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(Pocket-lint) - Until now, the mirrorless camera market has remained a bit of a niche, never quite distracting snappers away from entry level DSLRs or top end compacts.

Nikon, one of the photographic big two, and its entry into this camera category with the Nikon 1 system, might just change all that. Of the pair - the Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1 - it's the higher-end latter that has us most excited. Priced in at £829 (with a 10-30mm lens) it comes directly up against Sony's NEX-5N camera. So, with both brands carrying some serious DSLR pedigree, which is the one you should go for?

Take a look at Pocket-lint's Nikon 1 V1 vs Sony NEX-5N spec challenge to get a better look at how the two match up.


1st: Sony NEX-5N
Magnesium alloy, 110.8 x 58.8 x 38.2mm, 269g

2nd: Nikon 1 V1
Magnesium alloy reinforced, 113 x 76 x 43.5mm, 383g

At the kinds of price points you find these models, one would hope for something that feels pretty solid in the hand. The NEX-5N comes in a full magnesium alloy which is strong and extremely light. It makes for a decent looking machine and definitely feels premium. The V1 on the other hand is magnesium alloy reinforced rather than the same material all the way through. We're not going to quibble about that too much as they both feel good to hold, but we do have to say that the Sony has the edge with its metallic finish over the more plastic-look Nikon 1 cameras.

On top of that, and more telling when being compact is the aim of the game, the Sony NEX-5N takes the round in the weight and size battle, bouncing in at 269g to the Nikon's 383g. Similarly the super-pocketable Sony is 110.8 x 58.8 x 38.2mm against the V1 which measures up at larger 113 x 76 x 43.5mm. Neither are exactly massive but, if compact is what you are after, we say the Sony wins this one.

The only thing that you might want to bear in mind is that, by virtue of the Sony's larger sensor size, the lenses that you stick on the front of it are going to be bigger as well, and that might ruin those easy-pack claims. So, although this is a Sony win, in reality, the more compact might be the Nikon.


1st: Sony NEX-5N
3-inch, 921k dot TFT, vari-angle

2nd: Nikon 1 V1
3-inch, 921k dot TFT

Most of the shooting done on both cameras will be via the screen on the rear, so it's vital that it performs well. Crucially the screen must be nice and bright, viewable in varied conditions and reproduce images as faithfully and accurately as possible.

The NEX-5N has a 3-inch, 921,600-dot TFT display with TruBlack technology. This translates to rich, crisp and balanced shots turning up on the back of the camera after the shutter has been pressed. It also means a responsive and highly accurate screen to use for composing shots themselves and filming video. 

The V1 has an almost entirely identical 3-inch 921k dot TFT display, making it very difficult to choose between the two. The XtraFine tech on the Sony and TruBlack does give it the slight edge when it comes to viewing angles and picture reproduction, but it's the vari-angle ability of the Sony for more flexible shooting that puts the NEX-5N on top again. It also happens to be a touchscreen, if you're into that sort of thing.


1st: Nikon 1 V1
TFT LCD 1440k finder, 100 per cent coverage

2nd: Sony NEX-5N
Accessory, XGA OLED 2359k dot finder, 100 per cent coverage

Viewfinders aren't something that every photographer uses in this day and age but, if you're from the DSLR school, then it's probably an important consideration for you. 

Both the Sony and the Nikon can use proper eyepieces - albeit electronic ones - the difference is, however, that the Nikon's is built-in. That, for us, is a serious deal-breaker because, otherwise, you're looking at an extra £200 to turn the NEX-5N into a more conventional prosumer shooter. Until then, you're limited to composing shots via the rear screen, which while very good in its own right, might not feel like proper photography to you. 

It also means a lot of the covert and compact nature of these mirrorless cams is lost. As you stare at a back screen you make yourself obvious; not the best thing if you're intending on using them for street photography. It's also arguably easier to hold a camera still when you've got it locked to your eye than when it's right out in front of you.

The Nikon 1 V1 ships with a 100 per cent coverage viewfinder built-in and, as such, claims the win in this round.


1st: Sony NEX-5N
Exmor APS-C (1.5x crop) HD CMOS, 16.1 megapixel

2nd: Nikon 1 V1
CX-format (2.7x crop) CMOS, 10.1 megapixel

Now to the real beef of every digital camera - the sensor; the thing that really makes the difference when it comes to the quality of your photos.

Crop factor is a major issue when it comes to mirrorless systems, as is the amount of megapixels you cram onto such a tiny space. The more megapixels, the more problems with noise - something you definitely don't want. The smaller the sensor, the less bokeh (area of defocus) at low apertures, and the greater amount of processing power required to clean up images.

