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Nikon D500 Real World Review

05th September 2016
Nikon D500 Review

Hi all, so today I thought I would write a quick review on the fairly recently released Nikon D500. I have been asked by many recently to share my thoughts on this camera, so in the below review I will talk about some of the major things I really like about the camera, and some of the things I don’t as well as some setup options I have used on my own D500. So by no means is this review extensive but it does cover most of the questions that pop up regularly. Also note that my below review is not one of those technical crazy reviews where nothing really makes sense, but rather a practical review based on my hands on experience with this camera whist photographing wildlife over the past few weeks that I’ve had it, personally I am more interested in the practical results of the camera and seeing how it performs in the real world rather than stats.



Controls and Layout

I really like the controls and layout of the camera, being mostly similar to most Nikon non-pro style bodies; it has a few really great new features and buttons. The camera also feels great in the hand, one of my concerns before purchasing the camera was size, I didn’t want it to be to small as in the D7000 range I find these cameras a little small and uncomfortable in my hand, however this was not the case with the D500. It fits perfectly in my hand and is very comfortable, size wise it is somewhere between the D7000 range and the D810.

1. I really like the new location of the ISO button new to the Shutter release, basically Nikon have swapped the Mode Button and the ISO button around from previous models. The new location of the ISO button allows for my quicker and intuitive adjustments of ISO and I find it really handy.

2. The addition of a little joystick on the back of the camera is also a great feature, especially for quickly moving and selecting focus points, much easier than having to use the multi selector arrows.

3. The new tilt screen is also and interesting feature, although I haven’t really used it as yet I can see how this can be of benefit next time I’m trying to down really low to the ground for those eye level shots or low landscape compositions and even some macro work. This new screen also features touch commands and I have to admit that at first I didn’t really use it as such, I suppose just used to using the buttons as I do with my other camera bodies. But once I got into it I really like it, basically it works much the same as an iPhone or other smart phones, double tap the image to zoom in to 100% move the image around with your finger and double tap the screen to zoom out again, and simply swipe the screen to scroll between images. This may seem a bit gimmicky but surprisingly it’s really nice. The touch functions also allow you to focus by tapping the screen when you are in live view.

4. Finally the camera has multiple customizable buttons and options making the set up even more configurable to each photographer’s style of shooting. Some of these buttons that can be customized are the AF-ON Button, The new Joystick, the multi – selection center button, the PV Button as well as 2 cFN buttons. Note some of these buttons only have limited customizable options but still works amazingly well. Another customizable option is being able to deactivate various focus modes such as AF-S, AF-A or AF – C as well as focus point selections and groups, for me this was a great addition, and the end of this review I will add a list and explain how and why I have configured and customized my own D500 in various ways.


Auto Focus


So this is where I was the most impressed with this camera and where it really comes into its own. My keeper rate while shooting this camera has been amazing and the focus acquisition and tracking abilities are just out of this world, I found this particularly when using the group AF function, now I have previously used the group AF function on the D810 and D4s however I find the D500 abilities in this mode to be far superior, however this seems to be much the same case through all the AF Point functions. The focus area modes I have been using mostly are Single, D25 and Group, all seem vastly improved but I did find myself leaning more towards the Group for Birds in flight and some wildlife action and then single for general wildlife.

So there is nothing more frustrating for me than to see your focus point on your subject but your camera is struggling to get a lock, well with the D500 I didn’t have any of these frustrations, it just locks on no matter what conditions you put it in. Also I found that when it wasn’t locking on due to errors such as over tracking or slow tracking on my end when I corrected the camera would immediately lock on once again. So not only is the focus acquisition of this camera improved but also the tracking is phenomenal and actually very seldom loses focus once locked on. There have also be some great changes to the Focus Tracking with Lock on Functions. This has now been split into two sections firstly the Blocked Shot AF Response, which gives us 5 options from quick to delayed. Basically this allows us to choose how sensitive the focus should be when obstacles are encountered in front of or behind our subject or in other words how quickly the focus will be attracted away from our subject by obstacles. So the quick settings will be more sensitive to obstacles than the delayed options however it’s a little more complicated than that, the quick options even though are more sensitive to obstacles will lock on quicker than the delayed options, thus this is something I change regularly depending on what I’m shooting and the conditions I’m shooting in, but for the most part is set to 2 or 3. The second option we have is the subject motion, so far I have this set in the middle between Erratic and Steady however I can see that erratic could be useful for those unpredictable moments.

Another thing I love is that the 153 AF points are spread right across the screen. I move my AF point constantly for composition purposes, and the greater area of the sensor these cover make it that much easier to compose exactly how I want to whilst still keeping focus where it needs to be with out having to focus lock and recompose. With the additional focus points the dynamic area focus group numbers have changed from D9 – D25, D21 – D72 and D51 – D153 respectively. However I find that the area covered by the D25 and D72 groups is much the same as previously in the D9 and D21 but there just more focus points active the in the area, which also vastly improves focus acquisition and tracking.

I was recently shooting doves in flight coming down and taking off from a waterhole in Etosha, Namibia. Now shooting with the D500, Nikkor 400 f2.8 with a 2x tele converter, so that’s a massive effective 1200mm in focal length, focus acquisition and tracking was amazing and completely blew me away in the way it would just lock on a track those fast moving subjects with ease.

So basically if you were looking for just one reason to upgrade to the D500, this has to be it, the AF system is phenomenal.

The New Auto AF Fine Tune

Now when I first read about this, I thought I was great addition and would save a massive amount of time in the lens calibration process. However when actually tested this it was far from perfect giving me results ranging from +8 to -2 just too much a difference for me to be happy with it. So once calibrated manually using the Lenscal system I set it to +4 and this seems to be perfect.

