We appreciate products that dare to be different but it’s no guarantee of a positive review. The Nikon 1 J5’s predecessors have been a case in point, with plenty to distinguish them in the crowded compact system camera (CSC) market but fewer reasons to recommend them.
The J5 is a more conventional camera than previous models. There’s a contoured handgrip that makes it much easier to hold. Technically this increases the camera’s overall dimensions but it’s irrelevant once you attach a lens. The screen tilts down by 90 degrees and up by 180 for the obligatory selfie mode. Again, this may add a millimetre or two to the camera’s thickness but it’s well worth it for the ergonomic convenience it brings.
Nikon evidently still cares about keeping the size and weight of the camera down, as demonstrated by the use of a smaller battery than before, which lasts for just 250 shots. It has also stuck with a microSDXC slot. Admittedly a fast 32GB card only costs around £10 but it’s a bit annoying for anyone who already owns a stack of SD cards.
There are more physical controls than on the Nikon J4, including a command dial for quick adjustment of settings, a customisable Function button and a button to launch the Wi-Fi features. Meanwhile, a button marked “F” brings up various key settings on the touchscreen.
The mode dial includes program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes for the first time in a J-series model. These modes were available in previous models but only via a menu option, with the mode dial playing host to various rather unorthodox shooting modes. These cameras were clearly being targeted at casual users who aren’t interested in conventional manual controls. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that except that we believe a camera should be able to satisfy both types of user – and convert casual photographers into enthusiasts.
The J5 proves the point. Those unorthodox modes are still available alongside the more conventional ones on the mode dial. They make more sense in this context, presented as interesting diversions rather than integral aspects of the camera’s operation. We still haven’t warmed to Motion Snapshot mode, which captures a short slow-motion video and a photo and plays them back with some sickly sweet music. Best Moment Capture is more useful, capturing 20 frames in one second including 10 from before the shutter button was fully pressed. It then selects what it thinks is the best one to keep, but you can select any or all of the 20.
The sensor can capture 20-megapixel photos at speeds up to 60fps, but there’s not a huge benefit to having 20 virtually identical photos. Outside of the scene presets, continuous mode took about 50 seconds to save all 20 frames in JPEG format, or 90 seconds in RAW format. The 20fps, 10fps and 5fps modes are more useful because focus can be updated between each frame. This wasn’t hugely reliable but there were enough sharp frames to make the mode worthwhile.
Considering its impressive continuous mode and autofocus performance, the J5 is disappointingly slow in normal use. It took 2.1 seconds on average between shots, although this fell to 0.5 seconds after we disabled Image Review in the menu. On other cameras, pressing the shutter button again immediately after capture interrupts image review so the camera can get on with taking another photo. Half a second between shots is what we’d expect regardless of the Image Review setting.
Advanced Movie mode unlocks priority and manual exposure control, slow-motion, fast-motion and time-lapse options and a 4K mode. The latter is limited to 15fps, which makes it little more than a novelty in our view. There’s no option to save 4K video frames as 8-megapixel JPEGs, as various recent Panasonic cameras allow.
The 1080p video mode is decent enough, with a choice of 30 or 60fps frame rates and a reasonably sharp, clean picture. Autofocus was responsive but it’s not possible to control the autofocus point unless electronic stabilisation is disabled in the menu.