Speedy Resolution

Nikon D850 By Marcus Wong

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Nikon D850

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In terms of positioning, the D850 takes over from the D810 as the “extreme high resolution” camera of the Nikon family with its 45.7 MP BSI CMOS sensor. That’s quite a bit more than the 36.3MP of the D810, and overtakes the Sony A7R II (and the new A7R III) while still falling a little behind the 50.6 MP of Canon EOS 5DS R from 2015.

It’s also the first Nikon DSLR to use a backside illumination sensor. This design allows light to reach the photodiodes on the sensor more efficiently, which means better lowlight performance as the you get a better balance between sensor sensitivity and the volume of light information captured. As such, the D850 has a native ISO range of 64-25,600; expandable to 32-102,400 equivalent.

Like the Nikon D5, it also uses the EXPEED 5 imageprocessing engine, which offers both superior noise reduction and the ability to do high-speed continuous shooting at 9 fps with the optional MB-D18 Multi-Power Battery Pack or 7 fps with the regular EN-EL15a. 7fps may not seem like much compared to the Sony A9’s incredible 20fps, but given the camera is essentially moving about 46MB of data with every shot, is most impressive indeed.

It also gets the autofocusing system from the D5 camera, giving it a total of 153 focus points, with 99 cross-type sensors. That’s a massive upgrade over the D810, which only had a total of 51 points, with only 15 of the cross-type variety. When using Live View mode, the D850 also offers a smaller focus point for more precise selection.

On the video front, the D850 vastly improves from the D810 as it now offers 4K UHD with the option to use ISO sensitivities up to ISO 102,400. Add to that the ability to do x4 and x5 slow-motion video in-camera with the added ease of Auto ISO, and you have a much improved video making tool.

The focus selector joystick from the recent D5 and D500 cameras has been carried over to this camera, making for easier focus point selection. And the rear LCD dinally allows touch to be used for the menu systems as well, making the navigation faster and more direct.

That’s something we’ve been asking for ever since mirrorless cameras allowed it, so it’s good to see that the traditional DSLR makers are dinally coming round. After all, no sense consolidating everything on a nice gridbased menu (the “i” menu) in this case, when you can’t jump directly to one of the options and have to rely on single direction moves via four-way directional button.

We were hoping the use of a monocoque body in the earlier D750 meant that we would see the same carried over to the D850, but that hasn’t been the case, as the D850 sticks to the usual magnesium alloy build that’s dust and weather resistant. The D850 weighs just 30g more than the D810 at 915g, but maintains a deep enough front grip for easy handling despite being 3mm less thick.

One thing that is signidicantly different though, is the fact that the D850 no longer has a pop-up fiash. Nikon says this gives it better weather resistance, but we personally would have preferred to see it kept, as the extra light source can be handy as a fill fiash, or more importantly, to allow for wireless control of off-camera fiash units via Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS).

Handling and resolution improvements aside, we’d say the biggest improvement you’ll see moving from the D810 to the D850 is the overall responsiveness of the camera. Whether it’s taking photos, going through the menus, or even reviewing images, the camera is just that much snappier to react. That’s a big testament to strength of the new EXPEED 5 imaging processor, and opens options in terms of the subjects that can be captured. 

For example, we tried taking images of racers in the Singapore MX Beach Race 2017 at Sentosa, and were pleased to see that the camera could quite handily keep up with the racers. Autofocus seemed to be tracking the riders fairly well as they went past, so the main concern was choosing a fast enough shutter speed to prevent motion blur and of course, our own reaction speeds. Overall, we’d say we got a hit rate of about 75%, which is certainly an acceptable figure for what is meant to be more of a studio camera.

In terms of low light performance, we thought the D850 performed much better than the D810, while understandably lagging behind the D5. Noise is very well controlled at ISO 6,400, and even at ISO 12,800 a good amount of detail can be made out, so that’s the max we’d go to with this camera.

The fast burst rate of the D850
helps with capturing action.
The fast burst rate of the D850 helps with capturing action.
At ISO 12,800 images still maintain
a good amount of detail.
At ISO 12,800 images still maintain a good amount of detail.

MOUNT Nikon F-mount

SENSOR 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor

MEGAPIXELS approx. 45.7 megapixels

DIMENSIONS approx. 146.0 x 124.0 x 78.5 mm

PRICE $4,999.00 (body only)


A worthy successor with a great balance of speed with resolution.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room