Nikon V3 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Realistic saturation, with average hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
160
200
400
800
12800
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links above to compare ISOs, and click to view a larger version.

Saturation. The Nikon V3 doesn't oversaturate colors quite as much as most cameras, producing a mean saturation level of 108.1% (8.1% oversaturated) at base ISO in our tests, which remains fairly constant all the way to ISO 12,800. The V3 tends to push dark blues quite a bit and some greens moderately, but most other colors are only pushed slightly, or are slightly undersaturated. That means color is a little more realistic than most cameras, but some may find them a tad drab. You can always tweak saturation to your liking or select a different Picture Control option. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. Here, the Nikon V3 produced Caucasian skin tones that looked a bit too warm and orange when manual white balance was used. Auto white balance was a bit better, but still a touch warm. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Nikon V3 showed a few color shifts relative to the mathematically precise translation of colors in its subjects, but its overall color accuracy is about average. Reds were shifted toward orange, cyan was shifted toward blue, and there were slight shifts in some oranges, light greens and purples, but most shifts were relatively minor. (The cyan to blue shift is quite small, and very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 5.16 at base ISO after correction for saturation, overall hue accuracy is about average, and remains fairly stable across the ISO range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm results with Auto and Incandescent white balance, though good color with Manual white balance setting. No exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Manual White Balance
0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. The Incandescent setting is also too warm, with a slightly more yellow tint. The Manual white balance setting produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool. The V3 required no exposure compensation for this shot, which is better than average. (The average needed among cameras we've tested for this shot is about +0.3 EV.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

Outdoors, daylight
Realistic color with good exposure outdoors.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

The Nikon V3 handled tough outdoor lighting under harsh sunlight well in terms of color and exposure, though dynamic range isn't impressive. We find skin tones a little too warm in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with Manual white balance, preferring the Auto white balance results here, though Auto is still a bit warm. The +0.3 EV exposure compensation required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright is slightly less than the +0.7 EV average for this scene, so exposure accuracy is better than average here. However, a moderate amount of highlights are clipped in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, and there are very dark shadows as well. Color is good in our far-field shot, just a touch cool. Default exposure is excellent with very few clipped highlights (just specular highlights), though there are some deep shadows that are quite noisy and plugged. (Apologies for using f/8 for our OUTB and FAR shots, as that led to some additional softening due to diffraction on a high-res 1"-type sensor like the V3's. An aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 would have been sharper.)

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution with ~2,600 to ~2,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
~2,700 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,600 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,700 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
Strong detail to
~2,600 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,700 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,600 lines per picture height in the vertical direction in JPEGs. Complete extinction didn't occur until around 3,200 lines in both directions. Adobe Camera Raw 8.6 wasn't really able to extract more high-contrast resolution than the camera JPEG, but complete extinction was extended to the limit of our chart (4,000 lines), though it produced more noticeable color moiré and aliasing artifacts. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images at default settings, even though edge-enhancement can be seen on high-contrast subjects. Fairly strong noise suppression at base ISO.

Slightly soft definition
of high-contrast elements,
despite evidence of
edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
though detail remains strong in
the darker parts of the model's hair here.

Sharpness. The Nikon V3 produced slightly soft images in our tests, even with a sharp prime lens (shots above taken with a 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 at f/4). Some edge enhancement artifacts are visible around high-contrast subjects such as the halos around the lines and text in the crop above left, but images could use some stronger but "tighter" sharpening of fine detail. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing color and tonal differences right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right is a little mushy, showing fairly strong noise suppression and light sharpening that minimizes noise, but blurs out many individual strands of hair. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon V3 produces slightly soft images at default settings. More detail and crisper images can be obtained from carefully processing RAW files, though. See below:

Base ISO (160)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to a matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.6 using default noise reduction with strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (in this case 300% USM with a radius of 0.3 pixels and a threshold of 0).

As you can see, the RAW conversion using Adobe Camera Raw produces results with a lot more detail and crispness, but it also reveals a lot more noise (at default ACR NR settings), which is perhaps one reason the camera JPEGs are on the soft side (the camera is applying copious amounts of noise reduction combined with light sharpening of fine detail). You can of course always increase noise reduction during conversion, but be aware that smaller sensors like the V3's produce quite a bit of noise already at moderately low ISOs, so be prepared to apply some additional noise reduction to obtain clean-looking images at 100% magnification.

ISO & Noise Performance
Images area bit soft even at base ISO here, however fairly good detail to up to ISO 800.

