Wildlife photographer Richard Costin and the Nikon D5 dslr camera for review

Nikon D5 review diary

Nikon D5 Review Diary


Latest update: 15th June 2016

Nikon_D4_QuadViews Greetings all! This page will serve as the rolling review for the Nikon D5 camera. I have had a tonne of email regarding this highly anticipated machine and it is aimed squarely at the sport, action and of course wildlife gang. Rather than take the eon I normally do to write a concise article after all my testing around my work life I will post a rolling update every few days with my thoughts and discoveries. D500 blog also incoming when I receive mine. Posts below will be in descending date order with the newest at the top. Any questions? Just head on over to Facebook and ask!

15th June 2016   |  "Body overview"

Back again! A quick update here and I thought I would go over the camera body itself. The D5 is hugely similar to the D4, D3, F5 and the like, and that's a good thing. Well balanced and ergonomically comfortable. The body feels more refined, just as rugged but little tweaks really help. Let's have a look....


In the hand. Solid and very un-clunky. You can tell this is a thought about bit of kit and the tweaks are subtle but effective. If you like the bigger bodies with built in grips (as I do) you will very much like this camera.


The grip is a little deeper this time. Feels good and a simple grasp of the camera offers a confident grip. It never feels like it will slip out of your hand by accident.


Next to my every trusty D3. I have had this D3 since late 2007 and it has been used, abused and still keeps on punching. These bodies are built to last and I also still sell images from the D3 on a regular basis.


The current Nikon lineup ala Richard. V2, D800, D500, D5 and D3.

A brief but noteworthy entry to the review. The body is every bit as rugged as the D3 and I really have abused that camera for the last 9 (wow, has it been that long!) years. It has rolled down the windshield of a Toyota Land crusier, eventually resting on the bullhorn bars at the front (200-400 attached) with not even a scratch whilst surrounded by Lions. It has been soaked, dropped and even pood on (badgers will be Badgers) and just works and works. No worries at all about the build quality. I have seen some youtube reviewers/bloggers have put a few very negative reviews up about this camera's (and others) build quality. A quick dispassionate view at their modus operandi reveals they thrive on hits and I guess snarky 'revelations' generates hits? My personal opinion is that the build quality is great and there are no issues, as there haven't been since nikon started making these large bodies decades ago. I might hold one in the hand and moan and moan to camera about it if it gets me hits though. Will that make me seem informed too? Ok, moan over 😉 Long story short, if you had any concerns about this camera 's ruggedness please put them aside. It is wonderful as these top end cameras always are, Nikon or otherwise and I genuinely believe anyone who categorically says otherwise is just trolling for views.


The buttons have reconfigured slightly from the previous bodies. I love that the ISO button is now at my index finger and nowhere near the quality button down the bottom at the back. The movie button is of little use to me as it stands but the buttons are more configurable than ever on this camera and I have switched it over to the classic 'mode' operation.

I think that pretty much covers it really. Tough as nails, balances well with the telephotos and just get's on with it. I will cover the raw files a in a little more detail soon and supply some samples for download. I have just started my D500 review blog, swing over to the page and check it out. Lots more tom come on that camera, it is also delivering the good. 2016 does seem to be Nikon's year. Finally, we have a few places left on the 2017 Big Cats Safari workshop taking place in the amazing Masai Mara. If you fancy joining me out in the wilds, working with these amazing animals to improving your photography and field craft skills then head on over to the workshop page and take a look! Thanks as always, Rich.

17th May 2016   |  "Just some shots"

Hi. No review updates today so to speak but I thought I would add a couple of images taken during my testing that I have shared on both the Twitters and Facebook. All with the D5 and the 70-200 VR (1st gen). A wonderful Tawny Eagle that just had that look. Great light and wonderful subject... Tawny_Nikon_D5_2 Tawny_Nikon_D5  

16th May 2016   |  "The sensor"

