A question every reviewer should undertake before doing a review is to define who the product is being built for. I try, but sometimes forget to do this, but because of some really hostile reviews of the D7500, I am forcing myself to be the potential buyer of a D7500 first, and a professional photographer second, because the D7500 is not targeted at a pro.
There's a very successful podcaster who works on behalf of a very credible photography website who consistently refers to the D7500 as a Frankencamera. He vaciliates between love and hate for Nikon, and while that's his prerogative, the D7500 is not built for his use cases, given that he is a former professional photo-journalist and now a professional podcaster on photography news. His work is little news, lots of opinion and even more paid advertising, but that doesn't make the guy bad. He's got a huge audience though, and his words may be accepted as gospel by those for whom a D7500 would actually be perfect.
So, let's find out what the D7500 does really well, and where it does not fit and thereby you, gentle reader, can determine if it's a good choice for you.
Who's The Customer?
Nikon has a series of different camera lineups. The D3xxx family, currently the D3400 is an entry level DSLR with entry level functions at a low price for casual users. The D5xxx family, led at the time of writing by the D5600 is a step up in function, while trying to keep the price low enough to attract the new photographer and casual user who wants a small DSLR style camera. A couple of years ago, I wrote that the D5500 (top at the time in the segment) was far and away the best DSLR for the money available from anyone. The D7xxx line is still a crop sensor camera, still on a small chassis but with more features and function that would appeal to the prosumer buyer, a client who wanted simplicity but who was willing to cross the one thousand dollar threshold for a camera body. Above this we have the D500 line, a pro level crop sensor, the D6xx, D7xx and D8xx, a series of full frame cameras where the D850 definitely falls into the pro level. Finally we have the D5, Nikon's defacto professional camera, built for hard and aggressive use and with professional level functionality and durability. While some say that there are too many choices, we won't worry about that and focus on the D7500 a camera designed for serious enthusiasts and those who might want to have a side business doing photography.
Folks in this segment, as in the higher range segments, want to know about the specs of a camera up front, partly as gating factor, and still partly because there is an element of one-upmanship being played with other photographers around models and brands. The camera is just a tool capable of taking a picture, but not making a photograph. The making is in the mind of the photographer only.
The D7500 is a crop sensor DSLR body using Nikon F mount lenses. It can mount either DX or FX lenses and has in body autofocus, so will work with lenses in the current Nikon family that do not have AF motors in the lenses. It's sensor delivers 20.9 megapixels from a CMOS engine. The maximum native print size at 300ppi is 18.5" x 12 .4" which provides a very high level of resolution without digital manipulation of the image. The camera can record in a variety of JPEG quality levels with Fine as the best quality of JPEG as well as in Nikon's proprietary NEF RAW format. The camera has a single SD style card slot and can use cards up to the SDXC specification in size. As the D7500 is a DSLR, there is a mirror box and so the viewfinder is optical with 100% coverage of the lens view. There is a built in diopter adjuster in the range -2 to +1 for personal eyesight adjustment. The focus screen is Nikon's bright matte type. The mirror is a quick return type and the camera allows for mirror lockup. The shutter is electronically controlled of the vertical travel focal plane type. Shutter speeds range from 1/8000 to 30 seconds, selectable in either of 1/3 or 1/2 EV steps. Flash synchronization is at 1/250 but flash can be used at up to 1/320 with diminished flash range. Shooting rates include single shot, Continuous Low and Continuous High, along with Quiet shutter and Mirror up options. The maximum burst rate is 8 frames per second. There is a user configurable self timer with options of 2, 5, 10 and 20 seconds. There is also a built in interval timer offering up to 9 exposures at intervals of 0.5, 1, 2 or 3 seconds. Metering in camera is TTL using 180K meter sensors in the RGB space. Meter range is -3EV to 20EV at ISO 100 in matrix or centre weighted mode. Spot metering is limited to 2EV to 20EV. Shooting modes include AUTO, Scene, Program, Aperture Preferred, Shutter Preferred, Manual, Special Effects and two User configurable modes. Exposure compensation is available +-5EV in PASM, Scene and Special Effects modes. An exposure lock function is included. Native ISO range is 100-51200 with one Lo and five Hi options. Buyers must understand that Lo and Hi ISOs are not real ISO, they are digitally processed ISOs. Autofocus is available in Single Shot (AF-S), Continuous (AF-C) and camera selects (AF-A). Dynamic AF options include Single Point , 9,21, 51 as well as 3D Tracking, group and auto area. There is a face detection mode in live view. The camera has a total number of 51 AF points and AF works from -3EV to 19EV at ISO 100. There is a built in popup flash that can be used as a main light, a fill light in P and A modes and as a controller for Nikon's Advanced Wireless Lighting (optical mode). High Speed sync is supported in the flash system as are slow sync, fill, rear curtain sync and red eye reduction. There is a Nikon i-TTL hotshoe provided. White balance offers two different Auto options along with tungsten, flash, seven types of fluorescent, custom, direct sun, cloud and shade as well as a manual Kelvin temperature option. The rear LCD can be used in Live Mode for stills and is required for movie shooting. Auto focus is available in Live View. Video can be made on this camera in 4K UHD at up to 30fps, FullHD at up to 60fps and lower resolutions at up to 60fps. Video may be recorded in either MOV or MP4 formats. Audio can be recorded using the built in microphones or via an external microphone plugged into the camera. A headphone jack is available for monitoring. The rear LCD is used for Live View and playback. It is 3.2" diagonally and has 922k pixels. It has a tilt function and touchscreen capability. Accessory interfaces include inputs for a remote control, a GPS unit (GP-1A), HDMI out, USB2 and the WR-R10 remote communications system. The camera incorporates both Bluetooth and WiFi for use with Nikon's Snapbridge smartphone application. Power is provided by a single EN-EL15a battery with a CIPA rating of 950 shots or 80 minutes of HD footage.
In The Box
My demo unit arrived as a complete kit. The box contained the body, a Nikon DX 18-140 zoom lens, the battery, the charger, the strap and the documentation. Unlike some vendors that do not include a full manual, Nikon still does (1 point), but it is written at the same level as most camera manuals, meaning not for use by normal humans as it is rather robotic and not all that illuminating. I think that this is a problem, but given the number of folks I've met who have never taken their manual out of the bag, it may not be a huge issue. I downloaded the PDF version from Nikon's website immediately to iBooks so it will be available on all my computers, iPads and iPhone. I checked for firmware updates, and the only update was for distortion control data. There was also a brightly coloured Nikon branded strap that I used on the eval unit and would never use on any camera that I owned because I don't care to advertise for free and don't want to be robbed because someone saw that I had an expensive camera around my neck. I immediately put the battery in the charger and set it to charge fully. I literally have a stack of SD cards in the studio so grabbed the first one available which was a Lexar 64GB card rated for 95MB/s transfer rate. This card had been declined for use in a Sony a7r Mark II for 4K video, so I also wanted to see how Nikon which also does 4K would handle things. Apparently Nikon likes this card better for 4K than Sony does, because it can record 4K video to it at 30fps. Nikon does not document video bandwidth, whereas Sony does.
For my first shoot with the D7500, I headed out to the Koffler Scientific Reserve near my home. The Koffler Scientific Reserve is a property of the University of Toronto in York Region. There is a private section and a public section. It's a place I go often because the woods are nice and there are decent walking and hiking trails there. Sadly there is also a lot of illiteracy because even the owners of very expensive cars clearly cannot read the multitudinous signs that say that dogs must be kept on a leash. There is no sign that owners should clean up after their dogs, but since these pigs cannot read the leash sign, I'm certain that they would not read a pickup your dog's crap sign. There are signs not to leave plastic bags of dog crap on the trails but that sign doesn't appear to be comprehendible by these dirtpigs either. So a nice place to walk so long as you don't mind being barked at, dodging piles of dog crap and being jumped on by dogs whose owners couldn't find their butt with both hands and a road map. But I digress…
It was -11 centigrade on my first outing. No funny noises or excessive battery drain showed in the 90 minutes that I was out. The light was heavily overcast and there had been snow in the last 48 hours sufficient to make for a nice white background and to provide concealment to the aforementioned piles of dog crap. I only had received the 18-140 zoom which has a variable maximum aperture starting at f/3.5 at 18mm and dropping to f/5.6 at 140mm. I was shooting predominantly in aperture preferred with AUTO ISO turned on for the stills and in Manual with AUTO ISO for the 4K video footage. As there was a fair bit of snow in all the scenes I dialed in + 1 1/3 exposure compensation for the entire shoot sequence, so my snow was closer to white and not grey. In retrospect, I should have gone with my usual +2 for everything and pulled down those that were too bright.
