the same field of view in 35mm terms with coverage from 27mm at the widest angle to 82.5mm at maximum zoom. (18mm x 1.5 multiplier effect for DX format = 27mm and 55mm x 1.5 = 82.5mm)

 

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A key benefit of the Nikon J1 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is that the entire system is reduced in size. Both the camera and lens offer significantly smaller dimensions compared to their DX format SLR equivalent.

The Nikon J1 mirrorless compact camera is also approximately 50% lighter versus its closest Nikon DX format counterpart, the Nikon D3100 SLR.

Nikon J1 versus Nikon D3100 SLR camera

A more direct competitor to the Nikon J1 is the Sony NEX-C3 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The Sony NEX-C3 differs from the Nikon J1 in that it incorporates a larger APS-C type sensor, the same size found in Sony's Alpha SLR camera's like the SLT-A65, and approximately the same size as the one found in the Nikon D3100.

The Sony NEX-C3 is compatible with Sony's dedicated NEX E-mount lenses, and even though the lens mount is different between the two systems, the Sony NEX-C3 provides the same 1.5x lens multiplier factor as Sony's Alpha APS-C format DSLR camera's.

While the Sony NEX-C3 camera body maintains similar dimensions to the Nikon J1, the Sony E-mount 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS standard kit zoom lens is a fair amount larger in diameter compared to the Nikon 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR Nikkor zoom lens.

The Sony NEX-C3 requires a bigger image circle to be projected from the lens onto the larger sensor, and with respect to this engineering constraint the Sony SEL 18-55mm zoom lens has to feature a wider barrel diameter . The same tends to hold true when comparing the other lenses in each line up. The current Nikon 1 system lenses are for the most part smaller versus their closest Sony E-mount system counterparts.

Nikon J1 compared to Sony NEX-C3 top view

 

We have now had the opportunity to test the Nikon J1 versus the Sony NEX-C3 , and have put together a side by side comparison to show how these two mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras perform against each other.

Nikon J1 compared to Sony NEX-C3: Respective Advantages

The Sony NEX-C3 features a higher resolution and larger sensor compared to the Nikon J1: Not only does the Sony NEX-C3 offer a higher resolution sensor at 16.2 megapixels versus the Nikon J1 with 10.1 megapixels, the camera's sensor is considerably larger than the one found in the Nikon J1.

If the respective imaging sensors were the same size, in order to fit 16.2 million pixels on the same surface area as 10.1 million pixels, the physical pixels on the Sony NEX-C3 sensor would have to be smaller and packed closer together.

The Sony NEX-C3's increased sensor size creates a greater surface area which provides sufficient room for the extra pixels, and allows each individual pixel to be engineered to be larger in size. The pixel pitch (size of the pixel) for the Nikon J1 is 3.38 µm versus 4.77 µm for the Sony NEX-C3. Since larger pixels offer enhanced light gathering ability, the Sony NEX-C3 provides a technological advantage with respect to image quality especially in terms of using high ISO settings.

Nikon J1 sensor size compared to Sony NEX-C3 sensor size

'Pixel density' (or how closely together the pixels are located) is determined by dividing the number of pixels by the imaging area of the sensor. Based on this calculation, the pixel density on the Nikon J1 is considerably higher at 8.7MP / cm² versus 4.4MP / cm² on the Sony NEX-C3. There are a number of disadvantages associated with higher pixel density sensors, including; lower dynamic range, reduced high ISO performance, diffraction issues, and increased possibility of camera shake.

Independent DxOMark Lab Sensor tests results for the Nikon J1 versus the Sony NEX-C3 support these arguments, showing that the Sony NEX-C3 delivers better RAW sensor output compared to the Nikon J1, including improved colour depth, dynamic range, and high ISO capability.

Nikon J1 DxO Mark Sensor test results
Sony NEX-C3 DxO Mark Sensor test results

The Sony NEX-C3 offers up to 25,600 ISO sensitivity and better high ISO performance compared to the Nikon J1: The Sony NEX-C3 offers high-ISO settings up to 25,600 ISO. The Nikon J1 in comparison provides high ISO settings up to 3200 ISO, with the option of an H1 ISO boost setting equal to 6400 ISO.

Both camera's offer an 'Auto ISO' setting where the camera determines the most suitable ISO selection based on the scene at hand. The Nikon J1 provides three options in the camera's ISO settings menu that allows the user to cap the Auto ISO range between 100-3200 ISO (A3200 Auto), 100-800 ISO (A800 Auto), or 100-400 ISO (A400 Auto).

