Nikon D5

Launching in time for this summer’s Olympics in Rio and Euro 2016 in France, the D5 sits firmly at the top of Nikon’s DSLR line with professional photographers in its sights. Replacing 2014’s D4s, this behemoth’s handling and styling may not be that dissimilar from its forebear’s, but take a peek under the bonnet and it’s almost entirely a brand new beast. From the sensor at its core, to its autofocus and metering systems, Nikon’s engineers have been busy redesigning their flagship model from the ground up. Many of its most eye-catching features will be the shape of things to come for enthusiasts, as the trickle-down effect of new technology is rolled out over time to more affordable models. So what is there for everyone to look forward to in the future? And how does the D5 compare to Canon’s recently announced update to its flagship model, the 1DX MkII?

Nikon D5

Nikon D5

Features & Build

At 20.8Mp, the conservative pixel count of the D5 won’t grab the headlines in the same way as the 36.3Mp D810, or Canon’s 50.6Mp 5DS. However, it does mean the full-frame sensor should be able to perform much more admirably than the aforementioned models in low light, while still providing ample resolution for the vast majority of printing needs. Images are output as RAWs or JPEGs at 5568x 3712px, roughly a 20% increase on the 16.2Mp files from the D4s. The sensor is combined with a new EXPEED 5 image-processing engine that Nikon state improves power efficiency by 25%, and features a new noise reduction system. Native ISO range has been increased, and now tops out at 102,400, while several expanded settings push it even further to the amazing level of 3,280,000.

Now touting 12fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus, the camera can hold its own against most of the competition. With the mirror up, 14fps shooting is also possible. Even more impressive though, is its boosted 200 RAW shot buffer. With pro-spec cards, that should mean an end to file-writing wait times under all but the most extreme usage. It’s also the first Nikon DSLR to offer internal 4K UHD video recording, although only for a maximum recording time of 3mins, unlike the APS-C format D500 which will record for just under 30mins. Longer recording durations are possible with the camera set to Full HD (1080p), while all video formats can be output uncompressed via an HDMI port.

The camera has a bright optical viewfinder that offers almost 100% coverage and a magnification of 0.72x. Complementing this is a 3.2in 2359k-dot display on the rear which, while touch sensitive, is used for control of image playback rather than menu navigation or touch focusing.

There is no Wi-Fi or GPS built into the camera, although external units for both can be bought separately. The D5 has a hotshoe, but no pop-up flash, something unlikely to concern professional shooters.


Fully weather-sealed, the D5 measures 160x159x92mm (WxHxD) and weighs 1405g with two XQD cards fitted. It’s reassuringly heavy for a pro model without feeling unwieldy. Nearly identical to the D4s in terms of its body design, some other subtle changes have taken place. While the distinctive dual grips for shooting in portrait and landscape orientation have been maintained, their shape has been modified for increased comfort.

The thumbrest on the back of has also been tweaked, with the addition of two small rubber grips offering even better purchase.
A new Function button has been added to the side of the lens mount, while several settings controls have been relocated. The camera’s ISO button now sits next to the shutter, while the shooting Mode button is found above the Release Mode dial. This redesigned control layout felt very intuitive in use.

Rated to -4EV, the Multi-CAM 20K AF system in the D5 consistently found focus quickly and accurately, even in the low light conditions of a rock concert. With 153 focus points (including 99 cross-type and 15 that support an effective aperture of f/8), 55 are user-selectable. A broad swathe of the frame is covered
for those shooting off-centre compositions. As on the D4s, the camera has reliable and responsive 3D tracking, which manages to keep moving subjects in focus with ease – a must for pro sports and wildlife shooters.

The blistering 14fps top speed of the camera’s burst mode is sure to turn a few heads, but it’s the 200 shot buffer which impressed us the most. Using the Sony card that ships with XQD variant of the camera, single RAWs were written instantaneously, and when filled with 200 RAW files, the buffer took a mere 4.5secs to clear. This means that most users will never feel the D5 slow down at all, unless they happen to be shooting action continuously.

Value for money

Professional cameras are a hard product to judge in terms of value – as refined tools, their flagship features will always come at a premium. That said, for those that make their living from nailing those blink-and-miss-it moments, the D5 will tick pretty much every box with the advances in performance it offers.

Over its closest competitor, Canon’s 1D MkII, the Nikon offers higher ISO levels, an improved battery life (according to CIPA testing), and an autofocus system with a better detection range and greater number of AF points. However, it loses out to the 1DX MkII in terms of its video capabilities (resolution, duration and frame rate), top burst shooting speeds (the 1DX II offers 14fps with AF) and inbuilt GPS. 


The 5D is aimed at pros and delivers a performance that won’t disappoint them. With improvements to just about every aspect of the D4s, it’s a flagship model that demands respect. Its huge buffer capacity has to be experienced to be truly appreciated, its new AF system is a joy to use, and image quality overall is highly impressive. However, it’s not quite perfect. While Nikon may be gearing up to release a more video-focused DSLR, in this area its features feel slightly pedestrian compared to its competitors, while banding noise in exposure-pushed RAWs seemed more of an issue than on several of Nikon’s more affordable full-frame models. That’s not to say that this isn’t a camera that’s sure to become the pinnacle of desirability for many photographers, but it does have its quirks to be aware of.


  • Body price £5199 (As of July 2016)
  • Resolution 20.8Mp (5568x3712px)
  • Format RAW & JPEG
  • Sensor FX CMOS, 35.9x23.9mm
  • ISO Native 100-102,400 (3,280,000 when expanded to its maximum)
  • Shutter 1/8000secs -30secs + Bulb
  • AF system 153-point phase detection
  • Burst rate 12fps (14fps mirror-up)
  • Monitor 3.2in 2359k-dot fixed LCD
  • Viewfinder Optical pentaprism
  • Flash No (hotshoe built in)
  • Video 4K UHD 3840x2160 @ 30fps
  • Connectivity No inbuilt Wi-Fi
  • Storage XQD or CompactFlash
  • Weight 1405g with two XQD cards
  • Dimensions (WxHxD) 160x159x92mm
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This review was first published in the May 2016 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.