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Retro details give Nikon’s 1 J5 a grown-up look to match its grown-up specs

The Nikon 1 J-series mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (ILC) has had a similar basic design for the past four iterations, but it has now adopted a completely new and more refined. The new J5 has re-emerged as a camera from yesteryear, using retro cues much like cameras from Fujifilm and Olympus. Nikon has also added more controls, while keeping the form-factor compact.

With a leatherette-and-metal look to its body, the J5 is a departure from the point-and-shoot (and dare we say, toy-like) nature of previous J-series models. But the J5 isn’t just about looks: Nikon upgraded the sensor to a new 20.8-megapixel, backside-illuminated (BSI) version, which is adept at handling low light, and this is a first for a Nikon 1 camera.

The image processor is the higher-speed Expeed 5A. It also has a 180-degree flip-up touchscreen LCD (resolution rated at 1,040,000 dots) for shooting self-portraits (its predecessors have had a fixed display). Near-field communication (NFC) has been added for quick pairing with select smartphones.

Nikon 1 J5

Like the J4, the J5 has a 20 frame-per-second (fps) continuous shooting speed with full autofocus (60 fps for a fixed autofocus point), and the ISO range runs from 160 to 12,800. The hybrid autofocus system spec remains the same at 171 contract-detect and 105 phase-detect AF points, although Nikon says the Expeed 5A processor is speeding things up.

The J5 has a redesigned mode dial that provides direct access to PASM manual and semi-automatic shooting modes, and this is something more advanced users will appreciate. A new command dial also makes it easy to navigate and change settings, while a programmable function button gives you access to often-used parameters. If you prefer to use the touchscreen LCD, you still can.

Related: Nikon D5500 review

Nikon also added new creative and scene modes, including Self-Portrait Mode, designed to improve skin tones and exposure (and ideal for when the display is flipped up for selfies), and Sports Mode for action scenes. There are also seven new effects (Nostalgia Sepia, Pop, Retro, High-Contrast Monochrome, Fisheye, Skin Softening, and Cross Screen), and some of these effects can even be applied to videos. So if self-portraits are important to you in this wonderfully narcissistic era, that glamour-retouching feature will be for you.

Speaking of videos, the J5 shoots up to Full HD 1080 at 60p, with a 120 fps slow-mo option at 720p. Audio is recorded through the stereo mics, but there’s no mic-in option. The camera can also capture 4K video, but only at 15p. Nikon isn’t marketing 4K as a major feature, but it’s there should you want to play with it. A new Time-Lapse Movie mode lets you shoot up to 300 sequential photos, which is combined into a 10-second video. There’s also a new interval timer for shooting up to 999 images, with recorded intervals from 5 seconds up to almost 100 minutes; the camera, however, can’t process the time-lapse video internally, and will require external software like Nikon’s View NX-i. When the camera is hand-held, users can employ optical and electronic Vibration Reduction to minimize shaking, but this crops into the movie frame slightly.

As for connectivity, there’s nothing mind-blowing. Wi-Fi is built in, so you can share photos with an iOS or Android smart device, or operate the camera remotely. From our experience, we find Nikon’s use of Wi-Fi effective. Whether NFC is useful is really up to you: few Android devices support it (NFC in new Apple iPhones are used solely for Apple Pay), and we don’t find it to be a must-have feature.

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The J5 doesn’t have a sale date yet, but it will start at $500 with a 1 Nikkor 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD-Zoom lens; this keeps the camera compact, but has a short focal length, so don’t expect to shoot far. For $750, you can get a second lens, the 1 Nikkor VR 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, or a 1 Nikkor 10-100mm f/4-5.6 lens for $1,050. The camera will come in black and silver, silver and white, and all-black. The 10-30mm will come in matching colors, while the other two lenses will come in silver and black or silver and white.

Nikon 1 J5

While we can’t judge the J5 based on specs, we can draw some comparisons based on the J4. We found the J4 to be compact and lightweight, and expect the J5 to be the same. The J4 also takes good-quality stills and videos, with excellent response, and we think the J5 should improve on that. We didn’t like the J4’s user interface, and found photos to be noisy above ISO 800. The new image processor and BSI sensor could improve image quality in low-light situations, but we think the addition of a usable mode dial and command dial should help improve the user experience. However, it’s only a 1-inch sensor, which is smaller than mirrorless models that use APS-C variants. The starting price is lower when compared to the J4’s launch, though, which is of course a good thing.

Related: Nikon’s new D7200 enthusiast DSLR has big upgrades

The J-series is a nice option for those who want to move up to an ILC, but at times we find it to have too much of a point-and-shoot quality, not allowing users to grow. The new design and improved specs could help change that perception.