Nikon 1 J5 mirrorless camera
A small and lightweight camera that produces clear and vibrant photos
Nikon has a nifty camera to offer you if you want something small, yet flexible as far as lens selection and manual controls are concerned. It’s called the Nikon 1 J5, and it’s part of the mirrorless camera surge that’s occurred over the last few years. It isn’t Nikon’s first mirrorless camera (the name J5 is a hint), but it is perhaps its most alluring.
The Nikon 1 J5 is a camera with a body that is not much bigger than a typical compact camera, and styling that incorporates a classic two-toned, silver and black look. The sensor is small, but packs in 20 megapixels worth of resolution, and the lens mount in front of it is 'Nikon 1'.
It houses simple controls that can allow you to use the camera either in automatic or manual modes; there is a built-in flash that can be angled upwards rather than hit your subject head-on, and there is a 3-inch LCD screen that resides on hinges so that you can take photos easily from up high or down low; yes, selfies are possible, too.
Unlike a digital SLR (DSLR), it doesn’t have a viewfinder to look through, nor is there a hot-shoe so that you can install one. Slightly bigger mirrorless cameras, such as the Canon EOS M3 that we reviewed prior to this Nikon, offer an electronic viewfinder as an option. This means that the Nikon 1 J5 is a modern compact camera through and through, offering a view only on an LCD screen through which to frame and capture your shots.
That’s not a bad thing. The screen on the Nikon 1 J5 is of a high quality in terms of brightness and clarity. You can use it in the full brightness of day and still see it clearly, unless the light is hitting the screen directly. You can shade the screen quite easily, though, especially because it resides on a hinge that allows for the angle to be tilted up and down.
We had no issues using this camera in the middle of a sunny Sydney day, and we could even undertake manual focusing operations, seeing the focus clearly even without the aid of a focus peaking feature, which this camera lacks -- it does enlarge the area so you can see it clearer. We could see the light meter clearly, too, and this is of utmost importance as the live view of the screen does not show exposure changes in real-time like some other mirrorless cameras that we’ve tested (including the Canon EOS M3).
Angling the screen up and down was a boon for our photography style, allowing us to get in close to subjects and to hold the camera in non-standard ways to expose shots in different types of light. As mentioned, we couldn’t see the changes of our exposure settings in real-time (you only get that in auto mode), but we could use the light meter as a guide and work with it to either over- or under-expose our shots to our liking.
It’s a camera that perhaps loses a bit of its fun factor because of the lack of real-time exposure viewing, and there is also an issue with the screen showing slightly under 100 per cent of the frame on the screen, which can lead to some unwanted details creeping in when you are aiming for perfect framing.
Nevertheless, it's still a fun camera to use, especially once you know that your images will be captured at a very high quality. We are quite taken by the clarity and richness with which the little Nikon captured our shots in JPEG mode, and for those of you who don’t want to edit pictures after they have been taken, that’s a great thing. You can simply use the photos straight out of the camera and they will usually look stunning.
Changing the exposure is a matter of rotating the dials located at the top and on the rear; the top dial for the electronic shutter, which can be sped up to maximum of 1/16000th of a second, and the rear for the aperture. Keep an eye on the light meter to see the effects of the changes, and note that it can sometimes jump around a bit if there are slight movements in the framing before it settles. To change the ISO, focus and metering settings, you can press the F button on the rear, which will bring up a screen that will allow you to access all these settings.
Since the LCD screen is also a touchscreen, you can also tap on the values you see on the screen in order to change them. We did this when we wanted to change the ISO value while holding the camera in a way that didn’t allow us to easily press the button on the rear (when using our thumb on the shutter button, for example). You can also tap on the screen to change focus points, or to even take the snap immediately if the button is set as a shutter.
We will note that while the layout of the camera is intuitive overall (and it’s menu system simple to navigate), the one aspect of the physical layout that threw us was the power switch. It looks and feels too much like it’s a zoom lever, and it took us a while to get used to it.
Because the camera is so small, a sacrifice has had to be made in the memory department. Instead of a full-sized SD card, you have to use a microSD card. It’s not much of a problem, but it does mean that you have to make sure you have an SD card adapter when you want to plug the card in to your laptop or desktop to get the photos off it. Alternatively, you can use the Wi-Fi function to transfer photos to your smartphone or tablet via Nikon’s app, but this will just chew through the battery.
We’ll also note that you can’t charge the camera via USB and that the charger is of a wall-wart style that might end up being a little too big to get along with neighbouring plugs, depending on how big any adjacent plugs are. We got 494 shots out of the camera (including some burst mode sequences) before it brought up a message saying we had to charge it.
We used the 10-30mm 1 Nikkor kit lens for our tests (its widest aperture is f/3.5), but we also played with the FT1 lens adapter, which is an optional accessory that allows you to use Nikon’s DX lenses with the Nikon 1. This can bring a great level of versatility to the little camera, and it’s especially useful if you are already a user in Nikon’s ecosystem.
Don’t go too overboard and install lenses that are way too big for the camera, for it will look comical and make you assume awkward positions. But it’s great for attaching a 50mm prime lens, or even zoom lenses up to about 135mm. You can make use of the tripod mount at the bottom of the adapter to keep things steady when using regular DX lenses.
Image quality from the 10-30mm lens was excellent to our eyes, and it’s a lens that allows for some great bokeh patterning and blurring of backgrounds, without being too harsh. Lines were crisp, and overall noise was minimal in our test shots. The results were vivid and colourful, and we think they really pop off the screen with good energy and warmth.
What we’re saying is, this is a good camera. It has a simplicity that should make it appeal to you if you are an inexperienced photographer who wants an interchangeable lens camera, and it should also be considered if you’re already in the Nikon DSLR ecosystem and are looking for a smaller camera to perhaps carry around on a daily basis.
More sample photos
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