The Auto ISO range on the Sony NEX-C3 interchangeable lens camera is fixed from 200 -1600 ISO. What this means is that if you want to utilize the Sony's upper high ISO range you have to use the camera in manual override, and first select Program (P), Aperture priority (A), Shutter priority (S) or Manual exposure shooting mode, and then adjust the ISO value to the desired setting.

In fully automatic (iA) point and shoot exposure mode, the NEX-C3 will always select an ISO value between 200 - 1600 ISO. In comparison, when shooting in basic Auto exposure mode the Nikon J1 does provide the better Auto ISO capability, since the camera can be set up to offer an Auto ISO range from 100 - 3200 ISO (A3200 Auto).

Nikon J1 ISO sensitivity range
Nikon J1 ISO Range
Available ISO selection: Auto, 100 - 3200 ISO in 1 stop increments. ISO boost setting Hi-1 available equal to 1 stop above 3200 ISO (6400 ISO)

Sony NEX-C3 ISo range
Sony NEX-C3 ISO Range
Available ISO selection: Auto, 200 - 12800 ISO in 1 stop increments. Auto ISO range limited to 200 - 1600 ISO

Based on our tests, the Sony NEX-C3 offers significantly better output compared to the Nikon J1 in terms of high ISO performance. The Sony NEX-C3 delivers more pleasing image quality with less digital noise (grain like effect) and offers better retention of colour and fine detail when shooting at higher ISO settings.

These improvements can be directly attributed to the Sony NEX-C3's larger APS-C format sensor design and the camera's image processing capabilities with respect to noise reduction. Below we compare the image quality provided by the Nikon J1 versus the Sony NEX-C3 at 3200 ISO and 1600 ISO.

Nikon J1 3200 ISO Test
 
Sony NEX-C3 3200 ISO Test
Nikon J1 with Nikkor 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR zoom lens at 3200 ISO   Sony NEX-C3 with Sony 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS zoom lens at 3200 ISO
Nikon J1 3200 ISO test. Crop viewed at 100%   Sony NEX-C3 3200 ISO test. Crop viewed at 100%
Nikon J1 with Nikkor 1 10-30mm VR
• ISO 3200, 1/20 sec at F7.1, Normal NR
• Matrix Metering, AWB
J1 Image Sample 3.7 MB Large
 
Sony NEX-C3 with 18-55mm OSS
• ISO 3200, 1/15 sec at F7.1, Normal NR
• Multi-pattern Metering, AWB
NEX-C3 Image Sample 5.3 MB Large

The above sample image crops were taken while viewing the respective images at 100% full size. It is clear that the Sony NEX-C3's larger and higher resolution sensor does a considerably better job at retaining fine detail at 3200 ISO versus the capabilities offered by the Nikon J1.

The Nikon J1 mirrorless camera employs more aggressive high ISO noise reduction processing, which results in a fair amount of smudging and loss of detail in the final image.

Nikon J1 1600 ISO Test
 
Sony NEX-C3 1600 ISO Test
Nikon J1 with Nikkor 1 10-30mm VR zoom lens at 1600 ISO   Sony NEX-C3 with Sony 18-55mm OSS  zoom lens at 1600 ISO
Nikon J1 with Nikkor 1 10-30mm VR zoom lens at 1600 ISO crop   Sony NEX-C3 with Sony 18-55mm OSS  zoom lens at 1600 ISO crop
Nikon J1 with Nikkor 1 10-30mm VR
• ISO 1600, 1/8 sec at F5.6, High ISO NR On
• Aperture Priority, Matrix Metering, Auto WB
Nikon J1 Image Sample 3.4 MB Large File
 
Sony NEX-C3 with 18-55mm OSS
• ISO 1600, 1/13 sec at F5.6, High ISO NR On
• Aperture Priority, Multi-pattern Metering, Auto WB
Sony NEX-C3 Image Sample 4.3 MB Large File

The Nikon J1 does offer some improvement at 1600 ISO, although the stronger in-camera high ISO image processing still has a tendency to produce more of a watercolour effect with less refined edges in comparison to the results from the Sony NEX-C3.

Thanks to its larger and higher resolution sensor combined with a less aggressive high ISO noise reduction approach, the Sony NEX-C3 renders enhanced fine detail versus the Nikon J1 when shooting at 1600 ISO.

