Nikon 1 J5: Finally some real improvement in sensor performance!

For all of you who are fans of the Nikon 1 camera system, or are considering it, there is good news afoot. It looks like Nikon has finally addressed the performance of the CX sensor used in this family of cameras.

With the sale of Aptina it has been rumoured for a little while now that any new Nikon 1 models would likely have a Sony CX sensor in them. Sony sensors have been rated quite a bit better than Aptina sensors so this was something I had been hoping would happen.

Well, the DxOMark test scores are in for the new Nikon 1 J5 and it finally looks like we’ll see some noticeable improvement with the CX sensors in the Nikon 1 family of cameras. And, this should impact image quality very positively!

The overall DxO score has jumped up to 65 which puts it in the range of many M4/3 cameras and it is a significant improvement from the low to mid-50’s score that Nikon 1 cameras have managed in the past. It will also put the Nikon 1 J5 in the range of some entry level Canon DSLR’s like the EOS 1200D.

The most significant improvements with the CX sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 are with dynamic range and colour depth.

In simple terms, dynamic range is the ability of a sensor to capture a range of contrasts, from bright highlights to dark shadows. Dynamic range is measured in EV with a difference of 0.5 EV usually needed to be noticeable for most people.  DxO considers a score of 12 EV to be excellent.

Many full frame cameras have fantastic dynamic range. For example the D810 is rated at 14.8 EV. Other full frame cameras, notably Canon, do not fair nearly as well with dynamic range. For example, the Canon 5D Mark III only scores 11.7 EV. This becomes very noticeable when working with RAW files when trying to retrieve both highlight and shadow detail.

My Nikon 1 V2’s dynamic range is rated at 10.8 EV which is why it was quite easy to clip highlights when shooting landscapes, and care had to be taken to get the best exposure possible. I often purposely underexposed high contrast landscape images in order to hold on to highlight details.  The new Nikon 1 J5 is rated at 12 EV. This will mean a significant improvement with landscape photography.

To get the most benefit from this improvement you’ll need to shoot at base ISO as the dynamic range drops off quickly at higher ISOs. This is the case with all cameras of course. The gap in dynamic range performance with older Nikon 1 models becomes less pronounced after ISO-400 but should still be noticeable as there is a difference above 0.5 EV+ throughout the ISO range.

Colour depth is another area where the new BSI CX sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 shows significant improvement. Think of colour depth as the ability of a sensor to capture a range of colours and to discern subtle differences between colour shades. Camera sensors with high colour depth scores will do a much better job with colour rendition than will sensors with lower scores. This is often very important for portrait photography where capturing subtle differences in skin shading can be critical.

Colour depth is measured in ‘bits’ with DxO considering 22 bits and higher as excellent. A difference of 1.0 bits is needed to be noticeable for most people.

The sensor in my Nikon 1 V2 is rated at 20.2 bits. This meant that I often needed to do some additional work with RAW files to try and boost some colour details as best I could. The sensor in the J5 is rated at 22.1 bits. Again, this is a significant improvement which should impact image quality very positively. As with dynamic range, to get the most benefit it will be important to shoot at base ISO, although the J5 does maintain a minimum 1.0 bit+ advantage over older Nikon 1 models throughout the ISO range which is impressive.

Low light performance has not improved much with the J5 rated at ISO-479 compared to my V2’s rating of ISO-403. Low light performance wasn’t my biggest concern in terms of Nikon 1 image quality as the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro 10 does a great job dealing with noise.

I have been shooting my Nikon 1 V2’s at ISO-3200 without any hesitation. A minor improvement with the low light performance of the new BSI sensor is welcome… but I am much more excited about the improvements with colour depth and dynamic range.

I did some comparisons on another key test measurement done by DxO, this being with measured ISO. My Nikon 1 V2’s have almost identical measured ISO when compared to my Nikon D800. This means when shooting with full manual settings (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) that I could set both types of cameras identically and not have to worry about making exposure corrections in post when shooting video.

There is about a 2/5 of a stop difference between the V2 and V3, with the V3 being noticeably darker at identical manual settings which would be problematic for my video work.

