Nikon 1 J5 mirrorless camera review

Nikon-1-J5-mirrorless-camera-review

Nikon 1 J5 mirrorless camera ($496.95) review by Eyal Gurevitch:

First came the J4

Last summer I spent a great, long vacation with my family at the beach. The kids love doing nothing else than going swimming twice a day in the sea and spending the rest of it in the pool. I had the Nikon 1 J4 with me on that trip. Rarely do I have so much time to spend with a camera (Hey, but what about the kids?) so I studied it closely and learned to love it. And hate it.

It was a very small camera. too small to my taste. I value the practicality of a compact camera, but once it’s too large to fit in your pocket, I prefer a larger camera - better to hold, better to control.

So controlling it was a downer, but I was amazed by how fast it was able to shoot. Its continuous mode, rating at 20 frames per second including autofocus proved to be extremely useful in oh so many cases (kids running, kids swimming, kids bungee jumping…). And there was that mind boggling best moment capture mode, which takes a batch of 20 shots to choose from, half of which are BEFORE you press the shutter. Perfect for capturing the right moment or making a short time-lapse. Why a short one? Since the buffer of the J4 is 20 shots deep, that’s why.

And the downer about that was that after taking a batch of 20, you need to wait until it writes them to the memory card and clears the buffer, a process which sometimes takes as long as two minutes.

As far as the photographing flow with the J4, I was initially underwhelmed by the low number of buttons and dials it had on its compact body. Having had to dive into the menus for changing modes, and for practically anything was a real pain so I deemed it a point and shoot only camera. Later I discovered that its quick menu offered some relief in this regard and made advanced shooting with it barely acceptable.

DSC_0425
DSC_0072

Enter the J5

Taking the J5 in my hands, I immediately noticed that Nikon had been working hard at improving this model’s controllability, aiming at a larger target audience which includes more advanced photographers. There’s a new grip (yay!), shallow but efficient. There are now PASM modes on the mode dial. There’s an additional control ring around the direct video button. There’s a selfie flipping LCD screen. There’s an extra Fn button on the front. There’s NFC connectivity.

All of these, added to the J5’s compact body, create a truly useful photography tool. A totally different tiny beast than the J4.

On the insides, there’s one major thing Nikon changed and that’s the sensor. On many occasions a new sensor and an increase to the megapixel count doesn’t necessarily do well with image quality, but this isn’t one of those cases. This new 20.8 megapixel BSI-CMOS does wonders with what the J5 delivers compared to what the 18.4 megapixel sensor of the J4 did, and that’s in spite of the extra pixels. Looking at the output, images seems to have richer, deeper yet not exaggerated colors, giving this camera a more mature look and feel. Not that the J4 had poor image quality, au contraire, just that it’s a noticeable step up.

Other than that, the J5 has the same exact shooting capabilities of the J4 - same 20 fps, same slow modes, same slow modes in video, same menu options, same everything. If there’s anything new and significant, then I missed it, taking into account the fact that I’m ignoring the 4K capabilities of the J5, since 15fps video is jerky and I would rather shoot 1080/60p in any situation (see a 4K example here).

What’s mostly disappointing about it is the fact that the J5 is just as slow to digest what it shoots as the camera it replaces. Going through the menu items, there’s a short lag. Short, but noticeable. The same goes for going through images, and the worst is the time it takes after shooting in fast mode and before you can shoot again.

The J5 is a leap in the right direction - adding desirable features to an already great camera. With improved image quality and controllability, it’s exactly the kind of capable, compact camera I’d love to throw in my bag and take anywhere and everywhere with me.

As in most compact point-and-shoots and mirrorless Nikon cameras, their Achilles’ heel is their processing power - fast to shoot but slow to write and slow to operate. Enhance that and you’d have an ultimate petite quality shooter.

DSC_0067

How does it compare?

At the time of reviewing the J4, I also had the Panasonic Lumix GM1 and the Sony RX100 III and was able to see first hand how they compare, even if not directly head to head. The J5’s competition comes from the RX100 IV and the GM5 which I haven’t had a chance to review yet.

