This will be my honest review as a user of the long awaited Nikon D500 after it’s been in my hot sweaty hands for a while. Watch this space!!
At Last…my review of the Nikon D500!
I finally received my copy of the D500 in early May, one of the first deliveries in the UK thanks to ordering early with my local bricks and mortar dealer Cambrian Photography.
Why have I bought the D500?
All Nikon wildlife and sport shooters have waited many years for a replacement of the last semi professional DX camera, the D300s launched in 2009. Since then we’ve had fairly feeble attempts by Nikon to keep us happy, the D7000 (2010), the D7100(2013) and the D7200 (2015). I have no experience of the D7200, however the D7100 was a very capable DX and provide excellent imagery. The D7200 was a “lite” upgrade offering more in terms of gimmicks (wifi etc) rather than any real substance.
Then in January 2016 out of the blue came the announcement of the D500! Needless to say pre-orders were very high and Nikon had to rethink the availability dates due to demand. I placed my order immediately. The price was at first glance, breath taking, at £1789, however when one examined the full specification most concerns over price disappeared.
The camera sports a tilting screen, say hello to macro and video shooters, at last a real bonus. 4K video is part of the package as is touch screen and snapbridge (not available to iOS users yet, but for Android owners you are good to go. To some, gimmicks maybe! I was originally surprised that the pixel count was 4mp down on the D7100/7200, however this was no deal breaker. Most of all and eagerly awaited was the frame rate, up to 10fps, a sport and moving wildlife shooters delight.
At the launch Nikon announced that the D500 would accept XQD, SD (Secure Digital) and UHS-II compliant SDHC and SDXC memory cards. Of course to read the card one would need a XQD card reader. I bought the Lexar. The D7100/7200 suffered horribly from slow buffering and as such managing RAW at a fast fps was a struggle and the buffer just locked up. The D500 is capable of shooting a total of 200 RAW images at 10fps in a single burst before the buffer blocks up. This was a WOW! Then the owner is encourage to buy a SD (Secure Digital) and UHS-II compliant SDHC and SDXC memory card. More cost and of course a standard SD “SDHC I” card was deemed too slow to efficiently work in slot 2. I bought the Lexar 32GB SDHC II U3 300mB/sec. Cheaper XQD, therefore slower cards are available, but if one is buying a camera at this price I guess it’s best to achieve the best it can give.
I am not going to quote the full spec, but an extract is below.
Top 5 Features
- New 20.9MP DX-format CMOS image sensor and EXPEED 5 image processing
- ISO range: ISO 100 to 51,200 (expandable to Hi-5, ISO 1,6400,000)
- Redesigned AF system with a 153 focus points, 99 cross-type sensors and a dedicated processor
- 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) video recording and pro-grade video features
- 10 fps continuous shooting for up to 200 shots in a single burst.
- Weather sealed.
- A full breakdown on all features may be found here.
I was amazed by the lightness of the camera compared to my D800E with battery 2.19 lb, the D500 weighs in at 1.90 lb/860 g. In fact it is 95 gms lighter when compared to the D7100 1 lb 11.0 oz/765 g. It feels perfectly balanced and the deeper front grip gives a noticeably more comfortable feel. The first thing I noted was the lack of accessories in the box. Gone are is the HDMI lead and pop up flash. This is the first DX camera to not be fitted with a flash which aligns the D500 closer to its professional FX cameras. However, on that point so much technology has been transplanted into this camera taken directly from the D5 that I can bear the loss of pop up flash. The menu structure is different with many new additions. The camera layout is very different too with the ISO button moved to the adjacent to the command dials. Also added is an F2 function button, which is not worth a lot as it’s available shortcuts are extremely small in number.
One thing that totally confused me was the absence of the Nikon UK warranty card. Even the local Nikon technicians were unable to answer where it had gone. Basically, there is no longer a warranty card supplied in UK camera, but on the rear of the user manual is a warranty sheet. It does not bear the camera serial number however, it is purely there for customer reference and can be stamped by the dealer if one so wishes. It was a niggle though. Ensure you register your camera with Nikon on their website.
Now for some not so good news!
On the down side! The next sections are of interest, however skip to the “full review” if you prefer.
Almost immediately I noticed that my camera had a severe battery drain issue. In fact even after recycling the battery 3 times I was unable to achieve better than around 500 clicks per charge. Nikon estimate 1300 minimum. I turned off all battery hungry attributes such as touch screen, Bluetooth and as the camera has an “Aircraft mode” turned that off too, all to no avail. Nikon to the rescue, one would think so, read on!
The saga of the En-El15 battery.
