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Nikon D5 - hands on preview

I have started to think about getting a second camera next to my trusty workhorse Nikon D800.  The newly announced D5 and D500 seem very exciting. Since the D800 shines with its resolution and dynamic range, it seemed that I could also go for D500 – fast continuous shooting mode, clean high ISOs, 1.5x crop is sometimes a benefit, quite a good price. When I asked from I AM Photographer ProShop about its availability and the possibility to try it, I was surprised when I was told that it is not available yet but I could have the Nikon D5 for testing. You cannot say no to an offer like that. This year, I was once again a photographer at Tallinn Music Week and there, a camera with higher ISO sensibility and smaller files was perfect. There were a lot of events, live-shows held in difficult light conditions (fast blinking stage lights with LED PAR-s that have a really narrow colour spectrum) and these events really tested the camera. In addition to Tallinn Music Week, I also had a portrait shoot, two interior shoots and one seminar shooting. This gave me a chance to try out the D5 in different scenarios.

My first emotion after taking the D5 into my hand was pure joy. I am so glad that everything isn't made smaller during this era of mirrorless cameras. A big full size pro body is very comfortable to hold and I don’t exactly have large hands.  The lenses are nicely balanced and the weight of the camera offers a lot of stability, so shooting from the hand even with slower shutter speeds is not a problem. For the first couple of days, the weight of the body took some time to get used to but from the third day on, it felt really natural. I have shot with Canon 1D series and Nikon D2Hs/D3 and the same goes for all of them. Another aspect that amazed me was the capacity of the battery. I charged the battery every night for the next day as I am used to do that but it seemed that I really didn’t have to – one night, after I had taken around 1200 photos, the camera still showed 80% of battery. I could have probably gone for several days without a charge.

The D5 is mostly a reportage and sports photography camera. This camera is f-a-s-t. In absolutely everything. 14 fps continuous shoot mode with 200 RAW file buffer, how instantaneously the camera reacts to the shutter button, XQD memory card etc. When I turned on the continuous shoot mode, it was hard to take away the finger from the shutter button fast enough to only take one photo – this camera is just so fast that once you press the shutter, you've already taken 2-3 photos. Fast continuous shoot mode is a really good thing at conferences or at concerts for capturing the emotions of the performer or catching the peak of a jump or something like that. It is possible to predict those events based on experience and capture them with one shot but fast continuous shoot mode adds a lot of confidence and convenience.

AF is very good. With D800, I mostly only use the middle focus point and reframing because I cannot be sure on other focal points but with D5, I could let the camera deal with getting everything in focus. Choosing the point, following the faces, 3D tracking – all these work very well and that also goes for low light conditions with a funk band bobbing around on stage.

One thing that astonished everybody online, is the high ISOs of D5. The highest sensibility that this camera is able to use is  3.280.000.  Yes – ISO three millions! Can you remember the time when you were recommended to buy ISO 800 film to take photos indoors without using the flash? In practice, those high ISOs still remain sort of theoretical. Yes, this camera takes photos at those high ISOs but they are far from being practically usable files. That was actually a somewhat negative surprise to me. D800 is a camera 5-6 years old and I thought that the progress would be a bit better. One’s taste and the usage purposes may vary. For my taste, the D5 reached its wall somewhere in between 10000-16000. That is a lot less than 3 million but quite a lot more than 4000 which I sometimes dare to reach with D800. Now, I am quietly starting to miss the convenience of shooting with such high ISOs without worry.

I was a bit negatively surprised by the dynamic range of the D5. I didn’t have the time to test this camera to bits but from the interior shooting experience and photo processing it seems that the dynamic range of D5 is a bit weaker than D800’s. So it won't be replacing my D800 for architecture and interior photography work.

While the resolution of D5 is quite considerable for architecture and interior photography, it seems that this camera is not the most practical choice. A D810 is probably the best choice for that. But  20 megapixels is a resolution that should cover 90% of the work that comes up.

I was pretty sad to take D5 back. I didn't expect it to be any other way though :)  I managed to get used to it quite quickly and I learned to trust it which is quite a significant sign of quality. I have had around 30 different cameras and often it takes a lot of time before you realise how they meter light or which AF points might struggle etc. Getting to know the camera to a point where it truly is an extension of the mind and the hand usually takes a longer time.

If it was a bit cheaper and I was more of an events and reportage photographer, I would not have any doubts. At the moment, I am going to wait for the D500 to get here.