Nikon D5: Innovative Flagship Or Just A Marketing Trick?

ShadowNikon D5 Innovative Flagship Or Trick

We have been witnesses to camera wars on quite a lot occasions. Nikon trying to grab the market from Canon, Canon trying to do the same to Nikon. Sony and Panasonic entering the market as the underdogs, and so forth.

To be honest, this phenomena isn’t anything new. However, lately there is a trend in pushing the numbers just to “wow” the internet. What do I mean by pushing the numbers? Let me elaborate before we get into the D5.

When the Nikon D4s came out, the most notable changes were the jumps from 10 to 11fps, and native ISO from 12.800 to 25.600. On paper, you’d think: “Oh boy, one stop cleaner photo, one stop more light”, however in real life you aren’t getting one stop of cleaner photo. In fact, you aren’t getting nowhere near that. In fact, the gain is basically just another stop of ISO unlocked, which is totally unusable, but looks cool in marketing campaigns.

D5 vs D4s vs D4 vs D750

ISO 12 800 is about the same for all 4 Nikon Models

Now the D5 boasts maximum ISO of 3276800. Yes three million, two hundred and seventy six thousand and eight hundred units of ISO. It sounds awesome, it really does. I was excited for it as everybody else was. That is until I saw the way a picture looks on those numbers.

3 million High ISO Nikon D5, D4s, Canon 1DX, Sony A7sII

Comparison of maximum ISO

That is when I realized that Nikon did it again. Reiterated a previous model by adding numbers without any actual benefit from it. Except for the sake of having a newer model and forcing people to purchase it, of course. Instead of taking my word for it, see it for yourself. DPreview had tested the D5, and you can easily compare it against any camera you like. You’ll be the witness that it is not all about the numbers.

Let us have a look:

Nikon D5 vs D4s vs Canon 1DX vs 7D mk II

As we can see from the image above, the difference between the D5 and the D4s is nowhere to be seen. The difference in image quality between the 1DX (which is quite older) to the D5 isn't that big, having into consideration that color noise is easily removed. The 7D mark II looks notably worse than all of the 3 cameras, but not by a big extent having into consideration that it is a crop sensor camera and it is at max ISO.

D5 vs D4s vs 6D vs A7s II

Here we can see the same phenomena between the D5 and D4s, though here you can see that there is just slight improvement in the D5 image, but it is really insignificant. The Sony A7s II is notably worse here as well as the 6D. However this is 102400 ISO, practically the end of the spectrum for Canon camera which is 4 years older than the D5.

D5 vs 7D II vs 1DX vs D810

Here we can see the D810 compared to the D5, 7D mark II, and 1Dx at ISO that is quite often used. Now the D810 has a tad more color noise, but much more contrast, thus it will produce cleaner image at the end of the day. Surely the D810 has 80% resolution advantage, and that will result in more detailed image at the end of the day. The 7D mark II in this case is there just for reference, though it still looks quite clean for a crop sensor. At that high ISO (which is out of the native ISO range) it has decent amount of luminance noise, but pictures are quite usable.

Some extent of this comparison isn’t fair. The 7D mark II is a crop sensor camera, thus it is expected to be a tad noisier. However, the difference isn’t that big, at least not as big as I expected. The Canon 1DX was introduced Q4 2012, almost 4 years ago. One would expect to see a noticeable difference in technology from a camera that has additional 4 years worth of research and development. But even when compared to it’s previous iteration, the D4s, the difference isn’t evident. Even if there is a difference, it is so minute that in real world wouldn’t be noticeable at all. Nikon D5

Also, bear in mind that no matter how much time you spend shooting, 95% of the time you’ll be shooting with ISO ranges below the 3200 mark. Pushing it to 12800 is rare, 25600 is really rare. 3 million? You wouldn’t do it. Ever.

I often shoot in challenging light (read concerts and clubs), and 80% of the time I stick to ISO 4000, rarely 6400. Little fill flash (usually 1/64 power) just to bring up the dark areas, and it is enough.

What else?

According to DPReview, the dynamic range that the D5 has on base ISO (ISO 100) is lower than any other current Nikon camera. This doesn’t sound good for the most expensive camera on the Nikon lineup.

Many camera reviewers boast the D5 as the fastest shooter in the DSLR market, but the burst rates that the D5 has, have been around 5 years now. The 1DX can do 14 frames per second, the D5 just 12.

