Avid railway enthusiast Robin Coombes reveals what it is about the Nikon D5 he loves so much

AP: Tell us a little about your photography background
RC: For as long as I can remember I have owned a camera, but it was little more than taking family snaps and anything of passing interest. In 2006 I found myself with a bit more freedom and took photography up as a hobby. My passion has always been railways in general, and steam locomotives in particular.

Bathed in early morning sunlight, A4 Pacific 60009 Union of South Africa accelerates away from Burrs on the East Lancashire Railway

I set myself a target to get a photograph published so I contacted a railway magazine for advice. The helpful lady I spoke to gave me perhaps the best bit of advice possible: ‘We are inundated with good photographs, but they are all similar, take something different.’

The advice worked, and my first submission was published. Subsequently I have been fortunate to have many photos published in a variety of magazines and newspapers. I encouraged my son Taliesin to take up photography and together we’ve enjoyed many trips taking photographs.

He is now a far better photographer than I am and won the AA/Sunday Times Young Landscape Photographer of the Year a few years ago. I also post on social media, and this led to an invitation to present my photography at a conference in Chicago, which just goes to prove the power of social media. I enjoy other genres of photography, from landscape to street photography, but it is the majesty and atmosphere of the steam locomotive to which I keep returning.

AP: If we were to take a look in your camera bag, what would we find in it?
RC: When I do carry a bag, it now only contains the D5 with a 28-300mm lens; on rare occasions you might also find a 150-600mm lens for close-in, dramatic shots of moving trains.

AP: If you could pick one item of kit you couldn’t live without, what would it be?
RC: Currently the D5, together with the 28-300mm lens – it has been and continues to be sufficient for almost all my needs.

AP: How long have you owned the Nikon D5?
RC: I bought it from new, as soon as it was available. I had started with a D200 and then worked my way up through the D300, D600, D800, D810, D4S to the current D5. The reasons for purchase were the higher ISO, more frames per second and more focus points. It was an upgrade to the D4S and the improvements, though small, do make a difference.

AP: How do you find the camera performs in use?
RC: I am completely satisfied with how the camera performs. A camera should become ‘part of you’, an extension of your arm and another eye – the Nikon D5 achieves this. Ergonomically it is perfect for my size of hand. The main advantage is that I don’t need to think about the camera.

It gives me the confidence to focus only on taking photographs, not playing and fiddling with buttons, dials and menus. I am sure for those technically minded, all the functions are important; but to me the camera is only a means to an end, and not an end in itself.

The D5 makes it easy, particularly in challenging conditions. AP: Is there a standout photograph you’ve taken using your favourite kit? RC: Many – it has allowed me to continually push boundaries in low light with fast-moving trains and it allows me to capture images that haven’t been possible before. The number of frames per second also gives a better statistical chance of pulling off a great shot when taking a zoom pan.

AP: Have you identified any weaknesses or disadvantages?
RC: Perhaps a few more focus points and pixels would be nice but that is nit-picking. Its chunky, professional appearance and machine-gun shutter sound mean it is less suitable for candid photography, but it has the advantage that I was twice mistaken for a press photographer and able to gain access to non-public areas at events.

AP: Do you have any plans to replace or upgrade your current kit?
RC: Hopefully not, but it has already passed 725,000 shots so it is maybe on borrowed time. It would be nice to reach one million shots.

AP: What do you think your kit bag will look like in the future?
RC: Possibly it will have a ‘D8’ in there, as I believe there is still a market for the progression of advanced, high-end, ergonomically designed professional still cameras. Either that, or it will just be my phone. Though this may sound tongue-in-cheek, through lockdown I have just used my phone as it is less obtrusive and far lighter.

Robin Coombes
Robin has been a photographer for 15 years and lives in Cardiff. He has had two railway books published and is about to complete a third – One More Glimpse – that’s due out later this year

Further reading
Nikon D5 field test