LAS VEGAS — Nikon’s “prosumer” DX-format (APS-C) fans have had a long drought.
The very popular Nikon D300 grew old, then ancient. The small updates provided by
the D300s didn’t improve image quality, and even that model is now quite a few years old.
Hopes of a D400, fueled by constant rumors, have abounded ever since.
All that changed this week, where at CES 2016 Nikon unveiled the frankly amazing
Nikon D500 – as part of a launch that includes a big brother Nikon D5,
and a smaller sibling Nikon D5500. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to work
with the camera at the show, and so far it looks like it will be a solid hit.
Finally, a no-compromise DX-format camera
Over the years Nikon has struggled a bit with what features to add to its midrange cameras,
and which to save for its flagship models. With the D500 that seems to have changed for
the better for buyers. Nikon has filled it with the same 153-point phase detect autofocus
module it is using in the D5, along with the EXPEED 5 chip used to drive it.
Even speed is back, with a top frame rate of 10fps – comfortably above what the D300
could accomplish even when boosted with a vertical grip.
I was able to shoot with the camera and can attest to its amazing speed — although
I also shot with the 14fps Nikon D5, which sets a very tough benchmark to match.
Unfortunately, all the cameras at the show were prototypes, so I wasn’t allowed to
keep any images. In addition to shutter upgrades, Nikon also decided to keep the
resolution at a manageable 20.9 MP, allowing it to boost the ISO range to a maximum
of 51,200 (1,640,000 in Extended Mode).
Ergonomic improvements abound
The Nikon D500 adds an articulated LCD for improved shooting at high and low angles,
plus backlit buttons and some nice user interface improvementsAlong with the upgraded
innards comes an upgraded exterior. The D500 has the newer-style deep grip that makes
it easier to hold, as well as a clever new location for the ISO button – right near
the shutter button. While it’s painful re-training my fingers each time Nikon moves
the button locations around, this is the best location yet for what has become one
of the most important buttons on the camera. Speaking of which, the really-hard-to-use-in-
the-dark buttons on the back of the camera now glow along with the top buttons when you
switch the camera light on. This is a really big deal for pros who are used to the
controls on flagship models, and fight with the hard-to-see back buttons on previous
Nikon prosumer models. Like other new Nikon cameras, there is now some built-in help
for custom functions, which is a nice touch for those who haven’t memorized the manual.
Price, availability, and should you buy one?
The Nikon D500 is priced similarly to Nikon’s previous top-end DX-format offerings.
At $2,000 expected retail for just the camera body, it may still be a jaw-dropping
price for many, but it has much of the same technology as the new $6,500 flagship
Nikon D5 – albeit with a smaller sensor and slower frame rate.
Nikon expects to ship the Nikon D500 in March, although it may be a while after
that before everyone who wants one can get their hands on one.
As to who should buy one – anyone who has been hanging on to their D200 or D300 in
the hopes of a new camera should definitely jump on the chance. The D500 is hands-down
an improvement in every way. If you’ve already moved to full-frame shooting, the case
is a lot less clear cut. While the camera is amazing, the wide field of view and great
low-light performance of its full-frame cousins is hard to give up.