Perhaps one of the most anticipated camera releases of 2017 has been the D810 successor, the Nikon D850. Nikon’s high resolution camera body shook up the industry once again, this time with a strong punch, making the Nikon D850 the most versatile DSLR on the market. Thanks to its 45.7 MP sensor with a native ISO sensitivity range of 64-25,600, upgraded 153-point autofocus system, advanced 181,000-pixel RGB metering system, 7 fps continuous shooting speed that can be bumped up to 9 fps with a battery grip, a fully weather sealed construction and a bunch of other hardware and software upgrades, Nikon managed to pull out a camera that can satisfy every photography need – from landscapes and architecture, to sports and wildlife. In this review, I will be assessing the camera from many different angles and comparing to its predecessor, as well as its primary competition.
Note: This is an ongoing review that will be going through a lot of changes and additions over the period of the next few weeks. I decided to consolidate all the information related to the camera into a single review, rather than piecemeal it to many different articles. Expect to see a lot more content – every time I publish new information, I will be bumping up the review to the front page of the site. Also, I am currently working on uploading a few images for the review. More images will be posted very soon!
Review Revision History:
- 09/20/2017: First version posted with “Overview and Specifications”, “Camera Construction and Handling”, “Image Sensor, mRAW and sRAW Options” and “Focus Stacking” pages.
- 09/22/2017: Updated section #17 “mRAW / sRAW High ISO Noise Performance” with studio comparisons and added some images from the latest model shoot.
- 09/24/2017: Added “ISO Performance” and “Camera Comparisons” section with detailed high ISO and dynamic range comparisons to other cameras.
A few members of the Photography Life team have been shooting with the Nikon D850 since the camera has been released, so we will be providing joint efforts in writing this review. We will do our best to cover a number of different genres of photography including travel, landscape, portrait and wildlife photography.
First, let’s go over the camera’s technical specifications and compare them side by side with the predecessors, the Nikon D810 and the D800 / D800E.
1) Nikon D850 Specifications
Main Features and Specifications:
- Sensor: 45.7 MP FX BSI Sensor, 4.35µ pixel size
- Sensor Size: 35.9 x 23.9mm
- Resolution: 8256 x 5504
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 64-25,600
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 32
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 51,200-102,400
- RAW Formats: 45.7 MP (Full Size), 25.6 MP (Medium Size / mRAW), 11.4 MP (Small Size / sRAW)
- mRAW / sRAW File Support: 12-bit lossless compressed
- Processor: EXPEED 5
- Metering System: 181,000-pixel RGB Meter
- Dust Reduction: Yes
- Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
- Body Build: Full Magnesium Alloy
- Shutter: 1/8000 – 30 seconds
- Shutter Durability: 200,000 cycles, self-diagnostic shutter
- Storage: 1x XQD slot and 1x SD slot (UHS-II compatible)
- Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
- Viewfinder Magnification: 0.75x
- Speed: 7 fps, 9 fps with optional MB-D18 battery grip
- Built-in Flash: No
- Autofocus System: Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor
- AF Sensitivity: -4 EV at the center point
- AF Detection: Up to f/8 with 15 focus points
- LCD Screen: touch-enabled 3.2 inch diagonal tilting LCD with 2,359K dots
- Movie Modes: 4K UHD @ 30 fps max
- Slow Motion HD Video: Yes
- Movie Exposure Control: Full
- Movie Output: MOV, MP4
- Time Lapse: 4K and 8K Timelapse
- In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
- GPS: Not built-in, requires GP-1 GPS unit
- WiFi: Built-in
- Illuminated Buttons: Yes
- Focus Stacking Feature: Yes
- Focus Peaking for Stills and Video: Yes
- Wireless Radio Flash Control: Yes
- Silent Photography Mode in Live View: Yes
- Bluetooth: Built-in
- Battery Type: EN-EN15a
- Battery Life: 1840 shots (CIPA)
- USB Standard: 3.0
- Weight: 915g
- Dimensions: 146 x 124 x 79mm
- Price: $3,299.95 MSRP
A detailed list of camera specifications is available at NikonUSA.com.
A quick glance at the above specifications reveals that the Nikon D850 differs quite a bit compared to the previous generation D810 and D800 / D800E cameras, whether it comes to sensor technology, autofocus or other camera features. Below is a detailed comparison of the four cameras:
2) Nikon D850 vs D810 vs D800 / D800E Comparison
|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|
|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|
|In-Camera Batch RAW Processing||Yes||No||No|
|Wi-Fi||Yes||Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4a||Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4a|
|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|
Please note that the above table primarily shows differences in specifications between the cameras. For a more complete list of all camera specifications, please see my Nikon D850 vs D810 vs D800 / D800E comparison article.