The high ISO image quality from both the Nikon J1 and the Sony NEX-C3 can be improved by shooting in the camera's respective native RAW file format and then post processing your images with software, although this is something that users in this category do not generally tend to do.

Both camera's also offer the ability to select RAW + JPEG mode so that each image is recorded twice to the memory card, once as a JPEG and also as a separate RAW file.

The Sony NEX-C3 offers a better quality higher resolution tiltable LCD monitor: the NEX-C3 incorporates a 3-inch 921,000 dot LCD screen with a 3:2 aspect ratio and wide viewing angle. The hinged monitor can be tilted upwards by approximately 80 degrees, and downwards by as much as 45 degrees, convenient when shooting above the crowd or low to the ground.

Sony NEX-C3 Tilt LCD monitor

The LCD screen on the Sony NEX-C3 also features Sony's proprietary TruBlack technology which includes a special resin layer to suppress internal reflections and increase contrast compared to conventional LCDs.

The Nikon J1 in turn incorporates a fixed 3-inch, 420,000 dot LCD screen with a 4:3 aspect ratio and wide viewing angle. The monitor brightness can also be adjusted on both cameras depending on viewing conditions.

Comparing the LCD display on the cameras side by side, the monitor on the Sony NEX-C3 delivers a more pleasing colour, contrast and brightness rendition of the scene versus the monitor on the Nikon J1.

Nikon J1 LCD monitor versus the Sony NEX-C3 LCD screen

The Sony NEX-C3 offers the option of enabling a live histogram on the LCD monitor to assist in determining the best exposure. An RGB histogram is also available in playback mode. The Nikon J1 allows for a standard histogram to be displayed although only in playback mode.

Both camera's also provide a grid overlay feature which superimposes a series of grid pattern lines on the LCD monitor which serves as an aid in landscape and architectural composition. (Align horizontal and vertical lines)

The Nikon J1 offers faster AF capabilities with Hybrid Phase Detect and Contrast Detect AF System: Unlike most mirrorless interchangeable lens compact cameras, the Nikon J1 incorporates an advanced hybrid phase-detect and contrast-detect auto focus system providing for faster focus acquisition. In poorly lit areas the camera will automatically select contrast-detect AF mode to offer expanded AF coverage.

Based on our side by side tests, the Nikon J1 provides better low light auto focusing capabilities versus the Sony NEX-C3. Under dimmer conditions where the Nikon J1 managed to swiftly lock focus on the subject, the NEX-C3 performed a fair bit of AF hunting before achieving the same.

Utilizing its phase-detect AF technology providing for more precise AF coverage, the Nikon J1 offers 73 single point AF areas (selectable) compared to the Sony NEX-C3 with 25 AF points (selectable).

The Nikon J1 offers much faster continuous shooting and a larger buffer capacity versus the Sony NEX-C3: The Nikon J1 can shoot up to an impressive 10 frames per second while the camera's AF system follows and tracks the subject (AF-A mode), a tribute to how fast the AF system on the Nikon J1 really is. The camera can capture up to an incredible 60 full size images per second in AF-S mode with focus and exposure locked on the first frame.

In comparison, the Sony NEX-C3 can capture up to 2.5 images per second with continuous AF. The NEX-C3 can capture images at up to 5.5 frames per second with focus and exposure locked on the first frame (Speed Priority).

The Nikon J1 offers impressive buffer performance allowing for up to 19 RAW or RAW+JPEG images, or 26 JPEG Fine images to be captured in a burst of continuous shooting. In comparison, the Sony NEX-C3 provides a buffer capacity that allows for up to 6 RAW or RAW+JPEG frames, or 14 JPEG Fine images in a single burst.

The Nikon J1's much faster continuous shooting speed and almost double JPEG buffer capacity provides impressive performance and a significant advantage when trying to catch the action as it unfolds.

The Nikon J1 offers full 1080/60i HD movie recording versus the Sony NEX-C3 with 720/30p HD Movie: The Nikon J1 offers better movie recording options with the ability to record Full HD movies at 1080/60i versus the Sony NEX-C3 which limits HD movie resolution to 720p.

Nikon J1 movie mode
Nikon J1 Movie Recording Modes
Available HD video options include: 1080/60i, 1080/30p or 720/60p

Sony NEX-C3 movie mode
Sony NEX-C3 Movie Recording Modes
Available HD video options include: 720/30p (two compression settings Fine or Standard)

The Nikon J1 provides three HD movie recording options including; 1080/60i, 1080/30p or 720/60p. The camera also provides the ability to record Slow-motion movies at either 400 fps (460 x 240 resolution) or 1200 fps (320 x 120 resolution). A great tool for analyzing your golf swing.

