Nikon D5

Nikon has up­graded or re­vised ev­ery key el­e­ment of its pro-level D-SLR, so is it a dream ma­chine or a di­nosaur? Re­gard­less, the new aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem is a rev­e­la­tion.

Camera - - CONTENTS -

OK, so mir­ror­less cam­eras might be grab­bing all the head­lines at the mo­ment, but Nikon’s new D-SLR flag­ship is de­sir­able with a cap­i­tal ‘D’. It’s big and tough, but it’s bril­liant to use… and the aut­o­fo­cus­ing per­for­mance is sim­ply as­tound­ing. There’s life in the old dog yet,

Nikon launched its D5 with quite some fan­fare. Photo magazine jour­nal­ists were flown from all around the world to a ritzy, bells-and-whis­tles pre­sen­ta­tion in Las Ve­gas, timed to co­in­cide with the mas­sive an­nual Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Show (CES). Nikon wanted to make a point.

And it should be rightly proud of the D5 which trumps the al­ready highly-ac­com­plished D4S just about ev­ery­where. It’s the pin­na­cle of D-SLR en­gi­neer­ing, but yet it some­how seems like a turbo-charged V8 when we re­ally should be see­ing some­thing more akin to a Tesla with a state-of-the-art elec­tric mo­tor.

As good as the D5 is, it’s still hard to see it – or, in­deed, Canon’s EOS-1D X Mark II – mak­ing con­verts of any­body other than the ex­ist­ing own­ers of pro-level Nikon (or Canon) D-SLRs. There’s still un­ques­tion­ably a place for big, fast and tough-as-nails D-SLRs as there is for dig­i­tal medium for­mat cam­eras, but the new real­ity

FAST FOR­WARD 20 YEARS AND YOU CAN HAVE 12 FPS SHOOT­ING WITH CON­TIN­U­OUS AF AND ME­TER­ING – BOTH STATE-OF-THE ART SYS­TEMS – AND, THANKS TO A MUCH BIG­GER BUF­FER MEM­ORY, BURST SE­QUENCES OF UP TO 200 FRAMES.

is that these are now in­creas­ingly highly spe­cialised ma­chines and so, for many pho­tog­ra­phers, they are just too much. No, not too much money… too much camera… lit­er­ally… phys­i­cally. It’s hard to spec­u­late what might have hap­pened if Nikon had de­liv­ered a D5-type set of ca­pa­bil­i­ties pack­aged up in a mir­ror­less camera plat­form, but it’s more cer­tain that it would have stopped the ever-ad­vanc­ing Sony in its tracks and left long-time ri­val Canon floun­der­ing for a re­sponse. It could po­ten­tially have been a knock-out blow.

Un­der­stand­ably, given that they’ve had the in­ter­change­able lens camera space largely to them­selves for so long (with Pen­tax play­ing a valiant David against not one, but two Go­liaths), both Nikon and Canon are re­luc­tant to give up on the D-SLR, but the bot­tom line is that Fu­ji­film, Le­ica, Olym­pus, Pana­sonic and Sony haven’t en­tirely sur­vived on find­ing brand new cus­tomers for their mir­ror­less cam­eras… they’ve pinched some mar­ket share from else­where. Well, let’s not beat about the bush here, they’re win­ning over in­creas­ing num­bers of D-SLR own­ers and, with Sony’s full-35mm for­mat A7 bod­ies in par­tic­u­lar, at­tract­ing pho­tog­ra­phers who would oth­er­wise cer­tainly have bought an­other high-end re­flex camera.

At the D5’s launch, a se­nior ex­ec­u­tive noted that “the D-SLR is a space Nikon is fa­mil­iar with” and, near the start of the pre­sen­ta­tion, there was what es­sen­tially amounted to a ‘sales spiel’ for the mir­ror box and op­ti­cal viewfinder which were de­scribed at one point as “80-year-old tech­nol­ogy”. And, in fact, Nikon has had to go to con­sid­er­able lengths to make this 80-year-old tech­nol­ogy en­able the sort of per­for­mance ca­pa­bil­i­ties it wanted to give the D5; most no­tably con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing at 14 fps with aut­o­fo­cus fixed to the first frame, 12 fps with con­tin­u­ous ad­just­ment. This is quite a feat be­cause, back in 1996, Nikon could only achieve 13 fps with the spe­cial-build F3H High­Speed by giv­ing it a fixed half-mir­ror and re­sort­ing to stop-down me­ter­ing only (no aut­o­fo­cus­ing, of course). Both the F4 and F5 were avail­able by then, but the more mechanical F3 was eas­ier to re­work for high­speed shoot­ing.