The RX100’s advantage over the J5 is most definitely its large max apertures - unparalleled by any Nikon 1 zoom lens, the amazing range of 24-70mm f/1.8-2.8 paired to the same size sensor is oh so much more effective than the f/3.5-5.6 of the 10-30mm.

The GM5 has a larger sensor than the J5 as well as a lower pixel count (we’ll save the discussion whether a larger or smaller pixel count is better to a later date). Another advantage of the GM5 is its hybrid shutter, albeit maxing out at 1/500 sec. and then switching to the electronic shutter with the same max speed as the J5’s 1/16000 sec. The J5’s high speed shooting and large number of focus points (171, out of which 105 are PD), are its high cards against the competition, as well as its easy and intuitive advanced controls I mentioned earlier.

Of course, both the GM5 kit and RX100 IV cost slightly less than twice the J5, which makes this small Nikon mirrorless camera an excellent deal under $500.

If you dare look at a slightly larger camera, the LX100 lurks just around the corner, with its larger micro four thirds sensor and its 24-75mm f/1.7-2.8 zoom lens. If you’re planning to only have the one kit lens with the J5, then the LX100 outperforms it in anything but its high speed shooting and its ability to take other lenses. Of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch - the LX100 costs much, much more than J5.

DSC_1332
DSC_1159
Footnote

Many people looking for digital cameras want it all - when asked which camera is recommended as a family or day to day shooter, I often face non realistic demands of compactness, zoom, quality and price. Explaining that it’s always a trade-off between those four always results in deep disappointment. A small camera with a relatively large sensor is usually the best option to go with, but one must remember that after choosing a compact mirroless camera, it’s only as small as the lens you attach to it. The 10-30mm complements the J5 perfectly, but pursuing a large zoom such as the 70-300mm or a large aperture such as that of the 32mm f/1.2, nullifies the petiteness of the camera body.

DSC_0084
Additional links:

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

This entry was posted in Nikon 1, [NR] Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • AlainCl

    Nikon System 1 needs a better kit lens. The tiny RX100 III has sharper results than the J5:

    http://digiphoto.techbang.com/posts/7752-nikon-1-j5-review-vs-sony-rx100-iii?page=2&preview=true

    Yes, the Sony is $300 more than the J5, but is there a $300 System 1 lens on a J5 that can better the results from the (just-replaced) Sony? I’m expecting the RX100 IV to perhaps have even better results. In sum: Nikon needs to step up its game.

  • manhattanboy

    The mode dial and the flip screen really help the j5 over the j4.

  • Some of my best street photos have been made with the 1 J5: discrete, quiet, light and fast.

    What’s missing is a 13mm f/1.2 as there is no 35mm equivalent prime at all.

    • manhattanboy

      The 10 2.8 is pretty close albeit a little wider. It’s pretty sharp as well. I personally would have loved less mp with greater dr in the J5. Noise and image quality are the biggest problems.

      • I have the 10/2.8. I was hoping for something analogous to the 32/1.2. I like the depth of field of the smaller sensor, but I want to have some shallowness at times and, as you note, high ISO noise can be trouble.

    • Captain Megaton

      Stop asking for unicorns. The 32/1.2 is $900 and if it was physically even possible to make a 13/1.2 the cost would be astronomical.

      A “reasonable-cost” 13mm would be perhaps f/2.5 … you might as well use the 10/2.8.

      • Do you think the 32/1.2 is a unicorn? I’m willing to spend the $900.

        • Captain Megaton

          I appreciate your dedication.

        • David

          I thought the V1 and V2 were pretty nifty, but at new prices I can’t see how you can justify the 32mm. Practically, it is an f/3.25 in FF-equivalent DOF, while the Olympus and Panasonic ~45mms are f/3.6 and f/3.4 in aperture…one is less than $300, the other I think about $400, the latter comes with OIS and the former goes on a body with IBIS. At base ISO in sunny weather sure I’ll go for the Nikon, and everyone who has reviewed it says it’s amazing, but when I can buy a m4/3 lens (not to mention APS-C one like the Sigma 60mm) AND a system camera to use it, the Nikon looks like poor value. An f/1.4 at half the price would get me to start thinking about it.