FPS and Buffer

At 10 fps this camera is just great and is the perfect number for me. So many people get caught up in the fps, the more the better scenario, and even though this is partly right it’s also wrong. Yes the more fps we have the more consecutive images we can shoot of a particular hi speed event for example, thus giving us more choice in selecting that perfect image. However all of this is pointless if we cant follow the action in the viewfinder due to mirror blackout. I find for most cameras that around 9-10 fps mirror blackout is acceptable, any faster than this and seeing and following the action through the viewfinder starts to become a problem, the mirror blackout is just to excessive.

So I have been asked about the buffer on the D500 numerous occasions now, and how is this affected by the different card types being XQD and SD. Now I don’t use many XQD cards bud I do have a few now especially for the D500 as well as SD cards which I use mostly. So with my Lexar 95 MB/S SD card I was getting 45 images in the buffer before the camera started to choke a bit, and in my opinion this is more than enough for any form of photography. Having said this the XQD is another story all together with a Lexar 440 MB/S card in the camera I was getting near to 200 images in the buffer, which is the limit by the way, so if for some reason 45 wasn’t enough with the SD, surely 200 is more than enough. One thing I did notice with the buffer is that even when you do hit the buffer and the camera starts to choke the speed at which I recovers is must faster than usual and in some cases depending on the speed of your card is actually immediate.

Dynamic Range, Colour & Sharpness

So far I really like what I’ve seen from the files out of the D500, colour rendition wise its just as good as my D810 and the files a really nice and easy to work with in lightroom, although the files not have the dynamic range that the D810 has they still have enough to really pull out detail from the highlights and shadows, definitely better than the D4 and D4s, and probably only about a stop behind the D810 and very much similar to the D5 at only half a stop behind. So basically dynamic range is great and nothing to worry about. Exposure wise what I have founded that the camera naturally underexposes quite a bit so typically im shooting between 0.3 and 1 stop overexposed depending on the subject and situation. Sharpness wise I have shot this camera with my 400mm f2.8 with and without teleconverters, as well as on my 70-200 f2.8 and my 24-70 f2.8 and the results from all have been amazingly sharp and the detail is incredible, so extremely happy regarding this. Remember that high megapixel DX format cameras such as the D500 are much less forgiving than the FX bodies, due to this fact I find myself trying to keep my shutter speed about 1.5 x higher that I normally would so for example shooting larger birds in flight with my 400 f2.8 on my D810 I try to keep my speed up around 1600/sec where as with the D500 and same lens im keeping up around 2500-3200/sec

ISO

So the big question how does it handle ISO and low light conditions. Well I have to say for a crop sensor it is amazing, far better than I thought it would be but we still have to remember it is a crop sensor its not going to compete with its full frame big brothers. What I have found is im happy to shoot in really low poor light up to about ISO1250 and then at night with a spotlight up to ISO 2000 and during the day in reasonable light and in order to get the shutter speed I need around ISO 2500 but beyond this the noise it just too much and I start to lose detail in the subject. Also this is a little bit subjective as well, so for example for stock purposes I have to be very ISO sensitive and very seldom go over ISO 1000. At the end of this review, I will add some ISO Samples.

Batteries and usage


So one of the things I have found with the D500 is it uses a massive amount of battery power in fact I would go far as to say about double that of my D810 in other words I get double the amount of shots out of my D810 over my D500 on a fully charged battery. I have heard that putting the camera into airplane mode helps the battery last longer, however I haven’t had the chance to test this. The other thing I need to warn you about is that it seems that most generic batteries are not working on the D500 so be careful when purchasing spare batteries, rather spend the extra money and purchase the Nikon battery to avoid disappointment.

My setup and recommendations

AF Mode – I always have this set to AF-C (Continuous AF) as this Is what I recommend for any kind of action or basically anything that moves. I have inactual fact disabled the AS-S function on my D500. You can do this in the custom setting menu under a10

AF Area – I have this set to Group AF for the most part but I also use the D25, D72 and the single point, the rest of the options I have once again disabled. You can do this in the custom setting menu under a9


AF On Button – As I focus with my shutter button, my AF-ON button is set to focus lock.

Focus Tracking With Lock On – As mentioned above I do actually change this quite regularly, but my default starting point is as such. The first part “Blocked Shot AF Response” is set to 2. The idea here is that if something comes between you and your subject, the camera won’t jump focus to that obstacle. The other part of tracking settings is “Subject Motion.” This new setting is a way for you to let the camera know how erratic or steady your subject is. For the most part I have this set to the middle but depending on how erratic the movements are of the subjects im shooting are I can see how adjusting this may be of some use.

Sub Selector – This I have left as default which when pushed around moves the focus point and when pushed in or depressed resets the focus point back to the center.

Pv – This button I have set to be my Exposure lock. Something I use quite a bit especially for back lit images.

Fn1 – I typically shoot with flash a lot but while im shooting with flash I sometimes want to quickly turn my flash off or temporarily disable it so it doesn’t fire. So I have set this button to do exactly that.

Fn2 – As I mentioned before I change my Focus tracking with lock on quite regularly as due to this fact, I have set this button as a shortcut for quickly changing this.

All of the above can be changed in the menu seen below.



ISO Samples – Note these samples are unedited RAW files converted to JPEG Both at Full Frame and then a 100% crop in other words a 1:1 view.



ISO400



ISO 800



ISO1250



ISO1600



ISO 2000



ISO 2500







Comments

Photo comment By Jakes De Wet: Hi Brendon. Thanks for the review. If I may ask, what lenses do you currently use as your main wildlife lenses? Thanks for your time

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