I just bought the new Nikon D850, here’s why

I’m rarely excited at spending $3300, but I just pre-ordered the new Nikon D850 from B&H (the camera is expected to start shipping sometime in September, but initial demand will probably be high).  I already have the outstanding Nikon D810.  Do I need to upgrade?  Absolutely not.  I already have an incredible Nikon camera, D810.  But as a professional landscape photographer, I place a lot of value on cameras, lenses, and computers to help me produce high quality work efficiently.  The D850 promises improvements for both the quality and efficiency of my work.  I thought I’d share my thoughts here on the value of this camera from the perspective of a landscape photographer (but have also tried to add comments about other uses, as I have done quite a bit of wedding and portrait work in the past as well).

Why am I upgrading from the D810?  What makes the cost worth it to me?

  • Better low light image quality.   The back-side illuminated (BSI) is more efficient at gathering light.  I need to see some real world shots to really check this, but it should be a serious improvement for shooting the Milky Way and other high ISO scenarios.  I’ll still be stacking images, but I should get less noise and better ability to use faster shutter speeds.  This should be especially helpful for capturing the Aurora Borealis (as it moves and you can’t shoot too long nor stack exposures most of the time).  Nikon has enough confidence to increase their highest native ISO by one stop.
  • Tilt-LCD.  I love shooting at very low angles, especially with water as a reflection.  But I don’t particularly low laying down in the dirt or mud to compose the shot.  And I’ve got a few pairs of ripped pants that were snagged on sharp rocks doing so.
  • Touch LCD.  This looks like a nice way to work faster, especially for using “pinch to zoom” to check image sharpness.
  • Better auto-focus through the viewfinder.  The D850 inherits the excellent auto-focus system from the D5, which can focus in light as dark as -4ev (2 stops darker than the D810’s -2ev).   While I often use live view, I still use focus through the viewfinder quite a lot, and greatly appreciate improved accuracy, especially for blue hour shots.  The new system also offers greater coverage to focus on off-center subjects, more than 6 times as many of the more accurate “cross type” AF points, and 15 (vs 1) sensors that work on f/8 lenses.
  • Automated capture for focus stacking.  I love focus stacking, and I hate it.  I love how it lets me dramatically improve the quality of scenes with close foreground elements, but capturing and processing a series of images with different focal distances is a pain.  The D850’s built-in support is a welcome improvement to help simplify the image capture.  I expect this will save me time with focusing and shooting too many frames due to guesswork.  And should increase my confidence that I have successfully stepped through the full focusing range.  That said, there are always some tricky scenarios, and I expect I’ll still be doing some manual work (especially when a near subject is directly in front of a distant one, which causes pixel overlap issues that aren’t necessarily solved by simple focus stacking).
  • 26% more pixels (45.7 vs 36.3 megapixels in the D810).  Because megapixels represent area (height x width), the linear increase in resolution is only 12%.  It’s not a mind-blowing increase, but I appreciate the potential for extra quality, enlargement, or cropping.  I print a lot of images at 40×60″, so this represents a minor but real benefit to me.  On the flip side, it’s going to mean I hit the 4GB limit for TIF files more frequently (due to use of multiple layers and masks), so I hope Adobe adds support for viewing PSB files in Lightroom soon, or I’ll have to start using Bridge or some other solution to navigate through my images.

 

What else looks interesting to me?  The following are either benefits that I’m not 100% confident I’ll get from this camera, or of lesser important.  I’ll update when I get real experience with the camera.

