Nikon D850 User’s Experience

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


Monday, October 30, 2017 – Here’s what I receive in the box:

  • Nikon D850 (black) with Body Cap
  • No memory card [I used a 16GB Lexar Platinum II SDHC I 200x]
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Li-Ion Battery EN-EL15a 7.0V 1900mAh 14Wh with cap
  • Battery Charger MH-25a with an AC wall adapter
  • Interface Cable: USB
  • User’s Manual (English and French)
  • No Software CD (dowload ViewNX-i version 1.2.10 and Capture NX-D version 1.4.6)
  • AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm 1:4 G ED Lens w/lens hood, lens cap, rear cap, and travelling bag
  • MH-26aAK adapter kit for MH26a
  • BL-5 Battery-Chamber Cover
  • EN-EL18b Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery
  • MB-D18 Multi-Power Battery Pack
Versatile powerhouse. Like the D810 that it replaces, the Nikon D850 is a full-frame DSLR that once again sets a high standard for DSLRs. It is Nikon’s answer to Sony’s A7R II full-frame mirrorless cameras. Priced at US $3,299.95 (body only), the Nikon D850 (announced Jul 25, 2017) is not cheap–nor are its mirrorless competitors: the Sony A7R II (announced Jun 10, 2015) at US $2,899.99 and the Sony A7R III (announced Oct 25, 2017) at US $3,199.99.

If you are using a Nikon APS-C camera now (Nikon DX format) or a mirrorless from another brand, moving up to the Nikon D850 (FX format) will add size, weight as well as cost. If you are thinking of upgrading, factor in the cost of replacing your DX (or other brand) lenses with FX lenses. The D850 is a hefty camera (915g), especially when compared to a mirrorless (the Sony A7r III weighs in at 657g). With the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G ED VR Lens attached (710g), the camera plus lens combination comes up to about 1625g (more than 3.5 lbs) and feels quite heavy. Add a couple more FX lenses in your camera bag, and the weight adds on.

The Nikon D850 handling is however superb. There are lots of buttons and so no need for finger contortions or fidgeting with tiny buttons. The D850 is a beautifully designed camera. From the feel of the texture to the tactile feel of the control buttons, this weather-sealed camera feels professional grade and inspires rugged confidence.

The optical viewfinder is larger and brighter than on a DX-format DSLR. Half-press the shutter release button and the Phase detection AF immediately snaps the image into focus. Just like that. No hunting to and fro. If you are used to slower contrast-detect AF, you may not believe the phase detection AF of the D850 has already locked focus as soon as you touch the shutter button.

Even though the D850 has Live View, it is primarily an optical viewfinder DSLR and its AF performance and -4EV low light sensitivity are based on using the Phase-detection AF sensor and not the Contrast-detect AF sensor used by Live View. I found that the Live View (Lv) on the D850 is quite usable in bright light, especially when compared to that on older DSLRs. Of course, don’t expect the same level of flexibility and performance as Live View on a mirrorless. Lv uses Contrast-detect AF anywhere in the frame. You can magnify the Live View screen to get a better view. You can use all shooting modes using Live View. The 3.2-in. LCD screen has 2,359,000 dots resolution, features a Virtual Horizon Camera Indicator, tilts up and down, and is touch-enabled. There is no eye-sensor that will automatically switch between viewfinder and Live View.

WARNING: Note that, according to the User’s Manual (page 11), even though the D850 is touted to be weather-proof, there is one particular area to the rear of the monitor that can cause the camera to malfunction should you allow liquid to contact the inner surface. So, be forewarned, and keep the monitor closed against the camera body when shooting in rain or when you could get splashed.

TIP: If you want the camera to focus and meter at the extreme edges of the viewfinder, switch to Live View. Then, simply use the Multi selector or Sub-selector to reposition the AF Frame. Or, better still, since the display is touch-enabled, simply touch where you want the camera to lock focus. Press the center button on the Multi selector to immediately return to center.

TIP: In Live View, you can resize the AF Frame from Normal to Wide by pressing the AF-mode button on the side of the lens barrel and rotating the Sub-command (front) dial.

TIP: Touch shutter and Touch AF allow you to touch the screen where you want the camera to lock focus and, optionally, take the picture. There are three modes available and you simply tap the icon on screen to select one.
Touch shutter/AF: Off means that Touch AF and Touch Shutter are both disabled.
Touch AF: On means that only Touch AF is enabled. This allows you to select where you want the camera to lock focus.
Touch shutter/AF: On will not only lock focus where you touch on screen, but will also release the shutter (take the picture) when you lift your finger.
So, if you find it maddening that everytime you touch the screen, the camera is taking a picture, then you need to either switch to Touch screen/AF: Off or to Touch AF: On.

TIP: In Live View, press INFO repeatedly to display the Virtual Horizon Camera Indicator or the Grid lines.

The D850 uses the ultra-accurate AF system derived from the flagship D5, with 153 focus points, 99 cross-type sensors and a dedicated AF processor. The AF is sensitive down to -4 EV.

