Did the Sony RX100 just trump the Nikon J1 and J2?

Canon EOS M

Sony RX100

Sony engineered an amazing compact camera with a comparably large 1 inch sensor in the recently shipped DSC-RX100 premium point and shoot. The sensor is the same size as Nikon’s J1 and V1 system as well as the just announced J2. So how does this new Sony compare with the Nikon’s compact system camera? Very well in many key areas. This little Sony may have one of the best compact body to sensor size ratios. Keep in mind that with all things being equal, the camera with the larger sensor will give you better image quality. Sure the Canon S100 maybe a bit thinner than the RX100 but Canon’s sensor is much smaller. When compared to the Nikon 1 series, however, while they both share the same sized sensor, Sony’s body is significantly smaller. Here is the comparison between the Sony and Nikon at camerasize.com. The Sony’s front face of the camera is a bit smaller but its retracting lens makes the RX100 down right svelte. So much so that the RX100 is a pocketable camera. The Nikon is small but chunky; you will need a bag for it. The Sony also has a zoom lens which starts at f1.8 which is much faster than the Nikon kit lens.

All this means that in theory (since the test results for the Sony are still coming in) with the same size sensor and the faster lens, the Sony should be capable of a higher image quality in a truly compact size. No wonder serious photographers are eyeing this camera with interest. The Sony has double the resolution at 20MP vs the Nikon’s 10PM. This may negatively affect Sony’s higher ISO image performance, we will have to wait for the results. At lower ISO’s however the 20MP sensor should give more detail with its resolution advantage. Until recently, the Nikon J1 was priced at the same $649 as the Sony RX100. Recent pricing pressure has finally taken a toll on the Nikon J1 and the new Nikon J2 that was announced today is at a lower MSRP of $549.

Readers of this blog will know that I like mirrorless compact system cameras. I own 3 Olympus Pens and a Sony NEX-5. The Nikon 1 series has some breakthrough features such as its fast focusing hybrid system but in general I thought it was over priced. Its 1 inch sensor is a lot smaller than the micro 4/3 standard or APS-C but the Nikon’s J1 body was not much smaller. It doesn’t have in body image stabilization and there were no fast primes (there is a relatively slow 28mm f2.8). Given the type of shooting I do, the Nikon is not compelling. Enter the Sony RX100. With its very compact body, fast lens and equally large sensor, the camera changes the equation. Sure I can’t change lenses on the Sony but with 28mm to 100m equivalent zoom lens from f1.8 to f4.9, the camera had more than enough range for me. From the early reviews, the camera appears to have fantastic image quality and that 1 inch sensor may be a game changer for point and shoot sized cameras. Sure my micro 4/3 cameras are probably better in image quality but this Sony will be small enough to take almost anywhere without a bag. At its widest setting the Sony will give me a 28mm f1.8 image stabilized camera. This is exactly the type of camera that would work great for street photography as well as the urban landscapes that I like to shoot.

Knowledgeable people will be aware that while the two cameras share the same sensor size, the two are targeted towards entirely different markets. The Nikon J1 and J2 are intended as a step up cameras for the average point and shoot crowd. These are the people who want better image quality and faster responsiveness but do not what the bulk of a DSLR. The Sony RX100 is for the serious photographer that wants a small carry around camera. These people probably own a DSLR and possibly a mirrorless and want something that is smaller. Clearly, the Sony is targeted more for me. Despite Nikon’s positioning, I believe, for most people, the Sony would be a better camera. Portability is very important for most people and if you can get equal of better image quality, why not pick the Sony. I think the Nikon is on shaky ground and Nikon knows it. The Nikon has the edge in action photography and the ability to use the large Nikon SLR lenses. But that is about it.

Enter the just announced J2, which has minor improvements but is $100 less expensive. Is Nikon feeling the pressure from the competition? Perhaps. Did they meet their internal sales goals? No idea. But the $100 price drop makes the J2 a more compelling camera. I do think for the serious photographer, the Sony RX100 is still the better choice. As for me, there are three things with the Sony that hold me back. One might be a deal killer the other two are just a general concern. I will talk about those issues in a future post.

For now, I think it is very interesting how the competition is stacking up. As the DSLR prices continue to fall and the capability of the point and shoots increase, the mirrorless cameras maybe squeezed in the middle. For advanced shooters like me, the lens selection and functionality of particularly the micro 4/3 cameras works very well. For the novice however, it is increasingly confusing and I think it will get even more so. The camera manufactures are jockeying to fill every niche. For those with the knowledge and experience it is a fantastic time. However, for the average buyer, the proliferation of cameras at the Mega Stores may induce paralysis.

10 thoughts on “Did the Sony RX100 just trump the Nikon J1 and J2?

  1. I’m not sure this is a fair comparison. The Nikons are system cameras while this Sony is not. I think a better comparison would be the Sony and the Lumix LX7. The LX7 has a Leica f/1.4-2.3 retractable zoom with 24-90mm equivalent optics and a smaller sensor. But for this style camera are 20 mp really necessary?

    1. Bill, yes even if the two cameras are of different types, one is a point and shoot and the other is a system camera, I think it is a fair comparison. People have a need and they judge a piece of equipment by how it meets that need. At least that is the way I think of it. I agree that the LX7 and and RX100 is a natural comparison, something I’m thinking of doing. However, if two cameras can produce a similar image quality under similar conditions, for me, I like to compare their merits even if they are a different class of camera.

      As for the 20MP, I completely agree with you. I wish Sony made this a 12MP or at most a 16MP.

  2. This is one of those cameras I would have to have in the hand, From what some of the reviews are saying, you;d think it was the Second Coming. But as mentioned, the price is just way too out of whack even with a Zeiss lens. A personal issue is that I have never been in love with the small sensor Sony cameras. There was a certain characteristic pixel signature with them that always was problematic in fine retouch and in commercial print. This based on files that used to be sent for me to work on.

    On the J1/J2, I was actually going to get a J1 for fun, but I regained my sanity the other nite and it’s now off the list. I wanted mostly for the novelty of it, not much else. The fun buying is done and now I have to look at upcoming needs and function. The new J2 upgrades are insignificant and it’s almost like they just serve to fill a desired product announcement hole rather than anything beneficial to the market or current users of that system.

  3. This release begs the question: is Sony testing the market to release an interchangeable lens evolution of this?

    The Nikon 1 Series has been described as “almost pocketable”. The J2’s new 11-27mm lens seems intended to improve its “pocketability”. There are a lot of people who are interested in something easy to carry, whether they are “serious photographers” or people wanting to post to Facebook & etc (there are a lot more of these people). Wireless connectivity is a feature which many people will demand for the ability to post to the web with ease. As Thom Hogan has observed, all the camera manufacturers have been slow to recognize this.

    We will have to see what the “street price” of the Sony will be, but it does seem that its pricing places it in competition with products with which it may not compete well with in the marketplace. Sony does have the benefit of its experience with the NEX system so I would expect the new offering to be a more mature product than many first generation products of a new to the manufacturer category.

    This looks a lot like a Canon G-12 with a larger sensor which is not a bad thing in my view. It could be a very interesting addition to one’s collection of photographic tools. We will see when production examples are subjected to testing.

  4. I think Nikon should target this CX format camera against the high end compact like Canon S100, Lumix LX-7, Sony RX100, etc.since most of these cameras are not really pocketable anyway. Nikon should also make zoom lens which can be shrunk to a pancake size for the CX range as well. That way, it should kill off some competitions.

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