Nikon J5 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Vibrant colors with slightly below 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 J5 produces vibrant colors, yielding a mean saturation level of 115.5% (15.5% oversaturated) at base ISO in our tests. Mean saturation remains high up to ISO 1600, but falls off at higher sensitivities, to a minimum of 97.4% (undersaturated by 2.6%) at ISO 12,800. At lower ISOs, the J5 tends to push dark blues quite a bit, and dark green, orange and reds moderately, but most other colors are only pushed slightly, or are slightly undersaturated. 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. In simulated daylight, the Nikon J5 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 J5 showed a number of color shifts relative to the mathematically precise translation of colors, and its overall color accuracy is a bit below average. Greens were shifted toward yellow, cyan was shifted toward blue, and there were slight shifts in some oranges 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 6.75 at base ISO after correction for saturation, overall hue accuracy isn't quite as good as most cameras though it's still not bad, but it gets a little worse at higher ISOs, reaching a peak of 8.91 at ISO 12,800 (lower numbers are better). Hue is "what color" the color is.

Click to see J5FAR2I00160.JPG Click to see J5OUTBAP3.JPG Click to see J5hSLI00160_NR1D.JPG
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.

Click to see J5INBAP0.JPG Click to see J5INBTP0.JPG
Auto White Balance
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Click to see J5INBMP0.JPG
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 orange tint. The Manual white balance setting produced the most accurate results, if just a touch cool. The J5 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
Bright colors with decent exposure outdoors.

Click to see J5OUTBAP3.JPG Click to see J5FAR2I00160.JPG
Auto White Balance,
+1.0 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

The Nikon J5 handled tough outdoor lighting under harsh sunlight fairly well in terms of color and exposure. We found 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 +1.0 EV exposure compensation required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright is slightly higher than the +0.7 EV average for this scene. As a result, a moderate amount of highlights are clipped in the mannequin's shirt and flowers, though there are some 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 again there are some deep shadows.

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

Resolution
~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 reveals sharp, distinct line patterns up 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, though there is some aliasing visible in the form of moiré as low as 1,400 lines. Complete extinction didn't occur until around 3,000 to 3,200 lines. Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 wasn't really able to extract more high-contrast resolution than the camera JPEG, though it produced more noticeable color moiré and false colors. 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
Fairly sharp images at default settings, though edge-enhancement can be seen on high-contrast elements. Fairly strong noise suppression at base ISO.

Pretty good definition
of high-contrast elements,
though with 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 J5 produced fairly sharp JPEG images in our tests, a noticeable improvement over prior generations. Some edge enhancement artifacts are visible around high-contrast subject matter such as the halos around the lines and text in the crop above left, but default sharpening isn't too overdone. 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 that blurs out many individual strands of hair. The image is quite clean, but at a cost of reduced fine detail. 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 J5 produces fairly sharp images at default settings, however default noise reduction is a little heavy-handed. More detail and crisper images can be obtained from carefully processing RAW file. 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 9.1 using default noise reduction with moderate but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (in this case 250% USM with a radius of 0.3 pixels and a threshold of 0).

As you can see, the RAW conversion using Adobe Camera Raw produced results with significantly higher fine detail, but it also revealed a lot more noise (at default ACR NR settings), which indicates the camera applies fairly strong noise reduction even at base ISO. You can of course always increase noise reduction during conversion, but be aware that smaller 1"-type sensors like the J5's produce higher noise levels than the larger sensors usually found in mirrorless cameras, so be prepared to apply some additional noise reduction to obtain clean-looking images at 100% magnification.

ISO & Noise Performance
Images are bit soft even at base ISO here, however good high ISO performance for its class.

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. 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 for the class of camera. 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.

Keep in mind this series is shot under fairly low incandescent lighting to simulate typical indoor lighting, so the camera has to boost its blue-channel signal quite a bit to get back to a neutral color balance. The blue and red channels are generally noisier than the green channel, making the hair in this ISO series a very challenging test of noise performance.

Bottom line, the Nikon J5's high-ISO performance shows an incremental improvement over the previous generation sensor including the V3's, and is very competitive with other cameras using a 1"-type sensor. But the aggressive default noise reduction is somewhat disappointing nonetheless, and to make matters worse, the J5 only offers two High ISO NR settings (On and Off). 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.

