Nikon D500 review, a wildlife photographer’s perspective

"Nikon D500 review, a wildlife photographer's perspective" by Steve Perry (website | YouTube | Facebook, you can check also his previous [NR] posts here):

OK, I’ll admit it.

As a wildlife photographer, I had resigned myself to the idea that DX was dead. It was too bad, really. Although I do enjoy using a full frame camera, I longed for the D300 days where you could have a modern, high performance crop sensor body.

See, here’s the thing, - I was stuck. I wanted a DX body for the crop factor / pixel density – and the D7200 fit the bill nicely - but I also wanted the sheer performance of my D4. I thought it was just too much to ask…

And then Nikon announced the D500, confirming that the photography gods do indeed hear the prayers of wayward photographers.  (In fact, at first I thought the announcement might be nothing more than a cruel prank perpetrated on the Nikon community, but thankfully that wasn’t the case.)

As it turns out, I was lucky enough to snare a D500 on the very first day it was available. Not because of a strategic pre-order or even my NPS membership. Nope, this was a lucky call to a local camera store that just happened to have an extra one.

24 hours later, I was in the Jeep and on my way to Florida to capture some flight shots of those birds that are so plentiful down there.

I was there for a total of 5 days and in that time found myself at Viera Wetlands, Merritt Island, and even shooting a rookery from the deck a boat with a few friends.  I ended up with over 5000 images in just 5 days so it was definitely a good trip and really allowed me to flex the muscles of this new body.

From there, it was off to the Smokies where I would search for black bear. Why black bear specifically? Well, because they’re cool of course – and they are the stuff of nightmares if you happen to be an AF system.

Every Nikon AF system I’ve ever used has struggled with that black fur in low light. How did the D500 do? Well, I don’t want to spoil the video for you, so you’ll just have to watch and see 🙂

In any event, after shooting over 6000 images between the two locations, I’ve come away with one inescapable conclusion. The D500 has got to be the best bang-for-the-buck wildlife camera ever produced – by any manufacturer.

So, check out the video and you’ll discover all the features I think action-oriented wildlife shooters will love – and some features they may not.

The video covers the new control layout, ergonomics, ISO, autofocus (and how the new options work), performance, and more.  It’s jammed packed with info that should make it easy to decide if the camera is right for you or not.

In addition to reviewing the camera, I also share what I’ve discovered in the settings department. I go over AF setup, which AF modes are working best for me, my ISO cap, buffer info, and on and on. So, it’s more than just a review, it’s a bit of an action shooters setup guide as well.

Also, I’ve created a supplement page at my website with even more info, including extensive setup guidelines for the new AF system and a few other custom function tricks I think you’ll enjoy. I have also put up a few more ISO comparison shots (there are only a couple in the video) for you to peruse. That page is located here: http://www.backcountrygallery.com/photography_tips/nikon-d500-review/.

Great egret in flight, Stick Marsh near Melborne, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry

Great egret in flight, Stick Marsh near Melborne, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry,  D500, 600VR, 1/4000th, F6.3, ISO 800

This is a great example of why FPS matters. I love the way he’s “yelling” in the photo, but the image just before and just after this one didn’t have the beak nearly as wide.

banking-tricolor-heron

Banking Tricolor Heron, D500, 600VR, 1/4000th, F5, ISO 400

The D500 is fantastic at picking out subjects, even against backgrounds that would tempt lesser AF systems away.

Black Bear Cub With A Flower, Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, TN. (c) Steve Perry

Black Bear Cub With A Flower, Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend, TN. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1/800th, F4.5, ISO 900

Black bears, even in good light can sometimes present a challenge to an AF system. The D500 with single point AF was spot on.

Black Bear cub, Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend TN. (c) Steve Perry

Black Bear cub, Smoky Mountains National Park near Townsend TN. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1/640th, F4, ISO 1600

This moment was almost over before it started, but the D500’s AF does an incredible job of latching onto focus the first time every time. It just works on a consistent, reliable basis each time you press the button.

Reddish Egret, Merritt Island NWR, near Titusville, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry

Reddish Egret, Merritt Island NWR, near Titusville, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1/3200th, F5, ISO 1000

Reddish egrets dart around to scare up fish, and in the process end up in some very unique poses. However, their movement is erratic and wild to say the least. Keeping up with these random moves has been a challenge in the past, but the D500’s speed (AF, FPS, and buffer), makes it easier. (Although you still have to be able to keep these crazy birds in your viewfinder!)

Egret over the water, Ritch Grissom Wetlands near Viera, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry

Egret over the water, Ritch Grissom Wetlands near Viera, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 300PF, 1/4000th, F6.3, ISO 800

One of my favorite setups is the D500 with the 300PF. It’s totally hand-holdable, incredibly fast, and of course delivers the quality of a prime. And it all fits in the palm of my hand!

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks Fighting In The Air in Ritch Grisson Wetlands near Viera FL. (c) Steve Perry

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks Fighting In The Air in Ritch Grisson Wetlands near Viera FL. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1.4TCIII, 1/2000th, F5.6, ISO 640

This is a prime example of where the D500 excels. In the past, shots like this were more likely to be a miss than a hit. The combination of the new AF system, high frame rate, and deep buffer significantly increase your chances of getting a keeper when things get wild and unexpected.

skimmer-coming-at-ya

Skimmer coming at ya, D500, 600VR, 1.4TCIII, 1/4000th, F5.6, ISO 640

I think one of the best ways to test the AF speed of a camera is to put it in a situation with a fast moving subject heading right for you. I was lucky enough to find some skimmers down in FL and then lucky enough to have this guy give me a chance.

Skimmer Catching A Fish, Ritch Grissom Wetlands near Viera FL. (c) Steve Perry

Skimmer Catching A Fish, Ritch Grissom Wetlands near Viera FL. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 300PF, 1/3200th, F5.6, ISO 800

There’s nothing like a high frame rate to help you capture that perfect moment. As you can guess, the shot just before and just after completely missed this part of the action.

Roseate Spoonbill with nesting material), Stick Marsh, near Melborne FL, US (c) Steve Perry

Roseate Spoonbill with nesting material), Stick Marsh, near Melborne FL, US (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1/3200th, F4, ISO 800

One thing I really like about this camera is the quality of the sensor. I absolutely love the way it renders colors – it reminds me a LOT of the D810 in that respect. The files are also very nice to work with in post processing, although they usually don’t need much adjustment.

Tri-color heron with a stick (nest building), Stick Marsh, near Melborne FL, US (c) Steve Perry

Tri-color heron with a stick (nest building), Stick Marsh, near Melborne FL, US (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1/4000th, F6.3, ISO 800

There have been some sharpness concerns with this camera; however, I have not been experiencing anything negative. With good technique, I’ve been able to consistently put sharp images like this one on the card.

Tricolor heron with nesting material, Stick Marsh near Melborne, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry

Tricolor heron with nesting material, Stick Marsh near Melborne, FL, US. (c) Steve Perry, D500, 600VR, 1/4000th, F6.3, ISO 800

Shots like this are almost too easy with the D500 – which is great. The camera does its job consistently each time, allowing you to focus on composition, panning, etc.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest postyou can contact me here.

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