Nikon 1 J5: A Budget-Friendly Mirrorless Camera [Review]
Mirrorless cameras are the next generation of digital camera technology. They take the interchangeable lens system of DSLR cameras and do away with the internal mirrors. Instead, the image sensor acts as autofocus system, image generator, and viewfinder all at once. Nikon is better known as a DSLR-brand in the photography world. However, the company’s Nikon 1 series of cameras is growing as interest in mirrorless technology grows. The Nikon 1 J5 is the newest entry-level model available, and has a very modest MSRP of $499.95 with kit lens. But entry-level does not mean boring or low-quality. The Nikon 1 J5 has some unique features sure to tempt just about any photographer. Let’s explore those features below!
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Table of Contents
- MSRP: $499.95 with Kit Lens
- Kit Lens: The 1 J5 comes with the 1 NIKKOR 10-30 mm f/3.5-5.6 PD Zoom lens. This camera has a CX-mount lens, standard to Nikon’s mirrorless camera line. “PD” is the “Power Drive” Autofocus motor. The “1” is for the Nikon 1 line of mirrorless cameras. This lens also has Vibration Reduction (Image Stabilization) built-in. The lens can use shutter speeds up to three stops slower than a lens with no IS. If a lens without VR needs a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second to avoid blurring, this lens can shoot the same scene up to 1/125th of a second.
- Sensor: 20.8 Megapixels (1″ sized at 13.2 x 8.8 mm)
- Number of Autofocus Points: 171. The Center 105 are Phase Detection points, which detect differences in the distance between AF points and the subject to find focus. The other 66 use Contrast Detection, which detects differences in image contrast to find focus.
- Flash: Yes, with 6.3 meter (20.7 foot) range at ISO 160. This is the lowest level of light sensitivity. Increasing the ISO increases the flash detection range.
- Continuous Shooting: Up to 20 fps using autofocus, 60 fps if you don’t change the focus.
- ISO Range (light sensitivity): 160-12,800
- Video Recording Capability: 4K 3840 x 2160 (15 fps), Full HD 1920 x 1080 (60, 30 fps), HD 1280 x 720 (60, 30 fps), and SD 640 x 424 (30, 25 fps).
- Slow-motion Video: HD 1280 x 720 (120 fps), 800 x 296 (400 fps), 400 x 144 (1200 fps). All formatted in MPEG-4/H.264/MOV.
- Image Format: JPEG and RAW photos. JPEG is the format used by most devices to display photos. RAW is the format used for photo editing and is a higher quality image.
- Wireless Connectivity: Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity using the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility App available for Android and iOS. It allows you to control the camera remotely and upload pictures to smart devices.
- Battery Life (CIPA rating): 250 images per charge
- Weight: 231 g (0.51 lb / 8.15 oz)
- Dimensions: 98 x 60 x 32 mm (3.86 x 2.36 x 1.26 in)
The 1 J5 combines modern and old-fashioned styling. The grip of the camera is larger than that of the J4, and with a faux leather coating, very attractive. Many of the mirrorless cameras of the past few years are designed to look like older film models. The 1 J5’s retro style is appealing and also comes with a tilting 1,037,000 dot LCD screen. This allows the shooter to view a selfie as it’s being taken. Or you can angle the LCD to make shooting over obstacles, like crowds, even easier. The LCD screen also allows the photographer to select points to focus in a scene with a touch. The touchscreen can also be used to take a picture instead of the shutter.
The 1 J5 is one of the smallest and lightest mirrorless cameras on the market. Mirrorless cameras are already compact and slim compared to the older DSLR-style camera body. At 3.86 x 2.36 x 1.26 in., it can easily fit into a pocket after you remove the attached lens. With a DSLR, the camera is always intruding into what you’re doing unless you stow it away somewhere. Compact point-and-shoot cameras are designed to be pocketable, but image quality takes a notable hit. The fixed lenses don’t have the specialized optics to make maximum use of light. And the sensors are very small, which also negatively affects image quality. We gain some of the advantages of a DSLR and the compact body of a point-and-shoot with the Nikon 1 J5.
