Nikon's D5 Is So Good In Low Light It's Scary

Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- At its press conference for CES 2016, Nikon said it would be announcing one of the biggest lineup makeovers it’s ever done, and the company wasn't kidding. Nikon announced not one, not two, but three new cameras: Nikon’s first ever action cam, and two new flagship DSLRs.

The $6,500 20.8-MP D5 stands at the top Nikon’s full-frame camera line, while the $1,999 20.9-MP D500 now leads Nikon’s pack of crop-sensor DX cameras. But despite the price difference, both cameras share quite a bit of the same DNA.

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These two flagship cameras are equipped with a Nikon’s newest Expeed 5 ISP (image signal processor) and 153-point autofocus system, although the sensor on the D500 is smaller to accommodate the DX (APS-C) format. Both cameras also feature new 3.2-inch touch-enabled displays on the back (the D500’s also tilts out), 4K UHD video capture at up to 30 fps and built-in Wi-Fi.

Backside of the Nikon D5Backside of the Nikon D5

Where the D5 earns its price tag is with almost comical levels of low-light sensitivity and blazing fast burst speeds. The D5 extends down to an ISO equivalent of 3.28 million. And no, that’s not a typo. That’s three stops further than even the D4S, which featured an extended range of 409,600.

Then there’s the D5’s impressive high-speed mode, which goes up to 12 fps regularly, or 14 fps if you keep the mirror locked up. It’s so fast that when I tried it out during Nikon’s demo session, on full burst, the shutter sounds more like someone is shuffling cards than taking a picture.

The D5 is also Nikon’s first DSLR with a dedicated autofocus processor, a dream for sports photogs. It means that you won’t lose you subject even during the most fast-paced action.

The view down the barrel of a D500The view down the barrel of a D500

While not as bursty featuring just a 10fps max, the D500 has a different trick up its sleeve. It will be the first camera from Nikon featuring its Snapbridge software that lets users connect their DSLR to a nearby smart device using the camera’s built-in NFC, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Snapbridge should make it super simple to share high-quality DSLR photos on social media. It’s a strategy Nikon is behind full force, and the company said that almost all of its cameras going forward will have Snapbridge built-in.

The D500's tilting 3.2-inch tilting screen in action.The D500's tilting 3.2-inch tilting screen in action.

The D5 will be available body-only in March with two versions: a model with XQD storage and another equipped for compact flash. Meanwhile, the D500 will land around the same time body-only or as a $3,070 kit with an included 16-80mm f/3.5-5.6 VR Nikor lens.