Nikon J1/V1 Dynamic Range (JPEG)
Our Dynamic Range measurement system involves shooting a calibrated Stouffer Step Wedge (13 stops total range) which is backlit using a daylight balanced lamp (98 CRI). A single shot of this produces a gray scale wedge from the camera's clipped white point down to black (example below). Each step of the scale is equivalent to 1/3 EV (a third of a stop), we select one step as 'middle gray' (defined as 50% luminance) and measure outwards to define the dynamic range. Hence there are 'two sides' to our results, the amount of shadow range (below middle gray) and the amount of highlight range (above middle gray).
To most people highlight range is the first thing they think about when talking about dynamic range, that is the amount of highlight detail above middle gray the camera can capture before it clips to white. Shadow range is more complicated; in our test the line on the graph stops as soon as the luminance value drops below our defined 'black point' (about 2% luminance) or the signal-to-noise ratio drops below a predefined value (where shadow detail would be swamped by noise), whichever comes first.
The J1/V1's default tone curve is almost identical to Nikon's entry-level DSLR D3100, which is exactly what we'd expect. At about 3 2/3 stops it offers, for this class of camera, a very decent highlight range but cannot quite match the smoother highlight roll-off of the Sony NEX C3 and Olympus E-PL3 which capture their images on APS-C and Micro Four Four Thirds sensors respectively. The J1/V1's slightly steeper curve means there can be a rather abrupt transition from near-white pixels to clipped data but the real-life difference is minimal and both cameras still perform noticeably better than the Micro Four Thirds Panasonic GF3.
Active D-Lighting is Nikon's dynamic range expansion option, designed for use when faced with high contrast scenes to balance highlight and shadow detail. It's a feature that the 1 system cameras share with all of Nikon's current DSLRs, but like the entry-level DSLRs, the J1/V1 only have two settings - on or off. The effect of Active D-Lighting differs greatly depending on the scene, and with the J1 and V1 it does not give useful results in our (studio-based) dynamic range test. To get an idea of how ADL works in the real world, head over to the 'Photographic Tests' page of this review.
The J1 and V1 have five 'Picture Control' presets in addition to their default standard mode. The settings vary slightly in contrast, with 'Neutral' and 'Portrait' applying a flatter tone curve and 'Vivid' applying a more contrasty one than the default 'Standard' setting. Crucially though all settings clip highlights at roughly the same point and therefore do not offer any additional highlight range.
If you prefer punchy out-of-camera images the 'Vivid' setting is a good option, while the 'Neutral' mode gives you the most leeway for general editing and tone-curve adjustments in post-production.