Nikon has been pumping out quality camera after quality camera recently, and the conundrum of which one to buy is further muddied by the release of the new D850. This full-frame DSLR camera shoots fantastic stills, but is its performance worth the high cost?
That’s the question the D500 begs that we answer. This camera may only feature an APS-C sensor, but it still shoots impressively enough that we’ll need to dig a bit deeper to find the winner.
Nikon D850 Advantages
- Full-frame sensor
- Higher resolution and larger pixels
- Better overall image quality (dynamic range, color depth, and low-light performance)
- Longer battery life
- Focus peaking
- Shoots 4K or 120 fps slow-motion
The Nikon D850 is a wonderful, wonderful camera. This semi-pro offering from Nikon replaces the D810 and proves an even greater joy.
The D850’s full frame, 46-megapixel sensor is an absolute powerhouse, outclassing the D500 in every aspect of the pictures it takes. Its uncropped sensor offers a higher resolution along with larger, brighter pixels.
This combination results in some stunning photographs. Its blacks are blacker and its whites whiter; its color range is deeper; and its low-light performance is in an entirely new class.
It also has a few tricks up its sleeve. The D850 is capable of bracketing not only exposure but focus as well, allowing you to take multiple photos while shifting the focal point between them.
It can also shoot 4K time-lapses in camera and even offers the ability to produce 8K versions, though those must be put together by hand in post.
The D850 provides a longer battery life, lasting around 600 photos longer than the D500 and giving you between 1800 and 1900 shots on a single charge. It will also last around 20 minutes longer while shooting video continuously.
While shooting video (or using Live View on its 3.2” screen) the D850 provides focus peaking, highlighting what’s in focus to help you line up your shot perfectly. It can also shoot 4K H.264 footage or up to 120 fps when only shooting in 1080p.
Unlike most offerings on the market, the D850 will shoot full frame 4K video without cropping the shot at all. Pixel binning appears minimally intrusive—it does not suffer too much in lower light conditions.
Nikon D850 Disadvantages
- Underwhelming video mode
- Peaking doesn’t work in 4K
- Huge price tag
- Decreased low-light performance (compared to D810)
- Bigger and heavier
- No pop-up flash
- Only an hour of video per battery charge
This is a wonderful DSLR camera for stills, but when it comes to shooting video the price tag is less justified.
The D850 shoots beautiful 4K footage but lacks any sort of meaningful autofocus while in Live View. Any shot with a moving subject must be focused manually. Peaking will also not work when shooting 4K footage and is relegated to only the HD capture modes.
Your battery life will likely not exceed an hour of capture time.
The D850 also lacks built-in image stabilization, so loses out to offerings from Panasonic and Sony in the video department. The Panasonic GH5 comes to mind as a far cheaper camera (to the tune of around $1400) that offers a far more fleshed out feature set for shooting video.
Compared to the D500, the D850 is bigger and heavier; like the D500, the D850 lacks a built-in flash of any sort.
Removing the pop-up flash removes a weak point from the camera and eliminates the need to worry about weather sealing, but that means you’ll always have to haul around a speedlight if you need a fill on a sunny day.
Finally, the D850 scored worse in low-light conditions than did its predecessor, the D810. Noise is better controlled but it seems to pay for this with a lack of sharpness at higher ISO stops.
Its performance is still frankly better than I could ever reasonably complain about, but you would be paying a lot for a bit of a downgrade in this department.
Nikon D500 Advantages
- Older and more heavily discounted
- Comparable color depth and dynamic range for the price
- Faster continuous shooting (10 fps vs 7/9)
- 1 further ISO stop
The D500 features an APS-C sensor, unlike the full-frame D850, and will “only” be able to produce 21 megapixel images. However, not everyone needs a full-frame camera, and for around $1400 less I think this camera deserves a fair shot at the crown.
The Nikon D500 is a lighter and smaller DSLR than the D850, unsurprisingly, but offers its buyers the same Nikon F lens mount and a lot of spare change for lenses. The weight difference will likely be compounded with the lenses that you choose to use—due to its smaller sensor, the D500’s lenses will generally be lighter than the D850s when shooting at a similar aperture and focal length.
The D500 is no lightweight when it comes to performance, however. It offers comparable color depth and dynamic range, producing fantastic stills at a fraction of the price.
It features the same lightning-fast 153-point autofocus array as the D8500 and the flagship D5.
Its lighter weight and impressive dynamic range make it an excellent choice for landscape photography, as it is also weather sealed (just like the D850).
It can also outpace the D850 in continuous shooting mode, offering 10 fps with the shutter button held down. The D850 can only shoot 7 fps, though with a battery grip attached it can pull a more comparable 9.
The D500 offers the option of shooting 4K video footage and features a top deck display to review your exposure settings—both features that the D850 boasts as well, but again with a large disparity in price. It likewise provides dual storage slots, an external mic jack for video, a tilting display, and built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC connectivity.
Nikon D500 Disadvantages
- No pop-up flash
- Lackluster low-light performance
- No focus bracketing
- Smaller sensor
- Short battery life, especially for video
The D500 is, at the end of the day, a cheaper camera. Its battery life suffers for it, achieving fewer photos and less video on a single charge.
Its smaller sensor lacks the same great low-light performance that the D850 shows off and actually suffers a bit in this category—I would have expected a better showing from a (roughly) $1800 Nikon.
Shutter lag is comparable in most situations to the D850, but the D500 is around twice as slow when in full autofocus.
The D500 also comes up a bit shorter on the features list, lacking the options of focus peaking, focus bracketing or producing 4K/8K time-lapses. It also likewise lacks a pop-up flash.
In terms of resolution, the D500 just can’t compete with the far larger sensor and megapixel count that the D500 brings to the table. For most people (including beginners and intermediate photogs) it will prove more than enough, but if you’re in the market for a serious DSLR the D850 definitely provides more wiggle room for a tight crop or an image detailed enough to blow up on a poster.
Regardless of the disadvantages detailed in the last situation, both of these options are seriously impressive cameras. If you shoot a lot of video, then the D850 may be a tough pill to swallow. For such a hefty price tag, I had hoped for a slightly more well-rounded offering from Nikon.
If you’re looking for show-stopping stills, however, look no further than the D850. Anyone who needs a camera that will shoot great pictures and stunning video should think about the spectacular D850 compatible lenses they could pick up for around $1400 and a bit of change.Back to Top