UP TO SPEED

Fast for­ward 20 years and you can have 12 fps with con­tin­u­ous AF and me­ter­ing – both state-of-the art sys­tems – and, thanks to a much big­ger buf­fer mem­ory, burst se­quences of up to 200 frames, even when shoot­ing 14-bit RAW frames. But the real­ity is that with a con­ven­tional ‘flappy’ mir­ror, 12 fps is your lot. The D5 only does 14 fps with the mir­ror locked-up which… well, say no more.

To achieve 12 fps the D5’s mir­ror has a step­ping mo­tor which es­sen­tially turbo-charges the upward move­ment than serves as power-as­sisted brakes on the down­ward move­ment, pri­mar­ily to min­imise bounce which, of course, wastes pre­cious time. The new mir­ror assem­bly also min­imises the black-out time which as­sists with sub­ject track­ing… some­thing that’s pretty im­por­tant for what is now, pri­mar­ily, a sports ac­tion camera. It goes with­out say­ing that the D5’s viewfinder is fan­tas­tic – well, it’s op­ti­cal, in­nit – with 0.72x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion and 100 per­cent cov­er­age. The im­age qual­ity is al­ways go­ing to be bet­ter than any­thing an EVF can de­liver – even

the bril­liant 4.4 megadots Epson panel in the Le­ica SL – but this is no longer re­ally the is­sue. To­day’s EVFs are bet­ter than ‘good enough’ and there are just so many other ad­van­tages, but let’s move on.

While it’s ac­tu­ally no bulkier than its D4-se­ries pre­de­ces­sors (or, in­deed, the D3 mod­els be­fore that), the D5 now feels big… and heavy. There’s no ques­tion it’s very com­fort­able to han­dle – Nikon’s er­gonomics re­main ex­em­plary – and within that bulk is a ful­ly­in­te­grated ver­ti­cal grip, but smaller cam­eras are now the new nor­mal, even with full-35mm for­mat sen­sors. And we’re not nec­es­sar­ily talk­ing about mir­ror­less cam­eras here… Nikon’s bril­liant D750 is what ac­tu­ally im­me­di­ately springs to mind.

The D5 is, of course, built tough. This is a camera de­signed to shrug off the wear and tear of heavy-duty pro­fes­sional use in the great out­doors. Sports pho­tog­ra­phy, in par­tic­u­lar, can be very de­mand­ing on cam­eras be­cause it’s all about cap­tur­ing the ac­tion and the wel­fare of your gear is a sec­ondary con­sid­er­a­tion… if it gets a few thumps and bumps along the way, so be it. Then there’s of­ten dust, spray, snow, mud or rain. The D5’s mag­ne­sium

al­loy bodyshell is fully sealed at ev­ery joint and junc­tion, and the new shut­ter is good for 400,000 cy­cles. There’s no built-in flash to com­pro­mise the bodyshell’s over­all in­tegrity and, for the same rea­son, the large 8.1 cm LCD mon­i­tor screen is fixed. There’s a big jump in the res­o­lu­tion to an im­pres­sive 2.359 megadots, but more sig­nif­i­cantly, there’s now touch­screen con­trols. When the D5 is switched to live view, the touch con­trol func­tions in­clud­ing mov­ing the AF point and a very nifty ‘Spot White Bal­ance’ which sets the white bal­ance for wher­ever you tap on the screen. Op­er­a­tions such as en­ter­ing copy­right data can now be done via the touch­screen, and scrolling through images for play­back which is made even faster via a ‘Frame Advance Bar’ de­vice. Cu­ri­ously though, touch con­trols aren’t avail­able for the nor­mal camera op­er­a­tions such as us­ing the menus.

