As usual, the measurebators are off and foaming at the numbers posted by DxOMark (and to some degree, the ones posted by Bill Claff at photonstophotos.net earlier). 

For some reason these posted numbers seem to have reverence for folk who don’t fully understand how they’re calculated. Both DxO and Claff make some assumptions about the final output, they use slightly different test measurements, and they make slightly different assumptions (DxO uses a signal to noise ratio of 18% when considering high ISO capability; Claff uses CoC values in his formula for photographic dynamic range; both tend to report values with normalized output, e.g. prints of a certain size). 

Here’s how I read all the data (including my own testing) I’ve seen so far:

  • The D500 raw output is very close to the D7200, which is the state-of-the-art in crop sensor at the moment. The D500 seems to have some better JPEG handling than the D7200, though, which is to be expected with refinements in EXPEED over time.
  • The D500’s usable dynamic range is actually better than the D5’s out to about ISO 800. Then it’s about equal to the D5 to ISO 1000. The D5 pulls away from the D500 above that. How much is debatable. DxOMark says about one stop, Claff says more than that. 

But heck with the data, what do I see? (1) minimal and ignorable differences between the D500 and D7200 in raw capture; (2) slightly better noise reduction handling in the D500 over the D7200 in JPEGs; (3) better raw and JPEG output from the D5 than the D500 in the critical range I shoot sports in (ISO 1600 to ISO 6400, sometimes 12800);  (4) worse D5 raw output than the D4/D4s up to about ISO 1600, but not enough to fret about, and somewhat better D5 output than the D4/D4s above ISO 1600, but not enough to warrant buying a new US$6000+ body. 

Personally, both cameras deliver in image quality what I need as well as anything that came before them, and arguably better in some respects. 

Where the D5/D500 differ with the other and previous DSLRs is clearly in one area: focus performance. This new focus system is wonderful, as long as you live within its bounds (hint: avoid big TCs, know what the flash is going to do to focus sensor use). Couple that with a few other nice touches (the new XGA-level rear LCD, for instance), and Nikon definitely moved the bar. 

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