Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

Extreme resolution meets extreme speed. When Nikon introduced the D800 and D800E, it set a new benchmark for DSLR image quality and super high resolution photography that approached medium format. Now, five years later, Nikon proudly introduces the next evolution in high resolution DSLRs, a camera that allows photographers to capture fast action in 45.7 megapixels of brilliant resolution. With remarkable advancements across the board—sensor design, autofocus, dynamic range, sensitivity, Speedlight control, battery life, shutter and mirror drive mechanisms, Silent Photography in Live-View mode, focus shift capability and more. This is quite possibly the most impressive, well-rounded DSLR yet.
Read: The  best DSLR camera for photographers.

Base

  • Nikon-designed back-side illuminated (BSI) full-frame image sensor with no optical low-pass filter
  • 45.7 megapixels of extraordinary resolution, outstanding dynamic range and virtually no risk of moiré
  • Up to 9 fps1 continuous shooting at full resolution with full AF performance
  • 8K2 and 4K time-lapse movies with new levels of sharpness and detail
  • Tilting touchscreen, Focus Shift shooting mode, outstanding battery performance and much more
  • 4K Ultra HD video recording, slow motion up to 120 FPS at 1080p
Technical Details
autofocus Points 153 Lithium Battery Energy Content 1 Watt hour
 Color  Black  Model Year  2017
 Configuration  Base  Optical Zoom  1x
 Display Fixture Type  tilting  Self-timer  Yes
 Display Size  3.2 inches  Shipping Weight  4.15 pounds
 External Memory Included  No  Style Name  Body Only
 Image Stabilization  Yes  Supported Battery Types  Nikon EN-EL15
 Item Dimensions  4.9 x 3.1 x 5.8 inches  Video Capture Resolution  4k
 Item Weight  2.02 pounds  Viewfinder Type  optical viewfinder


What is the Nikon D850?

Nikon wetted the appetite of many photographers earlier this year with news that it was working on a follow-up to its high-resolution full-frame D810 fx in the form of the D850 fx.

When the wraps finally came off the D850 fx, it struck up a similar level of hype to the company’s announcements of its high resolution D800 and D800E twins back in 2012. It was expected that the resolution would exceed the 36 megapixels offered by the D800/D800E and D810 – but what wasn’t so clear were Nikon’s plans to radically increase shooting speed, boost the sensitivity range and add a whole host of other improvements.

 In the past, high-speed shooting and an outstanding noise response have been compromises you’ve had to make for choosing a super-high-resolution DSLR. This is the reason that so many professionals carry around a model that’s good for shooting at high speed and another that excels at high resolution; there’s never been the perfect hybrid. Nikon’s answer is the D850 fx, which set its sights on being the perfect all-rounder.


Nikon D850 – Features

Inside the Nikon D850 is an all-new 45.7-megapixel full-frame (FX-format) CMOS sensor, which does away with an optical low-pass filter. It packs gapless on-chip micro-lenses, with a backside-illuminated architecture to maximise its light-gathering capabilities. Where the D810 could shoot natively between ISO 64-12,800 (expandable to ISO 32-51,200), the D850 now offers a standard sensitivity range of ISO 64-25,600, expandable to ISO 32-102,400.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)
 Nikon has paired this new sensor with the same Expeed 5 image processor seen in its flagship D5. This helps to bring continuous shooting speed up to a healthy 7fps, and there’s the option to boost this to 9fps with the MB-D18 grip (£369) and EN-EL18 high-power battery. At 7fps the D850 has a 51-frame raw buffer, and with an XQD card slot languishing next to an UHS-II compatible SD card slot, it offers good prospects for sports and action photographers who demand nothing but the fastest read/write speeds.
Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

The D850 also inherits Nikon’s best autofocus system – again lifted directly from the D5. It sports 153 focus points (of which 55 are user-selectable), including 99 of the more accurate cross-type, and 15 that will work with lens and teleconverter combinations with an aperture of f/8. The centre point is sensitive to -4EV, and the rest to -3EV, allowing the camera to focus quickly in low light.

Autofocus modes include auto area, 3D colour tracking, single point AF and of the option to select the number of continuous (AF-C) focus points from a group of 9,25,72 or 153. In Live View, there’s a new pinpoint AF mode that’s designed to ease precise focusing on smaller subjects in the frame, but without on-chip phase detection, Nikon is still relying entirely on contrast detection for autofocus.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-formatl DSLR Camera (Review)

Metering is left in the capable hands of the manufacturers 180,00-pixel RGB sensor – yet another feature inherited from the D5. As we’ve seen before, it’s this metering sensor that’s used for subject-recognition purposes including face detection, which feeds information to the AF system for accurate and precise subject tracking.

