REVIEW : Nikon 1 J5

Following the recent review of the Nikon 1 V3, the good folks at Nikon have sent along their newest 1 series camera, the J5

 Nikon 1 J5 with 10mm-100mm Zoom

Nikon 1 J5 with 10mm-100mm Zoom

There are those who refer to the big names in cameras Nikon and Canon as the inhabitants of Jurassic Park when it comes to the adoption and support of mirror less.   This seems a bit unfair given the long contribution to the industry and Nikon has been doing mirror less for a while with the 1 Series.  Since inception they have built around their very effective  CX 1 inch sensor and extraordinarily fast autofocus.  I recently did an in-depth review of the Nikon 1 V3 and now look at the newest model, the J5.  

The J5 is designed to look retro.  Not a bad thing but the control layout is very point and shoot like, rather than old camera.    If you are coming from a point and shoot and enjoy that layout, the J5 is certainly an easy migration.  The differences are of course vastly superior lenses and the much larger sensor.  While a full frame shooter won't see a depth of field observational change in favour of shallowness, the point and shoot user will.  

In fact there are those who believe that the J5 and cameras like it are the evolutionary follow on from point and shoots.  I don't agree, the smartphone has effectively eviscerated the point and shoot space.  So better to observe the J5 for what it is rather than what some might wish it to be.

What The J5 Is

 The Nikon 1 J5 top deck has a very clean layout

The Nikon 1 J5 top deck has a very clean layout

The J5 is a very capable small form mirror-less camera.  It has all the requisite photography modes (PASM) and adds a very capable full Auto mode that behaves like other vendor's Intelligent Auto.  There are also scene type modes for Sports and a series of Creative modes including Pop Art, Retro, Sepia, Selective Color, Toy Camera, Cross Processing, Fisheye, Soft Skin, Night landscape, Night portrait, Portrait, Miniature Effect, Panorama, Soft Focus and High Contrast monochrome.  If those aren't enough, there is Best Moment Capture (pick from a sequence) and Motion Snapshot (basically a short form video with music added).  All of these creative effects and modes other than PASM are really going to appeal to the point and shoot customer, the smartphone filter lover and anyone who wants some creativity and has no intent of going anywhere near post processing.  You can of course shoot this thing in RAW if you want.  There is also very decent video with better quality than you will ever get out of your smartphone or point and shoot camera.  

In the Video modes you can manually select up to 1080p60 or choose Advanced Video and pick from 4K, HD, Time Lapse, Slow Motion, Fast Motion, Jump Cut,  and 4 Second Movie.  The video is as noted much better than one would expect from a point and shoot or even a traditional video camera.  It's not going to beat the footage from a DSLR video or even the video from a video oriented mirror-less like a Lumix GH4 but for the target market, it's just fine.

 Multiple orientations for the touchscreen LCD display

Multiple orientations for the touchscreen LCD display

The LCD is bright and is also a touchscreen for those that like that sort of thing and given that there is no EVF, the touchscreen makes more sense.  The screen can tilt up and down but can also flip up completely for the selfie shot.  Like other Nikon 1 cameras, the AF is very fast and very accurate.

There is, as there should be, a built in popup style flash on the same Transformer like armature as on the V3.  You can playback your pictures and videos on your television by purchasing a micro HDMI to HDMI cable from your local cable provider.  There is also a USB port for downloading to your computer if you don't want to pull the Micro SD card, and put it into an SD conversion plate before putting it into your card reader.  The Micro SD format provides lots of storage very inexpensively and the small size keeps the J5 tiny too.  The J5 has built in WiFi to connect to your smart device to make getting your pictures and videos to the web via an app on your Smartphone very simple.

The best part about the J5 is the glass of course.  Nikon has lots of choices of lenses for the Nikon 1 family and they are all real 1Nikkor lenses, not some plastic junk.

What The J5 Is Not 

Where I felt that the Nikon 1 V3 with EVF and grip is a viable pocket mirror-less for serious shooters, (I was talking with the great Moose Peterson at a recent Henry's event and he showed me that he carries a V3 with him everywhere), the J5 is not a mirror-less for the serious photographer.  The rear layout is very tight, with plenty of opportunity to push the wrong buttons at the wrong time.  There really isn't much to hang on to, and I was in fear of dropping the unit because there just isn't enough to hang on to.  I managed to get past that fear as the sample images are all shot from the rider's seat of my Harley.

All the things that make the J5 a great alternative to a point and shoot or Smartphone, get in the way of it being a camera for the serious shooter.  It's not a bad thing, but if you are a serious shooter looking for a pocket sized mirror-less with incredible lenses, this isn't it.

