First low light (avian) image with the Nikon D5 - Alexander Becker

First low light (avian) image with the Nikon D5

Published: 01/03/2020

The D5 is currently (but not for long as the D6 will be released in a few weeks!) Nikon's flagship full frame DSLR camera and is the body of choice for action oriented photography such as a low light wildlife photography. I previously rented one for photographing grizzly bears in BC and upon reflection used it extensively in low light. While compiling my top 10 images of 2019 I realized almost all of those images were taken beyond ISO 1,600 (i.e., decently low light), but many were past ISO 3,200 (i.e., low light). I had been thinking very hard about adding a D5 to my wildlife kit, and finally picked up a used Nikon D5 from KEH yesterday. KEH doesn't post their shutter count so I was a little nervous especially given the D5 is a workhorse camera, but the camera was in great shape with a shutter count of about 65,000 -- very little of its about 400,000 shutter rating -- score!

I haven't had a chance to put it through its paces much, but after setting it up I was able to get out in some dark rainy conditions where I photographed this beautiful male downy woodpecker at 1/400 f/5.6 ISO 10,000 -- so pretty dark!

Although I've used the D5 before, I hadn't photographed birds much with it so wanted to see how the body handled feather detail vs fur, especially given the low pass filter on the D5 which does kill a bit of detail. Overall I was impressed! The downsized image (posted above) looks great, but the real test is of course looking at the image at 100% (one pixel on the screen is one pixel from the original capture) -- shown for two insets below:

I only applied a modest amount of noise reduction at the RAW step and overall the detail is well-captured. The focus point landed on the shoulder so while the face and eye are in focus, the DOF did trail off slightly on the beak. However, the feather detail on the tail looks really good to me, and the mossy section looks solid as well. Overall the image, to me, shows a lot of detail, with not *tons* of noise, but without looking smudgy. 

This is, of course, not a huge surprise to many who have been using the Nikon D5 since it's release in 2016, but for me this is definitely a new world of photography opportunities from my regular camera: the D500. 

I do think, preliminarily, the D500 produces better image quality in low light conditions, and I will be doing some tests on this to get a better sense of when to switch between bodies. But no surprise, when I'm facing ISO 10,000...I'm grabbing the D5.

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