Nikon D500 Review

Introduction

The Nikon D500 is Nikon’s long overdue upgrade to the professional level DX camera that replaces the previously released D300 & D300S. Initially delivered in spring 2016, this camera targets aspiring professionals or experts looking for a professional-grade APS-C sized camera. This camera comes in with a 20.9 megapixel CMOS sensor that has no Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) and competes primarily with the Canon 80D. It’s a mid-range digital SLR that sits somewhere between amateur and professional grades. It inherits similar features from Nikon’s flagship, the D5, but at ⅓ its price. Namely, it has the same AF system, processor, and metering system. Quite a love affair and fanboying occurred during the cameras initial release. Today, we rediscover what that original hype was about and whether or not this camera is still competitive years later.  

nikon-d500-camera-specs

What are some of the goods, bads, and the uglies of the Nikon D500?

Pros:

Image Quality

The image quality this camera provides is phenomenal and is comparable to that of the D5, a camera that’s three times the price. Nikon opted not only to remove the OLPF but also transfer both the image processor and AF system from the D5 into this camera.  No questions asked this is a professional-level camera when it comes to image quality; the images it produces are incredibly sharp. 

Note: to get the level of performance that best matches this camera, pro-level FX lenses are best. Yes, this will mean that each lens will be magnified by 1.5x their focal lengths, as this is an APS-C camera. Nevertheless, these lenses are best suited to deliver proficient image quality. 

Video Quality

It shoots in 4K at 30 FPS and 1080p at 60 FPS. The 4K footage captured is clean with sufficient resolution and doesn’t fall victim to the effects of rolling shutter whatsoever. Interestingly enough, the 4K footage provided is equivalent to Sony’s A7RII Super-35 footage when shot in good lighting. Users can also record up to 30 minutes in a single capture. 

Note: filming in 4K will further crop into the frame, and a wider angle lens will be needed to get the original desired crop. 

Focusing Performance

The focusing performance is phenomenal and is industry-leading amongst APS-C cameras. As mentioned previously, this camera inherits the AF system from the D5. With that, it has 153 AF points, 99 being cross-type, which cover almost the entirety of the sensor.  This level of coverage occurs because this camera is APS-C, not full frame. No longer will you be constrained and limited by focus recomposing. Our only minor gripe is that the focus points are only spread edge to edge in landscape orientation. While in portrait orientation, they cover roughly 80% of the entire frame. The camera does, however, have a remarkably consistent hit rate, even when shooting at 10 FPS continuously regardless of how much movement occurs across the frame. The available subject tracking mode also works incredibly well. It is a camera geared primarily at sports and wildlife photographers, but the subject tracking and AF performance experienced when shooting people is superb. Even in low light and low contrast scenes, the AF performance remains excellent. Not only that but the center AF point can focus at -4 EV, while all other points can focus at -3 EV. In regards to focusing performance when filming, it is found to be adequate but not the quickest. Nevertheless, it will be capable enough for regular needs. 

Low Light Performance

It has a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 51,200. This camera inherits EXPEED 5 from the Nikon D5 and is the first DX camera to offer this wide of a range for ISO. Overall, its noise performance is superior to competitors, and images are found to be only moderate noisy at even ISO 25,600 without excessive loss of detail. In this regard, this camera rivals the performance found in the Nikon D750.

Battery Performance

It offers 1,200 shots on a single charge, impressive considering the performance available. Nikon has also opted to use the same EN-EL 15 battery, one they’ve used across a multitude of cameras now,  making batteries one less headache.

Display & Viewfinder

The LCD used is inherited from the D750, which now fully articulates and is also a touchscreen. It supports both pinching and swiping when viewing images during playback. Pinch to zoom makes reviewing critical focus natural and, eventually, second nature. The LCD also supports touch to focus in Live View. Unfortunately though, navigating the menus and making changes via touch is not an option.

The optical viewfinder is phenomenal and has 100% coverage of the sensor. There is also a sizeable circular eyepiece cap around it, which makes prolonged viewing very comfortable. Additionally, the included diopter compensation dial has an adequate range for correcting a wide range of prescriptions. 

When shooting in manual focus, the viewfinder also indicates optimum focus and what direction to turn when the focus is slightly off. 

User Interface

This camera has a comparable menu to many recent Nikon digital SLRs, and if you’re a previous Nikon user, the interface will be familiar to you. The interface is easy to navigate, though sophisticated, and well organized for all the individual options available. One thing worth highlighting too, users can adjust the reaction time/speed of which subject tracking changes between subjects — this not ordinarily an adjustable feature. 

Layout and ergonomics

It has a similar layout to the D300s and D5, but with some minor tweaks. One improvement is that it has backlit buttons, identical to the D5, that illuminate in the dark. Previously, the D5 was the only Nikon camera offering this feature. 

