For many years now, Nikon fans have been waiting for the spiritual successor to the much-acclaimed Nikon D300S, and here it is. Presenting the Nikon D500.
Nikon has essentially gone all out with the D500, much like with the D5 Pro DSLR in many aspects. Of course, it swaps the full frame camera sensor in the D5 Pro DSLR for a smaller APS-C sensor, and even ditches its massive body, for a more accessible price.
The D500 model sits at the top of the APS-C offerings, and although the full frame is the ultimate aspiration for some photographers, a crop sensor has its plus sides. Wildlife and sports enthusiasts, for example, will be able to get closer to the subject with lighter, smaller, and perhaps even cheaper lenses. It pairs very well with the Nikon’s 16 – 80mm f/2.8-4 lens, and is also compatible with the extensive range of DX-format lenses offered by Nikon.
The D500 comes with the many benefits included in its full-frame siblings, without carrying the hefty price tag. However, don’t even thinks for a second that this makes it cheap. In fact, it has the same focusing system and processor as the D5, which is ideally aimed at professionals. In addition, it has quite an insane ISO figure of 1,640,000, which although doesn’t get close to the D5’s maximum figure of 3 million, is beyond what most ordinary users would realistically ever need.
In addition, it has a pretty good 153 point AF system with 4K UHD video recording, 21-megapixel sensor with Hi1-5 extended options, and fast continuous shooting performance, making the D500 one of the most capable, and incredibly well-rounded DSLR that Nikon has released in a while. The $2000 price tag might seem high for a DX camera, so, is the D500 worth the price?
Nikon D500 In-depth Review
Photographers were smitten when Nikon introduced the D300, way back in 2007, due to its excellent performance, heavy-duty quality build, and fast autofocus. Later, in 2009, Nikon upgraded the D300 by adding video recording plus a few other specifications upgrades with the D300S. Then came a 6-year silence from Nikon in this pro-level high-performance camera segment. The Nikon D500 has now arrived, and it seems the wait was worth it!
Design and Handling
For those that like their camera big and chunky, you are going to love the D500. Even if it comes with an APS-C sensor, it’s by no means an entry level model. The textured grip feels comfortable and extremely nice to hold, and it has an indent that lets your middle finger rest comfortably as the forefinger naturally rests on its shutter release.
The camera body itself is a big improvement, offering the same level of weatherproof sealing seen in the Nikon D810. For improved durability, the body of the camera is comprised of a magnesium alloy top and bottom, which is reinforced with a carbon fiber at its front. The D500 doesn’t have an inbuilt pop-up flash, but for your flash needs, it is compatible with the new radio frequency capable Speedlight SB-5000 flash.
The screen is now touch sensitive, and there are a wide range of buttons and dials around the body of the camera. These physical buttons essentially give you direct access to various settings, to make your photography experience quick and intuitive. For instance, the rotating dial at the top right corner of the camera gives you easy access to drive mode adjustments.
The Nikon D500 is the first DX camera to come with button illumination out-of-the-box, to make operability in nighttime or dark situations effortless. Moreover, besides the dedicated exposure compensation, ISO, and focus type buttons, there are a couple of extra customizable buttons that you can assign certain settings, based on your personal preferences.
Viewfinder and Touchscreen
As you would probably expect at this price point, the D500 comes with an optical viewfinder that offers 100% field of view. It gives you a bright view of the subject/scene, and its rubber surround makes sure that it’s still comfortable when held against your face. There’s also a blind included to prevent any unwanted light – which can potentially alter the exposure – from entering the viewfinder, especially if you’re shooting long exposures from a tripod.
The viewfinder magnification has increased from 0.94x (D300S) to a full 1.0x on this model. For those that prefer using live view, you will be delighted to know that the D500 has been given a new 3.2” RGBW tilting LCD touchscreen, with an estimated 2,359,000 dots. The high-resolution screen is quite useful when you’re recording videos of up to 4K UHD resolution at 30 fps (frames per second).
The 4K video recording capabilities allow the D500 to save individual 4K frames as 8 megapixel images. There is also simultaneous video recording to an internal memory card as well as an external recorder, zebra stripes, flat picture control, electronic vibration reduction, Smooth exposure, and Power aperture control.
While the touch screen cannot be used to make settings changes in the menu, you can use it to set the autofocus point as you shoot in live view, as well as when scrolling through your images in playback. Since the screen can be tilted, you will find that it’s quite useful when shooting from awkward angles. Additionally, bright sunlight doesn’t seem to affect its legibility too much, though it’s highly likely that with such a camera, you’ll use the viewfinder in most situations.
Camera Sensor and Image Processing
Underneath the weather-sealed body is a 21 megapixel sensor that sees the resolution slide quite a bit compared to the D7200 model, which in turn brings improvement to the speed as well as larger pixels for heightened sensitivity. The brand new Multi-CAM 20k-autofocus system that was featured in the Nikon D5 is also included in the D500. With the 153 AF points, 15 of them support f/8 autofocusing, while 99 of them are solely for cross-type to improve its sensitivity. The inclusion of f/8 is good news for those who use extenders or long lenses in their photography. Moreover, besides the central sensor that’s sensitive down to -4E, all of the focus points in the D500 are sensitive down to -3EV, which makes the camera great for low-light focusing.
