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  • Nikon D5 & the Need for Speed: in Sports Photography the Competition’s not just on the field


    Sports photographers famously capture extraordinary moments in play, but the competitive nature of their field really kicks in when they need to get their pictures out. We met three Nikon pros to discover how the D5’s shooting performance and workflow features meet their clients’ demand for speed.


    Horse riding, sports photography
    Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED | 24mm | f/5.6 | 1/2000 s | ISO 2500 © Joel Marklund / Bildbyrån


    Joel Marklund is a sports photographer and Nikon Ambassador who comes from a photojournalism background in his native Sweden, and combines a news eye with an artistic eye to create show-stopping images. Joel sees one of the biggest advantages of the D5 is that its reliability and ease of use sets his creativity free. “You don’t feel the camera as an obstacle. You feel that you can actually do what you imagine. It’s an extension of your mind in that way. I don’t want to think about what I’m holding and what I’m shooting. I just want to take the photo that I imagine and the D5 makes it possible.”


    But it’s accuracy of focus and speed that really count. “For all sports, autofocus is critical, plus the speed of the camera, and how it works in low light situations. The D5 excels in that way on a high ISO. I’m often shooting underwater, where you need to rely on the lighting in the pool, so working well on high ISO is very, very important. The D5 has pushed the boundaries on low-light photography. You can shoot at the settings you ideally want, even in bad lighting. Combined with better AF, you’ll still nail that shot in that setting. I’ll use different AF modes depending on the sport. It’s in those tough situations where the system is really pushed, and it delivers. Sports photographers are pushing the equipment. We are pushing it to its limits.”


    And speed isn’t just crucial in shooting, it’s a vital part of the entire workflow – getting the image off the camera and over to the picture desk. And that’s where the D5 has the leading edge. “What is also really important for me is the network connectivity. Today we send almost everything to the editors live from the camera, so that is more and more crucial for every event. Nowadays I don’t edit my photos that much anymore. We send everything live.”


    Athletics, sports photography, running
    Nikon D5 + AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED | 24mm | f/4 | 1/1600 s | ISO 2500 © Matthias Hangst / Getty Images


    For Matthias Hangst, Getty Images Chief Photographer – Sports, delivering images rapidly is a deal-breaker. “Working for one of the biggest photo agencies in the world, for us it’s all about speed of workflow. We have to deliver in seconds. We’re not talking about can we get it out in ten minutes, we are talking about can we get it out in one minute or sometimes under a minute to the client. It’s all about connectivity. It’s an extremely important thing for us.”


    And the D5’s unique voice memo capability is essential for the agency’s handling of images. “Voice tagging and connectivity is the main importance for us. In the workflow for major events, every single frame that goes to our editors needs a voice tag, because they edit multiple events on the flow, and they need to know what’s in the shot. If you can’t put on a voice tag, it’s unusable.”


    Durability was a quality valued above all by every photographer. For Matthias, it’s about having a camera that’s proven to work day-in, day-out, from one extreme to another. “Some of us are travelling 100-200 days a year, through all the continents, through all the climate zones from A to B. I remember one day at the Pyeongchang Olympics we had -23°C and a few weeks later I’d end up maybe in Doha with 45°C or 50°C. The only thing you really need is for your camera to do the job. The best technical single feature doesn’t help if the camera doesn’t work at all. The D5 has been around for three years, longer than we have seen other models in the past, but all my D5s – I have a few of them – are still delivering, and have every feature you need to get it done immediately.”


    Based in Germany, Matthias’ daily work is covering up to 100 football matches in a season, as well as seasonal international events like Wimbledon or the IAAF World Championships in Athletics. Football coverage in modern arenas means light is immensely variable – you can see sunlight, shadow and artificial light in a single match. The D5’s customisation capability allows Matthias to prepare for any eventuality. “I can easily switch around between two completely different settings. One that includes all the basic settings like ISO, shutter speed, etc, then another one set for daylight, which gives me the opportunity to just to switch around in a split second, and that helps massively. I’m a big fan of having control over my cameras which means I’m shooting 99% of my stuff manually, so I choose shutter, aperture etc, but from time to time it makes sense to put in an Auto ISO. I still keep control over shutter speed and aperture, but the Auto ISO helps me to adjust instantly in two different situations.”