LIGHT­ING UP

Like its pre­de­ces­sor, the D5 has two LCD info dis­plays, a big­ger one on the top deck and a smaller panel on the camera back which is mostly ded­i­cated to the im­age qual­ity set­tings, but also shows some key set­tings such as the white bal­ance and drive mode. Both have built-in il­lu­mi­na­tion and, as be­fore, all the con­trol but­tons are back­lit too (in­clud­ing now those for play­back and delete) which is very, very use­ful. There’s a pair of mem­ory card slots, but rather than mix­ing for­mats, Nikon now gives you a choice, so you can have a D5 with dual XQD slots or one with dual Com­pactFlash slots. It’s an in­ter­est­ing choice given the pop­u­lar­ity of SD and even CFast (cer­tainly over XQD), but mix­ing for­mats was al­ways a com­pro­mise so at least now you can stan­dard­ise. The card slot man­age­ment op­tions in­clude si­mul­ta­ne­ous record­ing to cre­ate back-ups or the sep­a­rate record­ing of RAW and JPEG files when shoot­ing with RAW+JPEG.

The ba­sic con­trol lay­out is largely un­changed from that of the D4/D4S and so in­cludes the dis­tinc­tive dial-like but­ton clus­ter on the top panel, front and rear in­put wheels (a.k.a. ‘Com­mand Di­als’), and the ‘Multi Se­lec­tor’ nav­i­ga­tor pad and ‘Sub Se­lec­tor’ joy­stick on the rear panel. The top- panel con­trol now has func­tion but­tons for the ex­po­sure modes (a log­i­cal change), auto brack­et­ing and me­ter­ing, while a se­lec­tor wheel lo­cated be­low sets the drive mode (or ‘re­lease mode’ as Nikon calls them). The old ‘Mode’ but­ton astern of the shut­ter re­lease is re­placed by the ISO but­ton which was pre­vi­ously less con­ve­nient to ac­cess as it was be­low the back panel’s info dis­play. There are two new multi-func­tion but­tons – called ‘Fn2’ and ‘Fn3’ – which join the ex­ist­ing ‘Fn1’, ‘Pv’ and ‘AF-On’ but­tons, but the scope for cus­tomis­ing the D5’s op­er­a­tion is still com­par­a­tively lim­ited. That said, Nikon has made it much eas­ier to as­sign the var­i­ous func­tions via new set-up screens for still pho­tog­ra­phy and video record­ing. Cus­tom set­tings are still saved to ‘banks’ (four in all), but the process is lot less clunky now.

The left side of the camera (as viewed from be­hind) mostly com­prises the camera’s many con­nec­tors, each with their own cover which means noth­ing is get­ting wet or dusty which doesn’t have to. The USB con­nec­tor is up­graded to mini-B 3.0 and there is both a stereo au­dio in­put and out­put (stan­dard 3.5 mm mini­jack ter­mi­nals) as be­fore, plus HDMI and Eth­er­net. On the front of the camera body is the PC flash socket and ten-pin re­mote ter­mi­nal, again with in­di­vid­ual cov­ers.

IN­NER WORK­INGS

On the in­side the D5 is es­sen­tially all-new com­pared to the D4S – sen­sor, pro­ces­sor, AF sys­tem, me­ter­ing sys­tem and the afore­men­tioned shut­ter – with an at­ten­dant in­crease in all rel­e­vant specs.

