Well, I have been out in the field with the D500 for a couple of days. Checking out spring bird migration, or the lack of it to be exact. A couple of weeks ago I was under the impression that migration will start and be over earlier this year. There was a spell of warm days, beautiful sunny skies and winds coming from South-Southwest that always helps the birds as they cross over the Great Lakes. Then, look at what happened, the end of April temperatures plummeted and cold rainy days settled in.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, didn’t stay put for more than a split second.
Anyhow, I had to get out with the D500 before my upcoming surgery, that will keep me away from the outdoors for some six weeks. My planned use of the D500 is primarily for bird photography and wildlife in general. Therefore, my writings about the D500 will not include technical descriptions and a review in general, those are already out there plentifully. I just report on those aspects of the camera and its use that I needed it for. Furthermore, my initial outing was specifically bird focused. I’ll write a report about general wildlife experience with the D500 once I am back from my Algonquin Park back country workshop in the second half of June.
So let’s get to it. I plan to use the D5oo primarily with two telephoto lenses. One is the Nikkor 500mm f4E FL and the other is the Nikkor 200-500mm f5.6 zoom. My first days out with the D500 were with the 500mm prime and the 1.4x TC III attached to it. This would be my main birding setup for smaller and more distant birds. The 700mm effective focal length combined with the DX image size and pixel density of the camera seems to me as a good compromise between reach, hand holding the equipment and speed. So all images I took with the camera were with this 700mm setup. I’ll conduct a 200-500mm zoom only day trip in the coming days if wether will cooperate before my surgery. I’ll publish it separately as soon as possible.
Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, the bluest I’ve ever seen, also very agile.
Once I got muscle memory somewhat trained to the D500 and lens combo I started getting very comfortable with it. As I mentioned the weather was not very cooperating. Migrating birds just have started trickling into Southwestern Ontario, the cold weather and strong winds held them back and were also taxing on the photographer. Anyway, I managed to spot some hooded warblers, gnatcatchers and other little folks in the protection of bushes and evergreens. Getting them into the viewfinder was challenging. They were hiding from the winds and were moving very fast in the branches to catch whatever bugs were available. I had a hard task to crack but I am glad to report that the camera lived up to my expectations. Indeed, its AF system is quite capable. I used my D7200 in similar situations beforehand, it was decent but the focusing speed of the D500 is in a different league. It is so much snappier and also quiter than that of the D7200’s.
Catching the little birds swiftly hopping from twig to twig and branch to branch did not allow for too many frames in one burst. The maze of branches were dense and one or two images were the most I could take before the birds changed position and got partially obscured by other branches. The 10 fps capability of the D500 is amazing. However, I needed to train my trigger finger to touch the release button very lightly. Otherwise I ended up with a bird on the first frame and a bird behind some twigs in the following frames. The little buggers were so vary and swift. I ended up setting 7fps on CL mode, so that I could squeeze off my first two frames and stop after that. AF was so good that if I did my part of the job then the first frame was in focus in almost all shots. So, birders be happy the AF is the best we Nikon users have ever had and it is awesome.
I am also in content with the ISO capability of the D500. I took a good number of test shots with it from 100 to 400 ISO around my home and they were extremely fine for quality enlargements. I am not showing anything here of those, they were just garden shots with some sparrows acting as stand in targets. Please just take my word for it, the images were clean and suitable for nice enlargements. Now, as of high ISO I am not considering using anything crazy for my photography. I would not care less if the camera had settings for ISO one hundred million or more. The practical high ISO for me tops at ISO 3200 and more often less than that. I just do not shoot in the outdoors if lighting is not good enough. I am not a great fan of shooting at such high ISO ratings that my noise reduction software would become the main tool in post processing. My most used daytime ISO setting is ranging from ISO 400 to ISO 1600. This span of settings can serve me just fine with a 500mm lens and 1.4x TC combo. If and when I shoot from a sturdy tripod with a Gimbal head then I go down to ISO 200 if the light is decent, it is a good range to shoot slow moving waterfowl.
The enclosed few images were shot at my “regular top” ISO 3200 setting, courtesy of heavy overcast and fast moving subjects. Also, since the birds were extremely agile and farther in the vegetation I had to crop the images quite a bit. Still, I feel that the results did justice for the D500. I also went out to a marsh to see if waterfowl would be around. Nope, they are holding back too or just were hunkering down in the bad weather. The only bird I was able to locate with my binoculars was an American Coot in the bullrush. I got a few frames of it as it was exposing itself briefly in the opening of the vegetation. She too was quite agile and protected in the vegetation, so I had to be happy with a few frames that I was able to get.
Well, that is it for now. I am not going to sing further praise here, there is no need for that. The camera is good, my expectations about its agility and ISO handling are met, so I am content with it. My backpack will carry two cameras from here on, a D810 and a D500. I retired my D4, it is in the capable hands of a friend of mine by now. My D7200 stays in the family, my daughter got it. However, for those who cannot justify the cost of the D500 or do not have a need for its fps and buffer I still suggest to have a good look at the D7200. It is still an excellent camera and would serve many for a long time in birding and nature photography.
The goose appeared very suddenly. It came into sight from flying fast and low over the bullrush like an attacking plane, I barely had time to turn the camera on, locate the bird in the finder and squeeze of two frames before it flew by me. The AF system of the D500 proved itself.