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Nikon D5 DSLR

Nikon D5 Review: Should You Buy this Camera?

Nikon D5 Specs

Key Features

  • 20.8 MP FX-format CMOS image sensor
  • 2-inch 2,359,000 dots wide viewing angle touch TFT-LCD display
  • Redesigned 153 focus points AF system, 99 cross-type sensors
  • Automated autofocus fine tune
  • EXPEED 5 image processor
  • ISO sensitivity of ISO 100-102,400, expandable to ISO 3,280,000
  • 180K-dot pixels RGB metering sensor
  • Pentaprism viewfinder with 100% frame coverage and 0.72x magnification
  • 12 fps continuous shooting with full AF and AE performance, 200 shots in single burst
  • 4K ultra high definition video recording
  • Fastest shutter speed of 1/8000 seconds
  • Dual CF and dual XQD memory card configurations
  • Excellent battery life

Introduction

Nikon announced its full-frame professional DSLR, Nikon D5 in January 2016. The camera comes as a successor to D4S that was announced back in February 2014. D5 offers a number of upgrades over its predecessor including an improved ergonomics, a new high-resolution image sensor, an upgraded autofocus system, a new image processor, and an expanded ISO range.

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Design, Build, and Handling

Nikon D5 is a bit heavy and weighs around 1,405g with battery and two XQD memory cards.  The whole camera is covered by dials, buttons, flaps, and switches. In spite of the heft, the camera has a good ergonomics with a comfortable grip and a nice strap. The camera is a bit complex and it will take you some time to go through the menus and understand it. Nikon has provided a variety of customization options at your fingertips.

Nikon D5 Review

The camera gains a new function button on the front which is indeed very handy for quickly switching between the autofocus modes. The new Fn1 button combines with Fn2 and Pv buttons to give you one button for each of your three non-shutter fingers. The camera gains a good amount of button shuffling that might confuse the D3 and D4-series owners. The mode button has been relocated to the left shoulder of the camera. This is being replaced by the ISO button that used to make its presence on the rear of the camera.  The ISO button on the rear has been replaced by a ‘Continuous Shooting’ button. This button lets you tune your ‘continuous low’ and ‘continuous high’ shooting speeds without going to the menus.

Nikon D5 Controls

This shuffling provides a much faster access to ISO and is especially a welcome move for those who like to shoot in manual (as the mode button is hardly used). However, this would disappoint few people as it would continuously require changing the ISO sensitivity whenever they want to change the exposure mode. Also, when you use the portrait orientation mode, it is very difficult and uneasy to find and control the ISO button. Overall, you need to a bit of adjustment and the learning curve for the beginners would be pretty steep.

The Nikon D5 gains a new GUI for button customization which makes it an immensely customizable camera. Nikon’s implementation of the touchscreen adds new functionalities and an extra convenience. The touchscreen is responsive but if you are not comfortable using it, you can disable it in the menus. You can easily swipe between the pictures and pinch-to-zoom the images. Hitting the center button on the directional pad will zoom into 100% at the point of the focus. Also, you can zoom into any point by double tapping on the screen.

There is a new ‘Scrubbing’ feature that Nikon has included which allows you to efficiently scrub through the images by placing the finger on the bottom of the screen and dragging it left to right. Due to the addition of the face detection feature, the face of an image can be zoomed in the playback and control the rear dial to swipe through the images at that zoom level. The camera automatically moves the zoomed view to relate with any kind of movement of that particular subject’s face. Considering the burst speed, this feature can be pretty handy.

Nikon D5 Display

 

Additionally, the touchscreen offers a good amount of functionality in live view. You can touch to shift the focus point in both movie and still modes. The contrast-detect movie AF is average and is prone to hunting. However, you have the option to set your focus point before starting the recording. The screen is not as good as a tilt screen for viewing low or high angles, but the visibility is good and the screen allows framing and touch-to-focus at different angles.