In reality, this translates into excellent focus speeds, and the camera only struggles to lock in the darkest of situations. Continuous focus is really fantastic when it comes to keeping the scene/object in focus under the active AF point. This makes it ideal for sports enthusiasts or even those that often photograph their erratically moving child or pets.
The processing is also done incredibly fast. The D500 also features the new EXSPEED 5 image processing engine, enabling it to capture relatively low noise even under high ISO speeds. The native ISO range of the D500 beats that of the previous top of the line DX model, and even offers a more expanded ISO range of 50 to 1,638,400. Compare this to the D300S’ native ISO range of 200 to 3200 or even the highest ISO setting of the D7200 that maxes at 102,400, and you can see just how powerful the new D500 is.
This camera is also fitted with an 180-k pixel RGB metering sensor, and includes the new White Balance feature: Keep White, and the Advanced Scene Recognition System, which produces natural color reproduction, through the combination of the white balance setting and the EXSPEED 5 image processor capabilities.
Still, on image capturing, the D500 can also capture images at full resolution at 10fps in CH drive mode. It can also capture 79 uncompressed 14 bit RAW image files, and 200 lossless compressed 14 bit RAW image files at 10fps. The top shutter speed is at 1/8000s, just like that of the D300S. Nonetheless, the shutter durability has seen an improvement and is now rated at 200,000 cycles, which is up 50,000 cycles from the D300S.
Nikon D500 performs incredibly well in a large variety of shooting conditions, and produces great images. The camera is a nice all-rounder for those photography enthusiasts that are not tied to a specific mode or subject type. Images taken directly from the camera have good vibrancy levels, and still maintain a high levels of realism. The sensor reproduces detail well, and even fine details are observable when the sensitivity is kept low.
Even under high ISO settings, the sensor performs well. Nonetheless, for images taken at high ISO setting of around 12,800 to 51,200, it’s possible to see some level of image smoothing, though only when you examine the image at 100%. With normal viewing and printing sizes of A4 and below, the level (or impression of) is great, even with higher ISOs.
Unless you work in a surveillance company, images of the top ISO setting (over 1 million) are not really usable, and the maximum you would ideally get away with is about 102,400 if you don’t mind sharing or printing at small sizes.
If you look at the corresponding RAW image file, you will probably notice some noise reduction that is applied to the JPEG images. However, this is well controlled, and will leave a natural look to the image. If you want to restore some of the lost details, you can, of course, edit the RAW file directly with Photoshop, depending on the type of subject. In most cases, the all-purpose metering offers a great performance, with accurate exposures and you will barely need to alter the exposure compensation. The automatic white balance works well in producing accurate colors, and gives you three levels of settings to suit your preference.
A major point of focus with the Nikon D500 is connectivity. It comes with Bluetooth, NFC- and Wi-Fi- capabilities. The new SnapBridge technology lets the D500 stay connected to your smart devices at all times via the Bluetooth LE, which is a low power variant of the conventional Bluetooth, allowing you to transfer photos to your mobile device automatically – a perfect feature for the photographers on the go. You can password-protect your connection and tag photos in the camera fro transfer in case you don’t want it done automatically. Remote control feature is also included.
The camera is also compatible with Nikon’s wireless transmitter WT-7A, for wireless or wired file transmission to a computer or FTP server. In terms of storage, the camera has dual card slots, but unlike the D300S, it supports SD+XQD, and the SD slot supports UHS-II. The USB port is now SuperSpeed USB 3.0, up from Hi-Speed USB 2.0. It also has an external stereo microphone jack, a headphone jack, and a 10-pin remote terminal.
Obviously, the D500 still retains the HDMI output capability via the Mini HDMI type C port. But, a new functionality has been added, it can now output a clean uncompressed video, and record onto the memory card simultaneously. The composite A/V output featured in the D300S has been dropped, since it has the DC input terminal. It’s good to note that the D500 requires a dummy battery (EP-5B) to use with the AC adapter (EH-5B).
Final Verdict: Is the Nikon D500 Worth the Price?
It’s quite evident that Nikon really took it time when creating the D500. It is well built, designed, and certainly well delivered, and is undoubtedly one of the best APS-C DSLRs in the market today. With its wide range of features and functionalities, as well as its incredible performance in a variety of shooting scenarios, the D500 is an all-rounder for most enthusiasts and ordinary users.
Professionals who are primarily focused on shooting wildlife and sports might also be tempted to get this camera, especially due to the benefits of shooting with a crop sensor when using longer lenses. Moreover, its images are good enough for most professional usage. The D500 is quite a chunky camera, though it feels good to use and has plenty of backlit buttons and dials to keep you happy.
There’s so much to love about the Nikon D500, and those who have been waiting for the spiritual successor to the D300S should be delighted to know the D500 lives up to most of our expectations, and is an incredible product of Nikon’s expertise.