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.

D4 color setup

There is no denying that a D800/D810 is more suited for landscape photography, but for those – like me – who use also a D4 for landscapes, the factory defaults regarding white balance and tonality are not very well suited. D4 color setup in “Standard” picture control configuration (I never liked or used the “Landscape” setup) tends to be to cool and too bright.

In brightly lit situations like during the day in summer, I found the pictures washed out and overall too bright without being overexposed. Especially mid-tones and highlights quickly bleed. In addition to this, the white balance in “A” setting is tilting towards the blue side of the spectrum.

This setting might be beneficial for press and event shooting, but for landscapes it does not suit my shooting stile, which is more met by the D2x/D3x tonality.

After several attempts I found a combination of settings, which make me perfectly happy. Initially I worried, if the standard tonal curve would be the issue overall, but this is fortunately not the case. In SD picture control, I set the brightness to -1 (the one step that you can go to the left in this setting). This tones down mid-tones and increases the saturation in those areas. Overall the picture will get a bit darker than with a D2x or D3x in default, but not to a degree that it really creates a problem.

To cure the blue tint, I have set the “A” white balance to a deviation value of +A3. This brings the overall tonality into the warmer spectrum and is a good match to create similar pictures to D2x and D3x.

The D4 does not turn into a D2x color wise, but it is a very close match.

© 2024 Dennis Saßmannshausen Photography

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