D500 REVIEW “THE COMBO”

NOTE: All images in this blog were made with the D500 and 300mm f4 PF AF ED lens. The effective focal length is 450mm unless I’ve attached the TC-14E extender making the effective focal length 630mm as noted below each image. Click on any image for full-size view. Use back button to return to blog.

 

1/1250s @ f8 ISO800 630mm effective focal length

By now you’ve read all the reviews, checked all the features, maybe even looked at some comparison images for noise, so I won’t waste your time with all that. In fact, you may already own a D500. I’ll just report on my experience shooting the new D500 in the field and more importantly, using it with the Nikkor 300mm f4 PF ED VR lens, which I believe is the best camera lens combination for wildlife ever!

If you don’t know the specs you can read them all here on the Nikonusa site and you can download the D500 Manual here.

Here are a few of my favorite features that make the D500 my new body of choice for wildlife photography:
20.9mp DX sensor with a crop factor of 1.5x.
10 FPS (frames per second)
200 Raw Image Buffer
Super Fast and Accurate Auto Focus
New placement for ISO button
Automatic AF-Fine Tune
High signal-to-noise ratio
Touch Screen Focusing with the Articulating LCD
It’s also light, comfortable in the hand, and the weather sealing is equal to the D810. A real Pro body.

20.9mp DX Sensor

1/80s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 630mm Handheld, not cropped. This image gives testimony to the VR (vibration reduction) of the 300mm f4 PF lens.

So the pixel count is a little less than the D7200 but so what, it’s not all about megapixels. The D810 FX at 36 mp in DX mode is only 15.3 mp. Extrapolate the 20.9 DX sensor to a FX sensor and it would be about 46.3 mp. None of that means a hill of beans. It’s all about image quality and this sensor has that.

10 FPS

1/1250s @ f10, ISO 6400, 630mm. Insects in Flight. Could this be a new trend? IIF?

10 fps is more than I’ve shot with in the past. The D810 in 1:2 crop mode gives me 6 fps, same as my D300 but with a much larger file. Even my F5 was only 8fps.

1/1600s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 630mm. Ever try to get a Killdeer in flight? Very difficult unless you have fast AF and 10fps.

With Ying there is Yang. At 10fps I quickly press the shutter and get 3 shots! If I’m really quick I can get it down to 2. Now I have to delete 2 out of every three images I make in Lightroom. One work-around is to use CL (continuous low) and set it at 8fps. I can get one shot off with that. I can switch back to CH (continuous high) when I know I’m going to have really fast action, like birds in flight or running bears.

200 Raw Image Buffer

1/1250s @ f4, ISO 400, 450mm. When a bear goes for a swim you don’t want your buffer filling up.

A big problem I’ve had in the past and I’m guessing many of you sports and wildlife shooters using a D8XX or D7X00 bodies do, too. The action gets heavy and right in the middle of a burst the buffer fills and it slows down to a crawl. You release the shutter to let the processor catch up and miss some great images.

1/8000s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 630mm. Same with BIF birds in flight. If the buffer fills after a few shots you miss out.

Hold your finger on the D500 shutter release and you will shoot 200 frames in raw without hesitation in 20 seconds at 10fps, release the shutter for a split second and press again, another 200 frames! This camera just doesn’t stop! (I did not test this)

New Placement for ISO Button

1/4s @ f25, ISO 50, 450mm. The placement of the ISO button makes it easy to get creative. Need to slow down the shutter pick a low ISO. Shot on tripod.

I love where they put the ISO button, it makes it easy to change ISO without missing a beat and I change my ISO a lot. I do not use Auto ISO. I want to be in control of every aspect of my shooting so Auto ISO is out for me. Okay, occasionally I use it, but not very often, and when I do I sometimes regret it. Not because it doesn’t do the job, but because I forget to turn it off.

1/400s @ f5.6, ISO 1600, 630mm. Need a higher shutter speed? The new placement of the ISO makes it very convenient.

Ying and yang, again. As I stated, I love the position of the ISO button…except when switching bodies. I have to remember which body I’m using or I end up changing my shooting mode instead of my ISO. Been there, done that, have pictures to prove it.

Articulating Touch Screen LCD

1/1600s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 630mm. So much easier to get down low.

Nikon first introduced articulating screens in 2009 on the D5000 but I never thought I’d want it in a pro body. I did have one problem though. FX bodies have a round eyepiece and DX bodies have a slide on rectangular eyepiece that keeps falling off. I had to buy 2 different right-angle finders, the DR-6 and DR-4, one for my FX and one for my DX bodies. I use them for making low angle shots or macro work.

1/500s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 630mm. This was another quick shot. I had to get this before the birdie took off. No problem. Dropped to my knees and shot. Could I have done that with my 200-400 and tripod. No way.