So, how does the sensor in the J5 compare? It is very similar to the performance of the sensor in the V3. Here are some comparison numbers for you. The first is the manufacturer’s stated ISO, then the measured ISO with the new J5, then the measured ISO of the V2. You’ll see close to a 2/5 of a stop difference between the sensors.

ISO-160: 92, 122
ISO-200: 116, 153
ISO-400: 231, 304
ISO-800: 459, 619
ISO-1600: 929, 1236
ISO-3200: 1853, 2416
ISO-6400: 3777, 4973

For most folks this difference will be a non-issue since they seldom, if ever, need to match up exposures between different cameras.

The new sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 will likely find its way into a future V4 which many folks who want to shoot with an EVF equipped camera will see as an important improvement. It remains to be seen whether Nikon will address the rather strange design decisions it made with the V3 in terms of a detachable EVF and grip. If they do, the V4 will likely get a lot more market acceptance than previous V-series models. Since the J5 still uses micro-SD cards I think the V4 will also use this format.

The new BSI CX sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 removes one of the biggest knocks against the Nikon 1 product line as future Nikon 1 cameras will now be able to better compete against M4/3 cameras and some entry level DSLR’s from Canon in terms of image quality. There are also some interesting potential Nikon 1 lenses in the pipeline based on patents filed by Nikon. For example, a 9-30 mm f/1.8-2.8 VR zoom, and a 10-600 mm f/3.5-6.7 VR zoom.

Nikon certainly stumbled out of the gate with the Nikon 1 line when it was first launched and the company has been a bit like a drunken sailor trying to find their way with subsequent model releases. At this point the future of the Nikon 1 product line looks quite promising indeed.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the Nikon 1 system, you may want to have a look at our eBook, The Little Camera That Could. It illustrates the capability of the Nikon 1 system through hundreds of original photographs. There is also commentary and tips about the Nikon 1 system.


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28 thoughts on “Nikon 1 J5: Finally some real improvement in sensor performance!”

  1. Hello Thomas. I’m late to the party (Apr. ’16), but I’ll share my experience for those who may find this via search. I shoot almost entirely indoors with the V1, and almost always moving subjects, from dancers, to speakers, to busy children. So, let’s just say that it’s ISO 3200 a lot of the time. Like you, I’ve found that DxO OpticsPro 10 does a phenomenal job of reducing noise while preserving a very reasonable amount of detail. I was weighing my options, thinking of selling the V1, until I found OpticsPro. All the other processing tools left me feeling disgruntled: Lightroom, Photo Ninja, Perfectly Clear, Camera Raw/Photoshop (all latest versions). The difference is very close to amazing – even at high magnification, the photos look MUCH better in DxO than in those other tools, all of which, with the exception of Photoshop/Camera Raw, leave unpleasant artifacts of their noise-reduction algorithms. The upshot is, I’m keeping the V1 for the many times when I need a completely silent camera. Enjoyed the review, and thank you.

    1. Hi George,
      Thanks very much for sharing your experiences with your Nikon 1 V1! It is always great to hear from folks that use the Nikon 1 system so readers can get a range of viewpoints. I run all of my Nikon 1 images through the PRIME noise reduction function in OpticsPro 10 regardless of the ISO at which they were shot.

  2. I got a J5 a week ago from Henry’s an d I am very happy with the handling. When I need the evf, I use the V3. It looks like the Canadian Nikon dealer run out of J5s, at least in Toronto.

    I can confirm that the sensor has better colors than V3, about one extra stop for DR and maybe extra half stop for low light. And the camera is significantly smaller than the V3. Wonderful little camera.

    Tom – I am wondering if it is worth keeping the 10-30mm PD that came with the camera. I did not test it yet as my most used lenses are the 32mm and 18.5mm. I have entire trips done only with the 32mm – marvellous lens. My daughter, however, would be very interested in a mid range zoom, as she has to suffer now with 18.5mm. Great learning experience for her, but she does not enjoy it very much…

    As a note, I also have the wide angle and the 30-110mm , 70-300mm zooms… I did an informal comparison between the two tele zooms on the J5 yesterday at 70mm and 110mm. Just minor differences, which I am not even sure that are not from camera shake – tiny, light camera.

