Trialed at this year's boat race, photographer Duncan Grove gives us his first impressions on Nikon's latest flagship model, the Nikon D5...

You were one of the first people to purchase the new Nikon D5. Where was its first outing?

I took my two new D5 bodies along to shoot The Cancer Research Oxford vs Cambridge Universities Boat Race 2016 on Easter Sunday. The entire event is held on the Tideway, the stretch of the River Thames in London between Putney Bridge and Chiswick Bridge, where I was fortunate enough to take my position in the media launches which follow selected practice outings and the main boat races. As it is not possible to follow both the women's and men's races (and given that last year I elected to follow the women's race since it was an historic first), I decided that this year I would follow the men's race.

From Thursday to Sunday I primarily used my two D5s to shoot the Race, keeping my two D4S's as back-ups. During the week I also used NIKKOR 800mm, 600mm, 300mm, 70-200mm, 24-70mm 14-24mm and 105mm lenses.

How were the conditions on the day?

In a word - rough! Sadly, Boat Race day was also Storm Katie day which proved challenging. Most of Tideway Week weather was also pretty grim with heavy rain, winds and very cold. I sat in the Media Launch thinking "What am I doing here?"

By contrast however, Good Friday was cold but gloriously sunny. On this day I was able to produce some good images, with blue skies and nice light - showing the type of detail that my new equipment can capture. Ironically, though, it was the images I captured on the days when it was consistently grey and wet that went down a storm with the photo agencies!

What were your expectations for the D5?

Last year I captured the above winning Oxford Women's crew triumph shot using a D4S and 600mm lens with a 1.4 converter. Very unusually it was a bright sunny day with calm water and I shot at 1/1000 sec at f/13 with ISO of just 2800, which my D4S was able to cope with after a little noise reduction post-capture. I cropped it quite tightly because I had to shoot from some distance but the quality held-up.

This year, I wanted a similar type of shot from the men's race but realised that, given the conditions, it was highly unlikely that light levels would allow me to shoot with the same combination of settings I used last year. Either the lens would have to be opened or the ISO would need to increase and if the water was rough, the shutter speed would need to be higher than last year's 1/1000. My hope was that the D5's enhanced ISO capabilities and improved focusing system, coupled with the NIKKOR 800mm lens would allow me to capture an even better shot than the lucky one I captured in last year's shooting conditions. I specifically told my friends at NPS (Nikon Professional Services) that this would be my acid test of the new D5!

…and how did the Nikon D5 deliver?

My belief in the D5 system was wholly justified. A number of my shots were stopped-down to gain depth of field (the boats are very long!) and as a result I was shooting at up to ISO 16,000. I have never dared to shoot this high before. I generally applied just a little noise reduction in processing but even without, the image quality was remarkable. I wish I had captured this year's triumph shot (lead image above) in this way but since it was the important 'iconic' image I did not dare risk it and instead shot it wide-open (f/5.6) at ISO 5000. However, seeing what the D5 can do has given me great confidence in my new D5s and in future I would confidently stop down more for a deeper depth of field and allow the ISO to go much higher.

What features were you particularly impressed by?

Over the years I have been a consistent early adopter of new Nikon technology and have purchased bodies from the first batches into the UK of D3S, D4, D4S so I was keen to get my hands on the new D5.

From my initial testing, I found there to be a significant improvement in high ISO performance, with images captured at ISO 16000 superior in terms of noise to the D4S's ISO 6000. The images clean-up a lot better in post-capture too. My time with the camera so far has also given me a very good feel for the D5's autofocus abilities - a critical function for all sports photographers. The acid test will be when I shoot Wimbledon where I am very particular about focus, shooting with a view to print 2M wide prints. To date I have found the D5 to focus very swiftly and accurately and locks on well to moving subjects. I am pretty confident that the D5 will allow me to capture a much higher proportion of 'keepers'.

Whilst I have only had four days of shooting to assess, I can certainly say that the D5 allowed me to capture good images at settings that I know I could not have satisfactorily used with my earlier kit – and in quite extreme conditions.

Did the D5 allow you to do anything that you hadn’t done with your shooting before?

Yes. The 20Mp D5 image sizes are larger than those of the 16Mp D4S so I was able to crop more tightly without getting grief from my image agencies. I also like the fact that the model has two XQD slots, allowing me to work using only one type of card and card reader. Nikon's decision to move the ISO button to the top panel is a welcome one.

How confident are you in the camera’s ability to perform at future events?

I'm very confident. It took me a few days of shooting and then examining the images in detail but I now have every confidence in exploiting the enhanced ISO and focusing capabilities of the D5 by selecting its more extreme settings when circumstances warrant them. My initial feeling is that the D5 gives me very worthwhile advantages compared with the D4S, allowing me to capture some more niche, technical shots that I may not have been able to capture previously. From the perspective of a sports photographer, I view the D5 as a very significant upgrade compared with the D3S and D4 where cutting-edge technology is paramount.

Thank you to Nikon for their support of my Boat Race activities and to Maria O'Connor and Emma Saunders along with their team at Professional Sports Group who managed the Race, providing excellent media support on the day.

Duncan's web site:
Duncan's Boat Race D5 boat Race (including Exif data):

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