This is not a review, but rather a collection of some thoughts for the serious non-professional photographer, about the Nikon D500. I say for the non-professional because if you are making money with photography you pretty much know what is going to work for you and what is not. And, by “serious” I mean folks that tend to shoot mainly or always in RAW. If you are shooting in Jpeg, and there is nothing wrong with that at all, I still recommend Fuji cameras over all others. Again, this is not scientific, just my thoughts. Your milage will vary!
A few days ago I took delivery of the D500. I’ve shot quite a number of images now, using most all of the features that are touted by Nikon. One exception is shooting fast action. I don’t get much opportunity to do so, and, to be quite honest, if this thing has the same focus system as the D5, well, my guess is it’s pretty darn good at tracking.
Why did I buy the D500 when I’ve shot Fuji exclusively since 2013? Well, there are a couple of reasons. The first, and major reason, is the speed of the camera. I missed the speed of my D4. The second reason is the size. I originally switched to Fuji cameras to go smaller, lighter, and cheaper, which they are. But, after shooting with an X-E2, X-T1 and X-Pro2, I’ve discovered they are just too small for me. In fact, I really use the X-T1 the least and I figured out why. It’s just too cramped, ergonomically for the way I shoot.
So, I’ve decided to keep my Fujijilm X-E2 and the 18-55mm f2.8-4 OIS lens and sell all my other Fuji gear. I’ll use the X-E2 to shoot exclusively in Jpeg. I do love that little camera. Mated to my new Nikon D500 is a used 17-55mm f2.8 DX Nikkor lens. I bought a used one in near mint condition for $740 off Ebay. You’d be a fool to buy one new.
Some thoughts on comparison:
Everyone wants to know about high ISO image quality. All I can say is the D500 delivers. Is it better than the Fuji X-Pro2? I guess if you like to nit pick, I’d say yes, but only marginally at best, and I’ve looked at comparative shots processing the Fuji image in both Lightroom CC and Iridient Developer, looking for optimal sharpness. Below is an image I took with both my X-Pro2 and the D500. This is a 50% crop of the image after I processed the D500 image in Lightroom CC, using a VSCO preset I prefer. I like high contrast images. The only noise reduction that was done was default chroma NR. No luminescence NR was used. The noise pattern when viewed at 100% is just so even and grain like. Nikon has been very good at this since the D3.
Yes there is some grain to it but, in a pinch, this is entirely usable and printable.
One of the best features of my Fujis and of all mirrorless cameras, is having a live histogram in the viewfinder or on the LCD. Obviously the D500 is not mirrorless so it does not have this feature. I took a serious of images to see if “chimping” every image would be necessary to keep from clipping highlights. I used Matrix Metering only, for this test, with no exposure compensation for highlight protection.
I found the metering on my Fujis to be good but I usually had to use exposure compensation for scenes with rather high dynamic range. I chose a location with bright sunshine in the background and shade in the immediate foreground to see how the D500 reacted. I remember from my brief stint with the Nikon D750 that I basically could not clip a highlight. The metering system just would not let that happen. Let’s see what I got. The following images were processed in LR CC using a VCSO preset only. I clicked on the preset and we’re done. The best example would be of the three story tower with large trees in the foreground. If anything would fool the meter to over expose the highlights, this would.
I did not use the highlight protection metering feature on any of the images above. I did try it out in a very dark setting, comparatively, that had a strong highlight in one area. It did fine but I took a second image of the same subject but in standard Matrix Meter mode and found I could easily reproduce the highlight recovery in LR. I thought because the scene was predominately flat the highlight protection metering would mess up the image but it didn’t in this case. Take a look at the image below.
One of the best features of a mirrorless camera, including Fuji, is the live view feature of an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Live view is a wonderful thing and combine that with a tilting rear LCD and new opportunities open up.
The D500 has both a tilting rear LCD and live view capability. Granted, it does not have that wonderful live histogram on the LCD that mirrorless cameras have. I wanted to test the new live view function with touch screen focusing on the D500. I picked a suitable subject well over my head and needed only two shots to get the right one. The tilt screen was great and the exposure was right on. The focus is perfect. I’d say the D500 got it right. Take a look below.
I’m keeping the D500. I think it is a much more refined camera than the Nikon D750. I know, the D750 is “full frame” and perhaps has a ½ stop or ⅔ stop advantage at super high ISO (6400 and above), but I think the D500 is a better camera. This stuff is highly personal so I know there are many that will disagree. Image quality is superb. I would definitely use this camera in my business if I were not retired. Are the images better than the Fujis? I don’t think so. The Fuji cameras produce beautiful files and I would feel comfortable with them in the studio or other portrait settings.
It is a very quick camera. I love that I can now use continuous focus with back button focus 100% of the time as I did with my D4. I don’t care if my subject is static. It just works for me. I was very frustrated with the continuous focus function on the X-Pro2. It tracks well with moving subjects coming toward or going away from you but continuous focus was pretty much useless for anything else. I know Fuji will improve it in the future.
Battery life is fair. It uses a common battery with the D810 and the D750 but my experience with the D750 was that it lasted longer. There is a lot going on inside the camera, including 4K capability, that must be more of a drain. A very simple solution is to buy more batteries. I would say battery life is just slightly better than on my X-Pro2 but I use continuous focus so that is something to consider.
The D500 with the 17-55mm f2.8 Nikkor is huge compared to the Fujifilm cameras. For stealth or if I just don’t want to lug around a camera, I’ll be using my Fuji X-E2, no question. But the D500 by itself is surprisingly light and it just fits my hand better than the X-T1 ever did.
If you own a Nikon D7200 should you sell and move up? I am certainly not one to tell you yes, or no. A friend that has a D7200 loves his. I’ve seen his work. He gets great images, even at very high ISO values. My 2¢ worth of advice, if you don’t need 10fps frame rate, don’t upgrade yet. I know, I said I wasn’t one to tell you yes or no:-)
The missing link with this camera? Lenses! Nikon have let the DX shooters down in this regard. The 17-55mm f2.8 G Nikkor is a decent lens but it was designed around the turn of the century and released in 2003 I believe. If you are a zoom guy, like me, you have darn few options for that very popular 24-70mm (35mm equiv) range. And don’t even think about a super wide Nikkor for that D500. They don’t exist. Will Nikon step up to the plate and deliver pro quality lenses now, for DX? I doubt it. Pretty cynical I know but Nikon has never been one to answer the needs and desires of it’s customers. Fuji has. I just wish they made the D500.