Gear Review: Nikon D5


Nikon D5 Review | Wedding Photographers Gear | Destination Wedding Photographers

A new flagship has arrived in the Nikon camp, and its name is the D5. I was lucky enough to snag a CF version from Midwest Photo Exchange the week of its initial release, and have been playing with it practically non-stop ever since. After having put it through its paces not only with a tumbling 7 year old who was in the air more than she was on the ground, a 4 year old who is the Flash incarnate, but also with multiple fantastic couples, two killer workshops in various locations, and a real wedding, I feel like I can give my initial thoughts on the camera.

Mind you, I will not be spouting data and pixel peeping in this review. Being primarily a wedding and engagement photographer, my opinions will be based with that in mind for the most part, and how it has served me in the conditions I've put it through. Mileage may vary, but hopefully this will give you a real-world view of what you can expect from Nikon's newest offering.  

All that being said, what do I think? I think I love this camera. 

***UPDATE 5/23/16***
I managed to somehow kill my D5. While I still love it, I'm a little more concerned about the actual durability of this camera, as I had it on a beach for an engagement session, and it suddenly stopped focusing, I lost all use of the review screen, and it went into bracket mode, never to come out of it again. The camera never fell in the water, never sat in the sand...it was at my hip on my Holdfast or at my eye the whole time. While no one is sure what I managed to do, it seems the general consensus is that the internals were somehow affected. Nikon, NPS, and Midwest Photo Exchange were fantastic and took care of me, outfitting me with a new XQD version (which means yes, all new cards...after buying loads of CFs...fun.), but it was substantially cheaper than trying to repair the original D5. All of this to say...this new D5, I'm a little more gun shy putting it into elements that it SHOULD and HAS been touted to be able to withstand with ease. I've put my D750s through far more and never had issues. Maybe I found a lemon. Or maybe I'm just that lucky...but there you have it. :) Still love the D5...but treat her like a lady...and apparently be cautious of beach scenarios.

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It's really hard to know where to begin, simply because so many people want to know so many things regarding a new camera. However, what I can say is that he D5 is truly a beast, and more of a camera than I had even anticipated. That being said, it's not Nikon's most "all-around" robust camera, and that's okay -- it's not supposed to be. Understanding that, I appreciate its strengths even more, which are, for me, its low light capabilities and the scarily accurate AF system. Nikon knew what it was doing while designing this camera, and I'm personally glad they made this the way they did. It does what it's meant to do extremely, extremely well, and we've all heard the adage, "Jack of all trades, master of none." This camera is the master in its genre. And that's precisely why I love it.

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ERGONOMICS

Let's not mince words: the D5 is a large camera. However, that shouldn't deter you. Ergonomically, the D5 is extremely comfortable to wield, despite its size. Coming from a D750, that was the first thing I noticed. The heft is real, but it's not overwhelming. It feels sturdy, and I want sturdy when I'm dropping the kind of money I am on a D5. It certainly feels like a pro body, especially compared to the D750, which I've never minded, but is certainly no comparison to the build of the D5. You pick up the D5, and you simply know you're working with a pro camera. That being said, it's not so unwieldy that I don't want to use it.

The grip is shallower than my D750, but not so much that it feels unstable. I like the grooves, and my hands feel natural when gripping the camera in both landscape and portrait orientations.

I'm really enjoying the joystick and touchscreen features this camera touts. I have missed the joystick from my Canon days, but never realized how convenient it truly is until being given one on the D5. It speeds up my AF point selection, and anything that allows me to get the image faster is good in my book. Along those lines, I'd forgotten how nice image scrubbing is on the Canon side, and scrubbing on the D5 with the touchscreen is a dream. The ability to zoom in, whip through photos, and review what I've been doing is great, and definitely a nice added feature.

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ISO

I'll jump right into what enticed me from the announcement of the D5: its high ISO capabilities and low light performance. This camera touts a ridiculous native ISO of 102,400, with the ability to push to 3,280,000. It's more ISO than anyone could ever possibly need in the wedding photography realm, and the frames at 102,400 are not deliverable to a wedding client in my opinion, even though I'm sure in other genres of photography, that range is appreciated. For me, the top end for deliverable files sits around ISO 25,000...but let's allow that to sink in for a moment. ISO 25K...that's absolutely BANANAS. In comparison, for me, I prefer to deliver files from my Nikon D750 at ISO 10,000 or less. We're talking over a 100% increase in deliverable files, and the D750 is no slouch at low light capabilities. It's precisely the reason I jumped from Canon to Nikon in the first place. So, to see the D5 command such an amazing increase in quality at high ISO ranges...that's extremely exciting for me. I genuinely cannot wait for the next candlelight ceremony I shoot, knowing I'll be wielding this workhorse. Low light simply is not an issue with this camera. The files remain clean, retain their colors fantastically, and are an absolute dream to work with. I'm very, very excited to shoot in low light with this camera.

