D500 Dynamic Range

It’s time to look at shooting results a little more carefully. Like the D5, I think Nikon set expectations too high. What you actually get in a Nikon D500 might be the best image quality of any crop sensor DSLR, but the D7200 was already quite good.

Hard numbers are starting to appear.

Bill Claff found a 0.2 stop difference in terms of high ISO quality between the D500 and D7200. While a fifth of a stop may not seem important, yes, even that small amount does make a difference to low light shooters. Every bit of change helps, especially if you’re trying to hold specular highlights at the top of your exposure. Meanwhile, at the base ISO, the D7200 does a bit better than the D500, perhaps a half stop better, but it rapidly loses that advantage, probably because of what I talk about in the next paragraph.

The D500’s slightly better high ISO capability probably comes from the use of dual gain technology. Indeed, Bill’s results look almost exactly like those from the Sony dual gain on their 24mp sensor, including the trigger point. If I had to hazard a guess, the D500 sensor is an Exmor-based one with on-board column ADCs. It might even be using the new copper wire technology. 

Thing is, the D7200 versus D500 dynamic range results just aren’t as different as I suspect most people thought they’d be. The in-camera processing on the D500 does seem to be visually better than a fifth of a stop gain, though. So JPEG shooters are getting probably a half to two-thirds of a stop useful gain in low light, and that really seems to show up in the critical upper shadow and lower mid-tone range. Raw shooters will need some real post processing chops to manage any visual difference, though. 

Personally, I’m not disappointed. The D500 is about where I expected it to be for dynamic range, though perhaps a bit under my expectations at base ISO. It’s really the sum of the parts of the camera that make someone choose a D7200 or a D500, I think, much like that is with the D750 and D810. 

That’s why it takes a pretty thorough examination and use of a camera to form a truly valid opinion. Hard numbers like Bill’s aren’t even close to the full answer. Marketing check lists of features aren’t, either. The real issue for me is whether a D500 will net me more keepers while shooting sports or wildlife than a D7200 would, plus whether it will handle the abuse I subject it to better.

My suspicion is that the autofocus system and the XQD cards are the key differentiators in this. But I haven’t gotten that far into evaluating those things yet, so it’s just a suspicion at this point.

Have some chores I need to get done today, so first shooting results won’t show up until tomorrow’s post, I think.

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