After the Nikon 1 J4 fell flat by trading speed for a touchscreen, the J5 puts Nikon's mirrorless line back on track with an excellent 20 fps burst speed. The 2015 model still capitalizes on speed, but it is now wrapped up in a retro-inspired body—and still includes that tilting touchscreen. Toss in 4K video and it's easy to see why the Nikon 1 J5 is turning heads.
The J3 had one of the best speeds at the time with a 15 fps burst. That speed dropped to 10 fps with the J4, but Nikon is clearly headed back in the right direction with the J5's 20 fps burst speed. If you lock the autofocus at the first frame, you can shoot up to 60 fps—that's more than the video quality on some cameras.
Speed is the obvious headliner here, but speed doesn't do much if the image quality can't measure up. How does the J5 perform outside of a manufactured testing environment? Out of the box, the Nikon 1 J5 had a few surprises—the good kind.
Nikon 1 J5 Review: Body & Design
While the previous models in the Nikon 1 line were sleek and sporty, the J5 adopts a new retro-inspired look, with a metallic body and faux leather wrap. While not constructed from all-metal like some high-end mirrorless cameras, the classic look with a tribute to film has a nice feel to it. The new look also adds a small grip to the front, making the body a little easier to hold for longer periods than a thin camera without a grip.
The J5 body isn't much bigger than a compact camera, in fact it may even be a tad smaller than some of the larger advanced compacts. At 1.3 inches deep, the body is slim enough to easily fit into a purse or backpack. It weighs just 8.2 ounces. Wearing the J5 around my neck, I almost forgot it was there—compared to my much larger DSLR anyways.
There's a few different kit lens options with the J5—we reviewed the camera with the 10-30mm and 30-100mm lenses. The 10-30mm has the stronger build out of the two, with a more metallic feel. Interestingly though, the wide angle has a built-in lens cover like a compact camera, while the telephoto has a removable lens cap. While the lenses appear to be well-built, they don't feel as sturdy as Nikon's DSLR lenses. Of course, the lenses add a bit more to carry around, though the wide angle is relatively small and the telephoto collapses to about three inches.
The mode dial rests at the top of the camera, next to the pop-up flash. There isn't a hot shot slot for adding an external flash like some mirrorless cameras allow. The shutter release is circled by an on/off toggle, and a dedicated record button for video sits on top of a control wheel. The video and shutter release are pretty close together, and it's easy to mistake the two at first.
The back is dominated by a large tilting touchscreen. While many tilting screens add more bulk to the back of the camera, the J5's screen blends seamlessly—enough so you may forget it's there at first. The screen uses a hinge-style system and will flip all the way up for selfies.
Along with the menu options, the back of the camera also includes shortcuts for exposure compensation, flash, self timer and burst mode. For some reason, many recent cameras leave out the burst shortcut. Thankfully, the J5 isn't one of them. There's also an “F” button that brings up the shooting settings and allows you to use the touchscreen or physical controls to adjust them, like what scene mode you are using, for example. The menu arrow keys double as a secondary control wheel.
With the control wheel at the top and the secondary one around the menu options, it's easy to change shutter speed and aperture with the physical controls. Using the function key at the front and the control wheel, you can also easily adjust the ISO without heading into the full menu.
Of course, you can also use the touchscreen to adjust your settings. The screen on the J5 is done very well—while I personally prefer physical controls, there wasn't much “fat finger” or hitting the wrong option. Instead of using the physical controls, you can touch the screen at the options on the bottom or side to adjust many of the settings. Touch another part of the screen and the camera will focus there and take the shot. I did take a few accidental photos by bumping the touchscreen, but the screen is done well on the J5.
My biggest complaint with the J5's design is that it takes Micro SD cards instead of the standard SD card. The smaller cards feel flimsy and easier to loose and damage, and you need an adapter to read them on most computers.
The J5 is well-built. Navigation is simple and can be done through either a good variety of physical controls or the touchscreen. It's small and easily portable, and while not built from metal, at this price that's not something I'd expect.
Nikon 1 J5 Review: User Experience & Performance
The Nikon 1 line has built a reputation around speed. The J5's 20 fps is the top speed on the market currently, right in line with Nikon's older but more advanced 1 V3. Most other mirrorless cameras are lucky to hit 10 fps, so the 20 fps speed is a pretty big deal. That's a lot of photos to process, but the J5 handles them well. After taking a burst of 20 photos, I could take nine more after about two seconds—you'll need to wait a bit longer to take a full set of 20 again. That's pretty good, considering the amount of photos the camera is handling from that fast burst speed.
But the J5 doesn't stop at just 20 fps. If you don't need to continue to use autofocus (i.e. when the subject isn't moving closer or farther from you), the J5 will snap away at up to 60 fps—that's the equivalent of the frame rate of a video. Using a 60 fps burst will fill up the memory card pretty quickly, and there's plenty of images to look through at just 20 fps. But, the feature is there for when it may come in handy.
