Nikon released the much-anticipated D500 for sports and wildlife shooters on January 6, 2016. Thanks to its excellent image quality, proven ergonomics and a superb autofocus system with a huge buffer, the Nikon D500 is a sports and wildlife photographers’ dream come true.
Note: this review has been written and continuously updated by a number of authors: John Lawson (main text), Nasim Mansurov (main text), Spencer Cox (updates and revisions), Jason Polak (secrets to Nikon D500), and Libor Vaicenbacher (wildlife and landscape pages).
If you’re encountering the Nikon D500 for the first time, what you need to know is that it’s a high-speed, advanced-tier camera mainly intended for sports and wildlife photographers.
The Nikon D500 has a 20-megapixel APS-C sensor with an approximately 1.5x crop factor relative to full-frame. (Nikon calls its APS-C sensors “DX” and its full-frame sensors “FX.” See more at Nikon DX vs FX.)
Nikon generally positions its DX cameras as lower-end due to the smaller sensor, but the Nikon D500 is Nikon’s most advanced DX DSLR ever. It has the same autofocus system as the flagship-level Nikon D5, 10 frames per second shooting, dual memory card slots, and a large buffer that allows you to take 200 images in a burst before the camera slows down.
How does the Nikon D500 hold up today, given that it was announced in 2016? Even though some of its specifications lag behind the newest mirrorless cameras, the Nikon D500 remains arguably the most advanced APS-C DSLR ever made. It might stay that way forever, since most camera companies have now shifted focus toward mirrorless. See more at DSLR vs Mirrorless Cameras.
Nikon D500 Review: Introduction
Some of us never completely lost faith – Nikon would give us a legitimate successor to the D300S. I think that the many who said to give up and move on to FX because DX is dead, or that the D7200 was the real D300S replacement, perhaps missed the point. The D7200 is an absolutely excellent camera, but it has been pretty obvious that Nikon was holding back on the D7x00 series.
And as far as moving on to FX, well we were already there shooting D4s, D800s, etc., but looking back to DX for the potential advantages that a smaller format, the high-performance body could bring to shooting wildlife and other action. There was room at the top of the DX model lineup for a specialist camera and now we have it – the
D400 D500. Nevertheless, I was caught off-guard, along with most people I think, when the D500 was announced alongside the D5 in early 2016. We all knew the D5 was coming, but just how did Nikon manage to keep the D500 a secret?
The D500 takes its place at the top of the Nikon APS-C (“crop sensor”) format camera body lineup as a true flagship model and as the undisputed, long-dreamed-of replacement for the D300S. There is no question that the D500 is meant to be viewed as, and perform as, a mini-D5. Consider the naming of the two, the simultaneous announcements, the new auto-focus system common to both, the use of XQD memory cards in both cameras, and even the identical resolution 21MP sensors, among many other commonalities. Quite frankly, on paper, the D500 looks like a dream. And clearly, I’m not the only one thinking that – the camera was sold out for a while after it was released.
Interestingly, Nikon classifies the D500 as “enthusiast” rather than “professional”, placing it in the same camp as the D7200. Given the specifications, I think we have to conclude that it is simply the sensor size that prevents Nikon from considering it a “professional” camera. Snobbery over sensor size won’t prevent many professional and non-professional photographers from doing amazing work with this camera. Of that, I have no doubt. Some have commented that the US $2,000 price tag is a little steep. Next to the D7200 at $1,200 when announced and now discounted, it does seem so. But then consider that the D300 was announced in 2007 at $1,800, alongside the D3 at $5,000. In that time we have seen an 11% increase in price for the top DX model versus a 30% price hike for the top FX model. So if the ask for the D500 seems high, just put it alongside its big brother, the D5 at $6,500, and the price tag on the mini-D5 starts to look somewhat mini itself.
