Size vs Performance
After sharing my experience with the Nikon 1 system I received a lot of different opinions, the photography community opinion was definitely split. Many pointed to the short comings of the equipment, equally there are those that loved the freedom the system allows. While the lens test charts on review sites show very poor results, the Nikon 1 lenses actually have excellent colour rendition. Also if the printing size is kept to say A3 the sharpness is also excellent, comparable to modern DSLR standards. This is difficult to see from online test charts because those are not real world results, you need to use a lens the way it was intended too be in order to judge its usability. This is mainly because a lenses resolution does not determine its perceived sharpness, or for that matter its ability to render depth and colour. So I performed a very simple test comparing two completely different formats, Canon's 5D full frame DSLR and the Nikon 1 CX (2.7x crop) mirrorless cameras.
I used Canon's tried and tested 17-40mm L lens and Nikon's 6.7-13mm, both have a very similar equivalent focal length. Now on paper this should be an easy win for the Canon, with all the advantage in the field what worth could there be in comparing?
Both cameras (Nikon V1 and Canon EOS 5D) were set to 5000k, default sharpness and standard picture profile, no other adjustments were made. The crops are not 100% pixel for pixel crops but still expanded beyond A3.
Now I must admit I'm disappointed that there's no worthwhile difference, all I can see is a slight colour and contrast variation. With a little post processing one could be made to look like the other, the Nikon is more saturated while the Canon has a higher contrast.
It must be noted that I'm using the cameras in a best case scenario, bright sunlight, base ISO and a high shutter speed. In a sports action low light environment the full frame DSLR would be king, the small sensor Nikon 1 would suffer greatly and not be suitable for large printing.
Ultra Large Printing
So what about pixel for pixel viewing sizes?
The Canon has to be set to 90% to display same print size as the Nikon 1 due to more resolution, even without maxing out to 100% the Canon displays significantly more detail. The Nikon 1 file is soft in comparison, this magnification is pushing the small sensor to its limits. When printing huge maximum resolution photos the Canon is an easy win, it has a 10% higher native printing size and more visible detail.
After looking at the comparison I wondered if the default sharpening was different, I added additional sharpening to see if more usable detail could be found. The Nikon benefited greatly from a very minor amount of post sharpening, it still wasn't the same quality as the canon but respectably close. It is very interesting to see how close the quality is, especially when the weight and size of the hardware is accounted for.
To conclude, the image quality drawbacks of the Nikon 1 do not out way the positives. The ability to produce excellent quality A3 photos from a miniature camera system is invaluable, it is very rare that I need to print larger than A3 and if I need to the Nikon 1 is still usable beyond that print size. The durable DSLR format is also necessary, when working on events or in harsh environments a heavy duty camera is always needed. They are very different pieces of hardware, I use them for very specific and different purposes. When reliability and performance are key the DSLR will always be king, for travel and weight restricted trips the mirrorless camera is hard to beat.