The latest in Nikon’s DX line-up reads like a D500 lite on paper, but how did it get on in an extensive PN field test?

Nikon’s most recent DSLR release is the D7500, an APS-C format body that fits snugly into the line-up just below its flagship DX camera, the D500. While the latter is like a baby D5 in its looks, the D7500’s design shares more with Nikon’s enthusiast-level bodies such as the D7200 it supersedes, and also the full-frame D750 – in fact, cover up a zero on the D7500’s logo and those two would look almost identical. In that regard, it has a locking mode dial instead of a single mode switch, below which sits a drive mode selector. On the rear, the layout is familiar, too, with a slew of inputs surrounding a large, 3.2in tilting touchscreen.

Although there are no plans to discontinue the D7200, the D7500 is certainly a significant upgrade to that two-year-old camera. Kicking off with a glance at the resolution, though, you might not think so. The pixel count has been lowered to 20.9-megapixels, but the D7500’s image quality proves that’s a sensible move. The slight drop in resolution has led to better noise performance, and you can still make prints up to 47.14x31.42cm at 300ppi, which is larger than A3 and therefore plentiful for most shooters.

That 20.9-megapixel sensor is borrowed from the D500, as is the Expeed 5 processor, and therefore the two are matched in terms of image quality. Like most modern DSLRs, the traditional optical low-pass filter has also been removed in favour of increased sharpness, which results in rich detail. The D7500’s ISO spans 100-51,200 (expandable to 50-1,640,000) and noise is well controlled up to about 12,800. Take a look at the image quality panels for more on that.

Of course, being a DX camera, the D7500 has a crop factor to recognise, with traditional focal lengths being extended by roughly 1.5x. Therefore a 70-200mm f/2.8 becomes a 105-300mm f/2.8 – an advantage in that you can get the look of a 300mm f/2.8 without the weight such a lens would add. If you want further extension, the D7500 has is own 1.3x crop mode on top, cutting file size to 4272x2848 (12.1mp), but turning that 70-200mm into an effective 135-390mm f/2.8 lens.

The D7500 also boasts decent autofocus and shooting speed. It can’t quite keep pace with the D500 in that area, but it’s close, with a very zippy feel, and little slowdown to be found anywhere. It uses the same Advanced Multi-CAM 3500 II 51-point array as in the D7200, which is accurate to -3EV, and building on this adds the Group Area mode, as on the D500 and higher-end full-frame Nikons such as the D810. Therein you get five points in a diamond, helping to prevent misfocusing. It’s highly effective, as is the now-familiar 3D tracking mode; I tried both out on some fast-moving dogs during agility training, together with the AF-S 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens, and got a lot more hits than misses. Switch to the Auto area and the system does a really good job of picking out human faces, too. The AF Fine Tune mode has also been added from the D5/500.  

Allied to the strong AF performance, the 8fps burst mode is rapid enough for most situations. I got 100 large-fine JPEGs and 50 Raws in a burst, though that was with a fast 90Mb/s card; with an 80Mb/s card this fell to 35 Raws and 86 JPEGs. 

Compared to the D7500, the D500 uses the same -4EV sensitive 153-point system as the D5 and shoots at 10fps for about double the frames. Whether you need the extra oomph depends what you’re shooting.

For video, the camera shares identical specification with the D5 and D500, having a maximum res of 4K (at 30p), with up to 60p in Full HD mode. Like those other bodies, the D7500 also features the all-important 3.5mm mic input and headphone ports for recording and monitoring high-quality sound. There’s uncompressed HDMI output and electronic vibration reduction for steadier movies, too. The D7500 scores well here.

In terms of build quality, it’s not so long ago that the D500 set the benchmark for DX cameras, using full weather-sealing and a magnesium alloy/carbon-fibre shell. The D7500 is less of a brute, but still well crafted and weather sealed. It lacks the metal, but saves 120g in weight that way. The grip is deep and comfortable to hold for extended periods, and the rubberised contact points are clutter-free. Button layout is good, too, with the most common settings, such as metering, image quality and white-balance, falling easily to hand. There’s a dedicated ISO button, which sits behind the shutter button and between the exposure compensation and movie rec buttons, but only one SD card slot, so you can’t back up your shots- or extend capacity.

The D7500 has a good level of customisation: for instance, I set the AE-L/AF-L button on the rear to AF-On for back-button focusing, and there are two Fn buttons on the front supporting such changes, too. The Fn1 button sits where you’d expect to find a traditional depth-of-field preview button, naturally under the middle finger; the Fn2 button, closer to the lens mount, is a bit more of an uncomfortable stretch. The D7500 has two User modes accessible from the mode dial, and makes full use of Nikon’s SnapBridge feature for sharing photos via your phone or tablet. The overwhelmingly good handling and lightness add up to a comfortable and responsive camera.

