Features & Controls

As with most Nikon 1 mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, Nikon gave the J5 a CX-format CMOS image sensor measuring 13.2 by 8.8 mm. The J5 does offer an upgrade in resolution count from the most recent entry-level Nikon 1 models, the J4 and S2. The J5 has 20.8-megapixels in its CX image sensor, while the J4 has 18.4MP and the S2 has 14.2MP. One way Nikon was able to increase the pixel count with the J5 is by making the image sensor backside illuminated with the sensor's circuitry behind the sensor, allowing the light to have a clearer path to the receptors.

The J5's image sensor has a 3:2 aspect ratio, and Nikon didn't give the mirrorless camera the ability to shoot still images at any other aspect ratios. You'll have to use image editing software in the post-processing phase if you want to create a 1:1 or 16:9 aspect photo. You also can crop your photos to a different aspect ratio using the J5's in-camera editing features.

As with previous Nikon 1 models, only three image sizes are available while shooting with the J5 -- Large (20.8MP), Medium (11.6MP), and Small (5.1MP). Again, you can use the in-camera editing tools to create a smaller size if desired, although it would have saved J5 photographers some time if they were able to just shoot at these smaller sizes initially. You can shoot in RAW, JPEG, or both image formats at the same time.

All Nikon 1 cameras use the same lens mount. The lens release button is visible in this photo to the lower right of the lens.

One new feature on the J5 versus previous Nikon J1 models is the Fn button to the lower left of the lens mount. You can use the on-screen menu to assign a camera setting to the Fn button, giving you quick access to it. You can choose from seven settings for the Fn button, and ISO sensitivity is the default setting.

Even though it may not look like this button is well placed, because of the small size of the Nikon 1 J5 and the way you must hold the camera, your right hand's ring finger or pinky end up near the Fn button naturally, making it easy to use.

The Nikon 1 J5 offers up to 171 points in its hybrid autofocus mechanism. Nikon also upgraded the image processor in the J5, making use of the EXPEED 5A, versus the EXPEED 4A with the J4 and S2. And Nikon gave the J5 a silent but extremely fast shutter that's capable of recording images at speeds up to 1/16,000th of a second.

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When the basic kit lens is attached and the camera is powered down, a pair of protective blades automatically fits over the lens glass, much like you might find in a compact point-n-shoot model.

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With the 10-30mm zoom lens attached, the camera measures about 2.3 inches in thickness. When you slide the power switch to turn on the camera, the protective blades slide open, and the lens extends slightly, causing the J5 to measure about 3 inches in thickness. Unlike some past Nikon 1 mirrorless models, this particular kit lens doesn't have a locking mechanism.

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The Nikon 1 J5 model I tested included a 1 NIKKOR VR 10-30mm f3.5-5.6 PD-ZOOM lens. (It's an approximate 27-81mm lens with the 2.7x crop factor included.) Other J5 kits include a 10-100mm zoom lens or a 30-110mm zoom lens (approximate 27-270mm and 81-300mm, respectively, including the crop factor).

With the kit lens on my test model the zoom ring is the silver ring with the crosshatch pattern toward the top in this photo. It's a manual zoom lens, meaning you must twist the ring to change the focal length.

While the small zoom lens did a nice job with close-up photography, I thought it was very awkward to use. It's tough to twist the ring smoothly while holding this small camera, such as when you're trying to zoom while shooting video.

As you twist the zoom ring, a small graph appears on the right side of the LCD, showing how close you are to the limits of the zoom lens' wide angle or telephoto settings. No focal length number appears on the screen or on the lens ring, which is frustrating. And there's no "stop" on the zoom ring as you reach the ends of the zoom range, either the wide angle or telephoto setting, which is another very frustrating aspect of using this kit lens and camera.

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When the J5 determines the flash is needed to record a particular photo, it will open it automatically when an automatic shooting mode is selected on the mode dial.

If you're using a manual shooting mode, you can open the flash by pressing the flash button on the left side of the camera. The flash will not open automatically in these advanced shooting modes, which can be confusing for some photographers after they've used the automatic shooting modes.

To close the flash unit, just press on the top of it until it clicks into the cavity in the top of the camera body.

The Nikon 1 J5 does not have a hot shoe to add an external flash unit.

During my tests, after shooting a couple dozen flash photos in a couple of minutes, I received an error message stating the flash was too hot. The camera locked up for several seconds while the error message stayed on the screen.

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Looking at the right side of the top panel of the J5 may remind you of a point-n-shoot camera, instead of an advanced interchangeable lens camera. The primary control buttons are very basic with this model.

The mode dial is on the far left of the set of buttons, allowing you to pick the shooting mode. The mode lined up with the black mark on the left of the mode dial is the current mode. The mode dial options are:

  • Programmed Auto (P)
  • Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
  • Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
  • Manual (M)
  • Best Moment Capture (rectangle icon with star)
  • Motion Snapshot (curved rectangle icon)
  • Advanced Movie (movie camera icon with star)
  • Creative (camera icon with C)
  • Sports (running man icon)
  • Auto (green camera icon)
The shutter button is in the middle. It's surrounded by a toggle power switch. I didn't have a problem turning off the J5 inadvertently by bumping the power switch, but this could be a problem for some users, as the power switch resembles a zoom switch you might find on a point-n-shoot camera, both in terms of location and design. You'll pull the switch toward you to turn on and turn off the camera. A green light to the left of the shutter button will light briefly when the camera is powered on.