Shooting Experience

The J5 is very light and while it won't fit in your shirt pocket, will go into a bellows pocket in tactical trousers or a jacket, particularly with the 10mm-100mm lens attached.  I like that lens as a walk around lens, as it provides the same angle of view as a 27mm-270mm on a full frame camera.

 The Nikon 1 J5's CX sensor

The Nikon 1 J5's CX sensor

While the little 1 inch CX sensor is stunningly good for its size, you need to be careful when using the Auto ISO functions.  A800 is about as far as I would care to allow the camera to go as the image starts to get noisy after ISO 800.  The Auto ISO options will run up to 6400 and the camera itself tops out at ISO 12,800.  I may be much pickier than the target market, but I find the noise up there at the maximum to be completely unacceptable.

The lenses are compact and switch easily.  I still have not shot the 70mm-300mm recommended by peer Thomas Stirr.  Moose Peterson also advocates that lens as in decent light it provides the same angle of view as an 810mm on a full frame.  Since Moose is a huge advocate for the Nikkor 800mm on his D4s, I am going to presume that he knows of what he speaks.  The default 10mm-30mm provides a field of view of a 27mm-81mm on a full frame so decent enough, although not a range I find all that useful.  The 6.7mm-13mm lens provides the field of 18mm-35mm which is a pretty nice working range for wide angle.  I'd still like something wider of course, but that's just me.  To keep the size down, Nikon doesn't make these lenses all that fast optically, and I wish that they did given the limited power of the built in flash units and the inability to use regular flashes with any of the Nikon 1 series.  When you see how ineffective the little pop-up is, you understand why Nikon wants to push for higher ISO usage.

I kept the J5 on a neck strap, not a pain because of its low weight.  The lens barrel makes for a decent enough grab point but the body just never became comfortable to hold onto.  The thumb rest while handy kept me pressing the buttons below it without intent.  Perhaps someone with much smaller hands would find the camera comfortable.

Because the buttons are so small and close together, I started to really appreciate the touchscreen on the LCD for general shooting although the shots made from the bike were definitely of the point and pray variety.

Battery life was about as expected.  The tilting and flip over screen (selfie capable) is bright enough to see outside, even while wearing sunglasses and I suspect that it does tend to consume the battery relatively quickly.  To keep the size of the camera small, the battery is also small.  For the target market I don't see this as a problem and a spare battery is not an onerous purchase.  I am well aware that some folks get their knickers in a twist if they cannot charge the battery in camera via USB.  You can, but I find this to be a really moot point unless your only charge capabilities are the back of the Air Canada seat in front of you or an extended drain off your laptop battery.  I would always prefer an external battery charger and Nikon provides one.  A point that others such as Sony could stand to learn from.  I do not find the charger onerous to put in my bag as some people do.  

 From the driver's seat, exposure in full auto.  Lens is the 6.7mm-13mm

From the driver's seat, exposure in full auto.  Lens is the 6.7mm-13mm

The lens mount is smooth and precise, and so also feel the lenses.  There is never the feeling of an also ran plastic piece of crap with the Nikkor 1 lenses.  Every one I have used has been sharp, accurate and maintained excellent contrast.  The sensor image will show faults before the lenses do.  Fortunately, Adobe is also providing Nikkor 1 lens profiles in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW so you can get the same style of profile corrections for the Nikkor 1 lenses as you can for regular Nikkor lenses.  With Lightroom CC 2015.1, support was added for the J5.  On some images, Lightroom could not discern the camera and lens type, but a further image in the same sequence would be recognized without issue.  I suspect that this is a Lightroom bug and not a camera issue because the V3 was recognized consistently.

Nikkor 1 lenses have a lock button to keep the lens compressed and in some cases the unlocking also serves to power the camera up, or power it down on locking.  You can use filters on the lenses and the 6.7mm-13mm came with a proper lens hood.  Nikon needs to stop with the Scrooge MacDuck nonsense and include hoods with the 10mm-30mm and the 10mm-100mm instead of making them for charge extras.

Samples

These images were all made with the Nikon 1 J5 with the Nikkor 1 6.7mm-13mm lens.  I chose the lens to allow for plenty of depth of field since these images were being shot without looking at the LCD, true point and shoot work.

Conclusions

I am an older photographer, and have been making images for over 40 years.  While I really liked the V3 because of the EVF, I had prior experience with earlier J series cameras and I had very low expectations or hopes for the Nikon 1 J5.  It would be very easy to dispense with it as just another pseudo point and shoot but as I used the camera, I came to like it more and more.  