Note: We used to shoot this series at f/4 because of the relatively low light, but we now shoot it at f/8 for sensors larger than 1"-type and at f/5.6 for 1"-type sensors, as lens performance well away from center where we take the above crops is often not optimal at wider apertures. The added depth of field for a scene with this depth is also a better compromise than the potentially slightly sharper but shallower focus depth that a larger aperture would produce.

Multi-shot Noise Reduction
As mentioned, the Nikon J5 offers two conventional High ISO Noise Reduction options called On and Off, and as usually is the case, Off isn't really off, but applies less noise reduction than the default On setting. Interestingly, the J5 also offers a multi-shot noise reduction mode at ISO 6400 and ISO 12,800, which is enabled by selecting ISO 6400 (NR) and ISO 12800 (NR) ISO settings respectively.

With these two special ISO settings, the J5 takes 4 shots in rapid succession with each push of the shutter, and merges them to reduce noise. The table below shows the effect at ISO 6400, combined with both the standard High ISO Noise Reduction settings.

ISO 6400
Single shot, Standard NR = On Single shot, Standard NR = Off
Multi shot NR, Standard NR = On
Multi shot NR, Standard NR = Off

As you can see, with the standard High ISO Noise Reduction setting set to On, the multi-shot image is (bottom left) is very clean, but also very soft, offering less detail that the standard single-shot mode. This made us initially think the multi-shot mode wasn't very useful. However, when used in conjunction with standard High ISO Noise Reduction set to Off (bottom right), the J5 does produce an image that is almost as clean as the single shot with standard High ISO Noise Reduction set to On, but with better detail than either single-shot image. Too bad Nikon only offer it at ISO 6400 and 12,800.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range, and low light tests
High default contrast, but dynamic range is good, though of course not good as most DSLRs and some other mirrorless cameras. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

Click to see J5OUTBAP1.JPG Click to see J5OUTBAP2.JPG Click to see J5OUTBAP3.JPG
+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Nikon J5 struggled a bit with the deliberately harsh lighting in the above test, but perhaps not as much as you might expect from a relatively small camera. The +1.0 EV exposure did the best job here, as the mannequin's face is a bit too dim at lower compensation values, however a fair number of highlights were blown. Default contrast is 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 deep shadows as well, that are noisy compared to cameras with larger sensors, though detail in those shadows is actually pretty good. Note that these shots were captured with the Nikon J5's Active D-Lighting control set to "Off." See below for how Active D-Lighting and contrast settings help with highlights and shadows, and continue reading to see how the J5's sensor scored for dynamic range.

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.)

Click to see J5OUTBAP0.JPG Click to see J5OUTB_FACE.JPG Click to see J5OUTB_AUTO.JPG
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 J5'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 1/80s versus 1/160s at f/5.6. 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, less contrasty exposure. Nice.

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 J5 on our high-contrast "Sunlit" Portrait scene. Unlike recent Nikon DSLRs, the J5 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 (+0.3 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 while highlights have been preserved, however the overall exposure is still a bit dim.

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, with exposure reduced in highlights, midtones and shadows, though not in a linear fashion.

Far-field HDR
Off
On

HDR. The Nikon J5 also offers a 2-shot in-camera HDR mode which combines highlights and midtones from an underxposed shot with shadows and midtones from an overexposed shot taken in quick succession. Mouse over the links to compare the effect.

We neglected to take an HDR shot our standard Far-field scene, however we do have a couple examples in the our Gallery shots, including the one above. 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 J5's dynamic range to its bigger brother, the V3, as well as to the Sony RX100 IV, the latest Sony enthusiast compact to use 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 J5's dynamic range (in orange) is much improved over the V3's at low to moderate ISOs. At base ISO, the J5 managed just over 12 EV, while the V3 only scored 10.7 EV. The J5 offers higher dynamic range across the sensitivity range, though at ISO 800 and above, the two cameras are pretty similar.

The Sony RX100 Mark IV's dynamic range is on the other hand slightly better than the Nikon J5's, with up to about a 1/2 EV advantage (12.58 vs 12.04 at base ISO), though that may not be enough of a difference to be discernible in most real-world shots.