Unlike the Nikon D810 that was mostly an incremental update to the D800 / D800E, Nikon added significant changes to the D850, as the above table demonstrates. In fact, if one were to look at all the changes the Nikon D850 offers, it could be considered as a whole different camera. First of all, the sensor on the D850 is completely different not just in terms of resolution (45.7 MP vs 36.3 MP), but also in terms of sensor technology – the D850 incorporates Nikon’s first ever back-illuminated BSI CMOS sensor, which delivers superior image quality when compared to traditional CMOS sensors we have seen in the past. Instead of going for a Sony-developed sensor, Nikon decided to design the sensor for the D850 on its own and have it produced by a different manufacturer, as it has done a number of times in the past in cameras like Nikon D3 and D700. When it comes to resolution, it is not a huge improvement – roughly 25% increase in overall resolution, which actually translates to just a 12% increase in linear resolution. However, it is still a meaningful increase in resolution that provides even more opportunities for making larger prints and allowing for extra cropping options for those who want to get closer to action. Nikon kept the base ISO of the camera the same at ISO 64 as on the D810, providing superb dynamic range. At the same time, the native ISO sensitivity range has been pushed from 64-12,800 to 64-25,600, with boosted ISO sensitivity getting all the way to ISO 102,400. In addition to these sensor improvements, Nikon also provided an mRAW option on the D850 in addition to the sRAW option that we have previously seen on the D810 (notes on the mRAW / sRAW options and their performance differences when compared to the D810 can be found in the next pages of this review).
Second, Nikon was able to bring the superb Multi-CAM 20K autofocus system with a total of 153 focus points (99 of which are cross-type) from the Nikon D5 / D500 cameras to the D850, delivering superior autofocus performance, especially when coupled with the latest generation EXPEED 5 processor. The 15 focus points around the center of the camera are sensitive to f/8 maximum aperture, which means that you can attach a 2x teleconverter to an f/4 lens (which results in f/8 maximum aperture) and still be able to easily acquire focus on targets. The camera is also sensitive down to -4 EV, allowing the autofocus system to function even in extremely low-light conditions. It is important to note that the Nikon D810 was sensitive down to -2 EV, so there are two stops of improvement on the D850 over its predecessor. Additionally, the camera’s outer focus points are able to function at -3 EV, which is better than what the Nikon D810 could do in the middle of the frame! The camera buffer has also seen a significant upgrade – the D850 can shoot a total of 170 RAW images in 12-bit lossless compressed format and a total of 51 RAW images in 14-bit lossless compressed format. That’s a huge change when compared to the Nikon D810’s buffer that was limited to 47 and 28 RAW images, consecutively. Coupled with an amazing 7 fps shooting speed that can be bumped to 9 fps with the MB-D18 battery pack and D5 battery, one can get quite a bit of continuous shooting time without running out of the buffer – and that’s when shooting full-size 45.7 MP RAW images! In order to be able to deliver such speeds, Nikon had to go for more robust storage than CompactFlash – similar to the D5 and the D500, the Nikon D850 now also standardizes on the XQXD memory card format. As a result, the D850 has one XQD and one UHS-II compatible SD card slots. The new 181,000-pixel RGB metering sensor further boosts the autofocus capabilities of the camera, especially when shooting in Auto-Area and 3D-Tracking modes.
Third, the Nikon D850 is finally able to take a full advantage of the whole image sensor when shooting 4K, something no other Nikon DSLR has been able to do in the past. The camera can shoot up to 30 fps in 4K, as well as up to 60 fps in HD. Nikon also added a new MP4 video file format in addition to MOV format and added a bunch of video-specific features such as Active D-Lighting, electronic VR, focus peaking and more. The D850 is also able to shoot slow motion HD video, up to full HD @ 30p x 4.
Fourth, Nikon completely reworked the D850 ergonomically, making it resemble the D500 rather than the D810. The camera now has a dedicated joystick and lacks a built-in flash. In addition, the viewfinder size has seen a dramatic increase – it went from 0.70x on the D810 to 0.75x on the D850. While the LCD screen size stayed the same at 3.2″ inches, Nikon completely changed the LCD features. The resolution of the LCD screen has been almost doubled at 2.359 million dots and it is finally a tilting, touch-enabled LCD, something many photographers have been waiting to see on the D8x0-series cameras. Just like the Nikon D500, the D850 also gains button illumination, which will make it easier to see all the camera buttons when shooting in low-light conditions. Other cosmetic and button changes are highlighted in the next page of this review.
Fifth, the Nikon D850 now comes with a more efficient EN-EL15a battery that extends the battery life of the camera to 1,840 shots – a rather significant upgrade when compared to 1,200 shot limit on the D810 and 900 shot limit on the D800 / D800E. The nice thing is, one can continue to use the older EN-EL15 batteries with chargers on the D850, although they won’t yield as many shots in comparison.
Lastly, Nikon pushed a boatload of firmware changes to the D850 when compared to the D810. The auto AF fine-tune feature that allows for easy calibration of lenses has been migrated from the D500 / D5 cameras, which is certainly nice to have. In addition to the electronic front curtain shutter, there is now an option to shoot silently via live view, which is a great feature (although one that must be used with care when shooting fast moving subjects). It is now possible to use focus peaking in live view when shooting stills and Nikon heavily boosted the options to shoot timelapses – it is now possible to shoot 4K and 8K timelapses with exposure smoothing. A brand new focus stacking feature that is currently unique to the D850 is discussed in a lot of detail in the next pages of this review. That one is going to make many landscape and macro photographers happy, since it automates the focus stacking process when shooting with AF lenses. As expected, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options are also added, although Nikon continues to omit a built-in GPS, which is unfortunate.
As you can see, the number of improvements and new features is fairly long, and I have not covered them all. If you would like to see a complete list of changes, please see my “Everything you need to know about the Nikon D850” article.
Let’s now go over the camera in more detail. Please select the next page below.