When you initially consider the Nikon D500 DSLR camera, you may be wondering exactly which model is the predecessor to the D500. Trust us: You might be racking your brain for a while to come up with the answer.
Nikon's D500 technically is an upgrade to the D300S from 2009, so it's been a while since Nikon created a camera to fit in this area of the intermediate/professional DSLR market. Seven years is an eternity in the digital camera marketplace in terms of providing upgraded models, and it's tough to even think of the D500 as an upgrade to the D300S, because the two cameras are so different ... and that's a good thing.
Even though the D500 isn't considered a professional-level DSLR -- as it doesn't have a full frame image sensor -- it contains a lot of features found on much more expensive Nikon DSLR cameras. The D500 is an outstanding camera with a host of great features.
One of the most impressive features of the D500 is one that you can't really see -- the EXPEED 5 image processor. When you're shooting in Viewfinder mode, this camera's shooting speed is simply amazing, offering performance levels you'd expect to find in more expensive cameras. You can achieve burst mode speeds of up to 10 frames per second in the JPEG image format. And the D500's performance doesn't slow much in the RAW image format, which is not always the case with DSLR models. You also can shoot in the TIFF image format.
The EXPEED 5's strong performance levels don't stop with burst mode. You can record your first photo (again in Viewfinder mode) around a quarter of a second after flipping the power switch. Shot to shot delays are a tiny fraction of a second, even when you aren't shooting in burst mode.
The autofocus system in the Nikon D500 works quickly, contributing to the camera's high performance levels. The camera has 153 autofocus points, 99 of which are cross-type autofocus points, which is a great number.
You'll notice that the camera's performance levels suffer a bit if you choose to use Live View mode much of the time (where you'll frame the scene using the LCD screen). But the 3.2-inch LCD screen is of such a high display quality, while also offering tilt and touch capabilities, that it'll be tempting to use Live View, despite the loss in performance. This is one of the most versatile and high quality LCD screens you'll find on a DSLR camera. However, it is unfortunate Nikon still hasn't chosen to reconfigure and upgrade its on-screen menus to give them more of a graphical interface to take advantage of the touch screen.
Movie recording is strong with the D500 too, as you can record in 4K resolution at 30 frames per second for up to 30 minutes continuously. Even pro level Nikon DSLRs don't always offer that type of video recording capability right now. You do have to work in Live View mode to shoot movies, which will cost you quite a bit of battery life.
With so many great features on the D500, it almost seems odd that the camera has an APS-C sized image sensor. It does a great job with image quality, even though its 20.9-megapixels of resolution rank behind some other APS-C cameras from Nikon.
The D500's images are of a strong quality, offering realistic colors and impressive sharpness. You'll receive very good image quality in a wide variety of shooting conditions, which is appealing for this type of DSLR camera, as it provides plenty of versatility.
Low light image quality is very strong with the Nikon D500, as it can make use of native ISO settings from 100 to 51,200. You'll start to notice noise in JPEG images above ISO 6400, but noise isn't a significant hindrance to image quality until close to the native ISO maximum. RAW images begin to show equivalent noise to JPEG images at ISO settings lower by a couple of stops. Regardless, this is one of the best levels of ISO performance that you'll find on an APS-C image sensor DSLR camera.
And there are expanded ISO settings available up to an almost obscene 1,640,000. This just isn't something you typically find on an APS-C image sensor DSLR camera. Now to be fair, the expanded ISO settings don't give you much in terms of usable photos, as shown on our Sample Photos page. But these options are available if you just need some sort of image in dark conditions, and quality isn't a concern.
You will not find a built-in flash unit with the D500, so you'll have to purchase an external flash unit. When you start adding in extra costs for a flash and lenses to this DSLR's almost $2,000 initial price tag for the camera body only, it's not going to fit in the budget of a large chunk of photographers. The D500 has a higher price tag than what you typically will find with APS-C image sensor cameras, but it's below what's typical for full frame image sensor cameras.
As you'd expect for a DSLR in this price range, the build quality of the D500 is outstanding. It's a heavy camera, weighing almost 1.75 pounds for the camera body alone, which contributes to its sturdy feel.
Nikon gave this camera a host of buttons and dials, allowing you to use the D500 in the way that best fits your needs. You also can customize many of the buttons and dials to personalize the operation of the camera. Working through the camera's menus, you can create four different banks of customized settings, allowing you to easily adjust a host of settings for certain types of photographic scenes by just picking the appropriate bank of saved settings. There's also a My Menu option, where you can store commonly used commands for quick access.
The D500 offers dual memory card slots, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Battery life for the Nikon D500 is all over the map. Nikon doesn't provide a battery life estimate in its specifications, and there's probably a good reason for that. My tests showed anywhere from about 200 to about 750 shots per charge, depending heavily on how often you use the LCD screen. Other D500 reviewers have reported battery life of more than 1,000 shots per charge, which I'd believe is accurate if you use Viewfinder mode exclusively. So your battery life with the D500 will depend heavily on your usage patterns.
Bottom Line - At about $2,000 for the camera body only, the Nikon D500 DSLR camera isn't a selection you're going to make lightly. Still, this is an impressive camera in a lot of ways, which can justify the price tag for this model. The D500 has plenty of dials and buttons, giving you full manual control over the camera, while also offering numerous customization options. With the EXPEED 5 image processor, the D500's performance levels and speeds are well above average when shooting in Viewfinder mode. The LCD is impressive too, offering tilt and touch capabilities, all on a very sharp display screen. And the camera's image quality is very good in a variety of shooting conditions, making this a versatile model. Although the Nikon D500 technically is an upgrade to the D300S from several years ago, its feature set carries a lot more options that will remind you of full frame Nikons, more so than the older D300/D300S. So after using this camera for a bit, you might be surprised that it doesn't offer a full frame image sensor, thanks to all of the advanced features it contains. If you want a camera that operates similarly to a professional level DSLR, but you don't need it to quite match a full frame camera in terms of image quality -- or price tag -- the D500 is a very strong camera that's easy to recommend.