Gear review by Jason DiMichele
The photographic industry is progressing rapidly, with plenty of new camera equipment released frequently. With such stiff competition amongst the manufacturers, it’s tough to design a product that stands out from the crowd. Let’s see if the Nikon D500 has what it takes!
The D500 ($2,699.95) is Nikon’s newest flagship cropped sensor camera. This DX-format camera (1.5x crop factor) offers an impressive feature set, including some technology borrowed from the D5, Nikon’s flagship pro camera. Some of the more notable features include 20.9 megapixels, 4K UHD video, tiltable touch-sensitive LCD, 10 frames per second, Expeed 5 processor, ISO range of 100-51200, automatic auto focus fine tune, 153 auto focus points, 180k-pixel RGB metering, 200 image buffer, joystick auto focus point selector and dual-axis levelling. The D500, with two memory card slots, is also the first DX camera to take the new XQD memory cards, allowing for extremely fast photo writing speed. Connectivity features include WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth and USB 3.0 and support for Nikon’s new, radio-controlled, advanced wireless lighting system.
The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the D500 is how good it felt in my hands. I have large hands, and usually put grips on most DSLRs, but I didn’t feel it was necessary for the D500. Nikon has put a lot of thought into the design, usability and ergonomics of the camera. Those with smaller hands are also likely to find the D500 comfortable to hold while being able to access all controls efficiently. Although the body is rugged, constructed with magnesium alloy and carbon fibre, it still feels relatively light. Wanting to go the extra mile, Nikon also gave the D500 the same level of weather sealing as the Nikon D810.
The camera controls (buttons, dials, and switches) make sense, allowing for a pleasant user experience. There are some subtle features, such as the eyepiece shutter and lockable diopter that aren’t advertised, but increase the efficiency and usability. The eyepiece shutter replaces the traditional plastic eyepiece cover with internal shutter blades controlled via a switch beside the eyepiece. The locking diopter dial works like a watch in which you pull the knob out to adjust and then push it back in to lock. These are small but innovative features. The D500 also includes a touch-sensitive LCD supporting such things as touch auto focus and pinch to zoom during playback. I found this to be a nice touch (pardon the bad pun) in the camera’s design.
Speed is one of the biggest features of the D500. Aside from the ability to shoot up to 10 frames per second with a 200-image buffer, the auto focus system is blazing fast. The D500 has a dedicated auto focus processor and utilizes the Multi-CAM 20K auto focus sensor module. With 153 auto focus points, including 99 cross-type sensors and 15 sensors that support ƒ8, the camera can auto focus in virtually any situation. At this price point, a DSLR able to auto focus at ƒ8 is a real treat that will grab the attention of many wildlife photographers using teleconverters with slower telephoto lenses. I tried to trick the auto focus system without much success, and I even turned on the focus confirmation beep in the beginning as I couldn’t believe it was acquiring focus that fast. To aid in auto focus speed and accuracy, the D500 has a feature called automatic auto focus fine tune, which uses live view to determine and store perfect focus distance for the attached lens. This feature effortlessly eliminates the front/back focusing issue found on some DSLR/lens combinations.
I was very pleased with the overall image quality. The RAW files provide plenty of image data to work with, and the JPEGs straight out of the camera are excellent. However, the highest ISO I would recommend using is ISO 6400 because beyond that, I found that noise started to become a bit of an issue with some loss of fine detail. The D500’s lack of an optical low-pass filter helps image quality, and I didn’t notice any moire patterns during my time spent with the camera.
I didn’t use the D500 4K video that much, but the footage I did take with it looked just as good as any other 4K content I’ve recorded using various cameras. The ability to plug in an external microphone will help achieve professional sound to match the professional video quality.
Nikon took no shortcuts with the D500. They have raised the bar of performance, features and value for cropped sensor DSLRs. The D500 is pretty much a pro-level body at a prosumer price point and is an incredible photographic tool that won’t disappoint. Having spent some quality time with the Nikon D500, I can say that if you’re in the market for a cropped sensor DSLR, immediately place it on your shortlist.
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