Hi all, back from the depths of testing and life in general. I am also in possession of the amazing D500 as well now. Review blog starting on that soon with some Little Owls, but back to the D5! I can tell you that this camera is the best I have seen for high ISO image quality, it's insane and especially when you consider we are now up to 20 megapixels (people often forget that when doing their 1:1 comparisons with older models). I'll be covering the high iso stuff in a later post but today I am hitting the low iso. There has been a lot of talk about the shadow pushing ability of this camera vs the rest of the Nikon lineup and I am certainly intrigued. I shot about 3 images out of my back door of the fence and immediately got bored just thinking about those images. To that end I got my muddy weather gear ready and headed over to a site not too far from me for some sunrise tests. The current king of dynamic range and overall sensor quality at low iso is the D810. I have the earlier D800 model which is not too different and thought it worth comparing. All the shots are taken with the same settings. Note they were handheld so there will be minor differences in the perspective. I took many images but this one I feel demonstrates the differences well, all shot in 14 bit raw of course...


This is the image as shot. Shooting into the sun and deliberately well under exposed. With the 14-24 f2.8 at ISO 100

So I took the above images and processed them through good old Lightroom. Before the crops here is how the image looked after a very heavy shadow increase, highlight decrease and additional heavy handed exposure boost...


The same images from above but very, very over processed. The whole exposure was lifted, shadows boosted and highlights reduced in lightroom.

Pretty much the same yes? The focus point was slightly different between the two but not to worry. The next images are 1:1 crops. I have downsized the D800's files to match the D5's for comparisons sake. The image resolution difference is thus....


Image dimensions of the two cameras. As we can all work out the D800 will resolve more detail all else being equal. It is still the landscape camera of choice (for me at least).


Pretty much the same, as expected.


Here is the vanilla boosted crop. I say vanilla as all I did was boost the shadows and exposure with no finesse. Here you can see the D800 winning in terms of shadow noise (or rather lack thereof). It's not as monster a difference as many are shouting about but certainly is there and easily seen. I don't think I would ever realistically boost a shot to this degree but knowing I can with both and especially the D800 as seen here is a good thing to have.


A more realistic comparison. Here I boosted everything as before but took care not to wash out the blacks and applied Lightroom's noise reduction. The D800 still wins, it seems to retain the shadow colours a little better but now we are in the realms of it not mattering too much (to me anyway). You wouldn't really see this in any normal sized print and definitely not in an online gallery. If you are really into your overcooked HDR type images it could be a problem but I am not.

Interesting! The D800 is still the best for low iso dynamic range gubbins clearly, no doubt there. That sensor is amazing in the sub iso 2000 category (and not too bad above either to be fair). Whilst not as good at low iso, the D5 clearly has the edge at high sos and then some. IT's what it's built for and I will be exploring that in a future post. Hope this helps and puts any 'fears' you may have after reading the forums to rest. Would I like the stellar low iso range in the D5 as I have in the D800? Of course, who woudln't. I can only assume to get the extra megapixels and high ISO gains over the D4s something had to give in terms of the engineering. Assuming that thing had to give I believe they made the right choice. And after all that it still isn't bad, just not quite as good. I also suspect it may have something to do with the readout speed of the sensor in the D5 vs the much slow D800. As well I imagine most wildlife photographers would have both cameras in their bags. One targeted totally at speedy high iso shooting and the other at more considered landscape type work. Better than two jack of all cameras in my opinion. The great thing is the D800 (and now D810) is still a fantastic all round wildlife camera in its own right and the D5 is no slouch at landscapes either so you kind of can have your cake and eat it, you just need to choose which way you want to lean. Until next time folks, keep checking back and thanks for stopping by. I'll post some more images from the shoot over on Facebook. Rich.

28th April 2016   |  "AF tracking 3, African Tawny Eagle"

This time we are here with the Tawny Eagle. Mid sized and erratic. I was choosing to deliberately shoot with a busy background behind to make the test as hard as possible. The Eagle was flying towards me at slight angle and I end the sequence when the bird was too close for the lens. Of this whole sequence we have about 2 or thee slight misses but what is great is that the camera soon recovers and doesn't get confused. Note I have not sharpened these either etc.

Full frame (fit) sequence. Again we have a very busy background here and the bird was much more erratic than our previous two tests.  
1:1 crop view of the sequence. On a side note I now have a shiny new D500 in my possession and out of the starting gates I think it will be a classic camera for the wildlife crowd. Fantastic quality DX sensor (so more reach), lovely quick frame rate with huge buffer and the exact same focus tracking system we are seeing here on the D5. More on that cam later though! Next up will be perhaps one more AF sequence and then onto my image quality tests/comparisons at the weekend. I will be doing like for like tests with the the D3, D500, D800, D5 and if I can nab one D4 (mine is no-longer mine!). Stay tuned, thanks fro reading and do post your questions at the bottom comments section or over on facebook. Rich.

25th April 2016   |  "AF tracking 2, Barn Owl"

Back with more on the AF. Sorry for not updating quicker but it takes a little time to assemble these sequences correctly and check them. I am fitting this review around work life too of course! As before with the Stella’s Eagle we have our full view/fit sequence and crop version below. This time we have a much smaller and vastly more erratic Barn Owl. Just for extra pain he is flying in front of trees and a moving spectator crowd. Very hard for an AF system to cope with as there are many distractions to contend with. This is where I believe the internal depth map generation the phase sensors create will make a huge difference. Basically it not only looks at the colour but thanks to the two sensors knows what is where in 3D space (much like our brains use the two perspectives from our eyes to judge depth). If you're feeling clever read more about this from Nikon’s engineers at this link. Scroll about a third of the way down. Clever Trevors aren’t they! Here is the sequence, we have about 3 images that are slightly less sharp than the super sharp rest of the sequence but still just in focus and useable. The camera also locked back on quickly. A hugely challenging situation for an AF system and it coped very well.  

Full frame (fit) sequence. Notice how the Owl is in front of a very busy background and is all over the frame, not just under the centre point.  
1:1 crop view of the sequence   On a side note I should have my D500 this week and I will be running similar tests, stay tuned for that! Thanks for stopping by as always, Rich.

24th April 2016   |  "First test of the AF tracking"

Hi all. First proper day with the D5 yesterday and I am glad to say it really performed. The AF tracking does seem a genuine step up from any other camera I have used. Tested on Eagles, Owls, Falcons and even a Stork the number of sharp shots was very, very high. Don't take my word for it? Fear not I will be posting the sequences here on the review page over the next week. To get started let's look at one of my fav's the Stella's Eagle. A good starting point and testing the AF with the bird flying directly at me in both a linear movement and rocking in place just before landing. Below are some animated GIFs of this 60 frame sequence and every shot was in focus. Fantastic! If the images below don't play or loop in your browser click the image to load it solo. First is the whole frame and then the same sequence at 100% crop....

Nikon D5 auto focus test by Wildlife Photographer Richard Costin

Coming into land, the D5 nailed every shot. This is the full frame 'fit' view. If the image isn't playing back properly please click it to open it on its own.

Nikon D5 auto focus test by wildlife photographer Richard Costin

The same sequence but at 1:1 crop. If the image isn’t playing back properly or looping please click it to open it properly.

Impressive and a great sign that the game has been upped for AF tracking! This is all with my 200-400 f4 and with no AF calibration (which I will be testing soon). All points were lit up and initial lock on was made on the Eagle and AF left active for the duration. Buffer is amazing, no issues at all there and I am using a slower, older gen X QD card as well at the moment. Stay tuned for more sequences including the rocket propelled Perigean Falcon. I also took some shadow boosting test images as I know a lot of you are keen to see how it performs given all the web chatter. More on that in the week.

Wildlife Photographer Richard Costin testing the new Nikon D5 camera

Thanks to Jen for this shot.

Thanks, Rich.  

21st April 2016   |  "Quick high ISO shot"

Hi. Super quick high iso test last night just at home as I couldn't resist. Proper shots coming soon as I promised. Here we are at ISO 9000....

Note in the full fit version of the image just below I have left all the meta data intact for you except the camera serial number which I have removed. Feel free to download and examine.


D5 & the 24-70 (non VR) @ 1/50, f2.8 and ISO 9000 (that should tell you how dark it was).


100% crop. Left is the centre and focus point area and right is the top right of frame that is out of focus to see the noise itself. This had light processing in Lightroom 6 (very low NR and sharpening basically).


As above but with much heavier noise reduction in Lightroom.

Pretty great results if you ask me. There is definitely more detail retained than in the D4s, partly due to the newer sensor and partly due to the higher resolution by my estimation. So we have more pixels, a bit less noise and a measurable increase in retained detail by the looks of it. Great. That's all for now, was just a quick test before bed last night. Proper shots (with animals and everything!!) at the weekend. Questions, comments? Drop to the bottom of the page,  head over to the facebooks or tweet me. Rich.


20th April 2016   |  "...and we're off"

Hi all! Super thanks to Rob and Artur from Nikon UK as I now have my review D5 in hand and ready to go. I am somewhat tied up until the weekend with regards to a proper workout but will be testing the much (over I suggest) reported low dynamic range issues in the next day or so as I have had a lot of requests to check and verify the forum frenzy on this. Well firstly it is much easier to be able to pick up things from the London Nikon School rater than the Richmond HQ in terms of travel for me. Great vibe in there to with all the latest stuff mixed in with the classic Nikon gear from past decades.


Aladdin's cave.


It feels like only yesterday I held my (seminal) new D3 in may hand. Here we are again with the latest and (hopefully) greatest.

First (very quick) in the hand impressions..

  • Feels very confident, definitely an instant step up in feel from the D4 in terms of responsiveness (which is saying something as the D4 was great for this already).
  • The D4's buffer was big but this is just ridiculous (xqd). I got bored before the raw buffer filled. It's big enough to chew through anything.
  • Layout tweaks (more on this later) feels good with more buttons to setup.
  • Removable eyepiece will be a big help if I buy a spare and stick a right angled viewfinder on there. No more mad (un)screwing as an animal runs at me, quick release and done.
  • You definitely get that 'if I miss the shot it's my fault' feel with this camera and that's what it's all about. Instant response to my commands.

Ok, not much to go on for now but keep checking back (here and on facebook) for more day by day reports as I test. I have a big birds in flight AF session at the weekend (report on Monday onwards) to come and knowing England this will test the high ISO capability as well. Plenty of sample images of course. Just to re-iterate here are some disclaimers that I feel are important to state...

  • This is a temporary loan from Nikon. I don't get free gear to keep.
  • There were no conditions attached to the loan other than I return it in working order. No presumption of a good review, no presumption of skimming over any bad points I may find and I am not afraid to do so should I find any.
  • I buy and use my gear to create my work and income not to look good online and I therefore evaluate it accordingly. Whilst I am usually able to buy most gear if I judge it beneficial I do not have a vast pit of money to throw around on upgrades simply because it's the latest thing. I still use my D3 (non S) because it produces results up to scratch (it really does).
  • Please note the lack of ads on my site. No financial gain from hits here and no click bait headlines. If I say something it is my genuine opinion. My business does not hinge on review clicks, selling myself as a social media hipster camera gear news reporter, making crazy blanket statements and all the usual that seems to be the norm today. I adore wildlife and take photos of it which happens to put me in contact with cameras.

Sorry to be so 'bullet-pointy' but I get disheartened sometimes with people seeming to put more stock in camera news blurb than photography portfolios these days. I'm all for an opinion, which we are all entitled too but always look to see it backed up with actual work. Lastly, I have nothing against Canon or any of the other brands. I just feel Nikon offer me the best tools to get the job done given my style. Does the D5 continue this trend??? We shall see, stay tuned! RichCostin_Nikon_D5_Review_Intro Rich.  


6th April 2016   |  "First impressions"


Hi all. I had a quick session with the D5(xqd) yesterday and have a loaner coming from Nikon for review shortly. Given the level of interest thought I'd chip in as I know some of you are eager to buy or not as the case may be.

My initial impression is very good. I have a D500 on order already as I could do with the reach for most of my burst shooting so that was a no brainer given the speed leap there from the 7200. Whether I want to plump for a D5 upgrade vs the D4s is a harder choice and I wanted to wait till I had put it through it's paces and it is a lot of money even for working professionals that already have a high end speed camera in their bags.

I'll of course reserve my own purchase decision until after I have had a couple of weeks with the loaner but my hunch is that it will be worth it for those who shoot any genre of action.