The Nikon J1 also features a Motion Snapshot mode which is easily activated by turning the Mode Dial on the back of the camera to the Motion Snapshot icon setting. Nikon's Motion Snapshot mode allows you to capture a second of movie footage and a still image each time the shutter is pressed. The Motion Snapshot is played back on the camera's LCD, with the video shown in slow motion over the course of 2.5 seconds, ending with the still image. Music themes can be chosen before or after Motion Snapshot capture.

The Sony NEX-C3 offers one HD movie resolution option with two quality compression settings, including; 720/30p Fine or 720/30p Standard. The Sony NEX-C3 also provides the ability to add an optional external microphone if so desired (attached via dedicated accessory shoe on the top of the camera), a feature is that is not available on the Nikon J1.

Both camera's feature a dedicated one-touch movie recording button, although with the Nikon J1 movies can not be recorded unless the Mode Dial is first set to the movie record position. The advantage with the Sony NEX-C3 is that you can start video capture in any shooting mode by simply pressing the movie record button.

We were pleased with the HD movie recording capabilities offered by both camera's, although the Nikon J1 maintains a clear advantage over the Sony NEX-C3 with its ability to capture higher quality video at full 1080/60i.

Maximum HD movie recording time for the Nikon J1 is 20 min per clip, and for the Sony NEX-C3 it is 29 min per clip.

Nikon J1 compared to Sony NEX-C3 kit lens

  Click below to compare:

The Nikon 1 10-30mm VR zoom kit lens outperforms the Sony E-mount 18-55mm OSS kit lens: the Nikon 1 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Nikkor zoom lens is an entry level kit lens that is specifically designed for the Nikon 1 system.

The lens is small and lightweight, and when not in use the lens barrel can be retracted and locked in place making the whole camera kit very compact and easier to store away.

The Nikon 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR zoom also offers a better close focus capability versus the Sony E Mount 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS zoom lens. The Nikon 10-30mm offers a 20cm minimum focusing distance from the subject compared to the Sony E 18-55mm which can focus down to 25cm from the subject.

The Nikon J1 versus Sony NEX-C3 sample comparison images below were taken with the respective kit lenses set to their minimum focusing distance.

Nikon J1 with 10-30mm VR
 
NEX-C3 with 18-55mm OSS
 
 
Nikon J1 with Nikkor 1 10-30mm VR
• ISO 200, 1/5 sec, F7.1 and +.67 EV
• A Mode, Full Tele, 100% Corner Crop
Nikon J1 Image Sample 6.09 MB Large
 
Sony NEX-C3 with 18-55mm OSS
• ISO 200, 1/4 sec, F7.1 and +.7EV
• A Mode, Full Tele, 100% Corner Crop
NEX-C3 Image Sample 6.6 MB Large

We feel that the Nikon 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR zoom lens deliveres above average performance with good center sharpness and respectable corner sharpness when coupled with the Nikon J1 mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera.

In comparison, the Sony E mount 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS zoom lens does not appear as sharp from corner to corner, a fact that is highlighted when the lens is used with a higher resolution camera like the Sony NEX-C3.

Higher resolution sensor's need to be paired with better quality optics to maximize their potential. In this respect the Sony E 18-55mm OSS kit zoom lens falls a bit short in being able to provide sufficient resolving power to fully support the capabilities of the NEX-C3 sensor.

Nikon 1 10-30mm VR Distortion Test
 
Sony NEX-C3 18-55mm OSS Distortion Test
Nikon J1 with 10-30mm VR zoom wide-angle distortion test   Sony NEX-C3 with E 18-55mm OSS zoom wide-angle distortion test

As can be seen above, the Sony E 18-55mm OSS zoom lens exhibits greater wide-angle barrel distortion (bending of vertical lines) versus the Nikkor 1 10-30mm VR zoom. Vignetting (darker image corners from light falloff) is not a major issue with either lens.

The Nikon 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR and the Sony E 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS lenses incorporate optical image stabilization mechanisms to assist in taking handheld pictures under lower light conditions by minimizing camera shake.

Both lenses offered similar image stabilization performance in our tests, and allowed for handheld shooting at approximately three stops slower than would normally be possible without resorting to using a tripod.

