Whenever Nikon announces the release of a new flagship camera, I always get a little buzz of excitement. With a background in sports photography, Nikon’s top-end cameras are the go-to choice for professional shooters. Having owned a D3s, I made the decision last year to skip the D4s and instead upgrade to the D810. It was a tough choice but for commercial and print work the D4s just didn’t provide me with the file resolution I was after. However, although the D810 is a superb camera, ever since I’ve always been wishing for a camera that would meet the D3s and D810 half way with the perfect blend of image resolution and speed (the reason I skipped the D4s). The D3s has the speed (9 FPS) but lacks in file size with only 12MP files. The D810 has huge 36MP file sizes but this is at the expense of speed (6 FPS). The new Nikon D5 looked to be the perfect camera I’d been waiting for – a 20MP full frame sensor capable of shooting 12fps (14fps with mirror up). I couldn’t wait to give it a try and took it along to an upcoming pro/am golf tournament in Switzerland to trial it.
The first thing I noticed was the ergonomics. Being 6ft 7, I have relatively big hands and the camera just fell into them perfectly. Although quite a bit heavier than my D810, the distribution and balance of the weight has been perfectly engineered and I barely noticed it after the first few minutes. I almost felt like the D810 was heavier which was quite strange.
The new 153-point AF system is a big sales factor for Nikon but for me the real delight is in how these points can now be selected. Nikon has introduced a small nipple like button that sits above the usual circular selector on the back. You can now simply roll your thumb over this and the focus points react instantly in the viewfinder. This is a superb feature and allows for much quicker and easier focus selection – a big plus for sports and photojournalists. There’s also another one of these button on the vertical grip for shooting in portrait mode. The focussing in general is a reason alone to buy this camera – it locks on every time like a fighter jet and has an uncanny ability of tracking the subject in Cf mode.
Another great handling feature is the new touch screen for image playback. Rather than having to use the +/- buttons to zoom in/out on images, you can now swipe and pinch/squeeze images with your fingers, just like on an iPhone. This is really useful as you can check images in seconds when the time arises. The playback screen is also a good size and displays the colours beautifully – this whole package is a real upgrade in my opinion from the D810.
The big draw however of the D5 is its crazy 12fps performance. Throughout the golf tournament, I used the camera with several lenses including the Nikon 24 -70 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8 VRII and 16-35 f/4 VR. It’s performed flawlessly with all lenses and there was hardly a shot that I missed with its rapid focussing ability and frame rate. Being able to capture the fast golf swings and track the ball from the moment of impact off the tee to the ball being in flight was a real doddle. The quite astonishing twin XQD cards that then transfer the image data at 400MB/s allow you to shoot almost continually without ever suffering from buffer lag. This is a feature I was keen to see in action as I’ve only ever shot with CF cards, usually with a maximum 120MB/s transfer rate. With the XQD cards, the D5 just keeps performing without a hitch. It’s almost impossible to jam the buffer, even after several seconds of continuous shooting! Although I personally prefer just to fire off one or two quick bursts where the buffer never normally gets tested, it’s a great reassurance to know if a situation arose when I needed to shoot for a long continuous duration that the camera wouldn’t let me down (i.e. tracking a cheetah chasing an animal).
The one thing that has always drawn me to the flagship camera like the D3s, D4s and D5 is the image quality. Although Nikon claim that the D810 and other cameras have similar or equivalent sensors, there is just something extra about the image quality of their flagship cameras that you cannot put your thumb on. The images have an almost silk like feel to them and the noise appears more like a fine and beautifully uniform grain rather than an unwanted speckle. Although the D810 performs well in low-light, it’s huge 36MP files do suffer a little when you push the camera beyond ISO3200. The D3s is an renowned king of low light performance, and in my opinion the best camera I’ve owned for low-light work. The new D5 however is way better again. I was simply amazed by its high ISO performance. Even cranked up to ISO10000, files still looked very acceptable. Overall, the D5’s image quality is in my opinion the best available of any full-frame camera available, with the Canon 1D X Mark II the only other contender.
The truth in the whole test was that throughout the day I was shooting with both my D810 and the D5. Without fail, I always found myself being pulled back to the D5 and occasion, even when time was tight, swapping lenses from my D810 onto the D5 just to be able to use it. The D5 just seemed to get me more of the shots I was after, sharper and with such ease. Don’t get me wrong, the D810 still is an amazing camera that I will not be getting rid of anytime soon, but for those that can afford it, there really is no better tool.
There are only two downsides from what I can find with the D5. First is the shutter sound – it’s very loud. I personally love the ‘clack clack’ noise but it certainly wouldn’t be ideal when shooting events where quietness is essential (i.e. snooker, weddings etc). The D810 certainly wins out here with its almost silent shutter – a feature that I love. The second flaw is the eye-watering price set at £5199. Those who need this camera know who they are. For full time professionals shooting sports of photojournalism it’s a must have and the cost can be absorbed but it really does put the camera out of reach for most enthusiasts. For those enthusiasts, or pros shooting weddings, landscapes or commercial work, the D810 is still the go-to option in my opinion.