Overall, very good dynamic range test results for a 1"-type sensor from the Nikon J5, much improved over the V3 at low to moderate ISOs. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Nikon J5 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.


  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
160
Click to see J5LL001603.JPG
1.3 s, f2.8
Click to see J5LL001607.JPG
20 s, f2.8
Click to see J5LL001607XNR.JPG
20 s, f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see J5LL032003.JPG
1/15 s, f2.8
Click to see J5LL032007.JPG
1 s, f2.8
Click to see J5LL032007XNR.JPG
1 s, f2.8
ISO
12800
Click to see J5LL128003.JPG
1/60 s, f2.8
Click to see J5LL128007.JPG
1/4 s, f2.8
Click to see J5LL128007XNR.JPG
1/4 s, f2.8

Low Light. The Nikon J5 performed 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.

Noise is low at ISO 160, fairly low and very well-controlled at ISO 3200, but high at ISO 12,800, as you'd expect. We did not detect any significant issues with banding (fixed pattern noise) or heat blooming, but we did spot a few hot pixels at base ISO (noise reduction masked them at higher ISOs).

Color balance with Auto white balance is just slightly cool at higher light levels, but takes on a strong magenta cast as the light level dropped.

The camera's hybrid autofocus system was able to focus on the subject to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with the 10-30mm kit lens at f/3.5, which is excellent. And the Nikon J5 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 J5 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Output Quality

Print Quality
High-quality prints up to 24 x 36 inches at ISO 160-200; Nice 8 x 10 inch prints at ISO 3200; and usable 4 x 6 inch prints at ISO 12,800.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 160/200 prints look very nice all the way up to 24 x 36 inches. Both ISOs produce virtually identical images, with lots of fine detail and pleasing colors. At 24 x 36 inches, we're pushing the limits of the J5's 20-megapixel sensor, but at typical viewing distances for a large print such as this, detail looks great.

ISO 400 images begin to show the faintest hint of noise in the shadows. Fine detail is still very good and we're able to get prints up to a large 20 x 30 inches. A 24 x 36 inch print might be possible for less critical purposes.

ISO 800 prints show impressively mild noise up to 16 x 20 inches. The J5 does a great job at keeping noise under control here. At this ISO, prints up to this size still show lots of detail and pleasing colors. Understandably, there's a bit more noise than the previous ISO, but not by much, which makes a 20 x 30 inch print possible, in our opinion, for less critical applications.

ISO 1600 images display slightly stronger noise, as expected, and the tricky red-leaf fabric of our Still Life target is nearly devoid of all detail. However, the J5 still manages to produce a nice 13 x 19 inch print.

ISO 3200 prints take a dip down to 8 x 10 inches, as noise becomes noticeably stronger, making larger-sized prints unacceptable to our eyes. Colors still look okay, and detail is quite nice at this print size.

ISO 6400 images look great up to 5 x 7 inches, though we'd be okay with an 8 x 10 here too for less critical applications. Naturally, noise is stronger and more apparent at this ISO now, but there's still a good amount of detail. However, colors are slightly less vibrant than before.

ISO 12,800 prints top-out at 4 x 6 inches, and this is all rather impressive for a 1-inch sensor! At this size, detail is still quite visible, but it's clear than the increase in noise prevents acceptable prints at larger sizes.

The Nikon J5 is a big improvement all around for the Nikon 1-series, including a strong showing here in the print department. Base ISO and ISO 200 images show impressive detail and colors up to a large 24 x 36 inch print. You're pushing the 20 megapixel sensor's resolving power a bit here, but from normal viewing distances for such a large print, the camera can certainly handle it. Moving up the ISO scale, the noise increases, as expected, but it mostly stays contained to the shadows and at ISO 1600, for example, the camera still manages a nice 13 x 19 inch print. Though we cap it a 5 x 7 inches at ISO 6400, the Nikon J5 could certainly squeak by with an 8 x 10 here for less critical uses. Finally, even at the maximum ISO 12,800 level, prints up to 4 x 6 inches are usable.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell 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 routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon J5 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 J5 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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