    1. Hi Dan,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences with us! I had the chance to shoot a bit with the J5 today and I think the new BSI sensor is a winner! It will definitely put the Nikon 1 system in a much more competitive situation. I haven’t done anything with the 10-30mm PD zoom either. It seems to be quite a strange lens for Nikon to include with their Nikon 1 cameras.

      1. The review on dslrgear shows the 10-30mm tack sharp on V3. A very good performer, indeed.

        In my books that means that the lens is good at mid-range. I guess I will bite the bullet and test it a bit before deciding whether will go on Kijiji, or not.

  3. I bought the J5 and it is a Nice camera. The files has deeper colors than for instance V1 or V2 and the dynamic range is improved quite a lot. It requires more shooting discipline due to the high MP count compared to V1 and V2, but the output can be absolutely gorgeous. It is also nice to have some more cropping capabilities. Another great feature is the touch screen for touch and shoot the object you want to be in focus. All in all a great camera for the quite low price.

    1. Hi Anders,
      Thank you very much for sharing your experience with your new Nikon 1 J5! Your timing is impeccable! I should be receiving a review sample of the J5 from Nikon Canada and will be doing a hands-on review on the camera over the next few weeks.

      1. You are welcome Tom. I’ll be looking forward to your review and hope for some great images which we have almost come to expect when visiting your blog Thanks.

  4. Tom,

    Your detailed and plain English description of the J5 is the best.

    I have a V2 with the 2 normal kit zoom lenses, the Vello extension tubes, and the FT1 adapter. I find it very enjoyable. Your fantastic Nikon 1 photography had a great influence in my Nikon 1 purchase. Thank you again for all of your effort in showing the strength of the Nikon 1 system.

    Bob West

  5. Hi and thanks for the article.

    I looked at some NEF images from the J5 on another site (Photography Blog) and I think they look sort of mushy when zooming in to 1:1. Not as good as my V1 images that look crisp and sharp. But I can see that dynamic range and colors are probably better.

    Are you going to review the camera? If you are, I’ll be looking forward to reading your review, but until then I’m not that convinced about the IQ from the J5, even though it looks like a very nice camera with great features.


    1. Hello Anders,

      At this point I am not planning on doing a review of the J5 as I will likely wait until the V4 is introduced which I expect in the fall of 2015 or the first quarter of 2016.

      It can be difficult to compare image quality on various sites as one is never sure on the photo compression on the site. And, quite frankly, the skill of the photographer who took the image.

      I’ve never shot with a V1 so I can’t speak from a first hand experiential basis. I did find that the image quality of the V3 was a bit better than with my V2 due to the absence of the low pass filter. I would expect the same with a future V4 if it uses the same sensor as is in the J5.


      1. Sure, but I downloaded as NEF files and looked at them in Capture NXD. They were captured with the 10-30 kit lens as far as I remember. Anyway, nice to ser these offers from Nikon at very reasonable prices.

  6. Hi Tom

    very useful review. Thankyou. Unfortunately I was hoping for an improved ISO performance. I do a lot of low light shooting in museums and the ISO limitations of my V3 are a little annoying. I have, as you know, taken your advice and now use DXO Prime – which is a huge improvement and, as you say, deals with most of the noise issues. Even so with no fast zooms available yet I have to rely on the three primes for low light work. Museums very seldom permit the luxury of moving the camera position to adjust field of view so primes become a bit limiting in this respect. The promised 9-30 would be an ideal solution in that it covers the three primes in one lens, albeit with a bit of aperture compromise – but for convenience would work well for me I think. Any insder hints of when this might come out?

    1. Hi KSPGM,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Unfortunately I don’t have any ‘insider’ perspective on when a potential 9-30mm f/1.8-2.8 may be released by Nikon. I agree that a lens of this nature would be very helpful for a lot of photographers! I think it would be viewed as a ‘pro’ lens by many people and would kick the entire Nikon 1 system up a notch or two in many people’s minds.

  7. Another good article.

    I definitely wouldn’t buy if it didn’t have an in built EVF as I like it to frame and in bright sunlight it’s a must.

    Those micro SD cards are a pain. What are they thinking? I have one in my quad-copter and they shoot out and are so easily lost. It is something that MIGHT put me off. It depends on the rest of the spec.

    I don’t know what they were thinking with the V3 – don’t they get opinions from users before they sell the camera? No wonder it bombed.

