Larger sensor CX body?

Recently I’ve had quite a few readers contact me at the office asking me what I think about the idea of Nikon relaunching the Nikon 1 product line using a larger sensor in a CX-mount body. The big question is whether this is feasible or not.

In the spirit of transparency, what you are reading is the second version of this article. The first one was well intended but failed to address a number of important technical issues. It was the product of a self-confessed ‘non-technical guy’ venturing out of his realm and not properly researching a topic. The result was an initial posting of no real reader value. For that I offer my sincere apologies to readers.

NOTE: click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 46mm, efov 124mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 46mm, efov 124mm, f/8, 1/50, ISO-160

The feasibility of putting a larger sensor in a CX mount body is likely best explained by a comment by Jack Pearson on June 8th at 10:19PM. I would encourage readers to take a few minutes, scroll down to the comments section, and review Jack’s comment.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 78mm, efov 210mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 78mm, efov 210mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

Suffice to say, that based on the perspectives that Jack outlined in his comment there appears to be little chance that Nikon will put a larger sized sensor in a CX body.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO-160

The future of Nikon 1 still appears foggy at best. Speculations abounds. Some Nikon 1 users like me, remain optimistic. Others fatalistic.

It would appear that the future of the Nikon 1 system is much dependant on what Nikon does with the V-series of cameras. A V4 with an integrated grip and EVF is the preferred configuration of most Nikon 1 users, especially if it incorporates the 20.8 MP BSI sensor that is currently being used in the Nikon 1 J5. Or, perhaps a higher performing CX sized BSI sensor with fewer MP but better dynamic range, colour depth and low light performance than is currently offered by the J5.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 12mm, efov 32mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 12mm, efov 32mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-160

From what I am hearing from some of my commercial photography contacts the fog may clear in September. While no specific details appear available, at least in Canada, the wide consensus seems to be that Nikon will be very active with a series of major announcements in September.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/000, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/000, ISO-160

Perhaps DX and FX mirror-less cameras will be announced by Nikon. The future of Nikon 1 would obviously be tied into the overall Nikon product portfolio. My hope, like many Nikon 1 owners, is that a V4/V5 is launched in the very near future.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160

I have an extensive photography tour planned for later this year. This has caused me to wrestle with whether I should buy a Nikon 1 J5 to take advantage of the improved image quality of its BSI sensor or not. I very much prefer cameras with an EVF so I struggled for many months.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 7mm, efov 18mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-160

It has probably been a year or so since I wrote my review Of the Nikon 1 J5 and shot with this model. At about $500 US I decided that it was a small price to pay for the improved image quality so I pulled the trigger and bought one. After a week and a couple of thousand images, I then purchased a second J5.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 100mm, efov 270mm, f/5.6, 1/250, ISO-160

I found that it didn’t actually take that long to get used to shooting without an EVF. Sure, there are some subjects like birds-in-flight for which I would not use the J5. Funny enough, it’s not because of any visibility issues shooting with a camera without an EVF. Attaching a Zacuto or other type of hood solves that issue. I found that the AF-C was noticeably slower than that of my V2’s, so much so that I missed well over 50% of the BIF images I tried to take with the J5. I also found that the buffer was too small and took far too long to clear, which also contributed to missed image opportunities.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 25mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 6.7-13mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 9mm, efov 25mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-160

Other than those couple of issues, the Nikon 1 J5 is a terrific little camera. The dynamic range and colour depth are noticeably better than previous models with Aptina sensors, especially when working with RAW files in post. The increased resolution of 20.8 MP also provides a lot more image flexibility.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 16mm, efov 43mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 16mm, efov 43mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-160

I’ve now finalized my travel kit for later this year: one J5 mounted with the 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6, a second J5 mounted with the 10-100 mm f/4-5.6, and a V2 mounted with the CX 70-300 f/4.5-5.6. I’ll also be taking a set of MOVO extension tubes and my 30-110 mm for macro-type images.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 23mm, efov 61mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 23mm, efov 61mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-160

In a way buying a couple of J5’s helps to ‘future proof’ my Nikon 1 system for a number of years to come, regardless of what Nikon ultimately decides to do with the Nikon 1 system.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 11mm, efov 29mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm @ 11mm, efov 29mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-160

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19 thoughts on “Larger sensor CX body?”

  1. Would your proposed configuration have any impact on fps performance? This would be critical for me since I shoot a lot of sports.

    1. Hi Bill,

      I have no idea what the impact could be with sports. 🙂 This really isn’t ‘my’ configuration…just something that is in the marketplace as a rumour. As a related issue…if Nikon does use the 20.8MP BSI sensor that is currently in the J5 in a future V-series Nikon 1 camera, they will need to improve AF-C performance as the J5 does have a bit of focus lag when compared to my V2. I also found that the V3 isn’t quite as fast to lock-on with auto-focus as my V2.

      At the present time I think the best combination of image quality and AF performance would be a V2 paired up with a J5.

      Tom

  2. There’s a couple of things that are a bit off here. There’s the question of the lenses covering the image circle – we can’t just brush it away because it’s a real concern I something like this

    Two- cropping say the Nikon 5500 sensor reduces its effective dynamic range. The dxo numbers you are posting take into account the number of pixels at a certain size.

    That said this would beat – as a transition- leaving everyone in the dust with no camera body to use the cox lenses on.

