Nikon D500 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing Nikon D500 image quality to its true predecessor, the D300S, as well as against a couple of its more recent siblings, the D7200 and the D750. We've also included the Canon 7D Mark II, its closest competitor, and the Sony A6300 which offers similar performance and is considered to produce state-of-the-art image quality for a shipping camera with a Bayer-filtered APS-C sensor. We realize the Nikon D750 is full-frame while the D500 and the rest are APS-C, but the D750 is the same price so we wanted to see how a full-frame camera compares for those that don't need the performance of the D500.

NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved, click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Nikon D500, Nikon D7200, Nikon D750, Canon 7D II, and Sony A6300 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Nikon D500 to any camera we've ever tested!

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D300S at Base ISO

Nikon D500 at ISO 100
Nikon D300S at ISO 200

It's been almost seven years since the D300S was introduced, and this comparison really demonstrates just how much image quality has advanced in that time. The 21-megapixel D500 easily out-resolves the 12-megapixel D300S, but it also produces a cleaner image at base ISO, however keep in mind the D300S' higher base ISO of 200. Nikon's processing has also changed a lot since the D300S, with higher default contrast, saturation, and sharpening, which combine to produce a much crisper, more vibrant image, but one that also contains obvious sharpening halos. Some of the added sharpness is however due to the D500's lack of an optical low-pass filter which does lead to more aliasing, while the D300S has a fairly strong OLPF contributing to its softer image as well as fewer aliasing artifacts.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D7200 at Base ISO

Nikon D500 at ISO 100
Nikon D7200 at ISO 100

Here we compare the D500 to a modern APS-C Nikon, the D7200. As you can see, image quality and processing are quite similar, though the 24-megapixel D7200 does resolve a bit more detail. On the other hand, the 21-megapixel D500 does a bit better with our tricky red-leaf swatch, likely because of its lower noise levels as a result of slightly larger pixels.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D750 at Base ISO

Nikon D500 at ISO 100
Nikon D750 at ISO 100

Here we decided to compare the APS-C Nikon D500 to the full-frame Nikon D750, because they are both currently the same price. The 24-megapixel D750 again resolves a bit more detail than the D500, but noise levels are very similar. While the D750 has an optical low-pass filter, it shows stronger moiré patterns in our red-leaf fabric indicating it's a fairly weak one. However the appearance of stronger moiré from the D750 is likely just because its resolution is closer to the frequency in the thread pattern, and we'd expect to see similar aliasing if not more from the D500 from a lower frequency pattern. Interestingly, color reproduction is slightly different and more vibrant from the D500, and it appears to be applying stronger default sharpening as well, producing more obvious sharpening halos.

Nikon D500 vs Canon 7D Mark II at Base ISO

Nikon D500 at ISO 100
Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 100

Here, we compare the 21-megpixel D500 its closest competitor, the 20-megapixel Canon 7D Mark II. Resolution is fairly closely matched, but thanks to the lack of an optical low-pass filter, the Nikon does resolve a bit more detail than the minor difference between pixel count would suggest. The Nikon's image is also more vibrant with more "pop", due to differences in processing by the two companies. The Canon's image is a little smoother with slightly lower visible noise, but that's mostly due differences in processing.

Nikon D500 vs Sony A6300 at Base ISO

Nikon D500 at ISO 100
Sony A6300 at ISO 100

At base ISO, the 24-megapixel Sony A6300 resolves noticeably more detail than the 21-megapixel D500, thanks to its higher resolution and very weak (or absent) optical low-pass filter. The Nikon image is a touch more vibrant with better color, but sharpening halos are quite evident while they are much less obtrusive from the Sony. The Sony shows more obvious moiré patterns in the red-leaf fabric here, but again keep in mind the OLPF-less D500 could easily show more with different subject matter or the same subject at a different distance.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D300S at ISO 1600