What do we need to see yet?

What remains to be seen is the way the AF system performs. So far, the 1DX has the throne when it comes to autofocus. The tracking is impeccable, and it handles rough situations well. The D4s couldn’t keep up with the 1DX, even though it is newer, the D5 has yet to be put up against the 1DX, then again, against the 1Dx Mark II.

Nikon D5One thing that shouldn’t fool you is the amount of focus points. If you shoot long enough you’ll know that the mere number of focus points is irrelevant, what one needs is accurate points, which work well together. I’d pick 20 focus points camera over 200 focus points camera, if those 20 do the job perfectly. My 7D mark II has 65 cross type points, the camera is set to one point 90% of the time, or a small group of 9 points when tracking is necessary. Having all the points selected hasn’t occured in my camera yet. Never had the need to, nor you have control over what the camera focuses on.

What good did the D5 do?

The D5 got all the attention from the Nikon flagship camera owners, which usually translates to:

  1. Older models get massive discounts.
  2. Older models get sold by previous owners who purchase the newer models (and they sell for a bargain prices).

On the other hand, it has proven that manufacturers (not just Nikon sadly, Sony does it too) stick to a time schedule for introducing newer models, often times just for the sake of introducing newer models. Canon usually takes the heat for updating their models after several years, but the differences between each iteration are huge. If you ask me, that is the way it should be. Panasonic follows that trend too, to some extent.

Let me back this claim up with some other arguments:

I currently own a Canon 7D mark II. Yes, you might say, that I am biased, and I might am, however I was considering the switch to Nikon for their superior sensors. At the time when I purchased the 7D mark II, Nikon didn’t have anything to offer me which was even close to the 7D mark II, especially in the video department. Since I had a Canon camera before the 7D mark II, I was used to the menu system, layout, and the way a Canon behaves. Nikon D5

The 7D mark II offers 10 frames per second, maximum ISO of 51200, had the biggest buffer (which allows for 40ish RAW shots before slowing down when using a fast card), and quite awesome video features. Nikon couldn’t offer that, nor could Sony. Canon has the 1DX of course, but that costed around $5000 more. Those kind of money need to be justified. For 1/5th of the price, I got 10 frames per second burst rate, big enough buffer for around 4-5 seconds of spraying, 20 megapixels with decent dynamic range, autofocus system which boasts to be as good as the one in the 1DX, weather sealing which is up to par with the 1DX. What I don’t get is the ridiculous, and unusable, maximum ISO stages, slightly cleaner picture which you gain from a full frame sensor, and built in battery grip.

Why I don’t justify the cost of the D5:

The D5 currently stands for $6499 (according to Amazon). The D500 sells for $1995, and the D810 for $2800 (also according to Amazon). The D500 will provide the burst rate and focus system that D5 has, while the D810 will provide the full frame needs (and will be superior to the D5 at it, resolution, ISO, and dynamic range wise), in all that you’ll have, $1700 left to purchase a lens, or lenses with. This means that, with $6500 you’ll have two cameras instead of one (effectively having back up camera) more capabilities, and room in the budget for lenses. Just for the record, the latest iteration of the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR is $1800.

This is a personal viewpoint from the author itself, based on evidence generated from the companies that tested the hardware, and personal experience in the field.

About the Author

Dzvonko PetrovskiPhotographer fueled by wanderlust. I love photography, I love writing, I love teaching.View all posts by Dzvonko Petrovski →

  1. Gregory ScottGregory Scott08-07-2017

    so if I were to buy both the D500 and the D810 I can shoot either with a low IQ (compared to the D5) or like a slug (compared to the D5), respectively. . OR if I buy the D5, I CAN, all in one camera shoot with speed accuracy and high IQ (though just behind the D810 in IQ for those few who could notice or care).
    my guess is you haven’t actually used a D500 or a D5 to any great extent. having myself used the 7d2 and 5d3 (as well as the 1dx) for hundreds/thousands of frames, I can say that on its own the D500 is superior to the 7d2 in function. and while the d810 is slightly superior to the D5 in studio and portrait type settings, it would be a brick in any arena the D5 was made for (sports, wildlife, adventure, action photojournalism). thank you for your wonderful posts and dedication to the craft.

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