    Finally – the rumor comes Thom Hogan who was replying what he has heard of in Nikon tumors.

  3. Hi Thomas – I agree. I’ve love to see a larger sensor in the Nikon1. And I’d love, love, love to see a retro Nikon SP design body!!
    However… a note regarding existing lenses: unless Nikon purposely made them to cover the larger image circle of the larger (1.7x crop) sensor, unfortunately we wouldn’t get the the wider field of view (without significant vignetting). Most likely the lenses would work in a ‘crop mode’, proving the original/intended field of view (which would be OK IMHO).
    All the best!

    1. Hi Shawn,
      I have changed the introduction of this article to more fully explain the purpose of it. I have been getting a lot of readers contacting me and all of them asking about this same proposed configuration. I have no idea where this rumour started and whether this configuration is actually possible or not. The article simply is a formal response to the many readers who have been asking me about this rumoured CX camera.
      Tom

    1. Hi Mike,
      The purpose of the article was simply to provide my thoughts on the proposed 1.7X CX camera body that many readers have been calling me about recently. Apparently there is some kind of rumour going around about such a camera potentially being under development by Nikon. After having many readers asking me about this issue I thought I should respond in a formal manner. I have no idea where this proposed spec originated…I was simply responding to questions I had been asked in terms of what I thought about such a camera and if I’d buy one.
      Tom

      1. Understood Tom – I think we are just pointing out that this rumor, seems very unlikely since I don’t think (smarter people than me have to figure this out) the image circle of a CX lens would cover the entire sensor area of this much larger sensor.

        Like using a DX lens on an FX camera. While most will work on the FX body the vignette is generally a factor since the image circle is too small for the FX sensor.

        I think you get the same thing here.

        Mike

  4. I don’t think current cx lenses can cover such bigger sensor. If is possible to detach a lens with an open diaphragm and different focus distances and zoom level, maybe you could see how big is the image circle under different settings, with the lenses you own, and publish the results.

    1. Hi Gibell,
      I was simply responding in a formal way to questions that many readers have been asking me about this proposed 1.7X CX body that Nikon is rumored on which to be working. I have no idea where the source of this proposed CX camera story originated.
      Tom

    2. I can use a DX lens on my D810, but the number of pixels covered without vignetting drops from 36 mp to 16 mp ( 36 divided by the crop factor [1.5] squared [2.25]).

      To get a crop factor, divide the larger sensor area by the smaller sensor area and take the square root. The crop factor on the DX is 1.5 (1.53 to three significant figures) and on the CX is 2.7 (2.73 to three significant figures). The crop factor from DX to CX is 1.78.

      If you put the D5500’s 24.2 mp sensor into the current Nikon 1 body at the current focal plane location, only 7.64 mp of the DX sensor would capture the image without vignetting. For those 7.64 mp, you will get DX performance, except, of course, for resolution.

      If you change the size of the Nikon 1 or its derivative to illuminate the entire DX sensor, you would need additional optical elements in the camera or in an adapter to refocus the image from current Nikon 1 lenses over the larger focal plane. Leaving aside the optics challenge of doing this, you still have the fact that the light on each sensor site will be diminished by 1.78 stops at a minimum. What does that do to ISO, and color depth?
      It’s not good.

      The CX lenses are small because they have small apertures–and gather less light.

      Lens size and sensor size can’t be decoupled. Lens size scales with sensor size. Lenses for full frame cameras are approximately the same size whether the cameras are DSLRs (Nikon, Canon) or mirrorless (Sony).

      Also, VR in the Nikon 1 lenses is pretty good. I don’t think you would gain significantly by putting VR in the Nikon 1 body.

      The Nikon 1 V3 with three zoom lenses giving a 35mm equivalent for from 18-818mm will cost around $3,000; the camera + the 70-300mm lens combination (818 max efov) weighs less than 2lb; and you get 20 fps with autofocus. GREAT for sports and wildlife and can be easily hand-held. The closest DX setup costs over $5500 and the long lens combo (D500 with the Nikkor 200-500mm lens), weighs 6.75lb, and maxes out at 10 fps. Put the J5 sensor in a V4 and you have a very attractive proposition.

      1. Hi Jack,
        Thanks for lending your technical expertise to this discussion! Knowing your background I should have called you in advance of this article! I agree that putting the sensor from the J5 into a V-series body would create a great camera. Nikon would need to do something with the AF-C performance with that kind of combination as I’ve found that the J5 is slow compared to my V2’s.
        Tom

      2. The numbers all make sense in this post but as far as I understand it, the main point seems to have been missed.

        When I open my Nikon 1 camera I see plenty of room behind the CX mount for a bigger sensor (maybe not DX, but significantly bigger than “1 inch”). Current Nikon 1 lenses would very likely vignette on such a sensor, but the real question is, would it be possible to design new lenses – certainly a bit bigger – that would not vignette ? I don’t know the answer to this question but it seems you’re just assuming that the answer is “no”.

        A new mirrorless camera with a bigger sensor behind a CX mount, and a new set of lenses might be interesting to some people (old N1 lenses could activate a crop mode, just as DX lenses do on an FX camera).

        If there is some reason why this can’t be done, I have yet to understand it from any of the posts here. Sorry if I’m being thick, but I would like to understand this !

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