Nikon D500 camera review – The horsepower of a DX camera
I remember very well back in April 2017 when I had the chance to buy a new DSLR; I had to choose between the Nikon D500 and the D750. Guess what I’ve chosen? Even now, at the time of writing this review in April 2020, the Nikon D500 still remains one of the top high-end APS-C DSLR cameras on the market. But why?
Why does Nikon D500 camera remain on the top of its line? Revolving around a 20.9MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 5 image processor, this camera support 10FPS continuous shooting mode, overperforming for sport and wildlife photography. The actual autofocus is considered to be one of the fastest found on the market today.
Since the first time I laid my hands on this camera, I took tens of thousands of photographs with a dozen different lenses. Further in this post, I will try to shuffle through some older of my photographs and share with you how Nikon D500 worked in combination with different prime and zoom lenses, and which areas in photography the Nikon D500 works the best.
Disclaimer: This Nikon D500 camera review is purely based on my experiences of using it over the years and its NOT a paid or sponsored review nor I am looking for an affiliate hunt. It is based on my pure experience of using the camera.
If you have difficulty navigating this review because of the amount of content, use this table of contents to help you shuffle or get to your required section. I would strongly recommend you to read the whole review if you are interested in the Nikon D500
But for now, shall we get started with the basics of this camera?
Nikon D500 Review – Holding it for the first time
I remember the first time I held my new Nikon D500. I remember taking the first photograph, the one from above, on the Hastings Pier to the shallow waters with the waves crashing into the old pillars. I wanted to test the autofocus. Was my picture number 1 (as novice as it looks back then).
I had to share this with you because since I ever took my first picture, jumping from the Nikon 3k series of cameras straight to the D500, everything changed. It was feeling I was holding a professional camera above my pay grade.
The camera appeared to be slightly heavy at the beginning. And the different feel of magnesium alloy and carbon fibre materials used to construct the camera body. I had no idea how to use it just yet, the buttons arrangments and having a small screen on the top of the camera was something new for me. But I got used to it, in time.
Tens of thousands photographs later and still using my Nikon D500 alongside my (newer) Nikon D750, which eventually I got it as I needed a full-frame camera also. And according to the life expectancy of the shutter of my Nikon D500, I can still use it for many years to come.
Nikon D500 Review – The camera Specs
|Nikon D500 camera
|DX (APS-C, Crop Sensor)
|4K UHD 30FPS max
|SD, SDHC, SDXC, XQD Type Memory
|TFT touch-sensitive LCD with 170° viewing angle, EN-EL15 battery with approx 1200 shots, WiFi, NFC, Bluetooth
Those above listed are just a few of the camera specs, the most important ones to list. For more in-depth specs, check the Nikon D500 on the official website
Nikon D500 – A DX horsepower
Many photographers consider that having a DX camera is a disadvantage in terms of photography because of the smaller sensor as compared to the full-frame FX cameras and not being able to obtain the same shallow depth of field and low-light performance as with a full-frame. But this reflects mainly in some photography niches where you do not need “horsepowers” but larger sensors such as portraits, astrophotography etc.
Now getting back to our DX horsepower, how does it feel and what can you expect for having a professional DX camera, one of the top?
Well, first of all, it is a DX camera and the sensor size is 23.5 mm x 15.7 mm. A DX camera has a crop ratio of 1.5x, therefore, expect that your real focal length when you put on an FX lens on this camera to be 1.5x larger.
I will take as an example the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens, where, on Nikon D500, you will have a 157.5mm real focal length. I had the same lens on my Nikon D750 full-frame and I can say, that comparing the D500 DX with the D750 FX, with a crop ratio of 1.5x we have no loose in image quality nor sharpness.
Although this is a DX camera, the equivalent of this camera but on full-frame format is the Nikon D5, which is one of the most expensive cameras released by Nikon. There are many niches where you can greatly benefit from the DX-format. More will follow in the post.
The resolution of the Nikon D500
When I originally created this post in 2020, some newer camera models with higher resolutions were released such as the Nikon D810 and the Nikon D850. But the resolution does not mean everything.
As we reflect today into the typical “phonetographers” (i.e. people who like photography with a mobile phone) many of them are always looking for mobile phones with higher resolution image.