    1. Hi Bob,

      I’m with you on the EVF for sure! As far as the use of the micro-SD cards goes I have no idea what Nikon was thinking either. When I did my review of the V3 I did test if the micro-SD cards ‘flew out’ and it didn’t appear to be an issue. I actually had to work at it to get that to happen. Given most companies try to design commonality into their products I don’t see Nikon moving away from micro-SD with a potential V4, but it would be great if they did.

      I’m not sure if the V3 ‘bombed’ or not. Nikon seemed to do a good job with their inventory control and the camera was in limited supply from launch…and never went ‘on sale’ at deeply discounted prices. Since I have 3 Nikon 1 V2’s that can handle my client video work I think the greatly improved sensor performance may tempt me with a future V4. I’d likely look at that camera as a ‘stills only’ one for the business as the differences in measured ISO would be an issue for me for video work.


  8. Interesting #s for the J5. I also hope the V4 will have a good sensor, and that they go back to included EVF on the body (like the V2).

    Full size card would be nice, but I don’t expect that. When working with micro cards, I will sometimes put the device within a large clear plastic bag, so that if the card shoots out, it is less likely to become lost (which has occurred to me a couple of times). They eventually get found when this happens at home, but a big pain until that occurs. In the field they would never be found.

    I also hope the 9-30 lens becomes a reality. The 10-600 would have a heck of a reach (27-1,620!), but I would be worried about quality (not to mention over f/5.6 at the long end). The magic formula on the current CX 70-300 will be hard to duplicate on such a long range. Hey Nikon, how about a CX 300-600 (or 300-500) with a f/5.6 fixed aperture? Or a CX 200-400 f/4?


    1. Hi William,

      Some great ideas on some alternate long zoom configurations! Nikon is having very good response to their P900 super zoom camera which uses the same variable aperture range with a much smaller sensor. The quality is actually pretty decent so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that’s the route Nikon goes with a potential 10-600mm CX lens. I’d rather see a 300-600mm with a maximum aperture of f/5.6. I doubt that we’d get a fixed aperture long zoom since it would likely increase the size of the lens significantly…but we can all hope! It would be extremely difficult for a zoom with that kind of focal range, i.e. 10-600 to deliver great quality throughout the range the way that the CX 70-300 does, but if Nikon concentrated their efforts on image quality at the long end I think many folks would love a lens like that for nature and birding.’


  9. Tom great article the J5 really does look to be quite a deal, cost wise and performance wise. No EVF is a deal breaker for me, except maybe as a backup camera.

    The likely Sony sensor is quite a bit better than the Aptina as well. Here is hoping for the v4. I agree that the v4 will very likely use micro SD and I am pretty much used to them now even though SD is MUCH better.

    You point out another key item – the lens. Nikon has improved the bodies, now it is time for a fast zoom the 9-30mm. That lens would replace my 10mm, 18.5mm and cause me not to get the 32mm. I would be SO happy with that zoom.

    We sure need that fast glass, largely missing from N1. This also helps IQ as we can use lower ISO and that really makes the N1 gear much happier.

    Can’t wait for the improvements on the v4 and hope they address some of the oddities (EVF and grip).


    1. Hi Mike,

      I think that we’ll see a V4 most likely in the fall of 2015 and no later than the first quarter of 2016. I agree with you that an EVF is a deal breaker for many folks – including me.

      I’m hoping Nikon integrates the EVF and grip and thus frees up the shoe for a flash or mic when the EVF is in use.

      It would be interesting to see if a potential 9-30mm f/1.8-2.8 gets bundled with a future V4. I think that would make a lot of sense for semi-pros and pros in terms of a small back-up camera.

      Some of the strange performance issues with the J5 also have me wondering how much further that a V4 may go. For example, 4K video at 15 fps is just silly…but I wonder if Nikon did that to differentiate the J5 from a V4 that may shoot 4K at 30fps. I think we’ll find out within the next few months.


      1. Yes I am thinking the same the v4 bundled with the 9-30 “pro” lens is the ticket.

        I think you are spot on the video too – the v4 needs to improve and the 30fps on 4k gives it that nod.

        Hope we see chatter in a few months. I suspect we won’t see it on shelves until 1Q16.


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