Hands on: Nikon D500

April 16th, 2016 | by Wilson Wong
Hands on: Nikon D500
Imaging
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Nikon D500 1

 

The arrival of Nikon’s D500 has been a long time coming. The last professional-grade D300s was out back in 2009, and if you consider that as a minor update to the D300, the range has taken more than nine years to update since 2007.

So, the preview that Nikon gave in Singapore earlier this week was a welcome one. An SLR camera like the D500, with a crop sensor, still has supporters in nature and sports photographers.

If you’re a Nikon fan, this is good news since Samsung and Canon have both showed off similar shooters earlier. It’s proof that the market is still there for such a professional camera.

It is easy to see why Nikon’s APS-C sensor, the DX format, still has its allure. Sure, you have high-resolution sensors in the Nikon D810, but if you end up cropping the images to a DX size, you’d start asking why you’re paying for a 36-megapixel camera in the first place.

High-resolution sensors also create huge files. More so if you want to work with both best resolution on RAW and JPEG format, which means the files will create a “backlog” in the camera as the images are saved to the memory card.

So it is fairly easy to see why the D810, with its 51 autofocus points, ISO at the maximum of 12,800 and the maximum of 5 frames per second burst shot, is not exactly cut out for nature and sports photography.

On the other hand, the smaller DX sensor on the D500 works better. It introduces a crop factor that allows a lens at, say 600mm, in focal length to reach the equivalent of 900mm (1.5x crop factor).

This works better than relying on a teleconverter. The shutter speed is maintained as the aperture settings is not affected.

Nikon-D500-bar

Ten frames per seconds is really blazing fast. The colour rendition from the camera is a bit disappointing here as the ISO is pegged at ISO 6,400 so that I can freeze the shutter speed at 1/500s using the 24-70mm f2.8 lens at f6.3. Fortunately the image is still usable for online sharing.

After trying out the D500, I am impressed by Nikon’s new shooter. The familiar button layout for professional bodies is clearly preferred over the consumer bodies of D750 and D7200 with direct controls such as ISO, metering, white balance and image quality. Plus, the camera mode is on top of the camera rather than the back.

In terms of ergonomics, things have improved too. Size-wise, the camera is just right for my hands, providing a better shooting platform for serious work. I would still consider getting a vertical grip to incorporate extra batteries and a vertical shutter release button to improve the handling.

To be honest, I have expected the D500 to be a bit heavier. Still, at 1.1kg with a single battery and a 50mm f1.4 prime lens, it is acceptable. Of course, when matched with a more capable lens, the weight can increase and become an issue for some.

Nikon-d500-panning

Panning shot at 1/40s at f9 and ISO 100. Edited to bring back some details in the highlights.

So what can we expect from the D500? Simply put, the camera is built for sports and nature photography.

At its Continuous – High exposure burst mode, you can expect 10 frames per second with the buffer able to take up to 200 shots of JPEG with 14-bit lossless compressed RAW files (RAW + JPEG) or 79 14-bit uncompressed RAW files (RAW only).

I wouldn’t shoot like Rambo going through an enemy camp with an M60 machine gun but having a few more shots during an action sequence does help. The D500 is certainly a step up from D810’s 5 fps.

The D500’s 153 autofocus (AF) points provide enough sensors to grab the subject in focus. Having a lot of AF points is just half the story. Where the AF points are in the frame is also key.

The D500 makes use of the same focusing system as the D5, which is a good thing. The difference is that the AF points are spread throughout the frame, making it easier to track a moving object.

Nikon-d500-burger

Although the white of the plate is there, generally the photo is pretty vivid, which is Nikon’s signature look with a bit of red/yellow. Great for food photography. 50mm 1/40s f5 at ISO 200.

Nikon-D500-skin

Shot this with Auto White Balance. Even at ISO 1600, sharpness and details are definitely there using the standard colour profile. Skin tone may be quite subjective but at least this doesn’t show the higher degree of redness that Nikon had in the past. Certainly an improvement.

The image quality from the D500’s 20.9 megapixel CMOS sensor with ISO 100 to 51,200 is definitely good enough for most shooters.

I was able to shoot great images indoors with ISO 3,200 to ISO 6,400. It helps to have a much faster shutter speed to “freeze” the subject.

Colour-wise, results from the new Nikon camera can be pretty subjective. Despite, its white balance doing a good job, I still find the skin tone a tad too warm.

I can definitely make out the shadow details too. I would still recommend getting a faster lens at f2.8 or lower for indoor shots and control the use of high ISO settings.

nikon-snapbridge

With social media being the rage these days, having a connected camera that allows uploading of high quality photos is definitely a feature that on-the-job photojournalists would appreciate.

Up till now, most such cameras are compact models. The Nikon D500 is the first professional-grade DSLR that provides live feeds to a connected device.

Called the Snapbridge, the feature automatically uploads your images to your phone or tablet whenever the camera “wakes up” the device via a Bluetooth connection.

The photos are uploaded even while you are shooting. Definitely better than shooting tethered to a laptop or desktop! One thing though – you’d have go get ready with 128GB microSD cards for your mobile devices if you are planning to use this.

The D500 also lets you slot in XQD memory cards, though you’d find it hard to find a cheap one around today. Even during the media launch test, I was given CompactFlash cards and SD cards.

It certainly looks like the D500 will be used primarily with the SD card slot for the foreseeable future. It makes you question the need for the dual memory card slots.

Not perfect but an interesting addition to its lineup, that’s how I’d describe my brief experience with the D500. It is out in Singapore by the end of April. Though local prices are not out yet, the camera can be bought in the United States for US$1,999.95 (body only).

 

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