Nikon D5 – the best partner in the forest (07.07.2016)
Text and photos: Erik Mandre
When I was offered a chance to grab Nikon’s new flag ship D5 with me to a taiga on the Russian-Finnish border, I had mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I was excited and very curious to know what this new body can do, on the other hand, as a fresh owner of D4s, I was reluctant to having a temptation to change it for a new body. My curiosity still got the better of me and so, I spent 4 nights and days in the deep forests with Nikon D5. Since the test period was short and the opportunities limited, I focused on the most important factors for me. These include the performance of the auto focus in difficult light conditions and of course, the photo quality which is the camera’s ability to offer good transfer of colour and details at higher ISOs. Since there’s not too much light in the forest during the later evening hours, this atmosphere seemed to offer suitable conditions for the test of D5. Since my latest tool has been Nikon D4s, I shall compare D5 with that camera since D4s itself already sets high standards for a camera body.
Visually and when holding D5, the two cameras do not seem to be that different – they weigh almost the same and have the same size – both fit into the hand firmly and conveniently. Many programmable buttons have been added both onto the front and back side of the camera that enable to change the settings faster and with less effort. From the shooting point of view, probably the most important and welcomed change is the location of ISO value button that has been moved from the back side of the camera to in front of trigger. Now, it is possible to change ISO sensitivity faster according to the situation and this is very important to me since I often photograph in ever-changing conditions.
Already during the first shooting moments, I realised that compared to other Nikon professional camera bodies, the biggest advantage of D5’s body is its focus points that are noticeably smaller compared to D4s for example. Also, D5 has 153 focus points compared to the previous model that has 51. Hereby, I should mention the biggest change related to these focus points – out of Nikon D5’s 153 points, 99 are crossed type. With Nikon D4s, only 15 are crossed type. In practice, this means that a lot more focus points enable more accurate and faster focusing. So, with Nikon D5, you can be sure on using the outboard focus points when framing the scene – the outboard focus points of D4s are not the most accurate and powerful. D4s’s auto focus speed is already very decent and without using precise measuring tools, it is quite impossible to sense or see the difference between the two cameras. But, it is possible to sense the difference when shooting in dim light conditions where D5 is able to get and keep the subject very sharp a lot more accurately. Based on my own experience I can say that D5 enables noticeably more success when capturing fast moments compared to D4s. This is no wonder since the new module of D5’s auto focus enables the detection range of -4 up to +20 EV (D4s’s range is -2 up to +19 EV) and in practise this means that D5’s auto focus is just able to ”see“ better in more complicated light conditions.
When it comes to the photo quality, despite the fact that on paper, D5’s ISO performance (its standard ISO range is 100 to 102 440 while D4s’s is 100-25600) should be a lot better than D4s’s, I could not detect big differences between these two cameras, a least not noise wise. Up to ISO 12800, the results were quite similar when shooting in the same conditions. So, in a situation where the ISO range remains between 1600-12800, the photo quality of the photos produced by each of the cameras is not that different in terms of the noise. On the other hand, while rising ISO, noise is not the factor which determines the quality of the photo. Higher ISO values also mean less details and worse colour transfer. But these aspects seem to be improved with D5 compared to D4s – especially at higher ISOs.
If I had to name one clear trump card of D5 compared to the previous Nikon top cameras, I would definitely have to say auto focus because this beats the previous models in every situation – it beats them with the number of focus points and their speed and accuracy. D5’s auto focus is exactly what makes this camera the best partner when capturing wildlife. For me, this is an argument that should motivate photographers who are seriously interested in photographing wildlife to test this camera.
NB! All the following photos are files that are directly converted from RAW to JPEG format and they lack of any kind of noise reduction.