          • What’s nice about the 32/1.2, and why I’m looking for something similar in 13mm is because the build quality is amazing. It features a beautifully damped manual focus ring. It is sharp wide open, which is special and maybe unique, especially for a MILC.

            I’m invested in Nikon, and the expense to change systems would be high. Besides that, the 1J5 is a powerful, tiny package that I was interested in for shooting street after attending a street photography course by Thomas Leutard who is a fan of small, fast cameras. He shoots an OM-D EM5, and I had some experience with the AW1, so I decided to go with the One system instead based on my previous investment in glass.

            • David

              I’m honestly curious, which lenses had you invested in that have made their way onto your N1? I had a DX system with, among others, the 55-300 and the 35mm 1.8. The first lens was just okay (and has a SLOW aperture) and the second one wasn’t good at all wide open. I’m assuming that these lenses just can’t resolve well enough to satisfy the pixel density of these tiny sensors. Any longer lenses you have REALLY need an EVF to brace your face against.

              The AW1 is DEFINITELY something I’m interested in, but definitely not at full price. To be honest, I’ve still yet to see a Nikon 1 that I’ve been interested in at full price. And believe me, I’d like to.

            • My most-used FX lens by far is the Micro-Nikkor 105 f2.8G. The nice thing about small sensors is their depth of field, which I make full use of for macro, which would otherwise need some sort of focus stacking. I also use it when I want an (approx) 300mm fast prime, but portable. I have a couple of keepers in both instances, but not really good enough to present.

              I don’t have an N, but I agree that the J5 is a little weird without the third (face) point of contact with the camera.

            • All 1 J5 shots:

  • Spy Black

    “Not that the J4 had poor image quality, au contraire, just that it’s a noticeable step up.”

    The J4’s sensor is pretty ratty, even at base ISO. It’s Nikon’s post image processing that gives it some semblance of decency. Overall not horrible, but that sensor is just not that great.

  • Spy Black

    That’s mostly post-processing you’re seeing there. The Nikkor isn’t too horrible. It has a 3-stop range, full open and 2 in. 1 stop in is the best IQ, wide is soft on the edges, 2 in already starts diffraction, and anything stopped down further gets killed by diffraction.

    • AlainCl

      Those samples were all shot on the J5 at f/6.3, so I’d take your comment about diffraction setting in… EXCEPT that the Sony images were all shot at f/9.8!!!

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/94645736@N06/sets/72157652742875715

      So the Nikon images should have had an inherent sharpness advantage over the year-old Sony. But they don’t

      As for result differences being “mostly” post-processing, I am not so sanguine, especially since there are many examples of the RX100 III eating the J4’s lunch (different sensor, I know) in sharpness. Right now there is just no evidence that the J5 + kit lens is as good as the older, more pocketable (and more expensive) Sony.

      I’d like to see some more direct comparisons between these two cameras, most especially with the RX100 IV, but so far the J5 appears to be a laggard in comparison.

    • AlainCl

      Except that BOTH cameras were shot at f/6.3, so it’s a wash:

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/94645736@N06/sets/72157652742875715

      And I don’t see how one can write off the J5’s poor performance as “mostly post-processing.” There’s no evidence of that.

      • Spy Black

        I’m not talking about the J5, I’m talking about the lens. The first image at base ISO is the only one you can compare the lenses with. Everything else is the effects of post-processing. Yes the Sony is a better lens, but in daily use the Nikkor is fine. I have the same lens on my J4, and I also have an RX100 III. As I said, it’s not horrible.

        • AlainCl

          For $500 the J5 might be not horrible, but “not horrible” is damning with faint praise. I dispute that ‘everything else is the effects of PP’ – not only is there zero evidence of it, but the samples in the above link at ISO 160 still show the older Sony unit to be superior! Look at the link again. If the choice is a bulkier $500 J5 with inferior output or a smaller, better $800 Sony, I think most of the prosumers – like those who read this site – will be willing to spend the extra $300, even if it isn’t from their fave camera brand.