Coming to customizing the autofocus, you can assign any AF area mode to any of the front function buttons with or without activating the AF. The 3D tracking option is not assignable and you will have to set it to your main AF mode for using the feature. D5’s Auto Area AF works surprisingly well despite the low-lighting surroundings and a number of subjects in a single frame. The AF joystick struggles a bit when you tap it to move the AF point. However, it works pretty well when you try rolling your thumb around it. It is very reliable in locking focus in extremely dark conditions. Nikon has provided an additional ‘Lock’ switch that locks the 8-way controller and the AF joystick (with no option of locking either of them individually). Almost all the buttons on the rear panel including the mode dial are backlit that helps in handling the camera in the dark.

Nikon D5 Connectivity

Unfortunately, you don’t get any built-in Wi-Fi with your $6,496 purchase. You have to use Nikon’s WT-5A wireless transmitter that blocks the headphone port which leads to a more cluttered left side of the camera. However, the inclusion of USB 3.0 is a welcome move. However, the Mac users would be disappointed as the camera does not mount on the OS X desktop. They have to use either Apple’s or Nikon’s Image Capture software to transfer all your files.

Performance and Image Quality

The Nikon D5 is quite bulky which makes much space for a robust shutter mechanism and a large battery which leads to a faster camera operation. The overall performance is surprisingly good. Starting from the unnoticeable shutter lag, quick write times of XQD cards to unbelievably short viewfinder blackout and following the subject easily even at 12fps shooting, everything is perfectly handled.

The camera offers better ISO performance as compared to its previous models or even the cameras like 1D-X II. The color filter array optimizations lead to much low levels of noise when shooting Raw. The camera excels in high ISO performance, high ISO dynamic range, and the shadow performance at low-lighting conditions.

Nikon D5 Build

Due to the large radius sharpening, the camera lacks fine detail at low ISO that leaves halos at the edges of the image. However, they are not that aggressive. The color rendition is a strong point. The images show some nice yellows. However, the reds stand out more in Canon 1D-X II. The color saturation is well-retained at high ISOs. The camera by default neutralizes warm tones under tungsten lighting that sometimes leads to unnatural results in low-lit scenes. However, this can be changed by setting the White Balance to the option ‘Auto2: Keep warm lighting colors’.

The JPEG image quality is just perfect. Not only the images show decreased levels of noise but also a good color retention and précised accuracy even at the scenes where your eyes feel it difficult to see the colors. The camera performs excellently when the Active D-Lighting feature is enabled.

Nikon D5 offers a default noise reduction option is a bit less sophisticated than a Sony a7R II or a Nikon D810 and you may notice a bit of softness. But if you want your JPEG to be more than acceptable, you can opt for an editor for web or print the images. The dynamic range of D5 would disappoint those landscape photographers who wish to retain tones in high contrast scenes. It might happen that you often need to choose between the blown highlights or noisy shadows with the D5.

One thing needs mention is the low-light performance of the camera. With all the backlit controls, you can easily adjust the settings in the dark. Moreover, the D5 offers an autofocus system that can reliably lock the focus under the moonlight. If you encounter a scene that is too dark to handle, you can easily enable the live view mode to zoom in and manually set your focus. The camera acts as a night-vision system and will certainly change the way you capture in the dark with some good usable shots.

Nikon D5 DSLR

The Nikon D5 sports a 153-point AF system, 99 of being the cross-type. But, it should be noted that the number of available cross-type points strictly depends on the lens you are using and also, its maximum aperture. Suppose you already have an older AF-D lens, your available cross-type points will be limited to 45 in the center of the frame. Coming back to the autofocus system, Nikon D5 boasts a 153 AF points with 180k pixel metering sensor which is something that is pretty appreciable.

Autofocus performance is one of the most important factors that attract the buyers to DSLRs. Therefore, companies like Nikon and Canon have been consistently trying to develop their autofocus system more sophisticated. With D5, you can initiate the autofocus with a single point and sit back to see how the D5 tracks the subject around the frame by automatically shifting the chosen AF point to remain on your subject. As we have mentioned earlier that D5’s 3D tracking is done by an upgraded 180k-pixel metering RGB sensor which is as far the best subject tracking DSLR we have seen in a while.