The lens has decent close focus capability as is seen in the sample images and is nicely sharp. The out of camera RAWs were flat as expected and were easily imported and converted by Lightroom Classic CC. Nikon's AUTO ISO program tries to maintain a safe handholdable shutter speed as the focal length changes and as I zoomed to 140mm, it drove the ISO up to deliver a shutter speed of 1/250 for whichever aperture I had chosen. I floated between wide open for the close stuff and f/8 or so for the wide angle images, and the AUTO ISO did its job as expected, although to achieve these default safe shutter speeds, it was happy to leap to higher ISOs. On occasion it leaped up to ISO 6400.
I have to give the D7500 props at its medium high ISO performance outdoors. While there is a fair bit of noise at ISO 6400, the higher ISO performance of the D7500 is superior to the more expensive Canon 7D Mark II. My own tests show that the D7500 dynamic range is better than the Canon 7D Mark II by over two stops, even though the Canon body is $500 more expensive. Sony's a6500 is only $50 more than the D7500 and the D7500 outperforms it as well. From this perspective, the D7500 is an excellent purchase option for the investment. The Canon has near identical megapixel count, while the Sony is 24MP.
I shot some handheld 4K video at 30fps while on this walk. There is a reasonable amount of operator created shake during pans, but the footage looks good, if a bit flat as I only used the Neutral picture control setting. The microphones are very sensitive and picked up a fair bit of ambient noise, so I would only depend on them for audio sync and not for production audio. I played the unprocessed MOV files back on the computer using Apple Quicktime and there was no shearing or juddering at all. Do note that there is a crop that occurs when you shoot 4K video. There was video like motion blur in the pans, but it wasn't nauseating.
I did also try to use the popup flash for some fill work. That did not work out well as it was to underpowered to do much in the way of shadow fill. I did not get a Nikon speed light as part of this review, my fault for not asking for one. The D7500 is one of only four Nikon bodies that can leverage the radio system in the new SB-5000 flash and the WR-R10 remote connectivity kit. It can however, use the popup flash as a commander with other optically controlled Nikon speed lights such as the SB-910 and others of the type without the radio control system. The popup must be deployed even if there are no optical remotes and only radio remotes with the WR-R10 communications kit attached. This seems goofy, but it does so to reserve groups A-C (only A and B are configurable in camera) for optical control and use groups D-F for radio if the WR-R10 is deployed. I will talk to flash more, but I do not see someone spending $1500 on an entire camera body being willing to spend $770 on a single SB-5000 and an additional $240 on a remote connectivity solution. I think that fits a very different buyer from the person who selects a D7500. A buyer of a camera of this level will be better served with a Metz or Phottix product that fully supports Nikon's iTTL, presuming that you can find one in the glut of cheap offshore crap.
High ISO Performance
The gallery that follows includes images made from ISO 100 to ISO 12800, plus two images made at the fake ISOs of 25600 and 51200. As expected, the computational ISO images look like crap. In my opinion, the camera is solid to 1600, good at 3200 and acceptable at 6400 in a well lit and properly exposed scenario. If you have to deal with a lot of shadows, you are going to need to either fall back to a lower ISO, or plan on some softness by aggressive noise reduction in post processing. All the images were shot on a tripod, using the self timer to fire the shutter. Lighting was provided by a pair of KinoFlo continuous lights. I used Lightroom's white balance eye-dropper on the first image's Spyder ColorCheckr and then synchronized the same setting to all, rather than white balancing them individually. I do this because I want to see if there is any WB drift as ISO's get higher. Exposures were made manually based on the incident light meter reading on a Sekonic L-458 light meter, manually moving the shutter speed and ISO for each subsequent shot. Only the first reading was used, again to see if there was any exposure drift as the ISO increased.
