Nikon D850 in de­tail

An in-depth look at key fea­tures

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As well as reg­u­lar 4K video, the D850 can cap­ture and process 4K time-lapse movies in-cam­era, or stun­ning 8K time-lapse movies with silent in­ter­val timer shoot­ing – though you’ll need to use ex­ter­nal soft­ware to com­bine the frames into an 8K movie.

There’s more, in­clud­ing an in­cam­era mul­ti­ple-ex­po­sure over­lay mode for cre­at­ing multi-im­age com­pos­ites of mov­ing sub­jects; a new 1:1 im­age ra­tio for square shots; and in-cam­era Raw batch pro­cess­ing.

But we es­pe­cially need to men­tion the bat­tery life. The D850 uses the same EN-EL15a bat­tery found in other high-end Nikons, but where you’d ex­pect the D850 to be a pow­er­hun­gry ogre, it’s ac­tu­ally ex­tremely fru­gal. Ac­cord­ing to Nikon, it can bash out 1840 shots on a sin­gle charge, and if that’s the case, it’s truly im­pres­sive.

Build and han­dling

The D850 is not as big and heavy as a pro­fes­sional sports cam­era like the D5, but it’s still a pretty hefty cam­era – es­pe­cially when fit­ted with one of Nikon’s con­stant-aper­ture pro zooms like the 24-70mm f/2.8. But the con­trols are clas­sic Nikon, so if you’ve al­ready used one of Nikon’s pro DSLRs, you could pick this one up and start shoot­ing straight away.

It’s not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous when look­ing through the viewfinder that this is Nikon’s largest one yet, but it is big, bright and clear, and a re­minder that even in a mar­ket where mir­ror­less cam­eras are gain­ing ground, there’s still a lot to be said for a clas­sic op­ti­cal viewfinder.

Aut­o­fo­cus is fast and pos­i­tive, though the speed of ac­qui­si­tion will also de­pend on the lens you’re us­ing and its aut­o­fo­cus ac­tu­a­tors. The small thumb­stick on the back of the cam­era

is in the per­fect po­si­tion to find it by ‘feel’ so that you don’t have to take your eye from the viewfinder to change the fo­cus point.

The Live View mode is ac­ti­vated us­ing a but­ton on the back, with a lever for switch­ing be­tween stills mode and video. Like other Nikon DSLRs, the D850 uses reg­u­lar con­trast aut­o­fo­cus in this mode, which is not the fastest, though it does feel a lit­tle quicker in this cam­era than we’re used to – per­haps the pow­er­ful EXPEED 5 pro­ces­sor has some­thing to do with this.

Where you’d ex­pect the D850 to be a power-hun­gry ogre, it’s ac­tu­ally ex­tremely fru­gal

The screen’s high res­o­lu­tion cre­ates a su­per-sharp im­age for Live View pho­tog­ra­phy and the touch-fo­cus op­tion is sim­ple and in­tu­itive to use. You can also set the cam­era to touch-shut­ter mode so that it takes a pic­ture as soon as fo­cus is achieved, though most pho­tog­ra­phers would prob­a­bly pre­fer to sep­a­rate the fo­cus and shut­ter ac­tions. The tilt­ing dis­play is an­other bonus, and while you wouldn’t use the D850’s Live View mode for fast-mov­ing sub­jects, it’s a re­ally pleas­ant tool for more con­sid­ered and pre­cise tripod­mounted pho­tog­ra­phy.

If you’re plan­ning on do­ing a lot of ac­tion pho­tog­ra­phy or ex­tended por­trait for­mat ses­sions, the MB-D18 grip would be a very smart in­vest­ment. It in­creases the D850 to the size and bulk of a D5, but does of­fer faster con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing and greatly ex­tended bat­tery life (with an EN-EL18b bat­tery) as well as a handy set of du­pli­cate con­trols for ver­ti­cal shoot­ing. The faster shoot­ing does af­fect the D850’s Raw buf­fer ca­pac­ity, how­ever.

Per­for­mance

The D850 has a num­ber of head­line fea­tures, but its res­o­lu­tion is al­most cer­tainly at the top of the list, and here there’s both good and bad news.

If you’re won­der­ing whether the D850 can out-re­solve the mighty D810: yes, it most cer­tainly can

The good news is that this cam­era is ca­pa­ble of cap­tur­ing spec­tac­u­lar lev­els of de­tail. The bad news is that you’re go­ing to have to work pretty hard to achieve it – and that’s be­cause this cam­era’s re­solv­ing power is so high that any lens soft­ness, fo­cus er­ror or cam­era move­ment is go­ing to be ob­vi­ous. If you’re a pixel-peeper you’re in for a tough time be­cause this cam­era will high­light the tini­est er­ror in your tech­nique.