In addition, the D850 has a DX Crop mode. This is automatically selected by the camera when a DX lens is attached, but can be used in combination with FX lenses for those who’d like to gain more reach at the telephoto end. It may use a small area of the D850’s sensor, but still produces adequate resolution (19.4 megapixels) with a 5408 x 3600 pixel count. To put this into perspective, the resolution produced in the D850’s DX Crop mode doesn’t fall far behind the 20.9-megapixel resolution produced by the D7500 and D500.

On the video side of things, the D850 is capable of in-camera 4K recording at 30fps using the full width of the sensor. 4K time-lapse movies can also be generated in-camera, but strangely, the only feature Nikon chose to reveal early – 8K time-lapse – can’t. This requires the use of third-party software. A more accurate description would have been to say the camera has a built-in intervalometer.

Videographers will also be pleased to receive aids such as a peaking display for accurate manual focus, and zebra patterns to help avoid overexposure. Both microphone and headphone sockets are built in and are located above the USB and Type-C HDMI interfaces.

Elsewhere, there’s new in-camera focus bracketing to create extended depth-of-field composites, as well as a new Natural Light Auto White Balance option, which promises optimal results in outdoor lighting. Hopefully, this should tackle Nikon’s favouritism to over-neutralise outdoor shots to give them more warmth.

Other impressive features are found on the rear of the camera. The optical viewfinder is the largest yet on a Nikon DSLR, with a 0.75x magnification; below it sits a 2.36-mdot LCD that tilts up and down. It’s similar to the D500’s screen and fully supports touch functionality, allowing you to navigate menus, browse images in playback or set the AF point in Live View.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

The camera is powered by Nikon’s familiar EN-EL15 battery, but what’s particularly impressive here is that it can be used to shoot 1840 shots on a single charge – a big jump from the 1200-shot stamina of the Nikon D810.

As we’ve seen before, the D850 gets Nikon’s SnapBridge connectivity as a means of wirelessly moving images to mobile devices. Images can be transferred as you shoot, and selecting the all-important down-sampling 2-megapixel mode rapidly speeds up transfer times and saves on valuable storage space.

 


Nikon D850  – Viewfinder and screen

One of the constraints of the Nikon D810 was that it had a fixed screen. After years of waiting it’s good to finally see Nikon embracing a tilting touchscreen on one of its high-resolution pro-spec DSLRs.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

The screen is essentially the same 2.36-mdot LCD that you get on the D500. It tilts up and down for waist-level shooting, but isn’t as ingenious as the screen you get on the Fujifilm X-T2 in that it constrains you to shooting in landscape rather than portrait format too.

The angle of tilt is particularly good for low- and high-angle shooting. It goes one better than the D500’s screen, too, in the way the touchscreen can now be used to browse menus and change menu settings. You can’t change exposure variables from the info display or Live View screen, but it offers a big step in the right direction. As for its response, it’s incredibly sensitive and precise to the touch, rivalling the response of Canon’s superb touchscreens.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

The viewfinder is equally as impressive as the screen. It doesn’t offer a preview of white balance, exposure or depth of field in the way of an electronic viewfinder, but with its 0.75x magnification and 100% frame coverage it offers a very pleasing view when raised to the eye.

It’s possible to turn on a viewfinder grid display, and I found myself assigning the Fn1 button to viewfinder virtual horizon, which loads a helpful levelling guide on the horizontal and vertical axis to avoid skewed shots. Being the optical type the viewfinder has zero lag, incredibly short blackout time, and there’s the option to block out the viewfinder to prevent any light leak problems during long exposures.


Nikon D850  – Video

The D850 is capable of producing excellent movie footage in the hands of a videographer. It’s capable of in-camera 4K recording (3840 x 2160) at 30fps and Full HD (1920 x 1080) at up to 60fps for a maximum record time of 29mins 59secs.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

For cinematographers, the feature that sets the D850 apart from others is its 4K and 8K time-lapse capabilities. The time-lapse movie and intervalometer settings are easy enough to get your head around, offering advanced options such as being able to turn on silent shooting and exposure smoothing.

Once you’ve setup the interval and shooting time, you get a visual of how much space the time-lapse is going to take up on your SD or XQD card, as well as the indicated length of the time-lapse once complete. It’s simply a matter of hitting start to commence a 4K time-lapse. However, it’s worth noting that those who’d like to generate an 8K time-lapse will need to shoot in Raw and run the files through a third-party program since this can’t be done in-camera.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

Creating high-resolution time-lapse footage is rather draining on the battery, so the MB-D18 grip and EN-EL18 high-power battery are recommended if you’re going to use this functionality regularly.