The sen­sor is a CMOS with an imag­ing area of 35.9x23.9 mm – which Nikon calls the ‘FX’ for­mat – and a to­tal pixel count of 21.22 mil­lion. It re­tains an op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter. The new sen­sor is pow­ered by Nikon’s lat­est-gen­er­a­tion ‘Ex­peed 5’ pro­ces­sor which de­liv­ers a range of per­for­mance en­hance­ments in­clud­ing, in­ter­est­ingly, to the JPEG qual­ity “straight out of the camera”. Bet­ter noise re­duc­tion pro­cess­ing along with the sen­sor’s re­vised ar­chi­tec­ture gives a na­tive sen­si­tiv­ity range equiv­a­lent to ISO 100 to 102,400 and an ex­ten­sion, per­haps ap­pro­pri­ately tagged ‘Hi 5’, up to ISO 3,280,000. Yes, you read it right… three-point-twoeight mil­lion, but to be hon­est, don’t get too ex­cited. The D5 may be able to cap­ture images at this strato­spheric ISO set­ting, but whether you can ac­tu­ally use them for any­thing is de­bat­able as the noise lev­els from ISO 409,600 (i.e. ‘Hi 3’) on­ward are truly hor­ren­dous. You’d have to think these higher ISO set­tings are more about brag­ging rights than any­thing that has ‘real world’ use­ful­ness. Rather more use­fully, though, there’s also a one-stop ‘pull’ to ISO 50.

As be­fore, images can be cap­tured as JPEGs, TIFFs or RAW files in a va­ri­ety of con­fig­u­ra­tions – ei­ther 12-bit or 14-bit colour and with loss­less com­pres­sion, lossy com­pres­sion or un­com­pressed. The max­i­mum im­age size is 5568x3712 pix­els. There’s a big choice of im­age sizes and for­mats, in­clud­ing ‘APS-C’ (a.k.a. the ‘DX’ for­mat in Nikon par­lance) which can be set to au­to­mat­i­cally select when a DX Nikkor lens is fit­ted. JPEGs can be set to one of three com­pres­sion lev­els – fine (at a 1:4 ra­tio), nor­mal (1:8) or ba­sic (1:16) with the op­tion of set­ting ei­ther ‘op­ti­mal qual­ity’ or ‘size pri­or­ity’ com­pres­sion regimes. RAW files can be cap­ture in large, medium or small sizes.

The var­i­ous in-camera JPEG pro­cess­ing func­tions are pretty much the same as those of­fered on the D4S, but with a few ad­di­tions. There’s a new ‘Pic­ture Con­trol’ pre­set called Flat which is de­signed to op­ti­mise the dy­namic range when shoot­ing video (see the Mak­ing Movies side­bar for more details) to make colour grad­ing eas­ier in post-pro­duc­tion. It’s worth not­ing here that the D5 is the first Nikon D-SLR to of­fer 4K video shoot­ing, al­beit with a clip time lim­ited to just three min­utes.

The re­main­ing six ‘Pic­ture Con­trols’ are un­changed – Stan­dard, Neu­tral, Vivid, Mono­chrome, Por­trait and Land­scape with the op­tion of cre­at­ing up to nine user-ad­justed ver­sion. The Mono­chrome pre­set re­places the colour ad­just­ments with a set of con­trast fil­ters and a choice of nine ton­ing ef­fects each with seven lev­els of den­sity.

‘Ac­tive D-Light­ing’ (ADL) pro­cess­ing is avail­able for deal­ing with con­trast to op­ti­mise the dy­namic range and there’s the choice of five man­ual set­tings from Low to Ex­tra High 2 or auto cor­rec­tion. Al­ter­na­tively, there’s a multi-shot HDR func­tion which cap­tures two images – one un­der­ex­posed, the other over­ex­posed – with a pre­set ex­po­sure ad­just­ment of 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0 EV or, al­ter­na­tively, au­to­matic ad­just­ment based on the scene’s bright­ness range. Mul­ti­ple ex­po­sures – be­tween two to ten – can be cre­ated with the op­tions of Add or Av­er­age ex­po­sure ad­just­ment or, new on the D5, Lighten or Darken modes which use only the bright­est or dark­est pix­els re­spec­tively.

Auto brack­et­ing func­tions are avail­able for ADL, ex­po­sure, flash (or ex­po­sure and flash com­bined) and white bal­ance. Brack­et­ing se­quences can be up to nine frames. The D5 of­fers three auto white bal­ance cor­rec­tion

modes called ‘Keep White’, ‘Nor­mal’ and ‘Keep Warm’. ‘Keep White’ is the new­comer and is de­signed to give white whites in sit­u­a­tions where there are dif­fer­ent types of light­ing, both nat­u­ral and ar­ti­fi­cial. All three op­er­ate over a range of 3500 to 8000 de­grees Kelvin. Al­ter­na­tively, there’s a choice of 12 pre­sets (seven for dif­fer­ent types of gas-ig­ni­tion light­ing), pro­vi­sions for storing up to six cus­tom set­tings, fine­tun­ing and man­ual colour tem­per­a­ture con­trol over a range of 2500 to 10,000 de­grees Kelvin.