A camera protective lens mount cap and a rear lens cap are supplied in the Nikon J1 kit with the Nikon 1 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 VR zoom lens. The Sony NEX-C3 with the E 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS zoom lens does not come with a body cap or rear lens cap. A hard sunshade lens hood comes supplied with the Sony E 18-55mm zoom lens, and is an optional accessory for the Nikkor 1 10-30mm lens.

 

The Sony NEX system offers a greater number of dedicated lens options versus the Nikon 1 system: Currently the Sony NEX mirrorless camera system offers 7 dedicated E type lens options, including; the Sony SEL 18-55mm zoom, Sony SEL 18-200mm, SEL 16mm F/2.8, SEL 24mm F/2.8, SEL 30mm F/3.5 Macro, SEL 50mm F/1.8 and the SEL 55-210mm telephoto zoom.

In comparison the Nikon 1 system currently only offers 4 dedicated lens solutions, including; the 1 Nikkor VR 10-30mm zoom, 1 Nikkor 30-110mm, 1 Nikkor 10mm F/2.8 and the 1 Nikkor 10-100mm telephoto zoom.

Nikon 1 FT1 adapter versus Sony LAEA2 lens mount adapter

Both the Nikon J1 and the Sony NEX-C3 are compatible with optional adapters that allow the camera's to be used with their respective brands digital SLR system lenses.

The Nikon FT1 mount adapter allows NIKKOR F mount lenses to be used with the Nikon J1 (over 60 lens options available). The lens multiplier effect remains at 2.7x based on the camera's sensor size. With the Nikon FT1 adapter users that already have an investment in Nikkor AF lenses can simply attach their existing glass to the Nikon J1. Autofocus functions are only supported with Nikkor AF-S lenses.

The Sony LA-EA2 adapter allows you to attach the full range of Sony A-mount lenses to your E-mount camera body and provides for continuous Phase Detection AF while capturing stills and video.

The manufacturer's recommended price in Canada for the Nikon FT1 lens adapter is $269 versus $449 for the Sony LA-EA2.

The Nikon J1 is quieter than the Sony NEX-C3: the Nikon J1 is considerably quieter versus the Sony NEX-C3 when the shutter fires. In a situation where you want to be more discrete while taking pictures (wedding, sleeping baby etc.), the Nikon J1 will be less intrusive.

Nikon J1 versus Sony NEX-C3 back view

The Nikon J1 provides a number of camera control buttons versus more menu based control on the Sony NEX-C3: As an example, in order to activate the self-timer settings menu on the Nikon J1 you simply press on the left side of the rear rotary control dial surrounding the OK button. With the Sony NEX-C3 you have to first activate the on-screen camera menu and then scroll down and choose "Drive Mode" from the available options. Self-timer functions can then be set by using the camera's rear rotary control dial.

Based on our field testing of the two cameras, we preferred the push button design approach provided by the Nikon J1, and found the camera to offer a more intuitive user interface with a clearer menu system layout compared to the Sony NEX-C3.

The Sony NEX-C3 offers Sweep Panorama Technology: Press the shutter, sweep vertically or horizontally. The camera does the rest, continuously shooting images and stitching them together. Up to 23 MP image size. Provides impressive ultra wide field of view panoramic images.

Sony Sweep Panorama Mode

The Nikon J1's Active D-Lighting provides improved results versus the Sony NEX-C3's Auto Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) feature: The Nikon J1 and the Sony NEX-C3 both incorporate technologies designed to expand the camera's dynamic range (ability to preserve detail in highlights and shadows).

Nikon's 'Active D-lighting' feature exposes for the highlights, and then adjusts the tone curve to bring the midtones and shadows back up to produce an image that doesn't look underexposed. The Sony NEX-C3's 'Auto Dynamic Range Optimizer' feature adjusts for shadows and highlights using tone curves.

In our side by side tests, based on the different technological approaches we found that the Nikon J1 delivered more pleasing results, with stronger improvements in shadow detail while still preserving decent highlight detail.

Nikon J1 Active D-Lighting test
Sony NEX-C3 with D-Range Optimizer set to Auto
Nikon J1 with Active D-Lighting
 
NEX-0C3 with Auto D-Range Optimizer
Nikon J1 sample image crop and resize   Sony D-Range Optimizer sample image crop and resize
Nikon J1 Sample: Crop and Resized
• ISO 400, Aperture Priority, 1/50 sec at F8, -0.33 EV
• Active D-Lighting default setting
• Matrix Metering, Auto White Balance

Nikon J1 Image Sample
 
NEX-C3 Sample: Crop and Resized
• ISO 400, Aperture Priority, 1/50 sec at F8
• Auto Lighting Optimizer default setting
• Multi-pattern Metering, Auto White Balance

Sony NEX-C3 Image Sample

 
   

Apart from the camera's default Auto DRO setting, the Sony NEX-C3 provides users with the option of selecting the degree of dynamic range optimization from one of five levels. The Nikon J1 automatic Active D-Lighting feature can be enabled or disabled in the camera menu.

