Back to the action: Nikon D500 Review
The D500 is one of the first DSLRs to shoot 4K video (UHD in this instance). It does this from a 1.5x crop of its sensor, meaning 2.25x crop relative to full frame (so an 18mm lens becomes equivalent to 40mm).
|Resolution||Available Frame Rates||Quality options|
|• 3840 x 2160||
|• 1920 x 1080||
|• 1280 x 720||
Nikon clearly has given some thought to video shooting: the D500 box includes a plastic cable clip designed to hold the HDMI cable securely into the socket. The D500 also had built-in mic and headphone sockets for internal audio recording and monitoring.
The camera also allows you to customize its button behavior separately for video shooting, so that you don't have to choose whether to prioritise access to stills or video features (Sony take note).
Features and Handling
The D500's video tools are less comprehensive than its specification might imply. There's no focus peaking option to help judge manual focus, nor is it possible to magnify live view while you shoot (instead you end up having to use the distance scale on your lens). It's possible to gain focus peaking by connecting the D500 to an external monitor or recorder that offers the feature, but it's an odd oversight on a camera with any real video intent.
Autofocus is contrast-detection-based, and is prone to rapid and drastic attempts to refocus that leads to distracting unprofessional-looking footage. We have found that even some recent lenses such as the Nikkor 16-80mm F2.8-4 often bundled with the camera, make audible clicking noises as they refocus, so there's an extra reason to avoid autofocus if you're trying to capture audio in-camera.
|The D500 offers NTSC or PAL frame rates without the need to switch any menu settings.
The lower resolutions settings offer different quality settings but for 4K shooting it's around 122 Mbps or nothing.
The D500 does at least offer a highlight warning system to help you judge exposure. However, it's not the most sophisticated system we've seen; offering only on and off options with no ability to set the threshold that triggers it (and nothing in the manual to tell you what luminance level it indicates). It's enough to help you protect from excessive over-exposure.
The final major drawback is that additional 1.5x crop factor when you shoot 4K. This is a 2.25x total crop, compared with full frame, meaning a 16mm focal length gives a not-terribly-wide 36mm equivalent field of view. Because the Nikon F-mount has such a high flange-back distance, there's not much scope for adapting other lenses, so short of a handful of ultra-wide angle zooms (such as Nikon's own 10-24mm F3.5-4.5) you may find it hard to find lenses that shoot wide enough.
It's not entirely without merit, though. The D500 does at least offer powered aperture control, that allows you to change the aperture as you're recording (though the subtlety and amount of noise this produces will vary lens-to-lens) and it also lets you use Auto ISO to maintain image brightness when shooting in Manual exposure mode and retains the use of Exposure Compensation to adjust the target brightness being maintained.
There's also a 'Flat' picture profile, though it's not nearly as flat as the Log gamma curves offered by many Sony models or the Panasonic GH4 via paid-for firmware upgrade. It does provide some improvement in flexibility when it comes to grading footage during post processing and the highlight warning mode can help you to expose it properly.
The D500's 4K footage appears to be broadly comparable to cameras such as the Panasonic GH4 and Sony a7S II that are creating footage by using 3840 x 2160 capture pixels. Those cameras with anti-aliasing filters have a slight moiré advantage, since those filters will slightly blur incoming light across more than one capture pixel and reduce the intensity of any false color.
In terms of fine detail, the Sony a6300 outperforms the Nikon, thanks to the fact it can oversample the scene (it's shooting a ~6000 x 3375 area and then downscaling it). However, in side-by-side real world footage, the advantage isn't as great as you might think: there's every chance that the precision with which you focus the lens will make more difference to the amount of detail in your final shot.
As well as limiting your angle of view, the other disadvantage of the camera's 4K crop is that it cuts into the camera's low light capabilities. You end up using an area of the sensor slightly smaller than a Four Thirds-type chip, so there's a low light cost to be paid, when compared with models such as the a6300, which can use its full sensor width. The camera will shoot at up to ISO 6400 and the image quality is pretty solid across that range.
The following video shows the D500's results in a handful of settings: bright light, low light, with autofocus and using flat picture profile to provide grading flexibility in challenging high-contrast scenes. Note the clicking noise in the autofocus sections of the video (audible even over a crowd of chanting football supporters).
Other than the clicking noise from the lens, please do not use this video to assess audio quality.
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