SEE­ING THE LIGHT

White bal­ance mea­sure­ment ac­cu­racy is en­hanced over­all cour­tesy of us­ing the D5’s new RGB-sen­si­tive me­ter­ing sen­sor which is at the heart of the camera’s ‘3D Colour Ma­trix Me­ter­ing III’ sys­tem. The new sen­sor dou­bles the pixel count of the pre­vi­ous one from 91,000 to 181,000, so it’s able to mea­sure even smaller points.

The mea­sure­ment op­tions are multi-zone, cen­tre-weighted av­er­age, high­light weighted and spot. As on all top-end Nikon D-SLRs, the size of the cen­tre-weighted me­ter’s cen­tral zone can be var­ied; in this case set to 8.0 mm, 12 mm (the de­fault), 15 mm or 20 mm. Me­ter­ing sen­si­tiv­ity ex­tends down to -3.0 EV at ISO 100. The stan­dard set of auto ex­po­sure con­trol modes is backed by an AE lock and up to +/-5.0 EV of com­pen­sa­tion plus, of course, the auto brack­et­ing men­tioned ear­lier and which can be set to se­quences of up to nine frames.

The new shut­ter has a speed range of 30-1/8000 sec­ond with flash sync up to 1/250 sec­ond and the D5 also gets a sen­sor shut­ter (a.k.a. an elec­tronic first cur­tain shut­ter). Nikon doesn’t use this to get any more speed, but to en­able near-si­lent op­er­a­tion in live view and, with mir­ror-up shoot­ing us­ing longer lenses, to fur­ther elim­i­nate vi­bra­tions (but, some­what cu­ri­ously, not in the high-speed 14 fps mode). The re­cent firmware up­grade Ver­sion 1.10 for the D5 adds au­to­matic flicker de­tec­tion for deal­ing with the switch­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of gas-ig­ni­tion light­ing (i.e. flu­o­res­cent types) which can af­fect both ex­po­sure and colour bal­ance when shoot­ing at faster shut­ter speeds. The anti-flicker ca­pa­bil­ity de­tects the fre­quency of a light source’s blink­ing and sub­se­quently times the shut­ter re­lease to min­imise the ef­fect, even with con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing.

The D5’s ‘Si­lent Live View’ shoot­ing mode has got a bit lost among the rest of the head­lines, but it al­lows for JPEG/large/fine cap­ture at 15 fps for five sec­onds at low speed or at 30 fps in the high speed con­tin­u­ous mode. This is the D5 do­ing its best im­i­ta­tion of a mir­ror­less camera.

The me­ter­ing sen­sor is one el­e­ment of what Nikon calls a ‘Scene Recog­ni­tion Sys­tem’ which, along with the AF mo­d­ule, analy­ses a scene to de­ter­mine as­pects such as back-light­ing and colour con­tent. This shouldn’t be con­fused with scene modes – not sur­pris­ingly, the D5 doesn’t have any – but it’s de­signed to fine-tune the aut­o­fo­cus­ing, ex­po­sure con­trol and white bal­ance.

POINTS AHEAD

The new AF sys­tem is the D5’s main party trick. Nikon has al­ways had the edge over ri­val Canon

when it comes to AF per­for­mance and it’s de­ter­mined to stay ahead. Thus, Nikon’s new ‘Multi-CAM 20K’ aut­o­fo­cus mo­d­ule is the most so­phis­ti­cated ever seen and em­ploys 153 mea­sur­ing points, and 99 of these are crosstype ar­rays. Fifty-five points are man­u­ally se­lectable, and 35 of these are cross-type ar­rays.