The Nikon J1 also allows you to apply D-Lighting to an image that has already been captured. The in-camera processed image is then saved as a copy so that the original image is left intact.

The Sony NEX-C3 offers the benefit of a high dynamic range (HDR) mode, in which the camera captures three images in succession with varying exposure, and then combines the images in-camera to create a final image with significantly expanded dynamic range. The exposure variance between the three images can be automatically controlled by the camera, or a value can be selected manually within a range of 1EV to 6EV (in 1EV steps). HDR mode is ideally suited for still subjects, and a tripod is recommended for best results.

The Nikon J1 is available in a variety of colour options versus the Sony NEX-C3: The Nikon J1 kit is available in a variety of colour options including; white, black, silver and red. Optional Nikon 1 system Nikkor lenses are available in the same colours to match the camera.

Nikon J1 colour options

The Sony NEX-C3 lens kit is only available in black in Canada, although is sold in different colours in the US and other parts of the world.

The Sony NEX-C3 incorporates anti-dust technology: Dust may enter the camera when changing lenses, which can impair image quality. To solve this, the NEX-C3 features an anti-dust system that keeps dust off the optical filter in front of the image sensor. When the camera is turned off, the filter vibrates ultrasonically to shake off dust, resulting in reduced spots on images. The Nikon J1 does not offer a vibrating dust reduction system so over time dust could become more of an issue.

Although self sensor cleaning kits are available, if the need eventually arises novice users will likely feel more comfortable bringing their camera in for cleaning to an authorized service center (typically with an associated charge).

The Sony NEX-C3 offers enhanced flash photography capabilities versus the Nikon J1: While the Nikon J1 provides the advantage of incorporating a built-in flash, the Sony NEX-C3 comes supplied with a very compact external flash unit.

Nikon J1 versus the Sony NEX-C3 side by side with flash

In order to keep the camera as compact as possible, the Sony NEX-C3 does not feature a built-in flash or a standard hot shoe. The Sony NEX-C3's proprietary Smart Accessory Terminal located under a protective hinged cover on the top of the camera enables flash photography by allowing for the attachment of the supplied Sony HVL-F7S compact external flash unit.

A small thumb screw at the bottom of the flash allows it to be securely attached to the camera. Two small pins (available on all dedicated accessories) match up with the holes on the Smart Accessory Terminal to keep everything in its place.

Sony NEX-C3 accessory mount
Optional Sony HVL-FS20 external flash for Sony NEX
Sony NEX-C3 Smart Accessory Terminal
Optional Sony HVL-FS20 External Flash

The Sony NEX system includes an optional higher-end Sony HVL-F20s flash unit capable of delivering almost three times more power compared to the supplied HVL-F7S flash, while also providing for bounce flash photography (reflect flash of ceilings or walls), and incorporating a built-in diffuser for wider coverage. The Nikon J1 does not offer the ability to attach a more powerful flash, which is unfortunate because the built-in flash is quite weak.

The official flash guide number rating for the Nikon J1's built-in flash is 5m at 100 ISO, significantly lower versus a guide number rating of 7m at 100 ISO for the HVL-F7S flash unit that comes supplied with the NEX-C3. (Provides up to 40% greater light output)

The Nikon J1 features a slower 1/60 sec flash sync speed compared to the faster 1/160 sec flash sync capability provided by the Sony NEX-C3. While a hindrance for flash photography of faster moving subjects, the Nikon J1's slower flash sync does provide a benefit when photographing fairly static subjects, since the camera is able to absorb more ambient light accounting for a brighter and more even exposure (see sample flash test images below with Nikon J1 flash sync at 1/60sec versus Sony NEX-C3 at 1/100sec).

The side by side image samples below are the results of a test between the Nikon J1 built-in flash and the Sony NEX-C3's supplied external flash HVL-F7S, intended to illustrate how the two camera's are likely to perform in a typical situation when operating within comfortable flash range.

