High ISO into the stratosphere: Nikon D5 First Shots are here, including ISO 3,280,000!


posted Monday, March 28, 2016 at 3:22 PM EST


A few years ago, we were astounded by a handful of cameras that took high ISO sensitivity ratings into the six digit zone. Starting with the Nikon D3S, we hit ISO 102,400. Then, the Nikon D4 and Canon 1D X arrived offering ISO 204,800. Things made a big leap with the Nikon D4S, which pushed the high sensitivity capabilities much further with ISO 409,600. Soon, the Sony A7S offered this sensitivity as well, as did its "Mark II" successor. The recently announced Canon 1D X Mark II joins the 409K club as well.

But now, with the introduction of the Nikon D5 flagship DSLR, we're beginning to see cameras reach even bigger milestones with some insanely high ISO capabilities: seven digits. ISO into the millions! ISO 3,280,000 to be exact in the case of the D5. Canon also has a foot in the door to the seven-digit ISO party, with their new ME20F-SH camera reaching a maximum high ISO of four million! However, the Canon ME20F-SH is a dedicated video camera, which really isn't in our wheelhouse. The Nikon D5, on the other hand, most certainly is.

Besides the staggering expanded high ISO capabilities, the new D5's 20-megapixel full-frame sensor has a versatile native ISO range of 100-102,400 -- a stunning feat in and of itself. Combined with a new EXPEED 5 image processor, the Nikon D5 aims for excellent image quality in pretty much any kind of lighting, good or bad.

We've just gotten our hands on a brand new Nikon D5 (the dual XQD variant), and we've given it the First Shots treatment right away. From a first glance, the image quality looks very impressive, even up to some really high ISOs. However, while it's a stunning technological feat, we're not so sure how often you'll want to crank that ISO dial to the three million mark. Take a look at the sample shot further down.

To get the pixel peeping juices flowing, we have a couple sample comparisons highlighted below, at both base ISO and a very high ISO level. First, we have the D5 squared-off against its predecessor, the D4S, and then the original 1D X. Unfortunately, we have yet to see a final production sample of the new Canon 1D X Mark II. And of course, you can compare the D5 lab shots against any other camera we've tested using our Comparometer.

ISO 100: Nikon D5 (left) vs Nikon D4S (right)
ISO 102,400: Nikon D5 (left) vs Nikon D4S (right)
ISO 100: Nikon D5 (left) vs Canon 1D X (right)
ISO 102,400: Nikon D5 (left) vs Canon 1D X (right)

And now the moment you've been waiting for...ISO 3,280,000:

Nikon D5, ISO 3,280,000 with default in-camera NR. Click image for full-resolution.

We should also note that given the very high ISO capabilities of the Nikon D5, we had to modify our testing procedures slightly for our lab shots. In order to have flicker-free Still Life shots, we had to use an ND filter on our Still Life shots of ISO 409,600 and above in order to get a proper exposure. The filter used was a Heliopan 0.9x ND filter, and filenames are denoted with "ND8."

Nikon D5 OverviewFirst Shots