It’s been roughly six and one-half years since Nikon introduced the D300S, a brilliant DX-format DSLR—one of Nikon’s best received DSLRs of all time, and one I continue to use to this day. It was beginning to look like there would be no replacement for the D300S at the top-end of the DX range, but today the long wait for a new model to replace the D300S is finally over, as Nikon introduced the D500 alongside the new FX-format D5.
The D500 sits in a hard-to-define space in Nikon’s lineup. On the Nikon USA website, it’s positioned as an “enthusiast” DSLR, and while we think that a suitable label, the other cameras so classed are the DX-format D7200 and the FX-format D750, D610 and retro-styled Df. Some of the awkwardness may just be a result of the numbering convention. All of Nikon’s D-thousand models (D3200, D5500, etc.) are presented as their entry-level DSLRs, with the exception of the D7200. The pro models are dubbed D-single-digit (D5) and also D-hundred-something (D810, D810A)—except the D750 and 610, which, while being full-frame FX cameras, are deemed “enthusiast” models, and the new D500, which has a smaller DX sensor. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to follow.
Setting the naming confusion aside, however, the D500 has the makings of a worthy successor to the venerable D300S. One of the few complaints about the D300S was that, at the time of its release, most competitive cameras offered 1080 HD video, while the D300S offered only 720 HD. The D500 did not repeat what some considered a competitive mistake, and offers 4K UHD video recording like the D5. It also features the same new 153-point AF system found in the D5, as well as its EXPEED 5 processor.
Also new in the D500 is a Nikon-developed 20.9-megapixel DX-format sensor. While full-frame sensors are generally regarded as superior to APS-C, and certainly have their advantages, as Nikon points out in the press release for the D500, there are focal length advantages for telephoto work with smaller-sensor cameras: “When mated with the new AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR lens, the D500 offers a remarkable 350-750mm equivalent focal range for a lightweight, yet super-telephoto duo.”
Though it doesn’t match the D5’s ISO range, the D500 is still remarkable, with an expandable max ISO of 1,640,000. We can’t wait to get our hands on both of these cameras to see what’s possible at these extreme ISO settings.
The D500 is capable of capturing 14-bit, uncompressed NEF (Nikon’s RAW format) images at 10fps in continuous bursts up to 79 images. It also offers the same 180K RGB Metering system and Advanced Scene Recognition System found in the D5, as well as compatibility with the new radio-controlled SB-5000 flash, and a 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD that actually bests the D5’s by being tiltable.
While the D5 comes in two models—one with dual CompactFlash and one with dual XQD card slots—the D500 includes both a XQD and an additional SD card slot, giving you the option of using a high-performance yet pricey card that’s ideal for 4K video (XQD), or a more affordable option that’s well suited for still image capture (SD). Though we haven’t yet seen the camera's configuration menu, we expect the D500, like previous dual-card Nikons, will allow you to customize how the card slots are used.
In addition to 4K video, the D500 can create 4K time-lapse movies in-camera. It also offers some unique technologies when shooting 1080 HD: there’s a “3-axis electronic VR feature” that works with any lens for stabilized video shooting, and also Nikon’s Active D-Lighting to help automatically maintain consistent exposure.
From today’s announcements of the features and specs of the D5 and D500, both of these models appear to offer significant upgrades to their already impressive predecessors, and share a lot in common with each other. The D500 will be available in March with a list price of $1,999, body only, or with the DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR zoom included for $3,069.