D500 First Impressions

No, I’m not going to get to the image quality or focus performance or anything else just quite yet. Give me a couple of days to shoot with the camera first. 

We’re going to start this with some initial out-of-box impressions, instead.

First, let me back up and talk about the D5 out-of-box impression: same as the D3, D3s, D3x, D4, and D4s, basically. These are beefy cameras with very predictable ergonomics and build quality. While there are some minor differences between those cameras, you generally don’t notice them at first, and many were just additions. If you’ve tried one of the bunch, you’ll immediately feel familiar with whichever one you pick up.

The D500, not so much. 

The D500 just seems, well, a little odd to me as I pull it out of the box. 

Design cues are cobbled from all over the place. The right hand grip is more the D750 style, with a deeper finger slot that has a severe right angle  to the body on the inside (finger) edge. Likewise, the battery placement isn’t solely in the grip: the EN-EL15 goes in parallel to the body and shifted a bit away from the grip, with the door going a different direction than previous DX models. That’ll sell some more Arca Swiss plates for the third party vendors.

But then there’s the round viewfinder eyepiece with the old-style shutter. That’s decidedly D8xx style, as is the button array on the top left of the camera (holding it). No pop up flash seems a bit odd, too, as it makes the lines on the prism look a bit more like a Canon than a Nikon. 

And then we have the new array of buttons behind the shutter release (ISO instead of Mode, record video moving to different location), plus the new joystick in addition to the Direction pad. No AE-F/AF-L button (though pressing the thumbstick in has the default of mimicking that button). The i and info button next to each other for a change. (A lot of people won’t notice it at first, but the Info button now has two shooting information pages it brings up, the main one and one for flash. Electronic Front Curtain shutter is available via the i button while in Live View, by the way.

Plus we get yet another variation on tilting LCD. And the image quality is clearly better than we’re used to. We’ve gone from VGA to SVGA, basically.

All in all, the first impression is one of a lot of change, no matter which body you’re coming from. And the weight doesn’t feel all that much different than a D7200, once they’re both loaded up with cards and battery, which is a bit surprising. 

So there’s just a bit of initial visceral shock to get over as I first hold the camera. Fortunately, that wears off almost instantaneously, as enough things are familiar once you get over them being combined into a single body. 

Unlike other Nikon DSLRs, the CLOCK indicator is flashing upon putting a new battery in. You need to set the date/time to stop this, and if you don’t, some functions aren’t available. 

The touchscreen, as with the one on the D5, is a bit of a disappointment. No touch menu control, for instance. Indeed, you can’t control the menus from the thumb joystick, either. Direction pad only. I need more time to think about this one—and I’ve been thinking about it since this first appeared on the D5—as it really feels like something was missed, but I haven’t quite put my thumb on it yet (pardon the pun). 

Tooling around the menus, the D500 is a mini D5, but with some oddities. The D500 is Nikon’s first camera with Anti-flicker detection (turned off by default) for shooting under frequency-based lights. (Previous anti-flicker on Nikons was restricted to video recording.) 

But someone at Nikon really needs to decide about disabled menus versus invisible menus. Some menus, like the Eye-Fi one, don’t appear unless you’ve got one in the camera. But other menus, like Flash Control, are just disabled until you put one (or an accessory to control one) on the camera. And why is Flash Control now in the PHOTO SHOOTING menu and not in the CUSTOM SETTING menu? Oh, right, because the camera doesn’t have a built in flash. Wait, what? 

And yep, we’ve got one setting in the CUSTOM SETTING menu for G (video) options, like the D5. Also, like the D5, some Custom Settings have suddenly become regular menu options (Auto Bracketing Set, Slot Empty Release Lock, MB-D17 Battery Type/Order

Sometimes it just appears that Nikon confuses themselves at times. The menu system, while still recognizably Nikon and mostly the same as we expect, still has a lot of cheese moving around on it from camera to camera. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a solid decision structure on how to organize that cheese. 

Plus we now get the infamous Airplane Mode. It appears, however, that unlike Sony, its not only set by default (as it is on the Sony) but active even if you haven’t set something up (not on the Sony). This explains some folks’ battery life complaints, I suspect.

Well it’s lots of little stuff like the above that keeps my books selling, I suppose. There’s enough changed on the D500 to trip up anyone moving from one Nikon body to another. Plus there’s some new things Nikon hasn’t described well in their manuals that need fleshing out.

Much more coming soon. 

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