MonthMay 2016

D500 – first impressions

After three days of intensive shooting with the D500 it is possible for me to draw the first conclusions. Regarding high ISO quality, focus performance, memory cards, battery lifetime and build quality a few topics are worth mentioning.

  • Image quality with high ISO values

The big revolution did not happen. The D500 is an evolution, for sure. However, the usable ISO values at the high end are not that higher than that of the D7200, despite the fact that the sensor packs 3,1 MP less pixel on the same area.

The high ISO performance of the D500 is about half a stop better than with the FX D700 of 2008. ISO 3200 looks a bit better on the D500 than it does on the D700. Die In comparison to its direct DX predecessor D300s, a huge gain of about 2 stops can be seen.

The often used comparison with FX is not entirely legit. The new DX sensor does not show that much noise at high ISO values compared to an 8 year old FX body, however uniform areas like blue sky show a little bit more noise (luminance grain) than with an FX sensor. At about ISO 400 the grain can be seen on the D400, which would start to appear on a D4 at ISO 1600.

DX is therefore no direct competitor to FX when it comes to noise performance, which should not come as a surprise. A D4/D4s wins easily against the D500 across the entire ISO range in the noise department.

My maximum setting for the Auto-ISO is 3200, above that the increasing noise does not satisfy my needs for image quality. Als maximalen Wert für die Auto-IOS Funktion habe ich derzeit ISO 3200 gesetzt. ISO 6400 and 12800 are usable with the help of post processing. Especially the increased color accuracy at higher ISO values helps.

  • Autofocus

The new focus module in combination with the 10 frames per second shooting is by far the biggest selling point for the D500. The increased number of cross-type sensors and the coverage of the frame in horizontal direction put the 500 in front of many other cameras.

In my opinion a camera has to be used extensively and for a longer period of time to draw valid conclusions. Therefore, I am not able to tell where the focus module stands in regard to speed, accuracy and tracking yet.

Compared to all other DX cameras, the D500 should be clearly in the lead, also in competition to the FX cameras up the D3 and D800. From personal experience I am comfortable to say that the D500 is at least on the D4 when it comes to focus speed and tracking performance. It is not possible for me to say if she is actually better, yet.

  • Memory Cards

Shortly after the first cameras shipped, the first problems regarding UHS-II SD cards surfaced. The main focus currently lies on Lexar cards of the latest 1000x and 2000x generation. The D500 suddenly displays a message, that the card is damaged and can not be used.

Not only Lexar UHS-II cards are affected. Also a Transcend 64 GB card with the write speed specification of 180 MB/s showed the same error. Shutting the camera off and on cures the problem most of the time.

In my opinion Nikon made an error during UHS-II implementation or interpreted tolerances too tightly. UHS-II cards of SanDisk or Toshiba seem to work fine currently. Nevertheless I would only buy fast UHS-I cards for the time being until a solution for this issue is identified.

This leaves the usage of a single XQD card as the only option to utilize the full speed of the camera.

  • Battery lifetime

A rather not welcome change is related to the power management. D300 and D300s needed the bigger EN-EL4 battery or 8 AA cells in the battery grip to achieve 8 fps. For the D500 the target of the Nikon engineers seems to have been the achievement of 10 fps with the help of a single EN-El15 battery.

The D500 is very sensitive when it comes to the reported voltage of the battery and obviously has a much earlier voltage cutoff than older cameras. Additionally, most of the 3rd party EN-El15 clones do not work.

The theory floats around in the Internet that there are two different variants of genuine Nikon EN-EL15 batteries marked with Li-Ion01 and Li-ion20. The latter are shipping with the D500. If Nikon should really have changed the batteries internally, this would be a rather unusual step.

Spec-wise changed batteries were always introduced as a revision of the old: EN-EL4/En-EL4a, EN-EL18/EN-EL18a. Nikon should have introduced – if the theory is true – a new revision like an EN-EL15a and make this the recommended battery for the D500. This will stay under close observation for the time being.

The battery grip MB-D17 behaves different. All my third party EN-El18 worked fine, even the DSTE ones with included battery cover which were purchased for the MB-D12 of the D800.

  • Build quality

On the positive side, Nikon does all they can to reduce the weight of its equipment. The combination of D500 + MB-D17 weighs 100g less than the D300 + MB-D10. The major part of approx. 75g is contributed by the D500 despite the fact that a swiveling monitor has been included.

On the negative side it can be said that camera and battery grip make a less solid impression than the D300 generation. The difference is bigger than with the migration from D700 to D800. Nevertheless, the D500 has a very high build quality and can be called solid.

The MB-D17 is a bit of a disappointment. A much higher cost than a MB-D12 or MB-D10 at the time of introduction and a weight saving of just 20g gives you a grip that feels less solid than the before mentioned models.

A more subtle change is affecting the grip rubber of D500 and MB-D17. The material is a bit harder than with D300, D700, D800 and the single digit bodies. Nikon started this with the D750 and time will tell if bent and loose rubbers are now a thing of the past.

  • Conclusion

All in all the D500 is a very good camera and can be recommended. All the main aspects of the three digit model series are being taken forward. In light of the D750 and reduced prices on the D810 the decision for the D500 might be a bit hard. If you are looking for speed, the D500 is the choice unless you spend much more for a single digit body.

Users of D4 and D4s – if AF coverage is not a topic- do not need to consider a switch. AF is sufficient on the former pro models and only the D5 is leaping forward in regard to high ISO performance.

D500 and issues with UHS-II SD cards (UPDATED)

[UPDATE 17th of July, 2016]: Nikon meanwhile published a firmware update that switches off UHS-II and reverts to UHS-I in case the camera determines a problem. UHS-II will be re-enabled after the standby timer shuts off the metering system. Nikon admits that errors can still occur, but very rarely. This is a workaround rather than a fix. Most surprising is, that Nikon argues that the error lies on the card side of the equation. This would imply that almost all vendors have problems with UHS-II cards. Very unlikely.

Currently the web discusses intensively the compatibility issues with Lexar UHS-II SD cards of the newest 1000x and 2000x speed ratings. During playback the D500 reports suddenly that the SD card is damaged and cannot be used.

Those issues do not seem to be isolated to the mentioned Lexar cards. Within the first test shots with a newly arrived D500, I received the error with a Transcend 64 GB UHS-II DS card with 180 MB/s write speed rating.

In my opinion Nikon seems to have a general issue with UHS-II cards in the D500. Despite the fact that no issues with Sandisk cards are reported so far, the problem might be more on the side of the camera than on the side of the SD cards.

To utilize the full speed of the camera, the only choice currently is to use a XQD card without backup. Purchase of additional UHS-II SD cards should be placed on hold for now, at least until the issue is acknowledged and sorted out.

Nikon has to react quickly with a firmware update or at least with the announcement of such.  The fact that several owners of the D500 discovered the issue quickly within the first pictures taken raises the question, what and how deep Nikon is actually testing its new products before launch.


[UPDATE 10th of May, 2016]: Taping off the additional UHS-II contacts on the Transcend card cures the problem. During more than 500 pictures the issue did not come up again.

© 2024 Dennis Saßmannshausen Photography

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