Nikon 1 J5 uses a CX-format, or 1″ sized sensor; the actual dimensions are 13.2 x 8.8 mm. CX-format is larger than a point-and-shoot, but smaller than Micro 4/3rds (17.3 x 13 mm), the next largest, common camera sensor size. And it’s quite a bit smaller than APS-C (Nikon DX format sized at 23.6 x 15.6 mm) and full-frame sensors (Nikon FX format sized at 36 x 24 mm) as well. The sensor of a camera is the area where light is collected and analyzed to form an image. The larger the sensor, the more light you can collect, and the better the image quality.
The dynamic range, or the range of colors your sensor can accurately reproduce, is improved with larger sensors. The noise levels are also better with a larger sensor if you need to increase your light sensitivity, or ISO. Raising ISO slowly adds noise to an image, especially in the extremes of the sensor’s range. So the more light you have to work with, the less noise gets added in. With its 1″ sensor, the 1 J5 is an improvement over a point-and-shoot at moderate ISO levels and challenging lighting. But it will show a bit more noise than a larger sensor would at the same ISO setting.
There is also no anti-aliasing filter with this camera. An AA filter is designed to prevent certain image flaws called moiré patterns. Moiré patterns often appear in photos that have complex textures or patterns, like screens or fabric. However, an AA filter slightly lowers the resolution of all photos taken to avoid this. For awhile, AA filters were all the rage. But nowadays, consumers prefer maximum resolution to losing resolution on all images just to reduce the chance of moiré patterns. You’re getting the full value of your 20.8 megapixels of resolution with the 1 J5. 20.8 is low compared to some other models available at this price range. But anything above 16 megapixels is overkill unless you make large prints or posters. Or you need to do a lot of cropping after taking a photograph.
The Nikon 1 J5 has a hybrid autofocus system; which are becoming increasingly common in today’s mirrorless cameras. Most cameras use either contrast or phase detection technology. Contrast detection is used in smartphones, compact cameras, and most mirrorless cameras. It looks at a scene and judges what focus level will produce the greatest image contrast. Contrast detection is very precise, but it’s somewhat slower than phase detection. If you’ve used your smartphone focus, you may notice it will sometimes pan in and out repeatedly. That’s the main downside, as when the subject moves, the process may start all over.
Phase detection is found in most DSLR cameras. It uses paired autofocus points to gauge the distance from the subject to the image sensor. It is not as accurate but it’s usually faster than contrast detection. The hybrid systems found in newer smartphones, mirrorless, and DSLR cameras, combine the best of both technologies. The 1 J5 has 171 total AF points. Of these, the 105 in the center are phase detection points, to quickly find focus on the subject. The outer 66 are contrast detection, for fine tuning after the phase detection points have approximated focus.
The 1 J5 is an improvement over relying on a single system type. But some other mirrorless models, such as Sony’s Alpha line, have hybrid AF points across the entire sensor. Each point is a phase detection point, and also works in a group as a set of contrast detection points. The 1 J5 with it’s collection of phase and contrast points, is an intermediate step towards a more seamless hybrid AF system. Having different types across the sensor will affect the reliability of the AF if the subject does not take up the entire scene or moves across it. The AF system might not track properly or smoothly across types in some scenes.
What additional features does the Nikon 1 J5 offer?
The Nikon 1 J5 is a high-speed photography and video beast. It has a maximum shutter speed of 1/16,000ths of a second. It can shoot up to 60 frames per second, so long as you aren’t using continuous autofocus. This means that you have to keep the camera’s focus fixed to a certain area. But even moving and using autofocus, the 1 J5 can shoot up to 20 frames per second. Most of its competitors like, the Sony a5100, are in the 6-8 fps range. And when you use high frame rates in video recording, the result is slow-motion.
At HD quality, you can take 120 fps video. And as you reduce video quality, capture speed goes up to a massive 1200 fps at 400 x 144 quality. This is great for capturing videos of rapid movements, breaking objects, and other quick events. Lastly, the electronic shutter is silent, so there’s no click to disturb the atmosphere of certain situations.
The 1 J5 also has full connectivity to Wi-Fi/NFC enabled smart devices. The smartphone or tablet must have Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Utility app installed first. Through the app, you can view a scene and take pictures with the smart device. And you can send the pictures to your device instead of having to use the memory card and computer.
