One of the most common knocks against the Nikon 1 product line has been its small CX sensor and its somewhat underwhelming dynamic range and colour depth performance. I wasn’t even mildly interested when I first read about the introduction of the Nikon 1 J5 as I initially assumed the camera would be using yet another Aptina sensor. Based on past experience this meant very little, if any, improvement in terms of sensor performance and image quality. After all, that had been the case with each successive S-series, J-series and V-series model that had been introduced. Since I don’t like using cameras without a viewfinder I just shrugged.
Then I found out that the J5 was the first camera in the Nikon 1 line up to feature a new 20.8MP BSI CX-sized sensor. I knew that BSI technology had the potential to improve sensor performance significantly so I waited eagerly for DxO testing to come out on the J5.
As I had hoped the DxO sensor testing of the Nikon 1 J5 showed significant improvement in both dynamic range and colour depth with the new BSI sensor. Even though I would not normally have any interest in doing a review of any camera without a viewfinder I really wanted to get my hands on a Nikon 1 J5 to experience first hand what the new sensor could produce. Having captured over 80,000 images with my Nikon 1 V2’s over the past couple of years I figured I had a reasonable experience base with which to compare the J5.
The folks at Nikon Canada were kind enough to provide me with a review sample and I spent a couple of weeks with the J5. I ended up shooting a few thousand images with it, covering a range of different subjects. As you can see from the photograph the Nikon 1 J5 is quite small with the 10-30mm PD zoom kit lens attached. When combined with the 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm and 30-110 zoom lenses it makes for a very lightweight and portable system with an equivalent field of view of 18mm – 297mm, weighing less than many DSLR bodies alone.
Before I show you some of these test images, let’s briefly go over the DxO sensor scores to put things in perspective.
DxO considers a dynamic range score of 12EV or higher to be in the ‘excellent’ range, with a difference of 0.5 EV to be noticeable for most people. On this dimension my Nikon 1 V2’s score a modest 10.8EV, compared to 12 EV for the Nikon 1 J5. This is still less than top tier M4/3 cameras like the Panasonic GH4 which scores 12.8EV and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II which comes in at 12.4EV. Nikon APS and full sensor DSLR’s are head and shoulders above these dynamic range ratings, but many Canon DSLRs are in this range. For example, DxO rates the dynamic range of the Canon 7D Mark II at 11.8EV.
In terms of colour depth, DxO considers a score of 22-bits or higher to be in the ‘excellent’ range with a difference of 1.0-bits to be noticeable for most people. My Nikon 1 V2’s are rated at 20.2-bits compared to 22.1-bits with the J5. The Olympus M5 Mark 11 scores 23-bits, the GH4 comes in at 23.2-bits, and the Canon 7D Mark II is rated at 22.4-bits.
So, while the new sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 is still somewhat behind top tier M4/3 cameras and some AP-S DSLRs, the gap has narrowed considerably. This helps to significantly reduce one of the biggest knocks against the Nikon 1 system…image quality.
I started my Nikon 1 J5 testing with some flower images captured with the Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 zoom lens and some extension tubes. I almost always shoot my Nikon 1 V2’s using single point AF and I used this same approach with the Nikon 1 J5. It has 171 auto-focus points with the 105 centre points supporting phase detection which makes shooting with single point AF simple and precise. I captured a range of flower images including some in dark shade and others that were in direct, harsh sunlight. Through it all the J5’s new BSI sensor performed quite well and easily outclassed the performance of my Nikon 1 V2.
This first image is an out-of-camera jpeg of two flowers taken in very harsh, direct sunlight with very dark shadows in the background.
Here is the same image but this time processed using the corresponding RAW file. You can clearly see how much highlight detail that I was able to recover, as well as some of the shadow details. I found that the amount of colour differentiation that I was able to bring back in the image was quite good.
Here are a few sample flower images…
Next I decided to use the same set-up with extension tubes to capture some images of bees. While I don’t normally like to compose images from the rear screen of a camera some subjects lend themselves to this approach! I didn’t have any difficulty getting good framing on various subject bees and was able to capture a number of useable images as seen below…
The Nikon 1 J5 doesn’t have a viewfinder so capturing images of birds in flight does represent a bit of a challenge. I was feeling a bit experimental one day and used some elastic bands to attach my Zacuto Z-Finder to the back of the Nikon 1 J5. As you can see from the image below, this approach was far from elegant…but it did work.
