Nikon D500 review: The D500 scores on almost all counts

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The Good The Nikon D500 is fast with excellent continuous-shooting and autofocus performance, its 4K video support is a welcome novelty for its dSLR price class and, of course, there's the great photo quality.

The Bad Terrible wireless file-transfer and remote-control app, and its Live View (contrast) autofocus could use a boost.

The Bottom Line There's tons to like about the Nikon D500, from its fast shooting and excellent image quality to its broad feature set and streamlined design. But it still falls short with its Live View autofocus and seriously subpar wireless file transfer and shooting operation.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 8

After 6 years neglecting the power APS-C action photographer, Nikon released the mostly impressive D500 dSLR, the little sister to the pro full-frame D5. With the same autofocus and metering systems as that model, a high-sensitivity 20.9-megapixel CMOS sensor, a large tilting touchscreen and 4K video, it hits most of the essential targets for a camera in its class. Only a couple of flaws knock it slightly off course.

The D500's body runs $2,000 (£1,730, AU$3,500); the camera also comes in a kit with the DX 16-80mm f2.8-4mm lens for $2,600 (£2,480, AU$4,500). Unlike a lot of kit lenses I've seen, this one's pretty good, and has a useful general-purpose focal-length range equivalent to 24-120mm. The lens is sharp, with a reasonable maximum-aperture range that should match the needs of people who'd be buying the body and want something for routine situations.

Joining the 1-million ISO club

It takes more than just raw speed to optimize a camera for continuous shooting. You need the ability to take decent photos at high sensitivities. That's the only way you can use action-stopping fast shutter speeds and sharpness-maximizing narrower apertures under a lot of conditions; most activities don't take place in bright, direct sunlight. The D500 delivers a maximum sensitivity of ISO 1,640,000 -- highest in its price range -- though the camera's native range stops at ISO 51200, leaving five stops in the expanded range.

JPEGs look clean through ISO 6400. At ISO 6400 you can still process the raws to obtain more detail, though the trade-off is a lot of "grain" and hot pixels in dark areas. Between ISO 12800 and ISO 102400 (Hi 1) in JPEGs you can see some smearing and processed color noise, but it still retains modest amount of detail. Beyond that, you can still get recognizable photos at small sizes. Processing the raw files doesn't help much; I suspect Nikon's performing some in-camera wizardry to produce what it does. Overall, though, the similarly priced Nikon D750, with its full-frame sensor, still produces better photos

The color rendering and white balance are excellent. Its default Standard Picture Control increases contrast and you lose some highlight and shadow detail, and midtones are compressed, but the occasional hue shift is minor.

The D500 is the first camera to bring 4K video to a consumer-priced dSLR, and the quality is quite good for an APS-C sensor; sharp, with a solid dynamic range and the same excellent color. You can see a lot of noise in shadows above ISO 6400, but overall it's peachy.

Analysis samples

JPEGs look sharp and clean in the low ISO sensitivity range.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Despite the stratospheric ISO sensitivity claims, JPEGs are only clean through about ISO 6400, though depending upon the scene and lighting you may get pretty good results through ISO 25600.

Lori Grunin/CNET

You don't want to venture into the expanded sensitivity ranges often, but they'll serve if you're desperate in low lighting. There's an odd white-balance shift in both raw and JPEG files at ISO 102400.

Lori Grunin/CNET

In dim light the highest ISO sensitivity images look much better than our test shots, but you still don't want to use them at 100 percent.

Lori Grunin/CNET

I'm impressed that Nikon can produce a recognizable image from this noisy mess at its Hi 5 sensitivity, equivalent to ISO 1638400. (JPEG on left, unprocessed raw on right.) In the expanded ranges, the JPEG processing delivers better results than you can probably get with raw processing, so if you enter that territory then change the in-camera settings to help keep from blowing up the highlights.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The D500 delivers excellent color reproduction and white balance under most conditions.

Lori Grunin/CNET

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