An Intimate Look At The Nikon 1 J5 20.8 MP Mirrorless Digital Camera

For a few years now, the Nikon 1 series cameras have been impressing us. The first few camera versions in the series lacked diversity. Some complained they were mainly the same camera with one or two added features. We see how this confusion started, and so did Nikon. They've made every effort to divide the 1 series of cameras and help us look at the differences. So far, they are making good ground.

The Nikon 1 J5 is seriously packed with features like a 20-megapixel, one-inch sensor and continuous shooting speeds approaching 60 frames per second. Throw in the full HD 60p and 4K video, and this camera blows past most of its competition. It’s a compact digital camera with interchangeable lenses, but don’t expect a lot of lens diversity at the moment.

What Makes Nikon 1 J5 Standout?

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The Nikon 1 J5's impressive list of features stands out the most, at least for us. Its speed and size are next in line. It's compact with its 10-30mm lens attached and you can carry it in your pocket. If you add the 10-100mm lens, it gets a bit bulky and won't fit in the pocket of your shirt of jeans. You can easily carry it in a small bag, purse, or large jacket pocket with the larger lens in place.

Let's look at the essential features:

  • 20-megapixel 1-inch CX sensor
  • Come in black, silver-white, and silver-black colors
  • EXPEED 5A image processor
  • ISO range from 100 to 12,800
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity
  • Tilting 3-inch touchscreen LCD rear display
  • Full HD 60p and 4K video
  • Up to 60 FPS in continuous shooting modes

The Nikon 1 J5 also features a 171 point autofocus system which does a much better job of finding your subject that previous autofocus methods. It offers several shooting modes for still images and video including motion capture, motion snapshot mode, programmed auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, and metered manual modes.

It comes with all the essential features you expect as well. So, when we say packed with features, you can see why we feel like the Nikon 1 J5 is bursting at the seams with features.

The camera body is aluminum and sturdy, and Nikon added a new version of their control wheel to the J5 to make choosing settings or shooting modes easier. The new one helps you understand the settings a little better as well. On some previous models, the images and numbers on the control wheel were hard to read.

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Our FavorIte Feature

That is a tough decision to make, but we think the best feature of the Nikon 1 J5 is the lens mount. It essentially turns a compact camera into a variety of cameras while keeping the weight and size in check.

With the default lens attached, you can carry the J5 in a pocket or purse comfortably, but the option to change the lens to something like the Nikkor 10-100mm options up a ton of photographic opportunities other cameras can’t unlock yet.

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Features and Camera Body Design

We like the design of the Nikon 1 J5. The body is primarily an aluminum alloy, and it's about three times heavier than the J4. It's not unwieldy by any definition and comfortable to carry around in your hand or pocket. Nikon improved the hand grip, by adding one. Previous cameras in this series don't have hand grips which makes it easier to drop them or lose one in a rough crowd.

The front of the camera body is very plain, but that's a good thing. The only thing that stands out on the front of the body is the Nikon 1 lens mount.

 

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Earlier cameras in this series used a sort of scaled down version of the Nikon F-mount which worked ok but caused some issues with the camera’s autofocus. The new Nikon 1 lens mount solves the autofocus communication issues and is more compact than the scaled down F-mount.

Changing the lens takes some getting used to because it's a new method for Nikon users. Lens mounts have always had a dot that you aligned with another dot on the lens when swapping lens.

Most of us never looked at the dots, but instead pushed the lens into place and twisted it until it fell into place. The Nikon 1 mount requires you to properly align the lens and lens mount before you can rotate the lens into place. It's hard to get used to after decades of changing lenses the old way.

If you take the lens off, you can see Nikon newer 20-megapixel, actually 20.8-megapixels, sensor sitting there waiting for you to take pictures and stop staring at it. However, the shallow design makes it much easier to clean the sensor.

When you add the option to change a camera's lens at will, you also unlock the camera sensor's magical ability to attract dust which shows up on images later. The shallow design of the Nikon 1 J5 making blowing off the sensor easy compared to previous versions, and most other compact digital cameras with interchangeable lens.

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Nikon removed the electronic viewfinder, so the only way to frame your shot is by using the rear LCD screen. That's not technically a bad thing, but we still like using a viewfinder. However, mirrorless cameras only offer electronic viewfinders which add to the girth of the camera and the weight. Since this camera is sleek but heavier than previous models, this is probably a good trade-off.

The rear LCD provides a decent quality image and accurate colors. It’s a 3-inch display which is pretty significant considering the size of the camera. The best part about the read LCD screen, aside from its size, is it's a touchscreen display.

Instead of just allowing for minor adjustments or image zooming, you can autofocus and make other changes to the camera settings without touching a dial or pressing any buttons numerous times.  

We often complain about the autofocus many cameras stick us with, they miss the mark more often than they hit it. Few things are more annoying than trying to get a shot in focus while your camera is more interested in something outside of the focus area. The hybrid autofocus system in the Nikon 1 J5 does a fantastic job of removing that frustration.

It uses 105 focus points in phase detection mode and 171 in contrast detection mode. The real benefit of this hybrid system is motion capture and finding the subject correctly, the first time. We don't have data to determine if the J5's autofocus is faster than its competitors, but it focuses unbelievably fast and with minimal error.

The Nikon 1 J5 tries to use phase detection autofocus when possible. It does a fair job of finding your subject and getting it in focus fast. In low light conditions, it drops back to contrast detection to ensure it’s getting the right subject and autofocusing quickly, and correctly.

Using autofocus at night or in low light was almost impossible in the past. The camera would focus wildly like it saw something we didn’t see. Thankfully, Nikon made some improvements to cure some low light autofocus issues.

The camera has separate buttons for shooting stills and video. You can record HD video and take still images at the same time. Quite a few cameras offer this feature, but most of them require some finesse to wrangle the shutter release into cooperating. Half the time you wind up turning the video off and still missing the still image you were after. The J5’s dual buttons make this problem a thing of the past.

Battery power issues plague all compact digital cameras, and the Nikon 1 J5 is no exception. For some reason, knowing battery life was short, Nikon chose to use a smaller battery in the J5 compared to previous models in the Nikon 1 series.

The result is around 230 images per full battery charge. You can buy extra batteries, but swapping the battery requires access to the bottom of the camera. That's not a big deal unless you use a tripod.

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Photo and Video Quality

It captures video in full HD 60p or 4K and can shoot video up to 400 FPS. That's a lot of frames per second for a compact digital camera. You can stretch it out to almost 1,200 FPS, but the video size and quality suffer greatly. Still, 400 FPS is nothing to complain about when you consider that most compact cameras shoot at an underwhelming rate of 60 FPS.

There are three Best Moment Capture modes. They seem like overkill to us, but they do have their bonuses like getting a wide range of photos and exposures then picking your favorite.

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These modes let you take what amounts to around 40 images in a brief period then choose your favorites and discard the rest. This feature seems like a good idea, but it may prove annoying if you are taking photos at a birthday party and have to pause everyone while you choose an image.

Unlike most compact digital cameras, the Nikon 1 J5 performs reasonably well, or at least above average, in low light settings. Video and still images taken in low light still lacked the clarity and sharpness we wanted, but the subject was visible, and the noise was minimal. Longer exposures in low light settings were excellent.

Noise isn't an issue with the Nikon 1 J5, but sharpness drops off a little when zoomed in at 100mm. Sharpness correction settings are available in the camera, but we recommend using something like Photoshop to process your images instead of in-camera processing. It is still far below the quality we expected.

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Is It Expensive?

Based on price alone, yes, it’s expensive. You can order one from Amazon for $1,046.95. That price includes the 10-100mm lens, and we recommend getting the kit with that lens. It opens you up to a lot of photography opportunities traditional lens can’t capture. The high-speed video, excellent image quality, and vast array of bonus features make the price understandable.

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WHAT DO CUSTOMERS SAY

Customers complained about sticker shock more than anything. They expected a compact camera in the $400 to $600 range. Customer opinions of the camera itself were positive overall, once they got used to using it. Customers saw significant improvements in the quality of their images and loved the high-speed, high-resolution video.

The only complaints we found matched our own charges. We miss the viewfinder, and a lot of customers were sad to see it go as well. The rear display does not perform well in bright locations. Customers complained that they couldn't see the image very well when they were in bright sunlight unless they held something above the screen to cast a shadow on it.

Is It Better than Its Competition?

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In short, there are few cameras that compare to the image quality or the features of the Nikon 1 J5. That said, the Panasonic Lumix series, Samsung NX series, and the Canon EOS series of cameras offer some of the same features. Other than on the price, not many cameras beat the Nikon 1 J5 on features or image quality. Add in the video quality and video options, and this camera soars above most of its competition.

Our Opinion

The Nikon 1 J5 is not the perfect compact camera, but it’s pretty close in our opinion. It falls short in low light situations, but almost every similar camera has the same issues. We believe it’s worth the money based on the video quality and interchangeable lens alone. If you examine all the other features, we can certainly justify the price tag that comes with this great compact camera.

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Conclusion

Everyone is excited about compact digital cameras shooting 4K and ultra HD video, and that is exciting. However, the Nikon 1 J5’s ability to turn a hobbyist photographer into a semi-pro is better news to us. The camera doesn’t make you a great photographer, but the J5 gives you every advantage you could ask for from great image quality to several shooting modes based on your needs and skill level.

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