The D500 has a round eyepiece like the FX bodies complete with a shutter to block out unwanted light. And it also has an articulating screen so I don’t even need a right-angle eyepiece. I can just place the D500 very low and tilt the screen up in live-view. No right-angle eyepiece necessary.

Okay, enough tech talk, let’s go make pictures:

1/3200s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 630mm effective. This is bear 399, famous in the Tetons. She was chasing another bear and headed toward me. She knew I was no threat, I just happened to be in the direction she was going. The 10fps and quick AF of the “Combo” helped me get this shot.

1/2000s @ 5.6, ISO 800 630mm. Moments after the last shot I jumped in the side door of my van. 399 ran up to the van and stood up. All I could do was point and shoot. This image is NOT cropped. Not possible if I was attempting to put my 200-400 with tripod in the van.

On past Teton FunShops™ I would have my D810 set at 1:2 crop mode attached to my Nikkor 200-400mm f4 sitting on a Gitzo tripod and ball head with Sidekick. Total weight; 16.5 pounds!

This time I brought along the D500 and 300mm f4 PF lens to the Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks for a FunShop™ and extended 2 week intense shoot, mostly wildlife.

Here are some stats:
12,007 images
11,415 taken with the D500
11,333 using the 300mm f4 pf lens
8,110 of those with the TC-14E extender, making for an effective 630mm focal length.

Almost all of the images made with the D500/300mm combo were handheld.
What? Handheld? Those of you who know me know that I am a big fan of tripods. Not only do I get sharper photos it allows me to change settings without changing composition to get the best image possible. Also, when shooting with a long heavy telephoto lens, tripods are a must.

But I was on a mission. I wanted to see if  “The Combo” could produce great images without a tripod for my upcoming trip to Africa where I will be shooting out of a safari vehicle.

1/8000s @ f5.6, ISO 3200, 630mm. This image was shot from the window of my van. It also shows the results of 3200 ISO. I think I like it.

1/500s @ f9, ISO 800, 450mm. Another Vehicle Vision. This time I’m sitting in the drivers seat, looked over and saw these mosquitos mating on the outside of the passenger window. Grabbed “The Combo” and fired away.

Now I’m not a fan of ‘grab’ shots. I’d rather plan out my shoot, put myself in the right location, have my settings ready, and wait for the decisive moment to press the shutter. But “The Combo” is changing my life. The auto focus is so quick and accurate and “The Combo” is so light it makes it very easy to grab the camera that is slung over my shoulder, point at a woodpecker that just took flight and ‘grab’ a keeper.

D500/300mm f4 PF 1/5000s @ f7.1, ISO 800, 420mm effective

These ‘grab’ shots just kept presenting themselves during the shoot and I managed to get some incredible images that I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten if I was lugging around my usual 16.5 pound D810, 200-400mm, and tripod set-up.

1/8000s @ f4, ISO 400, 450mm. I heard the duck take off, swung around and shot. I got a series all in focus.

Here’s a weight comparison chart I made;

Chart

But what about image quality? That’s the important part, right? To my surprise the 300mm PF lens with the extender is a little sharper than the 200-400mm lens. Wow! I’m impressed! Half the price, over 5 pounds lighter, hand holdable, and sharp! Sign me up.

1/2500s @ f5.6, ISO 800, 450mm. I had to run quickly to catch this fox. I saw it heading for the bridge but I was in the wrong place. I got in position before the fox got to the bridge and got a full series of it crossing.

Here’s a crop of the image above. Great detail.

Conclusions:
The D500 is the camera we’ve all been waiting for in a DX format. So many new and improved features it makes it a body worth owning. Perhaps the most important for wildlife or sports is the 10fps and almost unlimited buffer. Couple that with the best autofocus system to date and if you ever miss a shot, it’s operator error.

1/100s @ f7.1, ISO 400, 450mm. Another ‘no time to react’ for me. We had been waiting for this bear to awake from a nap for 2.5 hours. Kathy shouted it was up and scratching its back. Grabbed “The Combo” and started shooting.

Couple the D500 to the 300mm f4 PF AF ED lens and you have the winning combination for wildlife photography. Birds in flight, no problem, bears running toward you, problem, but not for  “The Combo”.

I have been shooting “The Combo” since my return from the spring FunShops™ and am still loving it. I’ve compared “The Combo” to the 200-400mm and 80-400mm and although I lose the convenience of zooming I gain so much more. Image quality is better, it’s lighter and I can carry “The Combo” around my neck all day, plus it is quick and easy to shoot when there is unexpected action.