The spread of mea­sur­ing points is not only wider and deeper than be­fore, but they’re also more densely packed which en­hances the de­tec­tion speed and ac­cu­racy, es­pe­cially with smaller sub­jects or tar­gets. Over­all sen­si­tiv­ity ex­tends down to -3.0 EV – log­i­cal, given this is the me­ter­ing’s limit too – but the cen­tral AF point will keep work­ing down to -4.0 EV. Fif­teen fo­cus points (nine of them se­lectable) can op­er­ate with a max­i­mum aper­ture as slow as f8.0… and all 153 op­er­ate down to f5.6. The AF sys­tem has its own high-pow­ered pro­ces­sor – with a new AF al­go­rithm for sub­ject de­tec­tion and anal­y­sis – to han­dle the con­tin­u­ous ad­just­ment at 12 fps. There’s a choice of seven AF area modes; in­clud­ing ‘Dy­namic Area’ set to nine, 25, 72 or 153 points, ‘Group Area’ which picks a point and then uses the sur­round­ing points for fur­ther fine­tun­ing, ‘3D Track­ing’ which taps into colour in­for­ma­tion to fol­low a mov­ing sub­ject, and ‘Auto Area’ which does ex­actly what it says on the tin. The nine-point ‘Dy­namic Area’ has been added re­cently via the firmware up­grade V1.10.

Track­ing can be op­ti­mised via a re­vised ‘Lock On’ func­tion which can now be set to the type of sub­ject move­ment (us­ing a scale from Steady to Er­ratic) and the re­sponse to an in­ter­rup­tion caused by a blocked shot (from Quick to De­layed). Mi­cro-ad­just­ment is avail­able to fine-tune for the fo­cus­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of in­di­vid­ual lenses (up to 20) and it’s now done au­to­mat­i­cally which is both more con­ve­nient and more re­li­able. Why is this needed? Be­cause, be­lieve it or not, even in this era of pre­ci­sion man­u­fac­tur­ing, no two lenses ac­tu­ally fo­cus in ex­actly the same way.

ON DIS­PLAY

The mass of aut­o­fo­cus points make for a busy viewfinder dis­play – es­pe­cially when all 153 are on duty – but only the se­lectable ones are shown as small squares, the rest are rep­re­sented merely as dots. A grid guide is avail­able in the viewfinder along with dual-axis level in­di­ca­tors. You can also have the grid guide dis­play in the live view screen along with a more elab­o­rate ‘vir­tual hori­zon’ level dis­play and a real-time his­togram.

Aut­o­fo­cus­ing in live view is via con­trast de­tec­tion us­ing the imag­ing sen­sor with, as noted ear­lier, the ca­pac­ity to lo­cate the fo­cus point via touch (al­though, the ac­tual fo­cus­ing still has to be done con­ven­tion­ally via the shut­ter re­lease of ‘AF-On’ but­ton). Man­ual fo­cus as­sist is via a mag­ni­fied im­age, but there isn’t a fo­cus peak­ing dis­play which has to be con­sid­ered a bit of an over­sight these days.

The re­view/re­play op­tions are pretty much the same as those of the D4S, in­clud­ing pages of four, nine or 72 thumb­nails, zoom­ing up to 21x and a slide show. In­di­vid­ual images can be dis­played full­frame with or with­out cap­ture info or as thumb­nails with a bright­ness his­togram alone, a full set of his­tograms or a bright­ness warn­ing (which can be also cy­cled through the in­di­vid­ual RGB colour chan­nels). There’s also up to eight pages of cap­ture data which are shown su­per­im­posed over the im­age and the first five pro­vide just about ev­ery­thing you need to know, 24 items in all. The last three de­pend on whether the D5 is fit­ted with an op­tional GPS re­ceiver or IPTC pre­sets are em­bed­ded (which is a func­tion that news and sports pho­tog­ra­phers would use).

A se­lec­tion of in-camera edit­ing func­tions are avail­able via the Re­touch Menu and these in­clude ‘D-Light­ing’ (for deal­ing with con­trast), dis­tor­tion, per­spec­tive, straighten, im­age over­lay, a cou­ple of ba­sic fil­ter ef­fects (warm and sky­light) and RAW-to-JPEG con­ver­sion. New is some­thing called ‘Side-by-Side Com­par­i­son’ which al­lows for the re­touched im­age to be com­pared di­rectly with the orig­i­nal. In­ci­den­tally, there’s also a split-screen view avail­able in the D5’s live view, al­though here it com­prises two zoomed-in sec­tions from the scene pri­mar­ily to as­sist with fo­cus­ing and align­ment.

