Nikon D500: Hands-on first impressions

My Nikon D500 arrived today!
Female red-winged blackbird, Fountain, CO. Nikon D500 with 200-500mm f/5.6E VR Nikkor and TC-14EIII teleconverter. 1/2000s f/10 ISO 7200 Effective FL: 1050mm
Female red-winged blackbird, Fountain, CO.
Nikon D500 with 200-500mm f/5.6E VR Nikkor and TC-14EIII teleconverter.
1/2000s f/10 ISO 7200
Effective FL: 1050mm (click to enlarge)

Finally, I get my hands on a true flagship DX body from Nikon. I’ve always had a place in my kit for a DX body, because I appreciate the extra reach when shooting wildlife; especially birds. However, Nikon’s offerings since the D300s haven’t excited me. This camera, however, makes me glad to be a Nikon shooter!

 Unboxing the Nikon D500

Here are my quick first impressions after playing with the D500 a bit today.
  • Ergonomics: Wonderful. It fits right in my hand and the controls are all within reach of my thumb and forefinger while shooting. The mini “joystick” falls right below my thumb and makes selecting AF points easy.  Weird: Nikon moved the “mode” button (to select exposure modes) to the left top dial and put the ISO button on the right side near the video record button.
  • Autofocus Performance: Damn near amazing. I put my 200-500mm f/5.6E VR Nikkor on the D500, and I didn’t need to apply any AF fine-tuning. The AF system allows you to select 55 points, but there are a total of 153 points (some are used as “assist” points). I put the D500 into a tough situation, shooting the 200-500VR with TC-14EIII, which makes the lens combo f/8. That means only some of the AF points will work. I was in crummy overcast light, and the D500 managed to lock and track focus quite well once I got the initial acquisition set (this is the tough part about using f/8 lenses). Normally, I wouldn’t even need a teleconverter, but I wanted to push this combo to the limit. What was unusable on the D810 is now a viable option on the D500.
  • ISO Performance: I’m still testing, but my images were fine below ISO 3200, and had some noticeable grain at ISO 5000 and up. Of course, most of this grain is easy to fix, and won’t be visible in most web images or normal sized prints. I’ll keep testing this, so stay tuned. More importantly, I didn’t see any major loss of color or contrast at higher ISOs during my field test.
House finch, Fountain, CO Nikon D500 with 200-500mm f/5.6 Nikkor and TC-14EIII using 1.3x crop mode (effective FL: 1400mm) 1/2000s f/11 ISO 5600 (Click to see a larger version)
House finch, Fountain, CO
Nikon D500 with 200-500mm f/5.6 Nikkor and TC-14EIII using 1.3x crop mode (effective FL: 1400mm)
1/2000s f/11 ISO 5600
(Click to see a larger version)
  • Frame Rate & Buffer:  Amazing. With a Sony “G” XQD card, I shot 67 continuous frames RAW at full 10fps and didn’t notice any slowdown. I only stopped because I got bored shooting that many frames. I’ll do a full test later, but most of us won’t be shooting that many frames. Shutter blackout is practically non-existent, too.

I’ll be putting the Nikon D500 through it’s paces in the coming weeks, but right now, I’m convinced that it is THE go-to Nikon DSLR for wildlife and birding enthusiasts who want a fast camera with the best autofocus system Nikon has to offer. The D500, combined with the 200-500mm f/5.6E zoom Nikkor, may just be the best wildlife combo you can get for under $3500.

Order the Nikon D500 (approximately $1999)
Order the Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR (approx. $1396)

15 thoughts on “Nikon D500: Hands-on first impressions”

  1. Jason,

    You meant 200-500mm f/5.6E not f/4 in your section “Autofocus Performance” correct? No such animal unless you meant 200-400 f/4. I’d like to see your ISO results in the 3,200 to 5,000 range. I doubt detail will look good after 3,200. The D810 disappoints in ISO performance after 1,600, in my opinion, but then again it’s my landscape camera. I’m looking to replace my D7000 for bird photography and I’m considering the D500 and 200-500 f/5.6E combo but still have reservations on the lens speed / ISO limitations. Thanks for always being up to date on new reviews.

  2. Hi Greg-
    Yes, I meant f/5.6. Thanks for pointing that out; I’ve fixed it.
    I’m very happy with ISO performance on the D500 through ISO 6400. That’s where you first really start to notice grain, but it’s totally fine. I’ll have ISO samples up shortly.

  3. I think it would be great for sports with something like the new 300mm f/4 AFS G VR PF lens! I’m going to test that combo this weekend, weather permitting.

  4. I have taken fine ISO 25000 and 40000 pictures so far with my D500. They are easy to clean up. Have taken ISO 4000 of a crane and used it sooc JPEG with 0 NR. It is that good.

    But just look at the detail and bokeh of this one. It is ISO 500 but it is mindblowingly great in the deep shadows even after they are pulled up.

    https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/zubair-roved_productions/26550297853/in/set-72157668378806081/

    Though the ISO is great it is really the AF system and clarity and Color rendition that people should get wow’ed about. The AF is amazing in low light.

  5. Thanks for sharing your experiences! I have to agree, the D500 is really quite fabulous. I’ll be taking mine to Texas soon for some real birding.

  6. Jason, the D500 is wonderful with my 500mm F4 Nikon (2007 version). However when the 1.4 III tc is added pictures are soft. Have you tried this combination? Thanks.

  7. I have always found my 500mm f/4 VR and TC-14EIII to be tack-sharp, even wide open, but I did need to use AF fine-tuning. I haven’t tried it with the D500 yet.

  8. I’ve been using the D-4 and D-4’s Jason and feel that the new D-500 is certainly worth ever penny and them some. I use it with the battery grip and find no loss of quality what so ever, and like you said do not find the noise at the higher iso’s a problem. Thank you and continue your great information of this subject.

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