Our latest test scene is designed to simulate both daylight and low-light shooting. The 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget switch between the two. The daylight scene is shot with manually set white balance aimed at achieving neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests (Raw is manually corrected during conversion). We also offer three viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Comp', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons to more fairly compare cameras of differing resolutions at matched viewing sizes. The 'Comp' option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.

The Nikon D500 has very impressive image quality, both at low and high ISOs. This translates to versatile performance, yielding great photos in situations ranging from high contrast to low light scenes.

Raw

In low light - or at high ISO settings - the D500 is class-leading: it's able to perform at least on par with the previous class-leader, the Nikon D7200, at ISO 6400*, which is an achievement itself given the increased high speed shooting abilities of the sensor in the D500. By ISO 25,600, the D500 even slightly surpasses the D7200 and Sony a6300, though we're talking minor differences at this point, as most cameras in this comparison are faring quite well. The Canon 7D Mark II does fall a tad behind at the highest ISOs, and mandatory noise reduction, even in Raw, kicks in at ISO 12800 on the a6300, leading to a smeared noise pattern. In comparison, the D500 image looks best, particularly in dark regions of the already light-deprived scene, indicating good high ISO dynamic range performance.

The Nikon D500 is yet another great reminder that low ISO and high ISO performance do not have to be at odds with one another: you can optimize for both.

JPEG

The D500's JPEG engine yields pleasing colors, particularly the warm greens and very yellow yellows typical of Nikon imagery. Reds aren't quite as deep as Canon's rendering though. The D500's default white balance setting is 'Auto0: Keep white (reduce warm colors)', which does not preserve warmth under tungsten light. We think this leads to unnatural looking photos in warm, dim light, but you can easily force the camera to retain warmth (our preference) by selecting the 'Auto2: Keep warm lighting colors' WB option.

JPEG sharpening isn't as sophisticated as it could be: the engine leaves behind sharpening halos along edges due to large radius sharpening, which has the effect of sacrificing fine detail clearly available in the Raw file. The Sony a6300's more sophisticated sharpening in JPEG renders the fine detail in the bank note better than any of the other cameras in this comparison. At high ISO, while the D500 doesn't preserve quite as much fine detail as the Sony a6300, it does manage to balance noise reduction and detail retention better than the Canon. The rather pleasing high ISO JPEGs retain a good deal of saturation as well, just like the Canon. The a6300 falters in this regard, yielding desaturated JPEGs at very high ISOs


* The D500 files appear a tad over-sharpened, which may be due to preliminary ACR support.