Welcome to the supplement page for my Nikon D500 video review. Before you read this page, I highly recommend that you watch the video first since it has information not mentioned below. I know it’s a long clip, but hey, what’s 25 minutes when you get to spend it with a nice guy like me? (Or, you know, what’s 25 minutes when you’re about to drop 2 grand on a camera? 🙂 )
As time goes on, I’ll be updating this page, so bookmark it and keep an eye out. You never know what I’ll post!
Also, if you would like to purchase the D500 or any of the other items mentioned in my video / writeup, please consider doing so via the Amazon links below. It won’t cost you anything extra, but it will help support this site and these types of articles.
When I asked for topics people wanted to see in this review (via my newsletter), I had an overwhelming number of requests for a list of my D500 settings – and I do cover some of them in the video. However, I didn’t want to drone on and on in front of the camera (anymore than I already do), so I decided that I’d elaborate on my settings in a more complete way here on the site. Since most of my action shots thus far involve our avian friends, most of the settings below are tested with birds in flight – although those settings should work for a wide variety of different action scenarios.
WARNING: All that said, before you go copying my settings like a desperate middle schooler during an exam, keep in mind I’ve set my camera up specifically for action and for my style of shooting. Many of these settings would be different for landscapes, macros, etc. However, since you asked… 🙂
Birds In Flight Settings For The D500 / D5
I think the most common question I’m getting on the D500 is, “What are your settings for birds in flight?” Well, as luck would have it, I’ve been feeding my D500 a very regular diet of flying birds since I received the camera. So, below is a quick overview of what I use and, more importantly, why I use it.
AF Mode – This is set to AF-C of course. Always make sure your camera is set to AF-C (Continuous AF) for any kind of action. When in doubt, just do the math: AF-S + Birds In Flight = one unhappy photographer.
AF Style – Back Button AF. As many of my readers and YouTube viewers know, I’m a fan of Back Button AF, and have my camera setup that way. For the hows and whys of it all, check out this video:
AF Area – This is set to Group (most of the time) – For the D500, I have to say I’ve really been enjoying Group AF for flying birds (still rockin’ single point for the stationary ones). I have used D25 and D72 as well, but my overall keeper rate has been highest with Group AF. However, a word of caution. If you’re dealing with larger birds, you need to be careful with Group AF. It likes to latch on to whatever is closest to the camera so sometimes you’ll get a sharp wingtip and soft head instead of the other way around.
If it becomes a problem, I’ll switch to D25 or D72 since those modes allow me to position a single AF point where I want it (like the head) and the system only steps in if I lose tracking – usually jumping to an adjacent point. So, the Dynamic Areas are sometimes better when you need a more precise AF location. Experiment with both and see what works best for your style of shooting and your subjects.
Focus Tracking With Lock On (custom function A3) – I mention this in the video, but I’d like to go into more detail here since Nikon has made some changes with the D500. The first part of this setting is, “Blocked Shot AF Response” and I’m at a setting of “2”. The idea here is that if something comes between you and your subject for an instant, the camera won’t jump to the obstacle but instead hesitate just a bit and stay with your target until the obstacle is past. Very handy if you’re tracking a bird flying by and a tree jumps between you and your subject as you pan.
However, in older cameras I sometimes found this setting more trouble than it was worth and I would generally turn it way down or shut it off altogether unless I was actually having an issue with obstacles between the subject and myself.
The problem was, the camera would sometimes lose tracking and wait too long to reacquire the lock (the camera thought the tracking loss was due to an obstacle or something). When that happened, there would be too much hesitation in regaining the lock, the opportunity would pass, and there would be no keepers on the card.
Well, the tracking has improved with the D500 and it doesn’t tend to lose tracking like that nearly as often. Sure, it can still happen (which is why I still keep it set low), but it’s infrequent to say the least. In fact, there are times that I wander off target and having this set at “2” gives me just a split second to regain tracking before the camera switches to a new target. For me, setting the delay higher seems to cause too much hesitation in the system (like on the rare occasion it grabs the wrong initial subject or has focus set to the wrong part of the critter), so for now a setting of “2” seems to work well for me.
