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Cameras

Nikon D5 sets a high bar for low-light photography

A new sensor, autofocus and metering system may make this an action-shooting master.

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Nikon's going after Canon with both barrels this year with the introduction of the D5. Traditionally the flagship sports-oriented dSLR in Nikon's stable, there are significant updates over the D4s for its essential capabilities, including a new 153-point autofocus system, a whopping maximum ISO of 3,280,000 and 4K UHD (3,840x2,160-resolution) recording.

As is typical of this class of camera, it's not cheap: $6,500 (I can't find UK or Australian pricing yet, but that converts to about £4,430 or AU$9,100). Though the price tag is hefty, Nikon has addressed a lot of the needs of sports and low-light photographers. It'll be available in March.

What's new?

  • Sensor. Nikon only says that it's a Nikon-developed sensor, which doesn't tell us much. However, the claimed maximum ISO of 3,280,000 -- more important, that's with a clean maximum of 102,400 -- continues Nikon's tradition of pushing the boundaries of sensitivity. While I'm sure there will be tons of "it can see in the dark!" headlines, its value is mostly in being able to crank up the shutter speed in dim light to grab sharp shots. I can't wait to try that out. At 20.8-megapixel, the sensor is only a bit higher-resolution that the D4s'.
  • Autofocus system. As mentioned earlier, Nikon increased the number of AF points, including 15 cross-type for focusing stopped down as far as f8 -- another sports-shooting essential. It uses a new AF module as well, and Nikon claims it can focus in conditions as dark as -4 EV. Of course, it would be annoying if the camera could shoot in the dark but couldn't focus in it. Nikon claims that the AF system can keep up with the 12 frame-per-second burst rate (up from 10fps), and it sounds like the buffer is pretty large, as Nikon says it can handle 200 uncompressed raw files in a burst.
  • Video capabilities. Nikon steps into 4K territory with UHD support and a flat profile, though you can only shoot 4K for 3 minutes at a time. While that should be sufficient most of the time, sometimes your timing is off and you need to run longer. It also offers in-camera time-lapse creation.
  • Metering. The D5 gets a new metering sensor with double the sensors. That's also essential for metering in really low light.
  • Card slots. Nikon backed Sony's XQD-card standard in the D4s, leaving non-adopters with only a single CompactFlash slot. Because it wants to continue to support the faster XQD standard, Nikon has taken the odd approach of offering two different models which differ only by that; you either get two CompactFlash or two XQD slots.
  • Design. It's got a slightly higher-magnification viewfinder than its predecessor, and a larger, much higher-resolution LCD display. Plus there's an extra programmable function button on the front. Though the display's a touchscreen, you can only use touch for playback. Aside from those changes and some tweaks to the control layout, the body is pretty much the same.
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