Review: Nikon 1 J4

Hello, everybody! Do you remember the short-lived LaserDisc? That was the only way to watch high-quality movies at a time when watching videos at home meant enduring an hour of watching so-so quality movies from a cassette. While I saw a lot of potential with the LaserDisc it only lasted for around 8 years or so because it was expensive and huge, the discs are so huge and delicate, scratching the surface or a single lint could stop what you’re watching. This is annoying if you’re reaching the climax. Today, I’ll show you something that’s obsolete but it’s more recent than the LaserDisc. It’s a failed system not because the idea is terrible but the people who make decisions certainly didn’t know what the users really wanted. Let’s see one of the best examples from this once-promising system.

Introduction:

The Nikon 1 J4 was sold from 2014 up to 2015, it’s one of the last Nikon 1 models to be sold. This was sold under the J-series which is the consumer-level bracket for the Nikon 1 system. It has a small 1″ sensor branded as CX by Nikon and these were made by Aptina. This format will give you about 2.7x crop-factor so a 10mm lens should be around 28mm if used with this system. This is an advantage if you like to shoot distant objects, mounting a 70-200mm full-frame lens is going to give you a 190-540mm lens in the practical sense since the field-of-view will be similar. The tiny sensor turned a lot of sensor-supremacists off, including me at that time but I now have a reason to enjoy it and that’s shooting using manual lenses. This article will focus on using this camera with manual lenses and how I would like to enjoy this system as somebody who repairs and appreciates old photography equipment and culture. And no, I’m not a hipster.

The only reason for me buying into the Nikon 1 system is to play with my Cine-Nikkors such as this Cine-Nikkor 10mm f/1.8 and the sharp Cine-Nikkor 25mm f/1.8. It’s a lot of fun shooting with these but it would’ve been better if only the Nikon 1 cameras could support the important features that matter when shooting with manual lenses without the need to use a Nikon FT1 adapter. With that gadget you will be able to get focusing-aids along with aperture-priority mode. I think this is one of the biggest reason why this system failed in terms of sales since its main rival, the Micro 4/3 system did everything right. The Nikon 1 system was promising and it had a huge potential but Nikon’s management was not thinking right at the time and some of that attitude still lingers on today.

The Nikon 1 J4 has decent specs and is considered to be one of the best in the whole system, only to be topped by the Nikon 1 V3 which is the best in the whole system when it came to usability and the Nikon 1 J5, the last camera made. If you wanted to know more about its specs read about it in Nikon’s official website since they still show it. Ergonomics is rather good it has a touchscreen LCD, a D-pad with 4-directional buttons and the shape is minimalistic. Despite all that it felt like Nikon really saw the Nikon 1 system as glorified point-and-shoot cameras at that time, very much like what a lot of people thought of it as and as an extension, all mirrorless cameras of that time. This is the reason why few people took the Nikon 1 system seriously at that time. Of course, it didn’t sell well and one of the reasons for it was the price. I think that Nikon could’ve justified their pricing if they only they’ve added a couple of important features to it and most of them do not even require hardware, just a few tweaks of the firmware should be enough. You’ll know what they are when you read the rest of the article and watched my video.

Of all formats available, why the C-mount? Well, this format was made for use with 16mm film which is roughly a little bit smaller than CX. With that, you could at least enjoy shooting with the numerous C-mount cine-lenses available. The prices of these lenses had risen dramatically since the entry of the Micro 4/3 system about 12 years ago and also when the cheap adapters began to flood the market. The adapters were expensive back then unlike today.

Now, if you really want to be precise about the difference between CX and 16mm (standard) the table below should be able to illustrate this difference for you in a visual way. You will have to consider this when you’re calculating the exact equivalent field-of-view you’re getting with a C-mount lens together with the result that you’ll get when you convert it from the 35mm format. I do not know the exact formula for calculating the actual effective f-stop but it should not be too different from this.

FormatWidthHeight
16mm (standard)10.26mm7.49mm
CX format13.2mm8.8mm
Factor 1.286549707602339x 1.174899866488652x

One thing you will notice about cine-lenses is all of them are fast, f/1.8 and even f/1.4 are both considered normal and it’s not unusual to find f/1.2 and even faster ones. The main reason for this is because 16mm is a lot smaller compared to 35mm in terms of capture area. This means the lens needs to be a lot faster in order to capture enough light or blur things out. I do not know how much f-stops you’ll lose but f/1.8 will probably be about f/4.5 on the 35mm format. The reverse is true, a relatively-slow f/4 lens when used with medium format cameras will gather more light than its 35mm equivalent. That’s just how physics works, do not believe those people who say that they could get similar results with a smaller sensor. It is true on the superficial level but bigger is always better when it comes to image quality, digital or film and you’ll see the difference easily when you walk into a gallery full of large prints.