The other part of this setting is “Subject Motion.” This new setting is a way for you to let the camera know how erratic or steady your subject is. For the types of wading birds I’ve been doing, it seems like right in the middle works fine on the D500 and D5. If you’re faced with something more erratic (like a bat grabbing mosquitoes) or steady (like a plane flying by), then certainly try the more appropriate setting.
For more on how Nikon’s AF modes work, see this video. Note that this was done prior to the D500 / D5, but the way the modes (Group, Dynamic etc) work is exactly the same.
Custom Controls (F1)- The D500 also has some exciting new options for the preview button, sub-selector, function button, and AF-On button. For now, I have been experimenting with a few of the customization options available with the Preview button and Sub Selector ( AKA the joystick).
For the PV (preview) button, I have selected the “AF area mode” option, “Single Point AF.” This setting allows you to press the PV button on the front of the camera and regardless of what AF area mode you’re currently in, it will switch you back to single point as long as the button is held in (demo in the video). This is really handy when you’re in Group AF and your subject gets into a tight area (since Group AF loves to focus on the vegetation around the critter instead of on the critter itself).
As for the Sub Selector, I’m playing with something new there. There’s an interesting option that allows you to set it up for AF-On and it occurred to me that this potentially solves one of the biggest problems with back button AF (BBAF).
If you have used BBAF for any amount of time, you know it has one annoying drawback – you have to take your finger off the AF-On button in order to switch AF points. Well, it occurred to me that if I set my joystick for AF-On when I press it in, I solve that problem. And it works – sort of…
With this setup, when you press in the joystick, it will focus, but when it’s pressed in, it won’t move the AF points. So, you can move them around and focus with the same button, but not at the same time. Personally, I’m not sure if this is any better than the way I’ve been doing it up to this point, but I’ll never know if I don’t try it for awhile.
Frame Rate – This is set to 10FPS. Keep it at maximum for the best variety of wingbeats / expressions and shoot in short, controlled bursts.
Shutter Speed – I’ve been keeping my shutter speed at 1/3200 or higher for most of my birds in flight and that seems to keep my success rate pretty high. I have gone with lower speeds, but my keeper rate gets progressively more disappointing as my shutter speed drops.
F/Stop – This really depends on how much light I have at my disposal. When it’s brighter, I go F5.6 or F6.3 for a little added fudge factor (Depth-Of-Field) in case I miss critical focus by a smidgen. As the light drops I’ll open up until I reach F4.
ISO – This varies depending on the light of course, but I tend to cap out around ISO 4000. Beyond that, I feel like I’m losing too much detail in the fur and feathers of my favorite subjects. About the only exception to that would be if something extraordinary was happening, but if I can get basically the same shot the next day in better light, I’ll wait.
Personally, I really like to keep the D500 under ISO 1600. Very little effort is needed to clean up those shots. Beyond that, ISO 1600 – 3200 is still good, but it will need a slightly more aggressive approach when it comes to noise reduction later. Beyond ISO 4000, I’m definitely breaking out the heavy guns to get rid of that noise.
Other Custom Settings:
Here are a few other custom settings you might be interested in for the D500…
Custom function A1, Release Priority – I keep this one at the default of “Release.” Sure, you can use one of the “Focus + Release” settings (don’t use just “Focus” or you’ll miss a ton of shots), but I find my keeper rate is just fine with “Release”. The thing is, the “Focus + Release” settings attempt to verify focus before letting the shutter fly and it can slow things down if the camera doesn’t think it has a solid AF lock.
The problem is, sometimes the AF point isn’t on a sharp area, but the area you want sharp actually is in focus. For instance, maybe I’m photographing a bird gliding by and focus is on the head / neck. The camera is ready to fire but a wing flaps by the AF point and the camera no longer thinks the subject is in focus. Of course, focus is right where I want it, but in this case the camera hesitated until the wing went past and fired when it was able to get a better confirmation of the lock. So, in many cases, your focus is perfectly fine, but the camera is hesitating (note – it will still fire eventually, even if it can’t confirm a lock in one of the “Focus + Release” modes). Setting this to “Release” keeps that hesitation at bay and I actually seem to get MORE sharp images with this technique.
