Nikon D500 is a suitable tool for a sports photographer (10.05.2016)
Text and photos: Riho Lüüs
On April 30th, the 6th round of FIM Motocross World Championship took place in Kegums, Latvia, at the moto centre “Zelta Zirgs“. I had the chance to test the new Nikon D500 camera together with NIKKOR AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6 VR lens. I have not had experiences with a half frame camera for a long time and thus, I had some doubts whether I could take the half frame camera as a serious professional camera or not? I should say in advance that there is no need to worry; this camera meets your expectations.
You always get the first impression when you first hold the camera. Compared to my everyday tool D4s, this camera seems quite small. Nevertheless, this camera fits nicely into the hand and the position of buttons is handy as well. When you use a longer lens in front this camera (in this case NIKKOR AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6 VR), it would feel out of balance. Naturally, with longer lenses, the balance is better achieved with heavier cameras but there is no reason to complain especially when you use a monopod and with the help of the lens bracket, the barycentre is kept balanced.
There are two important matters for a sports photographer that cannot be ignored – the speed of autofocus and the continuous shooting mode. Autofocus together with Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens was good, with 200-500mm f/5.6 lens, fixed autofocus tended to be too slow in comparison. But I was still surprised by the continuous focusing performance of its autofocus! With extended autofocus, the subject remains firmly in the focusing area and the results are very good in the continuous shooting mode as well. Even with fast movement, 9 shots out of 10 are sharp. 153 focus points are located widely across the frame. The effectiveness of autofocus depends on how the autofocus settings have been set. There are often other competitors running through between the subject and camera while focusing further away. As a new function, you can now set the autofocus accordingly to the situation and the photographer is able to set how fast the camera has to refocus on the next subject that has moved in front of the focus point or if the camera gives autofocus a longer delay. When shooting fast and chaotic movement, this very important matter has found a solution in this camera.
The speed of the continuous shooting mode is 10 fps and the memory buffer is able to record up to 200 RAW format files! There aren’t any disturbing limits there as well. You can now choose the speed of continuous shoot from 1 frame up to 9 frames per second. You rather need to practise not to forget your finger on the shutter or set a limit from the menu how many continuous frames the camera allows to take into the buffer.
For motocross shooting, the focus range of 200-500mm is good. However, due to a smaller sensor, the view angle becomes noticeably narrower in front of the half frame sensor and it corresponds to a focal length of 350-750! Sometimes, when shooting competitions, this focal length even tended to be too long. Nikon D750 saved me here because in front of D750, the focal range of 200-500mm is exactly what was needed in that competition environment. As I mentioned, focusing was a bit too slow for sports. Yet, D500’s follow focus worked very well. This camera’s efficient image stabiliser needs a separate mentioning because it often saved me 2 to 3 steps of shutter speed. In this case, there is no point in complaining that the lens is dark and its open aperture is only f/5.6. Camera performance gives quite a lot of support to the lens.
To sum up, I can say that sports photographers should seriously consider using Nikon D500. It is a half frame but it is a professional half frame – that is for sure!
For your information – the best Estonian in the competition was Tanel Leok, who received 7th place in MXGP class and 12th in all together.