Nikon D850 Review
The year 2017 is Nikon's 100th anniversary, which is a remarkable milestone for any company, much less a camera company that has survived the digital photography revolution. And there's no doubt about it: The D850 is the company's true 100th anniversary camera, a 'back-to-basics' product for Nikon that also pushes forward for photographers in important, if not overly flashy, ways.
Offering an impressive 45.7MP of resolution, 7fps burst shooting, full-width 4K video and a focusing system derived from the flagship D5, it looks as though Nikon's thrown just about everything they've got into the D850, and priced it well to boot. Competitors with similarly specced megapixel counts such as the Sony a7R II and Canon EOS 5Ds R may be cheaper at this point in their lifetimes, but they also fall short of the D850 in a number of ways that may make a difference in the way you shoot.
|Hear ye, hear ye; the Nikon D850 is really, really good. Processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Nikon AF-S 85mm F1.8G.
ISO 4000 | 1/500 sec | F1.8
So let's dig in and see if all that the D850 is capable of is enough to make it stand out in an increasingly crowded and mirrorless photographic world.
Body, controls and features
Design-wise, D850 may not stand out in a lineup of DSLRs these days, but it comes with an array of improvements and refinements that make it an exceedingly comfortable camera to use.
On the exterior, Nikon has slimmed-down and deepened the D850's grip relative to the D810; this is the same treatment bestowed first upon the D750 and subsequently the D500, and it makes the camera very comfortable to hold, especially considering its relative heft. The ISO button has moved over to the right shoulder of the camera from the left, just like the D5, and the D850 has also inherited that camera's backlit controls. Unfortunately, the D850 loses the D810's built-in pop-up flash, which was handy for quick fill light and off-camera flash control, but Nikon claims weather-sealing has been made better as a result.
There is now a dedicated AF joystick which is far nice to use than Nikon's eight-way directional pad, and though there is still a dedicated AF-ON button for back-button autofocus shooters, the AF-L button has been removed. The card door hides dual card slots, one SD and one XQD. Despite its relative scarcity in the market, the remarkable speeds offered by XQD have the potential to change the way you shoot.
|The XQD card slot allows for bursts of images, even 46MP images, to be written very, very quickly. Processed and cropped to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Nikon 16-35mm F4G.
ISO 200 | 1/2000 sec | F8
The tilting touchscreen on the back of the camera is both bright and responsive, allowing you to zoom and scrub through images in playback, place your AF point in Live View, and make menu selections. The optical viewfinder, offering 0.75x magnification, is the largest ever in a Nikon DSLR, and is a joy to use. Our only major criticism with it is that the autofocus points, even when lit up red, are dimmer than those on the D810, and difficult to see regardless of shooting scenario.
The magnesium-alloy body has an impressive feel of solidity, and secure doors for the side ports as well as gaskets around the card and battery doors further inspire confidence in the camera's build.
Regarding other features, Nikon's added a new electronic shutter option for time lapses that preserves battery power, and there's a new 'Focus Shift' feature that automatically racks through your lens' focus range if you're shooting macro photos or landscapes - the resulting images are saved in a separate folder on your memory card for easy focus stacking in post. Snapbridge is somewhat improved, but still a little simplistic for a camera of this caliber.
The D850 not only has some big shoes to fill thanks to the already-stellar performance of the D810, but also some strong competitors to match. Sony's a7R II may seem like it's getting a little long-in-the-tooth by Sony refresh-cycle standards, but it's still got a fantastic sensor, and Fujifilm's GFX 50S is bringing larger sensors down a price point. There's some disagreement around the DPReview offices as to whether medium format will ever become mainstream (or at least somewhat more mainstream than it is now), but we nonetheless find that the D850 is able to - most of the time - close the gap with larger-sensored competitors with respect to image quality.
It's also worth mentioning that the occasional mirror/shutter shock issues we noticed with the D810 seem to be mostly solved in the D850 - under certain circumstances, with long lenses and around 1/125 sec shutter speed, you will see a slight reduction in sharpness. If you do - just switch to any Q mode and enable electronic front curtain with a 0.2s exposure delay. Problem solved. Overall, Nikon's done an incredibly commendable job with the new mirror and shutter mechanism on the D850.
|Processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Nikon 70-200mm F2.8E.
ISO160 | 1/2500 sec | F4
The JPEG engine has been improved, with the D850 taking better advantage of the sheer amount of raw detail at its disposal far better than the D810 was able to. Nikon's JPEG color has also been steadily improving over the years, and sharpening is also improved, but still not class-leading; detail at higher ISO values tends to get smeared away somewhat, though edges remain fairly distinct.
