Nikon D850 in detail
An in-depth look at key features
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.
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