Nikon D850 Image Quality

Review Date: November 27, 2017

Category: Advanced to Pro

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2017 - DSLR

Photoxels Editor’s Choice 2017 – DSLR


Excellent image quality. The Nikon D850 is a traditional-mirrored DSLR targeted to advanced and pro photographers. It has 45.7MP resolution on a full-frame FX-format CMOS sensor (35.9mm x 24.0mm) and accepts the full collection of FX NIKKOR lenses. The sensor does not have an optical low pass filter (OLPF) in front. This is Nikon’s first DSLR to use an FX-format, back-side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor.

The Nikon D850 has excellent image quality including excellent low-light performance at ISO 64 with excellent detail preserved. Noise is controlled up to ISO 1600, and ISO 3200-6400 are very usable; at higher ISOs, images progressively suffer from noise and loss of detail. This is probably the best Nikon DSLR ever, in terms of image quality, low-light capability, dynamic range and features. It will appeal mostly to advanced and pro photographers who shoot RAW and are not afraid to post process their images to bring out the best in them.

Interchangeable Lenses

One of the many advantages of a DSLR is the ability to use interchangeable lenses suited to specific jobs. For the review, I received the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm 1:4 G ED Lens 5x Standard Zoom lens with built-in optical image stabilization, 9 diaphragm blades and minimum aperture of f/22. It accepts 77mm diameter filters. In the above pictures, we show the coverage for 24mm then 120mm.

The Nikon D850 has full exposure flexibility with PASM modes, and Program Shift.

The camera also provides exposure compensation (with Auto Bracketing) and Custom (Manual) White Balance. A Histogram can be displayed in Playback and Live View mode.

TIP: To view a histogram in Live View mode, you need to first enable Exposure Preview: press the Lv button – press the info button repeatedly to cycle thru the different display options until the histogram displays.




The actual macro capability of a DSLR is in reality a function of the lens you attach to the camera. The 24-120mm kit lens allows you to focus as close as 0.45m (1.5 ft.), which is not much for close-up work. The image above gives you an idea of the lens coverage at that distance.

For dedicated life-size macro shooting, Nikon has a couple of AF-S lenses: the AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED with minimum focus distance of 0.185m (0.60 ft.) and the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED with minimum focus distance of 0.314m (1.0 ft.). Both macro lenses capture life-size (1:1) images. You can also purchase other excellent Nikon macro (Nikon terms them “micro”) lenses with manual focus.

White Balance

As the above two pictures show, the Auto White Balance (AWB) is not quite accurate indoors under artificial lighting [I have two energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs on the ceiling]. The Nikon D850 allows WB to be set manually and this brings out the real colors. AWB works very well in natural light.

ISO Comparisons

The Nikon D850 has 13, 24 or 34 ISO settings, depending on whether you choose 1 EV, 1/2 EV or 1/3 EV ISO steps in Custom Menu [Menu – CUSTOM SETTING MENU – Metering/exposure – ISO sensitivity step value – select 1/3 step, 1/2 step or 1 step] going from Lo1.0 (ISO 50 equiv.), ISO 64, ISO 100 to ISO 25600, and up to extended Hi2.0 (ISO 102400 equiv.).

The 100% crops above demonstrate the noise at the available ISO Speeds (in 1EV ISO steps). At ISO 100 to 1600, noise is under control. Noise starts to be slightly visible at ISO 3200 but is still very acceptable up to ISO 6400. Noise (with progressively higher detail loss) is visible at higher ISOs. If you intend to shoot at very high ISOs and want the minimum noise, we recommend that you shoot RAW and process out the noise. Overall, excellent noise handling.

If you intend to purchase a D850 for its fantastic low-light capability, make sure you also purchase a fast enough lens (i.e. a lens with a large aperture, such as F2.8, F2.0, F1.4, F1.2 or even faster).

CA (Purple Fringing)

We have not been able to observe any purple fringing at very high contrast in any of our test shots.

Long Exposure

Long Exposure – 120mm, Shutter-priority, Spot, 30 sec., F4, ISO 400, Custom WB, Self-timer 10 sec,, Tripod Used

Our Long Shutter Speed test is a torture test for digital cameras. Here, in almost absolute darkness, we test whether (and how well) a camera can lock focus, provide accurate WB and obtain a correct exposure in extreme low light situations. We used Live View for this test and the Contrast-detect AF was not able to lock focus in the near darkness situation of our test. So we switched to locking focus only when we press the AF-ON button [Menu – CUSTOM SETTING MENU – Autofocus – AF activation – AF-ON only], then switched on the lights, pressed the AF-ON button to [instantaneously] lock focus, turned off the lights, and pressed the shutter to take the picture. Though the Phase-detection AF is sensitive down to -4EV when shooting through the optical viewfinder, there is improvement to be done with the Contrast-detect AF used in Live View.

The Nikon D850 allows the use of a long shutter speed of up to 30 sec. in all the PASM modes, therefore allowing nice night photography. Generally, with image sensors, noise becomes more prominent at slow shutter speeds. To test this noise reduction algorithm, I switched to Manual mode, dialled in 30 sec. shutter speed, F4 aperture, and ISO 400. Long Exposure NR was turned ON, and we obtain a smooth black background.

Overall, the Nikon D850 has excellent image quality including excellent low light capability at high ISOs, and superb dynamic range. As our -5EV test shows, there are lots of detail captured in the shadows. The D850 can be used both as a still and a movie camera for professional results, and should delight both enthusiasts and professional photographers desiring a full-frame DSLR.

Next: Nikon D850 Photo Gallery

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