My wife has been sporting Nikon D90 for a good number of years and as she wants to proceed more into professional photography she's looking for a new body that can be versatile when needed:

  • Primarily nature photography - birds and moving animals.
  • Also portrait photography in ambient lighting (that is outside).
  • But should be able to gracefully support occasional ceremonial and reporting photography.
  • Any price range.
  • Brand loyalty so it must be Nikon.

Initially she wanted to buy D500, but after reading more and more about it she's no longer sure if that's the best option for her requirements. The specific complaints she found were:

  • Its RAWs tend to have austere colors and require a lot of work to properly represent the photographed thing.
  • That it was made for nature and not for portrait photography, so the versatility might not be up to what she'd like.

Note #1: I am not well versed in photography terminology in English, please correct me if I named something awkwardly.

Note #2: I realize it's a kind of shopping question but I've seen it mentioned in other, closed question, that as long as they are specific they're fine.

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    I think we could be most helpful if you (or your wife directly?) can explain what made your wife doubt that it would be a good fit. – mattdm Aug 27 '19 at 21:50
  • @mattdm I've updated the question with her comments – Maurycy Aug 27 '19 at 22:30
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    Before buying an "expensive body" I have to ask... Does she have good glass? Good lenses? If you have to choose between a "good body" and cheap lens, and a good lens on a cheap body, the choice is clear. – Rafael Aug 27 '19 at 22:33

Matt is correct. Pretty much everything on the market these days is very good and will outperform a D90 in almost all respects.

He's also correct that raw files are intended to allow the photographer (or editor, if a different person) latitude in processing the raw data to create an image. This comes with the price of spending some time post processing, or at the very least spending some time setting up the in-camera JPEG processing settings to give the type of results one wants.

Having said that, there are differences between different classes of cameras that makes one type better for one type of thing and other types better for other things. There is no single camera that does everything better than all other cameras. There's not even an "either this one or that one" duality. There are lots of choices with various strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages.

When one buys a single camera to do more than one type of photography, one has to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each camera for each type of photography and decide which is the best compromise for them. Or one can buy more than one camera to use for different purposes.

The D500 is optimized to be an exceptional sports and wildlife camera at a very reasonable price. It does this very well. At the moment it is the "best in class" APS-C sports/action camera. It even offers a few advantages over much more expensive full frame "sports/reportage" cameras such as the Nikon D5, Canon 1D X Mark II, and Sony α9. If sports/action/wildlife is the primary purpose for which you are buying a camera and you don't want to spend a small fortune on lenses to get the telephoto "reach" you need, the D500 is certainly an excellent choice.

There are, however, other cameras that do better at things such as "natural light" portrait work and "ceremonial" photography, particularly in low light environments. These cameras have larger "full frame" sensors that give them better low light performance and give other desired stylistic advantages, such as shallower depth of field with lenses having the same focal length and maximum aperture, than any APS-C camera does. But to get the same angles of view that an APS-C camera gets, they require longer focal length lenses. This can be an advantage for wide angle photography, but it's a disadvantage in the telephoto range. Comparing the price of a nice 200mm f/2.8 lens for an APS-C camera to a 300mm f/2.8 lens to get the "same shot" with a full frame camera can induce serious sticker shock!

The good news is that most portrait and "ceremonial" work doesn't usually require anything longer than a 200mm f/2.8 lens with a full frame camera. The bad news is that doing sports/action/wildlife with a FF camera almost always requires at least a 300/2.8 or a camera with a high enough density sensor to crop substantially (which puts an APS-C body such as the D500 with higher pixel density and faster handling right back in the conversation).

Then there are the workhorses that are used by photojournalists who above all require a camera that can take punishment day in and day out in all types of shooting environments and continue to work dependably. These are typically lower resolution full frame cameras that are very fast and built very solidly. The Nikon D5, Canon 1D X Mark II, and perhaps the Sony α9 (which is not quite as impervious to hazardous environments, particularly those involving water, as the other two). The build quality adds significant cost to the price of the camera. But the ability to shoot half a million to a million frames without requiring any major maintenance pays for itself in the long run - if one is going to shoot that many frames before the next generation or two of camera comes out.

If sports/action/wildlife with lenses that don't cost more than a modest used car is your top priority, then the D500 is probably your best choice on the current market.

