Update: Nikon just released an important firmware updates that allows to shoot more than 3 minutes in UHD 4K. After the update, the limit is the normal 29 minutes and 59 seconds that we have gotten used to from DSLR and smaller interchangeable lens cameras. Another interesting improvement is the introduction of Electronic vibration reduction (VR). Read more about it here. To download the latest firmware, please click here.
Back in January 2016, Nikon announced the introduction of two new cameras—the professional flagship Nikon D5 and the “advanced Joe” Nikon D500. The first one is currently shipping to selected customers and will soon be available for everyone. As the new Nikon D5 will be competing head to head with the new Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, I was curious to see how well it behaves in the field and how good the video quality is.
Before I continue with this review, here is a bit of nostalgia. I miss my Nikon D90, the first DSLR that could shoot video. Back in the day, it was a lot of fun. Okay, let’s move on.
For years, Nikon was in the shade of Canon when it comes to the video capabilities of DSLR camera. Then, the pulley turned around, and Nikon started emphasizing the video functionality in their cameras by producing almost artifact free (moiré and aliasing), exceptional HD video quality. Now that the trend is moving towards 4K, I’m very pleased to report that Nikon is continuing with their tradition, and the Nikon D5 is no exceptional when it comes to 4k (UHD) video quality.
As always with Nikon cameras, I have to divide my experience between the video quality and camera functionality when shooting video.
The video quality in 4k (UHD) mode is very satisfying. With a data rate of 125 Mbit/s, the H264 video in MOV container is very pleasing to the eyes. There is alway something aesthetically pleasant to Nikon’s video quality. It’s the ergonomics and the operational side that leave this camera with a lot to be desired. In so many cases you need two hands to complete a single task (punching zoom is an example of this). The re-rooting/assigning of buttons is very limited and after pressing the REC button, some essential functionalities like punching zoom to assure correct focusing is not possible. I can only dream that the day will come and Nikon, a company that has no video department to protect, will take their colour science and overall video quality and pack it in a “video operator user-friendly housing”.
The above video was shot simulating a documentary situation work, but I honestly think that the Nikon D5 will do better in a controlled environment. One of the primary reasons is the absence of a proper autofocus function in video mode. It’s sluggish and unreliable. The touch screen will allow you to choose a focus point, but then you need to press the shutter button half way through—and hope that the camera will not hunt for the desired focus point. If you are a single operator like me, I guess that working with a gimbal with this particular camera won’t be possible. While autofocus is not really an option when shooting video with this camera, the LCD screen is very sharp and makes manual focusing a breeze. I attached a Kinotechnik LCDVF to it and never had an issue pinpoint focusing.
To succinctly represent my experience, I’ve listed the Pros and Cons I found when working with the camera (in no particular order):
Nikon D5 Pros:
- Exceptional, sharp, and good looking 4k (UHD) video quality at 125 Mbit/s
- Very clean high ISO picture. You can comfortably shoot at ISO 6400. Higher then that there is noise but still at a usable video quality
- Flat picture profile (to my tired eyes that FL picture profile looks a bit strange and not flat at all but when applying an LUT to it, it works)….
- The Nikon D5 is being sold in two flavours, equipped with either XQD or CF cards slots
- Almost entirely smooth aperture control of electronic lenses via assigned buttons
- “Highlights protection” which acts like a Zebra pattern. (function is limited as you can not choose different values)
- Built in “time-lapse movie” function (not tested)
- Multiple REC buttons options on the camera body
- You can assign a button to quickly change between FX (FF), DX (crop) and x3.0 modes
- Can record 4K (UHD) externally and on the camera card internally simultaneously
- Good battery life
- Headphone and Mic sockets
- Audio levels can be controlled during recording
- World camera with a large variety of resolutions and frame rates up to 4K/30p
Nikon D5 Cons:
Limited 3 min recording time per clip in 4K (UHD) mode(Fixed)!
- Limited 10 stops of dynamic range according to our lab test (a full lab test review is coming soon)
- Dual card slots but only for photo functions
- Low bitrate in HD mode (21 Mbit/s)
- No peaking
- Limited re-rooting and assigning button functionality
- 1.5 cropped 4k (UHD) image makes it an APS-C camera for 4K recordings
- “Thin” audio quality when connecting an external microphone
- No way to adjust headphones levels after pressing the record button
- No way to magnify zoom after pressing the REC button
- The video resolution and frame rate can not be changed in “Lv movie mode”. One needs to set Lv to photo mode in order to do so first and then switch back to video mode
- Touch screen for assigning focus points but not to drive the lens motor to go there
- Strong rolling shutter. Equivalent to the Sony a7 family
- No articulated screen
The Nikon D5 can produce beautiful imagery but is let down by a limited 3 minutes per clip recording time in 4K (UHD), alongside ergonomics and functionality that would frustrate any user who would expect smooth & direct access to some of the camera features. I can only hope that the upcoming Nikon D500 will retain the same video quality of the Nikon D5 with the ability to record longer video clips—at a much more affordable price it has the potential to become a real winner and put the flagship camera to shame.
About the above video:
Shot in 4K (UHD)/25p mode. Picture profile-FL. ISO setting, from 100 (outdoor) to 1600 (Indoor). The audio in the interview in this video was recorded internally on the camera. Edited in Adobe Premiere CC and colour corrected with FilmConvert D800 profile.