Nikon D500 Specifications
- Announced: January 6, 2016
- Sensor: APS-C, 20.7 megapixels (5568 x 3712 pixels)
- ISO Range: 100-51,200 (50-1,640,000 extended range)
- Shutter Speeds: 1/8000 to 30 seconds; bulb and time options in Manual mode
- Flash Sync Speed: 1/250 second
- Shutter Durability: Rated to 200,000 actuations
- Maximum Frame Rate: 10 FPS
- Buffer Size: 200 images (lossless compressed RAW)
- Storage: Two card slots: 1 XQD (CFExpress compatible), 1 SD (UHS-II compatible)
- Viewfinder: Optical; pentaprism with 100% frame coverage and 1.0x magnification
- Rear LCD Screen: Tilting touchscreen, 3.2-inch diagonal, 2.36 million dots
- Metering: 180,000-pixel RGB sensor, -3 to +20 EV range
- Autofocus System: 153 focus points (55 selectable)
- AF Sensitivity Range at f/2: -4 to +20 EV
- Video Features: 3840 x 2160 (4K) up to 30fps; 1920 x 1080 (HD) up to 60fps; H.264/MPEG-4 encoding
- Secrets of the D500: You found it
- Connectivity: Wi-fi, Bluetooth, HDMI out, Analog stereo audio in/out
- Power: EN-EL15 Li-ion battery 14Wh
- Battery Life: 1240 shots per charge (CIPA standard)
- Size (WxHxD): 5.8 x 4.6 x 3.2 inches / 147 x 115 x 81 millimeters
- Weight with Battery & Card: 1.9 pounds / 860 grams
- Price: $2000 at launch
Tree of Life
The Nikon D500 is the fifth camera of its kind. It does not yet have any replacement model from Nikon. The order is:
- Nikon D100: Announced 2002. 6 megapixels (a lot for the time!), 3 frames per second, 5 autofocus points
- Nikon D200: Announced 2005. 10 megapixels, 5 FPS, 11 autofocus points
- Nikon D300: Announced 2007. 12 megapixels, 6 FPS (8 with grip), 51 autofocus points
- Nikon D300s: Announced 2009. 12 megapixels, 7 FPS (8 with grip), 51 autofocus points. First camera in the series to have video
- Nikon D500: You are here! Announced 2016. 20 MP, 10 FPS, 153 autofocus points
These are all high-speed Nikon DX cameras meant for sports and wildlife photographers. You can see that Nikon steadily improved the resolution, frame rate, and focus system of these cameras as time went by. The D100 through D300s are outdated cameras from 2009 and earlier, and we don’t recommend them any more.
Why Nikon never released a D400, the world may never know. Maybe it’s the unlucky number 4 in Japanese culture (though that fails to explain the Nikon D4). Or, maybe they realized that so much time had passed since the D300s that the replacement needed a much higher model number. Nikon’s naming schema for DSLRs has always been a bit odd.
The Nikon D500 is not related to Nikon’s D600, D700, or D800 series, which are all full-frame DSLRs targeted toward different audiences.
Nikon D500 vs D7500
The most similar camera to the D500 within Nikon’s own lineup is the D7500. The D7500 is a slightly lower-end camera and part of the D7000-series DSLRs. However, the two cameras have the same sensor, meaning that their image quality and high ISO performance is identical. Which one is right for you? To help answer that question, here’s a table of their most important differences:
|Camera Feature||Nikon D500||Nikon D7500|
|Sensor Resolution||20.9 Million||20.9 Million|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 5||EXPEED 5|
|Built-in Flash||No||Yes, with flash commander mode|
|Storage Media||1x XQD, 1x SD||1x SD|
|SD Memory Card Support||UHS-I / UHS-II||UHS-I|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||10 FPS||8 FPS|
|Buffer Size (RAW, Lossless 14-bit)||200||50|
|Continuous Shooting Length||20 seconds||6 seconds|
|Shutter Durability||200,000 cycles||150,000 cycles|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-51,200||ISO 100-51,200|
|Autofocus System||153-point, 99 cross-type AF system||51-point, 15 cross-type AF system|
|AF Detection||Up to f/8||Up to f/8|
|AF Detection Range||-4 to +20 EV||-3 to +19 EV|
|Video Maximum Resolution||3,840×2,160 (4K) up to 30 fps||3,840×2,160 (4K) up to 30 fps|
|4K Video Recording Crop (in 35mm Equivalent)||2.25x||2.25x|
|LCD Size||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD|
|LCD Resolution||2,359,000 dots||922,000 dots|
|Battery Grip Accessory Option||Nikon MB-D17 Multi-Battery Power Pack||N/A|
|Battery Life||1,240 shots (CIPA)||950 shots (CIPA)|
|Weather Sealed Body||Yes||Yes|
|Camera Chassis||Magnesium Alloy||Carbon Fiber Composite|
|Weight (Body Only)||760g||640g|
|Dimensions||147 x 115 x 81mm||135.5 × 104 × 72.5mm|
|MSRP Price||$1,999 (as introduced)||$1,249 (as introduced)|
Due to the better autofocus system and much bigger buffer, the D500 is the camera we would recommend to professional sports and wildlife photographers. However, the D7500 still has an impressive 51-point focusing system and 8 FPS, making it an excellent budget option. Used prices on both cameras are excellent these days, but a used D7500 is a particularly good value.
