The Nikon Z 5 offers a lot for photographers moving from a Nikon SLR system to mirrorless, even though it omits some of the latest bells and whistles to meet its price point.
Despite its positioning as an affordable, entry-level full-frame camera, the Nikon Z 5 ($1,399.95, body only) is nearly as capable as the midrange Z 6. For a few hundred dollars less you get very similar image quality, though you’ll have to live with cropped 4K video recording. Photographers with an investment in Nikon gear should take a look at this one, especially if video is a secondary concern. Still, you can’t discount the value proposition here, especially if you’re already invested in the Nikon system. If you’re not, the Sony a7 III is our absolute favorite mirrorless camera and Editors’ Choice, but it carries a higher asking price, around $2,000 without a lens.
The Z 5 isn’t the first sub-$2,000 full-frame camera we’ve seen, but it cuts fewer corners than alternatives like the Canon EOS RP and Sigma fp. You still get a 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system, dust and splash protection, and dual memory card slots.
The camera body is sized similarly to the Z 6 and other full-frame mirrorless cameras. It measures 4.0 by 5.3 by 2.7 inches (HWD) and weighs about 1.3 pounds without a lens. There’s only one model on the market that competes with it in most areas in a significantly smaller form factor, the Sony a7C (2.8 by 4.9 by 2.4 inches, 1.1 pound).
Nikon is offering the Z 5 as a body only for $1,400. It’s one of the lower costs of entry for full-frame, and the value proposition is furthered by a low-cost kit option—you can add the Nikkor Z 24-50mm lens for $300 more when buying them together.
There’s a second, premium kit with the Z 24-200mm, priced at $2,200, but Nikon doesn’t offer a bundle with the Z 24-70mm F4, a shame as that’s an appealing lens for photographers who don’t mind spending a bit more on a good lens.
The Z lens system is a couple of years old now, but still growing. Most of the basics are covered, but not everything—Nikon has yet to release fish-eye, macro, and some other specialized designs in Z mount. It’s also skipped F1.4 glass so far, instead concentrating on quality F1.8 primes. The Z primes I’ve tested have been strong performers—the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 is one of the best 50mm lenses I’ve ever used and worth every penny of its $600 asking price, but it’s harder to market than a 50mm F1.4. (Nikon has a 50mm F1.2 coming in Z mount, priced at $2,100.)
With the FTZ adapter, the Z 5 (and other models) can use Nikon SLR lenses without the performance headaches that come with third-party and cross-system adapters. It’s a worthwhile add-on if you have a stash of Nikkor SLR lenses, but only autofocuses with AF-S and G series lenses with internal focus motors—older screw-drive glass is manual focus only.
One thing missing is third-party support. While there are plenty of Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina lenses available for Nikon SLRs, none of the big lens makers have jumped in with support for the mirrorless Z system. It’s a shame—Sigma and Tamron make some excellent lenses, but you’ll need a Sony mirrorless camera to use them.
The Z 5 isn’t built to absolute pro standards, but it’s by no means cheaply fabricated. The chassis is a mix of magnesium alloy and polycarbonate, a slight step back from the full mag-alloy chassis used by the Z 6 and Z 7, but not one that you’d notice without tearing the camera apart.
It incorporates internal seals around potential points of ingress, keeping dust and moisture from getting into the camera. Dust on the image sensor is still a concern—it’s exposed during lens changes—but a small air puffer does a good job keeping the imager free of detritus.
I only used the Z 5 with the lightweight 24-50mm zoom, but the camera’s grip is as ample and comfortable as the Z 6 and Z 7, and will handle telephoto lenses with no problem. The control layout is well thought-out, with front and rear control dials and an eight-way joystick for autofocus control. The camera isn’t dumbed-down in any way, and if you prefer automatic exposure control, that’s there too.
For the most part, the Z 5 matches the Z 6 in handling, though the Mode dial shifts places and the top plate information panel is dropped. I don’t miss it—even when working from a tripod, it’s easy enough to tilt the rear LCD up to monitor exposure parameters.
