Hands On with the Nikon D500: Best crop sensor camera ever?

Sigma 120-300 f2.8 f2.8, 1/1000, ISO 7200
Sigma 120-300 f2.8
f2.8, 1/1000, ISO 7200

Yes, the Nikon D500 has been out for a few months now but I am not an early adopter so I am a little slower to get my hands on new technology.  My main camera is the D7100 and it is ready to become my backup body as I look to upgrade.  I have been hearing how great the D500 is but I have not had any hands on experience, yet.  So I rented the camera for a busy photoshoot weekend.

Quick side note: lens and camera renting can be the best way to get your business started.  Whether you have a big shoot that requires a backup body and a lens not already in your camera bag. Or you are looking to buy some new gear and you want to try it out first. Renting will save you money in the long run.

I had three different shoots over three days.  Frist up was High School Soccer under the lights.  The next day was a portrait shoot with the same High School Soccer team for their calendar fundraiser.  The third shoot was Pee Wee football all day. This wide variety of shoots allowed me to really check out the D500.

Along with the D500 I also rented the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 Sport lens and a Nikon 24-70 f2.8.  They both worked wonderfully with this body.  However, the Sigma 120-300 is the perfect complement to this body for Action Sports as you will soon see.

With 10 FPS you can capture the classic animal running image.
With 10 FPS you can capture the classic animal running image.

Frames Per Second

As a Sports Photographer Enthusiast Frames Per Second (FPS) is the number one specification that I always look for when researching cameras.  When I purchased the D7100 it was one of the fastest FPS crop sensor camera Nikon offered at the time.  When the D500 was announced as a crop sensor with 10 FPS I got a little excited.  As time went on and rumors started to leak out that 10 FPS was in RAW and not JPG, I got even more excited.  10 FPS was something only the high end and very expensive D4 (and now D5) family offered.

So why is FPS so important for Sports Photographers?  Doesn’t that encourage “Spray and Pray” style shooting?  Yes, and no to the last question and the answer to the first is twofold.  In very fast action it sometimes takes 1-2 frames for the focus to catch up so when you first press the button you know the first frame or two will be throw-away images (got to love digital) and the rest of the images will be in focus.

Then there is speed of the action, a lot can happen in one second.  For example, take High School Soccer (my favorite sport in case you haven’t noticed in all my posts) the average speed of a soccer ball when it has been kicked is 40 to 60 MPH.  Assuming the slower side of 40 MPH that would be 60 Feet Per Second.  Slice up that second and with a 4-5 FPS camera that would equal 15 Feet per Frame.  At 10 FPS that would equal 6 Feet Per Frame.  As you can see that resolution makes a huge difference in what kind of image you will capture.  You ever see the pictures with the ball flat when it hits the player? That is either super lucky or a high FPS camera.

“Spray and Pray” is a term you hear a lot of seasoned sports photographers use to describe a not so elegant method of shooting sports.  Basically it is when the photographer presses and holds the shutter button down rattling off as many frames as possible hoping that somewhere in that series of pictures is a keeper.  Where a seasoned photographer will anticipate the action and know that within the next second is the key moment to capture a keeper.  With 10 FPS we now get to go from just getting a simple keeper to getting an epic shot.  The finer resolution of 10 FPS vs 4-6 FPS just offers a huge benefit to the photographer.

The last piece (a very important one) about the FPS on the D500 – the buffer.  The buffer issues that have plagued Nikon Crop Sensors are virtually gone with the D500’s processing speed.  Some of the buffering is based on the write speeds of the memory card and some has to so with the processing capabilities of the camera.  I use Lexar Professional Grade SD Cards to minimize any buffering issues.  On my D7100 I get about 6-8 Frames then the camera will freeze for a couple of seconds while it writes to the SD card.  On the D500 I was able to hold the shutter button down for 5 seconds before I noticed any slowdown and that was shooting RAW.  Yup, RAW the largest file size you can possibly write to the buffer. The ability to shoot sports in RAW is huge especially when we start to push ISO.

