Go make a picture.
Go make a picture.

Tested: Nikon D500

Thanks to a whippy-fast focus system, this new camera will help you nail your buddies launching cliffs or slamming down singletrack

Michael Frank

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Many of us were drooling when Nikon dropped its new D5 camera at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The camera has an astoundingly high ISO rating—up to 3,280,000—but it also costs $6,500. If you want many of the same features for $4,500 less, check out the new D500 instead.

This camera isn’t a powerhouse like the D5, but it works great for amateurs who like to get outside and shoot pretty action photos. Most important, the camera gets the same 153-point focus tracking system as the D5, as well as that camera’s 180,000-point metering system. Both features make locking onto and correctly exposing action shots a breeze. 

A joystick on the back lets you choose from 55 different points in the viewfinder where you want to focus. Say you’re shooting a mountain biker riding a trail at the bottom of a cliff in Sedona. You’d move the focus point to the bottom of the viewfinder so the camera locks onto her as she rides by.

The camera also shoots ten frames per second, which is plenty fast to capture most high-speed action, and close to the D5’s 12 fps. We also loved that the D500 will shoot 200 continuous uncompressed RAW files before it slows down and has to buffer—way more than you’ll ever need for shooting an action sequence of your favorite sport. For video, the camera captures 4K at 30 fps.

The weather-sealed body is made from a magnesium alloy chassis and carbon composite body. Weather sealing means you won’t ruin the camera if you’re shooting with it in a blizzard or even brief rain showers. That build will also help the camera hold up to years of abuse.

Unfortunately, the D500 doesn’t have the D5’s giant 36-by-24mm FX-format sensor (it uses a smaller 24-by-16mm DX-format sensor instead), so the low-light capabilities aren’t as good as those of its big brother. The ISO goes to 51,200 and is expandable up to a 1,640,000 equivalent, but we weren’t especially pleased with the high-ISO nighttime shots we took. The smaller sensor does give you a 1.5x magnification, making all your regular lenses longer than they would be on a full-frame camera. Nikon also makes a full line of lighter-weight DX lenses designed to work with the crop.

At 26.7 ounces, the camera is on the heavy side, but we’d gladly haul it on a weekend backpack trip or into the backcountry for spring skiing. Nikon’s new SnapBridge app, which uses either Bluetooth or WiFi to transfer lower-resolution versions of your shots to your phone for social media sharing, is buggy and works only with Android devices, but we suspect that’ll be fixed soon.

Bottom line: If you’re looking to pitch an action photo to the “Exposure” section of our magazine and don’t want to break the bank, this is the best option out there. If you want a full-frame, pro-level camera, look elsewhere. Like at that lovely D5.

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