Top of the Nikon D850

“Movie live view” enables you to accurately preview framing for videos, which have an aspect ratio of 16:9 rather than 3:2. There’s now a wealth of movie shooting options available for the Nikon D850. There’s not only 1080p (full HD) at a variety of frame rates (24p, 25p, 50p, 60p) along with some crop modes, but there is now 4K video recording for as long as 29 minutes 59 seconds, with no cropping of the sensor. Furthermore, you can shoot for more than three hours using the MB-D18 Multi-Power Battery Pack! The D850 also has an electronic Vibration Reduction system that reduces the impact of camera shake during movie recording, although this only works when recording 1080p, not 4K footage.

Manual exposure adjustment is available for movies – note that ISO and shutter speed are only adjustable in ‘M’ mode, while the aperture can be set in both ‘A’ and ‘M’ modes. The Nikon D850 features a built-in microphone but for professional-grade audio recording you’ll definitely want to use an external one. In order to monitor the audio during movie capture, you can also connect a pair of headphones to the camera. As is now the norm for virtually every digital camera, from compacts to CSCs to DSLRs, there’s a dedicated red movie-record button on the D850, located right next to the shutter release. We found this button a bit too small for our taste – your mileage may of course vary. The depth-of-field preview button found on the front panel of the camera can be used to add indices to specific frames during recording so that they are easier to locate in the editing phase.

At the heart of the Nikon D850’s live view and movie live view experience is a tilting 3.2” LCD screen, rather than the fixed screen on the D810. It’s also seen a bump in resolution – there’s now 2359k dots, whereas the D810 had 1299K. The touch sensitivity isn’t available for every facet of camera option, but it is a very usable extra. You can use it to set the autofocus point and even take the picture in Live View, but perhaps more appealing to professional photographers is the option to swipe through images and pinch to zoom – it makes checking that you’ve got the vital shot just that little bit quicker. Unlike the D5, you can also use the screen to select menu options.

The optical viewfinder, which is one of the most important parts of any SLR, is big and bright with 0.75x magnification and approximately 100% frame coverage. Like the D5, the Nikon D850 comes with a Type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VIII focusing screen. The excellent on-demand viewfinder grid display (Custom Setting d6) has been carried over from the older model.

When using the optical viewfinder – as opposed to shooting in Live View mode – you  can take advantage of the Nikon D850’s outstanding 153-point AF system, which includes 99 cross-type points which are more sensitive. Similarly to the D5, the D850 features an upgraded version of the venerable Multi-CAM 3500FX auto focus module, which boasts improved sensitivity (down to -4EV) and support for lens-teleconverter combinations as slow as f/8. In use, we found the system to be highly capable, even in low-light situations. Under normal light levels and with the right lens mounted, the speed of the auto focus system is blazingly fast, meaning you can capture even the fastest-moving subjects with ease.


