Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Nikon J1 – Review Part 2 – Low light, high ISO …

This is the first thing everyone criticizes with this camera … the CX sensor is only a 1” and that makes it about half the total area of the next one up, the 4/3 sensor in the m4/3 cameras. That means it will look much worse at high ISO, right?

Well, the story is not that cut and dried. Given identical technology, yes, the extra area of the 4/3 sensor gives it at least a 1 stop noise advantage. But up until literally this week, the vast majority of the 4/3 sensors in available m4/3 mirrorless cameras have been the 12mp sensors, which are of a rather old design. Thus, all things are far from equal. This is actually still true, in that there are many models and only a few of them have been updated to the 16mp sensors.

So why did Nikon choose a CX sensor for the J1 and V1? Simply put, they wanted to appeal to the compact camera upgraders, and not to people who they think should be looking at entry dSLRs. And they compete very, very well. This very small sensor enables very small bodies and lenses and I am absolutely thrilled with the way the J1 fits the hand. It is tiny!

So when I first got it I was experimenting with 3200 ISO, which to me is quite a miracle if it is clean enough for day to day use. Here is a shot in RAW at full zoom (300mm) at 1/8s. This is 5 stops down and I find that I can regularly match it. I think it might have something to do with how easily the camera is braced with only isometric pressure on the body. This is very cool …

Nikon J1  30-110VR @110mm  3200 iso  f/5.6  1/8

Now, that’s not tack sharp, but the glass and crayons are definitely sharp enough for web presentation. I mean, how clean do you want for a pocket camera?

And how about this shot at 6400 ISO? I am shocked at how much detail this sensor retains and at how soft the grain is. This defines “film-like” … and note the relatively clean shadows. Blacks stay pretty much black, without massive chroma noise intruding.

Nikon J1  105mm 2.5 Ai on FT1  6400 ISO  f/2.5  1/100

Yes, you read that right … this was manually focused with the 105mm Ai lens (think Afghan Girl in National Geographic.) Very nice bokeh and very easy to focus.

Now, if I want it really clean, I shoot it at 1600 ISO.

And the crayons again with the nice bokeh …

Nikon J1  105mm 2.5 Ai on FT1  1600 iso  f/2.5  1/15

Since I was able to get the F550EXR to be pretty clean at 1600 ISO, I suppose it should be no surprise how utterly grain free 1600 ISO is on this smallish sensor.

Nikon J1  105mm 2.5 Ai on FT1  1600 iso  f/2.5  1/15

But what about JPEG? Are those files any good? Well, yes. Here are some shots in JPEG BASIC that should settle any questions you have about the J1 at high ISO. This thing sings and dances with the best of them.

These images are as shot except for a white balance tweak in LR 4.1.

nikon j1  30-110 @ 110mm  3200 iso  f/5.6  1/13

nikon j1 30-110 @ 110mm 3200 iso f/5.6 1/3

nikon j1 30-110 @ 110mm 3200 iso f/5.6 1/5

So … there you have it. There are plenty of samples available on the net if you want to play around with J1 files. Let me just say that these files are very clean and that this camera will make a great party cam … and concert cam of course.