Nikon J5 Conclusion

27mm equivalent (10mm), f/8, 1/8s, ISO 160
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Correcting some disappointing design choices of the Nikon 1 J4, the updated Nikon 1 J5 camera features a more photographer-friendly layout, a brand-new CX-format 1"-type image sensor, and upgraded EXPEED 5A image processor. The end result of the wide variety of changes and improvements is a camera that performs well on its own, but is also well-suited to be a complementary compact camera for Nikon DSLR users.

Photographer-friendly design makes the J5 enjoyable to use

Whereas the Nikon J4 featured a limited mode dial setup, the J5 puts an expanded, more traditional PASM dial right on the top deck of the camera. The J5 also has a front grip, a function button on the front of the camera, an additional control dial on the back, and a tilting LCD display. The design is just generally more photographer-friendly and a big improvement over the J4. The J5 is also more comfortable to hold and easy to use.

Brand-new BSI CX-format sensor brings notable improvements

With a new 20.8-megapixel CX-format 1"-type sensor, the J5 beats out its predecessor, the J4, by 2.4 megapixels. While this isn't a big jump in overall resolving power, the J5's sensor is also backside-illuminated, which leads to an improvement in sensitivity. We found that the J5 produced fairly sharp images at default settings, but that its noise suppression was strong, even at the base ISO. Nonetheless, the J5 managed to outdo its predecessor in terms of JPEG sharpness. By carefully processing RAW files, we were able to get more detailed, sharper images, albeit with more noise.

Improvements to both ISO performance & dynamic range

Thanks in part to the backside-illuminated sensor design, the J5's ISO and noise performance is pretty good for a sensor of this size. Even at ISO 1600, the performance is not bad for this class of sensor. Beyond this sensitivity, image quality degrades rapidly, however. All in all, the J5 performs better at higher ISOs than the J4 and Nikon V3. An area of even larger improvement is with dynamic range. The J5 offers more dynamic range than the Nikon V3 across the entire ISO range, but the J5's advantage is very large at lower ISOs (over 1 EV in some cases). This is clearly Nikon's best 1-series sensor effort when considering sharpness, noise performance, and dynamic range.

81mm equivalent (30mm), f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 200
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Familiar autofocus system remains quick

The J5 uses the same hybrid autofocus system found in the J4. Offering 171 autofocus points with the central 105 being phase detect, we found the J5 to be a solid performer. The J5's 3" touchscreen proved useful with its touch-to-focus feature as well. Full autofocus, single-point AF shutter lag was a blazingly fast 0.074 seconds with the 10-30mm kit lens at medium focal length, which puts the J5 in the company of professional DSLRs.

Fast continuous shooting eats through moderate buffer in no time

With the ability to shoot at up to 60fps (with autofocus locked) and at up to 20fps with full autofocus, the J5 is fast. The camera can be slightly slow to startup and clear its acceptable 20-frame buffer, but its overall speed and performance is impressive. Depending on the burst mode, however, the J5's 20-frame buffer offers only 1/3 of a second or 1 second of total shooting time. The camera isn't fit for capturing long periods of action, but it does offer a lot of top-end speed.

4K video...with a catch

The J5 offers a lot of video-centric features, including 1080/60p as well as the ability to record both 4K and slow-motion video. However, performance issues hold it back in some key areas. 4K video is a nice ability to flaunt, but it's limited to a paltry 15fps. Slow-motion video is neat as well, but its resolution tops out at 720p and gets all the way down to just 400 x 144 for its highest-speed capture. However, the J5 gets high marks for including an in-camera time-lapse feature. Ultimately, the J5 is certainly capable when it comes to recording video, but not the strongest.

Expanded functionality with Nikon F-mount lens adapter

The Nikon FT-1 adapter allows you to attach many Nikon AF-S DSLR lenses and achieve autofocus capabilities, although we found that there were a few issues of slow autofocus with certain lenses. Further, you can only use the central autofocus point with the FT-1 adapter, which is a bit limiting. With that said, the 2.7x focal length multiplier can make even a regular telephoto zoom lens, such as the 70-200mm f/2.8, into a 190-540mm equivalent lens. If you're a Nikon shooter already, adding a 1-series camera like the J5 to your bag certainly can become more attractive when you consider its ability to use the Nikon full-frame and APS-C DSLR lenses that you already own.

162mm equivalent (60mm), f/18, 1/5s, ISO 160, Nikon 60mm f/2.8G attached via Nikon FT1
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A big step in the right direction for the Nikon 1 series

Improvements to the camera body, resolution, noise performance, and dynamic range help to make the J5 a good option for photographers looking for a compact camera system. While it doesn't offer the best performance in its class, it does provide good performance for the money and versatility with its interchangeable lens system and Nikon FT-1 adapter. When compared to its predecessor, the J5 is a big step up and a very capable compact camera and certainly gets the nod for a Dave's Pick.


Pros & Cons

  • New 20.8-megapixel BSI sensor offers improved image quality over the previous generation
  • Better high-ISO performance
  • Much better dynamic range
  • Vibrant colors
  • Incredibly fast autofocus
  • Able to focus in very low light
  • Very quick shot to shot times
  • Blistering 60fps full-resolution burst mode with focus locked (20fps with continuous AF)
  • Decent buffer size of 20 frames (though that gets filled very quickly at 60fps!)
  • Tilting touch-screen monitor
  • PASM mode dial
  • Multi-shot noise reduction option (but only at ISOs 6400 and 12,800)
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and NFC
  • Newly-designed camera body is compact, but user-friendly
  • Tilting touchscreen works well
  • FT1 adapter gives Nikon DSLR shooters more lenses to use with the J5
  • Below average battery life
  • Image quality still not as good as competing mirrorless cameras with larger sensors
  • Default noise reduction a little heavy-handed, and there are only two settings: On and Off
  • Slow buffer clearing
  • Weak pop-up flash, and no hot shoe for a more powerful external flash
  • Slow flash x-sync speed (1/60s)
  • Uses smaller microSD cards (may be a pro for some)
  • No built-in EVF and no support for an external one
  • Limited selection of native lenses (but the optional FT1 adapter provides access to a vast array of F-mount lenses)
  • 4K video recording is limited to 15fps

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