When Nikon pre-announced the D850 a little while ago, I was filled with a mix of excitement and a sense of trying not to get my hopes up. I have long been an owner of the Nikon D700, which was Nikon’s first model in this style of full frame smaller body cameras. I love the D700 and I still use it all the time, but it’s starting to show its age. I really want a high-resolution camera for landscape and nature work, but I also want one that does video. I had hoped when the rumours started of the D850, that Nikon would come out with something similar to the Sony A7RII. I was not disappointed.
Nikon throws the kitchen sink at the D850
Unlike many manufacturers recently, including Nikon itself, they seem to have not given in to the temptation to try and limit the camera to avoid competing with a different segment. Nikon seems to have put everything they could into this. It’s both fast and high resolution, which seems to be a compromise other manufacturers aren’t willing to make (cough, canon, cough)
The camera is high resolution, at 46mp, but it doesn’t sacrifice speed for this. It’s capable of up to 9fps with the booster pack. It also has the autofocus and metering system from the D5. While you probably wouldn’t shoot action with this, it's more than capable. This was the upper fps limit of cameras not so long ago, but it's doing it with a 46mp sensor.
Incidentally, it can also shoot up to 30fps in 8mp mode using the electronic shutter in Live view. I’m not sure how useful that is in practical use mind you.
Nikon has also done something else that I really like with the D850 in terms of image quality. It hasn’t gone down the high iso rabbit hole at the expense of low iso performance. The camera has an iso of 64 which should give great performance and dynamic range, and the people who have used it have all noted this. It can even be expanded down to ISO 32!
Sometimes, I think the way people go on about high iso performance these days, that there is a gut of photographers out there who spend their times shooting only at night or in dark caves, I get that it’s important for things like wedding shooters and so on, but the way some people have been complaining lately when cameras don’t shoot super clean at ridiculous high iso settings is itself kind of ridiculous. I shoot 90% of my work below ISO 1600, and I know my style isn’t everybody style, but I’m glad it's at least been given consideration.
This should be great for Landscape and nature. They also claim that it should have the same quality as the D81 but at twice the ISO, so it should be a full stop better in low light too. See, something for everyone! There will still be complaints I’m sure!
I'm also sure that there will be the inevitable complaints of “I don’t need that many megapixels” and maybe you don’t, but Nikon has you covered there too. The camera has three different RAW sizes, meaning you can shoot at 25mp when you don’t need the full resolution, but still have the option of higher if you need it. It also has a range of aspect ratios for still shooting.
I have also seen one pundit complain that the 8K time-lapse mode is pointless because no one needs 8K, but that person was missing the point. An 8K time-lapse, allows you to produce a 4K time-lapse video and still do zoom ins in post without losing any image quality.
There’s one other great feature about this that seems to have slipped by the initial round of coverage, and that’s the fact that Nikon also announced a film scanning attachment for the camera. The ES-2 scanning kit will allow you to scan slide or negative film when used with a macro lens, which isn’t that exciting of itself, as there is a range of such adaptors on the market. However, it’s specially designed to integrate with the camera, and the camera has a mode for working with negatives that automatically inverts the image for negatives. Nikon is claiming that it's as good, but twice the resolution of the venerable LS-4000 film scanner. (ah, good times!) While not a huge deal, it shows that Nikon is obviously aware of the resurgence in film, and it's good to see a company taking note.
(It does only work with Jpegs though, so for raw you need to do the conversion yourself)
The other area that Nikon hasn’t skimped with this is that it can do full frame 4K without a crop. Compare this to this camera’s main competition 9In DSLRs anyway), the Canon 5D Mark IV with its ridiculous crop for 4K. While it does appear to still use pixel binning vs oversampling, I suspect that the quality will probably be similar to the Sony A7RII, which is still highly regarded for its 4k. The few people who have used it so far seem to be impressed with the video quality, but we will have to wait till it’s in the hands of regular users before it can be determined if it is really good or not. It will also shoot 4K in DX crop mode, which will allow you to get two focal lengths when shooting video with prime lenses. It will be interesting to see if there is a quality difference between the two as there is with the Sony A7RII.
It doesn’t come with a Log profile, but it does have Nikon’s flat profile. It’s also unclear what the bit rate or recording format is. I suspect that, given Nikon's history here, and the fact that they aren’t advertising it, it may be using the lower AVCHD codecs, which is a shame, but it does have full uncompressed 4K output over HDMI. It also does slow motion at up to 120fps in 1080 and by all accounts, the image quality in 1080 is pretty good too. It does have focus peaking too, but sadly, only in 1080p. (Why, Nikon, Why!!!)
Of course, some people are already complaining because it doesn’t do x or y. I’ve seen complaints that it doesn’t do 4k at 60p which, I guess might be important for some people, but I don’t see it as an issue. It’s a full frame 46mp sensor and it’s doing 4k video, which given the technology involved, I’m guessing its a limit of the read speed of the sensor. But hey, don’t let physics get int he way of a good internet comment!
Nikon really wants to pitch this as a multimedia camera, and it seems to me, at least on paper that this is quite a capable workhorse. It seems to me to be one of the most capable and rounded DSLRs available on the market. And while the idea side of things might be limited compared to some mirrorless cameras, I think it’s probably the highest spec DSLR out there for video (depending on a few details still to be revealed).
Given how several of the old school camera manufacturers have a tendency to somehow do something to limit the usefulness of their cameras, I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for someone to discover something that they’ve avoided mentioning, but so far, it looks great. I have no doubt that this camera will sell really well. It will be perfect for photo journalists who need to also shoot video for example. It will be perfect for nature and landscape shooters.
It seems to be a great all round camera. When the D700 first came out, it was perfect for me because it was a lighter version of the D3 with a much lower price tag. This goes one step beyond the D5 with its high-resolution sensor and better video, without sacrificing too many features. They really have created a great camera, at least on paper. I think I really have finally found the perfect replacement for my D700, and with the D850 I might finally let it go!