Nikon J5 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our "Still Life" studio target comparing Nikon J5 image quality with its predecessor the J4, as well as to the Canon G7X, Olympus E-PL5, Sony A5100 and Sony RX100 II. The J4, G7X and RX100 II all have 1"-type sensors, the E-PL5 has a Four Thirds sensor and the Sony A5100 has an APS-C-sized sensor. All are in roughly the same price range.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved, click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Nikon J5, Nikon J4, Canon G7X, Olympus E-PL5, Sony A5100, and Sony RX100 II -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Nikon J5 to any camera we've ever tested.

Nikon J5 vs Nikon J4 at Base ISO

Nikon J5 at ISO 160
Nikon J4 at ISO 160

Here at the cameras' base ISO of 160, there's a noticeable improvement in image quality from the newer 20.8-megapixel J5 over its 18.4-megapixel predecessor, with slightly higher resolution, crisper detail, slightly lower noise and more vibrant colors. And the J5 does much better in the pink fabric, though only marginally better in our tricky red-leaf swatch.

Nikon J5 vs Canon G7X at Base ISO

Nikon J5 at ISO 160
Canon G7X at ISO 125

The Canon G7X uses a 20.2-megapixel 1"-type sensor but has a fixed zoom lens. Fine detail from the Canon is a little better than the Nikon here at base ISO (which is rated a bit lower for the G7X at ISO 125), but the G7X's image is also a little noisier, though the noise "grain" is quite fine and tight. Colors from the Nikon are however more pleasing and vibrant.

Nikon J5 vs Olympus E-PL5 at Base ISO

Nikon J5 at ISO 160
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 200

The 16-megapixel E-PL5 produces about the same amount of detail the J5 -- if not a little more -- despite the lower pixel count. That's partially because of the different aspect ratios (the J5's extra resolution is mostly in the x-axis with vertical resolution only greater by 256 pixels), but also because the higher noise from the J5's 1-inch sensor requires stronger noise reduction. Noise is a little higher from the E-PL5 simply because its default noise reduction is not quite as aggressive, but both do well with our red-leaf and pink fabrics.

Nikon J5 vs Sony A5100 at Base ISO

Nikon J5 at ISO 160
Sony A5100 at ISO 100

The 24-megapixel APS-C sensor in the Sony A5100 clearly resolves more detail while producing lower noise, and the Sony's processing also shows fewer sharpening artifacts. The Sony does however generate more false colors in the mosaic, however some of the coloration is actually present from the offset printing process.

Nikon J5 vs Sony RX100 II at Base ISO

Nikon J5 at ISO 160
Sony RX100 II at ISO 160

Like we saw with the Canon G7X at base ISO, the 20-megapixel Sony RX100 II retains a little more detail than the J5, but noise is also a bit higher. Colors are once again more pleasing and vibrant from the Nikon.

Nikon J5 vs Nikon J4 at ISO 1600

Nikon J5 at ISO 1600
Nikon J4 at ISO 1600

The Nikon J5 continues to generate higher image quality than the J4 at ISO 1600, with better clarity, better detail and more vibrant colors, though noise levels in flat areas are a touch higher. Both cameras struggle with our difficult red-leaf swatch but the J5 manages to reproduce at least some of the fine, low-contrast pattern while the J4 reproduces a more vague and diffuse representation of the red-leaf pattern.

Nikon J5 vs Canon G7X at ISO 1600

Nikon J5 at ISO 1600
Canon G7X at ISO 1600

The Nikon J5 arguably produces a better image overall at ISO 1600 than the Canon G7X, with lower noise, brighter colors and slightly better detail in most subject matter, however the J5's image is a little softer with more evident noise reduction artifacts.

Nikon J5 vs Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 1600

Nikon J5 at ISO 1600
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, the Olympus E-PL5 produces a much clearer, crisper image with better detail, but some obvious noise reduction artifacts are visible. The Nikon actually does a little better with fine detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch, though contrast is higher from the Olympus.

Nikon J5 vs Sony A5100 at ISO 1600

Nikon J5 at ISO 1600
Sony A5100 at ISO 1600

The Sony A5100 continues to hold onto more detail than the Nikon J5 at ISO 1600, while producing lower noise and fewer sharpening artifacts, though the advantage isn't a great as the relative sensor sizes imply, due to differences in image processing. The Sony does much better than the Nikon in the red-leaf swatch, though some of the apparent detail is quite distorted.

Nikon J5 vs Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600

Nikon J5 at ISO 1600
Sony RX100 II at ISO 1600

Noise levels appear similar from these two cameras at ISO 1600, but the Sony manages to hold onto more low-contrast detail in general, while the Nikon produces better high-contrast detail, and renders a smoother, brighter image with more pleasing colors.

Nikon J5 vs Nikon J4 at ISO 3200

Nikon J5 at ISO 3200
Nikon J4 at ISO 3200

Both cameras struggle with fine detail and noise at ISO 3200, producing soft and fuzzy images, but the J5 gets the nod for better overall results at this sensitivity, particularly in subject matter with higher contrast. The J5 also does a bit better with the low-contrast red-leaf pattern, though there's little detail left from either camera. The J5's noise reduction does however produce more obvious color bleeding, though.

Nikon J5 vs Canon G7X at ISO 3200

Nikon J5 at ISO 3200
Canon G7X at ISO 3200

The Canon G7X produces better detail and more defined edges at ISO 3200 in most areas, but its image is also quite a bit noisier. The Canon's noise grain is still fairly fine, though. Overall, the Nikon continues to produce a softer, smoother, brighter image with more pleasing colors.

Nikon J5 vs Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 3200

Nikon J5 at ISO 3200
Olympus E-PL5 at ISO 3200

Here at ISO 3200, the Olympus produces a much crisper, more contrasty image that continues to retain better detail, but with much stronger noise reduction artifacts. Still, the E-PL5's larger sensor and aggressive processing easily comes out ahead at this sensitivity.

Nikon J5 vs Sony A5100 at ISO 3200

Nikon J5 at ISO 3200
Sony A5100 at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, the advantage of the A5100's much larger, higher resolution sensor is still evident, with much better detail in most subject matter, as well as lower noise levels. The Sony's image does however look a little more "processed" than the Nikon's, particularly in flatter areas.

Nikon J5 vs Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200

Nikon J5 at ISO 3200
Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200

Similar to what we saw at ISO 1600, noise levels are comparable between these two cameras at ISO 3200, but the Sony manages to hold onto more detail in the mosaic crop, while the Nikon does better with high contrast detail and color. At this ISO, the Sony's noise reduction heavily smears the red-leaf pattern.

Nikon J5 vs. Nikon J4, Canon G7X, Olympus E-PL5, Sony A5100, Sony RX100 II

ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 125
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
RX100 II
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing cameras in different ways, so we like to look at it too. At base ISO, the Nikon J5 performs very well, only surpassed by the Sony A5100 in this comparison. As is often the case, the Micro Four Thirds Olympus comes out on top at higher ISOs, barely dropping in image quality as sensitivity rises. The Canon G7X does well in terms of detail, but it suffers from discoloration at higher ISOs, as well as a drop in contrast. The Nikon J5 does noticeably better than its predecessor as well as the Sony RX100 II at ISO 3200 and 6400.


Nikon J5 Print Quality Analysis

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.

ISO 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"

Testing 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.)


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