A good burst speed isn't much good without a good autofocus. Using the continuous autofocus feature at 20 fps, the camera had no problems focusing on subjects moving closer or farther from the camera—for example, a child going down a slide. The J5's face detection autofocus is also excellent—accurately locking on the face and getting the eyes sharp. If you want to use manual focus, screen will automatically zoom in to help you get a sharper shot, but the camera doesn't include a focus peaking feature.
The autofocus locks on fairly quickly in most scenarios. Single photos were about a second and a half apart when using manual focus, and about two seconds apart using autofocus. The camera starts up and snaps a photo less than three seconds from hitting the power button.
As a homage to that fast speed, the sports mode has its own dedicated slot on the mode dial. There's also a “best moment capture” mode to help you time that shot along with using the burst mode. A complete set of manual modes is included, and fairly easy to control thanks to the physical controls in combination with the touchscreen.
The scene modes are mixed in with the digital filters under “creative” on the dial. The J5 has fewer scene modes than most, using sports, night landscape, night portrait, landscape, close-up and portrait. The best way to use the J5 is to learn manual modes, but for those that rely on scene modes the fewer options may be disappointing. The biggest ones are there, but options for beach and snow, for example, are missing.
The J5 has an excellent burst speed, and the autofocus performs well too. The speed is a huge help in shooting sports or active kids. Manual modes and several automated modes are included, though the less frequently used scene modes aren't used on the J5.
Nikon 1 J5 Review: Image Quality
So far, the J5 leaves little to be desired when it comes to design and performance. How do the images hold up? It's important to note that the Nikon 1 line uses a 1 inch sensor. That's larger than what you get inside a point-and-shoot or smartphone, but it is a bit smaller than most other mirrorless cameras. Despite that smaller sensor, the Nikon 1 J5 had pretty solid image quality across the board.
The auto while balance performed well on the J5, even adapting well to shooting a test chart under artificial lighting that nearly every camera turns blue. The colors are accurate, and not too over or under saturated.
The autofocus does a good job locking on the subject; I didn't end up with images that were disappointingly soft later when viewed on my computer. Shooting our test charts, line and edges were right in line with what we expected for the category with clear edges. Switching out to the longer zoom lens, images still had a solid level of sharpness even at 110mm. Some sharpness is understandably sacrificed when using the noise reduction ISO settings. The overall sharpness lends to better detail as well.
|Sharpness test, wide angle||Sharpness test, full zoom (110mm)|
With the smaller sensor, low light performance and noise reduction isn't as good as on a Nikon DSLR. But low light performance and noise reduction was a good surprise, considering that smaller sensor. The camera captured ambient light well, and photos were still pretty sharp, even shooting handheld at sunset. Noise begins to reach noticeable levels at ISO 1600 but even ISO 3200 is usable. ISO 6400 is even fine for some cases, but not for cropping or large prints.
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400||ISO 800|
|ISO 1600||ISO 1600 Noise Reduction||ISO 3200||ISO 3200 NR|
|ISO 6400||ISO 6400 Noise Reduction||ISO 12800||ISO 12800 Noise Reduction|
The Nikon 1 J5 also includes noise reduction modes from ISO 6400 to 12800. These modes offer similar results to reducing noise later in Photoshop, but achieves the same look automatically. There's a bit less sharpness to the images, but there's a noticeable difference in the noise levels. Since the camera is reducing the noise once the shot is taken, there is a much longer time span between shots using the noise reduction ISO modes, but they'll come in handy when speed isn't the utmost importance.
The Nikon 1 J5 doesn't quite snap the images that a Nikon DSLR will, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the shots turned out. That smaller sensor allows for that big speed, and while there's a few sacrifices to image quality, they aren't anywhere near extreme.
Nikon 1 J5 Review: Sample Images
Nikon 1 J5 Review: Conclusion
The Nikon 1 J5 is extremely fast, and doesn't sacrifice too many features to achieve that speed. The J5 trades a bit a smaller sensor for that speed, but still snaps pretty good images nonetheless. It trades the smaller size for the more solid build of a Nikon DSLR but is still easy and fun to use.
The smaller sensor and the lack of a hot shoe to add an external flash makes the camera hard to recommend to enthusiasts—but that's not really who the camera is designed for. The Nikon 1 J5 is excellent for parents wanting to capture better images of their kids; that speed comes in handy for when they just don't sit still or for capturing those little league games. The small size is great too—because there's already plenty you need to bring along when you have kids anyway. The Nikon 1 J5 is a good camera for other casual consumers as well that want more than they can snap with their smartphone.
The Nikon 1 J5 is one of the fastest mirrorless cameras on the market, and sits at an excellent price. The Fujifilm X-A2 sits in the same price range and offers a larger sensor, but has a quarter of the burst speed at just 5 fps. The Pentax QS-1 is also similarly priced, but has a small sensor and doesn't compensate for in in speed like the J5. The older Sony a5000 offers that larger APS-C sensor, but again doesn't have the same speed at just 4 fps.
The Nikon 1 J5 is a super speedy camera, and while it has a smaller sensor, it more than makes up for it in speed. The J5 is competitively priced, and an excellent option for casual consumers looking for something better than their smartphone, or anyone looking to shoot fast action.