1/1000, f2.8, ISO 11400
1/1000, f2.8, ISO 11400

ISO Capabilities

The second most important specification for many sports photographers is how well the camera handles higher ISO when in low light conditions.  As one of my previous articles discussed, shooting sports in a typical High School stadium is very tough and lighting is almost the worst conditions possible.  Ok maybe shooting basketball, wrestling or volleyball or any indoor sport in a High School gym is worse.

1/1000, f2.8, ISO 12800
1/1000, f2.8, ISO 12800

My first shoot with this camera was a High School Soccer game at night.  I had the Sigma 120-300 f2.8 that night and the images I captured at the ISO levels were surprising.  I was pushing 12,000 ISO and the images still looked great.

The low light capabilities allow a photographer to really push the ISO to its extreme and all in a crop sensor camera.  I recently wrote an article (https://improvephotography.com/38680/friday-night-lights-photograph-sports-high-school-stadiums/) about shooting sports in a high stadium.  In it I concluded that sometimes the lighting is so poor that you have to just pack up and head tp the stands to enjoy the game as a spectator. Not with the D500, you can shoot in some of the worst lighting scenarios and still get good images.

The Rest of the Features

The D500 has many other features as well that some may find useful.  It has built in WiFi and Bluetooth to connect to your phone or tablet.  This will allow a photographer to quickly share Straight Out Of Camera photos on Social Media in a easier way.  In the past you had to pull the image off the camera and then bring it over to Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive then import it onto your mobile device to post when on the road.  Now you can link directly to the mobile device using the Nikon and some other third party Apps to do this in fewer steps.

The D500 also can record video like many of the newer DSLR's but now that capability has been upgraded to 4K video.  Me I am a DSLR is for taking photographs and not to record video but I can also see where it could be useful to record a few minutes of video every once in a while.  There are many additional features that have been upgraded from previous crop sensors from Nikon that just really help round out the D500 as whole.

Probably the final piece I haven't discussed is the price, this camera retails at $1995.99 (US).  Yup, less than $2000 and you can get a crop sensor camera that performs at about 90% of the capabilities of the full frame D4 & D5 bodies that retail for $6995.99.  For us more regular photographers or those who are looking to upgrade the cost of the D500 is a bit of a stretch but something we can justify the little bit extra it costs over the D7xxx family.  Another way to look at it is is for less than the cost of the D4/D5 body you can have a D500 and the Sigma 120-300 f2.8.

When it is time to upgrade or you are  just wanting to jump right in the Nikon D500 should be a strong consideration for any Sports Photographer.  This camera body will be around and will become the main camera body for many Nikon Sports shooters as more get a chance to try it out.  I know it will be in my camera bag very soon.

5 thoughts on “Hands On with the Nikon D500: Best crop sensor camera ever?”

  1. I really want this camera but have to save.. I think it would work great with Birds in flight shots and surfing too. Our aussie dollar against the US is so bad I may have to wait a while..

  2. So how did the portrait shoot go. Everybody’s always raving about the sports capabilities of the D500, but I’m wondering if it performs equally well for other (occasional) types of photography like portraits, night photography, maybe even the occasional landscape ….
    Thanks, Stephan

    1. The portrait shoot went great and I was very happy with how the D500 performed. I use my D7100 all the time for portrait work and the D500 performed great as I expected. My shoot was all with Off Camera Flash so I really didn’t stress any of its capabilities. Everything turned out tack sharp and the color was good and the client was happy. I will be posting some of the final results in the next week or so on my social media pages.

  3. From everything I’ve seen this camera has it all. The sensor has great dynamic range . Gives out better raw files than the higher mp d7200 also. Way more than enough for portraits. As for landscape make prints up to the size appropriate for apsc and its mp. The colors look deep rich and beautiful but can blow highlights easily. Probably due to its ability to handle low light so easily. Use bracketing I guess. At low ISOs it beats the d5s performance.

  4. I,too, own the D7100. Although the recently announced D7500 is tempting, the lack of a grip and of two card slots has me saving up for a D500.

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