Nikon D500 at ISO 1600
Nikon D300S at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600, the D500 continues to easily out-resolve the D300S while producing similar noise levels despite significantly smaller pixels. The D500 image is also crisper, clearer and more vibrant thanks to a shift away from the very conservative default processing Nikon used to perform in years gone by.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D7200 at ISO 1600

Nikon D500 at ISO 1600
Nikon D7200 at ISO 1600

The D7200 continues to capture more detail than the D500 in most subject matter, but noise is a little higher from the D7200, allowing the D500 to produce slightly cleaner results while doing better with our difficult red-leaf swatch.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D750 at ISO 1600

Nikon D500 at ISO 1600
Nikon D750 at ISO 1600

The 24-megapixel D750 still manages to produce better detail than the 21-megapixel D500, but it's interesting to see that the noise advantage of the full-frame D750 isn't as great as we expected. Yes, it still produces lower noise, but perhaps not by as much as you would think. Other differences noted at base ISO remain, such as color reproduction and aliasing.

Nikon D500 vs Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 1600

Nikon D500 at ISO 1600
Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 1600

Here at ISO 1600, the Nikon D500 manages to hold onto more detail than 7D Mark II in most areas of our studio target, while at the same time producing lower noise and a more vibrant image. The Canon however does better with the fine, low-contrast detail in our red-leaf swatch, and shows fewer aliasing artifacts as well.

Nikon D500 vs Sony A6300 at ISO 1600

Nikon D500 at ISO 1600
Sony A6300 at ISO 1600

The Sony A6300 still manages to render more detail than the Nikon D500 with fewer sharpening halos, though noise levels are a little higher. Contrast is higher from the Sony in the red-leaf swatch, however moiré patterns continue to interfere with detail here. Colors are not as pleasant from the Sony, and noise "grain" does not appear quite as consistent as the D500's in flatter areas.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D300S at ISO 3200

Nikon D500 at ISO 3200
Nikon D300S at ISO 3200

The newer Nikon D500 continues to easily best its elderly predecessor in all areas at ISO 3200, producing a more detailed, clearer, sharper and more vibrant image with lower or at least comparable noise levels.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D7200 at ISO 3200

Nikon D500 at ISO 3200
Nikon D7200 at ISO 3200

The Nikon D7200 still manages to retain a bit more detail than the D500 at ISO 3200, but D500's image shows lower noise levels and manages to render our red-leaf swatch a little better than the D7200, though both smudge much of the fine detail away.

Nikon D500 vs Nikon D750 at ISO 3200

Nikon D500 at ISO 3200
Nikon D750 at ISO 3200

Likewise, the Nikon D750 continues to resolve more detail than the D500 at ISO 3200, however noise levels actually appear a little higher from the full-frame camera. This is almost certainly because of lighter touch in default noise reduction, though, which allows the D750 to hold onto its advantage in terms of detail.

Nikon D500 vs Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 3200

Nikon D500 at ISO 3200
Canon 7D Mark II at ISO 3200

Here at ISO 3200, the D500 continues to best the 7D Mark II in most respects, producing a sharper, more detailed image with brighter, more pleasing colors. Noise levels from the Nikon also appear lower.

Nikon D500 vs Sony A6300 at ISO 3200

Nikon D500 at ISO 3200
Sony A6300 at ISO 3200

The Sony A6300 still manages to produces a sharper, more detailed image overall than the Nikon D500 at ISO 3200, but noise reduction artifacts are more noticeable, and the Nikon continues to produce better color. Much of the detail in the Sony's rendering of the red-leaf pattern appears distorted instead of just being blurred.

Nikon D500 vs. Nikon D300S, Nikon D7200, Nikon D750, Canon 7D Mark II, Sony A6300

Nikon
D500
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D300S
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D7200
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon
D750
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Canon
7D Mark II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Sony
A6300
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. Here, the Nikon D500 once again easily bests the Nikon D300S with much better detail and contrast, especially as ISO increases. The 24-megapixel cameras do a little better in terms of detail as expected, and all of them produce very good contrast with only a minor drop in image quality up to ISO 6400. The D500 does a little better than the 7D Mark II particularly at higher ISOs, but it's the Sony A6300 which is the overall winner here, even besting the full-frame D750 in terms of detail and clarity.

