Body and design

As stated in the introduction, the D5 is built like a tank and will, for the most part, be immediately familiar to established Nikon shooters. Despite the weight, it's incredibly comfortable to hold - you'd likely get a shoulder or neck cramp before you get a hand cramp when using the D5. It's absolutely covered in buttons, to make sure that almost all the functionality you could need is available without diving into the menus. But that's to be expected. Let's take a look at what's really new and novel about the D5 compared to its predecessor and competitors.

What's really new and novel

In a break from tradition with regards to flagship cameras, the D5 includes a touchscreen. We'll delve more into what it's like to use on our Controls page, but for Nikon's first touchscreen effort outside of its consumer-oriented models, this one works very well indeed. And if you're touchscreen-averse, you can easily turn it off within the menus (but strangely, even when it's on, you can't use it to navigate those menus).

On the front of the camera, you gain a new function button compared to the D4S, which I've found to be handy for quick switching between the D5's autofocus modes. Unfortunately, when you switch the camera to portrait orientation, you lose two of those function buttons, but you do gain a new one next to the vertical shutter button.

The new Fn1 button combines with Pv and Fn2 to give you one button for each of your three non-shutter fingers on the front of the D5.

The learning curve

However, there has been some button-shuffling that's likely to result in some feather-ruffling on the part of D3 and D4-series owners. The 'Mode' button has been moved to the left shoulder of the camera, having been replaced by an 'ISO' button that used to be on the rear of the camera. The ISO button on the rear plate has been replaced by a 'Continuous Shooting' button, allowing you to fine-tune your 'continuous high' and 'continuous low' shooting speeds without diving into the menus.

While, in theory, this change provides faster access to ISO, especially for shooters that stick to manual and for whom the mode button is rarely used anyway, it represents a major jolt for established users' muscle memory. The former setup has been used for many generations of Nikon cameras, including the 'semi-pro' D7/800-series, and the new button layout had me and other Nikon shooters at DPReview continuing to change the ISO sensitivity whenever we wanted to change exposure mode, even after weeks with the camera (Canon shooters on the team loved it though).

The ISO button placement comes with another couple of problems as well - for those that like to use Auto ISO, you can still hit the button and twiddle the front dial to turn it on and off. It's something that many users have been doing for years, having reassigned the movie record button to ISO on other Nikon cameras. But for those that haven't done so, it's an adjustment doing it with one hand instead of two. Additionally, with the camera in portrait orientation, it's incredibly difficult to find and manipulate the ISO button (and you can't reassign the function button by the vertical shutter to ISO), whereas when it was on the rear plate, you could easily reach it with your left thumb. On the plus side, you can get some of the previous models' familiarity back by assigning the 'movie record' button plus a dial to control shooting modes, but again, it will be a bit of an adjustment to some established users.

Compared to the top plate of the D4S, the D5 gains an ISO button, and shifts the Mode button to the left shoulder of the camera.

Strangely, the above changes conspire to create a pretty steep initial learning curve, even for experienced pro Nikon shooters. Put it this way - a D3-series or D4-series photographer picks up a new D5 and heads out to a shoot, assuming all is well, and ends up constantly changing the continuous drive speed instead of the ISO, or the ISO value instead of the shooting mode. Sure, that photographer will learn in time, but it's disorienting at best, and at worst, could (and trust us - sometimes does) result in missed shots. 

The rest

As with previous Dx models, Nikon does not include Wi-Fi with your $6,500 purchase. Instead, you must use Nikon's WT-5A wireless transmitter, currently weighing in at $877 from Nikon's own site. When attached, the WT-5A blocks the headphone port, and clutters up the left side of the camera in general.

A welcome change is the D5's switch to USB 3.0 compared to USB 2.0 on the D4S. This is handy if, like me, you shoot the XQD version of the D5 and forget your card reader...somewhere. Sure, the D5's USB port isn't quite as fast as a good card reader, but it's not bad. The only real inconvenience here is that if you're a Mac user you must use either Apple's or Nikon's Image Capture software to transfer your files, as the D5 won't just mount on your OS X desktop like a card reader will.

Beyond those changes, it's pretty much business as usual. Let's take a closer look at some of the controls on the D5 and some new customization options that it brings to the table.