- That table is a smaller version of the one in our Nikon D500 vs D7500 comparison
- We also compared the Nikon D500 vs the earlier Nikon D7200
- And the Nikon D500 vs the D300s (the prior generation of the D500)
Nikon D500 vs Canon 7D Mark II
Stepping outside the world of Nikon, one close competitor to the D500 is the 7D Mark II from Canon. However, the D500 has the advantage of being released about 15 months after the 7D Mark II, so it’s undeniably the more advanced camera.
Nevertheless, these two DSLRs are geared toward the same audience of fast-action photographers. They also launched at similar prices of $2000 for the D500 and $1800 for the 7D Mark II.
|Camera Feature||Nikon D500||Canon 7D Mark II|
|Sensor Resolution||20.9 Million||20.2 Million|
|Sensor Pixel Size||4.22µ||4.09µ|
|Low Pass Filter||No||Yes|
|Image Size||5,568 x 3,712||5,472 x 3,648|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 5||Dual DIGIC 6|
|Built-in Flash||No||Yes, with flash commander mode|
|Storage Media||1x XQD, 1x SD||1x CF, 1x SD|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||10 FPS||10 FPS|
|Buffer Size (RAW, Lossless 14-bit)||200||31|
|Continuous Shooting||20 seconds||3.1 seconds|
|Max Shutter Speed||1/8000 to 30 sec||1/8000 to 30 sec|
|Shutter Durability||200,000 cycles||200,000 cycles|
|Exposure Metering Sensor||180,000-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering III||150,000 RGB + IR pixel metering sensor|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-51,200||ISO 100-16,000|
|Autofocus System||153-point, 99 cross-type AF system||65-point all cross-type AF system|
|AF Detection||Up to f/8||Up to f/8|
|AF Detection Range||-4 to +20 EV||-3 to +19 EV|
|Video Maximum Resolution||3,840×2,160 (4K) up to 30p||1920×1080 (1080p) up to 60p|
|LCD Size||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD||3.0″ diagonal TFT-LCD|
|LCD Resolution||2,359,000 dots||1,040,000 dots|
|Built-in Wi-Fi / NFC||Built-in, with NFC||No|
|Battery||EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery||LP-E6N (or LP-E6)|
|Battery Life||1,240 shots (CIPA)||670 shots (CIPA)|
|Weather Sealed Body||Yes||Yes|
|Weight (Body Only)||760g||820g|
|Dimensions||147 x 115 x 81mm||148.6 x 112.4 x 78.2mm|
|MSRP Price||$1,999 (as introduced)||$1,799 (as introduced)|
The Nikon D500 is clearly ahead overall, although the Canon 7D Mark II is still a great camera. If you’re new to both brands, I’d get the D500. However, if you shoot Canon and are considering switching, my recommendation is to hold off. A more natural upgrade for you is a Canon mirrorless body (which also lets you use all your existing lenses, with the Canon EF-EOS R adapter).
- Read more in our complete Nikon D500 vs Canon 7D Mark II comparison
Nikon D500 vs D7200 vs D300S Comparison
Let’s take a quick look at how the Nikon D500 compares in terms of specifications with the older D7200 and the D300S:
|Camera Feature||Nikon D500||Nikon D7200||Nikon D300S|
|Sensor Resolution||21MP (5568 x 3712)||24MP (6000 x 4000)||12MP (4288 x 2848)|
|Native ISO range||100 – 51,200||100- 25,600||200 – 3,200|
|Expanded ISO range||50 – 1,640,000||100 – 102,400||100 – 6,400|
|Image Processing Engine||EXPEED 5||EXPEED 4||EXPEED|
|Continuous Frame Rate||up to 10 fps||up to 6 fps||up to 7 fps (8 fps with MB-D10)|
|Buffer Capacity (RAW)||up to 200||up to 18||up to 17|
|Storage Media||1 x XQD, 1 x SDXC (UHS-II)||2 x SDXC||1 x CF, 1 x SDHC|
|Shutter Durability||200,000 actuations||150,000 actuations||150,000 actuations|
|Metering System||180,000-pixel RGB sensor||2,016-pixel RGB sensor||1,005-pixel RGB sensor|
|Metering Sensitivity||-3 – 20 EV||0 – 20 EV||0 – 20 EV|
|Autofocus Module||Multi-CAM 20K||Multi-CAM 3500 II||Multi-CAM 3500DX|
|Autofocus Points||153 (55 selectable)||51||51|
