Nikon D7500 Field Test Part III
Nikon D7500 Field Test Part III
Sports shooting, videos and reader questions: My final field test has them all!
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 07/18/2017
Over the last few weeks, I've posted two field tests looking at how the Nikon D7500 performs in the real world. In my first field test, I took Nikon's enthusiast DSLR on the road to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, then followed up with a daytime shoot back home in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the second field test, I continued with a sunset and evening shoot, rounding things out nicely with a raft of gallery shots across the sensitivity range.
If you've not already read those two field tests, I recommend you start there to get the full benefit of my real-world shooting experiences. Click here to read the first field test, or click here for the second one.
For the third test, I want to move the focus away from still image quality for a bit, and take a look at sports shooting performance and movie capture, as well as answering a few reader questions that cropped up since my previous reports.
The Nikon D7500 focuses quickly and confidently; shoots swiftly too
To get a feel for the Nikon D7500's performance, my son and I headed to the nearby tourist town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to the Xtreme Racing Center, a go kart track which has previously featured in some of my other DSLR reviews, as it makes for a good test of autofocus capabilities. A couple of reasonably long straights are coupled with the fastest karts I've found in the area, and there's easy access near the end of the straights without crossing any barriers.
After making some measurements off the map in comparison to my own photos and their EXIF timestamps, I've previously estimated them to have a top speed of somewhere around 25mph, a little shy of the claimed 40mph, but still somewhere in the ballpark. A few years after the track first opened, the karts themselves might be starting to look decidedly scruffy and second-hand now, but they still give me a reasonably predictable subject which is fast-moving and can come very close to the camera. And at other points around the circuit I can shoot the karts from oblique angles for an even tougher challenge.
Unfortunately, the weather hasn't been terribly cooperative lately, with a lot of rain and thunderstorms -- invariably right when I was available to go shooting. And as luck would have it, it had apparently rained fairly heavily not long before our arrival, as the karts were all parked and switched off.
A little patience paid off, though, as within an hour or so, the track had dried back up and the tourists were back out turning laps once more. And in the meantime, I was able to while away the time testing out the D7500's face detection capability when shooting through the viewfinder, answering a reader request in the process. (We'll come back to that in just a moment.)
So what did I think of the Nikon D7500 after shooting the karts for an hour or two, predominantly using the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens? I have to say, I came away very impressed indeed. For a DSLR at this pricepoint, continuous autofocus was very swift and confident, and most of the time very accurate as well.
And when other, closer karts passed between me and my subject, the D7500 wasn't too quick to shift focus to the closer subject, meaning that most of the time I didn't lose more than the frame where my view of the kart I was focusing on was partially obscured. And on those occasions where, say, a couple of karts in quick succession meant that focus did leap to the new foreground subjects, it never took more than a frame or two to reacquire a focus lock on the correct subject once they'd passed.
And it wasn't just the autofocus performance that was swift, either. The Nikon D7500's burst capture speed also satisfied, and its buffer was generous enough that even shooting in raw+JPEG mode at the maximum JPEG quality, I could still rattle off a burst of shots following my subject almost all the way from one end of the straight to the other.
And I was seriously impressed with just how well the Nikon D7500 handled subjects very close to the camera. The last camera I shot with at the same track, Ricoh's Pentax K-3 II, definitely wasn't able to keep up as well in this respect. Thanks to its ability to keep up to fast-moving subjects so relatively close to the camera, the D7500 actually scored me some shots where the single kart I was shooting extended well beyond the image frame on both sides.
I have to say that in terms of autofocus and burst capture performance, shooting with the Nikon D7500 is a very satisfying experience indeed!
With sports shooting out of the way, let's talk about video capture for a moment. The great news here is that the Nikon D7500 is capable of recording ultra high-definition 4K video in-camera, and it does so with great quality.
I watched a generous selection of day and night 4K videos on my 55-inch Sony 4K TV, and came away very impressed with the D7500's ability to hold onto fine details in daylight, as well as its reasonably fine-grained noise in night shooting. I did notice some rolling shutter effect in panning shots, with skewed verticals noticeable when panning fairly swiftly across a scene, but I don't think it's enough to be too objectionable.
So what's the bad news? For 4K shooters, one potential concern is that the Nikon D7500 applies a 1.5x focal length crop, presumably as it cannot clock sufficient data off the full sensor width quickly enough to shoot without a crop. (You can see this in my sample videos, which were shot from the same locations and at the same focal lengths for both Full HD and 4K clips.)
What this means is that shooting wide-angle 4K video on the Nikon D7500 will prove challenging, as you will face an additional 1.5x crop on top of the 1.5x crop caused by the use of a DX-format image sensor instead of a full-frame one. And even for non-4K movies,you can also find yourself facing an additional crop, depending upon your camera setup. That's because the D7500 pairs any lens-based image stabilization with an electronic stabilization system, and this too will cause a crop, although the function (and the crop which it causes) can be disabled through the menu system.
The crop when using electronic stabilization is absolutely necessary, though, as it's what provides the leeway for the camera to move the active area around the sensor and thereby counter motion. But if you want the widest possible field of view, you'll want to disable this.
And the presence of electronic stabilization is also worth noting for tripod shooting, where I was initially a little perplexed as to why the D7500's Full HD videos showed a little choppiness when panning -- until I realized that although I'd disabled mechanical stabilization on the lens, electronic stabilization was still active. Once disabled, panned videos were as smooth as I expected them to be.