SPEED AND PER­FOR­MANCE

Our test D5 was the XQD ver­sion and it came with Lexar’s 1400x XQD 2.0 card in the 64 GB ca­pac­ity which has a max­i­mum write speed of 185 MB/sec­ond (and up to 210 MB/s read speed). With JPEG/ large/fine cap­ture the D5 rat­tled off a burst of 142 frames in 11.625 sec­onds which equates to a shoot­ing speed of 12.21 fps. The av­er­age file size was 10.5 MB and there was vir­tu­ally no de­lay writ­ing all this data (nearly 1.5 GB) to the XQD card. We timed it at un­der a sec­ond. So even if you do fill the buf­fer, the camera will be ready to go again al­most im­me­di­ately. Bear in mind that if you opt for the CF card ver­sion, it won’t de­liver quite the same burst lengths or buffer­clear­ing speeds.

Clearly, though speed is the D5’s forte be­cause the new AF sys­tem also ex­cels here. It’s fast and un­err­ingly ac­cu­rate – even with very small sub­jects – while be­ing re­li­able in all man­ner of light­ing con­di­tions, in­clud­ing when it’s dark enough that you’d nor­mally ex­pect hunt­ing to be an is­sue. The fo­cus track­ing also works ex­cep­tion­ally well, even with quite small sub­jects trav­el­ling at high speeds. To be frank, the im­prove­ments to the aut­o­fo­cus­ing per­for­mance are just so sig­nif­i­cant, this alone is worth up­grad­ing from the D4 or D4S.

The new me­ter­ing sys­tem is also very re­li­able, al­though this is re­ally no sur­prise given Nikon’s track record in this depart­ment.

The imag­ing per­for­mance is no sur­prise ei­ther. As noted ear­lier, Nikon has done some work on en­hanc­ing the JPEG qual­ity straight out of the camera – prob­a­bly be­cause pros such as sports and news pho­tog­ra­phers mostly shoot JPEGs given their tight dead­lines – and there are im­prove­ments ev­i­dent in the crisper def­i­ni­tion of fine de­tail­ing, smoother tonal gra­da­tions and a bet­ter dy­namic range. Some of this is down to the in­crease in res­o­lu­tion over the D4S – which is close to 25 per­cent – but much of it can be at­trib­uted to the Ex­peed 5’s new im­age pro­cess­ing al­go­rithms. While, of course, the D810 and even the D750 still de­liver higher res­o­lu­tion, the D5’s sen­sor has a su­pe­rior sig­nal-to-noise ra­tio which not only man­i­fests it­self in the dy­namic range, but also the high ISO per­for­mance which is bril­liant up to ISO 6400 and still very good

at ISO 12,800. Even ISO 25,600 is use­able, al­beit with some mot­tling in ar­eas of con­tin­u­ous tone and a small re­duc­tion in the colour sat­u­ra­tion, but the def­i­ni­tion still holds to­gether well and so de­tail­ing is much less com­pro­mised. Con­se­quently, as was the case with the orig­i­nal ‘gloom-buster’, the D3, these ul­tra-high ISO set­tings are still very much on the cards if you’re shoot­ing B&W… the lu­mi­nance noise sim­ply look­ing like film grain and quite ac­cept­able (of course, here the D5 also goes well be­yond the ven­er­a­ble D3).

THE VER­DICT

Things have changed since Nikon launched the D4S and, in many ways, the D5 is just a bet­ter D4S which means it’s still a big and heavy D-SLR pri­mar­ily aimed at work­ing pho­tog­ra­phers who need, above all else, a very tough camera. But the D-SLR is no longer the only game in town, even at the top-end of the mar­ket, and there’s an in­creas­ing num­ber of mir­ror­less op­tions which can also tick most, if not all, of these boxes… plus add in­no­va­tion to the list. And it’s telling that the D5 de­liv­ers some of its best ca­pa­bil­i­ties when it’s not us­ing its re­flex mir­ror and op­ti­cal viewfinder (in­clud­ing when shoot­ing video).

