Nikon D850 Handling & Feel

Review Date: November 27, 2017

Category: Advanced to Pro

Nikon D850

Nikon D850

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2017 - DSLR
Photoxels Editor’s Choice 2017 – DSLR


Full-frame versatility. The Nikon D850 is Nikon’s latest full-frame DSLR, packing powerful and professional features for both still shooting and cinematic movie recording. It is an impressive DSLR retooled to compete with the best full-frame mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.

The Nikon D850 replaces the D810. It slots just under the flagship D5 and above the D810. All three are full-frame DSLRs targeted to enthusiast, advanced and pro photographers. In dimensions, the D850 is just about a tad (3mm) less deep than the D810 but it is about 100g heavier (at 915g for the D850 vs 880g for the D810, body only). The handgrip is redesigned for more comfortable handling, especially with heavier lenses attached.

According to Nikon, the removal of the built-in flash makes the D850 a better weather-sealed camera than the D810. This also frees up more room for a bigger viewfinder housing and, at 0.75x magnification, the D850 has the largest optical viewfinder of any Nikon full-frame DSLR (even the D5 is “only” 0.72x). With an eye point of 17mm (similar to the D810 and D5), I can see the whole frame if I press my glasses against the viewfinder.

In my hands-on tests with the Nikon D850, I find that it handles superbly with its deep handgrip, and the many external control buttons and dials put its powerful features at your fingertips. Compared to mirrorless cameras, this is a big and heavy camera, especially when you attach a long lens.

As expected, the Nikon D850 is a full-featured DSLR: it features 45.7MP, Continuous Shooting at 7fps (9fps with the optional Multi Battery Power Pack), ISO 64-25600, the field-proven ultra-accurate AF system inherited from the flagship D5 with 153 focus points and 99 cross-type sensors, 16:9 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160) movie at 30/25/24p with stereo sound, built-in HDR, PASM modes, a tilting high resolution touchscreen LCD display, Live View Silent Mode, and the ability to customize it to pretty much the way you like to shoot.

You can create 4K time-lapse video right in-camera or 8K time-lapse in post-processing; you can shoot both silently using the electronic shutter.

There are buttons, switches and dials to control almost every important setting without having to delve into the menu. The menu itself is comprehensive and, if you are not used to a DSLR menu, can be intimidating and easy to get lost in. It therefore pays to spend some time with the 400-page User’s Manual (and 274-page Menu Guide) and explore the rich features of the D850.

Nikon D850

Nikon D850

The Nikon D850 has a F bayonet mount, therefore accepting all the F-mount Nikkor lenses ever built. The vintage ones will have to be used in manual exposure and focus modes.

Nikon D850 (Top view)

Nikon D850 (Top view)

The (Shooting) MODE button is one of four buttons on top of the Release Mode dial on the left side of the viewfinder (viewed from the rear). Press down the Mode button and you can dial in a shooting mode using the Main (Rear) Command Dial: PSAM only (no AUTO or Scene Modes here). The Release mode dial is what you use to set the Drive options: Single frame, Continuous Low speed, Continuous high speed, Quiet shutter-release, Quiet continuous shutter-release, Self-timer, Mirror up. It has a lock release to prevent accidental mode change.

There are also the WB (White Balance) button, the QUAL button (to select the Image Quality: RAW and JPEG options) and the Metering button (to select Matrix, Center-weighted, Spot or Highlight-weighted) on top of the Release Mode dial.

Nikon DSLRs get it right when they standardize the Power Switch around the Shutter release button. Other camera manufacturers have a separate switch on top, on the back or in some other obscure place you have to hunt for and try to remember. If you come from the point-and-shoot world, you may confuse it for a Zoom lever. The extra setting on the Power Switch is to backlight the Control Panel and illuminate the rear buttons.

The Control Panel is on the top right of the camera and conveniently displays exposure settings and shooting modes. Many photographers love a Control Panel but I have to admit that, not having used a Control Panel for a very long time, I rarely glanced at it during this review, preferring instead to view the exposure and other information overlayed onto the viewfinder or LCD. You can also press the INFO button and use the Information Display (aka Super Control Panel) on the LCD.

The Shutter Release button, as on other Nikon DSLRs I’ve used, has a very light touch (very short travel distance) and I would often take a shot when all I wanted was to half-press the shutter. I guess it is a matter of getting used to the Nikon way. Also on top, behind the Shutter Release button, are a dedicated Movie button, an ISO button and an Exposure Compensation button.

Note that, you can’t just press the Movie button and start recording video immediately. Not, that is, until you have set up the camera to do so. You need to first switch to Movie mode (rotate the Live View Selector to point ot the Movie Live View icon) and go into Live View mode (press the Lv button in the center of the Live View Selector). You’d also probably want to switch to Continuous AF (AF-C), select the appropriate AF-area Mode for the scene you are shooting, get a clear focus lock (press AF-ON button), then press the Movie button to start and end recording. You can press the Shutter release button to capture a still photo during Movie recording, but you will interrupt the recording.

Nikon D850 (Back View)

Nikon D850 (Back View)

Nikon D850

Nikon D850

On the back of the camera, there is a large 3.2-in. tiltable touchscreen LCD (2.36M-dot). You can overlay a Grid and, for those who, like me, are horizontally challenged, you can also display a Virtual Horizon (aka, electronic level gauge) onto the optical viewfinder. You can display a Histogram in Playback and in Live View during Record. The optical viewfinder is large, bright and clear at 0.75x magnification. New is the Sub-selector lever (aka, AF joystick). Since the display screen is touch-enabled, you can conveniently initiate rack focusing during movie recording by simply touching where you want the camera to lock focus next.

On the bottom of the camera, the tripod socket is metal and inline with the center of the lens. You may be able to change battery while the camera is on a tripod, depending on your tripod. There are two memory card slots available, a QXD and a SD/SDHC/SDXC.

Overall, the build quality is excellent, especially when you throw in weather-proofing. For a full-frame DSLR, the Nikon D850 handles very well and, once you take the time to customize it to your liking and take some time to get used to it, you’ll be in possession of an incredibly versatile camera that can handle almost any photography challenge thrown at it.

Next: Nikon D850 User’s Experience

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