Also, autofocus during movie capture is a weak spot on the Nikon D7500, as it relies solely on contrast-detection, and isn't the fastest contrast-based system we've seen either. Of course, AF performance is going to vary from lens to lens, but unless you're happy with very obvious focus adjustments and hunting -- probably accompanied by some noise from the lens, as well -- then you're not going to want to rely on autofocus during video capture. You can pull focus manually, of course, but unfortunately just as for still imaging, there's no focus peaking in live view mode, so manually focusing accurately during capture isn't the easiest task, either.
And that brings me to the end of things I'd planned to investigate myself, but I did get a few reader questions which I wanted to quickly answer, too. The first such question related to face detection, and specifically to the Nikon D7500's ability to locate and focus on faces when shooting through the viewfinder, not using its live view mode.
This functionality is active by default, although there's no indication of this other than the fact that focus points over the detected face will show a lock as you trigger an autofocus cycle. However, that's different from the typical behavior of focusing on the closest object, which would be the case were face detection disabled. (And you can choose to do that, if you want.)
As I mentioned earlier, I tested this out while waiting for the go kart track to dry out and racing to recommence. My son gamely assisted with the test, standing at various distances as I shot photos of him with a couple of different lenses, having him stand near to or behind other objects, turn his face at an angle, etc.
So long as his face was mostly or entirely covered by the AF area and both eyes were visible, the system seemed to detect his location pretty robustly. You don't get to choose *where* on the face the D7500 will focus, but it did reliably put the point of focus on his face somewhere, and at least with the lenses I had on offer, that was always close enough that his eye was reasonably sharp. (You do need to bear in mind that it's possible neither eye will be beneath a physical focus point, though, so if you're using a really bright lens wide-open, you may want to rely on manually placing a focus point over the eye instead, if possible.)
Given that there are already a couple of shots of my son in the already-extensive gallery which were shot at default settings -- and hence with the feature already enabled -- I've not added any more in my final round of gallery photos.
One final request I received was for feedback on Nikon's Active D-Lighting and Picture Controls functions. These features have been included on Nikon's DSLRs for very close to a decade now, since they were first introduced with the Nikon D3 and D300 back in August 2007.
I must admit, with so much to discuss in reviewing Nikon's DSLRs, these very useful tools tend not to get so much coverage these days. For those of you who want to see what they can achieve, though, I've shot three full picture series showing all of the different default Picture Control settings, plus two series showing the effects of Active D-Lighting.
Let's look at the Picture Controls first, where the effect of the function is quite obvious. There are a total of eight picture controls to choose from: Auto, Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape and Flat.
Each applies different levels of brightness, contrast, clarity, hue, saturation and sharpening, much as you could do in Photoshop on your computer, and each preset allows you to adjust the look to your own tastes as well. (For monochrome images, you can also simulate the effects of different color filters on the lens, and add a tint to the final monochromatic image.)
IR reader and new D7500 owner Bruce Fenster reported in our comments that he finds the Auto and Standard settings to be a bit much for his tastes, compared to his earlier Nikon D7100. Unfortunately, I don't have access to a D7100 body myself to confirm that, but even though these effects are intended to provide commonality across Nikon's DSLRs, I wouldn't be too surprised if there are some minor variations from model to model, especially in the ~4.5 years since the D7100 arrived on the scene.
In my own shooting -- and I captured a couple of dozen Picture Control series, not just those which appear in the gallery -- I found that the Auto and Standard controls were near-indistinguishable from each other, suggesting that the Nikon D7500 strongly favors the Standard picture control when set to Auto.
For my own personal tastes, I felt the saturation of the Standard control was a bit on the high side, a look consumer photographers tend to favor, but that the contrast was a little lower than ideal. I personally prefer the Neutral profile, which yield most realistic, less punchy color, but this setting has a little lower contrast than I'd like, by default.
The solution, for both Bruce and myself, is to remember that we can tweak these presets, which really just offer a starting point from which to work. To do so, highlight the Picture Control which is closest to your desired look in the menu system, then hit the right arrow and tweak the various options for that preset.
User-modified presets are indicated in the Picture Control menu with an asterisk, and you can easily return to the defaults by repeating the same procedure to access the options, then hitting the Delete button to return them all to their original setup.
Active D-Lighting, meanwhile, is rather more subtle, at least unless you opt for the strongest effect levels, so it's harder to see what's happening at first glance. What it does, though, is to identify areas of clipped highlights and blocked shadows, and then pull the highlights back and open up the shadows a little, restoring more detail in both areas.
If the Active D-Lighting strength is too high, though, this can have the unwanted side effect of introducing color gradients where they shouldn't be, something which can be especially noticeable in buildings. (The walls appear to get gradually darker towards the top of the building, which can look rather unnatural.)
Again, I shot a good couple of dozen different series using all of the Active D-Lighting settings, then compared them back in the office. Personally, I felt the Auto setting tended to offer a nice balance between restoring highlight and shadow detail, and yet still yielding a pretty natural-looking image. I did find the effect much more noticeable in highlights than shadows, though, perhaps because Nikon is trying to avoid introducing objectionable noise by lifting the shadows too much.
And with that, we come to the end of my third and final field test. To make a long story short, I've greatly enjoyed shooting with the Nikon D7500, even if it lacks a few features like portrait grip support, dual flash card slots and support for metering with Nikon's older lenses.
It's a really good sports shooter, offers great image quality, and can also yield very good videos if you don't mind the sensor crop associated with 4K footage, and don't need unobtrusive full-time autofocus. If you can't justify the additional cost of the DX-format flagship Nikon D500, which lists for close to twice as much, I think you'll be very pleased indeed to own the Nikon D7500!