Nikon D7500 Field Test Part I
Nikon D7500 Field Test Part I
Above ground and below, the D7200 successor performs well in its first real-world test
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 06/21/2017
Some seven years ago, Nikon plugged the gap between its professional DSLR lineup and its more consumer-friendly offerings with the launch of a brand-new, mid-range DSLR camera series. The Nikon D7000 was the first product in that line, and it was aimed with laser-like precision at enthusiast photographers.
With no replacement as of then having been offered up for the earlier D300 and D300S, and full-frame as yet still only available in pro-grade bodies, the D7000 became the company's de-facto flagship enthusiast DSLR from late 2010. And the same was true of its DX-format successors, the D7100 and D7200, which launched in early 2013 and 2015 respectively to bear the APS-C flagship crown themselves.
But we're in 2017 now, and things have changed significantly -- both in the marketplace, and for the D7000 specifically. The Nikon D500 finally made its arrival on the scene last year, taking over the D7200's throne as the preeminent Nikon DX-format DSLR. That has necessitated a shift in positioning for the subsequent Nikon D7500, and has thus brought a few feature changes which have raised hackles among Nikonian enthusiasts who cut their teeth on the earlier cameras.
Given that they're something of an elephant in the room, I think it's good that we get the discussion out of the way right upfront relative to these few shortcomings, because they distract from what's otherwise still a very powerful and capable camera -- just one which doesn't now share quite the same enthusiast camera cachet as its siblings. So what's missing?
Well, perhaps the most significant omission for my money is the lack of any provision for a portrait / battery grip accessory. Sure, a third-party grip could potentially be made which would mount using the D7500's tripod socket, but since there's no electronic connectivity with which to interface with the camera (nor even a removable battery door to allow piggybacking off the existing battery compartment), it's very unlikely that a third-party grip could allow for greater battery life or dedicated portrait-orientation controls.
At this level, the omission of such a significant feature surprises me, and with my larger-than-average hands and love for portrait grips, it would probably be enough to make me personally consider buying the D500 instead, despite the D7200's much cheaper pricetag. Whether or not it should do the same for you will depend on how much you shoot in portrait orientation, whether you want to avoid changing batteries too often (although as a DSLR, this isn't such a big concern as it would be for an EVF-based camera), and whether you tend to prefer a portrait grip for ergonomic reasons.
And there are two other similarly significant omissions which may persuade you to look higher up Nikon's line to a more expensive model, as the company doubtless intends. For one thing, there's only a single SD card slot. That means you can't keep a backup in case of card failure, and nor can you segregate your data by file type as it is captured, should you prefer to do so.
Of course, the extra slot can only protect against failure caused by an individual flash card, and it's possible that you could find both cards corrupted simultaneously for other reasons, but that added layer of belt-and-suspenders safety is nevertheless worth having. And I doubt the extra slot added terribly much to the weight, size or cost of the D7500.
Finally, the Nikon D7500 also lacks an Ai indexing tab on its lens mount. This is an issue which will only be of concern if you want to use older lenses, but also want the camera to be able to meter for you. Where earlier D7000-series cameras could use center-weighted or spot metering with many older lenses, and could even offer Color Matrix metering with AI-type lenses, all of the above will be usable only in fully manual mode on the D7500. Unlike its predecessors, this camera can only meter with CPU lenses. (But if you're only shooting modern glass, this won't be an issue for you.)
Do I wish that Nikon had kept all three features in the D7500? Undoubtedly, but I can also understand that the decision not to include them was likely made because the company was concerned about cannibalizing D500 sales. And this is a significantly more affordable camera than that one. Still, the D7500 is if anything just fractionally more expensive than was the D7200 before it, and that camera was nevertheless able to offer all three features. It's definitely a shame that they're not included in the D7500.
But enough of that -- there's a lot more to the Nikon D7500 than those few features it now lacks. And this is a form factor which really appeals to me, I have to say. Although I probably spend more time shooting with mirrorless cameras these days because that's what's been on hand for review, I'm still a DSLR guy at heart, and my own daily shooter is currently the Pentax K-3, a direct rival with similar capabilities to the D7000-series cameras.
I love that attachment which only an optical viewfinder has yet given me to my subjects. Even if electronic viewfinders do continue to get ever closer to matching their optical viewfinder brethren, I still don't think they're quite there yet.