It also high­lights the fact that depth of field is not a fixed and def­i­nite thing. In re­al­ity, there is only ever one plane of sharp fo­cus in a pic­ture, and ‘depth of field’ is sim­ply an ac­cept­able level of sharp­ness be­hind and in front of this plane. With the D850, per­fectly fo­cused de­tail is so sharp that any drop-off in sharp­ness be­comes vis­i­ble quite quickly. If you want to ex­ploit what this cam­era can achieve, you might need to stop think­ing about depth of field and start think­ing about which key el­e­ment of the scene you need to be ex­actly in fo­cus.

As part of our lab tests, we also test res­o­lu­tion, and the news here is that the D850 is lit­er­ally ‘off the scale’ – it out-re­solves our test chart in a way that we’ve only ever seen be­fore from 50Mp medium-for­mat cam­eras (and the Canon EOS 5DS). If you’re won­der­ing whether the D850 can out-re­solve the mighty D810, you have your an­swer – yes, it most cer­tainly can.

The colour ren­di­tion is ex­actly what we’ve come to ex­pect from Nikon DSLRs – rich, but nat­u­ral­look­ing. The pro­vi­sion of three dif­fer­ent Auto white balance op­tions might seem a lit­tle un­nec­es­sary, but it could prove use­ful to pho­tog­ra­phers who ha­bit­u­ally shoot in a spe­cific set of con­di­tions.

The D850’s JPEGs do start to smooth over and show a lit­tle more noise at higher ISO set­tings, but it’s very easy to fall into the trap of judg­ing these images at 100 per cent mag­ni­fi­ca­tion on-screen, and over­look the fact that these are huge files that will never be ex­am­ined this closely un­der nor­mal view­ing con­di­tions. The D850 is not de­signed as a low-light spe­cial­ist, but the im­age qual­ity holds up well when you do need to in­crease the ISO.

The aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem is Nikon’s best yet, and is also the one found in the D5 and D500. We haven’t yet had a chance to try it out on a high-speed ac­tion sub­ject, but if it works as well as it does on the other two mod­els, it’s un­likely to dis­ap­point. Bear in mind, how­ever, that the ex­po­sure area doesn’t ex­tend to the edges of the frame by any means, so sub­jects that are way off-cen­tre could be trick­ier to cap­ture.

You can switch to Live View, of course, but in this mode Nikon still uses a sim­ple con­trast AF sys­tem, which is cer­tainly pre­cise, but also slow. The Live View mode is prob­a­bly best kept for tri­pod shots, but then that could be said of just about ev­ery other Nikon model.

The D850’s me­chan­i­cal per­for­mance is ter­rific, right from its aut­o­fo­cus through to its con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing speed and buf­fer ca­pac­ity. Its im­age qual­ity is even more im­pres­sive, build­ing on the rep­u­ta­tion of the D800 and D810 for amaz­ing re­solv­ing power and over­all im­age qual­ity.

With a cam­era this com­plex and this ca­pa­ble, it could take weeks to fully un­der­stand its ca­pa­bil­i­ties and strengths – but in the short time we’ve been able to spend with it so far, we’re al­ready very im­pressed. We can’t wait to re­ally put it through its paces.

The D850 is not de­signed as a low-light spe­cial­ist, but the im­age qual­ity holds up at higher ISOs

01 EN-EL15a bat­tery The D850 uses the same EN-EL15a bat­tery as the D7500 but, amaz­ingly, coaxes out a quoted 1840 shots on a sin­gle charge 02 7/9fps shoot­ing With­out the op­tional MB-D18 bat­tery grip, the D850 can cap­ture images at 7 frames per sec­ond; with it, this jumps to a very re­spectable 9fps 03 Full-frame 4K The D850 doesn’t just shoot full-frame stills, but full-frame 4K video too, so there’s no crop fac­tor and lens fo­cal lengths are un­af­fected

04 Con­trol lay­out Any­one who’s used a pro-level Nikon DSLR will find the D850’s con­trol lay­out in­stantly fa­mil­iar – ex­ter­nally, it’s very sim­i­lar to the D810

Top: The silent pho­tog­ra­phy mode, us­ing Live View, is ideal for wed­dings Above: With a sen­sor res­o­lu­tion this huge, you’ll need to be us­ing the best lens you can af­ford to re­solve all its de­tail Cen­tre: Shoot­ing at 7fps is pos­si­ble with the stan­dard body, ramp­ing up to 9fps with the op­tional grip and bat­tery

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