On the far right is a command dial that surrounds the movie recording button (marked with a red dot). Press the movie record button to start and stop video recording. You can record movies from any shooting mode, but if you want close control over the video recording's settings, you'll need to be in Advanced Movie mode.

Use the command dial to move through popup menu options while shooting still images. In Shutter Priority mode or Manual mode, the command dial will change the shutter speed. Use it in Playback mode to magnify stored images or to see thumbnail grids of the stored images.

With the basic layout of the buttons on the top panel of the Nikon 1 J5, it may be difficult to believe that this layout is actually quite a bit more complex than what was available on the J4, which had only five options on the mode dial, no command dial, and a tiny power button. The S2 didn't even offer a mode dial.

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The right side of the back panel contains additional control buttons. Again, this button layout will remind you more of a basic point-n-shoot camera than an advanced camera. Nikon's designers did rearrange the buttons in this area versus the J4.

The upper area has a thumb pad, which does make it easier to hold and use this small camera. There's a green indicator light in the lower left corner of the thumbpad to indicate when the camera is storing a photo or recharging after firing the flash.

Just below the thumbpad are the Playback button on the left and the Menu button on the right.

The four-way button doubles as a command dial, which is a great feature that Nikon carried over from the J4. By spinning the four-way command dial, you can scroll through menu settings or stored images more quickly. You also can use the dial like a more traditional four-way button, pressing the edges to move through menus. In Manual and Aperture Priority shooting modes, spinning this four-way command dial also serves to change the aperture setting.

In the middle is the OK button, allowing you to make a menu selection. The four-way buttons each have a camera setting and popup menu associated with them. The settings are:

  • Top - Feature menu
  • Left - Self-timer and drive modes
  • Bottom - Flash modes
  • Right - Exposure compensation
Along the bottom of this area are the Wi-Fi and Delete buttons, both of which only work in Playback mode. The Wi-Fi button is new to the Nikon 1 J5 versus the J4, but it only works to send photos from the camera over a Wi-Fi network to a compatible mobile device that has the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility app installed.

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Nikon included a touch screen 3.0-inch LCD screen with 1.037 million pixels for the mirrorless J5. It's a very sharp screen, making it easy to see whether your stored images are well focused. The J5's screen has the same resolution as the J4, but it's more than double the resolution of the S2's screen.

The touch features work well too, as Nikon's designers did a good job of adding graphical elements and touch buttons for controlling various aspects of the camera. Some of the buttons and menu listings are a little small to make them easy to touch, but the J5's overall touch features are pretty good. It's great to see easy-to-use touch elements on an entry-level interchangeable lens camera like the J5, which is aimed at less experienced photographers.

The LCD seemed to collect fingerprints regularly, because it occupies most of the back panel of the camera, leaving little room for the fingers of your left hand. I thought the J5 was a little difficult to use in direct sunlight too, as the screen seemed to have quite a bit of glare. You can increase the brightness level to help with this problem.

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Another way to combat glare problems with the J5's LCD is by tilting the screen to give you a better angle versus the sun. The LCD swivels upward to 180 degrees, which allows for selfies. And it has a large hinge so it can be pulled a couple of inches away from the camera body. You cannot turn the LCD screen backward to protect the screen when the camera is not in use, but this articulated LCD is a nice improvement in the J5 versus the J4, which had no ability to tilt the screen.


Along the left side of the Nikon 1 J5 (as you're holding the camera), the flash button is at the top of the panel.

A flexible hinged covering protects the camera's HDMI (top) and USB (bottom) ports.

The battery and memory card compartment are on the bottom of the Nikon J5. The J5, J4, and S2 all make use of microSD sized memory cards, which is not common in digital cameras. I prefer SD sized memory cards in cameras, just because they're bigger -- and less likely to be inadvertently lost -- and because photographers are more likely to have SD sized memory cards on hand already that they can share between cameras..

Nikon included a separate battery charger with this camera, which makes it convenient to purchase a second battery and charge one while using the other one.

Nikon kept the battery pretty small with the J5, helping to keep the camera's weight low. Of course the trade-off is battery life. Nikon rates the J5's battery at 250 shots per charge, and my tests showed a number closer to 220 images per charge.

I also have to mention one odd situation with the Nikon 1 J5's battery. During one of my tests, after about 40 minutes of continuous use, I received an error message that the camera's internal temperature was too high and the camera would be shutting down. After letting the camera cool for about 15 minutes, I began using it again. And after another 15 minutes of continuous usage, I received the error message again, and the camera shut itself down.

Several minutes before receiving the first error message, I touched the camera near the battery compartment and remember thinking that it felt much hotter than I expected. To be fair, I was testing the J5 outdoors for about two-thirds of that 40 minutes on an extremely hot day with heat index temperatures above 100 degrees. Still, this was a very frustrating problem to run into with a camera in this price range. Overheating problems with digital cameras were more common several years ago, but I have not run into this type of error message on any camera in a long time.

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