Nikon J1 built-in flash test   Sony NEX-C3 built-in flash test
Nikon J1 with 10-30mm VR
• ISO 400, P Mode, 1/60 sec at F5.6
• Built-in flash
• 81mm Focal Length (35mm Terms)
• Matrix Metering, AWB

J1 Sample Image Larger size 4.31 MB
Sony NEX-C3 with E 18-55mm OSS
• ISO 400, Program Mode, 1/100 sec at F5.6
• HVL-F7S flash
• 82mm Focal Length (35mm terms)
• Multi-segment Metering, AWB

NEX-C3 Sample Image Larger size 6.45 MB

The Sony NEX-C3 Smart Accessory Terminal also provides compatibility with other optional Sony NEX system accessories, including the Sony ECM-SST1 stereo microphone and the Sony FDA-SV1 optical viewfinder.

Sony ECM-SST1 optional external microphone for Sony NEX
Sony FDA-SV1 optional optical viewfinder for Sony NEX
Optional Sony ECM-SST1 Stereo Microphone
Optional Sony FDA-SV1 Optical Viewfinder

A great accessory for video recording with the NEX-C3, the Sony ECM-SST1 stereo microphone has a wind screen to help eliminate wind noise, and offers selectable sound direction between 90 and 120 degrees. In turn, the Sony FDA-SV1 optical viewfinder accessory offers a nice alternative to composing your shots on the LCD.

The Sony NEX-C3 provides almost double the number of shots per battery charge versus the Nikon J1 battery: The Sony NEX-C3 can capture approximately 400 images per charge using the supplied Sony NP-FW50 rechargeable battery (based on CIPA test standards). In comparison, the Nikon J1 can capture up to about 230 shots per charge with its Nikon EN-EL20 rechargeable battery under the same test conditions.

Both the Nikon J1 and the Sony NEX-C3 come supplied with one rechargeable battery and a compact travel charger that plugs directly into the wall (North America). A back up battery is a good investment for either camera.

Nikon J1 compared to Sony NEX-C3 battery

On the Nikon J1 both the battery and the memory card fit into their respective designated slots in a shared compartment underneath the camera. The Sony NEX-C3 features two separate compartments underneath the camera, one for the battery and one for the memory card.

Both the Nikon J1 and the Sony NEX-C3 offer compatibility with the more common secure digital (SD) type memory cards, and faster write cards with a rating of class 6 or higher are recommended for movie recording.

An HDMI plug is available on both cameras allowing for high quality connection directly to a big screen TV for enhanced viewing and sharing of images and movies. (Cables not included)

Nikon J1 Compared to the Sony NEX-C3: Review Conclusion

In the last few years mirrorless interchangeable lens compact cameras have steadily increased in popularity, with companies like Sony, Olympus and Panasonic being early adopters in embracing the technology. With the introduction of the Nikon 1 mirrorless camera system, Nikon has joined the list of manufacturers competing for a share of this growing market segment.

Based on our side by side tests of the Nikon J1 (the company's first entry level model in the Nikon 1 mirrorless interchangeable lens compact camera system) versus the similar entry level positioned Sony NEX-C3, we found that in genera lboth camera's performed quite well in combination with their respective kit lenses, although there were a number of distinct advantages and some disadvantages presented by both camera systems.

In favour of the Nikon J1, the camera is fast to respond and is quick to lock in focus on the subject. We were also impressed with the Nikon J1's very fast continuous shooting performance and generous buffer allowance providing for still image capture at up to 60 frames per second, a significant advantage when trying to catch the action as it unfolds.

The Nikon J1 does show a tendency towards some overexposure in high contrast situations, a deliberate intent by the camera's designers to preserve more detail in the shadows areas of the image with the expense of some clipping of highlight detail. In similar situations the Sony NEX-C3 presents the opposite with the camera's metering system biasing for highlight detail leading to images that tend to look a little underexposed with darker shadow areas.

With both cameras set to fully automatic mode we found that the Nikon J1 delivered a greater consistency of more pleasing exposures compared to the results from the Sony NEX-C3.

Where the Nikon J1 shows a weakness is when using the camera at its higher ISO settings. Crippled by a smaller sensor design, the Nikon J1 produces below average high ISO image quality in comparison to the output from the Sony NEX-C3 with its larger sized image sensor. As seen in our comparison tests above, the more aggressive high ISO noise reduction processing employeed by the Nikon J1 at higher ISO settings leads to a considerable amount of loss of fine detail and colour in the final image versus the results provided by the Sony NEX-C3.