  • Compare to similar items
Camera Feature Nikon D850 Nikon D810 Nikon D800 / D800E
Sensor Resolution 45.7 MP 36.3 MP 36.3 MP
Sensor Type CMOS BSI CMOS CMOS
Low Pass Filter No No Yes / No
Image Size 8,256 x 5,504 7,360 x 4,912 7,360 x 4,912
Base ISO ISO 64 ISO 64 ISO 100
Native ISO Sensitivity ISO 64-25,600 ISO 64-12,800 ISO 100-6,400
Boosted ISO Sensitivity ISO 32, 51,200, 102,400 ISO 32, 25,600, 51,200 ISO 50, 12,600, 25,600
Image Processor EXPEED 5 EXPEED 4 EXPEED 3
sRAW / mRAW File Support Yes, Both Yes, sRAW Only No
Buffer: RAW 12-bit Lossless Compressed 170 47 21
Buffer: RAW 14-bit Lossless Compressed 51 28 17
Viewfinder Coverage and Size 100%, 0.75x 100%, 0.70x 100%, 0.70x
Built-in Flash No Yes, with flash commander mode Yes, with flash commander mode
Storage Media 1x XQD, 1x SD (UHS-II) 1x CF, 1x SD (UHS-I) 1x CF, 1x SD (UHS-I)
Continuous Shooting Speed 7 FPS, 9 FPS with MB-D18 5 FPS, 6 FPS (DX), 7 FPS with MB-D12 4 FPS, 6 FPS (DX) with MB-D12
Electronic Front-curtain Shutter Yes Yes No
Silent Photography Mode in Live View Yes No No
Exposure Metering Sensor 181,000-pixel RGB sensor 91,000-pixel RGB sensor 91,000-pixel RGB sensor
Highlight Weighted Metering Yes Yes No
Autofocus System Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor Adv. Multi-CAM 3500FX + Group Area AF Adv. Multi-CAM 3500FX
Dedicated AF Engine Yes No No
Focus Points 153, 99 cross-type 51, 15 cross-type 51, 15 cross-type
AF Detection Up to f/8, 15 sensors Up to f/8, 1 sensor Up to f/8, 1 sensor
AF EV Range -4 EV -2 EV -2 EV
Auto AF Fine Tune Yes No No
Video Maximum Resolution 3840×2160 (4K) @ 24p, 25p, 30p 1920×1080 (1080p) @ 24p, 30p, 60p 1920×1080 (1080p) @ 24p, 30p
Active D-Lightning for Video Yes at 1080p No No
Slow Motion HD Video Yes, up to 1920×1080 @ 30p x 4 No No
Electronic VR for Video Yes, 1080p No No
Memory Card + External Recorder Simultaneous Recording Yes Yes No
Multi-Selector Exposure Compensation Yes No No
Touch AF in Live View Yes No No
Focus Peaking Yes, Stills & Video No No
Interval Timer Resolution 4K, 8K 1080p 1080p
Interval Timer Exposure Smoothing Yes Yes No
Timelapse Exposure Smoothing Yes Yes No
Silent Timelapse Mode Yes, Up to 9,999 frames No No
No. of Images in Timelapse / Int Timer 9,999 9,999 999
Focus Stacking Yes No No
LCD Size 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD
LCD Resolution 2,359,000 dots 1,229,000 dots 921,000 dots
Tilting LCD Yes No No
Touch-Enabled LCD Yes No No
In-Camera Batch RAW Processing Yes No No
Button Illumination Yes No No
Wi-Fi Yes Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4a Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4a
Bluetooth Yes No No
Battery EN-EL15a Lithium-ion Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery
Battery Life 1,840 shots (CIPA) 1,200 shots (CIPA) 900 shots (CIPA)
Weight (Body Only) 915g 880g 900g
Dimensions 146 x 124 x 78.5mm 146 x 123 x 81.5mm 144.78 × 121.92 × 81.28mm
MSRP Price $3,299 $3,299 $2,999 / $3,299

Should I buy the Nikon D850 Fx?

Nikon users have had a long three-year wait for a replacement to the mighty D810, but the great news is that the D850 doesn’t disappoint in the slightest, delivering impressive features by the truck load.

Professionals, semi-professionals and serious enthusiasts who settle for it will be thunderstruck by the performance of the new 45.7-million-pixel full-frame (FX-format) CMOS sensor, particularly its low-light capabilities at high ISO. Nikon is well aware that a professional DSLR needs more than a high resolution and excellent noise response to satisfy photographers in their droves, and by successfully marrying high resolution with high speed they’ve made the D850 one of the most versatile DSLRs around.

Nikon D850 DSLR Review
Nikon D850 FX-format DSLR Camera (Review)

For anyone who carries a D810 for high-resolution shooting and a D500 for fast action work, for example, the D850 is capable of replacing both in a single body. The only thing to factor in here is that you will require the MB-D18 battery grip and EN-EL18b battery to shoot at 9fps, which adds £550 to the body-only price.

It’s not just the speed and the way the D850 is capable of processing such high volumes of data so quickly that impresses, either, as the AF response is as good as you get on the flagship Nikon D5. It’s insanely accurate and responsive, even when challenged with the fastest subjects and poorest of lighting conditions.

Other attractive features are its tilting touchscreen and impressive video capabilities, although I do feel that both of these areas could have been made better by offering touch control of key exposure variables and implementing a faster live view focusing system. The only other disappointment was SnapBridge connectivity, which didn’t perform faultlessly and wasn’t always reliable at transmitting images to my mobile device as they were taken.

There’s no question that the D850 is going to be a well-received camera because it’s going to appeal to so many users, from action, sports and wildlife photographers to landscape, portrait, wedding, architectural and still-life photographers.

All that’s left to say is that the D850 is an absolutely sensational camera, and after a few tough years Nikon appears to finally be back on track with one of the finest and most versatile DSLRs ever made.


Nikon D850 DSLR Review

Nikon D850 DSLR Review

Nikon D850 DSLR Review

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