Last week I previewed the new large sensor compact camera: Sony RX100. In that article I compared the RX100 to the other large sensor compacts you can buy, but I didn’t compare it to the Nikon 1 cameras which share the same size sensor.
The reason for omitting the comparison was that it makes a nice study for the pros and cons of an interchangeable lens system (like the Nikon 1) and a compact camera where you can’t change lenses (like the Sony RX100).
Let’s look at the key similarities and differences.
- 1 Inch Sensor (diagonal)
- 28-100 f/1.9-4.9 Lens (focal lengths given as 35mm eq.)
- Contrast Detect Autofocus
- No Viewfinder
- £550 Launch Price
- 1 Inch Sensor (diagonal)
- Available Lenses: 27mm f/2.8, 27-95mm f/3.5-5.6, 27-270mm f/4.5-5.6, 81-297mm f/3.8-5.6 (all focal lengths given as 35mm eq.)
- Phase Detect Autofocus
- Viewfinder in V1/No Viewfinder in J1
- J1 + 27-95mm £380, V1 + 27-95mm £550 (street prices)
The sensors in the Nikon 1 cameras are the same size as that of the Sony RX100. Contrary to what you might read on forums they are not the same sensors, which means there will be performance differences. However don’t expect to find any major advantages for either.
When comparing a fixed lens camera to a system, the usual major advantage of a system is the range of lenses. A system will contain a wider variety of lens options. For example you would expect a range from Wide Angle to Long Telephoto, as well as Macro and Low Light Lenses.
Currently, the Nikon 1 system only fulfills the Telephoto part of this equation. With Nikon 1 lenses you can reach almost 300mm, the RX100′s lens only reaches 100mm.
In other respects the Sony RX100 actually outperforms the Nikon 1 offerings.
For low light the RX100 has a maximum aperture of f/1.8. Even the 27mm Prime Lens for Nikon only reaches f/2.8.
For Macro shooting, the RX100 can focus from 5cm away at the wide angle. The closest a Nikon 1 lens can focus is 20cm.
The lack of lens development for the Nikon 1 system means that what should be its greatest strength is actually a weakness. The fixed lens of the RX100 is not only more convenient, but also has better performance in terms of Macro and Low Light photography.
The Nikon 1 does provide true telephoto performance with the correct lens, but then the overall size will be vastly bigger than the RX100. (More on this later.)
This is one area that Nikon really has an advantage over the RX100. Their Phase Detect Autofocus (PDAF) is lightning fast, even tracking moving subjects well. In good light you have DSLR level performance. In poor light the AF is much less impressive.
The Contrast Detect Autofocus (CDAF) is the same as you will find in other compact cameras. However it looks very well implemented in the RX100. If you don’t shoot a lot of sports or action, the AF will easily be fast enough. However if you really need to be able to shoot fast moving subjects, the Nikon 1s will be a much better bet.
If you want a viewfinder, you need the Nikon V1. Neither the J1 or the RX100 have viewfinders.
Here’s where Nikon might be able to make some inroads into the RX100. You can buy a J1 and kit lens for £170 less than an RX100. What needs noting is the RX100 is better suited for access to manual controls and has a better specified lens.
I’m going to make a subjective comment here, so be sure to check it out for yourselves too. The RX100 seems the better built camera.
By this I mean that the buttons and dials look more professional, with high quality finishing all over the camera body. By contrast, the Nikon 1 cameras have very cheap looking controls. If you buy a Nikon 1 camera in white, the back plate is still black which just looks naff. In other words Sony has paid much more attention to the details and as a result has produced a more handsome camera.
The Rx100 is a truly pocketable camera. In fact it’s less than half the size of even the Nikon J1 with kit lens attached. The J1 also weighs over 150g more than the RX100 with the kit lens.
In simple terms the RX100 will fit in most pockets. The Nikon 1 cameras need to be kept in a small bag, or similar.
The key advantage the Nikon 1 system has is its autofocus (AF). If you don’t need DSLR AF speed for fast moving subjects. The RX100 comprehensively outperforms the Nikon 1 cameras in many other respects.
It’s true that you can get a J1 with kit lens much cheaper than the RX100 when it launches. However, once you’ve accepted the size of the J1, there’s a whole range of Compact System Cameras at that price with larger sensors and better lens ranges.
With the RX100 vs. Nikon 1 the choice at the moment is the very best AF versus just about everything else.
With this verdict in mind, I’m going to look at where this leaves the Nikon 1 system next week.
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