Review of the Nikon D5 for Professionals

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Hey guys, this is Sam here with my Nikon D5 review. Before I get into it, there’s one thing I need to say. My equipment reviews (especially camera body reviews) have always been real world, as well as being detailed. A bit too detailed perhaps.

However, I want that to change as of now and I hope this Nikon D5 review reflects it. It’s hard to do with a camera as complicated as the Nikon D5 dSLR, but I’m going to try to keep this review down to the most interesting points.

So, to start us off, here’s a photo taken recently with the Nikon D5.

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My Nikon D5 Review

The Nikon D5 is the first in the Nikon flagship line (the most expensive) to diverge from being simply the best all round camera. Nikon signaled this might happen with the launch of the Nikon D810, which was much more about resolution and dynamic range than it was about high ISO and frame rate.

The Nikon D5 seems to be squarely positioned for speed and low light shooting – not landscapes, and arguably not studio portraiture either. Being a mere 20 megapixels, the Nikon D5 doesn’t deliver images you can happily crop into.

However, Nikon did implement a far better version of small, medium, and large sized RAW file saving. This is definitely something I suggest they roll out across their entire dSLR lineup (especially for the Nikon D810 which is hampered by enormous file sizes).

[Click to open in a new tab: What’s the Best Camera Bag on Shotkit? Find out here!]

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Camera Body

Having switched to two Nikon D750 ‘s almost two years ago, I’d forgotten just how good the pro line of Nikon camera bodies could feel.

The Nikon D5 is about the same weight as any of Nikon’s other cameras with a grip attached to the base. Losing the option to remove the grip is a bummer, but the overall ergonomics of the Nikon D5 are amazing. The comparison makes my Nikon D750 feel like a toy.

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The Nikon D5 is can support two XQD cards or two CF cards, which you can actually swap later if you wish.

I opted for the dual CF card slots as I’ve got quite a few CF cards and card readers. The dual XQD cards are faster, small and more reliable, but they’re also much more expensive.

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Nikon has kept the same battery as their previous Nikon D4s and it holds 3780 images per charge (according to Nikon). In fact, I’ve photographed well over 4000 images on one charge, which is fantastic!

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Touch Screen

As for the touch screen, I really thought it would be just a gimmick, but I actually find it very addictive and useful. Being able to double tap on any section of the image and have it 1:1 zoom exactly to that point saves a few seconds of pressing the zoom button, and this turns out to be a very valuable time saving across a long shoot.

Not being able to use the touch screen in the Nikon D5’s menus is stupid and should be changed. Also, I can’t believe it took Nikon this long to add in-camera star ratings, but at long last it’s here. Take a look at the video below for me using the awesome touch screen and adding star ratings.

The sound of the shutter is not as quiet and satisfying as the Nikon D810, but it’s no worse than the Nikon D750. Here’s a comparison of quiet mode vs. normal mode on the Nikon D5.

Live View

On the Nikon D5 the shutter curtain and mirror are made of professional grade components, unlike those of the Nikon D750. I’ve literally had to stick my finger inside my Nikon D750 to unstick a jammed mirror!

As anyone who knows how I shoot, I use Live View for almost every photo during my portraits. I’m pleased to say that Live View on the Nikon D5 is incredibly responsive and even auto focus in Live View mode is becoming fast enough for practical use.

However, I can’t believe the Nikon D5 doesn’t have an option for focus peaking yet. Come on Nikon!

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AF Fine Tune

With the launch of the excellent Nikon D500 and Nikon D5, Nikon has put in one of my favorite new features, namely the ability to use auto-focus fine tune to calibrate your lenses.

To use this feature, you just press the Live View button, focus on your subject, hold the AF and Movie Record buttons together, and the camera prompts you to calibrate and save the fine tune. I love it! No need to use those annoying focus cards ever again! Watch the video below to see how easy it is.

Auto Focus

Focus on the Nikon D5 is the fastest and most accurate of any camera I’ve ever used in any environment, with any lens. It really is that good.

The extra focus points (a total of 153) essentially provide higher resolution of focusing. This means that different objects in a scene are more easily separated from one another, and therefore they’re tracked more accurately. It’s too bad the focus points themselves are still clustered in the same way as all the other previous Nikon full frame cameras.

Here’s another pretty portrait I took recently for the Nikon D5 review. Can you guess how it was lit?

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The Sensor

The dynamic range on the Nikon D5 is a huge step back from Nikon’s other recently released bodies, but is still more than enough to get a fully dynamic scene on a bright sunny day.

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Remember that you don’t need unlimited dynamic range, unless you want to recover completely missed exposures. Of course, if there’s the option for more dynamic range then I’d happily take it, but some tradeoffs have to be made in order to achieve insanely clean images at high ISO like this one taken at 25,600!

high iso nikon d5 review real world sample

or this one also at ISO 25,600..

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The files out of the Nikon D5 are a pleasure to edit. It’s a totally subjective conclusion, but I love the color tones from this camera. They seemed instantly familiar to me and after some comparisons I decided the colors were most similar to the Canon 5D Mark iii and Canon 6D.

As a completely unscientific test, check out the series of photos below. They were all shot in the same conditions, using the following cameras:

Nikon D5

2. Canon 5DMKIII

3. Nikon D750

…and all shot with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens. This first one was shot at ISO 100 with exact same edits applied (high res here).

