If you are a Nikon D810 owner, you might be wondering if the BSI CMOS sensor on the D850 truly brought any serious image quality improvements. Nikon claimed that we should see a full stop of improvement between these cameras in high ISO performance, so let’s take a look and see if that’s the case. Please keep in mind that images from the Nikon D850 were downsampled to 36 MP to match the resolution of the D810 in the below comparisons.
Nikon D850 vs Nikon D810: ISO Performance Comparison
Since both cameras show superb high ISO performance at low ISOs from 64 to 800, I decided to exclude those, as you won’t see any differences. Instead, let’s take a look at how these cameras perform from ISO 1600 and above (Left: Nikon D850, Right: Nikon D810):
Both cameras do really well at ISO 1600, perhaps with a very slight advantage on behalf of D850.
We can definitely see that the D850 has a cleaner image at ISO 3200, especially in the shadows. I would not say that the performance difference is a full stop though.
The same with ISO 6400 – the D850 shows better overall performance.
At ISO 12800, however, the Nikon D850 certainly outdoes the D810 in a very noticeable way. Pay attention to the loss of colors and details on the D810 in comparison to the D850.
It is very clear that the Nikon D810 is pretty bad at ISO 25600 when compared to the D850. Here, one could see around 2/3 of a stop of difference between the two cameras.
Lastly, there is no comparison at ISO 51200 between the two – the Nikon D850 is vastly better in both chroma and luminance noise. Based on the above, we can see that the Nikon D850 is a definite improvement over the D810, especially at ISO 6400 and above.
Nikon D850 vs Nikon D810: Dynamic Range Comparison
What about dynamic range? Let’s see if the D850 delivers any improvements over its predecessor when boosting highlights and shadows. First, we will take a look at an overexposed image that was recovered by a full 3 stops in Lightroom:
To be honest, I don’t see much difference in highlight recovery when looking at images from the two cameras. Both struggle equally when an image is overexposed by 3 stops and recovery does not bring much detail back – pay attention how much of the highlight detail is now gone on the white Lego minifigure. However, things don’t look the same when recovering shadows between the two cameras. Take a look at the below comparison of images that were underexposed by 5 full stops, then recovered in Lightroom:
Here, we can clearly see that the Nikon D850 is better. The image from the Nikon D810 contains quite a bit of color cast in the shadows since that area lacks information when compared to the image from the Nikon D850. This shows that the D850 definitely has better dynamic range than its predecessor at base ISO, which is a remarkable achievement. The Nikon D850 is now officially the new king of dynamic range performance!
Nikon D850 vs Nikon D750: ISO Performance Comparison
Downsampling a 45.7 MP image to 24.3 MP definitely has its advantages when it comes to yielding a sharper image and that’s something one can immediately notice when looking at these images. In addition, let’s not forget that the Nikon D750 has a low-pass filter, whereas the D850 does not, so the latter will always have a pixel-level advantage over the D750, provided that the lens used can resolve that much resolution. Still, when it comes to noise, we can see that both cameras perform admirably at ISO 1600, with practically no difference in noise performance.
At ISO 3200, the Nikon D850 shows finer grain, but the total amount of grain in the image is still quite similar in comparison to the D750.
The same thing can be observed at ISO 6400, with very little difference between the two cameras.
Even at ISO 12800, both cameras show very similar performance throughout the image.
As expected, both cameras get pretty bad at ISO 25600. However, it is still hard to say if one looks dramatically better than the other. Both cameras seem to perform very similarly here, just like before.
Lastly, at ISO 51200, the Nikon D750 shows a bit more color noise than the D850. This shows how excellent the sensor on the D750 is – it held up very well against the D850!
Nikon D850 mRAW vs Nikon D750
Before we get to dynamic range comparisons, I thought it would be fun to compare differences between the Nikon D850’s mRAW and the full sensor resolution of the Nikon D750. After-all, both have very similar resolution, so the files should be somewhat comparable. Let’s take a look at differences at ISO 100:
Negating the slight differences in resolution, the mRAW image from the D850 looks very similar to the full size image from the Nikon D750. Given how close the D850 is compared to the D750 in high ISO performance, I expected to see this. Not much difference in sharpness either. But what about high ISO performance? Let’s take a look at the two at ISO 6400 and 12800:
Aside from the Nikon D750 showing slightly finer grain, I couldn’t say that one is better than the other! This again shows that the D850 is really a versatile camera, as it can match the performance of the D750 with its mRAW format.
Nikon D850 vs Nikon D750: Dynamic Range Comparison
Lastly, let’s see if there are any differences in dynamic range between the D850 and the D750. The first comparison shows both cameras recovering an overexposed image by -3 EV:
The difference in dynamic range between the D850 and the D750 is very clear, even when recovering highlight details. Thanks to incredible ISO 64 performance, the D850 is able to recover a lot more information than the D750. Now let’s see what happens when an underexposed image is boosted by 5 full stops:
Just like the Nikon D810, the D750 shows color cast when shadow information is recovered, which looks noticeably worse than what the D850 can do. All this proves that the Nikon D850 definitely has better dynamic range than the D750!
Nikon D850 vs Sony A9: ISO Performance Comparison
Next, let’s see how the Nikon D850 does when compared to Sony’s latest BSI Stacked CMOS sensor on the A9. Below are comparisons from ISO 1600 all the way to ISO 102400:
Once again, downsampling benefits clearly shine here – the D850 has a 45.7 MP sensor, whereas the Sony A9 has a 24.2 MP sensor, so when the image is reduced to the same resolution, it appears sharper in comparison. When it comes to noise, both cameras perform very similarly at ISO 1600.
I can’t see much difference at ISO 3200 either – both cameras look equally good.
Once again, very similar performance at ISO 6400.
It is hard to say which camera looks better – I would say the A9 is a tiny bit cleaner.
At ISO 25600, the Nikon D850 shows more luminance noise and the shadow detail on the A9 appears better in comparison.
Sony A9 definitely shows better overall performance at ISO 51200.
And although ISO 102400 looks horrendous on both cameras, the image from the Sony A9 looks a tad cleaner. However, notice the drastic loss of colors on the A9 – the Nikon D850 is definitely better in comparison.
Nikon D850 vs Sony A9: Dynamic Range
Interestingly, Sony A9 showed better recovery capabilities for highlights – as you can see, the image from the A9 retained more information than the D850 when looking at the white Lego minifigure. The difference is not big (less than half a stop), but it is definitely there. However, the situation for shadow recovery is drastically different:
With a -5 EV adjustment, the image from the Sony A9 looks pretty bad – tons of noise throughout the image. I looked at another image that I captured at -4 EV on the A9 and even that image contains more noise than the Nikon D850 at -5 EV, which means that the Nikon D850 has over a stop of advantage compared to the Sony A9 in shadow recovery. If we minus out the highlights advantage, the Nikon D850 should be around a stop better than the Sony A9.
While the Sony A7R II should have been a better candidate for dynamic range performance comparison with the Nikon D850, I only had the A9 at the time of testing. In addition, we already know that the Sony A7R II is not better than the Nikon D810 at its base ISO of 100 (and especially at ISO 64 that it does not have), but it does outperform the D810 at higher ISOs. Considering that the Nikon D850 is better in dynamic range than the D810 at those higher ISOs, the D850 should be a close match with the Sony A7R II at anything above ISO 200. Overall though, the D850 is without a doubt the new king of dynamic range among all full-frame cameras on the market.
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