|Autofocus Modes||Single, Dynamic 25/72/153, 3D-tracking, Auto-area, Group-area||Single, Dynamic 9/21/51, 3D-tracking, Auto-area||Single, Dynamic 9/21/51, 3D-tracking, Auto-area|
|Autofocus Sensitivity Range||-4 – 20 EV||-3 – 19 EV||-1 – 19 EV|
|Autofocus Fine-Tune||Automatic, Manual||Manual||Manual|
|LCD Resolution||2.36M dots 1024 x 768 RGB pixels||1.23M dots 640 x 480 RGBW pixels||922K dots 640 x 480 RGB pixels|
|LCD Tilt & Touch||Yes||No||No|
|Movie Formats||UHD 3840 x 2160 30fps, HD 1920 x 1080 60fps||HD 1920 x 1080 60fps||VGA 640 x 480 24fps|
|Wireless Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 4.1||Wi-fi 802.11b/g||No|
|Battery Type||EN-EL15 Battery||EN-EL15 Battery||EN-EL3e Battery|
|Battery Life||1240 shots (CIPA)||1110 shots (CIPA)||950 shots (CIPA)|
|Size||5.8in. x 4.6in. x 3.2in. (147mm x 115mm x 81mm)||5.4in. x 4.2in. x 3.0in. (136mm x 107mm x 76mm)||5.8in. x 4.5in. x 2.9in. (147mm x 114mm x 74mm)|
|Weight||26.9oz (760g)||23.9oz (675g)||30oz (840g)|
As might be expected, the D500 stands out from the D7200 and D300S in almost every way. Performance improvements include a very fast top frame rate with a huge buffer. The metering module is very high resolution compared to the older cameras and is also far more capable in low light. On paper, at least it has 3 stops greater sensitivity.
Of course, there is next-generation auto-focus which is functional down to an incredible -4 EV. So what is that in terms of actual exposure? 1 second at f/1.4 and ISO 3,200 – very dark! The LCD monitor has received a big spec bump with all the attention going to the tilt and touch capabilities. But note too the increase in resolution. More on that later. UHD (not quite 4K) movie recording is now possible. And with SnapBridge (Wi-Fi & Bluetooth), Nikon is making an attempt to provide wireless connectivity that is actually useful. The jury is still out on whether they have succeeded.
Nikon D500 vs D5 Comparison
And here is the Nikon D500 compared to its big brother, the Nikon D5:
|Camera Feature||Nikon D500||Nikon D5|
|Sensor Size||DX 23.5mm x 15.7mm||FX 35.9mm x 23.9mm|
|Sensor Resolution||21MP (5568 x 3712)|
|Native ISO Range||100 – 51,200||100 – 102,400|
|Expanded ISO range||50 – 1,640,000||50 – 3,280,000|
|Image Processing Engine||EXPEED 5|
|Frame Rate||up to 10 fps||up to 12 fps (14 with mirror locked up)|
|Buffer Capacity (RAW)||Up to 200|
|Storage Media||1 x XQD, 1 x SDXC (UHS-II)||2 x XQD or 2 x CF|
|Shutter Life||200,000 actuations||400,000 actuations|
|Metering Module||180,000-pixel RGB sensor|
|Metering Sensitivity||-3 – 20 EV|
|Autofocus Module||Multi-CAM 20K|
|Autofocus Points||153 (55 selectable)|
|Autofocus Modes||Single, Dynamic 25/72/153, 3D-tracking, Auto-area, Group-area|
|Autofocus Sensitivity||-4 – 20 EV|
|Autofocus Fine-Tune||Automatic, Manual|
|LCD Screen Size||3.2in.|
|LCD Resolution||2.36M dots 1024 x 768 RGB pixels|
|Tilt & Touch||Tilt, Touch||Touch|
|Movie Formats||UHD 3840 x 2160 30 fps, HD 1920 x 1080 60 fps|
|Wireless connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11b/g, Bluetooth 4.1||External module|
|Battery Type||EN-EL15 battery||EN-EL18a battery|
|Battery Life||1,240 shots (CIPA)||3,780 shots (CIPA)|
|Size||5.8in. x 4.6in. x 3.2in. (147mm x 115mm x 81mm)||6.3in. x 6.3in. x 3.7in. (160mm x 159mm x 92mm)|
|Weight||26.9oz (760g)||~49oz (1400g)|
There are three very obvious factors that differentiate the D5 from the D500: sensor size, camera size and price. But looking past those, the two are remarkably alike. Notice how many of the features in the table above are common to both. It is not a comprehensive list by any means, but does pretty well illustrate the shared raison d’être of these two cameras. In recent years it has been a very frustrating fact that, as a Nikon user, the only way to get a really high speed camera was to get a D4 or D4s. There has been no affordable alternative since the D300/D300s until now.
