Nikon D500 Field Test

The Nikon D500 is currently the flagship DX cropped sensor camera from Nikon. It’s APS-C sensor with 1.5x crop factor gives it more reach than a full frame camera. An important asset for shooting airplanes and wildlife. I was able to put my name in the long list of preorders at my local camera store and got my hands on one 2 weeks after it hits the stores! The battery grip came about a month later. Which I think is crucial accessory if you are shooting long lenses hand held. I will not go through all the specifications and features of the camera as you can get it from Nikon or many of the other photography sites such as dpreview and photographylife.

I shot with the Nikon D500 in the RSAF Open House 2016 and 2 full days of aerial display in the Luchtmachtdagen 2016 airshow in the Netherlands. Shooting mostly on the Sigma 150-600mm Sports on 3 days and 1 day with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens.


The camera feels very well made and the deeper hand grip first seen on the Nikon D750 lets the camera fit nicely on the hands. One difference is the swapping of the Mode button with the ISO button positions on the Nikon D500. If you are shooting  a mix of new and older generation cameras like the Nikon D4 or Nikon D800, you would have to keep in mind the positions of the buttons.

IMG_7751Swapped Mode and ISO buttons compared to older generation Nikon D800E

The first thing I experienced moving from a Nikon D4s to the Nikon D500 is the balance of the camera without battery grip is not good. It’s passable for anything up to 70-200mm lenses, but anything longer like the Nikon 300mm f/2.8 or the Sigma 150-600mm Sports, it becomes front heavy and makes handholding for a prolonged period much more tiring. After putting on the battery grip, the camera is well balanced even on the Nikon 500mm f/4E lens. The difference is really very big and I’m glad I shelled out the money for the MB-D17 grip.

IMG_7752Nikon D500 compared to D4s

IMG_7753Nikon D500 with MB-D17 grip compared to D4s

IMG_7756Nikon D500 with MB-D17 grip feels well balanced with the Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/4E


This is an amazing camera for the price you pay! Autofocus is fast, very fast and accurate. I have the camera on AF-C mode all the time with either Single point AF / D25 or 3D Tracking. It locks on to the focus like a Nikon D4s, very impressive. Despite what Nikon claim of the previous generation cameras such as Nikon D700/D750/D7200 or even the Nikon D300 that they have the same focus modules as the Nikon D3/D4, they are not and never focused as fast as their equivalent top of the line Nikons.

The shutter button is light to the touch. It just requires a very slight pressure on the button to trigger the shutter, just like the Nikon D4s. With continuous high at 10fps, it takes just a little pressure on the shutter button and the Nikon D500 is happily firing away. The camera just feels like it wants to keep going, banging in as many shots as it could. The 10 frame per seconds helped in getting those cross over shots in airshows.

For ISOs up to 6400, the files show little noise and they are very usable. As the ISO gets higher up to 12800, it is still usable up to a certain extent. As far as APS-C sensor technology goes, I think this is as good as it gets at the moment. Good up to ISO6400 then slightly worse than the D4s at the higher ISO values.


Some sample pictures taken using the Nikon D500 showing the intended us as a airshow setup with the Sigma 150-600mm Sports lens. Following that, I have the moon shot on the same setup and finally to show the ISO capabilities, there are 2 higher ISO shots of birds at the end.

D5O_5324Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm Sports – 1/1600 f/8 ISO280D5O_9834Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm Sports – 1/2000 f/8 ISO320D5O_7694Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm Sports – 1/500 f/9 ISO100D5O_1663Nikon D500 with Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR – 1/100 f/11 ISO125D5O_3651Uncropped moon shot from Nikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm Sports at 600mmD5O_6371aNikon D500 with Sigma 150-600mm Sports – 1/800 f/6.3 ISO2500D5O_4844aNikon D500 with Nikkor 500mm f/4E – 1/800 f/7.1 ISO5600


The D500 is an incredible camera, one that previous D300/300s owners were waiting for a long time. For 1/3 the price of a D5, you get the same extremely fast and accurate autofocus of the D4/D5, 10 frames per second, 1 less than the D4s and 2 less than the D5. For aviation photography, it is the best in it’s price range. Having shot the Nikon D500 for a few months now, I’m still impressed with its performance and in wildlife and aviation, there is never enough reach! The 1.5x crop factor also allows one to use a shorter lens to get to the focal length of a full frame camera, which in turn translates to lighter and less expensive lenses.

If you are in the market for a good APS-C sensor camera, the D500 should be on the top of the list for consideration!

Do let us know if you like to see any other specific tests or comments on other features not covered here.

About MAphotoSG
MAphotoSG (Military Aviation Photography Singapore) was founded by Raymond and David in 2015 and currently consists of a group of passionate volunteer local aircraft spotters that share the common interest of aviation photography. Core activities include the coverage of aviation events and aircraft spotting, both local and overseas.

Some of the key significant events captured by the group include the Exclusive Preview of the RSAF at Singapore Airshow 2016, the first sighting of 142 Squadron’s F-15SGs and the F/A-18Ds of Exercise Commando Sling 16-2. The group was also featured in a pre-Singapore Airshow 2016 article published by the local compact, TODAY.

5 thoughts on “Nikon D500 Field Test”

  1. Hi David
    I have just got hold of a Sigma 150-600mm sport lens and was wondering if you still use it / rate it.

    1. The Sigma 150-600S is an OK lens. I have not been using it since I got the 500E. Both are totally different lenses. Sharpness of the 150-600 is ok wide open and slightly better stopped down. Focus speed is fast. The best thing about the lens is it’s weatherproof.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Wow just checked the price of that 500E….ouch!

    Not for me as an a amateur i’m afraid on my budget (Those amounts are used for House and Car purchase!), good i am sure it is though….unfortunately I find once you try better (500E) your expectations go up and everything else looks suddenly not so good….I won’t try it!
    But TBH i prefer the flexibility of 150-600mm zoom rather than a prime for my nature shooting style (Walkabout/Some Monopod work)- which is what I bought it for.
    If i did more aviation/motor sport photography where you set up nicely with a tripod and are relatively static I would be more than happy with a decent prime though.
    Glad you are enjoying your 500 though.

    RGS Andy

  3. Hi David,

    An other couple that works great is the D500 +MB-D17 with Nikon 200-500 E. Well balanced and easy to operate without/within tripod for wildlife and aviation.


    1. Hi, Yeah the 200-500 is a good lens at a fraction of the price of the 200-400/4 it takes the TC14III well too. The MB-D17 is important for balance 🙂

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