Last November, Nikon announced the development of a successor to their full full-frame, FX-format flagship DSLR, the D4. Today, four years to the day since the introduction of the D4, and two years since the iterative D4S, Nikon unveiled the D5 at a press conference preceding the CES show in Las Vegas. There’s a lot to like here, especially for wildlife and sports photographers for whom speed is essential, but first let’s talk about at that ISO range.
The D4S offered a native ISO range of 100 to 25,600, expandable to 409,600—double that of the D4. The D5, by comparison, octuples (a word Microsoft’s spell check doesn’t even recognize) the ISO range of the D4S, maxing out at 3,280,000. Nikon describes this setting as “near-night vision capability that’s well beyond the visibility of the human eye,” which begs the question, “If I can’t see it, how am I going to compose a photograph of it?” But I digress. The standard ISO range of the D5 is 100 to 102,400, and Nikon claims that the sweet spot range for sports and wildlife photographers, 3200 to 12800, will deliver “unprecedented image quality.”
In addition to the imaging sensor, the AF system is also designed to perform well in very dark conditions, “as little as EV -4 illumination,” which is beyond the needs of most photographers, but translates to an expectation for excellent AF speed when shooting near dawn and dusk. The new AF system introduced in the D5 has 153 AF points, 99 of which are cross-type sensors. All AF points can be employed for Continuous AF focus tracking, and 15 of those AF points function at apertures as small as f/8, “further aiding those who require extreme telephoto capabilities, including wildlife photographers.” The AF system even has its own dedicated processor.
Also new in the D5 is a Nikon-developed 20.8-megapixel sensor and the latest generation of Nikon’s EXPEED image processors, the EXPEED 5. The processor enables 4K UHD video capture, as well as continuous shooting at up to 12 fps with active autofocus and exposure, or an even faster 14 fps with focus and exposure preset and the mirror locked up. An “extended buffer” can accommodate bursts of up to 200 14-bit images, even in NEF+JPG capture mode. In the D5 overview on Nikon’s website, they point out that such a burst is sufficient “to cover an entire 100m sprint without taking your finger off the shutter release button.”
As you would expect from a top-tier professional DSLR, the D5 is designed to withstand rigorous use, “with rugged construction and robust weather sealing.”
Curiously, Nikon decided to offer the D5 in two versions. One offers dual CompactFlash (CF) card slots, and the other offers dual XQD card slots. XQD is the intended replacement for the aging CF format, and offers speeds approximately 2.5 times that of CF, as well as potential storage capacities beyond 2TB (although XQD cards currently available at retail top out at 128GB). I can’t think of a compelling reason why Nikon decided to offer this choice. Yes, CompactFlash is considerably less expensive than XQD, but if you’re buying a flagship pro DSLR for $6,499 (the D5’s list price), I’m doubting you’ll be intimidated by more expensive memory cards that allow you to take full advantage of the camera’s speed and 4K video capabilities. Certainly the XQD version of the D5 would appear to be the better forward-looking investment.
Along with the D5, Nikon also debuted their first radio-controlled Speedlight, the SB-5000, which can control up to 18 Speedlights in 6 groups, with a range of about 98 feet. Compatibility with the new radio-controlled system, dubbed “Advanced Wireless Lighting” is built-in to the D5. List price for the SB-5000 is $599.
Both the D5 and the SB-5000 will be available starting in March, as will be the DX-format Nikon D500, the long-awaited successor to the D300S.