That said, the Nikon D5 may be old school, but it’s glo­ri­ously old school. It may be a big camera, but it han­dles well even with a long lens fit­ted, and the im­proved er­gonomics give even more ef­fi­cient op­er­a­tional work­flows. The new AF sys­tem is bril­liantly ac­cu­rate in any sit­u­a­tion, in­clud­ing when track­ing some­thing fast­mov­ing at 12 fps, and you just know that this camera isn’t go­ing to let you down when the go­ing gets tough.

There are a few dis­ap­point­ments though… the touch­screen con­trols aren’t fully im­ple­mented and nor are the 4K video ca­pa­bil­i­ties (even with the clip du­ra­tion ex­tended). Op­por­tu­ni­ties have been missed here, but then co­in­ci­den­tally both are re­lated to when the camera is in a mir­ror­less con­fig­u­ra­tion. Just sayin’.

Sooooo… be­yond be­ing a Nikon-ded­i­cated sports or wildlife shooter, why would you buy the D5? Well, it’s a lot cheaper than a Le­ica SL and with a much more ex­ten­sive lens sys­tem. It has a su­pe­rior AF sys­tem to the Sony A7R II, par­tic­u­larly in terms of track­ing fast ac­tion, and is gen­er­ally much su­pe­rior when it comes to con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing.

How­ever, this camera has twice the res­o­lu­tion at nearly half the price and its na­tive lens sys­tem is get­ting bet­ter by the minute.

OK, so it prob­a­bly now all ac­tu­ally comes down to de­sir­abil­ity and for­tu­nately, be­yond the many un­ques­tion­ably laud­able fea­tures and specs, the Nikon D5 has this in spades.

In other words, if you re­ally want one, go ahead and buy one… you won’t be dis­ap­pointed.

Big and beautiful, but is the D5 the last of the line for Nikon pro­fes­sional-grade re­flex cam­eras?

All key con­trols – in­clud­ing for play­back – now have back­light­ing. The rear panel info dis­play is mostly de­voted to im­age file info. But­ton at far left is new and ac­cesses a faster way of chang­ing drive modes. Menu de­sign and nav­i­ga­tion is un­changed from the D4 mod­els and re­mains the most log­i­cal in the D-SLR world. Viewfinder eye­piece has built-in shut­ter and strength ad­just­ment. Lens is in­ter­change­able with a flu­o­rine-coated op­tion for shoot­ing in the rain. Rear con­trol panel cen­tres on nav­i­ga­tional key­pad and dual jog con­trols (the sec­ond for the ver­ti­cal grip) for se­lect­ing AF points. It also serves as the AE/AF lock.

Mode but­ton is now more log­i­cally lo­cated in the ‘main dial’ clus­ter. Top panel is sub­stan­tially the same as that of the last few Nikon pro D-SLRs and dom­i­nated by the large info dis­play panel. Built-in mi­cro­phones are ad­justable for lev­els and fre­quency re­sponse. ISO but­ton moves from the back panel for more con­ve­nient ac­cess.

4K video shoot­ing is the UHD res­o­lu­tion at 30, 25 or 24 fps. Max­i­mum clip du­ra­tions now at the stan­dard 29 min­utes and 59 sec­onds fol­low­ing a firmware up­grade.

New aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem em­ploys a to­tal of 153 points of which 55 can be man­u­ally se­lected. Re­vised ‘Lock On’ pa­ram­e­ters en­hance track­ing re­li­a­bil­ity.

In-camera lens cor­rec­tions are pro­vided for vi­gnetting and dis­tor­tion.

The D5 comes in two flavours – for XQD mem­ory cards or Com­pactFlash de­vices.

Stereo au­dio in­put for ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phones and out­put for head­phones. All con­nec­tors have their own com­part­ments with sub­stan­tial rub­ber cov­ers. AF area mode se­lec­tor is po­si­tioned on the lens mount. Cen­tre but­ton is pressed in to ac­cess set­tings which now num­ber seven.

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