As a pro, finding a camera that truly speaks to you is important. That’s why every couple of years when a new Professional level camera is released it’s a big thing for everyone, not just one pro or another. Usually a flagship camera is like a flagship car in that it’s got ALL the bells and whistles. It’s the fastest, most air conditioned, and sometimes even the most efficient car on the road. If you look at today’s golden age of camera technology is an upgrade still worth it? Until this point I owned a Nikon D4s, Nikon D4, and Nikon D800 camera bodies and to be blatantly honest I felt unstoppable with each of them. You can even read about my initial reviews of the Nikon D4 and Nikon D4s at the links in this sentence. With my D4s and a 24F1.4 lens I could walk around in the dark and make pictures that could be printed to a relatively large size at a high ISO. What more do I need? The NEW Nikon D5 comes with a laundry list of little upgrades. 25% more megapixels than the D4s, slightly faster frame rate, supposedly better High ISO. I’ve had mine for a few weeks now thanks to my NPS Priority order and the folks over at Roberts Camera, so I feel like it’s time I weigh in to go along with a lot of others who have already done so.
(NEW Nikon D5, 800ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR with TC20e3 Teleconverter for 800mm. 1/2000th@F5.6)
When buying a top of the line item like this you would tend to think it’s going to be better than the previous model, and on that bombshell: It is. . Did I NEED to buy one though is the $6500 (plus tax) question because as I described a moment ago, I felt pretty unstoppable with my D4s. Just like any other Nikon Pro body that I have ever bought (and I’ve owned a lot), I’ve found very little wrong in the terms of ergonomics, battery life, auto focus or ect with the current body of any given generation. It’s not until I get to the newest body that I realize what I don’t have and in this case the D5 takes this to the next level. It’s so good, it’s scary.
(NEW Nikon D5, 100ISO, Nikon 24-70F2.8@50mm. Phottix Mitros+ set on a counter about 10′ to camera right with a Green Theatrical gel on it. Kevin positioned himself about 4′ in front of the flash, and about 5′ in front/right of the background. The Mitros+ was set to 1/4 power. The Main light was provided by a Phottix Indra500 set to 1/16 shot through a 16×24″ softbox to camera right.)
Now is where I mention that nobody asked me to write this review, and no I’m not being given anything to do it. In fact in this case neither Roberts Camera or Nikon even asked me to do this one, but I shoot Nikon as a full time pro along with some of the other reviews out there so I thought I’d add my two cents while it’s important. My testing hasn’t been scientific by any means, but is really just my impressions of this new camera as a full time pro (read: someone who makes their full living with a camera and depends on the gear to deliver in order to pay the bills). As to whether the D5 really is the real deal or not is totally up to you, but let me explain why I don’t regret my purchase one bit. Before buying it I had spoken with Nikon Ambassador Andrew Hancock about his impressions on the camera, and he and I were both in the same mentality. We were both going to buy one. Eventually though, you are going to start to wonder what your $6500 every two years buys.
(NEW Nikon D5, 14,400ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR with TC14 making 550mm. 1/2000th@F4)
It buys superpowers. The difference between the D4 and D4s in terms of High ISO was negligible. In fact, it was really only noticeable between ISO 12k and 25k, and it wasn’t less grain between the two as much as it was better dynamic range and color between the two making the D4s one stop better. If you’re wondering how closely I know the cameras, My D4 had 119k frames on it when I sold it, the D4s has 90k frames on her now and I’d venture to guess that 98% of all those frames were for paid work. That’s not as many as someone who shoots basketball every three days, but I get around either way. The D5 is a whole new level of noise handling. There is still noise at 12k ISO but it’s very manageable and with a small amount of noise reduction almost nonexistent even with the 4 added megapixels that the D5 provides. Much like I said in the D4 review years ago, if you sample the D5s files down by 20% to 16 megapixels, it definitely is at least one stop better than the D4s. In the past I’ve generally been comfortable taking my cameras up to about 1 stop below their native Highest ISO without thinking. This holds true with the Nikon D5 in that I feel like 51k ISO is probably about as high as I’ll take it without hesitation. Anything higher than that though will be a very intentional setting change as 100,000 ISO is still relatively grainy in my opinion. It’s very usable assuming you aren’t cropping in at all, which is a miracle in and of itself; but either way I don’t personally feel it’s for everyday use. Like the D4s the Nikon D5 excels in adding dynamic range into no mans land vs removing every spec of noise at in the higher iso range. While this can be good because your Higher ISO’s have better color, they are still as noisy as ever in the WTF range of H1-H5. Reference this photo at 100k ISO with my buddy Tom out of my Nikon D4s. Below is a similar setup with the Nikon D5 at 100k ISO at a basketball game. Definitely better.
(Nikon D5, 102,400ISO, Nikon 200-400F4@F4, 1/5000th@F4)
(Click to biggify for the full effect)
In the past I’ve said that I felt like you could push the D4 and D4s into no mans land by at least a stop, with the D5 I think you need to stop at 102k ISO. 204K ISO adds a significant amount of noise to the image. using today’s ultra advanced noise reduction youc an still make the shot sorts kinda almost maybe usable if you aren’t cropping, and the person you are sending it to is looking at it on their phone without wearing their glasses. While no mans land is better than the Nikon D4s, it’s still not good and I’ll likely never venture there.