    Sports photography, cricket
    Nikon D5 +AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4E FL ED VR | f/4 | 1/6400 s | ISO 1600 © Andy Hooper / Daily Mail


    Andy Hooper is Chief Sports Photographer for the Daily Mail and MailOnline in the UK, and a six-time winner of Sports Photographer of the Year. Quality of image is what gives him the leading edge. “You’ve got to use the best technology you can get and what I like is that I can depend on the D5. Its image quality is sensational. Our picture editor sees around 10,000 pictures a day, and they might see 5,000 sports pictures through the desk for big events. When they’re all piling in from hundreds of photographers, your pictures have got to compete against everyone else. You know when you shoot the D5 no-one is going to have a better picture technically than you. It’s a nice feeling to have. It’s like driving the best car: you don’t have to worry.”


    Workflow is top of mind for Andy too. “The value of a picture is in the timing, because the monetary value of a picture changes. The value is the speed, so the quicker you can get it – the workflow – is vital. That’s what’s brilliant about Nikon: the captioning system in the camera is better than other manufacturers, so you can touch-screen your captions. We touch-screen ours, we don’t use voice-tagging. The workflow of being able to transmit it straight from the camera to your desk means I can compete against all the other agencies. That’s a huge, huge thing for a website. On the desk they clock the pictures, they time them in, and the first picture in is the picture that gets used. For a news website wanting to beat other news websites, the speed of how you get pictures in and pages up is a fantastic edge. It comes down to seconds.”


    Like the other pros, there’s little editing for Andy at events, apart from a few in-camera tweaks. “I use the cropping tool and the D-Lighting tool in the menu. That’s what’s great on the D5. You can’t do that on other cameras. I use that quite a lot, where the action can be a long way from your position on the pitch, so you need to crop into it, or maybe you want to crop someone or something out of the picture just to improve the impact.”


    All the pros shared the same opinion on what makes the D5 the go-to camera for sports photography professionals: it’s the camera you can rely on every step of the way. Joel said, “It just has everything. It’s the mix of AF and high ISO. It’s just so reliable. I don’t need to be worried that it’s not going to work.” Andy told us, “It’s so dependable, you don’t have to worry – it’s a perfect workhorse.” And Matthias commented, “It delivers every single request you have.” He also added that the golden rule of sports photography now is the need for speed, and the importance of the D5’s connectivity in getting your pictures out. “In the world I’m working in, sometimes the workflow of the file is more important. The camera delivers, the photographer delivers, but then it needs to go through a system. The pictures are moving from A to B to C, it needs to go to editors, clients, wherever, in a short time. It’s all about time. Photography is all about quality, but the best photo, if it sticks on the camera for 24 hours these days, it’s done. It needs to go out.”


    Would they go mirrorless? Not yet. They can see some advantages, but there’s no pro model, nor one that’s capable of meeting the stringent demands of sports photography. As Joel points out, “We’re relying so much on the interconnectivity in the cameras. We need an ethernet port, we need Wi-Fi® and we need to withstand all different conditions. AF is stronger in the D5 at the moment too.”


    Matthias questions whether the handling is there yet, with the right ergonomic balance for sports photographers. “You need to remember that most of the stuff we do is long-lens work, so if you have a mirrorless with a 600mm lens at the moment, the whole balance feels wrong. It might work, but it feels wrong. And all this is part of our big issue with cameras: we don’t want to think, we just want to use it. And, yes, you can get used to it – but how much time do I need to invest, what is the outcome, where is the benefit, and will I get a shot I can’t get so far? Not in the work I’m doing.”


    Durability and viewfinder are concerns for Andy. “They’re not quite there at the moment, they don’t seem as robust. You need a robust camera. When you’re knocking a camera around every day, when you’re using it hard, it’s got to stand up to the knocks. The D5 is going to take a lot of knocks in a day and it can take that, whereas the mirrorless at the moment don’t seem as robust. And there are still a few issues with looking through the viewfinder. If you photograph cricket, for example, you’re looking through the viewfinder for a long time.”


    We’ll leave the last word to Andy on why the D5 is the camera that rules all others in sports photography. “There can’t be any type of photography where you compete as much as sports. Maybe news, but the volume in sports is much bigger than anything else. If your picture’s slightly better, they’ll use the best quality picture. You have to have that edge. It’s very competitive. That’s why we use Nikon.”


    To learn more about the capabilities of Nikon’s D5, please visit: