Exceeding Expectations

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Photo by Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame

There are certain things which trouble me more than they probably should.  Among these: Mayonnaise…the intentional grounding rule…pop-up flashes on DSLRs. I prefer full-frame, so the announcement of a new DX-format DSLR from Nikon would normally fly under my radar.  But when I saw the D500 was pop-up flash-less, it had my attention.

This past spring and summer I did quite a bit of traveling which involved shooting video.  I was feeling the need for a compact, lightweight video-capable DSLR.  The advantages of a tilting LCD screen were obvious.  So why not the D750?  Full-frame and good reviews, but a slower flash sync speed (1/200) and that (grrrr!) pop-up flash always gave me pause.

The D500 beckoned with it’s nice solid prism, professional round eyepiece, and 1/250 sync.  Specs on AF and low-light performance looked good.  Could I live with DX format? Maybe...  Nikon's $500 rebate for the D500 with the well-reviewed 16-80 zoom pushed me off the ledge.  I impulse-bought one.

Initial impressions were positive:
Camera felt great.  More solid and professional than any other small-body Nikon DSLR I had ever used.  The 16-80mm lens seemed like a solid performer and covered pretty much everything I needed to do with video in a single lens.  

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The first real test of the kit came one night about a week later when storms were approaching the South Bend area.  I saw the potential for some lightning photos, and the easiest option I had handy was the D500 with the kit lens.  My expectations were met and then some.  I didn't notice any drop in image quality vs a full frame sensor and prints from that shot look very nice.


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Next up, pre-season football practice would test the D500’s AF capabilities.  The DX format meant I could use my lighter 300mm lens and get the same “reach” with the 1.5x crop that I typically got with my 400.  I was more than satisfied with the results but admittedly practice is a low-stakes situation.  The real test would come at Notre Dame’s season opener at Texas.  

When I have to airline to a football game I am very conscious of the size and weight of my gear.  The D500 and the 300 (instead of a D4s and a 400) meant my carry-on was lightweight and free from gate agent scrutiny.  

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Photo by Rob Franklin/South Bend Tribune, used with permission

The game was a 6:30pm start, which meant ISO 200 for warmups and 6400 by the 2nd half.  No more issues with noise than I was used to with a full frame camera, the 10FPS frame rate is for real, and I honestly could not tell the difference in AF performance– with and without a 1.4TC– between the D500 and the D4s I typically use. Expectations exceeded!  My take from the game was not extraordinary but that was my own fault.  I definitely did not feel compromised in any way by my choice to use the D500.

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Summing up, I’m very happy with this camera.  


  1. Good value.  No better bang-for-the-buck in a $2000 DSLR in my opinion.
  2. Pro build quality
  3. Love the tilting LCD
  4. Kit lens is very good
  5. AF performance on par with flagship DSLRs
  6. Good low-light, not the ISO 50,000 beast that marketing would want is to believe, but at least equal to D4s

Don’t like:

  1. I’m still anti-XQD. The SD card performance has never let me down.  I would prefer two SD slots vs the dual format
  2. The LCD touchscreen is a big ol’ shrug for me.  I find it equally as quick to just use the buttons for playback scrolling & zooming like I always have
  3. Wish like crazy there was a voice memo option.  I would gladly have paid a few hundred dollars more for this
  4. Wi-Fi is needlessly complicated. As I write this, Snapbridge for iOS has just been released and I haven’t used it yet. Why can’t it be as simple as the D750’s wi-fi?

Nice work here, Nikon.  Give me a full-frame version of the D500 with a voice memo option and I’ll buy a dozen!


Matt Cashore is the Senior University Photographer at the University of Notre Dame. In 2016 Matt won the Mark A. Philbrick Photographer of the Year award.