With last year’s release of the D500, Nikon seems to have shifted away from the D7000-series of cameras holding onto the top spot in its DX-format lineup. This year, however, Nikon released the D7500, which borrows much of the D500’s technology and packs it into a slightly more compact, less robust body. Could this secretly be the best value in Nikon’s DSLR lineup?
With the D500 clearly positioned to be in the flagship spot, the D7500’s announcement was a bit of a head-scratcher—and not in a bad way. It shares the same sensor and processor technology as the D500, but strips away some of the bells and whistles for a more down-to-earth model that might well suit many enthusiast photographers and videographers in terms of features, as well as price. When I got the chance to work with the D7500 for a day, I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to use it. Mainly, because it seemed to be an all-around good camera, I was struggling to find an example of a subject I could use to exploit potential flaws or a subject that could really shine due to the D7500’s strengths. Within reason, this camera has no glaring weaknesses, nor is it designed as a niche camera to appeal only to a certain type of imagemaker.
I ended up on Governors Island and sought to test the camera under particularly normal conditions. Whereas the D500 sticks out as the camera to grab for fast-paced action or for working in harsh climates, the D7500 seems positioned more for general use. Armed with the body and the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 lens, I took the ferry to document this historic island in the middle of New York Harbor. Being a particularly bright day, the main issue I foresaw was how well the camera would handle the contrast of the bright sunlight and deeper shadows. The 20.9MP sensor, introduced with the D500, is best known for its multimedia capabilities: it supports recording UHD 4K video, affords a native sensitivity range up to ISO 51200 that can be expanded to a mind-boggling ISO 1640000, and fast continuous shooting to 8 fps. Being the same sensor as the D500, it’s safe to assume the video performance will be the equivalent, the high ISO performance is comparable, and the continuous shooting, while slightly slower than the D500, is also quite respectable for photographing some moving subjects. While these are the highlights of the sensor, not much attention was given to its dynamic range and image quality during the initial rounds of D500 reviews.
With the D7500, however, I expect more landscape, wedding, and environmental photographers to be working with this sensor, and subsequently more, or at least different, scrutiny is going to be placed on other aspects of the sensor compared to just speed and high ISO sensitivity. In my use, I found the sensor to deliver an image quality very common to many of the recent Nikon DSLRs, and is characterized by a wide dynamic range well-suited to photographing in harsh or dramatic lighting conditions. Another key to Nikon’s success in the sensor department is color rendering, which is due to the updated 180k-pixel exposure metering sensor and its ability to prioritize exposure regarding independent color values. Seemingly not the most stringent of tests, the D7500’s ability to deliver accurate tones under bright midday light was satisfying where many other cameras can tend to shift too blue once the highlights become overwhelming and the shadows more pronounced.
One of the key differences between the D7500 and the D500 is the autofocus system. The D7500 uses a more modest, but by no means inadequate, 51-point system with 15 cross-type points. In general use, photographing relatively still subjects, this system works flawlessly and the rear D-pad is a simple method for selecting individual points or groups during use. Compared to the D500’s 153-point AF system, however, the D7500 is certainly a bit more limited in its ability to track moving subjects. One thing to note, though, is that even while the D500 has well over 100 focusing points, only 55 of them are selectable, whereas all 51 points of the D7500’s AF system are selectable.
The other main distinction between the D7500 and D500 is the body design. The D7500 uses Nikon’s buzzword-worthy monocoque-type carbon fiber construction that is more heavily focused on weight reduction instead of reinforced durability. Not that I threw around my review sample of the camera, but the heft of the D500 is inspiring; it feels like a camera designed to be beat up a bit. The D7500, on the other hand, feels like a camera with which you should take a bit more care. The other personal drawback I experienced with the body design is the positioning of the Fn1 button, which is inset in the grip and meant to be pressed by your right middle finger. I have normal-sized hands and this button felt to take up too much space in the grip; it initially compromised some handling comfort, but was also something I grew more and more used to the longer I shot with the camera. I appreciate the easy action to a function button, but I think I would have preferred it being located somewhere a bit more innocuous.
Looking more at the body design of the D7500, two additional sticking points come to mind, and this time in relation to the D7500’s predecessor: the D7200. With the previous-generation camera, you were provided with dual SD card slots for more flexibility in how you saved your files (I particularly like the ability to shoot JPEG to one card and raw to another), but the D7500 now features just a single SD slot. I must believe this deliberate backtracking is due to the D500 now being the “pro” DX camera, and dual SD slots being a “pro” feature, but it is surprising to see the omission of a much-lauded feature. One other point of contention, although much more negligible, is the difference in resolution of the rear LCD. The D7200 sported a 3.2" 1.229m-dot screen, and the D7500 has a 3.2" 922k-dot screen. The change in resolution isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but it’s another one of those setbacks that is a bit more puzzling than sensible. I can only assume the reason for the change in resolution is that the D7500’s LCD is also a touchscreen, and has a tilting design; a welcomed update for many. The tilting action is very helpful when reaching over obstacles or shooting from low angles, and the touchscreen is… well… pretty much what you would expect at this point. It’s nice to be able to swipe and tap to zoom while reviewing images, but beyond the playback aspects I hardly used the touchscreen while shooting.
In addition to the few physical differences, the D7500 also received an updated form of SnapBridge, which now uses Bluetooth Low Energy in addition to Wi-Fi for transferring files wirelessly between the camera and a mobile device, or for remotely controlling the camera from your phone. I’ve used this updated iteration of SnapBridge with the D5600 to much success but, again, it’s one of those features I seldom use in actuality. I like having the ability to grab some photos from the camera and look at them on my phone while heading back from shooting, but it isn’t a feature I rely on too heavily for professional work.
Overall, the D7500 is a solid release and a strong step forward in terms of imaging, compared to the D7200. It provides a strong, realistic alternative for those excited by the D500 but perhaps not in need of the durability and autofocus features. Also, I could see the D7500 being a perfect backup camera for photographers working professionally with the D500. If you can overlook the absence of a second memory card slot, the D7500 can be thought of as the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing.