The Nikon D5 is the company's flagship action-oriented DSLR, sporting a 20.8MP full-frame sensor, 153-point autofocus system and a full-size, double-grip chassis that is both tough as nails and exceedingly comfortable to use. Though the core build of this camera remains very similar to the D4S, the sensor and autofocus system are entirely new and - as we'd expect - designed with speed and reliability in mind.

Nikon D5 Key Specifications

  • All new Nikon-designed 20.8MP full-frame image sensor
  • Expeed 5 processor
  • All new 153-point phase detection autofocus system with 99 cross-sensors
  • Automated autofocus fine tune
  • Native ISO range now stretches from 100-102,400
  • 12fps continuous shooting with full autofocus and autoexposure
  • 4K video recording
  • Offered in dual CF and dual XQD memory card configurations
  • Touchscreen functionality during both stills and video shooting
  • CIPA rating of 3,780 shots per charge using the same EN-EL18a battery as D4S

Due to its large size and tip-top placement in Nikon's lineup, the D5 originally struck me as a somewhat intimidating camera to put through a thorough review. But really, with a little bit of work to get it set up the way I like and the development of some muscle memory as to where all the proper buttons are, the D5 has proven to be one of the most reliable, and as such, one of the least stressful cameras I've ever had the pleasure of using. Of course, that doesn't mean that it isn't meant to be put through stressful situations. Quite the opposite.

Here's a quick comparison of the key specs of the D4S, D5 and 1D-X II.

  Nikon D4S   Nikon D5  Canon 1D-X II
MSRP $6499 $6499 $5999
Sensor 16.2MP CMOS 20.8MP CMOS 20.2MP CMOS
ISO range
100-25,600 100-102,400 100-51,200
AF points 51 153 61
RGB metering sensor resolution 91k pixel 180k pixel 360k pixel
LCD 3.2" 920k-dot 3.2" 2.36M-dot touch-enabled 3.2" 1.62M-dot touch-enabled
Burst rate 11 fps 12 fps 14 fps
Video 1080/60p 4K/30p 4K/60p
Battery life (CIPA) 3020 shots 3780 shots 1210 shots
Dimensions 160 x 157 x 91mm 160 x 159 x 92mm 158 x 168 x 83mm
Weight 1350 g 1405 g (XQD) 1530 g

Clearly, there are some exciting innovations hidden beneath the D5's skin, but in the end, it's likely not the most exciting camera to the average consumer. So in an age of decreasing camera sales, why does Nikon bother to continue producing such machines? Well, in the most extreme of situations, phones and lesser digital cameras will simply be unable to capture the same sorts of moments that flagship cameras like the D5 are, from the get-go, built to capture. 

2016 is an Olympic year, and it's not a coincidence that this year has seen new flagship DSLRs from from both Canon and Nikon.

Of course, the D5 isn't just for shooting the Olympics. Processed to taste from Raw. Photo by Carey Rose. Nikon 135mm F2D | F4 | 1/200 sec | ISO 400

Here is the beef

There's no denying that the Nikon D5 is one beefy camera. Without a lens, it weighs 1405g, or just over three pounds. But there's a good reason for that. The D5 is over-engineered on purpose - it's built to take a knock, a drop or a flying rock kicked up from a dirt-bike. It might even take a bullet, but we're not really allowed to test that. And with a properly sealed lens attached, the D5 should also stand up to a downpour and freezing conditions with ease. This camera comes with a tough magnesium-alloy shell, one that feels like you could pound nails with (we didn't try).

The D5's robustness means I can focus more on the action and less on whether or not I'm going to hurt the camera. Processed and cropped to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Photo by Carey Rose. Nikon AF-S 300mm F4 PF | F4 | 1/2000 sec | ISO 200

Another contributor to the D5's beefiness is its battery. It's CIPA-rated to 3,780 shots, which not only promises an absurd amount of shooting between charges, but is also a sign of increased efficiencies within the camera. Despite more megapixels, a faster burst rate and a more computationally intensive autofocus system, the rating has increased compared to its predecessor, which uses the same battery pack. (Fun fact: to save you the trouble of opening your calculator app, the CIPA rating of 3,780 shots actually only translates to five minutes and fifteen seconds of shooting at its burst rate of 12fps.)

The Evolution

I'm a long-time Nikon shooter, but not one that's personally invested in pro-level bodies from the Dx series. At first, if you've used even a semi-pro body from Nikon's recent past, you'll feel familiar with the D5. But when you get more familiar with the camera (and as we cover in detail on our 'Body & Design' page), Nikon's made some changes to the button layout of the D5 that will have some users scratching their heads, and others praising the ergonomic improvements from the added level of button customization.

Streetlight-and-strobe-lit. Processed to taste from Raw. Photo by Carey Rose. Tamron 85mm F1.8 SP VC | F1.8 | 1/125 sec | ISO 12800

In summary, the D5 is a camera that will be lusted over by a lot of enthusiasts, but largely abused by its intended customer base - working professionals. These photographers will simply pick it up, do their best to re-assign all their buttons the way they had re-assigned them on their D4S's, and get to work. For long-time sports shooters and wedding photographers, a more comprehensive rethink and redesign of cameras like this would probably not go over well.

Instead, the evolving Dx line continually provides meaningful updates that will make it easier for established pros to capture images that they already know how to take. In this vein, the D5 is indeed a worthy upgrade and successor to the D4S for a number of reasons. So without further ado, let's take a closer look to find out why.