Nikon announces the D5, its new flagship DSLR

Nikon D5

As widely predicted, Nikon has used CES 2016 to launch its flagship D5 DSLR. This full-frame professional powerhouse replaces the D4S, a camera as legendary amongst Nikon fans as the EOS-1D X is in the Canon world. These are the top two cameras in the world for sports, action and press photography, and the reputation of an entire brand rests on cameras like these.

So this is a hugely important camera for Nikon, and it's been the subject of much speculation. The news is now official, though, and what Nikon has done with the D5 is a mixture of careful development and astonishing technical achievement.

First, the new sensor. It has 20.8 million pixels, just 4 million up on the D4S and some way behind the Nikon D810 and Canon 5DS. But the D5 is a very different sort of camera, designed for high speed and low light, for subjects where getting the shot is much more important than the last ounce of resolution. Pros will be glad to get the extra 4 million pixels, but glad that it's no more – because they will not want to risk of losing high-ISO low-light performance.

Pros will also be pleased with the increase in continuous shooting speed, up fractionally to 12fps. It's not much, but any gain is valued at this level – it could mean the difference between getting the big shot (and the big payout) or not. 12fps is a big stretch for a full-frame camera with a mirror and a focal plane shutter, so it's possible we're seeing the DSLR design pushed to its absolute limit here.

Nikon D5

New AF system, stratospheric sensitivity and 4K video

The headline story, though, is the D5's new 153-point AF system, including 99 more accurate cross-type sensors. Nikon's been using and developing its previous 51-point AF system for so long that it's become part of the photography landscape, but this new AF system is a giant leap forward. It remains to be seen how it performs in the real world – the 'old' 51-point system still performs brilliantly – but if the specs are anything to go by it should be awesome.

The second big story is the D5's sensitivity range. Its standard ISO range looks good but unremarkable at ISO 100-102,000, but in 'expanded' mode it can go right up to an insane ISO 3,280,000. We don't know what the image quality is going to be like at this kind of setting, but the fact that it's possible at all is impressive. This camera could practically suck the light out of a black hole.

Nikon D5

This is the Nikon D5 fitted with Nikon's rarely seen 800mm f/5.6.

There is one more thing: the Nikon D5 can also shoot 4K video. It's the first Nikon DSLR to offer 4K and it's a pivotal moment for Nikon and its ambitions in the video market.

So yes, the D5 is a niche camera aimed at professionals, but it's also a hugely important flagship model for Nikon, and one that incorporates a mix of carefully planned development and jaw-dropping innovation. If you were wondering whether Nikon has what it takes to stay ahead of the game, here's your answer.

The Nikon D5 will be available from March 2016, costing £5,199.99/US$6499.95. Wow.

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Rod Lawton is Head of Testing for Future Publishing’s photography magazines, including Digital Camera, N-Photo, PhotoPlus, Professional Photography, Photography Week and Practical Photoshop.