It’s pointless to use it with D-mount lenses such as this popular Cine-Nikkor 13mm f/1.9 as it won’t give you the proper clearance or depth in order for the lens to focus properly which is a shame. It’s best-fit is the Pentax-Q system since its tiny sensor is just a bit larger than the 8mm format for which this lens mount was originally designed for.

Here’s something more orthodox, a 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8. When shooting with 1 Nikkors you’ll get the convenience of being able to use all of the Nikon 1 J4’s features that aren’t available to you when using it with manual-lenses. You will get all automatic-exposure modes, focus-aids, correct EXIF data, etc. This is how Nikon wanted you to shoot this with, I think that’s stupid and it sure helped kill the whole system which is shame since it was quite nice.

It’s tiny even compared to the small Nikon Z6 with a Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f/2. Despite its size it’s able to give you the same amount of fun when shooting with manual lenses such as this Cine-Nikkor 10mm f/1.8 which roughly translated to a 27mm lens for the Nikon 1 system as it gives you the equivalent field-of-view.

The Nikon 1 (J-series) system is generally easy-to-use, my daughter didn’t have any problems operating it. It’s compact so her tiny hands could hold the setup comfortably. The 1 Nikkor 18.5mm f/1.8 is light-weight, too. Autofocus is really fast, precise and worry-free even a child could use it. This is the Nikon 1’s claim-to-fame, it was advertised as having an incredible autofocus system that is the best in the industry at that time and it did. Unlike brand F who usually markets their mirrorless cameras as being the fastest but fails in real-world use, the Nikon 1 actually delivers the goods and the results exceeded my expectations. It’s accurate and the focus-point sticks to your subjects like glue.

Here’s a rather long video that I made about using the Nikon 1 J4 with manual cine-lenses or just about any lens that’s not able to communicate with the camera. Please bear with me since I shot that video with only 5-hours of sleep so it’s full of errors but you’ll know what I actually mean when I am operating the camera.

Many people are turned-off by the noisy photos that the CX sensors give even at ISO800 but I embrace it. These were shot at ISO6400 to try to trigger the grain and were converted to monochrome in post. Sine the noise profile is mostly of the luminance-type it makes it a great candidate for simulating the look of film.

(Click to enlarge)

One of the main reasons for shooting with the CX system is its tiny, high-density sensor. It’s grainy as expected and it’s able to produce nice, film-like noise that mimics the look of film grain convincingly. Look at the cropped photo of the bicycle handle and you’ll think that you’re looking at a crop from a scanned Kentmere 100 frame. Other camera brands will brag about their film simulation technology, while the colors may look right the texture actually don’t as far as saw it when I was still shooting with their cameras several years ago. I don’t get any weird, smeared look with a Nikon 1. As far as I experienced, this is the closest I’ve gotten to actually simulating the look of grain with a digital camera.

(Click to enlarge)

To give you a better comparison of the real thing, these were shot with black-and-white film. The real-deal looks better if you ask me but what I got with my Nikon 1 J4 is quite close.

This is not the best photo for demonstrating graininess but it’s nice for showing how close I could get in achieving the richness of black-and-white film.

This photo reminds me of what I could get with Kodak Tri-X for some reasons.

This is an unremarkable photo but the gradation of the sky at the corner is so film-like that I just had to share this with you.

You could easily trigger noise in the shadows and mid-tones, I got the texture that I wanted in this photo. If only I can shoot with a higher ISO number so I could get more grain.

The noise at the right-side of the photo looks great, zoom-in and examine the square frames there to see what I mean.

Luminance noise is something that’s beneficial for helping simulate the look of grain when you process your RAW files in post, it helps add texture to your photos. Chromatic noise may be good as well but I only get a smudgy-look from it if I remember it right.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more photos for your examination. I do not really like to simulate the look of film with a digital camera since I could get the look the authentic way by shooting with film but I couldn’t use 1 Nikkors with film so I have to improvise. I thought that I would feel like a poser by doing this but I actually enjoyed it, it gave me that nice, nostalgic feeling that reminds me of the days when it was still possible to develop film in my tiny house. The Nikon 1 J4 helped give me what I have been missing all these years.

How about trying something more extreme? These were shot at ISO12400 with a Cine-Nikkor 10mm f/1.8 and most of the photos were shot without even focusing, shooting from-the-hip. This exercise should simulate photographing with a pushed roll of black-and-white film along with its grain, contrast (or lack of it) and other stuff. Of course, this will all depend on how you process your film and which chemistry you’ve used to process your film with. While ISO6200 isn’t still that bad since chromatic noise is still within somewhat reasonable levels, ISO12400 is ugly to the point that it’s not usable in normal scenarios but we’re not doing anything normal here. We want to get the ugliest, blockiest noise that’s possible from this camera.

