Gear

Canon 1D X Mark II vs Nikon D5

Here we are once again, sitting at the movie theatre with our buttered popcorn in hand to watch the ultimate hypothetical showdown between the two best cameras from the two biggest brands.

Most of you fanboys will never ever even touch one, but these two beauties will nonetheless still make you have wet dreams at the age of 35 and inspire countless arguments with strangers online.

Back in 2012 we took the battle to the beach.

Because even though these flagship DSLRs are still priced well beyond the majority of our means, the technology currently inside them will eventually come to define the next prosumer models that both these cameras release.

Then in 2014 we went full paparazzi.

And that’s something worth arguing over.

Design

Same 3.2″ sized LCD, although the D5 has a bit higher resolution.

Both of these models are huge, and not for the faint-hearted or faint-armed. They weigh around 3lb, with the Canon slightly heavier at 3.37lb (1530g) as opposed to the Nikon at 3.11lb (1415g).

This heft isn’t a disadvantage, but rather more of a neccesity. Since both of these cameras are pretty much aimed at the professional action and photojournalism crowd, we can expect to always see either a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 70-200mm f/2.8, or some form of a 80/100-400mm lens plugged in. As always, the built-in vertical grip will help balance the body and enable a more comfortable transition between landscape and portrait perspectives.

This is nothing new as every single flagship Nikon or Canon have released has been exactly the same way. If you are an existing user, the slight changes to the bodies should only feel intuitive.

The D5 has more buttons on the rear, which is always a plus when considering professional cameras due to the neccesity of easily adjustable settings in tight situations. The Nikon also has three customisable buttons, although since the ISO button is now moved closer to the shutter the position of the controls make more sense than they used to. Canon on the other hand has always had the ISO button close to the shutter for quick control.

The two cameras are pretty equal and similar in terms of design, although it’s worth noting that Nikon’s LCD has 2.359 million dots as opposed to Canon’s with 1.62 million dots.

Their viewfinders are also both excellent, and differ only slightly in terms of magnification, with the Canon offering .76x compared to Nikon’s .72x.

Regarding memory cards, the D5 comes in two variants—one with dual XQD slots and one with dual CF slots. The 1D X Mark II will take 1 CFast and 1 CompactFlash.

Image Quality

For cameras like these, the interesting thing is that actually getting the image is probably more important than the image quality itself.

Megapixels have never really been the focus of either series, although even with “only” 20 MP, both cameras will have more than enough quality for any professional photographer.

So let’s look at the ISO performance. Upon first glance the D5 certainly has the advantage with the jaw-dropping ability to shoot up to ISO 3 million on extended settings.

However, the native max ISO of both the cameras doesn’t actually differ that much. The D5 can go up to 102,400 while the 1D X Mark II will hit 51,200. Nikon’s noise control has always won plaudits for being exceptionally clean at high ISOs, but early samples of the 1D X Mark II are definitely impressive. At the end of the day though, the flexibility in-camera of the Nikon’s extended range should give it the edge here.

Video Quality

While this is the first Nikon flagship camera able to shoot 4K video, there’s really no contest. As always, the Canon wins hands down. It can shoot at a higher resolution at a great variety of speeds than the Nikon, and it can shoot 10x longer. The D5 can only shoot at 3 minutes per clip compared to Canon’s 30, putting it entirely in another league.

The clear winner, as expected.

Autofocus and Burst

They also have very pretty equivalent burst capabilities, although autofocus is where the Nikon really stands out. It has more than double the amount of AF points and cross-type points, although nothing is free in this world. The D5 costs around US$ 500 more than the 1D X Mark II.

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But the difference in capability (at least on paper) is quite astonishing. How Canon have let themselves get so outgunned is odd, especially considering they’ve always been famed for their speed and AF capability.

It’s hard to argue against the Nikon here; whereas the Canon has 61 phase detection points and 41 cross-type points, the Nikon has 153 phase detection points, with 99 cross-type points. And very importantly, the D5 has a full stop advantage over the 1D X Mark II in low light focusing, as it can focus in -4 EV compared to Canon’s -3 EV.

The D5 and D500 are a match made in heaven for action photographers.

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Special Features

Canon put a lot of things up the 1D X Mark II‘s sleeve which can definitely help your average protog. They have a new feature called Digital Lens Optimizer which stores information about the optical flaws of lenses like how Lightroom or Photoshop have certain lens profiles. The camera then automatically can digitally correct those flaws while the camera is in use, without any decrease in camera speed.

This can speed up the post-process tremendously because it can correct chromatic aberration, both barrel and pincushion distortion, diffraction, and peripheral brightness.

On the other hand, the D5 remains more of a camera than a computer—and it’s a damn fine one at that—but it falls behind a bit on innovation. Both cameras however fail to implement a lot of in-demand features common in mirrorless cameras such as focus peaking, which is a huge oversight.

Conclusion

As almost always with these two brands, it’s pretty impossible to say that one is absolutely better than the other. But it’s surprising to see Canon unable to match the D5’s specs on paper to say the least. And 154 phase detection points vs 61 phase detection points hardly seems like a negligible difference. Canon won’t suddenly start being crap, and their AF performance has always been excellent, but it remains to be seen if the D5 will be exponetially superior.

Both cameras seem to make half-hearted attempts to be video cameras, although as expected Canon prevails here. Maybe Nikon knew the D5 was meant to be a pure sports body and just threw in 4K capability to appease the hounds baying in the sidelines, but 3 minutes isn’t super useful.

At the end of the day, both cameras are underwhelming for gearwhores but will still prove to be extremely reliable workhorses for the professionals using either mount. There’s absolutely nothing hype-worthy about either camera to be honest, although the D5 does get our hearts racing just a tad faster than the 1D X Mark II.

On paper, it seems like Nikon and Canon are stuck in a digital quagmire while Sony races ahead, but realistically these two flagships continue to represent the pinnacle of action photography.

Canon 1Dx MK IINikon D5
Price$ 4,459.00$ 4,899.00
Megapixels20.2 MP20.8 MP
Max Resolution5472 x 36485568 x 3712
Image Sensor FormatFull frameFull frame
ISO Range100-51,200 (Expandable to 50-409,600)100-102,400 (Expandable to 50-3,280,000)
AF Points61 phase detection points, with 41 cross-type153 phase detection points, with 99 cross-type
Low Light Focusing-3 EV-4 EV
Metering MethodsEvaluative metering, partial metering, spot metering3D Color Matrix metering, center-weighted average metering, spot metering, highlight weighted
Viewfinder Frame Coverage100% coverage, 0.76x magnification100% coverage, 0.72x magnification
Continuous Burst & Buffer Capacity:14FPS at 20.2 MP for up to 170 RAW photos12FPS at 20.8 MP for up to 200 RAW photos
4K Video4096x2160p @ 60fps, 50fps, 30fps, 25fps, 24fps3840x2160p @ 30 fps, 25fps, 24fps
4K Video Clip Length30 minutes3 minutes
LCD Specs3.2-inch touchscreen with 1.62 million dots3.2-inch touchscreen with 2.359 million dots
WiFi
Memory Card1 CFast and 1 CompactFlash2 XQD or 2 CompactFlash
Weight3.37lb (1530g)3.11lb (1415g)