A6 Number Of Focus Points – This one is a bit confusing, so although I don’t switch it I thought it was worth a quick mention. This doesn’t select the number of AF points available for tracking, this setting is for how many points YOU can select with the joystick. So, if you find it’s taking too long to jog from one side of the screen to the other as you bounce around a field of 55 AF points, you can set it down to a more reasonable 15. I have mine at 55 and haven’t had any disappointment in the AF point position department.
A7 – Store by orientation – This one is actually pretty cool so I have it turned on. Basically, this will remember where you had the AF point the last time your camera was in a vertical orientation and then where it was when the camera was horizontal. Why is this handy?
Think of this scenario. Let’s say you were out photographing the feathers off of a beautiful egret that was standing in the marsh and you have your D500 vertical with the sensor point right on his eye. However, in the mean time there are a few birds occasionally flying by and you want to use the middle AF point with the camera in a horizontal format to capture those. Normally, you’d have to move those AF points around each time you switched orientations and probably miss shots. With this turned on, you can turn the camera horizontal when the flyers sweep by and your AF point will jump back to the middle. Once they pass, you can turn the camera back to vertical and the AF point jump back to where you left it.
Oh, and you can choose between just remembering the AF position or the position and AF area! So, that means you can shoot the standing bird with single point and the flyers with Group – and the camera will switch back and forth when you rotate. Sweet.
The next one I change is for BBAF – and that’s A8. Under this, I select AF-ON only, since I don’t want to focus with my shutter release. See my back button AF video above for more info.
Next we have A9 – Limit AF Area Mode Selection. The more I use the camera, the more I know which AF areas I do and don’t want to use. This setting allows me to eliminate the ones I don’t use from the menu when I’m cycling though, making it faster for me to get to the AF area modes I DO want. I never use D153 or Auto, so those two are turned off. I’ll probably also turn off 3D as well (see the video for why). However, if YOU do use those modes, then don’t turn them off – remember, these are my settings 🙂
From here, most of my stuff is actually just the defaults. I do turn on the viewfinder grid display (D8), but other than a few minor items (monitor delay, that sort of thing), nothing earth shattering here in the Custom Functions for me personally.
One more option you should set as well – In the Tools menu, make sure to enter your name and copyright info and have the camera attach it to your images 🙂
D500 ISO Samples
Below are a few ISO samples comparing the D500 to the D810, D5, and D7200. I had a few in the video, but the images below give you more than just the ISO 6400 slide you saw in the video.
NOTE: Please click the images to see them full size (note you may have to click a second time to see 100%). Images will open in a new tab. Look especailly at the orange and blue aras, as well as the wall behind them.
All shots were on a tripod, mirror up, focused via live view, cable release, and at the same F/stop and shutter speed for each ISO tested. Also note that these are shot in my basement and I don’t have an “official” testing facility. As such, they aren’t 100% prefect, but I think you get the gist of it. For a better test and comparison between these cameras, click here to check out the studio comparison at Dpreview – although their tests seem in line with mine.
First the D7200 vs The D500. In my opinion, these cameras are fairly close, with the D500 looking about 1/3rd of a stop better, may 1/2 stop when you get into the really high ISOs:
Next, our FX vs Crop comparisons.
In this series, the D5 just kills everyone, it’s not even fair. The D810 and D500 are actually within 1/2 stop for the most part, which is pretty impressive. In the Dpreview tests, the D810 seems to fair a bit better and to be honest, I trust their results more than mine (hey, I know my limits – I’m a photographer, not a tester 🙂 )
Oh, and before you ask, figure the D750 is going to be better than the D810 but not quite up to the D5.
That’s it for now…
If you enjoyed this article, I think you’ll REALLY like my e-books, Secrets To Stunning Wildlife Photography and Secrets To The Nikon Autofocus System. They’re filled with hundreds of pages of information just like this. Check it out – click here (hey, it’s free to look 🙂 )
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