This is more like it, JPEG-compression will certainly make my photos look a lot less sharp. It’s something that I disliked but this time we’re using it to help transform the noise into a grain-like artifact.

The lady at the grill and her surrounding areas show beautiful grain-like features. I think that I’m liking this process and the look that I am able to get from it. Imagine shooting a really ugly, grainy video and processing that to make it look as if it was shot with pushed black-and-white film.

So, you want to be like Moriyama Daido-san? I sure, do. I’ve had the fortune of meeting the person in Shinjuku where I also roam its grungy streets, taking random snapshots of daily-life. The Nikon 1 J4 is completely silent and shooting an old manual-lens with it makes it even more stealthy since you just literally point-and-shoot, only trusting the depth-of-field scale for your focus and your instincts for framing.

(Click to enlarge)

If you want grit and celebrate the look of pushed-film you may want to consider shooting with a Nikon 1 camera and a vintage lens to help give you an imperfect-look. I missed shooting black-and-white film this way so I was happy when I saw my results. It’s not yet perfect but we’ll get there.

Now, how about photos that were shot with the Cine-Nikkor 25mm f/1.8? If you saw my video you’ll know that I hated shooting with the Nikon 1 J4 using manual-lenses but it’s not something that I couldn’t tolerate. In fact, it’s a lot of fun at times, I just have to give more effort before I take a photo. I shot most, if not all of the photos at f/8 or f/5.6 in order to get more things in-focus since focusing with manual-lenses using the Nikon 1 J4 isn’t the best experience for me.

The colors you’ll get from this combination is amazing, the vintage-look is something that videographers may want to get depending on their creative direction and this setup will help you achieve that.

Shooting with cine-lenses mean that you’ll get deeper depth-of-field compared to larger formats, even DX. You’ll also have to limit yourself to shooting under f/11 since the effects of diffraction could be observed even at f/8 depending on which lens you’re shooting with because the sensor is small and the photosites are densely-packed into such a tiny area.

Despite the hardships of shooting this with cine-lenses I was able to get used to it really quick and I was able to focus quite well in no-time even with all that handicap. Metering is the least of my problems since you’ll still get a readout. It would’ve been a lot simpler if aperture-priority works.

It’s a lot more forgiving when focusing further than 5m because of the wider depth-of-field, this becomes easier when you’re shooting with a wider lens. The Cine-Nikkor 6.5mm f/1.8 will make focusing a trivial task.

(Click to enlarge)

Here are more photos that I took with my Cine-Nikkor 25mm f/1.8, I am satisfied with the image quality because it has the old “Nikon-colors” that I love, something that changed since the Nikon D4 era. If you love shooting with old lenses and specially the ones that were made for smaller formats such as the ones made for the C-mount I think this is what’s going to be your next addiction.

This is a nice camera for shooting with manual lenses, if you could afford the Nikon 1 V3 and all of its accessories, that camera is even better. I think it shares the same sensor with the Nikon 1 J4 so the output should be similar. The newer Nikon 1 J5 has an even better sensor and more controls but they’re still a bit expensive at the moment. In my opinion, the Nikon 1 J4 has the best value amongst all the Nikon 1 cameras today. I got mine for $85.00 with warranty from my favorite used-camera shop, Fujiya Camera. The set comes complete with box and other things, it’s a good investment. You could easily find these online for about the same price. When buying one make sure that all of the features work. I am also aware that many Nikon 1 cameras and most mirrorless cameras of that time have a tendency to develop dark areas in the LCD which affects a small portion of the total units but this is something that you have to look out for. The photos should have no dead-pixels or spots and be sure that the exterior isn’t dented or badly scratched which means that the camera has been dropped or suffered terrible trauma. When looking for adapters, buy ones online. They’re all cheap now unlike 9 years ago. Most of them are made reasonably well, avoid the ones made from plastic. When you’re buying one, make sure that the seller mentions that it will allow you to focus to infinity or maybe a little beyond that. It is trivial to adjust the focus of your lens to the adapter your using it with. Of course, that will all depend on which lens we’re talking about. Enjoy your hunt, just be patient and you will be able to find one for a bargain. Happy hunting.

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Maintaining this requires resources and a lot of time. If you think that it has helped you or you want to show your support by helping with the site’s upkeep, you can make a small donation to my paypal.com at richardHaw888@gmail.com. Money isn’t my prime motivation for this blog and I believe that I have enough to run this but you can help me make this site (and the companion facebook page) grow.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Review: Pentax Q10 | Richard Haw's Classic Nikon Repair and Review

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