It might seem like Sony has the edge simply because of the higher number of megapixels but, believe us, 10 megapixels is more than enough unless you're shooting for billboards.

Where the Sony does come out on top, however, is that the sensor size is markedly larger than the Nikon, resulting in a 1.5x crop rather than the V1's 2.7x. In the case of the Nikon, when you mount an AF-S lens using the FT1 adapter, you can expect a huge increase in zoom range. This means any wide angle lenses you currently own will transform into 50mm shooters when stuck on the V1.

We personally find both the Sony and Nikon to turn out very good quality images. It is, however, the smaller ISO range of 100-6400 on the V1 that puts the Sony in the lead this round. The NEX-5N can shoot in much lower light conditions, boasting a 100-25600 ISO range, and probably backs those stats up with less noise as you increase the ISO. However, we're prepared to stand corrected on this, once we get a chance to test it out the results in the Pocket-lint labs.


1st: Nikon 1 V1

2nd: Sony NEX-5N

The processor is what is responsible for all the technical trickery that goes on inside a digital camera. It deals with things like noise reduction, image processing, video recording and colour reproduction. A good processor can make a serious difference to the way a camera behaves and both Sony and Nikon are reliabe in this department.

That said, it's in this category that Nikon's photographic pedigree really comes into play, with the brand new EXPEED 3 processor making a debut appearance in the Nikon 1 cameras. It features a pair of engines for processing images and can manage to process 600 megapixels per second making it more than a match for Sony BIONZ at present.

The EXPEED 3 allows for serious levels of noise reduction and things like Motion Snapshot which can record both slow motion movies and stills. The BIONZ inside the NEX-5N is no slouch either, however, particularly when you think of the ISO range the camera can manage.


1st: Nikon 1 V1
Hybrid auto focus AF (73-pt phase detection/135-pt contrast detect)

2nd: Sony NEX-5N
25-point contrast AF system

Camera manufacturers appear to be engaged in a permanent auto focus speed race at the moment. Nikon currently retains the crown with the V1 which uses a combination of two types of autofocus and so claims to be the fastest shooter in the West right now.

It's important to remember, however, that all this obsession with speed does mean a lot of the mirrorless cameras sacrifice focus points. Why are focus points important? Well, the more you have, the easier it is to selectively focus objects within a frame. This is important because it can, in the end, speed up how you focus an image, regardless of the speed the camera is capable of. As it goes, the Nikon 1 V1 blows the Sony NEX-5N out of the water here as well, so it's Nikon all the way on the AF front.

Burst speeds

1st: Nikon V1
Up to 60fps

2nd: Sony NEX-5N

The standard mechanical shutters of both of these cameras fire away at a seriously impressive 10 frames each and every second when you’ve got your finger held down on the trigger. However, as part of Nikon’s fastest claims, both the Nikon 1 V1 and Nikon 1 J1 have electronic modes that ramp things up to either 30fps or 60fps and at full resolution too.

What you do sacrifice at those speeds is autofocus with only 10-point AF possible for each shot at 30fps and only an initial focus for the first of the volley available when you’re running at 60fps. Nonetheless, the stats are seriously impressive. When it’s all about capturing the action, it’s a big win for Nikon.


1st: sony nex-5n
Full HD, stereo mic, 25p/50p

2nd: nikon 1 V1
Full HD, stereo mic, 30p/60i

There's a sneaking suspicion here at Pocket-lint that Nikon has gone for video in a big way on its Nikon 1 system. Well aware that there's a growing thirst for the stuff amongst consumers - especially at these mid and upper price points - the company has made sure to offer as much in the way of movie shooting potential as possible. Naturally, what you get is full, 1080p HD recording which you can either capture at 30fps or interlaced at 60fps. (If you do drop down to 720p recording, then this becomes a bonafide 720/60p for what should be some excellent slow motion videos.)

The technical side on the V1 is also supported, as it should be, with stereo sound recording capabilities whether you're using the built-in mics or the optional external accessory. Either way, with audio arguably the better part of video, it's a welcome inclusion; one feature that users will find a real bonus is that, while recording in movie mode, you can also snap as many full resolution stills as you want.

Finally, Nikon has included a dedicated video-shooting, power zoom lens for the CX cameras, the automation of which keeps pulls smooth while also cutting down on any external judder.

As for the Sony NEX-5N, it too has no issues with Full HD and stereo sound recording in-body and it even outclasses the Nikon 1 V1 by shooting at a 50fps when in 1080p mode which purists would argue beats the interlaced 60i on the Nikon. What's more, videos are encoded in excellent AVCHD wrapper on the NEX-5N rather than the MOV files one gets with the V1.