I was able to capture a number of decent images of cormorants in flight using this set up including the three sample images below that were taken from the same AF-C run captured at 20fps in AF-C.
I noticed a little bit of a focusing lag as the Nikon 1 J5 tried to lock on to the subject when shooting at 20fps in AF-C. From a practical standpoint that meant allowing a bit more panning time for the J5 to lock onto a subject. The biggest issue I found was the very slow card writing speed when shooting at 20fps, especially once the buffer filled. Bringing a good book can help make the wait more tolerable.
Another morning I went out to shoot some landscape images and found that, once again, the J5’s new sensor easily outclassed my Nikon 1 V2 especially in high contrast situations.
Then I made the trek out to the Mountsberg Conservation Area to get a few raptor images and anything else that caught my eye. Since the J5’s new sensor does not have a low pass filter I wanted to see how much extra detail it could capture compared to my Nikon 1 V2. I was quite pleased with the results and also found that activating the rear touch screen was very useful for these types of images in terms of selecting the key focusing point and activating the shutter release from the touch screen.
I also visited Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls, one of my favourite spots to practice taking images of stationary birds and reptiles, and captured a few images…many of them at high ISOs.
Here are a few additional sample images showing the detail that is possible to capture with the Nikon 1 J5. As noted earlier, it does not have a low pass filter.
Overall I was quite impressed with the image quality of the Nikon 1 J5 when compared to Nikon 1 Aptina sensor models like my V2. I think this change to the new 20.8MP BSI sensor is a bit of a game changer for Nikon. It moves the product line into a much more competitive position in terms of image quality when compared to some M4/3 models and some Canon AP-S DSLRs.
Quite often I have heard Nikon 1 owners almost apologetically state that their Nikon 1 gear is ‘good enough for my needs’. I think the image quality has improved significantly with the J5 and as these new BSI sensors find their way into more future Nikon 1 models (like the V4) many Nikon 1 owners may begin to confidently state that their Nikon 1 gear is ‘the best format for my photography needs’. I know that I’ve felt this way for quite a while…and the new BSI sensor just takes it up another notch for me.
Article and all images Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation is permitted without written consent.
I m an amateur photographer from Kolkata, India. Recently I have upgraded my device and invested on Nikon D7200 with couple lenses Nikon 50mm 1.8G Prime & SIGMA 150-500mm Telephoto lens. Very recently I have experienced a problem during video shooting on my family function because of non-articulated screen ! Now I have decided to afford another model only for video works, which is Nikon 1 J5 with 10-30mm lens.
As I am having another camera and couple of nikon mount lens, are all the Lenses (Nikon 50mm 1.8G Prime & SIGMA 150-500mm Telephoto lens and 10-30mm) are interchangeable between two cameras (D7200 and J5) ?
If you are looking for a camera to do video only then I would suggest looking at some other options. A dedicated camcorder with an articulated screen and a zoom lens may be a better suited piece of gear than buying a Nikon 1 J5.
For you to be able to use your F-mount 50mm f/1.8 you would need to purchase and FT-1 adapter. The other issue is that your F-mount 50mm would give you an equivalent field-of-view of 135mm due to the crop factor of the sensor in the Nikon 1 J5. Your Sigma 150-500mm may not be compatible with a J5. Another issue of which you need to be aware is that Nikon 1 cameras will overheat and shut down after about 15-20 minutes of continuous video use. Video with a Nikon 1 camera is quite good up to ISO-800, then can become noisy.
If you go the Nikon 1 J5 route you would likely be better served buying the 1 Nikon 10mm f/2.8 and 18,5mm f/1.8 native lenses, rather than trying to use your Nikkor F-mount glass.
Based on your comment it is likely that a dedicated camcorder may be a better choice.
So, all those predictions back in August of 2015 of a V4 in six months are sadly incorrect. Nikon can’t even get the DL series out the door almost a year after it was actually announced! I really like my V3 and salivate at the thought of a 20 mp V4. I finally broke down and got a J5 but haven’t had a lot of time to do any comparisons (too busy shooting). Every time I ask Nikon what is up with the DL series I get the same answer: release date is unknown. How long does it take to fix a sensor issue? Even assuming the manufacturing facility took a hit during the earthquake. I’m not optimistic…
There are many disappointed folks just like you re: the delay with the Nikon DLs and when (or if) an updated V-Series will be produced. I also bought the J5 model (two of them) and have been very much enjoying shooting with them. I find the J5 files are noticeably better to work with than my V2s, especially at base ISO.