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FOCUSING

The D5's AF system is, quite frankly, ridiculously good. As I mentioned earlier, I switched from Canon to Nikon for the D750 based on its low light performance and it's AF capabilities. So, to have the D5 arrive and vastly improve on what I felt was already a fantastic camera, well, that's just icing in the cake for me. With 153 AF points, this camera is nearly mind-reading when it focuses. My initial plan had been to use the D5 in low light situations, then use the D750 come reception time based on weight. However, after using the D5 this weekend in a reception situation, then comparing it to the D750, it's extremely, EXTREMELY hard to put this camera down, especially during receptions! The speed in which the camera locks focus is just astounding. You actually have to work to miss focus with this camera, and even then, it's tough to do.

When first playing with the camera, I tried to trounce its focus system by photographing my son running errantly in the backyard, then graduated to photographing my cousin tumbling. When put on AF-C and 3D tracking, the D5 nailed nearly every frame throughout the movement. It was astounding to watch, and actually can be implemented on things like the bride simply walking down the aisle, as to avoid having to focus and recompose, or during break dancing in a reception (Have you ever tried to keep focus on a guy spinning around on the ground in a half-lit room? It tries even the best of us!). The 3D tracking is definitely a fantastic implementation, and one I'll enjoy using both in professional work, and simply chasing my son around on adventures.

The one thing I would gripe about with the AF system isn't even about the AF, really...but simply that it surprised me that they smashed all 153 points into the same standard area of the viewfinder, instead of spanning them out further to the edges of the frame. I would have liked to have seen the real estate used more, but it really is a marvel of a system. Hopefully in future cameras, we'll see a migration of AF points closer to the edge of the frame.

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AF-Fine Tune & Other Miscellaneous Awesome Things

Oh, calibration. It can be such a touchy, tricky thing to nail down sometimes, and don't get me started on those focusing cards. I loathe them. So when AF-Fine Tune arrived, I was super excited. While it isn't perfect (there were more than a few times where it stated calibration failed), the fact that I can calibrate my lenses to the D5 in just a few steps is beyond awesome. I've played around with this a bit and loved the results. One of my favorite lenses, my 58mm f/1.4, is one of the more notorious lenses for arriving and needing calibration. I thought I'd gotten mine nailed down, but after fine-tuning it, I realized it was still off. Using this easy, built in feature, I've gotten the 58 to exactly where I need it to be to create sharp images. If you aren't aware, to fine tune lenses, simply go into live view with the D5, select the center focus point, then press and hold the AF select and record buttons at the same time. After a moment it asks you if you're on a solid surface (Which you should be -- think either a tripod or a table, just like you would in any calibration setup), hit yes, and boom, you're done. You can go into the AF-Fine Tune menu setting to see exactly where your lens calibrated. For me, my 58mm was +20! (Oh, that lens. How I love thee...regardless of how wonky your calibration proves you to be.)

The touchscreen. I know I mentioned it earlier, but it does need its own little nod. The ability to zoom with a double tap to ensure focus (which, with this camera shouldn't be an issue, but still. It's nice to check) is such a fantastic addition, not to mention the ability to add star ratings, and scrub...those are things I didn't know I wanted. Now that I have them, I don't like going back to the 750 and missing out on them. I wish the main menu was touch screen as well, but I'm content with the first round from Nikon. I think they're onto something and will fine-tune the implementation in future cameras.

The battery. It's the same as the D4S, so adopters that own the D4S will be pleased. I've been nothing but impressed with the battery life, and while I always suggest a backup (or five), the battery goes for quite a long time, even if you adhere to the concept of buying tickets throughout the wedding day.

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FILES

There have been posts online about how the D5 has less dynamic range at low ISOs than some of the cheaper Nikon offerings -- and it's true. However, to me, if I want to have extreme dynamic range at the lower ISOs, I can reach for my D750. I also don't make it a routine to push my shadows 3-5 stops over what I shot at, because I try to shoot as accurately as I can in-camera, regardless of the camera I'm using. That being said, the files from my D5 are a joy to work with, and I don't notice a huge difference when exposing properly in camera between my D750 and and D5 in lower ISO ranges with the noise. If it is an extremely dynamic scene, then yes, I will grab the 750 to have the edge on managing all the range possible. However, most of the time, I wouldn't think twice about using the D5.

