We’ve Updated our Nikon Z5 Review. How Good is the Autofocus Now?

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The Nikon Z5 received a few firmware updates. Most of what photographers will care about tackled the autofocus issues we’ve encountered. As a result, we’ve updated our Nikon Z5 review accordingly. We called the Nikon Z5 back in with the 50mm f1.8 and the 35mm f1.8 lenses. These are two of my personal favorites. The firmware updates did a few things. First off, we talked to Nikon reps, who said that it boosted the autofocus performance. However, that’s not really mentioned in the firmware notes. Then there have been changes to autofocus in low light and how the automatic area selection works. So how is it?

Please be sure to check out our full Nikon Z5 review at this link.

Before I updated this review, I spent a solid half-hour with Reviews Editor Hillary Grigonis discussing my findings. She’s found there to be great performance boosts with certain S series lenses and the Z6 II. And from what it seems, the Nikon Z5 isn’t enjoying quite the same performance boosts. Instead, Nikon is making the autofocus on the Z5 still a bit more toned down than the other cameras. And in 2021, that feels like a big letdown. 

Comparatively speaking, the Canon EOS R5 shares the same autofocus abilities as all the cameras below it. Sony takes the autofocus algorithms of their highest-end cameras and puts them in lower-end models. In the specific case of Nikon, the Z5 uses the same sensor as the Z6 II. I don’t understand why the Z5 isn’t just as fast. However, I believe it might have something to do with the processor. As it is, the Z5 was better than the original Z6. 

Editor’s Note: In the comments, there were concerns that the sensor was not the same. For the record, DXOMark is saying the exact same thing we are. This confirms what we were told in briefings.

I took the lenses and the camera out into the streets and on a normal day out. Let’s be honest; we’re passionate photographers that bring our cameras with us everywhere. So I tend to photograph food, street photography, etc. I moved back to Queens, NY, last year. And at times, I feel like it’s part of my responsibility to help make it shine against more gentrified neighborhoods. So that’s why I try to do it.

Here’s the relevant update to the review.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • The Nikon Z5 isn’t so fast with face detection acquisition with street photography subjects. I even changed the autofocus situation types to cater to differences. 
  • It’s fast to focus on a subject, but tracking isn’t so great. So if you’re shooting a single shot, the Nikon Z5 will do a great job.
  • The Nikon Z5 also does a great job using the new Low light AF boost in low light.
  • Tracking in low light is pretty bad.
  • The lenses are indeed much better at focusing too.

So, in short, the Nikon Z5 is surely faster than it was. If you shot a video, you never really needed to worry in the first place. Still, it feels like it’s still behind the latest advances from Fujifilm GF, Canon RF, Sony FE, Leica L, and Panasonic L. 

Something I really like is that the Nikon Z5 can remember what autofocus point you were using. And it will keep that location locked even if you turn off the camera to change the lens. That’s awesome in theory. But in practice, it made Hillary and I both a bit annoyed. Nikon’s tracking works at its peak in the automatic area selection mode. Then, it can truly track a subject throughout the entire scene and even while you pan the camera. If you choose, you can manually select a subject to track in this mode. 

The problem is that if you turn off the camera, the Nikon Z5 won’t remember what point you selected because it’s in the automatic selection mode. This will become a problem later on for sports, wildlife, and photojournalistic photographers. I can see myself using a 400mm prime lens and then switching for a longer zoom. And when I switch out, I’ll need to tell the camera repeatedly where I want it to focus. That’s incredibly annoying and holds up the shooting process. 

So has the Nikon z5 improved? Absolutely. Has it caught up with the rest of the competition? No. Is it usable? Sure. Would I trust it with professional photojournalistic work? Only if I’m hammering the shutter button over and over again because the tracking just isn’t so great.

Please be sure to check out our full Nikon Z5 review at this link.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.