I suppose the reasons for the delay with the DLs are anyone’s guess. I suspect it is more than just an issue with the sensor in the camera. The DL series is of no interest to me personally so their delay is a non-issue to me. Like you, I would like to see an updated V-Series…the sooner the better! At least there has been many supportive comments from Nikon executives about the Nikon 1 system so it appears that it will be staying in the product portfolio for the foreseeable future.
You should take part in a contest for one of the best blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!
Thank you for your comment! I’m sure Nasim and everyone on the Photography Life team appreciate your support.
Thanks for the detailed review – some great info in there that is hard to find elsewhere without doing a lot of research.
I’ve finally bit the bullet and have a J5 and 10mm pancake on order. I’m hoping it’ll be my small sensor camera of choice for street shooting. I tried the Samsung NX mini but found the 9mm pancake flared pretty badly when shooting into the sun. I’ve used the Nikon 10mm before with a J1 and felt it coped better with flare. Not stellar, but the files are recoverable at least.
It’s a pity the N1 line seems to be coming to an end. Still we have the Nikon DL’s to look forward to. With fixed zooms that look to be sweet performers it works out better value for money.
Until some kind of official notification comes from Nikon I suppose none of us really knows for sure what the future holds for the Nikon 1 system. I am still optimistic that the system will continue, hopefully with some further enhancements. If it does bite the dust, I have a sufficient amount of gear to last me for a number of years to come. I know many folks are looking forward to the DL products.
Well I’ve just added the 6.7-13mm zoom and 18.5mm prime to my collection and it has raised the bar with my street work. Also added Fotga extension tubes to go with my 30-110mm zoom for macro work. So I too am set for a few years at least. With new cameras such as the Olympus E-M1 II coming out so expensive I don’t see me changing gear now for some time. Though I guess if it was announced that N1 development had ceased I’d have to consider resale value and shift my gear before I lost too much money. I’d only do that though if I could find a suitable replacement – such as a DL 18-50.
I also have those two lenses and found them to be great additions to my kit!
Hello, I loved your review, but I have one question to make.
I own two cameras, one with an aps-c sensor and another with a 1/2.3 sensor, and I see many diferences in the pictures’ details. When I take a picture with the 1/2.3 sensor is in a place with no light, the pictures have low quality compared to the aps-c sensor.
This camera, Nikon J5, has a smaller sensor than cameras with an aps-c sensor. Does it make good details in the shadows? Does this sensor (Nikon j5) make the same quality as an aps-c sensor?
Hope for your answer and thanks in advande for reading my comment.
Given the difference in sensor size between the 1″ CX sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 and an APS-C it is not realistic to expect equal performance. Some of this will depend on lighting of course, as well as work in post processing. Under good lighting the J5 does produce quite good images with 12EV of dynamic range and 22.1-bits of colour depth according to independent testing by DxOMark. This compares reasonably well with M4/3 cameras as well as some APS-C cameras such as the Canon 760D, 750D and 7D Mark II. Low light performance from an APS-C camera will be better than from a J5. Other APS-C cameras that use Sony sensors will have much better dynamic range and colour depth performance. Small 1″ CX sensors can produce more noise in their images so using good noise reduction in post can help. I put all of my Nikon 1 files through the PRIME noise reduction function in DxO OpticsPro 10 Elite, regardless of the ISO at which they were captured.
Excellent Work, Very useful information, Thank you so much.
Try with Zacuto Z-Finder Pro.
I’m glad the review was helpful for you Jordan!
Beautiful images and useful article thank you.
I would describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur photographer and am wowed by your beautiful clear macro images here ( doesn’t seem to me that a 1 inch sensor has reduced the quality of your end result too much) but how much of this is achievable by an amateur v pro photographer? How much is done in post processing ( something I havent used yet)? And one more question – can you shed any light at all on why the Nikon 1 J system is so much more reasonably priced than the V series? Is it build quality? The only difference appears to be the Evf and a flash shoe!
All of the images in my articles are produced from RAW files and I do post processing work on all of them. I typically spend 2-3 minutes tops on any given image. Regardless of the camera you own, shooting in RAW and learning to do some work in post will help to improve the quality of image you produce. The J-series of Nikon 1 cameras do not have viewfinders and typically also do not have the same amount of external controls. The V-series cameras all have viewfinders and provide more of a DSLR-type experience than do J-series cameras. V-series bodies also have deeper buffers than do J-series.
These picture look so much better at the mid to higher ISO than the J1. I was so disappointed with the noise on the J1 on anything higher than ISO 400. It’s OK with these lower ISO at bright situations, but when you start getting above that, the noise is really bad. So that means any indoor shots with flash are horrible since it tends to ISO up to a really high ISO. Even when auto ISO set to 800. Seems like the Flash algorithm tends to want to drag the shutter in order to try to expose the ambient. Probably because the flash is too weak on the camera. I was really reluctant to ever buy another Nikon 1 camera again. I had better indoor flash pictures with cheap point and shoot digital cameras. I love the shots from my full frame Nikon DSLR.
With these shots, I might consider the Nikon 1 again.
If you were shooting jpegs I doubt that the performance of the J5 will be that much better than what you experienced with the J1. All of the images that you see in my articles were processed from RAW files. I use the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro 10 on all of my Nikon 1 files regardless of the ISO at which they were captured. This likely is the biggest factor in the visual difference between the images. Another factor is the difference in MP between the J1 (10MP) and the J5 (20.8MP). When larger images are reduced for web use, i.e. 2048 pixels wide, the appearance of noise will be reduced. Your Nikon DSLR would do a much better job shooting people in low light indoors.
The article is very helpful indeed and the photos are stunning.
A few reviews of Nikon 1 J5 mentioned the bottleneck of this camera being a slow transfer of data from the camera buffer to MicroSD card. People who burst shot 20 fps, said they were waiting for ever to be able to take the next shot. This is to be honest my biggest concern now, now that I nearly decided to buy this impressive piece of gear.
My question is:
If the maximum data transfer from the buffer to the MicroSD card mentioned anywhere in the specs? If so, what is maximum data transfer from the buffer to the car?
IF maximum data transfer was for example 150 MB/s or higher, I think buying 1000x card could help.
I’d really appreciate your response, because this allegedly slow data transfer issue is now a show stopper for my decision to buy it.
Thanks for the positive comment about the article and images – most appreciated! The slow card writing speed is not a myth…it is very slow. It is much slower than when I shoot with my Nikon 1 V2’s at 15fps. I’m not sure if Nikon has intentionally crippled the J5 in order to create a point of differentiation with a future V4 or not. Since the J5 does not have a viewfinder I doubt that I would personally shoot in AF-C at 20fps anyway as I would find framing moving subjects without a viewfinder very difficult. There is certainly a lot to like about the Nikon 1 J5…but card writing speed is not one of them.
I could not find any specs on writing speed on the Nikon web site.
I’m glad you can’t keep away Tom, I always enjoy your articles so much. Birds ‘n Bugs! Whoopee!
I blame you for my Nikon 1 + 70-300 CX GAS. The pictures are always so lovely at web scale, and I’m sure the printable versions are excellent too, even if, yes, the sensor is still a step or two behind my APS-C sensor. Reach matters, and I found that out myself this weekend when a juvenile Mississippi kite was hanging out in my back yard on a tree branch, waiting for mom (or dad, I couldn’t tell) to bring big-bug snacks. My 55-210 (and sometimes with my 1.7x teleextender) did well and I got shots I’m proud of, but I was VERY close to a wild bird of prey (~3-7 meters away) and I know it was a very lucky coincidence that I could catch it. (I hope this will work – www.flickr.com/photo…7262897878 even if a few of the photos need some more PP like brightening).
The 800 (!!) mm reach of your set up would make that much easier.
I’m waiting for Nikon to come out with a V4, including an EVF!, with this new sensor. And then for the price to drop because the 1’s always debut at such high prices. Then I’ll get the CX 70-300 and I think I’ll be set for a long time for super-telephoto needs. At least that’s what I’m telling my wife.
Thanks for sharing your images…great job! We all have to take full advantage of the coincidences that life allows us and it looks like you did a super job with the opportunity! I expect a V4 to be out by the first quarter of next year. Nikon has filed a patent for a refresh of the CX 70-300 so you may see a bit of a discount on the original design lens…although it is typically in very short supply due to demand.
I’m doing my best to be back here at Photography Life as often as I can given all of my other priorities and crazy schedule…I do think the world of you folks!