How does the Nikon 1 J5 compare to the Sony a5100?
With an MSRP of $449.99 body-only, and $549.99 with 16-50 mm kit lens, the Sony a5100 is a comparably priced and featured mirrorless camera. The a5100 at $549.99 with kit lens, is $50 more than the Nikon 1 J5. Both offer touch screen control and fast hybrid autofocus systems. But where do each of these cameras stand out?
Advantages of the Nikon 1 J5
Price: The Nikon 1 J5 is $50 cheaper than the Sony a5100 with an included lens.
High-speed photography and video: The 1 J5 can shoot up to 60 fps of high-speed photography and 1200 fps of slow-motion video. The Sony a5100 can shoot up to 6 fps high-speed photography and does not offer slow-motion video.
4K Video: The 1 J5 can shoot the highest video quality consumer level cameras have to offer. 4K video is four times the resolution of the a5100’s full HD video. Do keep in mind that 15 fps recording speed has certain limitations. 24 to 30 fps really would be better.
Disadvantages of the Nikon 1 J5
Image Resolution: 24.3 Megapixels versus 20.8. The a5100 has 20% more image detail.
Sensor size: APS-C (23.5 x 15.6 mm) vs 1″ CX (13.2 x 8.8 mm). The larger sensor of the a5100 takes in more light for better dynamic range and noise control.
Hybrid Autofocus design: The Sony a5100 has a faster and more accurate AF system thanks to every point acting as both contrast and phase detection. The 1 J5 with its different types spread around, has the advantages and disadvantages of both systems. Subjects that move from one section to another may not remain accurately in focus.
Battery Life: 400 images per charge versus 250 images per charge. The Sony a5100 has much more stamina than the Nikon 1 J5.
What could be improved with the Nikon 1 J5?
We’ve already covered the small sensor size in depth, but it’s a hefty strike against the 1 J5. The lack of an electronic viewfinder on this camera is unfortunate as well. Mirrorless cameras use the image sensor to create a display for the photographer to look at. Most mirrorless cameras have a viewfinder like an SLR-style camera. The photographer places their eye to an eyepiece to compose the scene. Like some compact cameras, the 1 J5 requires you to look at the LCD screen on the back panel. Some photographers may prefer this style, but others will see it as a limitation. Most photographers prefer shooting through a viewfinder, as the vast majority of model designs show. There’s also no hot shoe on the 1 J5 to purchase and attach an electronic viewfinder to the body.
The 4K video is somewhat limited. 15 fps is going to be irregular looking depending on the subject. If the scene does not have a lot of rapid motion, and video quality is your first consideration, the 4K video can be useful. But rapid motion is going to look either blurred or the subject will simply jump around on screen. The 1 J5 with its high-speed video and action photography options really needed a decent 4K frame rate. This is rather disappointing, but if you choose your subjects properly, it can still be usable.
Nikon’s mirrorless camera body and lens selection is very small compared to other brands like Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic. Currently, just three bodies are in production in the Nikon 1 line. And only thirteen mirrorless lenses are available. Nikon has been very hesitant to step up to the plate in the mirrorless game. Its top-tier status as a DSLR manufacturer keeps the bulk of research and development in that arena. But any shopper looking at the Nikon line in depth, might find the lack of options disappointing. The FT-1 mount adapter would have been a great discounted or free accessory with the 1 J5. This adapter allows any Nikon F-mount lens to attach to the 1 J5. And there is a very wide selection of F-mount lenses on the market.
The Nikon 1 J5 is an excellent camera for the price. It has all of the features of an entry-level DSLR, in half the size and weight. Also, the hybrid autofocus system brings both accuracy and speed over single AF-type cameras. It stands out from the Sony a5100 in terms of its high-speed photography and video options. But in terms of photo quality, the Sony a5100 brings more resolution and a larger sensor to the game. For the budget-minded photographer, the Nikon 1 J5 is an excellent choice. Also consider the FT-1 mount adapter, as having Nikon’s F-mount lens selection will greatly increase your shooting options.
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