Nikon D5 First Impressions

The Nikon D5-First Impressions

From Lifestyle & Sports Photographer Brandon Flint

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The Nikon D5 is the latest professional addition to Nikon's DSLR line. With 4K video, 12 FPS continuous shooting, XQD memory card option, and a redesigned 153-point autofocus system, there’s no doubt that the D5 is Nikon’s new flagship model. There is always a lot of anticipation, scrutiny, and hype that accompanies these releases. I preordered my D5 several months ago. After testing its limits, I’m offering my first impressions to guide others in their decision to invest in this model.

My name is Brandon Flint. I’m a commercial sports and lifestyle photographer who has been shooting Nikon digital cameras since I began my career with a D200, and shot film prior to that. It has been pretty amazing to be a part of the digital revolution. I’ve owned Nikon’s D3, D4, and currently have a D810 to supplement my new D5.

The first thing you must keep in mind about the camera market is that there is no "perfect camera." There is not one camera to date that will out-perform the rest for every situation or job you may get. It doesn’t exist, so get over it. I had to. The perfect camera, in my opinion, would display the beauty, dynamic range and detail of a Phase One, with the speed and reliability of Nikon, and the video capabilities of a Sony. While that doesn’t exist, you will have to decide what is most important to achieve your personal photographic needs. Second, everyone knows the camera doesn’t make people better photographers but there are certain situations that having the right gear is necessary to capture the shot. Now that we have that said lets jump into things.

I bought this camera for a few main reasons, a new and dedicated auto focus system and the increased frame rate and higher (albeit not much) resolution. Secondary to those was the low light capabilities, new processor and the new button arrangement etc. I love my D810 and shoot with it most of the time on my advertising jobs, but there are times when it just can’t do what I need it to do. Namely it’s to slow. I always needed the D4 and now the D5 to pick up where the D810 leaves off. High frame rates, really low light situations, and super fast auto focus. When Nikon introduced the D800 a few years back I realized that having the pro body along with the higher resolution and better dynamic range D800 series was going to cover nearly all my needs as a photographer.

I received my D5 the day before I was leaving on family vacation on a road trip to California with my wife and our two daughters. My testing consisted of what I could find while on vacation. I’ll break things down by features that were important to me.DSC_0655 copy

Ergonomics

When I first picked the camera up I thought it’s the best feeling camera I’ve ever held. Yes, it’s big; and yes, it’s heavy – but I like that. Having a small body is amazing when you are backpacking around or on vacation somewhere, but when you have to shoot a catalog or a three-day ad campaign, this is what you want to be holding all day. The camera is remarkably comfortable and natural to hold. The new ISO button near the shutter release is great, and all the other buttons are well placed and easy to use. One of my favorite features of this camera is the quick release drive mode and button on the back of the camera which allows you to quickly change the drive mode and frame rate. Little things like that make using the camera even better.

Auto focus and Frame Rate

The auto focus on this camera is really amazing and fast. I had the D4 prior to this and the new auto focus system does seem faster and more responsive. It also seems to focus better in low light situations than previous versions. All in all, the entire auto focus system is solid. The extra 1 or 2 shots per second (depending on what body you are coming from) are always a welcome improvement. Nikon also gave us a bit more coverage for selectable auto focus points, but it is not much different from previous models. I tested out the auto focus and frame rate on some surfing shot shots in California and the extra few frames along with the new auto focus system made capturing the perfect shot simple.DSC_1704 1 copyDSC_1544 copy

DSC_1656 copy A test series of the 12 FPS continuous high speed frame rate

Low light capabilities

If you have a D4 or D4s, you have been pretty spoiled when it comes to shooting in low light. You get even more capabilities with the D5. Every photographer knows that the highest "usable" ISO range on any camera is questionable at best. It’s the same with the D5; if you are planning on shooting at the Hi-5 3 million ISO for your next shoot, you will be very disappointed. I imagine that goes without saying. Yes it can capture an image, but it is by no means usable. On the other hand ISO 25,600 and even up to 51,200 for certain situations would be totally usable – it is pretty remarkable! I can see myself shooting at 6400 ISO like I used to shoot 1600 on my D4. It also seems like the focusing is better in lower light and backlit situations. I’ll need to test that more, however.

DSC_2019 copy Joshua Tree captured by Brandon Flint at ISO 12,800.

DSC_1229 copy Night on a pier shot at ISO 25,600.

Conclusion

Finally, I'd like to touch on the video capabilities of the Nikon D5. Though Nikon has been marketing the camera as a 4K video camera, that is the one thing I found most disappointing about it. In order to shoot in 4K, the camera adds a 1.5x crop factor to the sensor. As far as I know, other competing pro DSLR bodies crop the sensor use to offer 4K recording as well. I don’t claim to be an expert on video tech, but if you hope to film wide angle and only own full frame lenses, that’s a problem. I have also found that the auto focus for video isn’t ideal. From what I’ve viewed and read, people like the quality of the 4K footage, but that means if you really wanted to shoot 4K video with this camera you would have to go by a few wide angle DX lenses and expect to focus manually.  There is also a 3 minute record limit for 4K, but that has been rumored to change with a firmware update which will extend the limit to 30 minutes.

All in all, this is a really solid stills camera, which is what it was designed for. It meets the needs of sports photographers, like myself. I didn’t mention some of the other features that make this a worthy upgrade – like matching media slots, new updated processor, etc. There a many other 4K capable cameras that will be easier and better designed for video than the D5. Hence there is not one perfect camera and you have to decide what capabilities you need to create the images your clients are expecting out of you. For me having the D5 gives me just a few more capabilities than I had before which made me go for the upgrade. I’m glad I did.

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