I discovered that Lightroom's lens corrections had to be a bit aggressive to address barrel and pincushion distortions in the 18-140 in my first roll and the ISO test shots, so please take that into account if you go with this lens. You will want to have lens corrections turned on. At ISOs starting at 3200 and going higher, the amount of colour noise got pretty ridiculous pretty quickly. Lightroom was able to do a good job cleaning up to 6400 but after that the cleanup started to look a bit smeared and soft.
The shoots were made on snow days and not so snow days. I did feel a bit less secure because of the amount of ice on the ground and that made me more aware that the body of the camera and the lens construction is mostly plastic and if I fell, pretty horrible damage would likely result. I will say that the 18-140 has a metal lens mount, not that plastic mount found on the 18-55 and 55-200 lenses. I've seen so many of those with the bayonet ears busted, that however decent the optics are, I am inclined to tell buyers to look at alternative glass. I also continued to notice the lack of a lens hood, and that means that a buyer is going to need to probably special order one. The alternatives that I will mention include a lens hood.
Briefly on that subject, there is no accessory for a lens that you can use that will always and in every case have a positive impact on your images like a lens hood will. If your lens does not have a hood, spend the money on that before dropping one cent on a protection or UV filter, because unless you spend near $100, those filters are going to negatively impact image quality because they are not optically sound.
Speaking of. The target buyer may be looking for a first lens that is really more an all in one. The premium to get the D7500 with the 18-140 in the kit is $400 and the lens sells on its own for $650 (all numbers in CAD$), so there is an implied discount for the bundle of $240. That's not chicken feed. All the same, I would personally be more inclined to suggest passing on the 18-140 and to go for a Tamron 16-300 instead. It is an f/6.3 at 300mm vs the Nikon being f/5.6 at 140mm, but I think that the overall image quality and build quality is better for the nominal price increase. At time of writing you can get the Tamron for about $700. Sigma does an 18-300 for about $770, but in my opinion, I'd rather have more width and spend less.
The image quality coming out of the 18-140 is quite good. You don't lose with a Nikon branded lens, just make sure that the working range you select is appropriate to your needs.
Without autofocus for video like Canon's Dual-Pixel system, video on any Nikon is, for the best possible work, a manual focus proposition. This doesn't mean that AF with video doesn't work, it means that it's slow and it hunts. Not unlike most other DSLR video. Mirrorless video should not have this problem, because the AF is not above the mirror, but on the sensor. Some mirrorless cameras have awesome AF and others inhale rapidly. It is what it is.
The D7500 can shoot in 4K. It will do 4K UHD (3840x2160) and while it does crop in, the image quality is very high, and when shooting with live view or an external display, what you see is what you get. Like most vendors, video is designed to work in all the modes, but if you want the best possible results, you are going to put the camera in manual and follow the basic rules.
Shutter speed is 1 over the frame rate,. Since the D7500 4K tops out at 29.97fps, set your shutter speed to 1/60. Pick an aperture that will give you the depth of field that you want for the focal length that you are using. You can see it live on the LCD, so this is pretty darn simple. Either use the ISO as a manually controlled gain adjustment (gain is the video word for brightness) or just switch to Auto ISO and let it rip.
That's what I did for all my tests. I've included a link to an in studio video shot on the D7500 here and uploaded to Vimeo in 4K. Looks pretty darn good. One thing to note. If you will be shooting in 4K, you are going to want a pretty powerful workstation, and decent 4K capable software. I used Final Cut Pro X 10.4 for the project and even with lots of memory in the Mac Pro, compressor still took over 20 minutes to encode a web ready 4K file. 4K looks lovely, but editing and processing makes real demands on your gear.
Before you ask, Snapbridge does nothing from a remote perspective with video. I'd smack Nikon for this, but the steps they've gone through to change Snapbridge from a complete failure to a passing usable tool, gets them a pass this time. Plus most other smartphone apps cannot spell video either.
I want to spend more time on the video subject, so bear with me. Video is the fastest growing imaging space on the planet, where stills are actually falling off in most geographies. Serious amateurs and pros are being asked by clients if they can do both, and even combine still slideshows with videos and nice audio tracks in a single project.