If portraits and "ceremonial" photography in lower light is an area where you can't compromise, the D850 is currently a better choice if you have high quality FX lenses to use with it. But be prepared to pay more for the lenses you'll need to do sports/action/wildlife or to spend more time working in post processing to crop your images and massage the cropped raw files from the D850.

Or you can get a D500 for sports/action/wildlife and a D750 or D850 for portraits if you have some decent enough full frame FX lenses. The same 70-200mm f/2.8 that works fairly well for sports/action/wildlife on a D500 also does very well for portraits and other moderately low light photography on a full frame FX body. The same 85mm f/1.8 and 105mm f/2 lenses that work well shooting sports in a gym with a D500 will also allow brilliant portrait work on a D850.

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  • 85mm f/1.8 is pretty great for for portraits on DX, as well. – mattdm Aug 28 '19 at 18:20
  • Yes, but they are even better for portraits on FF cameras. – Michael C Sep 2 '19 at 9:32
  • Well, I think we're definitely in "degrees of great" territory there. I don't disagree with anything you say in this answer specifically, but I really feel like it plays up the differences too much. Especially if one were to include portraits in good light — either natural or with a softbox. I don't think it should be implied that a more expensive camera is going to get significantly better results. For most photographers in most cases, it won't — it's when you're really bumping up against the edges that it matters. – mattdm Sep 2 '19 at 11:23
  • Likewise, I think your answer downplays the differences far too much. Different tools work best for different jobs. In the case of something like using 85mm f/1.8 lenses on FF vs. APS-C cameras, I think the differences can be quite noticeable. The different shooting distances used to get the same framing of the subject affects perspective and DoF/bokeh significantly in any setting that doesn't use a flat backdrop immediately behind the subject.. – Michael C Sep 2 '19 at 19:41

First: please recognize that despite what you may read on click-hungry review sites or fan-fueled forums, every DSLR and mid-to-higher range mirrorless camera on the market will be stellar for the purposes described. Any differences are details — every option is an A and it's then down to arguing over A+ or A++, as well as subjective factors or very technical differences in niche cases. And certainly anything you get will feel quite updated, as your current camera is over a decade old.

So that said, I'm going to address your two specific concerns.

First, RAW images do not have characteristics like "austere". Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling you something. It's all down to processing. Nikon's own software or third party options like Lightroom can easily given you results that are dull, stark, or vibrant depending on your taste. For that matter, you can do the same with in-camera JPEG settings.

Second, this is a very capable general purpose camera. As I noted to start, like any other option you pick it can handle the situations you describe with aplomb. I suspect that any description you've found like "best for nature" is from someone grasping at straws to find some distinction to make. Don't worry — it will be great.

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    How do we know the OP doesn't already have some very nice glass? We don't. – Michael C Aug 28 '19 at 10:00
  • i would add "modern (made after 2012)" to "every DSLR and mid-to-higher range" – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Aug 29 '19 at 15:20
  • I think "on the market" covers that, don't you? – mattdm Aug 29 '19 at 15:23

If you have to invest, invest first on the lenses. For ambient light portraits, a good prime lens will work wonders.

That being said... I will say something totally wrong :o) If a RAW file has dull colors is probably because it has a good dynamic range. If the colors are saturated and the whites and blacks are super contrasted, the dynamic range is most surely lower.

It is wrong because you actually need to process the files to see the images, even on an automated way, and I am pretty sure there are some settings in the camera to produce some more vivid JPG files. But a RAW file is a RAW file.

If the price range is not a limitation, you probably could explore a Full frame camera or even a Full-frame Mirrorless camera.

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  • Going for lens first is a really good advice. As for full-frame, she'd like to be able to use the lenses she has now and the slower shoot rate is a an issue for her too. – Maurycy Aug 27 '19 at 23:03
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    I agree this is generally good advice, but there has been quite a lot of advancement in camera body technology in the last decade. – mattdm Aug 28 '19 at 1:57
  • My comment is not for not upgrading the camera :o) – Rafael Aug 28 '19 at 3:12
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    It's hard to recommend which would do more good, lenses or body, when we do not know what lenses the OP already has. They could all be consumer level DX lenses, or they could all be pro level primes and f/2.8 zooms. We don't know. – Michael C Aug 28 '19 at 7:48

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