The Nikon D850 is now official after quite a bit of anticipation following a development announcement just a few short weeks ago. Thankfully, Nikon has not disappointed and the new D850 houses some of the best specifications and features of any modern camera. Headlining the announcement is a new full frame 45.7MP BSI (back side illuminated) sensor with no low pass filter. We first saw this technology implemented in the Sony A7RII and it should allow for amazing dynamic range while still retaining great low light results, even with the higher resolution sensor. When the Nikon D800 first pioneered the high resolution DSLR, it did so with limited speed and performance. Thankfully the D850 matches the Canon 5D Mark IV’s ample 7fps shooting speed and can even exceed it by shooting up to 9fps when pared with the MB-D18 battery grip and EN-EL18a/b battery. Alright Nikon, you have my attention!
Nikon also stuffed the 153 point AF system from the Nikon D5 boasting 99 cross type points which is possibly the best autofocus system of any camera. A dedicated AF engine will also be used to speed up response time and allows all points to focus at -3 EV. Another first for a high end DSLR is the 3.2” tilting touchscreen which is a huge asset when recording video but also can be helpful when shooting still images using live view. The mechanism only allows for up/down tilting though and offers only limited downward tilting, especially when on a tripod. Speaking of live view, Nikon has also pulled a few features typically reserved for mirrorless cameras such as silent shooting at up to 6fps (although not with continuous AF) which can also be combined with a 4k time-lapse mode to eliminate shutter sound and prevent wear on the shutter mechanism. When Nikon teased the D850 several weeks ago, they did so with an announcement of 8k time-lapse. Unfortunately this 8k time-lapse is not achievable in camera and instead the D850 can save the original full resolution images to allow you to create an 8k timelapse in post. Either way, the ability to record 4k time-lapse in camera and 8k in post makes the D850 one of the most powerful cameras for time-lapse shooters. Another feature typically seen in mirrorless cameras is the ability to focus stack several images for greater depth of field and it is great to see Nikon recognizing some of the benefits of live view shooting and implementing those options in a professional DSLR. Unfortunately, autofocus in live view has never been one of Nikon’s strongest attributes and I don’t expect that to change. The contrast only autofocus system has failed to compete in the past with modern Sony mirrorless systems as well as the dual pixel Canon system and we will have to wait and see if the D850 improves things further.
Visually, the Nikon D850 looks similar to the D810 although some improvements have been made to weather sealing and we now have a deeper grip for better handling. The back-lit buttons are also making a return which is great to see. The dual card slots this time have been changed from a compact flash to a single XQD slot and a UHS-II SD card slot. While XQD cards are much faster than compact flash, they are also slightly more expensive and will likely create an additional expense for most customers. Bluetooth and Wifi are also present (no NFC) and work with SnapBridge for communicating with your phone or tablet. I personally find the system to be slower and more finicky than systems on other cameras and I do wish Nikon would make greater use of the high speeds of WiFi in future cameras.
Videographers also have plenty to look forward to as the Nikon D850 has 4k video up to 30fps with 1080p up to 120fps and can use the entire width of the sensor when doing so. Unfortunately it looks like the D850 employs pixel binning to create these 4k video files rather than the oversampling found on other cameras from Sony & Panasonic which should lead to less detail in the final video. We should also expect pronounced rolling shutter and I am still not hopeful about autofocus performance in video mode. That said, the ability to record full frame 4k video while the Canon 5D Mark IV does so using a 1.7X crop combined with an almost unusable MJPEG format should make the Nikon D850 king of the hill for DSLR video though likely falling short of the Sony A7RII and A9. We also have digital stabilization during 1080p recording, uncompressed HDMI out (although only 8-bit 4.2.2), a flat picture profile (though no Log recording), and headphone/microphone jacks for audio recording.
Overall, Nikon is not holding back with the D850. This new camera should offer some of best best image quality from any camera combined with fast shooting speeds, plenty of features, a class leading autofocus system, all while throwing in enough video features to make Canon 5D shooters jealous. Priced at a competitive $3,299 with a delivery date scheduled for September, the Nikon D850 is poised to be one of the most amazing cameras of 2017 and a top pick for almost any industry including studio, landscape, and event/wedding photographers.
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