1/800s @ f9, ISO 800, 630mm. Had to lay low for this shot. I crouched behind a log on the Madison River in Yellowstone for about 2 hours. It paid off.

I’ve been a wildlife photographer for 40 years and I have to say;

This is Fun Again!!!

My only dilemma now is what to do with my trusted 200-400mm?

 

10 Comments

  1. Richard EastmanRichard Eastman07-18-2016

    Great review and very special shots! I have the same combo and use a 2x tele-extender with the 300mm f4 PF to get even closer (600mm +1.5x=900mm handheld). As to the 200-400, I use mine on a tripod with a 2x TC keeping the focal length around 700-750. In my hands my lens excels at this focal length but drops off severely if you try to get 800mm

  2. Nicholas NizichNicholas Nizich07-18-2016

    Jim,

    Are you printing the same size final prints as you would with the FX format? Do you notice any difference?

  3. Greg PhillipsGreg Phillips07-18-2016

    Jim,

    Thanks for the review – Brought a D500 for my trip to the Austrian GP got some great shots – love the 10fps certainly catches the action and the AF is a big step up from my D7000.

  4. JamesJames07-19-2016

    Great Review, always better to see real life than lab tests. The 300 f4 is a great little lens and with the TC 1.4 a good combination, don’t think there is much else on the market that competes with it. Same with the D500 and it will be a great camera for all who use it. But we also need to recognize the “limitations”. Although the D500/D7200 is a big step forward for low ISO, it still hits the limit at least 1.5 stops below a camera like the D4/D4s and even 1 stop below the D810. with the f4 vs i.e the 300 f2.8 becomes important factors when low light photography is an important aspect of your business. I do agree the weight and cost are major factors and for most people this combination will cover 90% of their needs. For some including myself a D4 with the 300 f2.8 +TC 1.4 gives me a 420 mm f4 but with more capacity for low light photography were distance is in fact not a crucial issue. And when it really drops f2.8 on a D4 gives at least 2.5 to 3.0 stops. All said. the D500 is next on my list. For BIF and some “good light” photography it is a magical camera. I do a lot of B&W work so the camera can cover for this as well when some extra grain is not negative on a B&W image in low light. We are indeed spoiled with good photography equipment.

    • Jim StamatesJim Stamates07-19-2016

      Thanks for your comment, James. I agree. I cut my wildlife teeth on a manual focus 300m 2.8. Lovvveee that llens, and the 600mm f4 is the big gun for any pro user. When we were shooting film it was critical to get that extra stop as we were stuck with 100 to 200 ISO (remember push processing) So paying the extra money for a 300 2.8 was a must. Now we can just dial up our ISO to match the light.

      There’s one thing I disagree with most other reviews; I did some tests, now these are NOT lab tests, just my findings, and I think the D500 is one stop better on noise than my D810. Or at least equal, and we are talking a DX sensor!

      One other thing I did not clarify in the post; A 300mm with an extender on a DX body is NOT a 600mm lens. It’s still a 300mm f4 lens and will produce images as such. For one thing, the depth-of-field vs a 300 2.8 different.

  5. Al KrauseAl Krause07-20-2016

    Good article, Jim, and great photographs. You have convinced me that I am now going to sell my Nikon D750 and get the D500 as my backup camera for my 810. It sounds like it’s a camera unto itself, not just a backup. I almost never used the D750 as it was redundant to the 810.

  6. Teri LapetinoTeri Lapetino08-17-2016

    Jim,
    I read that some folks were having problems with that lens 300 f4 not performing at higher speeds. Have you noticed any problems?
    I might rent it for Grand Tetons/Yosemite.
    Also, does it need a collar? Did you even use it on a tripod?
    Thanks.

    • Richard EastmanRichard Eastman08-18-2016

      I use the D500 with 300mm F4 PF + 2x teleconverter for birds-inflight/action mostly. I have not had any problem with combo at any speed the camera is capable of. I use aperture mode at f8 mostly, adjusting Iso only as needed (not auto ISO), when I can’t center the histogram by pushing the EV. I think I have a collar somewhere…but shoot handheld.

      Richard Eastman

    • JimJim08-18-2016

      Hi Teri, I’ve used it up to 1/8000 sec. wiht no problems. I’ve used it on a tripod down to 1/30sec with excellent resuts . The lens is so light you can put the camera on the tripod and it works well. Collar comes in handy for verticle shots for me as I do not use an ‘L’ bracket on camera but it is probably not necessary, You can borrow my collar during the upcoming FunShops™. We’re off to Africa, see you on the flip side.

  7. LindaLinda11-04-2016

    I’m considering the D500 300F4PF combo but I’m not sure what teleconverter to get. There’s a TC14EII and TC14EIII which one? Would the TC17 work?

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