Nikon Z5 conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Excellent resolution and dynamic range, very good high ISO performance
  • Lovely JPEG color
  • Outstanding build quality and dust/moisture-sealing
  • Excellent ergonomics, responsive controls and touchscreen
  • AF joystick
  • Effective 5-axis image stabilization
  • EVF is large, high-res for class
  • Excellent AF point coverage
  • Good subject tracking performance
  • Reliable face and eye detect
  • Deep 100 frame buffer for bursts
  • Decent quality 1080/60p capture
  • Dual UHS-II SD card slots
  • Easy-to-use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
  • USB charging
  • Mic and headphone sockets
  • Backward compatibility with many F-mount lenses via FTZ adapter
  • High ISO shadow noise a bit more noticeable than in peers with newer sensor
  • 4.5 fps burst may be sluggish for some
  • Heavily cropped 4K video (1.7x) reduces quality and makes it hard to achieve wide angle
  • Lots of rolling shutter in 4K and when using the e-shutter in stills
  • Default JPEG noise reduction a tad aggressive
  • No built-in flash

Overall conclusion

The Z5 is an extremely well-rounded camera for stills photography (we'll talk video in a minute). In fact, it's easily the the most compelling stills-oriented full-framer for the cash in 2020. This also makes it a natural vehicle to convert Nikon users from F- to Z-mount.

Image quality-wise, the Z5 performs well. Nikon opted to not use the newer dual gain, Backside Illuminated sensor in the Z5, to help keep costs down. This does mean the camera falls a fraction behind the likes of the (pricier) Z6 and Sony a7 III when it comes to high ISO shadow noise. But the advantage of the newer sensor is by no means earth-shattering. The Z5 still delivers excellent detail capture, very good high ISO performance and solid dynamic range. And Nikon JPEG color continues to be a crowd-pleaser, even if we recommend turning down the default JPEG noise reduction.

This is easily one of our favorite full-frame mirrorless body under $2k (and it's well under)

Much of the Z5's design is indistinguishable from that of the higher-end Z6 and Z7 series cameras. Which means the Z5 handles more like a semi-pro body than it does an entry-level. It's solid and comfortable in-hand, dust/moisture-sealed and offers well-placed, responsive controls including an AF joystick and touchscreen. Customization is also excellent. The 3.69M-dot EVF is best-in-class and it's the only entry-level full-frame mirrorless camera with twin UHS-II slots. In. short, this is easily one of our favorite full-frame mirrorless body under $2k (and it's well under).

Converted in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 1800 | 1/200 secs | F6.3 | Z 24-200mm F4-6.3 VR @ 92mm

Autofocus performance is also quite good, whether using subject tracking (where you pick and initiate what the camera follows), face and eye detect or a single focus point/area. Though slower lenses, like the 24-50mm F4-6.3 kit, can struggle to acquire focus in very low light. The 273 phase-detect AF points covering 90% of the frame feels more than generous especially if you're coming from a DSLR. And the Z5 can easily be set up to switch between subject tracking and any other AF mode on the fly, via a function button.

4K comes with a hefty 1.7x crop and plenty of rolling shutter

Video quality is perhaps the only place where there's a significant step back relative to the Z6: 4K comes with a hefty 1.7x crop and plenty of rolling shutter. But then again, we see this as more of a stills-focused camera than a stills/video hybrid. That being said, the camera's Full HD footage looks respectable and if you're ok with that, or heavily cropped 4K, the Z5 does make capturing clips easy: in-body IS allows for hand-held shooting, video AF works with good reliability and full-size microphone and headphone sockets are available.

Ultimately, the Z5 may not be a technologically ground-breaking camera, but it is a budget barrier-breaking camera that's extremely capable, well built and a joy to use. Moreover it is, without question, the most bang-for-your-buck, stills oriented full-framer on the market at launch. And for many people, especially the mirrorless-curious, it's going to be the right amount of camera, at the right price. Which is why it receives our most prestigious award.

Compared to its peers

The most natural competitor to the Z5 is the Canon EOS RP (launched $100 cheaper). Announced February 2019, it's no spring chicken and honestly doesn't have much to offer against the Z5. Image quality-wise, we prefer the Z5's Raw files, which are far more flexible at low ISOs and less noisy at high ISOs. We also much prefer the Z5's higher-res EVF, twin UHS-II SD card slots, IBIS, superior battery life, burst rate and even its 4K video quality. In fact, perhaps the only thing we prefer about the EOS RP is its default out-of-camera JPEGs, and not by much.

The Z5 is good for just about anyone seeking a well-priced, stills-oriented full-frame mirrorless camera

The Sony a7 III, which made its debut about 2.5 years ago at an MSRP of $2000 (but can now be found for within a few hundred bucks of the Z5's list price), is technically in a class above, but nevertheless a natural competitor. If you care about video, the choice is clear: go with the Sony and its oversampled, uncropped 4K (or rather, the Nikon Z6). If stills are your main focus, both cameras will suit you well. The Sony can shoot at a faster burst rate and has a slight image quality advantage in very low light, not to mention better battery life. But the Nikon has a higher-res EVF, twin UHS-II SD slots and a more-refined user interface. Both perform well in terms of AF, though the Sony is just a hair more reliable. If you're starting in either system fresh, there's more native glass for the Sony than the Nikon at the moment.

Price-wise, some folks may be considering the Sony a7 II (launched November 2014) against the Z5. Though both cameras sport a 24MP full-frame sensor, the Z5 offers better image quality, both Raw and JPEG, better autofocus and a far more refined user experience. We also prefer the Z5's Full HD capture (no 4K on the a7 II) and video tools.

Converted in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 100 | 1/250 secs | F6.3 | Z 24-200mm F4-6.3 @ 24mm


Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Nikon Z5
Category: Entry Level Full Frame Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The Nikon Z5 is arguably the best bang-for-your-buck stills-oriented camera on the market. Image quality from its 24MP sensor is just tad behind class-leading and much of its design, from the build-quality to the ergonomics, is borrowed from higher-end Nikon Z models. Autofocus performance is also solid; reliable face and eye detect make it a great choice for documenting family/friends. Video performance is the one area the Z5 does not excel: 4K video is heavily cropped. But it does offer respectable Full HD capture with the added benefit of in-body image stabilization for hand-held shooting.
Good for
Just about anyone seeking a well-priced, stills-oriented full-frame mirrorless camera.
Not so good for
Video shooters. Those wishing to capture super-fast action (in which Z5's 4.5 fps burst may not be quick enough).
Overall score