It's in Raw that the D850 really shines. It shows very, very slight deficiencies in the finest detail capture when compared to its medium format rivals, but overall, the D850 puts up an impressive performance. Because of the lack of an anti-aliasing filter, you may find moiré to be a problem with finely detailed patterns in your photographs.
|Details, details. Nikon 24-120mm F4G.
ISO 64 | 1/320 sec | F5.6
Thanks to a new 'dual gain' amplification system, images at lower ISO values exhibit excellent dynamic range while the D850 controls noise levels at higher ISO values remarkably well. Unfortunately, in heavily pushed images or images taken at the highest ISO values, the D850 appears to show more speckling that looks similar to hot pixels (though they're not, as they're not fully clipped) than its predecessor.
The autofocus system on the D850 is derived from the system present in Nikon's D5 and D500 sports cameras, and it shows. It can't quite match the outright subject tracking capability of the D5, but it's still an incredible improvement over its predecessor and a marked step above its direct peers during burst shooting.
|With a suitably calibrated lens, autofocus precision is very high indeed. Nikon 85mm F1.4G.
ISO 64 | 1/640 sec | F4
The system has 153 total autofocus points, of which 51 are user selectable. The center point is sensitive down to -4 EV, with all the other points sensitive down to -3 EV (this is around the brightness of a moonlit night). As we say, it can't quite match the D5's subject tracking, but in every way it is an improvement over the already-good system in the D810.
The D850's downfall here really comes down to its staggering resolution. If your lens is mis-calibrated, you will notice it at 46MP. Nikon did include its automatic AF fine tune on the D850, but we've found that if you enjoy shooting at wider apertures, you should really calibrate your lens at the distance at which you'll be using it; calibration values can vary depending on your subject distance, which can be a little frustrating. Once you have calibrated your lens, though, the precision that the D850's focus system is capable of is quite impressive.
|Processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Nikon 70-200mm F2.8E.
ISO 64 | 1/1000 sec | F4
Nikon's Live View AF is still quite pedestrian by modern standards. It's a simple contrast-detection affair, and though it's incredibly accurate (handy for when you discover, mid-shoot, that your lens isn't calibrated properly for the viewfinder AF system), it is pretty slow. Newer AF-S and AF-P lenses will focus faster than older screw-drive lenses, but nonetheless, it's a deficiency that really stands out on an otherwise refined camera.
The Nikon D850 is the company's first DSLR to offer 4K video recording using the full width of the sensor, and it also offers an array of Full HD and slow motion options. On the side of the camera, you'll find both headphone and microphone ports for better audio than the internal microphones allow, and there are some new capture aids, such as focus peaking (though it's only available when shooting 1080p).
Getting un-cropped 4K video in a Nikon camera is certainly going to be a revelation for those that have been waiting for it; overall, the quality is good if not stellar, though switching into the DX crop mode improves things noticeably. What's really holding the D850 back is its poor autofocus performance when shooting video. It's contrast-detect only, so it hunts distractingly before locking in. If you're just shooting static interview scenes, then no problem, but if you're looking at run-and-gun video shooting while capturing stills on the side, there are likely better options out there for you.
The final word
As you may have gathered from the ratio of 'pros' to 'cons' at the top of the page, we're more than impressed by the D850. It bests its predecessor, the D810, in just about every measurable way - and this is all the more striking when you think about how capable that camera still is.
It's clear, though, that given our experience with autofocus calibrations, that we are running up against some inherent deficiencies in DSLR design with the D850. There's also the matter of Live View focus performance that Nikon hasn't quite solved, and though they've made great strides in their video quality, there's a ways to go before they're really competitive.
|Processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Nikon 28mm F1.4E.
ISO 64 | 1/800 sec | F5.6
Despite that, we've said previously that this just might be the most well-rounded stills camera ever, and we still find this to be the case. If you're careful with your technique and have the requisite lenses, the D850 will reward you with incredible detail in landscapes and portraits. If you need to shoot moving subjects, you have a highly capable AF system and 7fps at your disposal, with the option to boost that to 9fps if you so require. The D850 puts out great color and overall image quality regardless of where the ISO value lands. You really can shoot just about anything wth it.
In the end, we feel that the D850 will satisfy the needs of an incredible variety of photographers, and we're comfortable saying the D850 is the best DSLR on the market today. For that, it merits our highest award.
Category: Semi-professional Full Frame Camera
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
With expansive resolution, a capable autofocus system, fast burst shooting and great image quality under almost any situation, the D850 is the best DSLR on the market today, and among the best all-around stills cameras we've ever tested. Live view autofocus and video modes could still use some work, but the camera's capabilities handily outshine those deficiencies.
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