Field Review: Nikon D500

Field Review: Nikon D500

By Adam Hanlon

D500, Tokina AT-X 107 AF DX 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5, Zen 170mm dome, 1/160@f8, ISO400

Nikon has persistently confused its customers with what seem to be idiosyncratic product releases. At a time when the industry was suggesting that resolution was a red herring, they released the D800 series. Despite launching the D4 in February 2012 they did not follow their pattern of launching a pro cropped sensor camera at the same time. Die hard Nikon DX (cropped sensor) enthusiasts found themselves buying high resolution FX (full frame) cameras, and the lenses to suit. Scroll forward to 2016 and we find the company launching the D5 and the D500. No one outside of Nikon knows why there was no D400, but that does not mean that there are not numerous attempts to second guess Nikon’s aims.

My thoughts are that Nikon are largely an engineering driven company and that for each new camera release, they set out a series of performance goals. They then attempt to find the technology to fill these criteria. Sometimes, they cannot do so and a release is delayed, hence the lack of a D400 model.

Yet the removal of a new DX line caused a ripple of effects: Many underwater photographers have held on to their D300 bodies and housings. Others have moved on to the prosumer D7000 series. Yet others have moved over to Nikon FX models or perhaps to mirrorless cameras.

D500, Tokina AT-X 107 AF DX 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5, Zen 170mm dome, 1/100@f8, ISO1000

The arrival of the D500 has thrown all these choices into some doubt. Wetpixel has set out to thoroughly review the camera and has been shooting it for over a month continuously during the Wetpixel Raja Ampat Expedition on Damai 1 and Wetpixel/Alex Mustard Lembeh Macro workshop at Lembeh Resort. During these events, we have produced just under 8,000 images in a wide variety of conditions and photographic genres. Many thanks to the crew, staff and fellow guests on both trips.

There are numerous people without whose support this review would not be possible. Ryan Canon and Reef Photo and Video supplied the camera body and a Tokina 10-17mm lens. David Gordon then kindly hand carried these over to Indonesia. Edward Lai and Phoebe Lu of Nauticam did an amazing job of getting their NA-D500 housing and 45° viewfinder to me on the Damai 1 in the harbor before she sailed. Their support is very much appreciated.

I would also like to thank Blake Stoughton and Carolina of Aquatica who moved heaven and earth to try and get their housing to me before I left. I had hoped to review both their and Nauticam’s housings, but thanks to UK Customs intransigence, this did not work out. Thank you very much and I am truly grateful for your efforts.

D500, Tokina AT-X 107 AF DX 10-17mm f/3.5-4.5, Zen 170mm dome, 1/250@f8, ISO400

I also borrowed both Inon Z240 strobes (thanks to Chris Boardman and Nick More) and Sea&Sea YS-D2 strobes (from Ryan Mack). Many thanks for all the kind loans.

On both trips, I was also shooting a D810 in a Seacam housing, allowing some comparisons between the FX and DX formats.

D500, Nikon 60mm f2.8, Nauticam SMC 1/250@f29, ISO160

During the macro workshop, Wetpixel Associate Editor Alex Mustard was able to use the camera and housing a little, and has kindly added some thoughts to this review.

This review is primarily going to be focused on the camera’s performance, but underwater it is almost impossible to separate camera and housing.

  1. Introduction and Acknowledgements.
  2. Image Quality and Dynamic Range.
  3. ISO Performance and Autofocus.
  4. XQD Cards, Build, Controls and Power and Speed.
  5. Alex Mustard on the D500 and Conclusion.