The Nikon D7500 is impressively light for a fully-featured, enthusiast DSLR
So I was keen to try out the Nikon D7500, and got my hands on our sample just as soon as the lab was done with its first round of testing. On taking it out of the box, I was immediately impressed by how relatively light is the D7500, for a DSLR camera. The earlier D7200 was already a noticeably 40g lighter than my aforementioned Pentax K-3. And now, thanks to its new carbon fiber composite body, the Nikon D7500 is another 35 grams lighter than its predecessor, and a whopping 75 grams lighter than the K-3.
To put that difference in context, consider that the battery packs used in the D7500 and K-3 (the Nikon EN-EL15 and Pentax D-LI90 respectively) each tip the scales at around 78 grams. That means Nikon has managed to remove almost half the battery's weight from its new model, and that a ready-to-shoot Nikon D7500 without its lens weighs almost exactly as much as the Pentax K-3 with neither lens nor battery included. It's significant, and enough to notice immediately when you pick up the camera.
Yet despite its lighter weight, it still feels very solid indeed. I couldn't detect a hint of panel flex or creak anywhere on the Nikon D7500's body. Really, the only way I could tell that I wasn't handling a mag-alloy bodied camera is that the D7500's body panels don't feel cold to the touch when first you pick it up, as a metal-bodied camera would do.
The control layout is typical Nikon, and for the most part pretty intuitive. It always takes me a little while to readjust to the fact that the lens unscrews from the mount in the opposite direction to my Pentax bodies, and to the fact that by default, shutter and aperture controls are assigned to the opposite dials, but that's an adjustment I've made many times before, and you won't have to jump back and forth between brands as I do, so it won't affect you unless you're about to switch brands.
All of the main controls are where I want them to be, though, and the buttons have good feel, while the dials have a satisfying click detent and locks to prevent accidental turns. I do prefer Pentax's on-demand mode dial lock when I'm having to make frequent mode adjustments - there's no getting around the fact that at least two fingers are required to spin the D7500's exposure and drive mode dials -- but I'd rather a locking dial than one which cannot be locked at all.
And Nikon's smart button placement, with video capture, ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation easily within reach behind the shutter button, while the AE/AF-lock button falls directly under my thumb, really couldn't be much better.
Really, my only control complaints with the D7500 are that I find it quicker and more intuitive to control playback zoom from dials rather than buttons, as Nikon does, and that the placement of the user-configurable function 1 / 2 buttons makes them rather too easy to forget. They're tucked inside the handgrip, with the function 1 button falling under my middle fingertip, and function 2 just within reach of my little fingertip.
I have pretty big hands, though, as I'm 6'1" tall. That meant I tended to press the Fn1 button accidentally more often than I remembered to do so intentionally -- thankfully it just defaults to enabling and disabling the artificial horizon -- but also means that while I can reach Fn2 with my little finger, you may need to adjust your grip a little to do so. (It defaults to changing the image sensor crop, another function which you likely won't use too regularly.)
But those slight niggles aside, I really do like the Nikon D7500's control layout, and I found it very comfortable in-hand, even when shooting for hours at a time without a chance to set the camera down.
Some great glass for my Nikon D7500 review
Of course, your choice of lens is important here too. When it first arrived, my Nikon D7500 sample came complete with the AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lenses, and I've just received a copy of the AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens which I'll be using in my second field test as well.
Both the 16-80mm and 18-140mm lenses are pretty lightweight, and pair beautifully with this body. The 70-200mm is rather heavier, as suggested by its included, detachable tripod foot. It focuses and zooms internally, and although a two-handed grip is basically a given when shooting with this lens, even it could feasibly be shot one-handed in a pinch, especially towards the wider end of its range.
As it happened, just shortly after my review sample arrived, I had a quick overnight trip already arranged to visit Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, and so that became my first shooting experience with the Nikon D7500 as well. I really couldn't have chosen a much more challenging subject. Not only are ambient light levels very low once you get down into the incredibly sprawling, 405-mile connected network of caves, but the National Park Service also doesn't allow flash photography, tripods or monopods. So for the duration of my 2.5-hour cave tour, I'd be shooting entirely handheld.
Unfortunately, while attempting to corral an overactive eight-year old I made a couple of slips in getting my gear set up, as you'll see from my shots in the gallery. Firstly, I somehow missed enabling raw capture, although I could have sworn I did so. I also missed enabling VR on the lens, although the Nikon D7500's epic sensitivity range saved the day here, roaming as high as the native maximum of ISO 51,200-equivalent to get the shot. (And yielding reasonably usable results despite needing such a high sensitivity.)
