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Nikon Z5 Review: The Best Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera You Can Buy Without Splurging

Nikon Z5 Review: The Best Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera You Can Buy Without Splurging

Nikon Z5 comes in with an entry level full-frame mirrorless body to rival the Sony a7 III and the Canon EOS RP, and offers a number of interesting features that may help it win over new buyers.

Nikon Z5 entered India a little over two months ago, coming in to a market that presumably had lesser sales in the camera space as a side impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, Nikon had an interesting pitch to make – instead of opting for a premium, APS-C mirrorless camera, buyers now had the option of entering the full frame mirrorless segment on a budget (in the camera sense, that is). The resultant of course meant a few features dropped, and maybe a few key ones too, but at the end of the day, the Nikon Z5 gets you something that is an attractive proposition to say the least – a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor, at a very competitive price point.

At Rs 1,13,995 for the body, and kit prices beginning at Rs 1,36,995 with a Z-mount 24-50mm lens, the Nikon Z5 essentially takes on Sony’s a7 III and Canon’s EOS RP, which too are ‘entry level’ full-frame mirrorless cameras for each of the respective brands. The other camera makers in India, Fujifilm and Panasonic, don’t have full-frame mirrorless cameras – the former has either APS-C or jumps all the way up to medium format, while the latter’s flagships feature four-thirds sensors. In such a market situation, the Nikon Z5 has an interesting position – in comparison to the Sony a7 III and the Canon EOS RP, the Z5 is far less expensive.

While that is great, who does the Nikon Z5 really suit? How well does it do its primary job? If it does, then is it worth the premium over the Z50? Or, should buyers simply pay another sizeable premium and go all the way up to the Nikon Z6? Here’s everything you need to know.

Details, colour, dynamic range: Just what you’d expect from Nikon

Nikon has not compromised on a lot when it comes to the Z5. As a result, its 24-megapixel full-frame sensor, high peak native ISO range and five-stop in-body image stabilisation all come together to give you a truly flagship camera experience, even at a discounted price point. In the real world, the Nikon Z5’s strengths show really well in the overall sensor resolution, sharpness and detail reproduction. The first thing that comes to mind is how Nikon has strategically addressed the one issue that its premium APS-C mirrorless appeared to have – the Nikon Z50 struggled with resolution and fine details, and the Z5 does wonderfully well at just that.

The real joy of the Nikon Z5 is its resolution benefit. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)

Intricate detail work is well represented, and there isn’t much evidence of moire for the most part, which is great. This brings us to the colours part, where you get what you typically expect of Nikon – deep contrast levels but well balanced saturation in colours, so that each of the blues, greens and reds stand out against each other well, but do not overpower any of the shades. It is a tad under-balanced for the reds, but that in fact helps in the out-of-camera JPEGs for the Nikon Z5, since users can actually get room to edit in these photos.

The overall colours are deep, and are accurate in their tone. What’s also particularly impressive is the dynamic range that the Nikon Z5 is capable of producing, which in itself makes it a great second kit for professional photographers. The dynamic range ensures excellent depth in colours, from which the biggest benefactors are super brightly-lit and dark shadowy areas of a sunlit frame. Given the versatility of the Nikon Z5’s ISO performance, it is also easier to avoid over- or underexposing frames. The shadows contain excellent depth, and with the overall resolution and colour accuracy at hand, the Nikon Z5 produces some of the best in-camera JPEGs that you can expect at this price point.

The overall dynamic range is absolutely splendid. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)

ISO, burst photography: A mixed bag of results

There is a two-part story to the Nikon Z5’s ISO performance. For the most part, the Z5’s high ISO performance offers excellent range to any aspiring photographer, and you can comfortably push up the maximum ISO to accommodate for tricky lighting conditions. This really tends to work in most situations – in bright daylight, the added ISO range means that you can push the ISO and underexpose a frame, which can help processing your RAWs for landscape scenes. I personally found the overall JPEG noise reduction mostly accurate, but there is an undeniably strange and rather aggressive noise reduction streak that the Nikon Z5 has when it comes to very warm and low lights.

The Nikon Z5 struggles with ISO, particularly in tricky, ambient light. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)

It is here that the Nikon Z5 struggles with ISO performance a fair bit. Trying to limit the noise levels by keeping the ISO down in a poorly lit situation produces intermittent banding and drastically underexposes frames, and you typically end up needing to push up the ISO levels far higher than you might expect to. The high ISO, low light performance also looks a tad slipshod in JPEGs, and while the RAWs have room to process the underexposed areas well, the slight noise issue persists in such conditions. One such example is a fine dining restaurant with ambient lighting, where getting your food photographs right can, at times, feel like a chore.

