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Nikon D500 Full Specification, Features, Performance And Review

Nikon D500 Full Specification, Features, Performance And Review

For a long time the top slot in Nikon’s APS-C (DX) format DSLR line-up was occupied by the popular D300S, but that camera dates from 2009 and production ceased ages ago, leaving a vacancy that Nikon photographers have been wanting to see filled for years.

Nikon D500 Full Specification, Features, Performance And Review

During that time there’s been plenty of rumour and speculation, but at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last year, the D500 was announced alongside Nikon’s new flagship, the D5.

The D500 is aimed at serious enthusiast and professional photographers who want a smaller, lighter camera than a full-frame (FX) model such as the D810 or D5. It’s also designed for pros who want the focal length magnification of the DX-format sensor.

Features

  • APS-C CMOS sensor, 20.9MP
  • 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen, 2,359,000 dots
  • 4K video capture

One surprise about the D500 is that its APS-C sensor has 20.9 million effective pixels, less than the company’s other recent (24MP) DSLRs of the same format; this is to enable the photosites to be bigger, to improve low-light performance.

Interestingly, the D5 announced at the same time has 20.8 million pixels on its full-frame sensor, and the two cameras use the same sensor architecture, built to Nikon’s specification; if the D500’s sensor was scaled up to match the D5’s it would have 48.6 million effective pixels.

The EXPEED 5 processing engine also brings a maximum continuous shooting rate of 10 frames per second (the D5 can hit 12fps) for up to 200 14-bit lossless compressed raw files, as well as the ability to record 4K UHD movies. It all adds up to a pretty enticing package for sports and action photographers.

In addition to the imaging sensor there’s a new 180,000-pixel RGB sensor to handle metering and white balance, as well as informing the automatic scene recognition system to help improve autofocusing with better subject detection.

Having the same pixel count as the D5 but on a smaller sensor means the D500’s photo receptors are smaller, and this naturally has an effect on their light gathering power and low-light performance. Consequently the D500 doesn’t have quite the same outlandish sensitivity range as the D5: its standard range is ISO100-51,200, with five expansion settings taking it up to the equivalent of ISO1,640,000 – a stop lower than the D5’s maximum of ISO3,280,000, but still an incredibly high figure.

Whereas the D5’s 4K shooting capability is limited to three minutes, it’s possible to shoot 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) 30p/25p/24p video for up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds with the D500. As usual there are lower-resolution video modes, and Full HD footage can be shot in 60p for slow-motion playback. In addition, 4K UHD time-lapse movies can be created in-camera, and there’s electronic Vibration Reduction to reduce the impact of camera shake when shooting movies hand-held.

Like the D5, the D500 has a 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot screen that’s touch-sensitive. Unlike the D5, however, this can be used to set the AF point – the D5’s is limited to use when reviewing images and inputting text for copyright information and the like.

Another feature that distinguishes the D500 from the D5 is the presence of Nikon’s new SnapBridge technology, which enables the camera to stay permanently linked to a smart device over a low-power Bluetooth connection (or via Wi-Fi). This means that after the first connection has been made images can be transferred automatically to your phone whenever you shoot, and they should be ready to be shared via the internet when you pick up your phone.

As befits a camera aimed at professionals and serious enthusiasts, the D500 has two card slots: one accepts SD-type media while the other is for the faster XQD cards. Although they’ve been around for quite some time, XQD cards haven’t become commonplace yet, with most cameras only accepting SD-type media, but this could be set to change.

Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy body
  • Comprehensive weather sealing
  • Weighs 860g / 1Ib 14.4oz

While the D500 doesn’t have a full metal body like the D5, its metal chassis is more durable than the D300S’s. The degree of weather sealing is also greater, so the camera can be used in harsher conditions. Nikon has also omitted a pop-up flash to make the D500 sturdier, and the hotshoe is supplied with a weatherproof seal to protect it when a flashgun isn’t mounted.

The camera certainly feels solid and durable, without having the weight of its full-frame sibling. On the front there’s a decent grip with a textured coating, while a ridge on the back marks the thumbrest, making for a comfortable holding experience.

All the direct controls you’d expect are present, along with a ridged mini-joystick controller for selecting the AF point quickly when the camera is held to your eye; this sits just to the left of the natural resting position for your thumb on the back of the camera, and is within easy reach. A little lower down is the familiar rocker-style navigation pad with central button, for scrolling through the menu and making settings selections.

It’s worth noting at this point that settings can’t be selected, nor the menu navigated, using the screen’s touch control. However, as mentioned earlier, it is possible to input text (for example for copyright information), set the AF point or scroll through and zoom into images with taps and swipes on the screen. The screen is responsive, and it would be nice to have the option to use it a bit more than Nikon has allowed here.

The screen’s high resolution means images are very sharp, with plenty of detail visible. The tilting bracket is one of the most rugged-feeling that I’ve used, and has clearly been made with durability in mind.

As the D500 is an DSLR it has an optical viewfinder, and, as usual with a high-end camera, Nikon has opted for a pentaprism version for the D500. This provides a 100% field of view when shooting in DX format, or 98% when shooting with the 1.3x magnification option selected. The view is nice and bright, and when shooting at the maximum frame rate the blackout time is very brief, so it’s easy to keep up with fast-moving subjects.

Autofocus

  • 153-point AF, 99 cross-type AF points
  • User-selected array limited to 55 points
  • Impressive coverage across the frame

Autofocus is one of the key reasons why the D500 is such an exciting proposition, packing in a brilliant 153-point Multi-CAM 20K autofocus system with 99 cross-type points.

As on the D5, the D500’s AF central point is sensitive down to -4EV while all the other points are sensitive down to -3EV, potentially making this a very capable camera in low light.

Sports and action photographers are unlikely to be disappointed by the D500’s autofocus performance; it’s very fast, and very accurate. It adjusted focus quickly when we shot skateboarders in London’s gloomy Undercroft on the Southbank, and kept track with them effortlessly.

The contrast detection AF system that operates when the camera is in live view or video mode seems a little better than the ones in Nikon’s other DX format cameras, but as this uses the imaging sensor it could be down to the improved noise control. Even in bright light there are some backwards and forwards adjustments before the subject is sharp, but it doesn’t get much worse in low light.

It’s not as fast as systems in most compact system cameras, but it’s reasonable, and it can be used when the camera is handheld, although moving subjects are best avoided. The visible adjustment means that manual focus is still going to be the preferred option for video shooters who need to adjust focus while recording.

Performance

    • 10fps burst shooting
    • 200 shot raw file buffer
    • 1,240-shot battery life

The D500’s automatic white balance and metering system didn’t throw up any unpleasant surprises during my testing. The general-purpose Matrix metering system also put in a solid performance, recommending balanced exposure values in a wide range of situations. It copes especially well with bright subjects, rarely causing the underexposure we might traditionally anticipate; with that in mind it’s worth keeping an eye on the histogram view and the brightness of the screen, because it’s easy to misinterpret what you’re seeing and dial in unnecessary exposure compensation.

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