Nikon D500 versus D750: Which one is right for you?
The Nikon D500 and D750 scored 91% and 90% respectively when we reviewed them. They both received gold awards. They’re about the same size, pretty much the same weight and currently, they both cost about the same amount of money, too. So if you’re a Nikon shooter looking to upgrade your camera, which one is right for you?
Join us, as we take a look at the main differences between the D500 and D750.
The largest difference – no pun intended – between the Nikon D750 and the D500 is in terms of sensor size. There’s a small disparity in resolution (the D750 offers 24MP whereas the D500 lags a little, at 21MP) but more significant is the fact that the D750’s sensor is full-frame. The D500, by contrast, is built around a smaller, DX format (APS-C) sensor, which introduces a 1.5X crop factor, meaning that a 50mm lens on the D500 offers a field of view equivalent to a 75mm lens on the D750.
Leaving aside the effect of the crop factor, typically, we’d expect full-frame sensors to offer better image quality in poor light, at high ISO sensitivity settings, and broader dynamic range, compared to APS-C and smaller sensors. The D500’s sensor is very good, but physics is physics, and at any given ISO sensitivity, the D750′ noise performance is about one stop better than the D500.
In terms of dynamic range, the D750 offers around 0.8EV more dynamic range at base ISO than the D500, which might not seem like a lot, but it’s enough to make a difference in some shooting scenarios (like the scene above, which was exposed in Raw mode for highlights, with shadows and mid-tones brightened in post). On the flip side, the D500 provides an electronic first curtain shutter option, which allows landscape photographers to ensure vibration-free images – something that can be a challenge with the D750.
Verdict: Both cameras offer excellent image quality, but if you need the extra dynamic range, the D750 is the best choice.
We’ve already mentioned the crop factor inherent to shooting with the DX-format D500, but there are other consequences of the smaller sensor. For one thing, it’s slightly harder to achieve shallow depth of field with APS-C sensors compared to full frame (you would need a 16mm F1.2 lens to achieve the same DoF as Rishi’s 24mm F1.8 FF shot above).
This is because an F1.4 lens on APS-C is equivalent in DoF terms to an F2.1 lens on full-frame (and so on – F2.8 becomes equivalent to F4.2, F4 becomes equivalent to F6…). This might not matter much in everyday shooting, but if you’re a fan of very shallow depth of field portraiture, the effect is both easier and cheaper to achieve on full-frame, if you consider the typical price (and size) difference between F1.4 primes and F1.8 equivalents.
This is the reason why lens manufacturer Sigma introduced its 18-35mm and 50-100mm F1.8 zoom lenses – they’re intended to provide a fast maximum aperture for APS-C users equivalent to the unofficial professional standard F2.8 on full-frame.
There is a plus side to shooting on a DX-format camera though – the 1.5X increase in effective focal length is very handy for telephoto shooting.
Verdict: If you need shallow DoF, go for the D750, if you want extra reach, the D500 is a better choice.
Lens choice (part 2)
Still on the topic of lenses, another thing to consider when weighing the D500 against the D750 is the fact that lenses designed specifically for the smaller APS-C format of the D500 won’t work very well on full-frame. Nikon’s DX and FX lens ranges are technically cross-compatible with all FX and DX format Nikon DSLRs, but most DX lenses vignette heavily on full-frame, greatly reducing the usable image area.
Also bear in mind that Nikon has a considerably better developed range of FX lenses than DX, and we strongly suspect that this won’t change any time soon. As such, given that FX lenses can be used without any technical limitations on DX, if you’re inclined towards the D500, you might still be better off investing in FX lenses – especially if you think you might move up to full-frame in future. The downside is that you might start off with some weird equivalent focal lengths (i.e., a 24-70mm will behave like a 36-105mm).
Verdict: We’re calling this one a draw.
When it comes to speed, the D500 is a clear winner. In many respects a scaled-down D5, the D500 is significantly faster than the D750 and much better equipped to cope with the demands of action photography. A maximum frame rate of 10fps and seemingly infinite buffer (200 Raws) leaves the D750 in the dust.
It’s not just about frame rate though. The D500 (pictured above) can also accept faster XQD memory cards, capable of data transfer rates up to 8 Gbit/s.
A USB 3.0 interface and 1/8000sec maximum shutter speed (compared to USB 2.0 and 1/4000 respectively) cement the D500’s action-shooting credentials.
Verdict: D500 wins, by a mile.
It’s a similar story with autofocus. While the D750’s 51-point AF system is extremely capable, and more than a match for pretty much any competitor in the sub-pro full-frame market segment (including the D810), the D500’s AF system is in a different league.
The D500’s AF system features 153 AF points, of which 99 are cross-type. Of this total of 153, 55 points can be manually selected, and the center point is sensitive down to -4EV. The D500’s smaller sensor actually benefits its AF system, because it means that frame coverage is much broader than the D750 (and any other Nikon full-frame DSLR).
