I had a chance to give my new D500 a pretty good workout over the weekend while leading the NANPA Regional Event on the coast of Georgia. We were in the field for 5 days in situations providing lots of landscapes and wildlife opportunities under a wide range of shooting and lighting conditions. We photographed lots of sunrises and sunsets as well as wildlife including shorebirds in flight.
The overall feel of the camera is very good. It's a little lighter than the D810 with a deeper contour and grip on the right side. The angle of the battery is different - rotated 90 degrees from the D810. The bottom of the camera is much deeper than my D800E so the D800 camera plate could not be used temporarily. The outside of the camera is generally familiar, but the ISO, Mode, and DOF preview buttons have been moved. The movement of the ISO button is probably okay long term, but right now I have three cameras - a D800E, D600, and D500 - and they all have different locations for the ISO and Mode buttons.
From a handling and shooting standpoint, the camera works very well and was easy to use. The frame rate is VERY fast. It's easy to fire off 2-5 frame bursts. I found I needed to choose CL or S to get it to slow down to a single frame. I fired a lot of short bursts of birds and never had any fear of filling the buffer when using the Lexar 2933x XQD card.
Having not used DX format for a while, I found it hard to photograph birds with my 600mm lens. Just finding the bird in the viewfinder was a challenge. I'd have preferred a little less reach, but ended up with some great frame filling images.
I started by using the Lexar 2000x SD card to records a small basic JPEG and the RAW image went to the XQD card. In a separate post I talked in more detail about the error message that came from using the SD card for playback immediately after a photo was made. This is an intermittent error but I had to rely on the XQD for smooth shooting. I think this is a Lexar issue rather than a Nikon issue since the Sandisk 280 MB/s UHS-II card seems to work fine. Thom Hogan believes it is power related and suggests it is related to the burst of power required for LCD screen activation concurrent with writing or reading.
The AF system was very accurate. I was using a 600 f/4 VR (prior version) for birds - a 900mm equivalent. It was actually too long to easily track the birds, but the camera did quite well. The number of selectable AF sensors is just a little more than earlier cameras, but there are a lot of additional AF points that the camera uses. I was generally using AF-C and Single or 25 point Dynamic AF. I found Group AF to be useful and will probably do some more testing with it. My hit rate seemed to go up with Group.
I used both fixed ISO and Auto ISO. Both operated as expected with minimal noise at working levels. For fun, I did try some high ISO images and the noise at ISO 3200 was certainly acceptable. Beyond that point noise is more of a factor but I would readily use ISO 6400. ISO 25,000 is usable in a pinch but a bit silly as it is VERY grainy. I tested it on a boat 30 minutes after sunset and still had 1/30 of a second handheld - enough to minimize blur using VR. I could not get anything under similar conditions with my D800E - just a dark frame or a really long blurry exposure.
In the menus I tested multiple exposures. There are some new capabilities and terminology in the Multiple Exposure menu which should provide new creative options.
I've got a camera plate on order from RRS. I'll get the L-Bracket like usual. It's $150 but there are not really alternatives.
I've heard of some battery issues with third party batteries, and some battery scale issues with Nikon batteries. The power consumption of the D500 is different, so there may be some issues with translating battery life across cameras that consume different amounts of power. In any event, I'd use new Nikon batteries rather than third party batteries for now.
For general use, the high frame rate does not make much difference. But bird photography is one of those places where both frame rate and AF make a big difference. Having used the D800E for the past few years, I'd forgotten what a difference frame rate makes. I was able to make a number of images with just the right timing due to the high frame rate. I rarely used the full 10 frames per second - maybe once or twice. But short bursts of 5-6 frames in succession around peak activity worked very well.
One of my subjects was royal terns in courtship ritual. The male tern comes in with a fish for the female, has a brief ritual, then the female gets the fish. Then there is a bit more ritual followed by mating. The instant of landing or presenting the fish could be captured with the high frame rate. I had lots of images of terns with a fish in flight - to the point where I was rejecting images because the fish was pointing the wrong direction.
All in all the D500 is a terrific camera and highly recommended. It's a great counterpart to the D810/D800E or even D750.
Edited by ericbowles, 04 May 2016 - 06:04 AM.