Build quality has improved significantly, and it now has a superior build to both the D800 and D7000 series. The key improvements are an updated grip, currently the deepest of Nikon’s midrange cameras, and a built-in joystick that is used to change focus points. It also has the addition of a function button, which defaults to adding ratings to images in playback which are transferable to Lightroom, making culling photos pain free.  The button placement and physical layout meet expectations; they’re where they need to be and logically placed on the camera. Overall, ergonomics are fantastic, and the camera is comfortable during prolonged use. 

Niche features offered

It has a round eyepiece, a feature only found on Nikon’s professional-level cameras. 

It is entirely dust and weather-sealed. 

It has a 10 FPS continuous burst rate, which also can shoot 70 uncompressed RAW images and 200 compressed RAW images. This level of performance makes it the fastest Nikon DX camera to date. 

It has dual memory card slots, one being SD the other being XQD. It inherits the XQD slot from the D5, which has two of these slots. Overall, XQD is found to have better performance over even the fastest SD card. 

It has a microphone input jack.

It has a headphone input jack.

It has a USB 3 port, making file transfer speeds much faster. 

It has WIFI, Bluetooth, and NFC which means this camera can support Nikon SnapBridge. SnapBridge allows for the complete remote control of the camera via a paired smartphone. Not only that, but it also means that transferring images to the connected device is both automatic and efficient. 

It can create built-in time-lapse videos, which will thoroughly remove the need to do this later in post-processing. 

Using the retouching menu, you can take still photos from a video. This feature is perfect for those wanting to pull images from more complex activities that would be challenging to shoot otherwise. 

Cons:

Video recording only works in Live View. You cannot record video using the optical viewfinder whatsoever,  which becomes an issue when shooting in harsh daylight conditions. During these conditions, the LCD can be washed out, and composing will become difficult for you. Not being able to film with the viewfinder also reduces stability as well. To use this camera seriously for video, an external viewer or EVF is a necessity. 

Features removed

It does not have a built-in flash

While it does offer custom buttons, the ability to map them to any desired function is limited. Nikon has opted only to have each function button be capable of specific tasks, limiting their overall usability in the process.

Is the Nikon D500 a good starting camera?

Yes. It is a phenomenal camera, especially for those looking to upgrade from an entry-level camera, for example, the D7200, to a professional-level one. This camera shines exceptionally well for those who shoot photojournalism, wildlife, sports, or action photography. But, have no fear, the performance it offers makes it more than capable for any medium. It is a camera that genuinely functions to obscure the often harsh distinctions found between DX and FX cameras. While it is a DX sensor, the performance it offers makes it undoubtedly equivalent to an FX camera. It inherits many of the refinements made in the D810 and D5. And it shines as a flagship camera that offers everything one could expect and want in a professional-grade camera. It’s one of Nikon’s best camera to date and one aimed at the purest looking for a workhorse without the gimmicks typically accompanying the APS-C sensor size. 

What are the best lenses for the Nikon D500? 

General Photography: 

Specifically for Macro Photography:

Specifically for Landscape Photography:

Specifically for Sports & Wildlife Photography:

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

Best bundles for the Nikon D500

Is the Nikon D500 a good camera for you?

Yes. As mentioned previously, it is a camera geared at working professionals. But this is also a fantastic camera for those desiring a second body, primarily if you shoot fast action or want to extend the reach of your FX lenses at a reduced cost. The 1.5x crop factor can be used to extend the focal length, getting you that much closer to your subjects without having to spend a fortune on the equivalent FX lens. Not only that, you won’t experience the reduction in the resolution that occurs when using an FX camera in a crop mode. And, all the while, possessing performance that’s comparable to Nikon’s premier cameras, the D810 and D5. This camera gives it’s larger full-frame brothers a run for their money and one that even convinces the FX purist to use.  If you’re a previous Nikon shooter coming from any camera below this iteration, you will be blown away by the quality and performance it offers. While FX is excellent, DX deliveries virtually the same performance. Yes, the pixel count is lower, and noise performance is slightly worse. However, outside of that, they’re equal. The D500 is a genuinely intelligent camera with serious performance and the flexibility needed for the toughest jobs.

Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
4.2

Summary

The Nikon D500 is a camera that shines exceptionally well for those who shoot photojournalism, wildlife, sports, or action photography. But, have no fear, it possesses performance that’s comparable to Nikon’s premier cameras making it more than capable for any medium. It is a camera geared at working professionals and one that gives it’s larger full-frame brothers a run for their money. It genuinely functions to obscure the often harsh distinctions found between DX and FX cameras. While it is a DX sensor, the performance it offers makes it undoubtedly equivalent to an FX camera. And it glistens as a Nikon flagship that produces everything one could expect and want in a professional-grade camera. It’s one of Nikon’s best camera to date.