The standard Nikon shortcuts are included—ISO and the front dial toggle automatic and manual sensitivity, and you can set the rear dial as a direct EV control if you’d like. If you’re moving up from a D750, you’ll appreciate one big advantage of mirrorless when making images—it’s easy to see if your photo is over or underexposed in the viewfinder.
And it’s an excellent EVF, absolutely the best you’ll find in a camera at this price point. Its 0.8x OLED viewfinder is as large to the eye as you get with cameras costing over $2,000, and competitive with premium APS-C entries like the Fujifilm X-T4. It’s also plenty sharp—a dense 3.7 million dots draw the image.
The rear LCD is a little less crisp than the 2.1-million-dot panels used by the Z 6 or Z 7, but you probably won’t notice. The Z 5’s 3.2-inch, 1.04-million-dot display is big, bright, and offers excellent viewing angles. It tilts up and down, but doesn’t flip out or face forward, and supports touch input.
Whether you’re framing shots at eye level or using the rear display, you’ll enjoy a preview of your photo, including any effects you want to apply. The Z 5 supports the basics—neutral, vivid, and black-and-white looks—and also has a swath of creative filters for photographers with a more artistic bent.
The Z 5 includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and works with the Nikon SnapBridge app to send images to your smartphone. The app, a free download for Android and iOS handsets, copies photos to your phone for social sharing and doubles as a wireless remote control, complete with a view from the lens.
Physical connections include USB-C for transfer and charging, a mini HDMI video output, a proprietary accessory port, and 3.5mm jacks for headphones and microphones.
Nikon has been criticized for including only a single memory card slot with the Z 6 and Z 7 cameras, and its choice to only support pricey XQD and CFexpress media adds a hidden cost to those models. With the Z 5, the memory card configuration is more mainstream—you get dual SDXC slots with support for UHS-II transfer rates. If you’ve been using SD cards with your Nikon SLR forever, you won’t have to buy all new memory cards.
Power is provided by an EN-EL15c battery. It’s the same form factor as earlier EN-EL15 cells from Nikon, so you can use your old charger, and even power the Z 5 with an EN-EL15, 15a, or 15b as well. But to get the best battery life, and enjoy the convenience of in-camera charging via USB-C, use the battery that comes with the camera. It’s rated for about 470 shots per charge—better than many other mirrorless models, but well shy of what you get with a Sony a7C or a7 III.
The Z 5’s autofocus system is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s fast to lock onto subjects, and it supports face and eye detection for both people and pets, so you can get better shots of your family members, regardless of whether you’ve got kids or cats.
Coverage is wide, stretching nearly to the frame’s edge, and the focus system is quite quick. Subject tracking, a strength of modern mirrorless cameras, is effective, but requires a couple of button presses to access. You’ll need to press OK to engage it, and then find the small minus button to switch back to a wide focus area. There’s only one size of focus area to start tracking, a midsize flexible spot.
It’s not unworkable, but a little cumbersome to use in practice, especially when Sony’s Real Time Tracking and Canon’s latest mirrorless autofocus system (used in the upmarket R6 and R5) can leverage tracking from a number of different initial areas of interest, allowing for more precise subject acquisition, and are able to combine tracking with face and eye detection. Ironically, the focus systems on Canon and Sony mirrorless systems work more like the 3D Tracking we loved in Nikon SLRs than Nikon’s own mirrorless cameras.
That said, the cumbersome implementation is less of an issue with the Z 5 simply because the camera isn’t built to snap shots of fast-moving action. As capable as the autofocus system is, the burst rate is a meager 4.5fps. If you want to snap sports action, wildlife, and other unpredictable things, the Z 6 is a better choice—it fires as quickly as 12fps.
For single shot focus, where you’re not trying to follow a moving target with the camera snapping continuously, the Z 5 works better than any full-frame SLR.
The Z 5’s image sensor matches the Z 6 in resolution and is mounted to the same 5-axis stabilizer, but it’s not the same chip. The Z 5 uses an older 24MP sensor, more similar in performance to what was included in the D750.
It was bleeding edge in 2014, and while it seems like an eternity has passed in the interim, there hasn’t been a huge improvement in absolute image quality, at least not when talking about 24MP full-frame sensors.
