The latest addition to the Nikon line up has been a highly anticipated full frame camera. While many other cameras were being updated rumors started circulating 12 months ago that the D810 would be updated. Finally, the news came that the Nikon D850 was being released. It seemed like everyone in the photography industry was looking forward to it. So much speculation – what will it have, and how will it perform?
There was similar hype around 5 years ago when Nikon released the D800. It was almost 12 months before I was able to get one, and when the talk started on this one I knew that I would be getting one. The D800 has been an amazing camera and by far the best I’ve ever owned. But it is showing its age and doing long exposures with it was becoming harder. The logical update was always going to be the replacement for the D810.
What I needed was a camera capable of taking long exposures without the problem of dead or hot pixels. I wanted a touchscreen as others I’ve used have been fantastic. I had hoped that with Live View it would be possible to see through ND Filters without having to remove them all the time. While it wasn’t necessary, being able to transfer photos from the camera to the phone would be handy as well.
Once the camera was released and I finally got my hands on one, there was nothing to be disappointed about. It lived up to my expectations, perhaps even more. It is a complicated camera, and the phrase being used, “A game changer” is true. It does a lot and it is going to take some time to learn all that my new camera can do.
First impressions of the D850
For most people, it will seem like a gigantic camera. However, those that have been using the D800 or D810 will not be surprised. It is slightly bigger, but not a lot. The weight is around the same as well. Overall it looks almost the same. As you start to study the D850 you can see how some functions have changed positions. I keep pressing the mode button now to change the ISO.
45.7 MP Sensor
The big thing to test was going to be the massive 45.7-megapixel sensor. In most of the other Nikon cameras Sony sensors have been used, however, Nikon has developed their own for the D850. It is said to be sharp and create very crisp images. That would appear to be true so far. There is a warning about using low-quality lenses on it, which can create a lot of chromatic aberration. So far, I have noticed that.
Nikon has given the D850 a touch screen, and I am so happy. Touchscreens make navigating around the menu so much easier. You can flick through your photos very easily, or change a setting in the menu.
With the touchscreen activated, you can also focus the camera and take your photos, whether you are using a tripod or not. With the Bulb setting, you can now touch the screen to open the shutter, and then tap again to close it. This means that when you go out to take long exposures you don’t have to worry so much about a remote shutter release or intervalometer. It doesn’t have a timer or display how much time has elapsed, but there are always ways around that, like using your phone.
The LCD Screen can be manipulated
Like other models, you can now manipulate the screen so you can move it to help you take photos in Live Mode, or when using the playback function. If you like taking photos close to the ground you can do that now without having to get on the ground yourself or having to guess at the composition. I’m getting too old to get down on the ground, getting back up isn’t so easy, so this function is one that I’ve been eagerly awaiting.
Using Live View for Long Exposures
One of the frustrating things about doing long exposures with the D800 was having to constantly remove the filters every time you wanted to recompose your image. They were too dark for the camera to see through. The Canon 5D Mark IV is capable of seeing through the filters in Live View, so I was really hoping the Nikon D850 would have that capability as well. I’m happy to report that it does.
It doesn’t quite work the same way, you do have to open the aperture up a bit, but you don’t have to remove the filters. If you can open it up to f/2.8 then it is like there are no filters there at all. It will also make it easier to use graduated filters and polarizers when doing long exposure photography.
As someone who loves doing long exposures, this new feature is a very welcome addition to the camera. It is something that I will use a lot. My workflow when shooting has changed from never using Live View, to using it constantly.
One of the major advantages of shooting with Live View is that your mirror is up, so you don’t get those minute vibrations when you are taking an image.
One of the biggest problems with photography is low light. While in most situations you can use a tripod, there are some situations that mean it is just isn’t possible. With an ISO rating up to 25,600, you can take photos easily without a tripod.
There will be noise in the images, that is one thing you can’t avoid. However, compared with what you got with the earlier models in the D800 series it’s a big improvement. You could comfortably go up to ISO 2000, perhaps even higher and get images that you would be happy with.
At the other end of the scale, you can go to ISO 64 when you want the best quality images in the right lighting conditions or when using your tripod. Most cameras only go to 100, so having that extra step means finer grain or almost no noise in your images.
Some of the controls are in different places
While the basic setup is very similar to all Nikon cameras, there are some things that have changed from previous models (for me, that is compared to the D800). The Mode button is on the left top buttons with the WB and QUAL. ISO is now over near the Shutter button. The Bracket feature is now set where the flash button used to be.
Overall, the camera is much the same. The menu system remains very similar to previous models and is easy to understand. It is one thing that has always been good with Nikon, you can go from one model to another and still be able to figure out how it works.
One major change from the D800 and D810 is the removal of the built-in flash. For most users, it was not necessary and the flash popping up could create problems. You can still attach an external flash to it, so for most this isn’t going to be a problem as they would use that option anyway.
3 Different RAW sizes
One the main concerns with the camera was the 45.7-megapixel sensor. The more MPs it has the larger the images will be. Storage can become a problem, especially when shooting in RAW. The D850 now comes with three different sizes of RAW files. You can choose to shoot RAW images in Large, Medium or Small. The large will take images that are 8256 x 5504 pixels, while the small will take images that are 4128 x 2752 pixels, similar to a cropped sensor.
Having the choice of deciding how big your image will be is a good function to add. If you know you are going to take a photo for social media, with no intention of doing anything else, then using the small option makes sense. However, if you are going to be taking photos for a client or for printing on a big scale then the large size is the best choice.
Fast frames per second burst mode
I went from a Nikon D300s, that could shoot 6-7 frames per second to the D800 which was capable of only four. It was a shock and possibly one of the biggest disappointments with that camera. It always seemed clunky when you were taking several images at once, especially for bracketing.
It’s good to see they have sped up the frame rate in the D850. It will take around 6 images a second, so it is reasonably fast. When you are bracketing there is less chance of a mistake when taking a series of images. It is great to hear how fast it shoots the frames.
The XQD card
With the release of the Nikon D850, we also see that it has two memory card slots; one for an SD card, and the other for an XQD card. As the file sizes are large, and you can take many images per second, you also need a card that can keep up. The XQD cards are good for writing your images quickly so you shouldn’t have moments where you can’t shoot because the camera is saving your images onto the card.
These cards are quite expensive. Not many manufacturers are making them, the one I got was made by Sony. You also need to get a memory card reader for these as well. I purchased mine from B&H, it was 128GB and cost almost $200.
Wifi and Snapbridge
Nikon cameras that have Snapbridge allow you to use your phone with the camera. You can download images to it, for easy loading to social media when you are out and about. There is also the option for your phone to capture GPS data for future reference.
When Snapbridge was first released there was a lot of negative publicity about it. People said it didn’t work properly, and if we are being honest, it wasn’t great. But it has improved a lot. It is now easier to connect your camera to your phone to look at photos. You can have it set up so it automatically transfers the images to your phone. They go into the cloud, so they don’t take up any room on your phone.
The only downside seems to be that to get your images to your phone you have to shoot in jpeg format. Considering the target market of who will be using the D850 (mostly pros), it is a bit disappointing. Most users will be taking their photos in RAW format and won’t be able to do that.
To overcome this, I decided to shoot in RAW and basic JPG. You don’t need high-quality JPGs to share, and basic is fine for social media. Once the files are all downloaded to my computer I select all the jpegs and delete them. It does mean that you will be using more memory on your cards, but I have 128GB cards, so it isn’t going to be an issue that often. I would also only use this selection if I knew that I wanted to capture an image to share, otherwise I would choose RAW only.
Snapbridge will keep the firmware on your camera up to date which is great, otherwise, it only happens if you get it serviced. One thing that is a definitely a plus for someone like me is that the app will also make sure the time and date are correct on your camera by syncing it with your phone. You don’t have to worry about daylight savings and changing the camera settings for it anymore (or when you travel and change time zones).
The experience of other cameras has shown that using Live View can drain your battery. Earlier this year I had an opportunity to try out the Canon 5D Mark IV and when using Live View for long exposures the battery did drain very quickly. You would get maybe three hours with it when using that mode. With the Nikon D850, using Live View it doesn’t drain the battery as quickly.
A fully charged battery for normal use will last a few days, with heavy use a day or so. The Nikon batteries are very good, and if you want spares, it is advisable to go for regular Nikon ones over third-party options.
Without a doubt, those who described the Nikon D850 as a game changer were not lying. It’s one of the most sophisticated cameras on the market. While hailed as a great camera for landscape photographers, it is also suitable for many other genres of photography as well. One has to wonder what they will do to the next generation of the D5 to make it better than the D850.
I would give the camera a rating of 9.9 out of 10, maybe even a 10. I love the Nikon D850, it is the best camera I’ve ever used.
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