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|| News Item: Posted 2016-04-06

Nikon D5 Review
Sports Shooter member and Associated Press staff photographer, Mark Terrill, got his hands on a Nikon D5. Read what he has to say about it.

By Mark Terrill

Photo by Mark J. Terrill / AP Photos

Photo by Mark J. Terrill / AP Photos

Los Angeles Galaxy vs. D.C. United Sunday, March 6, 2016, in Carson, Calif. Photos shot with a Nikon D5.
I’ll get to the D5 in a second, but I want to provide some of my background in digital photography for those that don’t know me. I started shooting digital while working for the Associated Press in 1994 with a Nikon/Kodak NC2000, which was a Nikon N90 coupled with a Kodak digital back. The camera, which was developed by Kodak for the AP, boasted a whopping 1.3 megapixel CCD, ran two frames per second, had an ISO range of 200-1600 (1600 wasn’t usable), had no LCD on the back and cost $18,000. I have used every Nikon digital camera since and some of the Canon cameras as well and let me just say that digital photography has come a LONG way. Nothing I have used before comes close to the Nikon D5, but that is what you were expecting isn’t it?

First, let me point out that I am a photojournalist specializing in sports photography and have been shooting professionally for 34 years. I am not a technician, so if you are looking to see dynamic range comparisons and high ISO comparisons, I suggest you look to DxOMark or DPReview. I will also let others talk about the video capabilities of this camera since that is not my forte. This review is to provide my real-world impressions of the camera while using it for work.

Most recently I have been shooting with the Nikon D4 and D4s cameras so when I got the a chance to use the D5 in early March, I was eager to see how they matched up. The D4 and D4s are awesome cameras, but there is always room for improvement, right?

When you order your D5, you will notice the option of getting a camera with two XQD card slots or two CF card slots. If you're having trouble with this decision, let me just say that the choice is simple in my opinion. You want the XQD card slots and here is why. The CF technology has reached the end of it’s useful life. CF cards top out at 160 MB per second whereas XQD cards currently top out at 400 MB per second and have the ability to achieve much higher speeds in the future. In addition to that, the XQD slots in the cameras don't have tiny little pins that can easily be bent like CF does. I have been using XQD exclusively for more than a year and I won't be going back to CF, not when I can load 15 GB of data onto my computer in about 30 seconds. I know what you are saying to yourself, “But I have all these CF cards that I’ve invested in.” Believe me I understand, but people have to evolve along with technology. Eventually there won’t be anymore cameras that support CF, so why not upgrade now and reap the benefits of the faster cards?

Photo by

When you order your D5, you will notice the option of getting a camera with two XQD card slots or two CF card slots. Terrill recommends XQD over CF cards.
The D5 sports a 20.8 megapixel CMOS image sensor which produces an almost 60 meg file and has EXPEED 5 image processing. What does that mean to me? It means that I can crop a little more when I need to. To my eye, the color and dynamic range is a 50% improvement over the D4S.

It has a native ISO range of 100 to 102,000 that is expandable to 3,280,000. Go back and take a look at the specs of the NC2000 and let that sink in for a minute. Again, what does this mean to me in my world? It means that no arena is too dark anymore. I shot the Sweet 16 with it last week at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, which is as dark as many high school gyms. My exposure in there was 10,000 ISO with the noise reduction set to “low” and to me it looked like 4000 ISO on a D4s. I could have gone up to 80,000 ISO and had images of good enough quality to meet my company’s standards.

It has 153 focus points and a dedicated processor. The D4s has 51 focus points, so the improvement there is obvious, but how does this translate to the real world? Quite well! I would estimate a 50% improvement in autofocus speed in all situations, including the initial acquirement of the subject to tracking and holding. I especially noticed the improved tracking during the Sweet 16 as an Oklahoma player moved through and between several Oregon defenders. The camera never lost it’s subject even though I would have expected it to in the “available darkness” there. The dedicated processor means that I can use more functions of the camera and lens like VR and 3D autofocus without impacting the focusing speed and the motor drive speed of the camera. I turned on all kinds of functions on the D5 that in the past might have slowed the mechanics of the camera and I saw absolutely no impact. Another focus improvement that I noticed is how the D5 handled players with dark uniforms against a dark background. This is one of the few situations that occasionally tripped up previous cameras. The D5 had no problem.

The D5 motor goes up to 12 frames per second (14 with the mirror locked up). The D4s went 11. The extra frame per second is little hard to notice but it is definitely there. What is a much more noticeable improvement is the mirror blackout time. I had a much easier time tracking subjects while motoring than with previous cameras. If you set the camera to lock up the mirror while shooting, you can get 14 fps. This would be useful for a remote camera setup where you don’t need to see through the lens. Remotes are something that I use everyday so I can see many situations where I would be using this feature.

Photo by Mark J. Terrill / AP Photos

Photo by Mark J. Terrill / AP Photos

Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle, left, reaches in on Washington Wizards center Nene, of Brazil, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, March 27, 2016, in Los Angeles.
So, those are the major points of the camera. There are a few little nuggets that I got into that are well worth pointing out.

One of the under hyped features is the 3D autofocus tracking with facial recognition. I found this to be really impressive. I shot an entire Lakers game with this feature and my focus percentage was better than my usual while using 9 points or 21 points on a D4s. You use this feature by putting a focus point somewhere on your subject and the camera will search for a nearby face, grab it and hold focus on it. If it should lose the face for some reason, it will revert back to its original spot until it sees a face again. This would be extremely useful for shooting tennis, boxing or even baseball where there are only a few faces in the frame.

Another cool feature is the touch screen. Anyone that has a modern cell phone is familiar with swiping and pinching the screen. You can now do that with the D5 LCD screen to move from one picture to another or zoom in. Pretty cool, but the part that made me absolutely giddy was the fact that I could type in network settings and passwords, something that was a tedious, frustrating task with other cameras.

There is another feature called "Auto AF fine-tune." This was somewhat of a tedious process with older cameras that would require you to setup targets to fine tune the focus of any given lens with any given body. This used to take me about an hour per lens. The D5 now does all this for you. Here is my buddy Robert Deutsch from USA Today to tell you about how to use it.

And lastly the power consumption seems to have been improved by quite a bit. I shot two basketball games back-to-back (1,700 images) and only lost one bar on the battery indicator which is about 20%. Mind you, this was while I had the camera networked and was constantly sending images to an editor, which is usually a major power suck. I would have barely made it through the two games with a D4s.

You might be wondering what I didn’t like about it. I was sort of bummed that the voice tag button is no longer there, but it can easily be assigned to another button and Nikon has added a few of those so it’s not that big a deal.

Photo by Mark J. Terrill / AP Photos

Photo by Mark J. Terrill / AP Photos

Photo cropped to show image quality detail: ISO 4000, 1/1600 @ f/2.8
So, what’s my verdict? I have always been of the mind that the camera doesn't make the photographer any more than a great stove can make a chef, but the Nikon D5 sure helps!

Here are some examples to look at.


I did not receive nor was I offered any compensation from Nikon for this review. Nikon also did not ask me to write a review. Just sayin. (-:

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