Both cameras are top notch at video on paper, but it's the Sony that has the edge for now.


tie: Nikon 1 V1
Cases, flash, external microphone, GPS unit, grip, lens mount

tie: Sony NEX-5N
Finder, cases, flash, finder, wireless remote, lens mount

When you buy into a new camera system you want to know that there is plenty to get your teeth stuck into accessory-wise, should you choose to splurge later. Both Nikon and Sony know this and, as such, haven't exactly skimped on the accessory front. 

The usual range of camera cases, lens cases, hoods and general Nikon and Sony branded accoutrements are all available. Where things get exciting, and where the pair come into conflict, is over the relative expensive of NEX and V1 treats.

We already know that the NEX-5N needs an external finder if you want to use it more like a conventional camera, but then the V1 requires a plug in GPS unit if you want to geotag shots. The GPS on the Sony NEX-5N is built in. It all depends which is more important to you. 

We definitely think the decision to make the V1 compatible with Nikon's external mic was a good one - especially for video fans who will likely be picking up either the NEX or V1 partly due to to the quality of their 1080p video.


1st: Nikon 1 V1
10-30mm, 30-110mm, 10mm, 10-100mm

2nd: Sony NEX-5N
50mm, 24mm, 55-210, 30mm, 16mm, 18-55mm, 18-200mm

Sony quite clearly has the advantage in the lens department with the NEX-5N. There's just a lot more to choose from. The company has also opted to put the Zeiss name on a few of them, including the f/1.8 24mm ZA, which we have spent plenty of time shooting with and know it's definitely a performer.

That aside, don't forget that Nikon has gone and stuck the NIKKOR brand onto the new Nikon 1 system camera lenses. This means you're going to get the same imaging expertise that you get on its DSLR cameras. We can't really ignore the pedigree on this front and are excited to really put some of the new lenses through their paces.

While you can also pick up an adapter for the Sony to fit the company's top end A-mount DSLR lenses to the NEX-5N, it just doesn't compare with the range, number and quality that Nikon has produced over the years.


1st: Sony NEX-5N
£799 for double lens kit

2nd: Nikon 1 V1
£829 for single lens kit

Sony pretty much claims the throne immediately on this one, shipping the NEX-5N with both a 18-55mm and 55-210mm set of lenses for £799. 

The Nikon 1 V1 is priced in at £829 with just a 10-30mm lens kit. Quite simply you're getting one extra lens for your money on the Sony front.

It is important to consider, however, the pricing for separate lenses for each system. A 10mm f/2.8 will set you back £229 for the V1. Something similar on the NEX - say the for example the 16mm pancake - is £219. On every front Sony manages to keep things cheaper than the Nikon and as such grabs the points for this one but, as ever, prices may change.


1st: Nikon 1 V1

2nd: Sony NEX-5N

First of all, hats off to both Sony and Nikon for producing a pair of cameras that not only innovate but impress with their photographic capabilities. Neither has sacrificed the fundamentals of shooting (albeit maybe an analogue finder) for technological gimmickry and, for that, we salute them. 

Deciding between the two is a bit like choosing between Mac or Windows. They're both good in their own right. Sony definitely has the jump in the sensor, screen and build department. Of those three, however, it's only the sensor that really, really matters in terms of affecting your photography fundamentally. The other big category it wins in is video.

The Nikon 1 V1, though, is probably the camera that has all the boxes checked in the right places. It's got an insanely powerful image processor running the show offering absurd shooting speeds and the ability to back up an AF system that should keep your image capture super fast and super sharp. It might even be enough to keep the noise levels down at comparable low light levels despite its shortfall in sensor size.

On top of all that, there's an in-built viewfinder, healthy batch of accessories and access to a vast array of high quality glassware with which Sony just can't compete at the moment.

Narrow depth of field shooting might be a casualty of smaller Nikon sensor and we'll have to wait and see how that affects overall image quality too but, for the minute, our gut feeling is that the Nikon 1 V1 will impress more than the Sony NEX-5N.

Naturally, there are functions on one what you won't get on the other - 3D Sweep Panorama on the Sony vs Smart Photo Selector on the Nikon - and we're not yet convinced whether the interface on the Nikon 1 system is something that would appeal to the enthusiast photographer; but, for plain old shooting, we're siding with the Nikon 1 V1 until full reviews tell us otherwise. Stay tuned.

Which would you choose? Let us know in the comments below!

Writing by Hunter Skipworth. Originally published on 16 April 2013.