All cameras since the Nikon D810 now come with a EN-EL15 Li-ion20 newly designed battery. All previous EN-EL15 batteries were of a different design Li-ion01 and these batteries will work with the D500, but to a limited capacity. Nikon realising that users would be forced to buy extra EN-EL15 Li-ion20 batteries were quick to issue a free returns policy of up to 5 Li-ion01 batteries. I had three and Nikon were as good as their word in this instance. However, this did nothing to help my battery drain issue!
The saga of the battery drain.
I delayed sending my camera into Nikon under warranty as I wanted to take it to Norway on holiday and had an airshow opportunity. In mid July I sent it back to Nikon. Now, as I am a Nikon NPU member (Nikon Professional User) I expected a swift resolution, that was unfortunately not to happen! I was initially given a return estimate of 2-3 weeks, but this increased to 4-6 weeks when after 2 weeks I enquired why the repair status showed “awaiting repair”. At this point I enlisted the support of my retailer who contacted Nikon and were told I would receive the camera back in 3 days. Amazingly, but worryingly, the camera status remained at “awaiting repair” status, but then switched to “camera ready for dispatch” within only a few hours. What could they have done in that time? Well very little and they sent the repair report that said “camera inspected, cleaned and no fault found, service time 1 hour”. It arrived back the next day and I am please to say that the “no fault found” really meant that they had actually fixed the camera. 3 weeks on and I had achieved well over the estimated 1200 clicks per charge, in fact in excess of 1500!
Finally, during the process I contacted Thom Hogan, often thought of as the Nikon Guru, who is currently writing a blog about the D500 (of which he has 12 for assessment). He took time to reply and stated that in his opinion there were a number of cameras with this problem and was investigating the possibility that it could be either a firmware corruption is, or a serious issue requiring a major camera strip down. Luckily, mine seems to be the simpler of the two.
Camera fixed, lets get back to the real review 🙂
Nikon D500 real world review.
I continue this review and apologies for the gap between the last submission. Much has happened since I last wrote, including the acquisition of new lenses for my wildlife work. The Sigma 150-600mm F5.6-6.3 Contemporary and the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lenses. So, for the rest of this review I will concentrate on the D500 for wildlife and the lenses used with it.
The D500 as a Wildlife camera.
There is no doubt that the D500 is the camera I, like thousands of others, have waited for! Compared to the D7100, which is a terrific camera with caveats, the D500 performs as the independent reviews claim. The high ISO performance for a cropped sensor camera is excellent and the dynamic range of the images are a big improvement over my D7100. However, this is not about the D7100, but the D500, so let’s look at some real world imagery captured with the camera.
This is not about MTF charts or ISO image comparisons, but about my experiences with the camera.
With the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII and the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens.
The Nikon 80-400mm VRII was a game changer when it was launched in 2013. I replaced the aged slow focusing VRI “D” version, although many were surprised at its eye watering price. Over time second hand copies appeared and although prices remained high, it was more affordable. Two major attributes, as with the old lens, is the weight and flexible zoom with 80mm at the wide end. This makes it very versatile, however it looses 200mm to the Sigma/Tamron offerings. With the Sigma/Tamrons at the longest end one looses 1/3rd of a stop, 5.6 v 6.3, not a huge amount and pretty insignificant considering the extra reach. The Nikon 80-400mm feels well balanced on the D500 and the AF focusing is very fast and maintains excellent focus when tracking birds in flight.
Most of all it’s versatility and weight makes it a winner. The D500 and 80-400mm VRII makes for a reasonably lightweight combination. I particularly like the wider focal length of 80mm (120mm field of view on a cropped sensor), compared to the Sigma/Tamron 150-to 600mm (180-900mm) Contemporary and Sport lens offerings. That said, the Sigma and Tamron lenses do give an extra 200mm at the long end and this can be extremely valuable. In fact I think the Sigma boxes way above its weight and I really enjoy using it.
Please click on images for large view.
Egret – Conwy Estuary.
Nikon D500 – Nikon 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – 1/1250@f14 – ISO400 – EV = -1.0
Greylag Goose – RSPB Conwy reserve.
Nikon D500 – Nikon 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – email@example.com – ISO400 – EV = -1.0
Magpie with youngster – RSPB Conwy reserve.
Nikon D500 – Nikon 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – firstname.lastname@example.org – ISO400 – EV = -0.67
Stonechat – Gronant Dunes.
Nikon D500 – Nikon 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – email@example.com – ISO450 – EV = -0.33
Grey Heron in flight – Slimbridge.
Nikon D500 – Nikon 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – firstname.lastname@example.org – ISO400 – EV = -0.33
Lesser Whitethroat – Conwy.