What I *do* notice, though, is that the D5 coloring is so much truer to real life, and skin tones are much, much better. The files have a warmer, more magenta tone to them, and I honestly feel that the camera has a Canon tone to it -- which is a very, VERY welcome change. When switching from Canon to Nikon, that was the thing that I've missed the most, and while I'm fine with Nikon's tones, the D5 brings me back to the tones I much preferred, and I will never complain about that.

Some say the difference may be that this is one of the first Nikon cameras that Adobe has supported BEFORE release in a long while. While I cannot attest to the difference in how the files render, it would make sense that Adobe having the ability to program prior to the camera release would result in more favorable results in post-production. Whatever the reason, I'm extremely happy with the files out of the D5, and the skin tones are much, much better. I find myself leaning more to the Auto WB than I ever did with the D750, and post-processing feels a bit less extensive, knowing the tones are already closer to where I prefer them to be.

Also, as an aside, I chose the CF version of the D5, as I'd already had a handful of CF cards lying around from my 5D Mark III days, and I prefer the price point and accessibility of the CF cards. There's no doubt that the XQD is faster, sturdier, and generally deemed more reliable, but I have yet to have an issue with my CFs (knock on wood), so for my personal choice, I went the CF route.

Nikon D5 | 200mm f/2 @ f/2 | ISO 320 | 1/400 sec | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | 200mm f/2 @ f/2 | ISO 320 | 1/400 sec | AF-S & Single Point Focus

WHAT'S MISSING?

I'm not going to lie, I really miss the Wi-Fi feature and tilt-screen of my Nikon D750 when I use the D5. I have been heavily utilizing both, so to suddenly be without them is a bit of an adjustment, but it's not a deal breaker. Personally, I think asking me to spend an additional $700 for a WT-6A adapter to transfer wireless files after asking $6500 for a camera, when the D750 is a $2000 camera and has the feature built in, is a bit ridiculous...but I digress. I would, however, love to see that implemented in a future iteration of the DX series. 

Other than those two nit picks, I feel the D5 is an astounding piece of technology, and a jump forward in low light, which is something that's crucial to me as a wedding photographer.  

CONCLUSIONS

The D5 is a low light beast, and thusly, Nikon focused on the high ISO capabilities of the camera. That doesn't make it a slouch in lower ISO situations by any means; however, naturally, when you choose a tool, you're choosing it for what it specifically offers. In the instance of the D5, if you're looking for hands down the best high ISO performance, a next-level AF system that many times feels like witchcraft, and/or the ability to fire off frames at a blistering speed, the D5 will not disappoint. I can already see myself making this camera my main player in low light getting ready rooms, in dark churches, or situations that might require a faster FPS (hello, 100m hurdles bride!), then turn to my D750 for portraits, receptions, etc.

Each tool has a specific purpose, and it's up to the person wielding the tool to utilize it properly. However, I can say this much: the Nikon D5 has stepped up to the plate with this fantastic flagship camera, and it's truly a joy to use. I can't wait to get into full swing of wedding season and really put this camera to work.   

Whether or not this camera is right for you isn't something I can answer. However, if you asked me if I would make the hunt and drive to score this camera again, I would absolutely tell you yes. It's a fantastic piece of equipment, and I'm looking forward to shooting more and more with it.  

SAMPLE IMAGES

Below you'll see some of my sample images created with the D5 in different situations with the EXIF data. I hope these will help you see what the camera is capable of in my day-to-day, and will give you an idea of what you can expect from this fantastic camera.  

Nikon D5 | Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4 | ISO 800 | 1/1250 sec | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ f/1.4 | ISO 800 | 1/1250 sec | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 200mm f/2 @ f/2.8 | ISO 4000 | 1/1600 sec | exp. Comp. -1.3 | AF-C & 3d Tracking

Nikon D5 | Nikon 200mm f/2 @ f/2.8 | ISO 4000 | 1/1600 sec | exp. Comp. -1.3 | AF-C & 3d Tracking

Nikon D5 | Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 110mm f/3.2 | ISO 1250 | 1/200 sec | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 110mm f/3.2 | ISO 1250 | 1/200 sec | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ f/1.6 | ISO 125 | 1/400 sec | Exp. Comp. -1.0 | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 58mm f/1.4 @ f/1.6 | ISO 125 | 1/400 sec | Exp. Comp. -1.0 | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm f/2.8 | ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | Exp. Comp. +0.3 | AF-S & Single Point Focus

Nikon D5 | Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm f/2.8 | ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | Exp. Comp. +0.3 | AF-S & Single Point Focus