Nikon’s New D5 And ISO 3,280,000

Nikon's new 20.8-megapixel, FX-format D5
Nikon’s new 20.8-megapixel, FX-format D5

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.

The  3.2-inch LCD display features touchscreen capabilities to select focus points, swipe through images and more.
The 3.2-inch LCD display features touchscreen capabilities to select focus points, swipe through images and more.

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.

Nikon's new SB-5000 Speedlight is their first with integrated radio control, which is also built-in to the D5.
Nikon’s new SB-5000 Speedlight is their first with integrated radio control, which is also built-in to the D5.

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.


Wes is the editor of Outdoor Photographer.


    Me parece una delicia poder tener una D5 por todas las prestaciones que va a tener, para m?_ va a ser dif?_cil tener esta descomunal c??mara, sin embargo observ̩ con inter̩s tambi̩n la D500, que tambi̩n trae magn?_ficas prestaciones, ….. lo ̼nico que no me gusst?_ es que es DX, a m?_ me hubiera gustado que fuera FULL FRAME, porque esta si la hubie3ra podido comprar. Bueno los comentarios conforme lo que han informado de la D5, es una c??mara sin precedentes y que no tendr?? competencia alguna, de ninguna marca de la competencia, felicito a NIKON por este gran acierto de sus dos c??maras, la D5 y la D300, ….. esperar̩ a que salga una full frame parecida a la d500, …. felicidades.

    Because some of us could care less about the video aspect. I leave the video needs of my customers to the videographers. I focus on the photos. And my editors prefer cf or sd; you know…non-proprietary cards that are abundant and standardized. I use cf to micro sd converters in my d3/d3s and has been the perfect workflow for two years. Been holding back buying d4 series just because of the qxd. I’ve even begun to hoard d3(s) because of the d4. I’m glad they got out of the Sony chokehold and went back to full cf. we’ll see in a few years; the sales figures and what the market decides. I’ve never heard a good thing about the qxd from any of my colleagues…but then again; they are PHOTOGRAPHERS….not videographers.

    Great camera – yes, but overpriced. 4k video is overrated with o=a max recording time of 3 minutes, so useless for true videographers. ISO of 3 million – absolutely meaningless, you just can’t measure an ISO that high. Also you will need new very high capacity cards which are more expensive. So, a lot of hype for basically a new processor. I will stick with my outstanding D3.

    Surprised that David hasn’t given the XQD format a chance. I use a D4 and D4s and the enhanced speed of XQD coupled with the reliability made me wonder 1 whether the CF format is now dead and 2 why would Nikon bother with CF in the D5? Over the years I have had regular problems with CF cards, the pin arrangement is fragile and reliability (even from well known expensive brands) has been patchy. My speciality is theatre photography, often in very low light and whilst 3m ISO is I agree irrelevant, better quality at ISO 12800 is a boon. I notice that some commentators have expressed doubt whether the CF version of the D5 will ever see the light of day and certainly so far I haven’t seen any for pre-order. Paid for my D5 (with XQD) today. PS I use Lexar cards, which so far have been 100% reliable.

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