Movie mode uses contrast-detect AF and will refocus as you zoom and/or switch to a closer/further subject when using AF-C. Be aware that the auto focus, manual focus and manual zooming noises will be clearly picked up by the sensitive microphone. An optional external stereo microphone can be used to avoid picking the camera sounds.

For fans of timelapse movies, the D850 has a built-in intervalometer which will take photos at preset intervals. You can either create entire 4K UHD time-lapse sequences right in the camera [MENU – MOVIE SHOOTING MENU – Time-lapse movie] — or you can shoot 8K sequences of up to 9,999 full-size stills that you can assemble together later in your favorite time-lapse software [MENU – PHOTO SHOOTING MENU – Interval timer shooting].

An ‘exposure smoothing’ option helps eliminate flickering due to the exposure changing as the light condition changes. A Silent option means that you can set the D850 to shoot throughout the night without the shutter/mirror clanking bothering you in your sleep. The Silent Live View Mode bypasses the mechanical shutter and mirror movement, saving thousands of shutter cycles and improving the D850’s already outstanding battery performance.

You can pretty much customize the D850 to work the way you like. The D850 User’s Manual, at more than 400 pages, should give you an idea of the complexity and real power under the hood of the D850. There is also a 274-page Menu Guide to learn how to make the most of the camera.

When using multiple remote flash units, you don’t need line of sight anymore; use the optional WR-A10/R10 transceiver (requires firmware version 3.0 or later) to control and wirelessly fire radio controlled SB-5000 Speedlights from another room, around corners or outdoors in bright sunlight.

The self-timer can be set to release after 2, 5, 10 or 20 sec. and you choose the delay via a Custom Setting in the Menu (CUSTOM SETTING MENU – c Timers/AE lock – c3 Self-timer – Self-timer delay). I love the 5 seconds, which is not too fast and still gives the camera time to settle down after you’ve pressed the shutter release button. Unfortunately, only the one selected setting is then available when you switch to self-timer mode. It would have been nice to be able to use the Main command or Sub-command dial to simply dial in a desired self-timer delay time.

TIP: If you favor a 1s, 2s or 3s self-timer, and you will be using the camera in that mode for an extended shooting session, you can leave the camera on Single Frame and set the Exposure delay to 1s, 2s or 3s [MENU – CUSTOM SETTING MENU – d Shooting/display – d5 Exposure delay mode – 3s, 2s, 1s, 0.5s, 0.2s, Off]. Just remember to reset it to Off or you’ll be scratching your head as to why your camera has suddenly and quite mysteriously acquired a shutter lag.

The Nikon D850 has a MUP (Mirror UP) function. The mirror can be raised to minimize blurring caused by camera shake. Set the Release Mode Dial to MUP, frame and compose your picture, half-press the shutter release button to lock focus, then depress the shutter release button all the way and release it to lock the mirror up. Wait a few seconds for everything to settle down, then depress the shutter release button a second time to take the picture. Of course, your camera should be on a sturdy tripod, and you should be using an optional remote cord to release the shutter, otherwise it kinds of defeat the whole purpose of using MUP. (Or you use the delay option to give the camera a bit of time to stop shaking after you fully depress the shutter release button with your finger.)

I heard all the buzz about the incredible dynamic range of the D850 and therefore couldn’t help trying the following shot: take a severely underexposed RAW (NEF) picture (here shot at -5EV) such that it is almost all black, then use CaptureNX-D to adjust exposure up by +5EV to bring back the details. Amazing!

Picture taken in camera (RAW+JPEG) at -5EV:

Exposure of RAW adjusted by +5EV in CaptureNX-D (Exposure on Bamm-Bamm):

What I like about the D850:

  • Excellent image quality from ISO 64 to ISO 1600.
  • Superb dynamic range.
  • Very fast phase detection AF.
  • Lots of external dials and buttons mean less reliance on Menu.
  • Very good build, handling and weather-proofing.
  • High resolution and tiltable touchscreen LCD display.
  • Live View is usable.
  • Large, bright and clear optical viewfinder (with 100% frame coverage).

No review is complete without a couple of improvement suggestions:

  • Allow still shooting without interrupting movie recording.
  • Improve the Contrast-detect AF performance when using Live View.
  • Improve the Wi-Fi capability.

There are so many more nifty features of the Nikon D850 that we have not had time to experiment with in detail: the Intervalometer for time-lapse day and night photography and Focus Stacking for macro shooting. Suffice it to say that the D850 is definitely a professional DSLR with full exposure flexibility and excellent image quality, including fantastic dynamic range at ISO 64 and superb low noise capability.

Should you upgrade from the D810? Definitely, not only for the high 45.7MP resolution but also for the fast performance and speed inherited from the D5. The Nikon D850 will appeal to those who are already Nikon full-frame DSLR users or those wanting to move up from Nikon’s APS-C DSLRs. If you have already invested in superb Nikkor lenses and accessories, the D850 will fit right in. If you are looking to buy a professional-grade DSLR, the Nikon D850 should be at the top of your list. Highly recommmended.

Next: Nikon D850 QuickFact Sheet / Buy

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