In DSLRs and mirrorless camera, there is a reason behind why the manufacturers don’t push the resolution on the cameras. One of them would be the very high dimension of an image and the second reason would be that the quality of the image is always outbalancing the resolution.
The Nikon D500 camera has a resolution of 20.9 MegaPixels. We can round up to 21MP, easier to remember. In 21MP you can push a lot of information, more than Is required for the most usages of the images, even high-res printing.
Unless you want to print an image of the size of a wall, 21MP from the Nikon D500 should be technically more than enough. Even in many cases, where I had to crop the images, there was a lot of resolution left to do whatever I wanted with the images, including selling them on microstock websites.
There is not much to say about the resolution of this camera other than not to worry about it. It will be extremely rare occasions where you actually need more pixels into an image.
How good is the ISO of the Nikon D500?
Nikon D500 ISO test
With my Nikon D500, I photographed everything from landscapes, portraits, sports, wildlife, events, street photography and much more. In many cases, such as event photography, and I will give you a good example of the “bonfire night” in the UK, where the photographs you take are during the night, I never had problems with the Nikon D500 ISO
Although most of the times I was using ISO3200 to ISO 6400, up to that point I could see little to none grain in my images. Moreover those could be easily masked in Lightroom.
You can click on the above picture to better understand the ISO of the Nikon D500. But comparing with other cameras, Nikon D500’s ISO goes above-average.
The autofocus of the Nikon D500. Is it that good?
If I have to scramble down the article into a few main points why the Nikon D500 excels, autofocus would be definitely one of them. Even until the day of today, the autofocus performance of the Nikon D500 is still considered to be the top leading on the market.
Nikon D500 fully benefits of 153 focus points. But that’s not what we are interested in. probably one of the main reason you are here is to find out how is the AF-C on the Nikon D500.
Let me tell you straight. To benefit of the full AF-C horsepower of Nikon D500, you need to have a lens to keep up. You need to have a lens with very quick autofocus capabilities.
What I’ve noticed on the often combination of Nikon D500 and Sigma 105mm, on AF-C, I tend to use auto AF-C where the focus points will always seek and focus on any moving objects. The difference of time between focusing from a background on a moving subject is a fraction of second and the camera will always keep your moving subject in focus as long as it remains in the frame.
Although I used my Nikon D500 more in sports than in wildlife, the power of AF-C is unbeatable. I normally tend to get about 8 out of 10 images in perfect focus on bike events, but this using the Ch, where I shoot in 10FPS continuous shoot. The score is even better when using the Cl, but the shooting FPS is cut in half.
I am aware that the limitation, in this case, is not the camera but my Sigma 105mm lens I tend to use most of the time in combination with the Nikon D500. This lens cannot keep up the top performance of this camera’s autofocus.
In AF-S and the right amount of light, unless I am shooting against a flat colour, the autofocus is always about 100% accurate. Of course, this also depends on the lens you have on your Nikon D500.
Continuous shooting: 10FPS. Is that much?
When I first got my Nikon D500, there were no cameras capable of shooting faster. Now there are but the margins are minor. Shooting in 10 frames per second is a lot. Just imagine taking 10 photographs in one second. Keep that shutter button pressed and in a couple of seconds, you already have over a gigabyte worth of images.
Depending on the image size and the speed of the memory card, your D500 can store up to 200 images (or more) on the buffer, this decreasing while increasing the size of the image. Shooting in 10FPS will quickly fill the buffer. Now, the speed of transferring data from the buffer to the memory card always reflect on the speed of the card you have. And then you can carry on shooting in 10FPS.
On the Nikon line, the only cameras capable of shooting faster than the Nikon D500 are the D4S with 11FPS, D5 with 12FPS and D6 with 14FPS. This among the 37 Nikon DSLR cameras I am aware they exist. A top 4 is not that bad, isn’t it?
But comparing with other cameras won’t help us in any way. Truly, how good is the 10FPS in real life and not on the paper? Very good but you probably won’t even need that much. I rarely used the Ch, because, for me, the burst is a bit too high for my general usage of the camera. Unless I need to use it. That is another story 🙂
Recording videos with the Nikon D500
At times, I used to record videos with the Nikon D500. But how good it is? It can record on a 4K resolution and maximum of 30FPS or lower resolutions with a top FPS of 60.
