23 Feb 2017 14:38 IST

Nikon D500: A favourite with action photographers

If it’s fast, shoot it with this excellent DSLR, voted by many as the best in its class in 2016

Nikon launched the D500 in India a few months ago. Many photographers, especially professionals, got hold of it before that one way or the other, but now that it’s available in the country, here is why they prefer buying this excellent and capable camera.

First of all, it’s completely and entirely aimed at action photography. That could be wildlife, where the subject can move in the blink of an eye, or sports events, or even in a conflict zone. A bird in flight, an aircraft zooming by, a bike shooting past — those would be all in a day’s work for a D500.

Incredible focus

What strikes me most about the D500 is its incredibly fast autofocus. It’s so fast that it tracks the trajectory of a bird’s flight, the camera just locks on focus and stays locked. You can get superbly sharp shots with a bit of technique this way. It also has 153 focus points, where others usually have about 20. To top that, Nikon has provided a little joystick (very ergonomically placed) for moving the focus points around. This is no gimmick and is in fact incredible because it’s so responsive and fast, instantly letting you lock on to the part of the image you want without wasting any time. No more focus, recompose. Just focus, shift points around and shoot!

Another action oriented feature is the fact that it can shoot at 10 fps and can do so for 200 shots without filling up the buffer of the device. When you take a burst of shots, you’ll find you can’t throw away any because the lot are sharp and different from one another. And all detailed.

Tough build

The camera is built very well and it’s weather sealed. It’s not outright waterproof, but if you’re out in the snow or rain, the camera doesn't get affected. Photojournalists in a war zone wouldn’t have dust on their extensive worry list. It can also take a bit of rough and tumble without being demolished. A friend of mine dropped one of these and while the mount between the lens and body took a slight beating, nothing happened to the camera. Despite the carbon fibre in parts, its magnesium alloy chassis is tough. It weighs about 800 grams and while that’s not heavy in itself, it does become so when you add lenses and when you need to hold it for hours on end.

The D500 is a mid-sized APS-C camera with a 20.9MP DX format CMOS sensor. Its handling of ISO is very good: from 100 to 51,200 and the control for this is always within reach.

In real-life situations I cap it off at about ISO 4,000, which means that if I’m walking around in areas under shade, one can still get excellent shots of birds. This camera has an expandable ISO which goes up to over 1,64,000, but if used at night, that really just brings in too much noise, which post processing software does clean out well, but still leaves you with loss of detail. Interestingly, it doesn’t come with a built-in flash. You have to buy one and clamp it on.

Image processing of JPEGs on the camera itself has improved dramatically on this model — and that includes any noise reduction. If I’ve shot fairly well, I need to do nothing further to share that image. For high quality images you need to print, naturally you can do some post-processing. There’s an articulating touch screen, which you would imagine is just gimmicky on this high-end camera, but it turns out to be extremely and surprisingly useful. There are at least five additional buttons compared with the D300s I use, but these are so well placed and so intuitive to use that I had to re-learn nothing when using the D500.

The Snapbridge feature of this camera uses Wi-Fi or Bluetooth Lite to connect to other devices. But this is a little complex and doesn’t always work smoothly. The D500 is the logical successor to the D300s, to which there’s no other upgrade. Anyone using that camera will find the D500 familiar but with added capabilities. It also has a more expensive parent, the Nikon D5, meant for professionals rather than prosumers. That doesn’t have the Snapbridge feature. It has a fantastic battery grip and takes you through over 3,000 shots on a charge.

Price: ₹1,41,950 (Body only)

Pros: Very fast autofocus, multiple focus points, sharp images, intuitive/ergonomic button and control placements

Cons: Video is 4k but limited, no built-in flash

(The article first appeared in The Hindu BusinessLine.)

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