There is no question that the D5 is a stunning piece of technology. The specs on the camera are convincing enough, but it wasn’t until I had the body in my hands that I realized how many possibilities were housed inside. After only a week, I’m certain it’s the camera I’ll use more than any other. Here’s why:
This body has so many capabilities that it’s hard to know which one will contribute more to the images that end up in my portfolio. Of course, a motor drive that delivers 12 frames per second (14 with the mirror locked up) is as mind-bending as the 153 focus points in the AF system. Those two specs are what got my immediate attention when the camera was announced and they were the first capabilities I wanted to try when I received mine.
After charging up the battery for the first time, I had to hear this thing run for a second or two. It didn’t disappoint. At 12fps, I hoped the blistering motor would make it easier for me to capture peak action. That’s what I was counting on the first time I took it out in the field.
First, let me be abundantly clear: I am not an action photographer. There are photographers like my brother Mark who specialize in action and put me to shame. The ponderous pace of my portrait work usually resembles a tortoise rather than a hare. A single frame at a time is typical for me.
Sports action is another story. Single-framing won’t cut it. So, I decided to take the D5 out with some long glass and see what I could do with a camera that’s built for subjects that move quickly.
“The camera seemed to know which player I wanted to focus on and then tracked that player as I followed the action.”
I expected the results to show a high percentage of out of focus pictures and missed shots. That would be typical for me since I don’t often shoot anything faster paced than someone walking. Instead, my success rate was nothing short of astonishing. Time after time, I would look at the LCD screen and expect the last sequence I made to be soft—or for at least some of the images in the sequence to be soft. Instead, each 12fps burst kept showing up sharp from start to finish.
The camera seemed to know which player I wanted to focus on and then tracked that player as I followed the action. Again and again, the D5 was able to hold focus no matter which direction the player zigged or zagged, leaped in the air, or fell to the ground. In one particular sequence, a player is tripped by an opposing player and the camera successfully tracks him the entire way.
When I sat down at the computer and reviewed the entire take, the number of in-focus pictures on the monitor was above 95%. Again, I’m not an action photographer and the images I made won’t be winning any awards. But there is no denying that on motor speed and focusing alone, this camera gives me a huge advantage over any camera I’ve ever owned.
“I can now control up to six groups of Speedlights from the camera.”
Beyond the speed, one of the most anticipated capabilities is that the D5 has the ability to use Nikon Speedlights wirelessly using the new Nikon radio-based system. By using the new SB-5000 and the radio system, I can now control up to six groups of Speedlights from the camera. This is a huge improvement over line-of-sight systems because bright sunlight or the placement of the Speedlight doesn’t effect the reliability of the triggering. Probably the biggest change is that placing a Speedlight inside a softbox or other modifier doesn’t affect the radio signal. That’s huge.
And without a radio or Speedlight as a trigger in the hot shoe, the balance of the camera feels more natural—not to mention that you don’t need to look over or around a big object mounted just above the eyepiece. The combination of this new radio system and the high-ISO capabilities of the D5 opens up amazing possibilities for things like high-speed sync and sports action.
What high ISO capabilities?
The highest native ISO for the D5 is a remarkable 102,400 and up to an expanded 3,280,000. That’s ISO three million… (Former film shooters will remember ASA 1600 as being the comfortable limit to push film. To grasp this number I had to write it out to see all the zeros: 1600 vs. 3,280,000 or 11 added f/stops of light sensitivity.)
“That kind of capability will change not only how I make pictures, but it will also broaden the styles of lighting I can utilize throughout my photography.”
I’ve heard that the sweet-spot of this camera is in the ISO 3000-6000 range with virtually no discernible luminance or color noise. That means that for a photographer who shoots people there are now many more choices in lighting. High-CRI Kino Flo fluorescents, LED fresnels, or any continuous light source is now a very real possibility for serious studio or location work. Imagine being able to shoot 12fps without waiting for the strobes to recycle or the camera to focus. That kind of capability will change not only how I make pictures, but it will also broaden the styles of lighting I can utilize throughout my photography.
There are countless things this camera can do and each photographer will have his or her own favorite. Some will absolutely need the ability for the D5 to shoot 4K video, while others will value the optional dual XQD slots for high-speed data transfers. Personally, I could never live without the touchscreen LED now that I’ve used it. Being able to select AF points, touch-select white balance, swipe through images, or pinch to zoom to check for sharpness are all addictive once you try them—sort of like the rest of the camera has become for me.