Nikon might be one of the world’s top digital DSLR makers, but for the time it had a huge gap in its camera line-up. Canon has an affordable high-rate, professional-quality APS-C format DSLR for lovers in the EOS 7D Mark II, but Nikon’s got nothing to match it.
There was the much-cherished Nikon D300S, but that was discontinued long ago. So for Nikon users, the D500 was very big news indeed. The spiritual successor to the D300S has the same tough build but much faster 10fps continuous shooting, a high-tech 153-point autofocus system and 4K video.
Nikon D500 Price
The D500 delivers more than many had hoped for: it’s much more closely aligned with Nikon’s pro-level full-frame camera than the D300 was. Apart from the truth that it has a DX- rather than an FX-format sensor, the D500 includes a similar specification to the Nikon D850 or also the Nikon D5.
This makes the D500 a much more affordable route to high-end technology, giving you the best that Nikon has to offer with regards to autofocus, white balance and metering performance in a body that weighs much less than a D5.
One surprising reality about the D500 is that its APS-C format sensor has 20.9 million effective pixels, fewer than Nikon’s other recent (24-megapixel) SLRs of the same format. The D5, announced at the same time, provides 20.8 million pixels on its full-frame sensor, and the two cameras use the same sensor architecture.
Having the same pixel count since the D5 but on a smaller sensor means that the D500’s photoreceptors are smaller. This naturally has an effect on their light-gathering power and low-light performance. Therefore the D500 doesn’t have quite the same crazy sensitivity range as the D5; its standard range is certainly ISO 100-51,200, and there are five expansion settings taking it up to the equivalent of ISO 1,640,000 – a stop slower than the D5’s maximum, but still an incredibly high figure.
There are several other similarities between the two new cameras, all of which make the D500 an exciting proposition. The Expeed 5 processor is the same, for example, as may be the new 153-point Multi-Cam 20K autofocus program with 99 cross-type points. The processing engine also brings a maximum continuous shooting rate of 10 frames per second (the D5 can hit 12 fps when shooting normally) for up to 200 14-bit lossless compressed raw documents – a staggering feat by any measure. It makes the D500 enticing for sports photographers.
Whereas the D5’s 4K shooting capacity is limited to three minutes, it’s possible to shoot 4K UHD (3,840 x 2,160) 30p/25p/24p video for 29 minutes and 59 secs with the D500. 4K UHD time-lapse movies can be developed in-camera, and there’s electronic Vibration Reduction to reduce camera shake when capturing movies hand-held.
Build and handling
Although the Nikon D500 doesn’t have a full metal body like the D5, its steel chassis is more durable than that of the old D300S. The degree of sealing is better, too, so the camera can be used in harsher conditions. Nikon has also omitted a pop-up flash to make the camera sturdier, and the hotshoe is normally safeguarded with a weatherproof seal.
The camera certainly feels solid, without having the weight of its full-frame sibling. On the front is a decent grasp with a textured coating; a ridge on the back marks the thumb rest, making for a comfortable holding experience.
All the direct handles that you would expect are present, along with a ridged mini-joystick controller for selecting the AF stage quickly when the camera is held to your attention. This sits just to the still left of the resting position for your thumb on the trunk of the camera. A little lower down is the familiar rocker-style navigation pad, with a central key for scrolling through the menu and making settings selections.
The Nikon D500 includes a 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot screen that’s touch-sensitive. Settings can’t be selected nor the menu navigated by touch, but it’s possible to enter text, set the AF point or scroll through and zoom into images with taps and swipes on the display. The display screen is responsive, but it would be great to be able to use it a bit more.
The screen’s high resolution implies that image previews are very sharp, and there’s plenty of details visible. The tilting bracket is one of the most rugged-feeling I’ve used.
The D500 does most things well most of the time. The vast majority of images are well-exposed, possess attractive, accurate colours and are sharpened. Video quality is also high.
Examining images in more detail reveals that its low-light performance is very good within its native sensitivity range. Images taken at the lower sensitivity settings have lots of detail, achieving excellent scores in our resolution checks. This starts to drop off at ISO 6,400, but the results at ISO 12,800 are still very good, and there’s simply a hint of chroma noise in raw data files viewed at 100 per cent on-display screen. This coloured speckling becomes more obvious from ISO 25,600, but it’s well within appropriate limits.
Nikon D500 verdict
The Nikon D500 is a fantastic camera. It has a fast, effective autofocus system, 10fps shooting capacity and first-price metering and white balance systems. For the money, this might end up being the best digital DSLR Nikon has ever made. Its 4K video, high-tech autofocus, and overall image quality raise the bar for APS-C SLRs.