But lesson definitely learned on my part: Wrangling kids at the same time as configuring a new and unfamiliar camera body is a bad idea. Mea culpa! (And fear not, I'll have plenty of raws in my second round of gallery shots, coming soon. Watch this space!)
One feature I did thankfully remember was the Quiet shutter-release mode, which is set using the lower of the two dials which sit, stacked wedding-cake style one above the other, on the Nikon D7500's left shoulder. With the cave being such a peaceful environment, I really didn't want my liberal use of the shutter button disturbing anyone else's experience.
The function works by disabling camera sounds, and by delaying the reflex mirror's return motion until you release the shutter button, as well as by allowing a little more time to prepare the mirror and shutter mechanisms for the next shot. By spreading everything out over a longer period, the effect is that the camera is significantly quieter at any given moment. And despite that, it's available for continuous photography too, albeit at a sedate three frames per second. (But for street shooting, that's likely plenty.)
But if you're not shooting sports or other similarly active subjects, three fps is likely plenty. For example, when shooting a wedding you're unlikely to want the full burst performance of the D7500, and you'll by happy to trade off that speed so as not to draw too much attention to yourself. It occurred to me as I was using Quiet shutter-release mode in the caves that it could also be handy for street photography, where you don't typically want your subjects to notice and react to the camera's presence.
Another thing I quickly realized while shooting in the cave was that it was going to prove an even more difficult subject than I'd realized. With the exception of the people, most everything down there was much the same color, and unless near to a light, there was pretty little contrast as well.
The D7500 could still manage to autofocus some of the time, if I could find at least a somewhat-contrasty subject at the right distance, but with the best will in the world no camera was going to to a great job focusing down there. And nor could I manage to focus accurately enough through the viewfinder, either, in such dim light.
Sadly, there's still no focus peaking in the Nikon D7500
What I ended up doing was to shoot in live view mode instead, having first turned the display brightness down to its minimum so as not to blind myself of course. I could grab a quick shot or two, then switch live view back off until I was ready for some more shooting, thereby keeping my light pollution to a minimum.
But even once having enabled autofocus assist to zoom the live view image, focusing manually with such low-contrast subjects was tricky. I could really have made good use of focus peaking here, as it can outline higher-contrast edges to make it more obvious where the point of focus lies. Sadly, the enthusiast-oriented Nikon D7500 still lacks this feature, which seems absurd given that these days the function can be found even in sub-$500 pocket-friendly cameras like the Sony RX100.
While my Mammoth Cave tour shoot was a lot of fun -- and a great opportunity for some father-son bonding -- it was perhaps not the best representation of real-world use, though. There's just not that much opportunity to get interesting shots when you're constantly having to keep moving, and you have to shoot entirely handheld with available light.
A more realistic real-world subject was called for, and so I headed out to downtown Knoxville, Tennessee at the first chance I got on my return. (And sadly, not yet having had the opportunity to offload my photos and realize I'd missed enabled raw mode. D'oh!)
As I wandered around downtown looking for new angles on familiar subjects, I was welcomed by an absolutely gorgeous day that gave me a chance to see how the Nikon D7500 handled some real memory colors. Rich, blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds, lush green foliage thanks to plenty of recent rain, and plenty of warmth between the late afternoon sun and the many brick buildings really let me appreciate the D7500's low-sensitivity image quality, and I loved what I saw from it.
And as it happened, I stumbled upon a peaceful demonstration in favor of LGBT rights, complete with TV news crews and a representative from the mayor's office with a prepared speech, a subject which made for some cool shots too. Feeling rather inspired by the lovely day and with my creativity fully unleashed thanks to the new tilting, touch-screen display, I found more than a few angles from which I'd never tried a shot before, and I think that comes across nicely in my gallery.
No question about it: The Nikon D7500 is a really fun camera to shoot with. It's responsive, comfortable in-hand and yields great results -- in the daytime, at least. My brief dalliance with high-sensitivity shooting in the cave aside, I've yet to really stretch the D7500's high ISO capabilities, in this first field test.
If you want to see how the D7500 performs in really low-light conditions, you'll want to move on to my second field test. (And I've also filled in for the missing raw files in this first field test as promised.)
And if you want to see how the D7500 handles some more active subjects, you'll want to read my third and final field test, where I also take a look at this capable DSLR's video chops.