          • Spy Black

            First off, I’m talking about the Nikkor, not the J5. Second, do you have eyes? Look at the images. Anything other than base ISO is post processing. Period. Optics don’t change with a shift in ISO.

            For $500 and it’s design changes, the J5 is finally the first Nikon 1 camera to be worth it’s money if you want a casual camera. It has good image quality, and a somewhat of a system behind it to to add to versatility. It’s not meant to be a heavy hitter.

            The RX is a great camera, I own one, and a J4. I consider the J4 to be mediocre, and yet despite it’s image quality versus the RX it does some things better than the RX. I got it for $350 with an underwater case, which was my reason for getting it. Try finding an underwater case for the RX and add that to the total price. Let me know how that goes. Try shooting high speed with continuous AF with the RX. I can do some things with the J4 that I can’t do with an RX. The reverse is true. They both have their place.

            As far as spending money for the RX over the J5, it depends on what you plan to do with it. If you want a pocketable camera with good image quality, the RX is hard to beat, but you’re going to have to pay for it. If you’re a photographic enthusiast, you will. If you’re not and just want a decent camera, the J5, along a with a number of other cameras from other manufacturers, will look more attractive to you. If you want the option to use different lenses, the RX isn’t going to cut it.

            It’s a big camera world out there, and there’s even more to appreciate than these two.

            • AlainCl

              It seems obvious that at all ISO ranges the Sony is at least as good, and usually better than the J5 with the kit lens. Period. If people want to spend $500 for a “decent” finderless camera with “not horrible”results when one with a similarly-sized sensor is smaller, takes better pictures and has a finder (for $300 more) then bully for them.

            • Spy Black

              You seem to fail to realize that is exactly what a lot of people are going to do, because they either can’t afford the $300 difference, or don’t care to pay for it. A lot of people couldn’t tell the difference between the two either. And despite the camera’s shortcomings, the J4 and J5 have capabilities thr RX does not, which some may prefer over the RX even if they could afford it and see the IQ differences.

            • AlainCl

              I think we can leave it there – even in your defensive posture towards the J5 (where you accuse me of failing to see things and not having eyes) you acknowledge “shortcomings” of a camera you can best call “decent” with “not horrible” image quality. When compared to a smaller, more capable one-year old camera with the same sensor size, I call it a comparative loser. If Nikon can come out with a better kit lens and it improves results, great. But until then it will sell ‘at a price’ to the mass-market and not really be competitive to the types of people who read this forum.

            • Spy Black

              You also fail to realize that many of the people who read this forum own a J5, J4 or other Nikon 1 camera. You may have eyes, but you certainly can’t see.

            • AlainCl

              Continuing the insults? It merely lets all see you for who you are (hiding behind a fake name and pic). Just because a handful of people own a J4 or even J5 doesn’t mean that they, unlike you, are closed to objective results showing that another camera might offer better image quality.

            • Spy Black

              You’re the only one with a closed mind about what you can do with any camera.

            • AlainCl

              Uh huh. Sure. Whatever. In the mean time, everyone can see the photographic results for themselves while you continue to flame away.

            • Spy Black

              You’re correct. That’s why they own a J5, because they can see the results for themselves.

            • AlainCl

              Keep digging. Keep flailing.

            • Spy Black

              Nah, I’ll go shoot with my J4 and RX instead. You can keep looking at photographic results.

            • AlainCl

              Good for you. And since you can’t tell the difference between results (that others can) you’ll certainly be happy with everything you shoot. Have fun!

            • Spy Black

              Yes, I will be happy with the results and not miserable like you.

            • AlainCl

              I’m quite happy watching you justifying your purchases so desperately with insults, it seems very psychologically important to you, in spite of objective results (that you claim to not see). Everyone else can easily see from the shots I linked to that the J5 is missing something, but you need to make personal attacks over a $500 purchase. It seems like you have so much invested in your opinion it is making you unhappy, but if you want to put on a brave face and flail and flame…well, it explains why you hide behind a fake name (with a nicked avatar).

