The D850 should dismiss the idea that Nikon is on the ropes
To be clear, I've not done much more than handle the D850 so far. Until we've spent a lot more time testing the camera, we won't know whether it's as good as its specs suggest it should be. But if it can deliver on a significant proportion of this promise, it'll be one hell of a camera. That would make Nikon look like a company fresh for the next round, rather than unsteady on its feet and heading for the canvas.
|The Nikon DL 18-50: so much promise, unfulfilled.|
True enough, it's been a difficult couple of years for Nikon. The company's mirrorless 1 System never seem to have found its audience, at least not based on the limited US and European sales figures I've seen. The company has had an awkward run of very public recalls and apparent lapses in quality assurance and control: from oil spots in the D600, to battery recalls and faulty shutters on some D750s. To compound these woes, the company generated a lot of excitement with the announcement of the DL series: a trio of 1" sensor compacts that got as far as the company's paid pros before Nikon was forced to cancel the project due to problems with the processors.
These setbacks and Sony's announcement that it's captured (and apparently retained) the #2 sales spot for full frame in the US might give the impression of a slow-moving or even complacent company. A company on the verge of ruin, according to some.
It's a perspective I'd politely characterize as myopic balderdash.
All things to all shooters...
For those people wanting something futuristic, the D850 might be a let-down. It doesn't include the kind of hybrid viewfinder that was on some of the more fanciful wishlists. And it's true that the D850 isn't as radically, perhaps even sexily, innovative as Sony's barnstorming mirrorless a9, but from what I've seen, it could be the most versatile DSLR ever released.
|Yes, it's a fairly conventional DSLR. But what a DSLR.|
To be clear, I'm not expecting it to be a great video camera. Sure, 4K UHD from the full width of the sensor is a pretty impressive spec, but I have my concerns about the seemingly pixel-binned footage and quite significant-looking rolling shutter. (And that's before you even consider the wobbly and often noisy video AF). Not that these things would completely negate the feature: it may still look good if shot carefully, especially when downscaled to 1080 resolution. But my lack of concern is because video has nothing to do with what makes me think the D850 looks so impressive.
Throughout the history of high-end digital, you've generally had to make a choice: do I need high resolution or high speed? If the D850 delivers on its promise, you can now have both, in a way that only the a99 II has tried to offer before.
This has a radical effect on who the camera works for. Seven frame per second shooting is more than enough for a really wide range of shooting, especially if the camera is able to autofocus like a D5 (probably the best autofocus performance we've ever tested). For anybody that needs more than this, they can add the battery grip and D5 battery, and boost the output to 9 fps. This combination will still cost less than the D5 and retain the option to remove the grip when you don't want to lug a twin-grip camera around.
That's likely to be enough capability to satisfy all but the most demanding sports shooters and photojournalists. But, significantly, it promises to do this with the kind of resolution that'll satisfy the more committed landscape or studio shooter. Consequently, it'll bring improved resolution and improved speed to everybody in between, such as wedding shooters who'll benefit from both by getting a camera that can cope with whatever's thrown at them.
...in all lighting?
|Whatever its provenance, the D850's BSI sensor promises high DR at low ISO and high performance at high ISO.|
But speed and resolution isn't the only apparent contradiction the D850 could end up resolving. If it's up to contemporary standards, the D850's BSI sensor design should be more efficient than the chips used in the D810 and D750, so perform better (or at least as well) in low light and high ISO, when compared at the same size. And, if its ISO 64 mode can match the dynamic range of the D810, that'll put it on a par with the likes of the Fujifilm GFX 50S in terms of absolute dynamic range. Though, it should be pointed out, there's never really been a good reason to think the two factors were in conflict.
So, while the D850 may look like just another DSLR, its specs suggest something a bit more than that. And the recent turbulence shouldn't make us forget that Nikon really does know how to build a DSLR.
Not just competent DSLRs
But Nikon's progressive innovation extends beyond DSLRs. It may have seemed unsure who the 1 System and its lenses were actually for, but there was some undeniably interesting technology underpinning them. They were some of the first cameras to feature extensive on-sensor PDAF, and they were capable of no-blackout live view burst shooting many years in advance of Sony's a9.
Having already created what could be the pinnacle of DSLR design thus far, bear in mind Nikon has also applied to patent some of the technology required to create vertical and horizontal-sensitive split pixel AF (what could be essentially a cross-type variant of Canon's Dual Pixel AF). It has also, despite the embarrassment of the DL U-turn, publicly announced its intention to build a mirrorless camera consistent with the company's reputation.
So if you're looking at the online doom and gloom, worrying 'what about video' and interpreting the D850 as a sign that Nikon is on the ropes, I'd argue you're not really paying attention. It's not yet the final round and Nikon is up and swinging.
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