Loose ends

Most of my impressions of the D500 have been extremely positive. You don't have to use it for very long to find yourself being impressed by all it can do. However, there are a few niggling doubts that I can't quite sweep aside. Many of these are rare occurrences or the kinds of subtle shortcomings that won't fully reveal themselves without much more testing that it's realistic for us to conduct.

To be clear, I'm not trying to quantify either their frequency or their severity. The need for extreme testing to characterise these issues is very probably how they've slipped through into a production camera: it's difficult to conduct enough testing to iron-out every possible bug. We're hoping that many of these concerns can be eliminated with firmware updates, but for now, these are the vague concerns I have about the camera:

Card errors

Thom Hogan has done a good job of pulling together accounts of users having card errors with some kinds of SD cards. So far, most of the problems appear to be occurring with Lexar UHS II cards, with read/write errors being reported when shooting bursts of shots.

We've experienced this problem once in the office and are aware of another journalist encountering it on Nikon's D500 press trip. Lexar says:

Based on feedback we have received, since the introduction of the Nikon D5 and D500 cameras, it appears that some of our SD UHS-II cards have experienced intermittent display of card error message in camera that was not seen in our prior testing. Consequently, we are in the process of quickly assessing these reports and identifying any issues and related remediation.

This error message disappears if the camera is turned off and on again.”

It may not just be a problem with Lexar cards but they feature in most of the memory card errors we've experienced and heard about.

This is probably the biggest of our concerns about the camera. Because, although it's hard to get a clear picture of how common the problem is, the fact that it's been so widely observed is a problem for a camera that will be used by professionals. Most shortcomings can be worked around, but pros need to be able to depend on their cameras.

It should be noted that we had no problem at all with the 2933x Lexar XQD card we used during our testing (which included shooting multiple thousands of images).

Battery life concerns

I've spent much of the past couple of years reviewing (and therefore shooting with) mirrorless and compact cameras that offer around 300 shots per charge, when tested to CIPA standards, so I was looking forward to using one rated at over 1200. Yet, strangely, when I was first shooting with it, it didn't feel like it was offering three times the longevity until I added 'Airplane Mode' to my My Menu list and got into the habit of engaging it.

There's a possibility that my perception of the short battery life stems from occasions on which the Wi-Fi connection failed and kept hunting but I'm left wondering whether the Snapbridge system is adding significant battery drain. It's not practical for me to fully test the battery life but I haven't found myself worrying about it since I got into the habit of switching to Airplane Mode.

Update:

After this review was first published, Nikon made clear that there are two versions of the D500's EN-EL15 battery and that the camera may not get its full performance from the older variant. It's quite possible that my bad experiences stem from using one of the older batteries in an attempt to ensure I wasn't using a battery still going through its first few charge/discharge cycles.

Camera crashes

Don't touch that dial! Using the rear command dial to change the function of the Movie [REC] button will lock the camera up. It's a pretty easy thing to avoid doing, once you know it's a problem.

The thing that convinces me that there are still some loose-ends in the camera's firmware are the reports of the camera crashing such that it needs the battery to be removed before it will start functioning again. Hogan reports that trying to change the function of the REC button + Dial using the command dial will lock the camera up. That's a pretty specific action but it still shouldn't crash the camera and it raises concerns about whether any other bugs have slipped through Nikon's QA net.

For instance, the camera now offers three Auto white balance settings, that neutralize the image color to different degrees, and defaults to the most neutral setting. This is great for video, where a neutral color response is a good starting point for grading, but is a bit cold and clinical for our tastes. It seems an odd choice for the default setting, especially when one of the other options is called 'Normal.'

Again, I don't know how many of the concerns I've listed above can be fixed or improved with a firmware update, but it does seem the D500 isn't quite as consumer-ready as we're used to from Nikon.