The Z 5 delivers clear, clean JPGs at lower ISO settings, from its starting ISO 100 setting through ISO 1600. We observe some loss of contrast and generally softer detail starting at ISO 3200, but it’s not too bad until you push all the way to ISO 25600. You can go higher, to ISO 51200 or 102400 if you’d like, but quality suffers. If you make images in very dim light, consider spending a bit more on the Z 6—its sensor has a newer, BSI architecture, with the very real benefit of cleaner, crisper images beyond ISO 12800.
Raw capture is also an option. You’ll need to process Raw shots with software before sharing. I looked at test images using Adobe Lightroom, the gold standard for Raw conversion. In general, Raw photos are a little crisper than JPGs, but also a little noisier. The Z 5 delivers photos with little noise through ISO 3200, with grain kicking into higher gear starting at ISO 6400. Photos shot at higher settings are noticeably grainy, but quite usable through ISO 25600; quality suffers when set higher.
Video functions are a bit limited by the sensor. Its readout speed is on the slow side, so its support for 4K capture is limited. The Z 5 can roll 4K video at 24 or 30fps, but only using a cropped image area, similar to what you get from an APS-C camera, significantly limiting the view of wide-angle lenses. You will get a full-frame view of 1080p, and the top frame rate is a brisker 60fps.
Despite the sensor’s limitations, Nikon didn’t cut other features for videographers. The Z 5 supports a flat color profile, a plus for color grading, sends clean video out over HDMI, and the body includes both headphone and microphone jacks. Time lapse is also supported.
If you’re a Nikon person, the Z 6 is a better choice for video. It records 4K without a crop, isn’t as prone to rolling shutter distortion, and can record Raw footage when paired with an Atomos Ninja V recorder.
The Nikon Z 5 is the company’s third full-frame mirrorless model, and its most affordable to date. It uses some older tech, most notably a previous-generation image sensor, to meet its $1,400 starting price, and that puts limits on video and low-light imaging.
Those are pretty reasonable compromises, though. The Z 5 cuts zero corners with its superb EVF, and while it’s not built quite as tough as pro cameras, you would never know by holding it in your hands—it’s a go-anywhere camera that you can use under gray skies as easily as sunny ones.
If you’re not much of an action photographer—4.5fps is a bit slow for sports photography and I’m still not in love with the button presses Nikon requires to access some autofocus functions—and you don’t need extreme ISOs, you won’t feel limited by the Z 5.
If you want more, though, there are options. For full-frame 4K, 12fps photography, and a bit better low-light imaging, the Nikon Z 6 is still on sale, but Nikon has already teased a replacement, set to be unveiled this month. We don’t know anything about the Z 6 II other than its name at this point, but it should be on your radar if you’re mulling a purchase.
At its price point, the most sensible alternatives to the Z 5 are the Canon EOS RP and Sony a7 II. The EOS RP has the advantage of a lower price, a round $1,000 without a lens, but it doesn’t offer quite the same handling or build quality.
The Sony a7 II is an aged camera, and one that I’d not recommend buying today at its $1,400 retail price. Autofocus, battery life, and video are all a step back from what the Z 5 offers. On the flip side, Sony has a vast lens library with robust third-party support, a benefit of going mirrorless early.
We like the Z 5, but not quite enough to make it our Editors’ Choice. We’ve not picked one for full-frame cameras in the $1,500 ballpark, instead recommending that photographers who want the best all-around performance get the $2,000 Sony a7 III. If you’re not committed to getting a full-frame camera, the Fujifilm X-T4 is a stunner, though it too costs more than the Z 5.
PCMag.com is a leading authority on technology, delivering Labs-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions and get more from technology.
PCMag, PCMag.com and PC Magazine are among the federally registered trademarks of Ziff Davis, LLC and may not be used by third parties without explicit permission. The display of third-party trademarks and trade names on this site does not necessarily indicate any affiliation or the endorsement of PCMag. If you click an affiliate link and buy a product or service, we may be paid a fee by that merchant.
Nikon, Mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, Canon
World news – THAT – Nikon Z 5 Review