Anyone who knows me knows I’m not one to part with my hard-earned money easily. I’m very practical and methodical in my approach to investing and upgrading. With more responsibility from clients, getting gear that I could really depend on became paramount. In the last year I’ve gone through a total upgrade of everything I use for work, but one of the most noticeable areas, was my main body, the new Nikon D5.
In my world of work, I deal with a lot of fast action and my fair share of challenging conditions. I started off shooting action sports, mainly bike, and have progressed that into the world of commercial imagery, still focussing on action, adventure and outdoor lifestyle. I’ve been shooting Nikon since day one and up until 2018 I’d been making do with the D750 for my professional work. For the most part, it served me well. With 6FPS I needed to be a little more careful about when I pulled the trigger, but more often than not I got lucky with the shots that I needed. AF was dependable, I carried spare cards and batteries and I learned to work around any issues that I faced.
As my career progressed, the events got bigger, the clients got bigger and the stakes became higher. I found myself in situations where I was shooting gold medal runs, never-been-done before tricks, and finding myself on exclusive shoots with big name athletes that were hard to get in the same place at one time. These were all situations where I couldn’t afford to mess up or miss a shot. At the end of a Red Bull Joyride final, you can’t just ask the riders to head up and try it again, it’s pretty much do or die, there are no second chances.
As these situations became more frequent, I found my confidence in my ability to get ‘the shot’ was declining. Images that were ‘almost good enough’ wouldn’t cut it. I remember one shoot I was on, I was trying to capture a rider getting fully inverted riding around a half-sphere. I tried taking a single frame at just the right moment, I tried doing burst shots, and after something like 10x attempts, I still hadn’t got the shot. The rider was getting tired, I was getting frustrated, but the shot just didn’t look right unless the rider was dead straight upside-down. It was about then that I realised it might be time for a few more frames per second.
I had reached upgrade time. I sat on the fence for a while, paralyzed by buyer’s anxiety, not knowing which road to go down. Did I choose the new D850 with its potential for big megapixel and new tech, or did I want the lightning fast D5 with its proven durability and history as a pro-body. I struggled for a while over this decision. I’m hard on gear, working in dust, rain, snow, hot and cold. I go on long shoots, and I have clients that demand the best. In the end the decision was clear to me. I wanted the D5. The main drawcards were, the higher FPS, the improved auto-focus, the low light capability, the reliability of dual XQD cards, the battery life, and lastly the professional level build quality. I needed a camera that would work as hard as I did.
In action sports, everything happens fast. As soon as the athlete comes into view you need to be focussed, and I always make this challenging for my gear. I like to shoot in hard to focus ways. Straight into the sun, straight into the dark, in dark forests, in snow, whatever I can do to make life hard for myself, it’s probably what I’ll end up shooting. I found with my D750 I would drop a few shots out of a burst if the conditions where challenging, especially when the subject was doing 70km/h across the frame coming out of the sun or something. I’ve found that the D5 however almost never misses a shot, the auto-focus is so good in fact, that you can become complacent, no-longer needing to pre-focus knowing that the camera will nail focus so confidently.
Style is so important, using mountain biking again as an example, when capturing a rider doing a trick in a competition, the riders body position relative to the bike can make or break a shot. You want to get the shot at exactly the right moment when everything is clicking, the very apex of the trick, where the body and bike are in the perfect position. Now, this may happen faster than the blink of an eye, and having 12FPS means the difference between getting the shot, and getting close. Sometimes the differences between frames are subtle, but there’s always one frame that’s clearly the best. With the faster frame rate, you know that as the subject flows through the frame, you can be confident that you will capture the right frame. This is important when ‘getting close’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Build quality and durability, why’s that important? It may not be if you’re shooting inside a studio mainly, or you only bring your camera out on a nice day, but in my line of work, that’s never really the case. My camera’s travel around the world constantly, they have to deal with being in my bag on my back whilst riding mountain bikes, they get coated in dust, they go back in the bag, we go snowboarding, they get covered in ice and snow, back in the bag, out again on boats in the spray and sea-air. Sometimes I find myself precariously perched on the sides of cliffs and trees, on the corners of race tracks and on the sides of jumps, and sometimes, I fall off. I’ve tumbled down hills clutching my cameras before, I need to know that they’ll still work when I get back up, because it’s really hard to get a brand-new camera when you’re in the mountains of a country which doesn’t speak your language. I need to trust that no matter what conditions I throw at my gear, it will keep working. The reliability of my gear affects my reliability as a photographer.
Lowlight performance is one of those things that you don’t need it until you do. For example, I’ve found myself covering races which entail shooting in a dark forest whilst it’s raining. To keep the athletes sharp and to freeze the action, I want to be shooting above 1/800 minimum. Why not use a flash? Following a race like the Enduro World Series where you have to capture a range of shots and angles within minutes, then pack up move to a new spot and repeat, constantly, for multiple, non-repeating stages, well, it just wouldn’t be practical.
Not to mention the little issue of blinding racers as they also have to navigate a dark forest. In these situations, I have used all the ISO range on my cameras shooting 10,000 and above on the very worst occasions. I need all the help I can get when it comes to reducing noise and getting usable images at big ISO’s, and the D5 goes up to an incredibly high ISO.
What about the size and weight? To be honest, I prefer the bigger camera. After a day of gripping a small camera, my pinkie and ring finger get sore, but I found with the bigger grip, and dual orientation of the D5 that my whole hand is supported, making it easier to use for full days – in some cases shooting for 12 hours or more during events, day in and day out. The weight isn’t an issue, as I’m already carrying a host of lenses, second bodies, filters, spare batteries, card-readers, laptops and more. I’m not using this body as travel camera, so I’m prepared to be shooting seriously, and carrying a bit of gear is part and parcel. The weight in-hand is good as well, it feels stable and sturdy. The only issue I ever have with the weight is trying to get all my kit through as carry-on when it’s time to fly.
So, how do I feel about the D5 as my main body? I’m stoked with it. It took a lot of contemplation, thinking about whether it was worth the extra investment, but as soon as it arrived, I never looked back. I like the control placement, the way all the buttons light up, the extra info screen, the dual orientation, the ability to customize everything.
This camera is a Monster, it’s fast, reliable and durable. The battery lasts for days or shooting, with 2x XQD’s I can store 256gb of images and backups. I’m so confident that this rig will get the shot every time, it’s allowed me to reach bigger clients and take on more crucial gigs. The client depends on me to get the shots they need, and I depend on the camera.
My only real question is, why didn’t I get one sooner?
Jay French is lucky enough to shoot commercially for some rad brands, shoot editorially for some great magazines and websites, and also to take on all sorts of other personal and professional photographical challenges too.
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