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(Pocket-lint) - It's been a long time since Nikon launched the D300, a camera that arrived at roughly the same time as the very first iPhone. Yep, that long ago. That camera's successor, the D300S, hit the market last decade too. But now the long wait for a replacement model is over: the Nikon D500, the spiritual D300 successor, is here - and it's been making waves.

Nikon has gone all out for the D500, which is a lot like the top-end D5 pro DSLR in many respects. It does, of course, swap the latter camera's full-frame sensor for a smaller APS-C one and ditches the massive £5,200 body-only price for an altogether more accessible £1,799, too.

With a 153-point autofocus system, 10fps burst mode, 21-megapixel sensor with ultra-high sensitivity (to ISO 51200, which expands into six figures with Hi1-5 extended options), there's not a lot missing.

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Is, therefore, the Nikon D500 the best APS-C DSLR camera made to date? We've been shooting in Chicago and San Francisco to get a feel for how it handles.

Our quick take

The Nikon D500 is a DSLR with little compare. It steps up beyond the Canon EOS 7D Mark II (assuming that isn’t replaced at Photokina 2016), while the range of Nikon DX optics will see it as the more practical solution compared to the Pentax K-1 for many - even if the Pentax has some standout features like the variable LCD screen.

In short, therefore, the Nikon D500 is certainly a contender for the best APS-C camera made to date. There are only some small gaps in its capabilities - such as unnecessary extended "Hi" ISO settings, slight hunting in the live view autofocus - but otherwise its awesome autofocus system and all-round capabilities are second to none.

Nikon D500 review: The best APS-C DSLR ever made?

Nikon D500

5 stars - Pocket-lint editors choice
For
  • Fully realised autofocus system
  • Fast shooting and huge buffer
  • Great image quality
  • Smaller and more manageable than D5
  • Tilt-angle touchscreen
  • Ups its video capabilities (including 4K)
Against
  • “Hi” ISO settings aren’t useful - they’re just headline grabbers
  • Screen isn’t fully variable
  • Touchscreen inaccessible for menu controls

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Nikon D500 review: Super autofocus system

The D500 could be the most important camera that Nikon releases not only in 2016, but for a number of years. Especially considering the quality control knock of confidence the D600 gave its customer base with oil-related issues on the sensor in a number of models. So we were initially perturbed when the D500's focus system simply wouldn't work. Menu exploration came to no avail, so a full reset was necessary to get the camera underway. No oil issues to speak of here though - and this is a unit months following the official launch, so it's done the rounds and been in all kinds of transport too (from national couriers to international air travel).

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But once the D500 gets going that autofocus system is one slick feature - we can't think of a better one in an APS-C camera, especially when paired with the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens that we used for the duration of this review.

This focus system is pulled directly from the D5, offering 153-points in total, 55 of which are selectable as individual points. The other 99 are there for reference, to help with moving subject prediction. Besides, having to cycle through triple digits of point numbers would be simply laborious and counteract quick focus point adjustment, so we think Nikon has got the balance right here. There's a simplified 15-point max for quicker yet adjustment too.

As per the D5 we suspect not many will use the fullest array for most conditions - we've been content with the 5-point group cluster in single autofocus - but the option for 25-point, 72-point or the full array (plus 3D tracking) in continuous autofocus will cater for different scenarios.

Sensitivity in portrait orientation is top-notch, too, thanks to 99 cross-type sensors - 15 of which support sensitivity to f/8 for heightened response when using a teleconverter, which is ideal if you're shooting without super-fast apertures available (not an issue with our 24-70mm f/2.8, of course).

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Whether using single or continuous AF we've been mighty impressed with the accuracy and speed of the D500. From shooting in dim-lit bars without flash (the camera is sensitive to -4EV), through to bikers speeding down the street, this is one capable and versatile DSLR system that rarely falters.

Our only small moan, perhaps, is the location of the rear toggle/joystick to make autofocus point adjustments. It's a bit of a reach, although will feel familiar to current Nikon users - and at least we didn't knock it by accident when in the hand.

Nikon D500 review: New-wave features

With the advance of technologies we've seen all kinds of new features in cameras, which have slowly - and oh so slowly - started to trickle down into DSLR cameras. Principal to those is touchscreen technology, a typical go-to for compact system cameras and many high-end compact cameras too. And now it's the D500's turn to offer the power of touch.

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Or, partially. The D500's 3-inch screen responds well to touch, but it can only be utilised in active shooting, i.e. when in live preview or during video capture. That's fine, but there's no option to use it to swipe through or touch menu options, which feels like a missed opportunity - even if it was customisable to then turn it off as desired.

Autofocus in live preview is far faster than in older generations of Nikon DSLRs, thanks to a new 180-pixel metering sensor which can be utilised to better recognise subjects and points of contrast. Despite being faster, however, it's not perfectly accurate and will often hunt to find final focus - this is an area where compact system cameras are much better.

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Like its Nikon D750 cousin, the D500 also implements a tilt-angle LCD screen. We've used it almost every time we've utilised live view, so used to such a feature we are these days. And while we would like to see this kind of screen in more DSLR cameras, there are actually better implementations of it: take a look at the full variable screen on the Pentax K-1, for example, or some of the side-positioned vari-angle screens of Canon's lineup.

Nikon D500 review: Design tweaks

Design-wise, the D500 is otherwise a well proportioned DSLR, that will seem familiar to Nikon users. Its one major shift of controls is the ISO button moving to behind the shutter - which, again, is more Canon-esque, but of considerable use (although a press-and-hold to make adjustments in this position is a little fiddly).

As that ISO button has moved, other buttons have jostled around the body compared to many other Nikon cameras. The customisable function button (Fn2 in this instance), now found to the rear left, sees the info button slide along the rear of the camera body. It's all logical.

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Another small but brilliant addition to the feature set are light-up buttons. Finally. Simply push the on/off toggle beyond its on position and not only will the top plate light up, but so will the left-hand side buttons (not the right-hand ones, such as info and live view).