We were also not so impressed with the rather basic LCD monitor built-in to the Nikon J1, with the Sony NEX-C3 providing a superior solution. The Sony NEX-C3's tiltable 3-inch high resolution 921,000 dot TruBlack LCD screen is a pleasure to use and delivers noticeably more accurate colour rendition and less reflection versus the rather lack luster 3-inch fixed position 420K dot LCD monitor provided on the Nikon J1.

Considering that the Nikon J1 does not provide the option of using a seperate viewfinder to compose your images, the capabilities of the LCD monitor become even more important. The Sony NEX-C3 does offer the ability to attach an optional optical viewfinder to the camera's smart accessory terminal if so desired.

If being able to capture high quality HD movies is an important requirement, then the Nikon J1 offers advantages over the Sony NEX-C3 by providing better video recording quality at full HD 1080/60i versus the Sony's maximum movie recording quality at 720/30p. The Sony NEX-C3 does however offer the benefit of being compatible with an optional dedicated external stereo microphone offering improved audio recording.

`Nikon J1 versus Sony NEX-C3 front view

In terms of optical quality, the Nikon 1 VR 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 Nikkor kit lens serves as a good match for the Nikon J1 providing above average sharpness and edge to edge detail. In comparison, the Sony E 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens is not as well suited to the capabilities of the Sony NEX-C3's higher resolution sensor, as seen in diminshed edge to edge detail and greater corner sofness versus the results observed from the Nikon 1 10-30mm VR kit lens.

While the Nikon 1 system is currently limited to a choice of four dedicated Nikkor lenses, the Sony NEX system offers a greater number of lens options with seven dedicated lenses already in the line-up, including added wide-angle capabilities with the Sony SEL 16mm F/2.8 lens (24mm field of view in 35mm terms), and macro close focus photography with the Sony SEL 30mm F/3.5 Macro lens (45mm field of view in 35mm terms).

As of today, the widest coverage available in the Nikon 1 Nikkor lens system provides a field of view equivalent to a 27mm lens in 35mm terms. (10mm x 2.7 sensor focal multiplier effect = 27mm). The Nikon 1 system does not yet offer a Macro close focus lens solution.

With respect to handling and ergonomics, both camera's are quite user friendly, although we did prefer the menu selection interface on the Nikon J1 over the Sony NEX-C3 finding it more intuitive and easy to navigate. The button and control layout on the Nikon J1 provides quick access to changing specific camera settings which are menu based in relation to the Sony NEX-C3.

After using both camera's over an extended period of time, we were impressed with the very quiet operation of the Nikon J1 versus the much louder shutter mechanism sound emitted by the Sony NEX-C3. When photographing venues where you want to stay more discreet, such as plays, weddings or other formal events, the quiet operation of the Nikon J1 can be a real advantage.

Flash photography performance from both camera's is compact camera average, although the Nikon J1 does offer the benefit of incorporating a built-in flash versus the Sony NEX-C3's external flash which has to be attached to the camera. Unfortunately the Nikon J1 does not offer the ability to add a more powerful and versatile external flash as is possible with the Sony NEX-C3 with the availability of the optional Sony HVL-FS20 flash accessory.

Which camera to buy is a personal choice and depends on individual needs. Based on our side by side tests comparing the Nikon J1 standard lens kit versus the Sony NEX-C3 standard lens kit, we found that both camera's are capable of delivering good image quality in their own right.

The Sony NEX-C3 does provide an advantage with its higher resolution sensor delivering added fine detail and better high ISO performance versus the Nikon J1. The Sony Nex-C3's Sweep Panorama mode is an easy feature to use and provided us with the opprtunity to capture some great panoramic views. We were also impressed with the Sony NEX-C3's tiltable LCD screen and the camera's battery longevity, both features which did not compare so well on the Nikon J1.

The Nikon J1 mirrorless interchangeable lens camera kit in turn offered faster and more quiet performance, a more compact form factor (with the kit lens in folded travel / storage position), better auto focus and metering consistency, enhanced video recording capabilities, and in conjunction with the Nikon 1 VR 10-30mm F/3.5-5.6 kit lens delivered above average image sharpness.

Check out the latest offers on the Nikon J1 and the Sony NEX-C3 at Amazon.

 


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  • Nikon J1 Kit with Nikon 1 10-30mm VR Lens
  • Sony NEX-C3 Kit with Sony E 18-55mm OSS Lens



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