Think about the fact that the Nikon D500 was firstly announced in January 2016. A few years back, it was a “thing” to have 4K capabilities, but nowadays, you will often find even mobile phones recording 4K 60fps. Don’t feel discouraged by that. For cinematic films, you NEED to record on a 24FPS, therefore, you can have good use of the Nikon D500 video recording, but.
There is a “but”. I don’t know if it’s just me, inexperience in videography, or the continuous autofocus always failed me when recording videos. In this case, the camera never reached my expectations. That pushed me to learn and improve my manual focus both in photography and videography.
I was able to take a few good footages with the Nikon D500, different lenses and the manual focus. I wasn’t an expert, but I managed to make this work. Not the autofocus though 🙂
What is so special about the Nikon D500 storage?
Nikon D500 does not have any internal storage. But it does support two memory cards: one SD card and one XQD card. I will spare you of all those technicals which is what, if you want to read more about the approved memory cards by Nikon, check here.
But the special thing is that the XQD is a large type of card with extreme writing and reading speeds as compared to any other SD cards. This is a great advantage as shooting with 10FPS will quickly fill the buffer and the transfer speed from the buffer into the memory card is reflected mainly to the type and speed of the card.
With an XQD card, the buffer will empty many times faster as compared to an SD card. If the buffer is not full, sometimes I got for the files to be transferred and the buffer to be emptied in even less than a second. This thanks to the XQD card.
But if you are not planning to shoot in 10FPS continuous mode and only to take single photographs, this won’t matter too much for you. Keep in mind that XQD cards are pretty expensive though.
What lenses can you mount on the Nikon D500?
There are endless lenses which you can mount on a Nikon D500, both DX and FX, Nikon original or 3rd party lenses. There are too many to list them down, it would take me days only to research. But to light this up, the following lenses are the main ones I’ve used with my Nikon D500 and I want to share my experience and some photographs taken with them.
Nikon D500 + Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
This was one of the first lenses I had after I bought the Nikon D500.
The Nikon D500 worked as normal with this lens. I had no issues nor any problems with it, autofocus was always accurate but because of the ultra-wide focal length, I used it mostly for landscape photography.
D500 is not a camera made for landscape, it’s made for sports and wildlife. I was able to do landscape photography with this lens and never had a problem with it. But the Nikkor 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR is a DX lens, therefore, you are able to use it only on DX camera. And guess what, D500 is the top-range of a DX camera.
I sold eventually the lens as I was more focused to have prime lenses than the zoom lenses but on the time being of owning it, I cannot complain about it at all.
Nikon D500 + Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 lens
I bought this lens as a succession to the Nikkor 10-20mm, where I wanted a zoom lens with a wide aperture in order to take some evening, low light photographs and to get started into astrophotography.
Although the Nikon D500 is a DX camera, therefore, as a passionate for astrophotography is not something I would recommend to buy (you have to lean towards full-frame cameras), this lens didn’t failed me to say so. But let me jump back to the start, to tell you my struggle.
When I first mounted the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 on my Nikon D500, something was off. Autofocus was totally off, not accurate and when it was supposed to focus, 9/10 images were out of focus.
I researched on the internet and found out that I wasn’t the only one. It was a common problem which could be solved with buying a Sigma USB dock, connect my lens to the computer and fine-tune the autofocus.
It took me over 6 hours to do that with a lot of YouTube tutorials and researches. But I’ve managed. It wasn’t something impossible to do but time-costly. Afterwards, the Sigma 18-35mm became one of the sharpest (well actually the sharpest) lenses I ever had with my Nikon D500. The sharpness was over the edge, didn’t had the slightest issue after.
If you have a Nikon D500 and you want to buy the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, think about the fact that you may be required to fix the autofocus with the USB dock. Well, this is a common problem for this lens, therefore, is not related to the Nikon D500 camera.
Anyway, jumping over the first bump, I had a good experience and no other negative issues to report about this ‘combination’.
Nikon D500 + Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G
The Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G was one of the cheapest prime lenses I could buy from the market. And in combination with the Nikon D500, this worked flawlessly.
As far as I remember back, this Nikkor 35mm was a DX and not an FX lens.
I used this camera and lens while I was travelling a lot, from country to country, these never failed me. Good and accurate autofocus, good sharpness. The chromatic aberration was a bit off chart sometimes, but this is something to expect from a cheaper lens and has nothing to do with the camera.
