Nikon D5 - a serious player (03.08.2016)
Text and photos: Kaupo Kikkas
Nikon’s new flag ship D5 once again raises the standards of cameras. The most exciting new standards include a new level autofocus, ISO sensitivity and 4k video making possibilities.
There are more than enough reviews of the technical possibilities of this camera that can be found all over the Internet – where the tiniest details, all programs and buttons are listed. Thus, in my review, I am going to focus on real life experience that I managed to gather within two weeks of using this camera and that I can now share with you. My main field of photography is related to music. That is how I ended up using this new camera in Odessa – I was there to shoot a cover for the new album of David Orlowsky Trio. From there, I flew to Milan to portrait contra tenor Raffaele Pe and the world famous early music ensemble La Venexiana. When I got home, I tested the camera in harsh light conditions at a concert and I also tested its details and range while taking a portrait series in the nature. In Odessa, I worked with natural light and the middle range of ISO sensitivity. I was also able to do a mini movie about the trio. In Milan and Estonia, I got to test this camera in different artificial light conditions and with lower and higher ISO sensitivities. I had two busy weeks but there’s still a lot to do and I am sure there are many questions I don’t know the answer for. I still managed to get more than 10 000 frames during those weeks. I am going to focus on my personal experience and leave quoting other available reviews aside.
Since I have previously photographed with Nikon’s professional series cameras, D5 is a logical choice for my next camera and this camera intuitively fits into my hand perfectly. There are no big changes in the ergonomics of this camera; maybe only some buttons have slightly changed their location. The same can be said about the general handling, programs and image view. The first noticeable change is the LCD screen which pixel number has been more than doubled and you can immediately notice more details and brightness. The screen has also become touch-sensitive that enables to do many operations (like choosing the focus points for example) directly from the screen. I am quite old fashioned when it comes to the style of my photography and sometimes I joke that if it was up to me, screens could be lost from the cameras. But I really got see the benefits of this new screen while filming because it turned out to be a real blessing while focusing and assessing the detail.
About auto focus
Before taking the first photos with this camera, I had heard a lot of praise for its auto focus and I must admit that all the things said about it are actually true! Years ago, I changed my Canon system for Nikon and auto focus was the reason I changed brands. I had become used to having every fifth photo out of focus. Numerous calibrations did not give an accurate focus, especially for the outboard focus points and I became quite desperate. I use a lot of open aperture and in that case, even 2 to 3 mm of focus error is killing the photo. I had come to terms that this had to be my fault to a certain extent as well but when I used another camera, the problem disappeared. If we exclude the first batch of Nikon D800E from the factory that needed a prism regulation, none of my Nikon cameras have needed calibration. I believe that all the cameras produced today have a well performing autofocus but it seems that D5 plays in a different league in this case.
All auto focus functions have been improved with this camera. There are more focus points, they are located on a larger area, are more accurate, faster and smarter so to say. The most evident proof of this occurs when looking through the photos. There are thousands of photos and there are practically no photos with a focus error. Since my demands for the auto focus are quite old fashioned (I would just like to have photos that are in focus), I did not get the chance to try out the follow focus and 3D focus. I also did not test the Crown Jewel of D5 which is its world’s fastest continuous shoot.
Those who probably benefit the most out D5 features are wild nature photographers, sports photographers and photo journalists. These are fields that require a powerful and resistant camera, the best auto focus and high ISO sensitivities at everyday work. My field which is photographing musicians is mostly planned but I always have to consider that any successful capture must be suitable for the album cover or large advertisement as well. That is why I am quite conservative when it comes to choosing ISO. Couple of years ago, ISO 400 was the highest ISO I worked with (not in photo journalism though). With the next generation cameras, it slowly rose to ISO 800. With D5, we can say that ISO 1600 is my new ISO 400! For the first time, this even enables to adjust the exposure in the computer later and to interpolate without a noticeable noise problem. Precise rules of the game are of course set by the field of photography and each photographer’s demands and the sensitivities of the D5’s new sensor are usable at higher values. While doing photojournalism at a concert and in the nature, I used ISO 12 800 for taking some photos just to test it. Even though there’s a lot of improvement, you should not forget that higher sensitivities do not produce photos of as high quality as the lower ISOs and without a reason, you shouldn’t play with this button. But still, I think for me, the improvement of D5’s sensor is the most important one since it offers totally new opportunities for the photographer which include photographing situations and events that they were not able to photograph before due to not having enough light.
About the sensor
Since the sensor of D5 is built with the purpose of reaching higher ISOs, I have been asked about the dynamic range of the lower ISOs. It is very good but it is worth to mention that this 20 MP sensor which pixels are sparsely located does not offer the same range as the 36 MP D810’s sensor. The latter, on the other hand, cannot offer any competition at higher ISOs. Every photographer probably dreams about a camera which features the best characteristics of both of these cameras. Maybe there will be a camera like that in the future but today, we can say that it’s the same as trying to put together a sports car and a forest truck. There are numerous attempts to do that but for getting the best results, you still need two separate cars for driving on a race track and in the forest.
To sum up, I would like to talk about the biggest surprise for me – video. If until now, there has been no reason to write about video making while talking about Nikon cameras, the new generation cameras D500 and D5 totally change this situation. The video image has changed a lot – the new profile curve is much sharper and there are more details. Similarly to the still photos, high ISOs are noise free. Handling and functions of video making have also been improved, microphone and ear plug inputs have been made more convenient and changing the aperture is also smooth now. Of course, by its construction, ergonomics and price, D5 is a professional still photography camera that also features video making possibilities and there is no point in comparing it to video cameras. For me personally, this is very good news since I can now offer more videos to my clients without dragging along additional equipment.