Nikon D500 – Nikon 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – 1/1000@f8 – ISO400 – EV = -0.33
With the Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens.
Balancing Act! – Conwy.
Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens. 1/1000@f10 – ISO640 – EV = -0.33.
Great Tit – Slimbridge WWT.
Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens. email@example.com – ISO400 – EV = -1.0
Curlews in flight.
Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens. 1/1000@f8 – ISO400 – EV = -1.0
Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 DG OS HSM C Lens. firstname.lastname@example.org – ISO400
With the Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens.
Like the Nikon AF-S 80-400mm VRII, the AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens superseded the very popular and extremely Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4 ED-IF Lens. I had one and loved it, although reasonably light weight it screamed for an update. In fact most owners used it with Nikon TC-14 TEII permanently attached and it worked very well indeed. Then in 2015 Nikon launched the AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR lens. “PF” (Phased Fresnel) which was responsible for its compact and lightweight size. It achieved new levels of sharpness and clarity with virtually no chromatic aberration or ghosting. Once again, I waited and in the end second hand copies were rare and expensive. I bought a new one and use it constantly attached to a Nikon TC-14 TEII. I can honestly say that I have not encountered a situation where the lens slows in AF with the TC fitted. On the D500 it has a field of view with the TC of 630mm! It is my “to go” wildlife combination and the D500 feels very well balanced.
Female Kingfisher – Spinnies – Bangor.
Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens. email@example.com – ISO400 – EV= -0.33
Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens. 1/200@f9 – ISO400 – EV= -0.33
Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens. 1/400@f11 – ISO400 – EV= -0.33
Nikon AF-S 300mm f/4E PF ED VR Lens. firstname.lastname@example.org – ISO240 – EV= -0.33
I am delighted with the D500 for wildlife photography, but are there any downsides? For those who will struggle to buy the camera and wish to use it for fast and furious sport and wildlife work, then you will require XQD and higher grade SDHC cards. At the time of writing the buyer should add around £100 to their budget.
What else can the camera do?
The camera is also sold with the Nikon AF-S 16-80mm f2.8-4G VR ED DX Lens. Initially, I didn’t want to use the D500 for anything other than wildlife and I didn’t possess any DX lenses, FX only. However, those who may be thinking the same way, please think again! The D500 can take superb imagery no matter what genre and although many will buy and subsequently only use it for wildlife/sport, others will soon realise its further capabilities. I did realise that and bought my first Nikon DX lenses, the AF-S 16-80mm f2.8-4G VR ED DX and the AF-S DX 12-24mm f/4 G. Some images below taken with both lenses.
Nikon D500 – AF-S DX 16-80mm f2.8-4 G – email@example.com – ISO100
Nikon D500 – AF-S DX 12-24mm f/4 G – firstname.lastname@example.org – ISO100
Nikon D500 – AF-S DX 16-80mm f2.8-4 G – 1/125@8 – ISO100
Nikon D500 – AF-S 80-400mm f3.5-5.6 VRII – 1/1000@f10 – ISO200 – EV = -0.33
The Nikon D500 delivers on the speed, performance, and quality that the DX format originally promised us. We have a DX sensor that rivals the image quality of full-frame cameras for per-pixel acuity and high ISO performance, with an agility and responsiveness that is up to the most demanding photographic tasks. All in a compact and lightweight DSLR system. Also at this time of writing the camera has not dropped in price although good second hand copies are now available.
If you need speed for action photography, then currently and according to all, yes all the reviews, then the D500 is for you. It is far , far more than just a “fast” camera, it is capable of terrific imagery no matter what genre of photography you specialise in.
I would also recommend a grip. I had the Nikon MB-D17 and it is an outrageous price. I bought it because of my initial high battery drain problems mentioned earlier. I sold it and bought the Pixel Vertax non OEM grip and spent the rest of the money more wisely! It’s the 2nd Pixel grip I’ve had and I really cannot tell little difference between it and the Nikon.
I mentioned earlier that at that time Snapbridge for iOS was not available. It arrived in September 2016 and without going into details, forget it! It is awful, totally non-intuitive and Nikon will have to work hard to ensure it is anything apart from a failure if your intention is to effortlessly send images to your Apple device. On the upside if you want to add GPS data to the images and upload them in Lightroom or other programmes it works well.
The other problem is wi-fi, touch screen and Snapbridge is that all these will place a severe drain on your batteries. The addition of “Airplane On” mode will stop this drain.
This review is my own experience as an owner who has now shot over 12,000 images in 6 months. No, it is not technical, but an honest review from a real user.
Richard – November 2016