Now here’s an interesting new arrival. The Nikon D500 is like a small scale, APS-C-sensor take on the top-end Nikon D5. It shows Nikon’s realignment of its range too, as the sort-of replacement to the discontinued Nikon D300S.
Indeed it could be the most important camera that Nikon releases this year, or for a number of years. Sure, the D5 – which we’ve previewed here – has all the bells and whistles that some professionals will want, but its huge size and FX full-frame format aren’t going to be for everyone. Neither will the £5,200 price.
Having grabbed the Nikon D500 on the Nikon stand at CES 2016, the appeal is immediate (the £1,729 body-only price tag making all the difference too). Its smaller scale nestles into the hand, a lot like the older D300 model, and just feels natural.
The design incorporates some similar features found in the D5, such as the customisable function button (Fn2 in this instance) to the rear left, which sees the info button prevalent in other Nikon DSLR cameras slide along the rear of the camera body.
It’s all super-fast in use too, with the same 153-point autofocus system as found in the D5 pulled into this format. That includes 99 cross-type sensors for maximum portrait/landscape operability (15 of which support sensitivity to f/8), ensuring it’s not a watered-down version of the top spec system. There’s a light-up top panel to make adjustments and see what’s what, as controlled by the AF press-and-hold button the front side of the camera.
We tested out the camera’s continuous autofocus (AF-C) mode with 3D, 153- and 72-point arrangements on the CES show floor and it’s lightning fast, slipping between subject depths at pace, while locking onto subjects with a subtle depress of the shutter.
Of course you needn’t use all those AF points if you don’t want, with the single autofocus (AF-S) offering the usual single point and group arrangement, which are expertly displayed in light-up red outlines within the viewfinder.
Speaking of which, the viewfinder offers 100 per cent coverage of the frame, so what you see is what you get when shooting. That’s what we expect at this level.
Beneath that finder is the LCD screen, which is one of a handful of Nikon DSLR cameras to feature a tilt-angle bracket – something not even the D5 offers. Given how often we’re using screens for waist-level work, we think this is an ideal feature, plus it’s touch-sensitive for making adjustments when in live preview mode. Our only qualm, if we’re stretching, is that the screen is a little fiddly to prise from the rear body.
One area the D500 differs from the D5 is in its speed. It’s still super-fast, though, by offering up to 10fps in its continuous high mode, with a supposed maximum 200 NEF raw files being able to process without break (something we couldn’t test as the card slots were sealed and empty (it’s an XQD and SDdual combo, if you’re interested)).
Beneath that weather-sealed body is a new 21-megapixel sensor, seeing resolution slide slightly compared to the Nikon D7200 for the sake of speed and larger pixels to aid with heightened sensitivity. Not that the extended ISO 1,640,000 sensitivity, while still on the brink of ridiculous, is as high as the D5’s bonkers extended ISO 3,280,000 option.
As for image quality? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see for the time being. With that APS-C sensor size, the pixels on the sensor’s surface aren’t going to be as large and depth of field won’t be as shallow and pronounced as in the D5 – but that will work to the benefit of some photographers looking for the crop factor.
From the short time we’ve handled the D500 we think Nikon is onto a real winner. It’s got more than enough smarts to stand out beyond the Canon EOS70D, as the kind of prosumer top-end camera many will have been waiting for. It’s far quicker than the top-end compact system camera stock too, without the bulk associated with a giant full-frame camera, such as the Nikon D5. Looking forward to reviewing this one when it arrives in March.