If you are a working photographer and you aren't shooting video, you are potentially in trouble. You can get decent enough video out of a smartphone without even thinking hard. The same is true for action cameras, once you get past the massive amounts of lens distortion. The net for video is the same as for stills. Want better video? Use a better sensor. Go-Pros and iPhones will only take you so far. When I look at the pricing of the D7500 and consider just how darn good the video is in it, we do ourselves a disservice not to consider that our next cameras had better be excellent at both video and stills.
As you note above, I shoot video typically in manual mode, but if you don't want to, you can simply rotate the mode dial to the video icon and start rolling. The exposure is well controlled and while the autofocus is not speedy fast, hopefully you are thinking about your clips and not just spraying and praying as if you had a Super 8 film camera.
Smartphone and action camera video typically looks like crap because it doesn't get edited. Step up from the base and edit your video on your computer. If you have a Mac, you get iMovie which is incredibly powerful. If you have a Windows machine, go download Windows Movie Maker. Its UI is a bit dated, but it's pretty easy to use and lets you export your finished work easily.. I am a huge fan of DaVinci Resolve, the basic version of which, is completely free on both Windows and Mac, but I will warn you that this is studio grade editing and the learning curve is somewhat long. Amazing product though. If you want to pay for a simple video editor, go with Adobe Premiere Elements. It's about 80% of Premiere Pro for just over $100. When I teach video editing and colourization, students constantly express amazement at how much can be done with the video that they have shot on their camera.
When I look at the prevalent DSLRs and mirrorless cameras out there that do 4K video, the D7500 stands out by how inexpensive it is. Excellent competitors abound, including Fujifilm's XT-2, Lumix's GH5 and Sony's a6500. What is a great surprise is that the D7500 costs less than all of them. Not always by a lot, but less. Thus if you like the Nikon DSLR body style, and have Nikon lenses, or want them, but also understand that 4K video is the present, that FullHD is the past and that the other big DSLR company doesn't get to 4K (and lousy 4K at that) until the 5D Mark IV, the D7500 may be the perfect camera body.
About when I received the D850, Nikon put out Snapbridge v2. It's such an enormous improvement from the piece of dog poop it used to be, that folks can be forgiven for giving Nikon too much credit for finally releasing a smartphone app that is at least on par with the options from the competitors. Buyers of the D7500 are going to want to link to their smartphones, and there will be a sizeable audience who will shoot in JPEG just so that they can upload their images to their favourite social media site. I'm taking a gold star from petty cash as an award for not performing an evil eye curse on all of social media sharing. Snapbridge offers decent remote control capability, although I wish it was easier to turn the bluetooth off when the camera goes off, because once you set it up, it stays live.
Grumblings, mine and other's
I like the D7500, but there are some things here that are just silly. First off, the body is absolutely big enough for two cards, even if they are SD type, so why be so cheap as to not provide two card slots. Buyers of a camera like this would often like to shoot RAW+Jpeg and being able to split the files between cards is handy. More important, is the ability to use Slot 2 as a live duplicate of Slot 1. I've seen too many SD cards go bad this year, with more in the 128GB and larger size than any others. This just emphasizes to me, that SD is a really lousy format looking ahead, but I can understand why Nikon would not put XQD in the D7500, even though I would prefer it. Compared to the D7200 that you can still find in the market, you lose a card slot. The D7200 has two. WTF? No matter who the buyer is, this is just a BS decision.
As you'll see in the ISO tests, why go to so much effort for extended ISOs when the results are so lousy. No one who cares about their image quality is going to shoot past ISO 6400 on this sensor and the ISO 51200 looks like the catbox after Fluffy has had a really bad day. This makes no sense, and touting these high ISOs is mostly BS, and runs a high risk of ticking off the buyer, who thought that he or she was getting something that they really are not.
920K pixels on the rear LCD is very low when the competition are all driving 1.4M and higher. I appreciate that some may argue that shooting with the LCD is not as good as with the optical viewfinder, and I might agree, but going to a large but lower res LCD strikes me as cost accounting gone mad again.
