Nikon D500: Sample NEFs & ISO Performance

Nikon D500 ISO 100The Nikon D500 has an in-spec ISO range of 100-51,200. Let’s see how these images look across the ISO range from my production camera, which I received yesterday

Nikon D500 ISO Test Images

I performed a quick test using a production Nikon D500 and the 35mmm f.1/8 AFS G Nikkor lens in aperture-priority mode at f/5.6. I disabled all in-camera noise reduction so you can get a “worst case” scenario. Obviously, if you shoot RAW and know how to properly apply sharpening and noise reduction, you can probably get even better quality. If you wish to download my original RAW files, there’s a link at the bottom of this page.

Nikon D500 ISO 100

Nikon D500 ISO 200

Nikon D500 ISO 400

Nikon D500 ISO 800

Nikon D500 ISO 1600

Nikon D500 ISO 3200

Nikon D500 ISO 6400

Nikon D500 ISO 12800

Nikon D500 ISO 25600

Nikon D500 ISO 51200

Nikon D500 ISO 65535

Observations & Conclusions

Color fidelity is quite good throughout most of the in-spec ISO range. Things really don’t start looking too different in terms of color until you get to the top ISO of 51,200. At Hi-1 (102,400), colors shift dramatically. From a luminance noise (grain) perspective, I can detect a little bit of grain starting around ISO 400, but it really isn’t noticeable until you get higher up on the scale. What I noticed was a definite “break point” at ISO 6400.  Above 3200, you can definitely notice grain in the images, especially in out of focus areas. Nevertheless, that noise is very tight and relatively easy to manage in post. Above 6400, you can really start to see the grain dominate the images, but the color is still fairly good.

You can clean up luminance noise fairly easily with Lightroom by adjusting the Detail settings. This image was captured at ISO 12,800. The left side shows my default detail settings; the image at right shows the effect of adding Luminance NR and modifying the sharpening settings as shown in the Detail Panel.
You can clean up luminance noise fairly easily with Lightroom by adjusting the Detail settings. This image was captured at ISO 12,800. The left side shows my default detail settings; the image at right shows the effect of adding Luminance NR and modifying the sharpening settings as shown in the Detail Panel.

What these results mean for me is that I’d be perfectly happy to use just about any of the in-spec ISO settings with the D500. For the best results, keep the ISO at 6400 or lower. With the higher settings, you’ll need to clean up the luminance noise, which isn’t too hard if you are shooting in RAW. Frankly, I’m impressed that a DX-format camera can deliver image quality this good. Looking back, I remember trying to stay at ISO 400 or lower with my first Nikon DSLR, the D2x. Given that my main use of the D500 is for birding, most of the time I’ll be below ISO 6400 and I’m totally happy with that.

Check the price on the Nikon D500 here

3 thoughts on “Nikon D500: Sample NEFs & ISO Performance”

  1. Look at the Dpreview test shots, around the feathers there fine slivers missing all around the edges. Also Missing fine lines in the faces. I’d rather have slightly more noise than lose the detail, but perhaps u prefer cleaner ISO.

    Regardless … Grats on the new camera, and remember we are spoiled in this day and age, u really can’t go wrong with any Nikon body these days, absurd picture quality overall, just a matter of what important to you and how deep your pockets are.

  2. Hi Donny,

    Can you point me to exactly where you are looking in the Dpreview studio scene? I’m comparing the raw ISO6400 D7200 and D500 images in the dark mode with the D7200 downscaled to the D500 size. I see more detail from the D500 image. It’s a very small difference. What settings are you using to compare?

  3. I don’t lose any detail provided that I shoot RAW. I do see a tremendous loss of detail when I shoot JPEG with High-ISO NR enabled (Normal setting).

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