After a while I sold this lens to a friend who wanted to start with a prime lens.
Nikon D500 + Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G
My first picture which I took with my Nikon D500 was actually in combination with my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G. It was a lens I had with my previous Nikon camera models.
Because it is an FX lens, I had to brace the focal length of 75mm (due to 1.5x crop ratio). It was a good and cheap lens, about the same price as the 35mm f/1.8; Autofocus worked flawlessly, accurate, it was a good lens to have it here and there. Cannot complain of any issue I ever had with it.
Nikon D500 + Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2
I once again broke my savings pot and invested over £1000 into the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2 version. I used this lens a lot with the Nikon D500. It was a zoom lens nearly good for all. I say nearly good for all because there is no lens existent good for all.
Anyway, I used to travel with this lens, take long exposures, day and night photography, evening streets, I even had it to a couple of events. It wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was an amazing lens I had, and even on the day of today, I regret selling it. This worked amazingly in the combination with the Nikon D500 and I have nothing negative to report.
Nikon D500 + Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro Lens
Now we get to the jewel of the crown. I had and still have until present the Nikon D500 in combination with the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens. It is a macro lens. Also is a medium telephoto lens due to the 1.5x crop ratio from the Nikon D500 DX camera format.
I used this lens over the years not only for macro photography which in combination with the Nikon D500 was absolutely amazing but for sports. The AF-C was fast, accurate and it was like a child play to work with it.
But just to let you know, although you use the Nikon D500 in combination with the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 and works flawlessly, the Nikon D500 can do more. If you want to benefit from the full power of this camera, I advise you to invest in a high-end lens.
How well does Nikon D500 work with different niches?
Overall, with the Nikon D500 you can cover more or less about all the niches in photography. Some photography niches may benefit more of this camera because of the top quality autofocus and burst speed, while some other may ‘feel’ the disadvantage of having an DX camera.
Furthermore, I want to share with you my top photography niches I used the D500 camera in combination with different lenses and the results with photographs taken by me.
Types of photography
In astrophotography, Nikon D500 should not be the camera to use, mainly because of the DX format. When you tend to capture the night sky, you need to capture as much light as possible and in this case to use an FX format camera.
But I used my Nikon D500 to capture the night sky and this worked amazingly. But why? Because of the high-end camera sensor with good ISO capabilities, I was able to rise beyond ISO 6400 in order to compensate the loss of light and get little noise only.
I mainly used the Nikon D500 with the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 to capture the night sky. I had no problem with it, and I was relatively pleased. But if you want to buy this camera and you think about astrophotography, think twice. There are cheaper options (full-frame cameras) which can do better in this field.
Because is a DX camera with a 1.5x crop factor, good autofocus and, optional, high burst rate, I found that the Nikon D500 worked amazingly in candid photography.
In general, you need a longer focal length to be able to capture from the distance people. This camera in combination with a medium telephoto lens and beyond will always work over the edge for candid photography.
I did not done a lot of food photography but I have done a lot of product photography with the Nikon D500. In principle, more or less, same techniques are applied between food photography and product photography.
You won’t need this camera to excel here but already having it would present an advantage because of the good sharpness and image quality. Keep in mind that the lens you have will play an important role. The above photograph was taken with the Nikon D500 and the Tamron 24-70mm G2.
As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve done landscape photography with the Nikon D500 and all of the above lenses (even with the Sigma 105mm). In landscape photography, you may want to focus on having a full-frame camera for a larger field of view but this does not mean the Nikon D500 is not good. It is actually amazing. More than you can imagine.
Long Exposure Photography
Long exposures you can take with any DSLR, no matter if is an entry-level DX or high-end FX camera. But reflecting on the Nikon D500, I had the change here and there to take a couple of long exposures and this worked flawlessly.
The image sensor is brilliant and the colours reproduced are quite accurate. But keep in mind that in this case, I can say the camera will matter only 30% of the final image (I will give a 30% for the lens quality and 40% for the filter used).
What I found interesting is that even with an ND16 filter mounted on top of my lens, the D500 in live view mode was able to see through and focus on the elements I wanted to. Most of the cameras are unable to do that.
A high-end DX camera with a crop-factor of 1.5x will do amazingly in macro photography. I can say that. Many photographers will think that you may need a full-frame camera for the depth of field, but no, you won’t.
