Operation and Controls

Much of the D500's ergonomics and handling are a gentle iteration of those offered by the D300 and D300S: and both the grip and feel of the camera will be immediately familiar to users of those models. There's been a slight reshuffling of the buttons down the left-hand flank of the camera, as well as the addition of a new one but, for the most part, it shouldn't take too much getting used to.

AF Joystick

Although only 55 of the camera's AF points are directly selectable, we're pleased to see the D500 gain an AF point joystick (or Sub-selector in Nikon speak). It essentially mirrors the actions of the eight-way controller on the back of the camera (and it is also locked by the lock switch around the multi-controller).

Its exact function can be changed slightly: it can be set only to move AF point, such that pressing it during playback mode jumps the camera back into shooting mode. The alternative is to have it mimic with eight-way controller with a choice whether to skip to the next/previous image or scroll around the image when you're in zoomed-in playback.


The D500's tilt up/down screen is not only high resolution (2.36M-dot/1024 x 768 pixels), it's also touch sensitive. Unlike the D5500, this can't be used to position the AF point (or, at least, not in optical viewfinder mode). Instead its functions are limited to live view mode, where it can be used for touch focus or touch shutter, video where it can be used to reposition the AF point during recording, and playback mode where it allows image zoom and swiping in a responsive and immediately familiar manner.

Customization of the touchscreen is limited to On/Off and a choice of which direction of swipe takes you to a newer image.

Button Customization

Eight of the D500's buttons can be customized, along with the L-Fn button if the lens you're using has one.

Three of these buttons (Pv, Fn1 and AE/AF) can either directly apply a function or can be assigned a function that must be controlled by using the button in conjunction with a command dial.

Eight buttons on the D500 offer some degree of customization, with an additional option if you're using a lens with an L-Fn button. The Pv, Fn1 and AE/AF (pressing the joystick) buttons offer most choices and can either be set to directly implement a function or can be assigned a function that also requires use of the command dial.

In addition, the BKT button on the front of the camera can be set to activate bracketing, multiple exposure or HDR modes.

Direct functions

Pv, Fn1 or Joystick button options [AF-On options marked *]
  • Preset focus point
  • AF Area Mode*
  • AF Area Mode + AF On*
  • DOF Preview
  • FV lock
  • AE/AF lock*
  • AE lock only*
  • AE lock (reset on release)*
  • AE lock (Hold)*
  • AF lock only*
  • AF-ON*
  • Flash Disable/Enable
  • Bracketing Burst
  • +NEF (RAW)
  • Matrix Metering
  • Center Weighted Metering
  • Spot Metering
  • Highlight-weighted Metering
  • Viewfinder Grid Display
  • Viewfinder Virtual Horizon
  • Sync. Release Selection
  • Access top item in MY MENU
  • Playback

Joystick button-only options:
  • Select center focus point
  • Highlight active focus point

Only functions marked * can be assigned to the AF-On button

Button + Dial Functions

Pv or Fn1 button + Dial [Joystick + Dial options marked *]
  • Choose image area (DX/1.3x crop)*
  • Shutter spd + aperture lock*
  • 1 step spd/aperture
  • Choose non-CPU lens number*
  • Active D-Lighting
  • Exposure delay mode
  • Photo shooting menu bank*
  • Exposure Mode [REC button only]

Only functions marked * can be assigned to the Joystick button. The movie [REC] button can be assigned a similar set of options but with Exposure Mode rather than 'Choose non-CPU lens number'.

AF Area mode on custom button

The AF-area mode (or AF-area + AF-On) options let you temporarily jump to a different AF area mode if something unexpected occurs

The D500 gains the ability to assign an AF area mode (or AF area mode + AF-On) to a function button. This may not sound like much but it's an immensely useful function. It means you can temporarily jump to a different AF mode, at a moment's notice, if the situation you're shooting changes. For instance, you can set a button to jump to single point AF allowing you to momentarily halt the subject tracking part of 3D tracking (while still having the camera focus using the point you've halted at). Alternatively you can temporarily drop from tracking mode to wide-area mode (which includes Face Detection) if you suddenly find you want to focus on a face that wasn't near the point you were originally tracking.

Automated AF Fine Tune

Like previous high-end Nikons, the D500 allows you to fine-tune the autofocus behavior, to correct for any imprecision introduced by lens/body variation. This can now be configured much more easily (albeit only globally, using the central AF point).

In live view mode, if you set focus (either using contrast detect AF or manual focus), you can then hold the AF/MF button on the side of the camera and the [REC] button and the camera will generate an AF correction value by comparing your focus attempt to its own assessment using its conventional phase-detect module.

Auto ISO

Nikon's Auto ISO function gives users the flexibility to set a minimum shutter speed threshold at which the ISO will be increased and the ability to set upper and lower limits to the ISO settings it will utilize. The camera also features five automatic ISO threshold options that maintain a shutter speed threshold related to the focal length as well. 

Furthermore, the D500 allows you to utilize exposure compensation with Auto ISO in manual exposure mode so that you can specify the target brightness that you want the camera to maintain. This can be very useful for both stills and video shooting, for when you want to specify the exposure settings and just let the camera do the rest, using ISO.