The viewfinder is really good. Unlike many APS-C bodies it’s a proper pentaprism, not a pentamirror, and has 100% coverage with a 0.94x magnification, so composition is accurate and it doesn’t feel like looking down a tunnel. On the downside, the lack of contacts on the base means no battery grip for the D7500. If you’re used to the benefits of vertical shooting with a grip, or an integrated second shutter button and associated controls, this is going to feel like a loss. Nikon don’t list a grip for this reason, but some third-party boffin may invent one if we’re lucky.

The flip-out touchscreen is a definite plus point. I found using it for menus took a little getting used to, but it’s soon second nature and you start to miss things like swiping and pinch-and-zoom on non-touchscreen models. There’s also touch-focusing, which works faultlessly and I found this helpful for still life in particular, and on landscapes for focus stacking where you can focus at the frame edge without recomposing.

Battery life is very decent: the D7500 uses a new EN-EL15a cell, which has been upgraded from the EN-EL15 and is quoted at 950 shots. In practice, of course, energy consumption depends on how you shoot, so the number will vary, but I found performance was excellent, far outstripping many others. You can still use an EN-EL15 cell in the camera, so in terms of the D7500 being a second body there’s excellent commonality with other Nikons such as the D810, D610 and D750.

Performance: ISO

The D7500 is an excellent performer when it comes to digital noise – something that becomes increasingly obvious when moving into the higher ISO settings. This is, in part, thanks to the drop in resolution from its predecessor and the use of Nikon’s most advanced image processor, Expeed 5. To test the noise performance we shot throughout the range, leaving High ISO NR at the off setting (NR performance is tested on the following page). 

Images appeared very clean up to ISO 800, and from there to 12,800 the grain built but wasn’t much of a problem, with only a minor loss of sharpness at the top end. Colour noise was well marshalled up to 6400, but beyond that started to become more disruptive, where a loss of ‘real’ saturation was replaced by blotches of false colour. 

The top-end 51,200 setting is a bit grungy but quite usable at a push, especially if you can work the shot in mono. Jumping into the Hi settings, Hi1.0 was respectable but quality quickly falls off after that. Beyond Hi2.0 I felt pictures were unusable. That’s not a surprise, and in its regular ISO range the D7500 is excellent.

Click the images to see a larger view

Performance: exposure latitude

The amount of exposure latitude in a camera’s Raw files is important because it enables you to tweak exposure, hopefully without too much loss of quality. To test the D7500, we found a scene with plenty of highlight and shadow, shooting it using exposure settings of up to five stops over and under in mvanual mode.

The Raw files were loaded into Nikon’s Capture NX-D (Adobe Camera Raw had not been updated to include the D7500 at the time of testing). Exposure was then corrected and the files exported as JPEGs. 

TIPA’s dynamic range testing measures the D7500’s sensor at an impressive 11.8 stops, so it was no surprise to see it perform well. 

As in most cases, underexposed Raws recovered well, even at -5.0EV. In that file, noise was pronounced and detail suffered but there was no visible banding, and only a minor colour shift to cool. 

From there, things improved, and the -2EV underexposed Raw was almost indistinguishable from the correct exposure.  

Overexposure was good, too, holding highlight detail well up to +3.0EV. Beyond that there was clipping in those areas, and greying of other highlight tones.

Click the images to see a larger view

Performance: high ISO noise reduction

The D7500 has four High ISO Noise Reduction modes: Off, Low, Normal, and High. Putting these to the test meant picking a high ISO setting (we used ISO 12,800 here), and shooting JPEGs of the same scene in each of them to see how images were affected. 

Across the board the D7500 performed very well, so the real question is finding which of the modes looks best to your own eye. Even in the high mode, detail isn’t overly suppressed in favour of low noise, but it’s obvious that NR has flattened things somewhat.

Click the images to see a larger view



Verdict

The D7500 is around £450 cheaper than the DX flagship D500, and does well to compete with it. It’s a little slower in shooting and build quality isn’t quite as good, but overall it’s a great photographic tool. AF and image quality are good and the viewfinder is a pleasure to shoot with; the lack of a second SD card slot and no support for a vertical grip are the only disappointments. 

Pros: Image quality, speed, AF, handling, viewfinder 

Cons: Only one SD card slot, no accessory grip

Features 24/25 Great; pretty much everything you’d expect on an enthusiast DSLR
Performance 23/25 Not quite up there with the D500, but not much to complain about  
Handling 23/25 A solid, grippy feel and mostly good button layout; excellent viewfinder
Value for money 21/25 Welll priced, but £450 more for the D500 is still appealling 
Overall  91/100 The D7500 is a classy addition to the DX lineup, with plenty of cutting-edge features to appeal to upgraders as well as reliable DSLR performance and handling. 


As featured in Photography News, issue 46

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