Combine an AF array that covers almost the entire imaging area with a huge degree of AF customization and 3D AF tracking (the D500’s 180,000-pixel RGB metering sensor significantly boosts the performance of an already market-leading system) and you get an autofocus powerhouse.
Verdit: D500 wins.
On paper, the D500 roundly beats the D750 in terms of video specification, thanks to the addition of 4K video – a feature that Nikon only offers on two DSLRs (the other being the flagship D5). But as good as the D500’s 4K output is, using this mode does come with one big limitation.
In 4K video mode, the D500’s crop factor increases from 1.5X to 2.25X. This is pretty limiting when shooting anything that requires a wide field of view, purely from the standpoint of finding a wide enough lens. Even Nikon’s super-wide 10-24mm DX format zoom becomes an pretty standard 23-55mm equiv. (with a maximum aperture equivalent to F8-10 in depth of field terms). In HD video mode, there’s not much to separate the two cameras. The D500 and D750 offer an extremely similar specification and deliver similar-looking video footage. The addition of a touchscreen on the D500 makes AF point positioning easier, but that’s about it (and bear in mind that AF in video mode is pretty poor on both cameras, so you might find that you don’t make use of this function much anyway),
Verdict: If you need 4K, go for the D500 – just make sure you have a wide enough lens.
Nikon is pitching the D500 as a ‘professional’ DSLR, despite its sub full-frame sensor. As such, like the flagship D5, it lacks a built-in flash. This cuts down on weight, and also means a theoretically increased resistance to dust and water incursion. The downside is – well, there’s no built-in flash.
We actually really like the small built-in flashes on cameras like the D750 and D810, not because they’re particularly useful as flashes, but because they can be used to wirelessly trigger groups of Speedlites off-camera. That’s conventional optical triggering, but unlike the D500, the D750 is not compatible with Nikon’s WR-A10 wireless controller ($200), which allows off-camera flashes to be radio triggered (important when line-of-sight won’t cut it).
Verdict: D750’s built-in flash offers greater versatility (unless you need radio control), at the expense of reduced environmental sealing.
Ergonomics and handling are pretty subjective. One person’s ideal control system might be maddeningly complex to someone else. Some people really like touchscreens, some people can’t see the point of them. Some members of the DPReview editorial team (who shall remain anonymous) actually like Olympus menu systems.
The point being – ergonomically, which of these two cameras is better depends on your personal preferences. Their basic control layout is extremely similar, but they do feel somewhat different in the hand. Despite its smaller sensor, the D500 is actually the larger, heavier (by more than 100g) of the two cameras. The D750 is surprisingly svelte for a full-frame camera, but the D500 feels like it could be used to bang in a few nails.
The D500 provides many more options for customization than the D750, available via a dedicated custom settings GUI. This makes it more versatile for a professional moving between different shooting scenarios.
It also offers a couple of other pretty major features that the D750 doesn’t: a touchscreen, and backlit controls. We’ve found the D500’s touchscreen invaluable for things like AF point positioning in live view (especially from awkward low angles) and backlit controls are a huge benefit if you do a lot of shooting at night.
Verdict: D500 offers more. A touchscreen, more customization and backlit buttons.
Nikon D500 versus D750: Which one is right for you?
So if you’ve got a couple of thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, which camera should you buy?
The Nikon D750 (above) is one of our favorite DSLRs – ever. Its combination of refined handling, a highly capable autofocus system, a surprisingly small and light body and excellent image quality make it fantastic camera for everyday use. The D750 is one of those cameras that we consistently recommend to friends and family, and for most Nikon photographers, there are very few reasons to spend more on the D810.
But then along came the D500. It’s an APS-C format camera, but not only is it more ‘pro’ than any previous DX format DSLR from Nikon, but it outperforms most of the company’s full-frame DSLRs, too. The D500 is designed for heavy professional use, with an emphasis on speed and reliability. As we’d expect from a camera that shares so much with the flagship D5, the D500 is a real workhorse, and in many respects (shooting speed, autofocus, video spec, to name just the obvious things) it outmatches the D750, sometimes very significantly.
The D500 also offers 4K video, of course, but unless you really need it, we wouldn’t recommend deciding between these cameras purely on the basis of this feature. The aggressive 2.25X crop in 4K mode is pretty limiting, apart from anything else.
At the end of the day, if it were our money, we’d probably recommend the D500 over the D750. For a photographer interested in capturing sports or fast-moving action it’s a no-brainer. The sheer speed and focus of the camera, combined with the telephoto-boosting 1.5X crop factor make it a superb tool for this kind of photography. And of course, if you can live with some awkward effective focal lengths, the D500 is fully compatible with all of Nikon’s current lenses.
If you’re not a keen sports photographer, you don’t need 4K video, and you don’t mind not having quite the latest and greatest AF system – go for the D750. You won’t be disappointed.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.