It doesn't fit my personal use cases, but I've rethought some of my initial perceptions about its viability.  The autofocus is fast and accurate.  The image quality is excellent so long as you don't cross the noise ceiling at ISO 800, although others may be happy much higher.  The lenses are just superb. Sony makes brilliant cameras but you have to go to Zeiss for really decent glass.  Nikon has not scrimped on the lenses and I really have to credit them for this.  The camera is lightweight and physically small.  So if the market place is truly the former point and shoot owner or cellphone camera user who wants better quality without a lot of hassle and who probably won't do much in the way of post processing, the J5 is pretty hard to beat.  It sells with that 10mm to 30mm lens for about $600.  That's Sony RX100 money and the Nikon glass is that much better.  And I have picked the current version of the RX100 as Point and Shoot of the year with every release, so I would not slam the RX100 to make a point.

If I were looking for a great sensor, with the finest lenses for point and shoot kind of work with flexible in camera JPEG processing, the J5 would definitely be on the list.  I'm not, so I'm not pining for one of these but just because it doesn't fit my use cases does not mean it might not be perfect for you.

Full Specifications

Here is the full set of specifications for the J5 courtesy of Nikon

Type

  • Type

     

    Advanced Camera with Interchangeable Lenses

  • Lens Mount

     

    Nikon 1 mount

 

Image Sensor

  • Picture Angle

     

    Approx. 2.7x lens focal length (Nikon CX format)

  • Effective Pixels

     

    20.8 million

  • Sensor Size

     

    13.2mm

     x 8.8mm

  • Image Sensor Format

     

    CX

  • Image Sensor Type

     

    CMOS

  • Dust-reduction system

     

    Dust Shield

  • Image Area (pixels)

     

    Normal Panorama, horizontal pan (120:23 aspect ratio)
    4,800 x 920


    Normal Panorama - vertical pan (8:25 aspect ratio)
    1,536 x 4,800


    Wide Panorama - horizontal pan (240:23 aspect ratio)
    9,600 x 920


    Wide Panorama - vertical pan (4:25 aspect ratio)
    1,536 x 9,600


    Still Images (3:2 aspect ratio)
    5,568 x 3,712
    4,176 x 2,784
    2,784 x 1,856


    Still images (taken during movie recording; aspect ratio 3:2)
    5,568 x 3,712 (1080/60p, 1080/30p)


    Motion Snapshot (16:9 aspect ratio)
    5,568 x 3,136

 

File System

  • File Format

     

    Compressed 12-bit NEF (RAW)
    JPEG: JPEG-Baseline compliant with fine (approx 1:4), normal (approx 1:8)
    NEF (RAW) + JPEG: Single photograph recorded in both NEF (RAW) and JPEG formats

  • Storage Media

     

    microSD (micro Secure Digital)
    microSDHC 
    microSDXC memory cards

  • Card Slot

     

    1 micro secure digital

  • File System

     

    Compliant with DCF (Design Rule for Camera File System) 2.0
    EXIF 2.3 (Exchangeable Image File Format for Digital Still Cameras)
    PictBridge

 

Lens

  • Lens Aperture

     

    electronically controlled

 

Shutter

  • Shutter Type

     

    Electronic Shutter

  • Fastest Shutter Speed

     

    Electronic Shutter: 1/16,000 sec.

  • Slowest Shutter Speed

     

    30 sec.

  • Flash Sync Speed

     

    Up to 1/60 sec.

  • Bulb Shutter Setting

     

    Yes

  • Shutter Release Modes

     

    Single-frame [S] mode
    Continuous
    Self-timer mode
    Interval Timer Shooting

  • Frame Advance Rate

     

    Approx. 5, 10, 20, 30 or 60 fps

  • Top Continuous Shooting Speed at full resolution

     

    20 frames per second

  • Self-timer

     

    2, 10 sec. Timer duration electronically controlled

 

Exposure

  • Exposure Metering System

     

    TTL metering using image sensor

  • Metering Method

     

    Matrix
    Centre-weighted: Meters 4.5mm circle in centre of frame
    Spot: Meters 2mm circle centred on select focus area

  • Exposure Modes

     

    Programmed Auto with flexible Program (P)
    Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
    Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
    Manual (M)
    Scene Auto Selector

  • Scene Modes

     

    Portrait
    Landscape
    Night Landscape
    Night Portrait
    Close-up
    Auto

  • Shooting Modes

     

    Advanced movie mode (includes HD movie, 4K movie, time-lapse movie, slow motion, jump cut, fast motion and 4-second movie)
    Auto Photo mode
    Creative mode (including pop, retro, high-contrast monochrome, nostalgic sepia, HDR, easy panorama, soft, miniature effect, selective colour, cross process, toy camera effect, cross screen, fisheye, skin softening, night landscape, night portrait, landscape, close-up, and portrait)
    Motion Snapshot (16:9)
    P programmed auto with flexible program, S shutter-priority auto, A aperture-priority auto, M manual
    Best Moment Capture mode (includes Slow View, Active Selection, and Smart Photo Selector)

  • Exposure Compensation

     

    ±3 EV in increments of 1/3EV

  • Exposure Lock

     

    Luminosity locked at metered value when shutter-release button is pressed halfway

  • Picture Control

     

    Standard
    Neutral
    Vivid
    Monochrome
    Portrait
    Landscape
    Selected Picture Control can be modified
    User-customizable Settings

 

Sensitivity

  • ISO Sensitivity

     

    160-

    12800

  • Active D-Lighting

     

    On
    Off

 

Autofocus

  • Autofocus System

     

    Hybrid autofocus (phase detection/contrast-detect AF)
    AF-assist illuminator

  • AF-area mode

     

    Single-point AF: 171 focus areas; the centre 105 areas support phase-detection AF
    Auto-area AF: 41 focus areas
    Subject tracking
    Face-priority AF

  • Focus Lock

     

    Focus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single AF)

  • Focus Modes

     

    Auto (AF)
    Auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A)
    Single-Servo AF (AF-S)
    Continuous-Servo (AF-C)
    Full-time Servo (AF-F) 
    Manual Focus (MF)

 

Flash

  • Built-in Flash

     

    Yes

  • Guide Number

     

    5/16 (m/ft ISO 100, 20°C/68°F) Approx.
    At ISO 160, Guide Number is approx. (6.3/20.7)

  • Flash Control

     

    i-TTL flash control using image sensor available

  • Flash Mode

     

    Auto
    Auto with red-eye reduction
    Fill-flash
    Fill-flash with slow sync
    Red-eye reduction
    Red-eye reduction with slow sync
    Rear curtain sync
    Rear curtain with slow sync
    Slow sync with red-eye reduction
    Off

  • Flash Compensation

     

    -3 to +1 EV in increments of 1/3 EV

  • Flash-ready indicator

     

    Lights when built-in flash unit is fully charged

 

White Balance

  • White Balance

     

    Auto
    Incandescent
    Fluorescent
    Direct Sunlight
    Flash
    Cloudy
    Shade
    Preset Manual
    All except preset manual with fine-tuning

 

Movie

  • Movie Metering

     

    TTL exposure metering using main image sensor

  • Movie Metering Method

     

    Matrix
    Centre-weighted: Meters 4.5mm circle in centre of frame
    Spot: Meters 2mm circle centred on select focus area

  • Movie File Format

     

    MOV

  • Movie Video Compression

     

    H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding

  • Movie Audio recording format

     

    PCM

  • Movie Audio recording device

     

    Built-in stereo microphone; sensitivity adjustable

  • Movie

     

    HD: 1920 x 1080/60p
    HD: 1920 x 1080/30p
    HD: 1280 x 720/60p
    HD: 1280 x 720/30p
    Slow-motion: 1280 x 720/120 fps
    Slow-motion: 800 x 296/400 fps
    Slow-motion: 400 x 144/1200 fps
    4K movies: 3840 x 2160/15p (14.99 fps)
    Audio file format: ACC
    Movie file format: MOV

 

Monitor

  • Monitor Size

     

    3.0 in. diagonal

  • Monitor Resolution

     

    1,037,000 Dots

  • Monitor Type

     

    Tilting TFT-LCD with brightness adjustment

 

Interface

  • Interface

     

    USB: Hi-speed USB
    HDMI output: Type D mini-pin HDMI connector

 

Menus

  • Supported Languages

     

    Arabic
    Bengali
    Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
    Czech
    Danish
    Dutch
    English
    Finnish
    French
    German
    Greek
    Hindi
    Hungarian
    Indonesian
    Italian
    Japanese
    Korean
    Norwegian
    Persian
    Polish
    Portuguese (European and Brazilian)
    Romanian
    Russian
    Serbian
    Spanish
    Swedish
    Thai
    Turkish
    Ukrainian
    Vietnamese

  • Date, Time and Daylight Savings Time Settings

     

    Yes

  • World Time Setting

     

    Yes

 

Power

  • Battery / Batteries

     

    EN-EL24 Lithium-ion Battery

  • Battery Life (shots per charge)

     

    250 shots (CIPA)

    Movies: Approx. 60 minutes (1080/30p)

  • AC Adapter

     

    EH-5b AC Adapter
    Requires EP-5F Power Supply Connector (available separately)

 

Miscellaneous

  • Tripod Socket

     

    1/4 in.

  • Approx. Dimensions (Width x Height x Depth)

     

    98.3 mm x

     59.7 mm x

     31.5 mm


    Excluding projections.

  • Approx. Weight

     

    231 g


    camera body only

  • Operating Environment

     

    0 to 40°C
    Less than 85% humidity (no condensation)