High iso is great, we basically have slightly better than (the amazing) d3S per pixel noise performance with almost double the pixel count. Remember that now the high iso camera has almost the resolution of the old low iso resolution king, the D3X. That's a pretty big achievement if you ask me.

Again I only have had a quick go so far but the whole shadow noise thing doesn't seem like it will effect me. I'll be doing a direct comparison but lifting the shadows on by tests (lightroom) doesn't reveal anything overly nasty so far, certainly no worse than the D4s at higher isos and not that bad down with lower levels. Definitely not "much, much worse" as a lot of people have been saying. I will reserve full commentary until I can say one way or the other with confidence after some proper shooting with it.

The D800/810 is still the quality king and imho the sweet spot for resolution/dr/noise performance for the current generation of tech. If you're style's needs are mainly dependent image quality at sub iso 1600 levels and you don't need mega speed then the D810 will be a better fit for you.

I can only presume any additional noise in the low iso shadows is a trade off to bump the rest of the D5's (impressive) specs and a good one in my opinion given the cameras target user base. Of course it would be better to not have to make trade off's at all but most engineering tasks don't work like that. The D5 & D810 make the perfect combo for pretty much any shooting situation. I am very much looking forward to seeing what Nikon have in store for the 810's replacement in that area.

AF seemed more confident and certainly it's locking on a holding worked very well but needs proper testing. I do think that the dedicated AF processor will do for tracking what GPUs did for gaming graphics. This development is very underplayed and of huge importance imho. Very much looking forward to a proper run through with it on the long lenses.

I guess what I am saying here is that if you are keen to upgrade but on the fence I wouldn't worry, it's a great camera and that is very clear even with a few hours of use. If I didn't have the luxury of a test one coming shortly I probably would have gone and picked one up today. It feels like a genuine improvement for anyone needing the faster performing camera around and I suspect the new AF combined with the buffering will be the highlight that pulls it ahead of the competition.

If you would only be upgrading for improved image quality, well that is a lot of money for the modest increase in resolution but as I mentioned I don't think the sensor is the biggest headline in this camera although it is certainly the easiest aspect of a camera to test and show in places like this, hence it getting poured over meticulously.

If you don't need the shutter/buffer/af improvements for your style of photography then the D810 level of cameras is a far better choice and you shouldn't be worrying about the DX cameras at all.

As soon as I have some good shots with the D5 I'll post them up with commentary. There will be plenty of reviews doing the rounds soon that cover the usual areas but if anyone want's me to test some quirky esoteric aspects of the camera which often get overlooked please just ask and I'd be happy too report back.


Comments 21

  1. Rich,
    I have a D5 and have been playing around with the settings-if you would not mind I would love to know what settings (AF,sensor numbers,release/focus,etc) you are using to obtain the best action shots. I am always looking gain others opinions as to what has been working !Many thanks,

    1. Post

      Hi Rande. I’ll report back here after the weekend’s shoot with the Eagles and a play with the settings.
      For the moment I can tell you I usually us the dynamic 51 mode on the D4/D800. One important tweak is to disable the AF activation from the shutter button and use the AF-ON button on its own instead. Puts you in control.


      1. Hi Richard,
        Why using the AF-ON button instead of the shutter (and even disable the AF-function from the shutter!)

        1. Hi!
          I do this as it puts me in control. If the af is also on the shutter I can’t take a picture without (re) activating the af. If I have since recomposed the shot or have set up waiting for he subject to pass through frame then that would be undesirable.

          All about putting me in charge!
          Hope that helps?

          1. But when I take pictures of for instance Cheetas in the run, then disabling the shutter is senseless because I have to reactivate constantly the AF. Correct? Or in the case that I focus on the Cheeta at the start of the run, the dynamic AF will track the Cheeta.

          2. Hi Boudewijn.
            A Cheetah running is a situation where you would have your focus points on the animal and have the AF running all the time. Sso in this instance you wouldn’t gain much with the AF-ON technique, but you also don’t loose anything. Just hold your thumb down.

    1. Post
  2. Best real world tests I’ve seen thus far on the D5. Just got mine last week. Will be following your diary and appreciate your sharing your thoughts.