One of the reasons behind this is the lack of backside illumination on the 24.3-megapixel sensor, something that we were afraid we would face. Another area where Nikon has cut corners is the image processing, the limit of which restricts burst photography to a paltry 4.5fps – a major surprise for shooting with full-frame beasts. It is a bit of a disappointment, since the Nikon Z5 does have a sizeable buffer memory. This certainly means that the Nikon Z5 will not be your pick if you shoot wildlife photos at dusk and beyond. For sports, whether this suffices or not will depend on which sport you focus on, and for most casual users, this should just about suffice. It is still an impediment that will be at the back of your mind, though.

Focusing can falter in situations such as these, in which case it is best to go manual. (Image: Shouvik Das/News18.com)

Autofocus: Almost always great, but irksome in low light

The Nikon Z5’s 273-point autofocus module offers impressive frame coverage, and coupled with the AF joystick that the Nikon Z5 retains from the Z6, it is fairly convenient to use. What impresses particularly is how snappy the AF module is, and with centre-weighted metering, it works particularly well in most portraits. It is fairly easy to select and switch AF tracking points, and by default, you get subject and eye tracking active – which, for the most part, also works.

ALSO READ | Nikon Z5 vs Nikon Z6 vs Nikon Z50: Specifications Compared

However, there is one point to note here – strangely, the Nikon Z5 proved most consistent at AF-C, even more static frames and portraits, and on AF-S mode, the focusing module very frequently tended to shift focus automatically to the background, particularly if the background was richly textured or brightly lit. Coupled with the restrictions of the 24-50mm kit lens, focusing can quickly go from being a breeze to a really irksome affair, at which point you will quickly tend to shift to manual focus.

Videography: Decent, but not for oversampling

For many users of full-frame cameras, the key advantage of shooting videos is in shooting 4K footage and oversampling it for full HD edit workflows. However, the Nikon Z5 is not quite the best candidate for that, thanks to the whopping 1.7x sensor crop on 4K videos. While we admittedly did not shoot too many video projects on the Nikon Z5, we largely preferred sticking to the 1080p/60fps videography mode, which appears to offer better output quality.

While we understand the corners cut here, it feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity. Nikon could have won over many buyers from Canon’s EOS RP stable by simply acing the 4K videography feature (which the latter misses out on). Instead, the Nikon Z5 offers a half-hearted shot at 4K recording. You can still make do with it for casual, non-professional social media usage, but if you only need casual, non-professional social media usage, you are unlikely to really even buy the Nikon Z5.

ALSO READ | Nikon Z6 Review: A Strong Statement that Ably Rivals the Sony a7 III

Build, handling, battery life: One of the best around

I particularly love how easy and convenient it is to hold and shoot with the Nikon Z5. The camera practically retains the exact layout from the Nikon Z6, including the AF joystick and the wonderful touchscreen display. The only major difference here is the quick view LCD plate on top, which the Z5 does not have. Apart from that, its OLED electronic viewfinder is one of the best around in terms of overall quality. All buttons are placed ergonomically, and the robust thumb grip further adds to the overall camera experience. In terms of the in-camera menus, Nikon gave its interface a general, generational overhaul when it introduced the Z series of mirrorless cameras, and while that has somewhat improved things, the likes of Canon and Sony still provide the easier interfaces in the market. This, though, should not bother you if you’re used to the Nikon ecosystem.

In terms of battery life, the Nikon Z5 is actually mighty impressive. It produces close to 500 still images in one charge cycle, and even if you have phases in between when you do not use your camera much, the Z5’s battery does not exhaustively lose charge. The overall depth of the Nikon Z5’s battery means that with just 20 minutes’ charge from the last battery bar, you can pull off slightly fewer than 100 JPEG stills – beneficial if you just want to take the camera out for a quick spin ‘round the neighbourhood.

ALSO READ | Nikon Z50 Review: Best in Class Handling and Stills, But Falls Just Short in Details

Verdict: If you want a full-frame without splurging, this is it

Despite its struggles with dim, warm light, the occasional focusing discrepancy and the 4K videos ordeal, the Nikon Z5 is wholeheartedly recommendable. It is a good camera, and at an introductory price of Rs 1,13,995 for just the body, the Z5 makes sense as a second unit for casual photography, for professionals who do not always want to drag their D5s around. You get the resolution advantage, excellent colours, brilliant dynamic range and fairly consistent autofocus, which in itself makes the Nikon Z5 a very, very reliable camera for most situations.

If you really want (or even need) a full-frame shooter, but want to spend the least possible sum, the Nikon Z5 makes a whole lot more sense to buy than either Sony’s older generation a7 range, or any other alternative that invariably costs more.