Given that the only DX camera better than the D7500 from Nikon is the D500, I look at the lack of the ability to add a battery grip to be pretty dumb. I do not expect that Nikon sells a ton of these things, but again, this camera is targeted at a market where battery grips, and the resultant better grip for portrait orientation and longer run time really start to appeal. I am separating out my personal preference for battery grips, and still think that this is a missing.
Some folks will be disappointed to see that there is no infrared remote receiver on the camera. I get that Nikon wants people to spend the money on a WR-R10 Remote Connectivity kit, but on the D7500 it looks like a block just waiting to be broken off, so even though the IR remotes are usually lousy, Nikon's removal of the receiver makes little sense. Could it really have cost so much that it had to be removed?
Since the camera arrived in 2017, I have to wonder which cost accountant overrode engineering on the USB connectivity. Seriously? USB2? In 2017? Someone needs to be taken out back and be beaten with a shovel. That's just customer contempt right there. Target buyers of the camera may have computers without SD card slots (f**ing Apple) or not have made the purchase of a separate card reader. USB2 is so last century and unreliable as well. Bad Nikon.
There is 4K video, with the aforementioned aggressive crop, but don't expect Canon dual pixel quality AF. I love that Nikon puts 4K in a DSLR that normal people could buy, but I would prefer to see them with their own version of Dual Pixel AF which has been out for a couple of years now. Mirrorless often wins for AF in video overall but the Canon Dual Pixel system is superb. Nikon has the capability, where's the fast video AF?
You do get a stop more high ISO but that is mostly due to increased photo site size because the D7500 has fewer megapixels than the D7200. This means that the older camera has a larger native image size. This probably will not matter to the target new buyer, but someone with more creative intent will be more likely to want to print enlargements and so this is a disappointment.
It's also true that you can no longer meter with older non CPU AI lenses compared to the D7200. Respectfully, it's time to move on folks. Stick with new glass on the new camera. Despite this setting some other reviewers off, the reality is that the target buyer will not care about this at all.
The D7500 is a perfectly fine camera. I am pleased to see Nikon get useful 4K out to buyers in this price point (hallllooooo Canon). I also think that the size and usability index is right for the anticipated target market. I am disappointed that the camera is crippled in areas that the buyer might look to grow into over the lifetime of the camera, and I believe that by eliminating or ignoring some functionality, Nikon is creating a scheme for faster upgrade cycles. Given how much competition there is in a diminishing market, and the likelihood that the general buyer is only going to have at most three lenses, there is not a lot of brand lock in, particularly when other vendor offerings are studied as options for the next camera. Nikon's lenses are excellent, but their kit lenses and general use DX lenses are not better than any other competitor. I just don't see someone whose budget is about $1500 for a body to go drop over $3000 on a 70-200/2.8.
Comparatively speaking, I think that the D7500 is a decent value, given the recent decisions by manufacturers that in the face of falling sales, the best thing to do was to increase prices. It's my opinion, that camera pricing in general is out of control, and given the amount of price fixing that goes on, it's annoying. I'm not pitching a spear at Nikon solely on this. Use Mr. Google to search for Minimum Advertised Price and learn what I am writing about.
When I reviewed the D850 it set a new upper bar. When I selected the D5500 as the best camera for the money at the time, period, it was because these products delivered something very special that set them apart from their competitors and both were designed to have a pretty decent usable lifetime. The D7500 is a fine product, but it doesn't stand out the way the others do, except for being such a great entry to 4K video. In my research, I found that given the number of D7200 bodies still available, that more sellers were recommending the D7200 over the D7500 during the 2017 holiday season. Despite the effusive endorsements from some Nikon Ambassadors, I can understand why this might make sense for a pretty good sized group of the target audience. The D7500 is superior to the D7200 in some ways, and behind the curve in others. Personal use cases will drive the decision as to which way to go. Nikon needs to worry a lot less about Canon, and a lot more about Sony. On a price - performance basis, Sony is the 800 pound gorilla coming out of the corner and most likely to try to rip your arms off. This does not make me happy. I prefer real competition in the marketplace and Nikon missed some opportunities here. All this said, anyone who buys a D7500 is likely to be extremely pleased with it for the next three years or so,
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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, and until next time, peace.