    1. Post
  3. Thanks for sharing your diary of the Nikon D5, Richard. It’s nice to see someone take the time to go over the details of this camera like you have. Especially in the area of low DR. I’ve been getting great images with mine. I look forward to reading more from you Richard.

    Richard Bates

    1. Post
  4. Great report Richard.
    Good to find someone without bias! I have taught photography for some 30 years now and sometimes despair at some reviews! Personally I have not invested in the D5 as my work is usually somewhat more sedate! I also find that my D810 cameras – I have three of them now (just so that I never need to take the lenses off and therefore avoid sensor dirt!) – are more than enough for what I need to do.
    I regularly shoot theatre work at ISO 3200-6400 and have not found issues printing at all to pretty much any size. Having printed cropped images to about 40″ at ISO 6400 and then have had to actually ADD ‘grain’ because the images are too smooth tells the whole story really!
    Nikon are seriously producing the goods these days… and to think that once upon a time I considered swapping to Canon just before they brought the D3 out! It was a game changer for sure!
    Thankfully I didn’t and bought two D3 cameras instead… the rest is history!
    The only thing I want now is a quieter shutter that a Canon – which pretty much the D810 cameras have! Come on Nikon give us a Nikon DQ(quite)810 with D5 focusing speed and I, for one will pass from this world a happy man!

    1. Post

      Hi Anthony, thanks for stopping by!
      A truly silent shutter would be a great addition to these bodies, especially for wedding photographers. I imagine there is a compromise to be had with regards to noise/speed and durability. It gets better with each new generation though.

  5. Really can’t wait to hear more of your thoughts on the D500. I’m currently torn between a D750 for sensor size, image quality, bokeh and noise versus the D500 for speed and extended focal length. Both have great AF and similar size so really don’t know!

    1. Post

      Thanks Nico. Write up coming soon. My initial thoughts are basically; if you want speed and accuracy, go D500. If you want a landscape camera or really like your wide lenses go for the 750 or 810.
      What subject do you mainly shoot?

  6. I would be interested in what AF method you use (dynamic 9, dynamic 25,Group…etc)? What Focus Tracking with lock on did you use (a3)?
    While using the D5.

    Thank you
    David Arkin

    1. Post

      Hi David!
      For all situations I use AF-C, can’t remember the last time I used AF-S.

      As for the AF tracking, for most situations 153 point dynamic does the trick. I limit my point selections to 11 for speed of choosing. The 153 dynamic (non 3D) offers the most reliable, no frills tracking. It has always worked great and the D5 takes this even further. The 153 dynamic mode will lock on to your initial subject (under your selected point) and stay with it using the whole grid.

      Birds in flight against a clean sky, I sometimes use full auto.

      Hope that helps, thanks for stopping by,

  7. Great review! I am not trolling but my week old D5 died after being exposed to rain and snow. It worked fine during the shoot and I immediately dried it with a towel, but the next morning the battery indicator said it could not use the battery. The same thing happened after switching to another battery… The day prior to this the camera wouldn’t power down and I had to pull the battery to get it to shut off. I have sent it to Nikon Service and am anxiously awaiting an explanation. The camera was wet on the back but all of the seals seemed to be closed. The tech I spoke to said it sounds like water got into the main compartment. This seems odd to me after watching what some of the online testers put their D5’s through. I placed the D5 in a bucket of rice and put silica gel packs in the battery and QXD compartments to no avail. For the record my D800 which I was also using is fine. Any insight would be appreciated. Nikon has always treated me extremely fairly and has gone above and beyond with helping to resolve issues in the past. I just hope that if others are having the same issue it is addressed and not seen as trolling.

    1. Post

      Hi Dave, thanks for the kind words!
      Sorry to hear about your D5, sounds like either some bad luck or a real soaking was had. How much rain and snow hit the camera?
      My D3, 4 and 5 bodies have always proved great in the rain for me. The only time I have had a failure was during an ill timed lens change (wet sand got in and trashed the shutter, but that was totally my fault).

      To kill a sealed & lens attached D5 I imagine it would have to be a full submerge or prolonged wave dousing, else a faulty body. I would think Nikon should get it all up to speed for you. Let me know how you get on!

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