Hands-on: Nikon's D5 and D500 show us what they’re made of
The D5 and D500 are the latest flagship DSLRs from Nikon. We know from the specification sheets that they boast improved autofocus, speedy shooting, 4K video recording, and ISO ranges which extend into ridiculous numbers, but what are they like in person? We recently went hands-on with the duo at the UK Photography Show 2016 to find out.
We'll start off with the big boy, and the Nikon D5 is just as large and heavy as you'd expect for a professionally-focused full frame DSLR. It feels much like the D4S, and has the sort of solid build quality needed for surviving in any situation. This could be being thrown around at the side of a sports field, shooting deep in a rain forest, or getting knocked about in war zones, where it could probably even stop the odd bullet.
While the layout will be familiar to users of previous single digit D Nikon cameras, there are a couple of changes. These include an ISO button by the top shutter (finally making this faster to adjust) and the Mode button has made its way to the left of the camera. Around back, there are more button tweaks with the rear dials feeling slightly larger, and the addition of a new "i" button.
The other big change to the rear of the camera, which isn't obviously noticeable, is that the monitor is now a touchscreen. It can be used for swiping through images or zooming in when reviewing shots, or repositioning the focus point and setting white balance points when shooting in live view mode.
It's worth also noting that the fixed 3.2-inch screen on the D5 also boasts 2,359k dots, making it one of the best rear screens we've seen. Images look great on this thing. Unfortunately this was the only way we were able to review shots during our test, as the door to the memory cards was taped shut, meaning we don't know if we were handling the XQD or CF version.
While we're glad to see touchscreens finally making their way to flagship DSLRs (sorry traditionalists, there are some times when they can be handy), it's not the best implementation and it feels like Nikon has still got some catching up to do compared to some mirrorless cameras. While 99 percent of the time we'd probably still want to use physical buttons when navigating menus, it would be nice to also have the option of the touchscreen.
Moving onto pressing the shutter, and the D5 is quick. The D4S was fast, but the D5 feels almost instantaneous when shooting. This is thanks to the new autofocus system which includes 153 focus points (with 99 being cross-type). There are a number of autofocus modes to choose from depending on your subject, though putting them to the test in an exhibition hall would have been a challenge. Our only complaint on autofocus would be that AF points are not spread across more of the frame.
Once you've got your subject in focus, the continuous shooting speed of the D5 kicks is where it can rattle off up to 12 fps (frames per second), making it sound like a machine gun. It was surprising just how many people had the urge to blow the end of the lens like the barrel of a gun after shooting at this pace. With the mirror locked up it can shoot at 14 fps, and is significantly quieter when doing so.
The other headline attraction of the D5 is its sensitivity – it has a native ISO range of 100 to 102,400, but can be extended all the way up to ISO 3,280,000 equivalent. Scrolling all the way up to there felt like it took forever, and the resulting images looked like swiss cheese, though presumably has its use in surveillance and other niche fields. What this ISO range does mean is that performance at lower numbers is outstanding. You can forget feeling guilty for going above ISO 3,200, as you could now quite happily shoot at 12,800 and get very usable results.
We weren't able to check out what the 4K video footage from the D5 looks like, but we can say that it's not as easy to use, or as functional, as that on rival cameras like the Canon 1D X Mark II. Obviously the confines of an exhibition show also meant we were not able to put the D5 through any serious test of its abilities, but we got a good feel for what it can do.
The Nikon D5, looks set to keep professional photojournalists, sports and wildlife shooters very happy. Obviously there will also be those who prefer the Canon 1D X Mark II, but as we concluded when we compared the two, most potential users are already invested in one system or the other. The D5 costs US$6,500 body-only, and is due to be available in the next month.
The D500 has been a long time coming, and is a camera we'd all but given up hope of ever materializing until it was announced earlier this year. While Nikon has released quality APS-C DSLRs in the D7000, D7100 and D7200, these haven't been of the same build quality, or comparative performance, as previous flagship APS-C devices like the D300S (which was launched way back in 2009).
Well, after just a few minutes with the D500, we're glad to say that Nikon once more has a flagship APS-C DSLR to be proud of. In the hand it feels like a quality piece of kit, and while it's bigger and heavier than most DSLRs with and APS-C sensor, it also feels much more durable … and it's still a whole lot smaller than the D5.
While the D500 has a 20.9-megapixel sensor to the 20.8-megapixel offering in the D5, it's an APS-C rather than full frame. As such you'll get a 1.5x crop factor on lenses. Despite what we know about smaller sensors, the camera still manages to have a massive ISO range of 100 to 51,200 (expandable to 1,640,000 equivalent) making it more than capable of holding its own in a low-light shootout.
Autofocus is again dealt with by an AF system with 153 focus points (including 99 cross-type) and delivers incredibly fast focusing. In our tests it was even able to focus quickly and accurately in darker situations. Though the D500 isn't quite as fast as its bigger brother when it comes to continuous shooting, its 10 fps is still far from slow.
Around back, the D500 also features a 3.2-inch 2,359k dot touchscreen monitor like the D5, but this chunky offering also benefits from being able to be moved and tilted. While this makes shooting in awkward positions easier with the D500, we can't help but wish the leg arrangement of the Pentax K-1 monitor was more common.
We didn't get to review any 4K video footage from the D500 during our time with the camera. Nor did we get to check out the built-in Wi-Fi credentials, which look set to make sharing content and controlling the camera remotely much easier and cheaper than previous high-end Nikon cameras. They have traditionally required an optional and expensive wireless transmitter.
With the D500, Nikon has created an APS-C DSLR which will keep professionals and enthusiasts happy as long as they don't need a full frame sensor. Indeed, you also get a tilting monitor and built-in Wi-Fi by going for the smaller model. The Nikon D500 should start shipping in the next few weeks and is priced at $2,000 body-only.