(Pretty significant crop, NEW Nikon D5, 51,200ISO, Nikon 400mm F2.8VR2 with TC20E3 making 800mm. 1/2000th@F5.6)
The Autofocus in the dark is much better than you would expect. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the camera grabs onto the subject and it HOLDS much better than my D4s. This is not to say that the D4 or D4s ever had problems with that, but lets face it autofocus errors happen. The D5 may not acquire focus physically faster (IE the time it takes the lens from fully out of focus to in focus) because that’s more of a lens thing now with the motors inside the lenses, but when it grabs it seems to really grab and not let go; like a dog and it’s favorite toy. Also the D5 is rated to be -4EV now instead of the D4s’s -2EV and you can tell. Things that the D4s would have had a slight difficulty with aren’t any trouble for my D5. The new AF points cover more area says Nikon, but they look marginally more area covering than before if you ask me. It’s still mostly in the middle and I get that since A, the sharpest part of your lens is the middle, and B, DX image area is in the middle also. I never had all 51 AF points turned on in my viewfinder, and Nikon has made the welcome change of adding a few more to the D5. Instead of three columns of three with one in the middle on each end, there are now 5 columns of three when you use the limited AF points option. Thank you for this, is definitely better viewfinder coverage.
(NEW Nikon D5, 12,600ISO, Nikon 200-400F4VR@360mm, 1/800th@F4)
Playback is simplified by with added touch controls that for the most part are just icing on the cake. The real place the touch interface shines is during data entry where you can actually touch the keyboard to add words instead of using the Directional pad to slowly select letters. yes it is neat to pinch and pull your images to check sharpness, but it’s still muscle memory for me to hit play and hit the center of the D Pad to show me 100%. I don’t think that’ll change for me any time soon. The new rating system though is the absolute bees knees because it is native for Photo mechanic AND lightroom. That means tag things with 1-5 stars and you can easily sort your lightroom or Photomechanic to find them instantly. Bout time. I won’t miss using the Print Lock button, or the auto record button to save shots on location. Not. One. Bit.
(NEW Nikon D5, 10,000ISO, Nikon 200-400F4@290mm. 1/125th@F4)
Ergonomics wise the camera is almost identical to the D4s and D4 before it. Nikon move the ISO button up top by the shutter which is an understandable move, but it’s annoying none the less if you are bouncing between different generation bodies (like I and many others are). A welcome addition is the ability to change the cameras shooting speed using the buttons on the back. Great for if your camera is in a hard to reach location as a remote since you can do it wirelessly, or as mentioned with just pushing buttons instead of needing to get your hand on the top command dial. The XQD card slots have changed a bit and now have buttons to eject the cards like the CF card slots in cameras past. I personally liked the spring loaded card slot that the XQD card had in the D4 and D4s, but it’s honestly trivial. I can tell you one thing though the new XQD 2.0 cards are stupid fast. What you are reading is that I think they are stupid fast, but what I’m trying to say is that they are STUPID FAST. In fact, they are so fast that if you were to run your buffer out at 14fps you would shoot over 100 frames, and the buffer only takes 4 seconds to clear. THAT kind of stupid fast. Very rarely would I ever shoot that kind of blast with my camera, I just don’t shoot that way. It’s more of a, “not that you would, but you could” kind of feature and it’s driven by the XQD Cards without a doubt.
The D5 also has a host of other added features, like 4K video but I’m not getting into that. That’s a ball of yarn for another cat to open up. One thing I will address is a host of links that are floating around the internet with folks not happy about the LOW ISO performance of their D5. Someone also did a graph someplace and ran some tests saying that the Nikon D5’s low ISO dynamic range isn’t as good as the Nikon D750s, or the Nikon D810 if you push the exposure by 3-5 stops. People are going nuts and getting really butt hurt over it. I’ve had more than one person ask me if I had noticed what they are talking about and my answer is NO. I haven’t. But then again I’m also not in the habit of shooting something 3-5 stops underexposed and believing I can magically save it because I shoot RAW. I’m a firm believer that if something is 3-5 stops below correct exposure, I can’t deliver it to a client and it needs to be re-shot. If you are regularly shooting stuff that is 3-5 stops underexposed and fixing them later, you need to adjust your shooting style not your camera. Just like the Nikon D3, the D5 is revved up to work at the highest ISO possible with the best quality. That’s why the D3’s base ISO was only 200 which I remember people going crazy over also.
(NEW Nikon D5, 50ISO, Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art, 1/1600th@F2. Phottix Mitros+ Speedlight on the ground to the cars left set to TTL, triggered from a Phottix ODIN 2 on the camera hot shoe.Photo Cross Processed with the newly free Google NIK plugins)
So there you have it, my assessment of Nikon’s newest Flagship camera. Is it worth the $6500 it costs to play? I absolutely think so and I’m more than thrilled I jumped as early as I did. In fact I’m already trying to figure out where a second one fits into my budget but I have a feeling it’ll be the D5s before I finally convince myself it’s a need. The camera is definitely a force to be reckoned with, much more than originally was expected by many. I can tell you for 100% that I am thrilled with it and as the other flagship cameras have been in the past, the NEW Nikon D5 will likely be the first camera out of my bag in almost all occasions. If you are still looking for one, may I suggest you get yours at Roberts Camera where I buy 95% of all my gear. Hopefully this helps you make an informed decision as to whether the D5 is a worthy upgrade for you. For me it’s no question. More Soon.