Because you are doing macro photography and getting extremely close to the subject, the depth of field is shallow enough to completely blur the background and the foreground.
Keep in mind that sometimes, even like this, is too shallow and you will have to step down the aperture in order for your main element to be in perfect focus and for the rest of the image to be blurred.
Nikon D500 with a good macro lens? Definitely yes.
Another advantage would be the possibility to freeze the time with the ultra-fast shutter speed, which can go as far as 1/8000 sec. This is perfect to capture any flying insects and study their wings.
Night or Low Light Photography
In this case, I am going to talk about the night or low light photography taken handheld. How good is the Nikon D500?
The camera will matter as much as the lens you have.
The DX is a disadvantage but because of the good ISO capabilities, we have an advantage as well. Moreover, because of the best autofocus in the world (more or less), the Nikon D500 can keep up even in extremely low light conditions.
When you use this camera to capture low light photographs, think about the fact that the autofocus in low light is that good as you won’t be able to capture handheld anymore. Do you see what I mean? Shortly, do not worry for this not being able to keep up when taking handheld low-light photographs.
I used the Nikon D500 for night street photography, I used for night events, even night indoor concerts. And this camera never failed me, even if is DX.
Although I never was in photojournalism, based on my knowledge, research and the outcome review of this camera, my conclusion is that you cannot go wrong at all with the Nikon D500 if your main area of photography is photojournalism: good autofocus, high burst rate, large battery capacity, good buffer size.
Portrait / Family Photography
I used the Nikon D500 in portrait photography. I cannot say it is as good as my D750, because the D500 is not a full frame, but it is good enough.
If your main area of photography would be portraits, focus more into getting a full-frame DSLR. You will notice the differences. But if you only occasionally do portrait and family photography, the Nikon D500 is good enough to keep up.
Sports or Action Photography
To be able to unleash the true horsepower of the Nikon D500, you need to use it in sports! There is absolutely no doubt that this camera is a high-end DX DSLR for the purpose to be used in sports and wildlife photography.
I think the whole topic will revolute around this subject. Is the Nikon D500 good in sports? It’s a beast! It’s the best. Cannot think of using anything else even years ahead of now.
Street photography is not something to think directly when you buy the Nikon D500 but something more to think along the way. How good is this camera in street photography?
It is good. really good. but not the best.
I quite travelled a bit with this camera and I’ve noticed that alongside using a bundle of lenses, the Nikon D500 always kept the step and I was able to take amazing travel photographs, from landscapes to streets and different points of interest.
It matters as well the lens you have. But as a camera, if you can afford the Nikon D500 for travel, I would definitely recommend it.
This is the second jewel on the top of the crown. Using the Nikon D500 for wildlife photography.
Although I am not an expert in wildlife photography, and I did not have any special telephoto lens such as the Nikkor 200-500mm, I can say for sure that the Nikon D500 is in fact on the top of the recommended cameras for wildlife photography.
Very fast and accurate autofocus, high burst rate, 1.5x crop rate, good buffer size. All those are only advantages in using this camera for wildlife photography. But remember, you need to have a good lens as well.
The disadvantages of the Nikon D500
The only disadvantage which is obvious is the fact that the Nikon D500 is a DX camera. The horsepower equivalent in an FX camera is the D5, also one of the most expensive cameras produced by Nikon.
At the time of writing this review, in April 2020, there are quite a few new cameras which undermine the necessity to invest into the Nikon D500.
Nikon D500 still remains pretty expensive, but as for photographers who are willing to invest into a high-end DX DSLR, even after years after being released, this still remains in top.
Nikon D500 Review – The final conclusion
Hmm. I don’t quite have an idea of how to end this review, but I can say that the Nikon D500 is an amazing camera from every single point of view. But this does not mean you will have to buy it though.
It is pretty expensive as compared to many DSLR’s but is a high-end DX camera. If you are into sports photography or wildlife, say no more and buy it. I cannot think of anything better unless you want to invest triple the price.
For anything else, this camera is still good and remains on the top but there could be quite a few other options to take into consideration. But I am guessing that if you are reading this review, you are interested about the Nikon D500, isn’t it?
Well that’s it for now. Thank you for remaining with me until the end of this post and I hope to see you around. Take care!.
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