Nikon D500 vs Mirrorless Competition
It seems like every week there’s a new mirrorless camera on the market with impressive features. Subject-recognition autofocus and bursts over 20 FPS are practically the norm these days. Is there still room to get the Nikon D500 now that we’re living in a mirrorless world?
I sure think so. First off, the 153-point autofocus system on the Nikon D500 remains better than the autofocus on most mirrorless cameras, including many of the ones with subject-recognition focus technology. Second, there’s the amazing used prices of the Nikon D500 that I’ve already mentioned on this page a few times. Simply put, you won’t find any mirrorless cameras for those prices that match the D500 in speed and competence.
Finally, there are differences between DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in general. The optical viewfinder on the Nikon D500 has zero lag, making it easy to track fast-moving subjects. The D500 has great battery life that outlasts most mirrorless cameras. And, most importantly, Nikon’s F-mount lineup of lenses for the D500 is one of the most complete and advanced in the world.
If I had a few thousand dollars to invest in a kit for sports or wildlife photography, I wouldn’t go with one of the newest mirrorless cameras. Instead, I’d buy a Nikon D500, an older generation 70-200mm f/2.8, and an F-mount supertelephoto.
Nikon D500 Review: Camera Size Comparisons
Below are comparison shots with the D500 side-by-side with other Nikon DSLR cameras. The images are to scale giving an idea of the relative sizes.
Here we see the shiny new D500 next to the venerable old D300S. Overall size is very similar – the D300S with squarer shoulders and rounder hips. The old boy is noticeably heftier at 840g versus 760g. I always appreciated the weightiness and solid feel of the D300/D300S. It meant business.
The D500 is large for a DX camera. It is significantly larger and heavier than the D7200 and absolutely dwarfs the D5500. But for me the relatively large size is a good thing. The D7200 is just too small to feel really comfortable in my hand. There is not quite enough to grab onto and my little finger feels like it’s about to fall off the bottom. By contrast the D500 has a tall and deep, though slightly narrow, grip which is very comfortable. Things improve when adding a vertical grip to each camera. The MB-D15 for the D7200 transforms it into a full-size camera. Now all my fingers fit and when held vertically I actually find it slightly more comfortable than the MB-D17 on the D500.
Perhaps surprisingly, the D500 is also larger and heavier than both the D610 and D750 FX bodies. You won’t be buying this one to save space and weight. It’s not until you get to the second largest camera in the Nikon DSLR range, the D810, that you have something a little larger than the D500. The D810’s grip is fatter than, but not as deep as, the D500’s grip. Both are very good but I have a preference for the D810’s shape.
Of course, the D5 towers over the D500. Big brother really is big. Heavy too, at around 1,400g or approaching double the weight of the D500. I had actually hoped the new DX flagship would have an integrated grip mirroring the D5, but that was just wishful thinking. However, once you add a vertical grip, the D500 approaches the size and weight of the D5. The MB-D17 “Multi Battery Power Pack” (Nikon speak) is a great addition to the D500.
For my photography, I consider vertical grips essential and shooting the D500 vertically without one is something I find to be quite awkward to the point where I shoot less verticals, which is not a good thing. Equipment should not dictate the kind of pictures taken. So the MB-D17 goes on and stays there. As a bonus, you can load an extra battery to help with “range anxiety”. Having to remove the vertical grip to get at the in-body battery is a small annoyance that comes with using the accessory grip. I always set the camera to use the MB-D17 battery first which often means at the end of the day there is no need to remove the primary battery for charging.
Recommended Camera and Menu Settings
The Nikon D500 has a huge menu with hundreds, if not thousands, of possible settings. Where do you even start?
Our basic recommendation is to disable autofocus from the shutter button and exclusively using the D500’s AF-On button to focus instead. This change can seem awkward at first, but you’ll grow to love focusing with the rear button, especially for photographing any subjects that move. You can read more here about back-button focus and why pros love it so much.
To turn your camera into a back-button focusing workhorse, make sure the following settings are set as shown below:
- Custom Setting Menu > Autofocus > AF Activation: OFF (AF-On Only)
- Custom Setting Menu > Controls > Custom Control Assignment > AF-ON button: AF-ON
Also, it’s best to shoot in aperture priority mode with Auto ISO for wildlife photography. An alternative is to shoot in manual mode with Auto ISO, but that can lead to overexposed photos if you shoot in bright environments, because the Auto ISO won’t be able to go below 100.
If you want to see more of our recommended settings, we’ve gone item-by-item through the D500’s menu and given our complete suggestions in our Recommended Nikon D500 Settings article. This includes our reasoning behind each recommendation when applicable.
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