We actually had to search for things that can challenge the D5’s autofocus system in 3D tracking mode where the camera uses pattern/color and depth information. Basically, if you are trying to track a single subject, it actually doesn’t matter how fast it is moving or changing its direction. The camera tracks the subject to a very much considerable extent with a high hit rate. However, the 3D tracking slows down in low light, but not to that point when it becomes unusable.

The camera’s Single-point AF mode offers an excellent precision for tracking static subjects. D5 adds an extra customization parameter for its autofocus system that allows you to choose whether your subject is running irregularly or moving steadily towards or away from the camera. You can get the option in ‘Blocked shot AF response’ parameter. This ranges from one (Quick) to five (Delayed) and figures out how the camera manages to stick to the subject before focusing again on a different subject behind or in front of the initial subject.

Nikon has introduced the feature called Auto AF Fine Tune to D5 and D500 which is an automatic process for fine-tuning lenses. This is quite a thoughtful and handy addition that addresses the focus accuracy issues. Since the company has just made the move, it is not yet perfect. Firstly, it only changes the AF accuracy and not the AF precision. Also, it cannot correct the miscalibrations between the AF points. But we must say that it is a big move and we are hoping the company to develop it more in the coming years.

Coming to the video, Nikon D5 offers 4K recording with an additional crop factor (to Super 35 size) and a 3-minute recording limit. The footage can be recorded with a maximum bit rate of 144mbps in 1080p mode. The 4K video quality is quite decent with a good amount of detail but falls behind the latest offerings from Panasonic and Sony. However, the footage exhibits softness when recording semi-slow motion video without any crop factor at 1080p at 60fps. The performance gets a bit better at 1080/24p. The Full HD crop modes help in getting a bit of detail, but the 3.0x crop is too extreme to use it.

The autofocus in the video mode is more prone to hunting. We recommend you to set the camera in AF-S mode and re-focus between the shots only when it is needed. You can also control it manually. But it should be noted that there is no magnification or focus peaking during the video. Nikon has not provided any digital stabilization. So, if you plan to shoot handheld, it would be better to use a tripod.

The D5 offers some good and useful features for shooting videos. There are sockets for microphone and headphone. It also offers video tools like zebra patterning and ‘Flat’ picture profile mode that helps in getting the most of the dynamic range out of the clippings. All the settings that are required for shooting videos like frame rate or frame size are available directly from the live view mode. Overall, D5 won’t be a bad option if you need to record occasional clips.

Nikon D5 Memory Cards

The Nikon D5 ships with a rechargeable EN-EL 18a Lithium-ion battery that is capable of capturing 3,780 shots and approx 110 minutes of HD footage according to CIPA standard. To be honest, the battery performance is just incredible.

Should You Buy the Nikon D5 camera?

Nikon D5 is priced at $6,496.95 (XQD version). With its improved ergonomics, an effective 153-point AF system, a new 20.8 MP image sensor, 12fps of continuous shooting, 4K/30p video recording, the D5 certainly outperforms its predecessors in almost every aspect. The camera might not come in competition with the high-end sports cameras available in the market, but it is indeed an efficient and reliable camera to use. The camera is not only perfect for regular users but also for the wedding or action photographers who need reliability, speed, and durability.

Pros

  • Good ergonomics and handling with comfortable grip, customizability
  • New 20.8 MP full-frame sensor with an excellent high ISO performance
  • Bar-raising AF subject tracking with 153 AF points
  • 99 cross-type sensors leads to some better shots at low light
  • Automatic AF Fine Tune option quickly solves the front/back-focus issues
  • High-resolution RGB metering system with face and eye detection
  • Almost unlimited buffer and speedy write times with XQD
  • Good overall JPEG color rendition and image quality
  • 4K/30p video

Cons

  • Low ISO dynamic range
  • A bit heavy and large in size
  • Clumsy JPEG engine noise reduction
  • Maximum buffer performance needs an XQD model
  • Video quality is average with limited video tools
  • USB 3.0 needs an additional installation of software
  • Optional Wi-Fi is an expensive add-on

 

 

About Richard Smith

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