High ISO Noise Reduction = On (default)
ISO 160 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600 ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400 ISO 12,800

ISOs 160 and 200 are very similar, but as mentioned before, are a little soft due to aggressive default noise reduction and light sharpening. ISO 400 shows good detail, but stronger noise and noise reduction are already taking an additional toll. ISO 800 is noticeably softer, though some fine detail is still left. ISO 1600 is softer still, but not too bad. Image quality degrades more rapidly at ISO 3200 and above, with mushier details, stronger luma noise as well as some blotchy purple and yellow chroma noise. Overall, though, an improvement over the V2 and fairly competitive with other cameras using a 1"-type sensor, but perhaps somewhat disappointing performance from a camera with the V3's price tag. Shooting in RAW mode and processing yourself is definitely preferred for maximum image quality.

Of course, the impact of noise and detail loss are highly dependent on the size the photos are printed at, and pixel-peeping on-screen has surprisingly little relationship to how the images look when printed: See the Print Quality section below for recommended maximum print sizes at each ISO.

A note about focus for this shot: To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
Somewhat high default contrast. Dynamic range isn't as good as most DSLRs and some other CSCs. Good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight:
The Nikon V3 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting in the above test, but perhaps not as much as you might expect from such a small sensor. The +0.3 EV exposure did the best job here, as the mannequin's face is a bit too dim at 0 EV, and too many highlights were blown at +0.7 EV. Default contrast is a little high, and quite a few highlights were lost in the shirt and flowers when exposure was adjusted for the mannequin's face. There are some very deep shadows as well, that are noisy compared to cameras with larger sensors. Note that these shots were captured with the Nikon V3's Active D-Lighting control set to "Off." See below for how Active D-Lighting and contrast settings help with highlights and shadows.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)

Aperture Priority
Mode
0 EV
Aperture Priority
Face Priority AF
0 EV
Full Auto
0 EV

Face Detection.
Here, we can see the effects of the Nikon V3's Face Priority AF mode versus just Aperture Priority mode. As you can see from the shots above, Face Priority AF resulted in a brighter image without applying any manual exposure compensation with the camera selecting a slower shutter speed of 1/40s versus 1/50s. Full Auto selected Portrait scene mode with a much larger aperture of f/1.8 for better subject isolation and a fast shutter speed of 1/800s to avoid subject motion blur, and it also enabled Active D-Lighting for a more balanced exposure.

Active D-Lighting
Active D-Lighting attempts to preserve detail in both highlights and shadows in high-contrast situations, while maintaining moderate levels of contrast. The shots below show the effect of the Active D-Lighting setting available on the Nikon V3 on our high-contrast "Sunlit" Portrait scene. Unlike recent Nikon DSLRs, the V3 offers just On and Off settings for Active D-Lighting. Also note that Active D-Lighting is different from the Playback menu's D-Lighting option, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images though, Nikon very properly doesn't apply tonal adjustments like this to RAW file data. NEF files, however, are tagged so that Nikon software can automatically apply the effect when converted.)

"Sunlit" Portrait Active D-Lighting (0 EV)
ADL Settings:


Off


On
(Default)


Mouse over the links to see how Active D-Lighting affects our "Sunlit" Portrait shot at default exposure. Click on a link to get to the full-res image.

As you can see, shadows and darker midtones have been boosted with Active D-Lighting enabled, and highlights have been toned down as well, however the overall effect is fairly subtle.

Far-field Active D-Lighting (0 EV)
Off

Here are the results with our Far-field shot. Mouse over the links to compare the effect.

We see somewhat different results here with Active D-Lighting enabled. Shadows are brighter, however highlights have also been boosted this time, likely because very few were clipped to begin with.

Far-field HDR
Off
On

HDR.
The Nikon V3 also offers a 2-shot in-camera HDR mode which combines highlights from an underxposed shot to shadows from an overexposed shot taken in quick succession. Mouse over the links to compare the effect.

As you can see it worked fairly well here, but because two shots are combined, be aware that ghosting and/or double images can occur if there is any fast movement within the frame during capture of the two images.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we compare the Nikon V3's dynamic range to its predecessor, the V2, as well as to the Sony RX100 III, another camera that uses a 1"-type sensor (though with a fixed lens). You can always compare other models on DxOMark.com.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the V3's dynamic range (in red) actually tested slightly worse than the V2's at low ISOs, starting out at about 10.7 EV versus the V2's 10.8 at the lowest ISO. There's up to about 0.5 EV less dynamic range between base ISO and 400 which may just be noticeable in real-world images, but at ISO 800 and higher, the two cameras perform identically in terms of dynamic range.

