I’m always looking for ways to improve or evolve my photography. As much as the application of photographic technique very much depends on the individual, their interpretation and level of creativity, it is unfair to think all cameras are equal and offer the same opportunities. The D500 provides some complimentary options to a full-frame landscape kit that I wasn’t expecting and it’s now been in my hands for the last 24 hours…

As a landscape photographer first and foremost my tools of choice have been the amazing Nikon D810 and my infrared converted D800. As a lighter walk around option I’ve also used the Nikon Df which I’ve been a big supporter of for the last couple of years – its low-light/high-ISO capability has been wonderful thanks to the benefit of the modified 16MP D4 sensor which produces simply beautiful files. In the meantime however, Nikon have been busy; I’m sure I wasn’t the only photographer who raised an eyebrow when the 21MP, 10fps crop sensor Nikon D500 was announced at the same time as the D5. It’s a speed machine designed to replace the somewhat aged D300, a camera that wildlife enthusiasts, sports photographers and journalists have been waiting for. As well as all of the XQD powered muscle (which still seems to need some fine tuning) under the bonnet it has some new tricks which didn’t get fanfare status but are nonetheless some interesting developments to get excited in even if you want to shoot 1 frame every ten minutes or so.

So what’s all the fuss about? Well I can tell you that on the whole the D500 is a very, very well adjusted camera. It’s a solid lump, certainly noticeably heavier and larger than the Df but benefiting from a lovely grip that by comparison made the Df a pain in the wrist with heavier lenses. Alongside the D810 it’s difficult to tell them apart, they’ve more or less come out of the same mould but I also like that. Unlike the Df, the D500 shares the D810’s battery, 10 pin front socket which I use for my cable release, round viewfinder eyepiece (I’ve swapped mine already for the DK-17M, the same that I use on my D810) and it connects up to my iMac using the same USB 3 connector. This is about where the similarities cease though because under that dark exterior is a 500cc engine that delivers something quite different.

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D500 with my Nikon 70-200mm f/4

The Nikon D810 is all about refinement. It’s a gorgeous dampened high resolution camera that takes things steady but puts all of the tools there to take your time to produce an ultra-clean low ISO landscape or studio image. By comparison the D500 while certainly enjoying a near identical feel and build quality is an animal struggling to get out of its skin. It wants to let rip and begs you to hear that 10fps shutter at full power – the shutter isn’t as quiet as the D810 and it’s more of a lighter click than the deeper clunk of the D810. The colour reproduction, colour depth and dynamic range from the D500 sensor are something else though. Now I should say here that I’ve never had a problem with getting exactly what I’ve wanted from my Nikon D800/810 cameras though others have complained about having to play around too much with the red and green channels but with the D500 the colour straight out of the camera is stunning. I set my Picture Control to landscape which tends to add a little saturation by default and I would have to agree that what I’ve seen so far is actually something even more attractive than my D810 files, potentially more contrasty and punchy, it’s early days though.

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A ‘conventional’ landscape with my Zeiss 100mm at f/2. I’m loving the colours…

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August In The Mist – Not as much depth of field for landscapes as you might expect actually

One of the big differences to the DF and D810 is the D500’s pull out touchscreen LCD. I already loved this after about ten minutes of use – as long as you have an AF lens attached you can focus anywhere on the screen by pointing with your finger, as a bonus it is a high resolution screen with an incredibly clean image. You can also swipe your finger iPhone style to review your images, pinch to zoom etc. Lovely!

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Flip out touch screen LCD with the usual refinements such as live histogram

