Background and introduction
Nikon's compact system camera (CSC) line-up seemed to start well when the Nikon 1 J1 and Nikon 1 V1 were first announced back in September 2011. But after an initial flurry of impressive sales reports, the market seemed to lose interest. However, the changes brought by the latest introduction, the Nikon 1 J5, could see renewed interest from Nikon SLR lovers looking for a smaller alternative.
Inside the Nikon J5 is a new 1-inch (CX) format sensor with a pixel count of 20.8 million. That's the highest pixel count of any Nikon 1 camera. What's more, the new sensor is backside illuminated, which means that the circuitry is out of the way of the light receptors, allowing them to be larger than they would otherwise be. This should be good news for low light performance.
There's also a new processing engine, Expeed 5A (the existing Nikon 1 J4 and V3 use the Expeed 4A engine) and this makes the new camera faster as well as an enabling more movie options. The J5's sensitivity range also steps up to ISO 160-12,800, where the selectable options on the J4 top out at ISO 6400.
In addition, the new processing engine enables a maximum continuous shooting rate of 60fps (frames per second) when the focus is fixed at the start the sequence. That should be fast enough to record split-second moments such as a water splash or a dog shaking itself dry. In continuous autofocus mode the maximum rate drops to a still impressive 20fps, a figure that SLR users can only dream about.
On the back of the camera the 3-inch 1,037,000-dot screen is touch-sensitive and can be flipped through 180 degrees for shooting selfies. By contrast, the J4 has a fixed screen. As soon as the screen is flipped right up, the J5 switches to selfie mode and face detection is activated to make life easier.
Like the other cameras in the Nikon 1 line-up, the J5 has a hybrid AF system with 171 AF points, 105 of which are phase detection points, distributed across the imaging sensor.
While the J5 is the first Nikon camera that's capable of shooting 4K video, it is limited to shooting at 15fps at this resolution – so it is unlikely to prove a hugely popular option. However, Full HD video recording is also possible at a range of frame rates up to 60fps. There's also a 120fps option for 4x slow motion playback.
In addition, up to 20 full-resolution still images can be captured while shooting Full HD footage with no interruption in movie recording.
Time lapse movies can also be created in camera with up to 300 images and a range of time frames and intervals being available.
As you might expect, Wi-Fi connectivity is included in the J5, but there's also NFC (near field communication) to aid connecting with an NFC smart device such as an Android 'phone. Once it's connected by Wi-Fi it's possible to control the J5 remotely using Nikon's free app.
Build and handling
Nikon has opted for an attractive two-tone design for the J5 and it looks much smarter and more retro than the J4 it replaces. It looks much more like a Nikon camera than previous J-series Nikon 1 models.
The J5's body is plastic, but it looks like metal and the feels nicely put together. The faux leather covering is also quite stylish and it give the grips a little extra purchase.
Like the J4 and V3, there's a mode dial on the top-plate of the J5. Unlike on the J4, however, this gives a direct route to the enthusiasts' favourite exposure modes: shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, as well as the collection of scene modes and a fully automatic option.
As on the J4, the J5 has a smattering of direct control buttons, but there are dual dials that make it easy to adjust key settings. The Function (Fn) button can also be customised to give a route to one of seven features including exposure compensation, metering mode, WB, ISO, Picture Control, AF area mode and focus mode.
So far I've only handled a pre-production sample of the J5, which I wasn't allowed to photograph or use properly so I can't comment fully on the quality of the images that it produces. However, we were impressed with the results from the J4 bearing in mind that it has a 1-inch type sensor. The J5 has more pixels on its sensor, which could mean that it's able to capture a little more detail, but it could also result in more noise. However, the fact that the J5's sensor is backside illuminated should help with noise control – we'll know for sure when we get a full production sample in for testing. We've seen a very similar sensor in Sony cameras (Sony supplies Nikon with sensors) and have been impressed with the results.
What I can say about the J5 is that the AF system seems nice and snappy, even in quite dull light. The face detection system also manages to identify faces and focus on them quickly when the screen is popped into 'selfie mode'.
The J5 looks and feels a little bit more serious than previous Nikon J-series cameras and this should add to its appeal to photographers looking for a smaller alternative to an SLR. The improvement to the mode dial and the additional control dial are especially noteworthy as they make the camera quicker to use.
Sony has had a lot of success with its RX100-series of compact cameras (RX100, RX100 II and RX100 III) which have a 1-inch type sensor. Part of their appeal is that this sensor is larger than the devices in many other small compact cameras. The Nikon 1 J5 uses the same size sensor and, while the body is a little larger, it is still small and has the benefit of being able to accept interchangeable lenses. This could make it a more attractive option than a compact camera.
Those without any allegiance to Nikon should look at the Panasonic GM1 and GM5, which are also very small compact system cameras but that have a slightly larger (Four Thirds type) sensor. The GM5 also has a viewfinder built-in.