If you’re looking for a powerful, versatile and lightweight DSLR, there are plenty in Nikon’s range to choose from. Many of these come under Nikon’s ‘DX’ designation, meaning that they use APS-C sized sensors; the smaller-than-full-frame chip means body size and weight can be kept to a minimum.
At the top of Nikon’s DX format DSLR range are two models, the D500 and D7500. The D500 is the flagship DX model, but it shares many features with the slightly newer D7500. So if you’re in the market for a new Nikon DSLR, which should you choose? Here’s how they compare…
Design and build
Outwardly the design of the two cameras is fairly similar, but only a few important differences. The D500 is marginally bigger and heavier, and it has a magnesium alloy construction for greater durability. That’s not to say the D7500 isn’t well made in itself; it has a very solid feel, and the material used is high-quality carbon-fibre composite. Both cameras have a degree of weather sealing, so you should be fine using them in rain or dusty conditions.
Size and weight wise you’re only looking at a difference of 120g (760g for the D500 body only, vs 640g for the D7500), and 10mm in the external dimensions here or there (147x115x81mm for the D500, versus 135.5x104x72.5mm on the D7500), but if space and heft is a concern, it could be important.
The extra size of the D500 allows several additions on the body. For one thing there’s a small joystick (the kind found in the design of the full-frame D5 to control AF point selection), and this sits nicely under the gripping thumb. What’s more there’s room for two SD card slots rather than the single one on the D7500; having a backup system or overflow is always welcome.
Unlike the D7500, the D500 has no pop-up flash. This makes the body a bit more durable, but if you’re accustomed to using fill-in flash or triggering Nikon’s optical Creative Lighting System from a pop-up, you’ll need to budget for an additional flashgun if you go for the D7500.
Ergonomically both cameras sit well in the hand. There’s a common design between them, such as the use of a dedicated ISO button just behind the shutter, and both handle well, with a deep, comfortable grip. On the rear, both use a 3.2in tilting touchscreen LCD, though the D500 has the edge in terms of resolution at 2359K versus 922K dots. You may notice a bit of extra crispness therefore, but it’s certainly no deal-breaker.
Both cameras’ viewfinders are impressive with a 100% view offered in either case. However, although the D500 can utilise a battery grip, the D7500 isn’t offered one by Nikon. This means you can’t elongate the battery life without swapping a new cell in and that vertical shooting is less comfortable.
Both cameras use Nikon’s leading Expeed 5 image processor, so it’s no surprise to find that performance is excellent in both cases. In terms of shooting speed, the D500 has the edge, but not by much; 10fps versus 8fps. In either case, you’re unlikely to be left wanting. When it comes to the number of images you can shoot in a burst, however, there’s more of a difference; just over 200 Raws for the D500, and around 50 Raws on the D7500. That said, if you can’t get what you need in 50 frames, maybe it’s not the camera’s problem!
When it comes to AF systems, the D500 moves ahead, too. And in fact, it’s one of the few single areas where the D500 is a significantly more compelling choice. The D500 employs the same Multi-CAM 20K system as Nikon’s flagship D5, which is lightning fast uses no less than 153 contrast-detect AF points, 99 of which are cross type, and as sensitive as -4EV.
The D7500 on the other hand, while no slouch in its own right, uses a Multi-CAM 3500FX II system, as in the previous D7200. This has 51 AF points, 15 of which are cross type, being as sensitive as -3EV. If, for example you shoot a lot of action, or in low light and rely on the quickest AF system available, the D500 wins here.
There’s not much to call between the two cameras in terms of image quality as they both use the same sensor; a 20.9-megapixel 23.5×15.7mm CMOS chip producing 5,568×3,712 files. Neither camera uses as optical low-pass filter, so lots of detail is produced, though unlike much higher resolution sensors, such as that in the new D850, there is a slightly increased risk of moiré patterns.
Similarly, the ISO range of both cameras runs from 100-51,200, which is expandable up to ISO 50-1,640,000 in both cases. Both deal with noise well at higher ISO settings, and you can comfortably shoot at settings like ISO 12,800 without too much loss of quality.
Shooting movies is another area where the cameras are matched. Both offer ultra high definition 4K video at a maximum of 30fps, with lots of modes below that. For improved video quality, both cameras also feature a dedicated external mic input, a headphone port for monitoring and HDMI output for recording uncompressed video to an external device.
Both cameras feature smart stuff like batch Raw conversion and multiple exposure modes of up to 10 frames, while there’s also the benefit of simple and effective connectivity. With either body, built in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functions mean you can quickly connect to Nikon’s Snapbridge mobile app to download and share images online, as well as triggering the camera remotely.
There’s no denying that the D500 is the more complete camera, but it comes at small increase in cost in terms of size and weight, and price. The D500 is also undoubtedly designed to be more durable than its stablemate, but whether you need that extra hardiness really depends on the amount of hammer you’re going to put them through, and where you’re shooting. The lack of a built-in flash arguably makes the D500 more sturdy, but means you need an accessory flashgun for any on-camera lighting effects. Overall though, the D500 is a the more professional camera of the two.
Though there are also minor advantages in the D500’s screen and continuous shooting rate, the big difference come in the camera’s AF systems; while the AF system on the D7500 is fine, lifting its focusing technology from the flagship D5 means the D500 share that exceptional performance. Video and image quality is identical.
For professional applications, the lack of dual card slots and the capacity to fit a battery grip on the D7500 might also swing you towards the D500. In either case though, you’ll be investing in a highly capable and adaptable camera, whichever you choose.