 

Nikon D500 Print Quality Analysis

Superb 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 50-200; a nice 13 x 19 at ISO 3200; a good 5 x 7 at ISO 25,600.

ISO 50 through 200 prints look superb at 30 x 40 inches and larger, until you run out of resolution. Fine detail is excellent, colors are rich and well-balanced and the images have a three-dimensional "pop" to them. Excellent printed images at these lowest ISO's.

ISO 400 also looks terrific at 30 x 40 inches. You have to really get close to the print to notice a slight drop in fine detail and crispness in some areas of our target like our mosaic tile region, but the difference is negligible and the print is still excellent in overall quality.

ISO 800 yields a 30 x 40 inch print that, amazingly, can still be used effectively for wall display purposes and less critical applications; anything but close-up critical viewing. The 24 x 36 inch print here is quite good and very much passes our good grade, with only the mildest drop in contrast detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch, and some minor apparent noise in a few flatter areas of our test target. Fine detail is still good throughout the majority of the image, and this is a nice achievement for this sensitivity.

ISO 1600 prints warrant a reduction in size to 16 x 20 inches, the first time the Nikon D500 begins to look like a mere mortal in the APS-C world. This is still a nice printed size for ISO 1600, but anything larger begins to reveal too much in the way of noise reduction artifacts to pass our good grade.

ISO 3200 yields a print with good color reproduction and overall fine detail at 16 x 20 inches, but displays just a trace too much noise in some flatter areas of our target to merit our good rating here. A reduction to 13 x 19 inches does the trick and delivers a solid print with good fine detail, full colors and very little in the way of noise reduction artifacts.

ISO 6400 produces an 11 x 14 inch print that just passes our good grade. There is a trace of visible noise in some flatter areas of our target, but not enough to prevent us from assigning our good seal here. You won't see many cameras on our site as of this writing with APS-C sized sensors that can deliver a good 11 x 14 inch print at ISO 6400. Most contrast detail is lost in our troublesome red-leaf swatch, but this is typical of most cameras we test by this ISO setting.

ISO 12,800 delivers an 8 x 10 that comes oh-so-close to passing our good rating! To my knowledge that would be a first in the APS-C world. Indeed, the 5 x 7 inch print here is the best we've yet seen at this ISO from an APS-C camera -- a really superb image for this ISO!

ISO 25,600 shots just pass our good grade at 5 x 7 inches, and yet again this is a stellar feat for this ISO from an APS-C camera. Full color reproduction and nice fine detail are still apparent with very little visible noise at this print size. Well done!

ISO 51,200 prints a 4 x 6 that almost passes through, and is certainly usable for less critical applications. It's just a bit on the noisy side, with slightly muted colors, to warrant our good seal. But again this is a lofty ISO for an APS-C camera as of this writing.

We've certainly come a long way since 2009 and the days of the Nikon D300S! That was a camera to be reckoned with for its time, but in the past seven years the stakes have definitely changed. For the APS-C world, the Nikon D500 is now one of the heavy hitters in the print quality department as ISO rises, besting other cameras like the Canon 7D Mk II, Nikon D7200 and the Sony A6300 at ISO 6400 and higher. Only the Samsung NX1 and NX500 have fared as well or better at print quality in the APS-C category.

It's too bad that the five extended high ISO's are basically useless for printing purposes. We've been scratching our heads wondering why Nikon is offering sensitivities so high that they don't really have any practical use in the enthusiast camera world, including going as high as ISO 1,638,400 but with abysmal image quality. This is perhaps useful for surveillance of some kind, but definitely not for enthusiast photography.

But extended ISO's aside, if you need large prints as ISO rises in an APS-C camera body that can deliver quality prints through ISO 25,600, the Nikon D500 is one of your best bets as of this writing.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 



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