            • Spy Black

              I’m quite happy owning the two cameras you obviously don’t and don’t know jack-shìt about and are obviously talking out of your ass citing internet junk, which is why I have no problems ripping into you. Maybe you should try going out and shooting instead of wasting your life here.

  • AKH

    I don’t have any lag in the menu or browsing through images.
    I have also set the image review to off to not waste time on that while shooting. I think it is very fast and don’t see much lag when using a fast micro sd card.

    • Spy Black

      I have to disagree. I have probably the fastest card you can possibly get, a Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-1/U3 card, and when that buffers fills it’s still a slow boat to China to write everything out. Under normal shooting it’s not an issue, but certainly problematic if you’re shooting rapidly.

      • I have to agree with you. Writing takes a while, and makes review feel slow.

        Everything else seems to work ok, though.

  • Richy

    For casual walkaround, my wife’s J5 with 18.5mm prime =50mm 1.8 equivalent has replaced my D800E with Sigma 35 Art or Zeiss 21 2.8. Seriously impressed by it. Don’t see any of the lag the reviewer complains about, and I don’t really see the point of complaining that the Sony has the faster lens when the J5 is ICL and you can stick a 1.8 or a 1.2 on it. The kit lens is very cheap and ok performance, nothing special but there is no right to expect a fast ultrasharp kit lens when its price is roughly 80-100USD when bought as a kit over the body alone. Put a better lens on the camera and the shooting is really quite clean. Complaints would be slightly over-aggressive noise reduction in jpgs at high ISO and that the nikon wifi app is pretty rubbish.
    Bang for the buck, this camera with a light prime is really excellent.

    • Captain Megaton

      You can probably turn off the high ISO NR. You can on the earlier models at least.

  • Captain Megaton

    It’s nice to see any review of N1 that isn’t a complete hatchet job, so thanks for unbiased write-up.

    Pro tip: the N1 cameras work very nicely in AF-A, Program Auto and Auto Iso. There is little reason to “menu dive” as Program Shift with a bit of EV comp and maybe AEL/AFL provides the necessary shooting control.

  • BrainBeat

    Looking as I am at getting a small pocket camera to have on me when I do not want to carry around my DSLR’s this review certainly shows off what the J5 offers. As he mentions in the written review I have looked at the 1inch sensor compacts like the Sony RX100 line too and I do still wonder if it would be worth getting one of those over a Nikon 1 just so I could in theory use my lenses. The compacts would seem to be a lot more pocetable in size, at least as good in IQ (if not better), and no need to worry about dust on the sensor all for a similar price.

    • David

      If you REALLY want lenses like the 6.7-13 (although Thom Hogan says it could use a refresh apparently…kinda sad that it’s already outdated after just a few years) or the 18.5, then yeah buy the J5. No other lenses give a N1 a capability (wider than 24mm or slightly faster aperture at 50mm-e) that you don’t already have with an RX100…ANY RX100, not just the III/IV. Longer lenses aren’t the best option since the J5 doesn’t have an EVF to brace against your eye.

      Honestly, other than a V1 or maybe higher-end J for cheap with an 18.5 lens, I can’t see ANYTHING an N1 gives you over a good compact.

      • Kyle

        Lets hope they hit it out of the park with the V4.

        I just got the 10-100 and 6.7-13, both used, and took that kit to the beach last week.

        Super nice combo and with the SBN5 flash, a great travel kit indeed.

  • olee22

    What I like the most about the Nikon 1 J5, is the touch screen focusing. I didn’t realize how good this is, until I compare it the tons of out of focus images I made with the Fuji X100T, XT-1, and also the Sony RX100IV. They have good autofocus, with face and eye recognition… but still they focus on the shoulders when I simply want to make a portrait of my wife holding our children. Two big faces filling the screen, and the autofocus struggles to focus on at least one of them. On the J5, I just tapped on the face that I wanted in focus, and the shot was made at the same time. It was very fast. Although, the colors and light on the Fuji are miles better to our liking vs. the J5.

    I also used the J5 with with the 18mm f1.8 and 32 mm f1.2, and it’s as the author writes, it nullifies the smallness. In fact, the Fuji XT-1 feels similar in size in my bag.

  • Back to top