The Sony RX100 Mark III's dynamic range is on the other hand significantly better than the Nikon's at low to moderate ISOs, with up to a ~1.8 EV advantage at low ISOs (12.27 vs 10.43). At the intermediate ISO of about 800, the two cameras perform essentially the same in terms of dynamic range, but the Sony pulls way from the Nikon again at higher ISOs.

Overall, underwhelming dynamic range test results from the Nikon V3, as even some 1/1.7" models exhibit better dynamic range at lower ISOs. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Nikon V3 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.



  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
160

1.3 s, f2.8

20 s, f2.8

20 s, f2.8
ISO
3200

1/15 s, f2.8

1 s, f2.8

1 s, f2.8
ISO
12800

1/60 s, f2.8

1/4 s, f2.8

1/4 s, f2.8

Low Light. The Nikon V3 performed fairly well here, able to capture usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night), at even its lowest ISO setting.

Color balance with Auto white balance is just slightly cool at higher light levels, but takes on a strong magenta cast as light level drop. Noise is low at ISO 160, fairly low and well-controlled at ISO 3200, but quite high at ISO 12,800, as you'd expect. We did not detect any significant issues with banding (pattern noise), heat blooming or hot pixels.

The camera's hybrid autofocus system was able to focus on the subject to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with the 10-30mm kit lens at f/3.5, which is very good for its class. The Nikon V3 was able to autofocus in complete darkness with the AF assist enabled.

(Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Compact system cameras like the Nikon V3 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Flash Test Results

Coverage and Range
A fairly weak flash with uneven coverage. More than average exposure compensation needed.

Flash coverage, 10mm
Normal Flash
+1.0 EV
Slow-Sync Flash
+0.3 EV

Coverage. Flash coverage was rather narrow at wide angle (10mm) as you can see from the dark corners in the top image above. Narrow coverage at wide angle isn't unusual, though, and some of the corner darkening may be from the lens itself. We no longer test flash coverage at telephoto, as it is invariably better, making wide angle the worst case scenario.

Exposure. For our Indoor Portrait scene test, the Nikon V3's flash produced a bright image with +1.0 EV, a little more than the average +0.7 EV compensation needed for this shot. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode also produced bright results at +0.3 EV, but resulted in a strong pinkish-orange cast from the ambient room lighting due to the slower 1/8s shutter speed.

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range

5.9 feet
ISO 160

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. The Nikon V3's flash Guide Number (GN) is 5 meters or 16 feet in auto flash mode at ISO 100, which translates to a range of only about 5.9 feet at f/3.5 and ISO 160. The target in our flash shot above was underexposed at those settings, indicating Nikon's rating for the V3's flash power is perhaps optimistic.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISO 160/200; a nice 11 x 14 at ISO 1600; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 6400.

ISO 160 and 200 images are good at 24 x 36 inches, showing reasonably good detail and accurate color reproduction. Wall display prints are possible at 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 400 shots look good at 20 x 30 inches. 24 x 36's here introduce a marginal amount of noise in flatter areas, but are certainly usable for less critical applications or wall display purposes.

ISO 800 prints are good at 13 x 19 inches. There is just a mild trace of noise in flatter areas, but it has a nice enough "film-like" appearance that it does not significantly degrade the print. 16 x 20 inch prints are still usable for wall display.

ISO 1600 results are not bad at 13 x 19, but don't quite pass our "good" standard. 11 x 14's tighten up nicely here and retain good color and fairly low noise, although there is a typical loss of contrast in our target red swatch.

ISO 3200 yields a good 8 x 10 inch print. Most all detail is lost in the red swatch at this point, and there is visible noise in flatter areas of our target, but still a good print.

ISO 6400 prints warrant a reduction in size to 4 x 6 inches, as there's too little detail and too much noise in larger prints to call good here.

ISO 12,800 does not yield a good printed image and is best avoided.

The Nikon V3 is a clear step up from its predecessors in overall image quality, and its print quality results are encouraging. With its 1"-type sensor, a good 8 x 10 at ISO 3200 is a really good result, and on par with the popular Sony RX100 III with a similar type sensor. After that, print quality falls off quickly, but that's typical of virtually all sensors smaller than Four Thirds size. All in all, a good showing in the print quality department for the V3 given its sensor size.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 Mark II studio printer, and on the Pixma MP610 here in the office. (See the Canon Pixma Pro9000 Mark II review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon V3 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon V3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!



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