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This next series was also shot at ISO 100 with a very dynamic scene. Same edits applied (high res here).

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This next one is at ISO 12,800 with the same exposure and settings applied (high res here).

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And this last one is at ISO 25,600 with the exact same exposure and settings applied (high res here).

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I’ll let you draw your own conclusion, but I will say that passively I’ve noticed a more magenta/Canon-like color to the tones of the files. It’s sort of like the files out of the Nikon D3s, but even better.

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Conclusion

I don’t think I’ve ever been so back and forth about whether to keep a camera or not. The price tag of $6,500 certainly hurts, but my photo keep rate is certainly higher with the Nikon D5 than with my NikonD750.

The auto focus on the Nikon D5 is just insanely reliable.

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Now that the “new car smell” has worn off, I’ve decided to keep the Nikon D5. I’m not ditching my Nikon D750 entirely, but it’s now my backup/side camera for shots where I need an extreme angle (to make use of the flip-out LCD screen), or shots which are crazy high dynamic range.

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After shooting for over 2 years with the Nikon D750, I’d forgotten just how glorious it can feel to shoot with professional, non-plasticy camera components.

I’m actually convinced that Nikon doesn’t think wedding photographers are professional photographers. By this I mean that the Nikon D750 is aimed at the wedding photographer genre, but it’s artificially limited and constrained in lots of different ways, e.g. 1/4000th maximum shutter speed, poor image buffer, unreliable components, poor highlight retention, the blinking ‘err’ error message, random software lockups, etc).

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All said and done, I’d like to round off this Nikon D5 review by saying that the Nikon D5 is an all round winner for me. It’s not a perfect camera by any means, but the reality is the vast majority of images I take from day to day require the most reliable auto focus and clean ISO at extremely high levels.

On those two metrics alone, the Nikon D5 is the best camera for wedding photography on the market today.

Guest review by Washington DC based International Wedding Photographer Sam Hurdwww.samhurdphotography.com

Buy the Nikon D5 at B&H Photo

Buy the Nikon D5 at Amazon

PHOTOGRAPHY BOOK

10 Build Quality

9 Ergonomics & handling

10 Viewfinder/Screen Quality

10 Features

10 Metering & Focus

10 High ISO Perfomance

10 Image Quality

8 Value

THE BREAKDOWN

9.6

6 Comments

  • I’m sure that everything you wrote here about the excellent performance of this camera is true, but as a wedding photographer I still can’t see any argument for a Dx series body, unless it’s 2 generations old, like the D4 or D3s. The D750 just gets the job done. It might have some issues here and there but I’ve never ever felt held back by it. Do I wish it was as rock solid as a D810 or D5, sure, but if it means that one of them would cost $6k, nahhh. You know they’re gonna port that AF system to a cheaper body either this year or the next, and I’ve never felt let down by the D750 AF anyways. If i’m dropping this kind of cash, it better be on a medium format digital body. 35mm just isn’t worth it. No matter how solid the D5 is, you can have 3 D750s for the price of one, and that’s more reliable than any one camera. I guess the only thing I would change in your review is value. If you shoot sports or actual wars, 10/10, but for weddings? Idk like 3/10.

  • Completely agree about the D750 and it is very refreshing to hear someone be honest about the camera. I have had mine for over 40 weddings and every time I use it I hate the thing with a passion. It feels like a nasty plastic toy with bad ergonomics. I have always shot the pro bodies and was going to replace my old D3s but after using the D750 kept the D3s. I always thought that the results from the D750 were great but it was such a horrible camera to use. I think the D5 is the logical step. What is needed is a lighter body with better ergonomics. At the moment we have 2 extremes. I guess you get what you pay for and it certainly shows with the D750

  • Ive been using a D750 with a D3 in the past year and really struggled woth the 750’s unreliability.

    It takes great photos but I always worry on shoots with the autofocus and “err” issue – so I tend to overshoot to cover my bases.

    Recently I purchased a D4s and am loving it – I think the next logical step is the D5!

  • That AF sounds delicious but at that cost and with that weight, naw. My D750 are doing just fine with their AF (actually the best AF I’ve ever used to date) and will be good for another couple seasons of weddings.

  • I recently purchased a D5 to replace my ageing two D4’s. I’ve used most of Nikon single digit D series cameras since 2007 and their functionality is integral to my wedding photography workflow.
    One of these functions has been stripped back and affectively rendered useless which I’m appalled about. The dynamic range at low ISO is what I’m referring to. If Nikon had decided to reduce the size of the sensor and not informed their customer base, everyone would be up in arms. Yet they take it upon themselves to remove this function/ability and not tell their customers. I find this deceptive and inexcusable.
    I now have a very expensive camera which cannot produce images of the quality I’ve been accustomed to. Rendering this D5 unfit for purpose.
    I’ve read so many comments from people stipulating who this D5 is directed at (i.e. sports, journalists etc) yet Nikon has never made such a restrictive claim.
    There are also people saying horses for course, if you want fast action buy a D5, if you want excellent DR buy a D810. The point these people are totally missing is, some professionals require (and have become accustomed to) both high DR and fast action ability.
    Apologies for this rant but I feel this should not be overlooked or swept under the carpet. Nikon seriously needs a firmware update to address the issue (if at all this is possible). Until then, I have a very expensive ornament.

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