I’m sure some of you reading this are at this point thinking ‘so what’ and ‘but you’ve already got a D810, what do you need this for?’. Well the truth is I’ve waited a long time for Nikon to improve a key feature in the camera which Canon users have had to themselves for far too long: a multiple exposure function with lighten and darken blend modes. It might not sound much but in truth this is potentially a big moment for me because I have been somewhat jealous of that feature in the Canon cameras and it has prevented me from evolving a part of my photography that I’ve been interested in for at least the last 2 years. In fact this addition didn’t even get a mention on the release notes from Nikon and passed me by completely until Valda Bailey alerted me to this golden nugget when someone piped up on one of her workshops recently that the D500 and D5 now had this function. Just take a look at the work of Valda Bailey to see the potential for truly artistic Multiple Exposure work, it isn’t that I expect to go down this road exclusively, entirely or even in an intentionally similar vein but I do have some ideas to expand my macro work and blend this with Multiple Exposure for a hopefully ethereal experience. I should put some caveat in here though because I’m pretty sure that Canon’s version of this feature still has more options to it – the Nikon experience is pretty straightforward here; select the number of exposures, choose lighten, darken, add or average and shoot away. The in camera processor blends them at the end. If you choose say three exposures (I reckon three to five is about optimum), you will only get one single blended RAW file at the end, rather than three plus a blended JPEG. Actually I think this is great because it means what you see is what you get – if you don’t like it shoot it again.

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Snowshill Lavender – 3 shot multiple exposure in camera, I wanted to expand the yellow strip in the scene

My first few attempts were inevitably poor, but in one session I got to grips with an idea of what I was going to get and I like the results so far. Patience is key though but I very much like the result I got above as well as others, it definitely adds new possibilities to photographs adding to the idea that you are genuinely creating a photograph rather than recording the scene in front of you, something I’m always incredibly keen to evolve (hence my love of things like infrared).

The fun didn’t stop there though because I also got hold of a Raynox DCR-250 Macro adapter for ultra-close ups during the week. When put in front of a lens like the Zeiss 100mm f/2 ZF.2 what you get is a very powerful macro combination. Let me say first off that this adapter is currently retailing at £40 on Amazon and for that you won’t buy a more interesting or cost effective accessory than this. The experience with this adapter on my Df was frustrating though – the Live View is one of the Df’s few weaknesses and I needed longer reach too. Double points for the D500 again here – thanks to the 1.5x crop factor, my 100mm Zeiss becomes 150mm and gets some extra depth of field; if you’re going to shoot ultra-macro it’s an option you can use for sure and that swung the D500 purchase for me. What you see below are combination of multiple exposure Raynox adapted macros – I love these early results (remember that it’s not all about ultra-sharpness but these are also all un-cropped too):

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A tiny roadside flower

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Early morning sleepy bee – I love his soft yellow fuzz

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Multiple Exposure macro of some tiny unidentified yellow flowers

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A tiny feather with the assistance of the Raynox adapter

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It was a bit of a purple fest this morning, but can you blame me?

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Almost like an Anemone, not under the sea but very much on land

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There’s a huge world amazing waiting to be discovered

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Multiple exposure and macro, who’d have thought it?

I’ll round up here with my initial thoughts on the D500, but I can tell you that 24 hours in this is very much a keeper, what a camera. It isn’t completely perfect though:

Winning plus points for me

  • Design & layout
  • Exceptional grip and handling
  • Touchscreen flip out LCD, just awesome
  • 10fps (I’m sure I’ll get around to using it more soon enough)
  • Colour is very, very nice out of the camera if you ask me
  • New multiple exposure blend modes are simple but very effective – definitely new creative options here
  • Sensor is fabulous – unable to see any noise at the ISO’s I’ve used so far which puts it on par with full frame performance. Is this really a mini-D5? Could be…
  • 21MP resolution is spot on, easy to handle in file terms, no anti-aliasing filter means perfectly sharp images out of the camera
  • Additional ‘reach’ of 1.5x crop sensor adds some interesting options
  • Super fast cards which download incredibly quickly

The Less Good

  • Sucking on the battery hard, but I switched on ‘airplane’ mode in the setup menu and that improved matters somewhat
  • Some complaints on the internet with card read issues in latest UHS-II cards yet to be fully resolved (no issues on my camera so far)
  • Same physical size as D810 which means it’s not exactly ultra-portable
  • Less narrow depth of field than full frame but you can still work that to your advantage with different shooting scenarios like macro, besides I have my D810 when I want to really blur the background
  • A wonderful companion for a Nikon D810 but it doesn’t entirely compete with full frame for a more artistic reduced depth of field

The Df is finished in my hands but then again something had to go. Long live the Df – I’d still recommend it to anyone who wanted a no-frills photographer’s camera.