  • Improved Dynamic Range?  I’m confident this has been improved, but with Nikon not doing much to quantify it, I suspect the gains are smaller than I’d like to see.  Every little bit is welcome.  Improved dynamic range may help me reduce shadow noise and motion alignment issues from blending multiple exposures (though I’ll still be blending, which I routinely do with single RAW files).  If this beats expectations, it would immediately jump up on my list of reasons to buy.
  • Higher resolution LCD.  The new LCD has doubled “dot resolution”.  I can’t tell from Nikon’s marketing material if this means the linear or total resolution has been doubled.  Either way, it should be a noticeable jump.  I really hope this improves my ability to manually focus and check focus during playback.  If that pans out, this would immediately jump up pretty high on my list of reasons to buy.
  • Faster image review (I hope).  Nikon claims 17x faster RAW processing.  The new EXPEED5 processor and XQD cards should offer faster playback, and the demo videos I’ve seen seem to suggest that images will playback faster.  It also looks like it can zoom into the image more quickly to review sharpness.  Both are critical for me to quickly check my work in the field and get back to shooting in changing light conditions.
  • Compatible with EN-EL15 batteries from the D810 (from what I’ve read).  Nice to know that I likely don’t have to spend hundreds of extra dollars on new batteries, or carry extra batteries and chargers when I bring my D810 body as a backup to the D850.  And it offers more shots on a single charge (which should be especially nice for shooting the Milky Way, where I run through batteries quickly with multiple long exposures and continuous live view).
  • Illuminated buttons.  Should be great for shooting the Milky Way.  And even better, may mean fewer neighboring photographers turn on shot-wrecking headlamps.
  • Faster shooting due to higher frame rate and larger image buffer.  I still shoot some sports and portraits, so the ability to shoot bursts of images without waiting will be nice.  The D850 can take nearly twice as many shots as the D810 before filling up the buffer, and it supports 7-9 frames per second (versus 5 for the D810 in full resolution or 7 cropped).  Getting to 9 frames per second requires the MB-D18 external grip ($400 from Nikon, though I expect Meike and Vello to produce much cheaper 3rd party options quickly) and a Nikon EN-EL18b battery (about $150).  With a buffer that holds 51 14-bit RAW files, you’re probably vastly overshooting if you ever hit the end of the buffer (that would be over 7 seconds of continuous shooting at 7fps).  I’ll probably get a grip for shooting vertical portraits, but I won’t be getting the battery (I’ll never need miss that speed, especially given both cost and the fact that it’s another charger and a battery that only fits in the grip, not in the camera itself).
  • Focus peaking for manual focusing while in live view or shooting video.  I haven’t found the quality of this feature to be helpful in the Sony a7Rii, so I hope the D850 is more clear.
  • Improved RGB meter for more accurate exposure.
  • Reduced vignetting with wide-angle lenses?  That’s one of the promises of the BSI sensor, but I’m not sure how it will work in practice with my newer wide angle lenses.
  • Built-in Bluetooth connectivity and Snapbridge.  I’m not really sure yet what this means.  Nikon (and most camera companies) have a poor track record of creating great software, and Bluetooth is much slower than WiFi.  But I am hopeful that either Nikon or a 3rd party can turn this new hardware into a great way to remotely control the camera.  This likely won’t support long distances, so mountain-top selfies will probably still require something like a Pocket Wizard to trigger the camera.
  • Improved mirror/shutter design (including a shutter counter-balance).  Initial reports suggest that this significantly reduces issues with internal vibration affecting image quality.
  • Better weather sealing and no more pop-up flash.  The removal of the flash gets rid of one more area where water and dust can enter the camera.  And since I’ve never used the popup flash due to the awful quality of light, I’m very happy that it won’t be accidentally opening and snagging on my camera bags any more.  I’m surprised I’ve never broken one of these off my old cameras.
  • Larger viewfinder.
  • Nikon’s Auto AF Fine Tune.  Not a perfect system (can’t tune multiple focal lengths on zoom lenses or correct off center), but a much welcome addition to improve focusing accuracy for wide aperture shots.

 

What else is in there?  (Stuff that I don’t personally care about, but others probably do)

  • 4k and slow motion HD video.  I may care about this before I’m done using the D850, but I don’t do much cinematic work, and don’t expect I’ll be shooting and editing 4k video anytime soon.  Serious video shooters will likely love this, as 4k video is really starting to gain traction (somewhere around 25% of US homes now have 4k TVs, and 4k computer monitors are growing quickly).  If you’re into serious video, do some more digging, as there’s a lot more than I’m covering here.
  • 8k timelapse.  I don’t do much timelapse, and you can generate 8k from shooting still if you had to.  I’m sure timelapse photographers will greatly appreciate this.
  • Silent shooting in live view.  If I were still shooting weddings, this would be absolutely awesome.  Should also be great for wildlife photographers.
  • Radio flash control.  I wish I had this years ago while shooting weddings.  All I ever wanted was manual flash power control from the camera.  As it is, I have plenty of legacy speedlights and don’t use them enough to upgrade.
  • Medium RAW files.  I don’t see a need to shoot low resolution, but if you do, you can now have more options to do so with all the quality of RAW.

 

Any downsides or missing features?

  • I’m not thrilled at the cost of having to replace my compact flash cards with QXD cards.  I realize that compact flash is basically a dead technology and QXD is much faster, so hopefully this newer card format becomes more of a standard that I can keep using for a long time.  I just consider it part of the cost of upgrading.  I’m buying a couple of 128GB Lexar cards.  That should help cover my needs at the most reasonable cost.  I plan to use the QXD purely as a backup, so I’m not going to bother getting a card reader at this point (as I can use the D850 as a card reader if needed).  That’s more or less what I’ve been doing with my Compact Flash cards for years.
  • I wish there was true built-in WiFi support.  If you’re willing to drop $1000 and add a bulky WT-7A adapter, you can get that with the D850.  That doesn’t sound like the simple solution I’d like for remote operation.
  • I wish the minimum ISO could have been pushed lower (same 32 as the D810, but probably with better quality).  The less I have to use ND filters for slow shutter speeds, the better.
  • Same electronic front curtain design (still only available in Mup mode).  I wish it was automatically supported with exposure delay mode as well.  I don’t expect this to have much impact on image quality, but if Nikon sees a benefit, why not make it available more easily?
  • No GPS.

For a summary, see Nikon’s nice head to head comparison of the D850 vs D810.

If you don’t already have a camera, the $500 extra over the D810 seems like a no-brainer to me.  If you do have a good camera, it really comes down to your needs and budget.

These are just my impressions based on what I’ve read, but I’m ready to buy now based on the specs and Nikon’s track record in making meaningful gains.  I’m sure my opinions will change as I get hands on with the new camera.  If you’ve seen any information which adds to or contradicts my understanding here, please comment below.  I’ll share more details about my experience once I’ve had a chance to use the camera.

Update:  I’ve posted the exact settings you should use to optimize the D850 for landscape photography.

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  • Jose A De Leon

    Well Greg congrats! I’ve never owned a Nikon camera and it will be sometime before I do. But when I do, the D850 will be the way to go. I will continue with my Sony A77m2 until it dies on me. Can’t afford the D850 now, but the tech behind it is amazing and just like the D500, the D850 should be an epic camera and will sell like hot cakes.

  • That’ll be a great camera for years. Ultimately, your skill and subject is by far the most important factors for great shots with any modern camera. I’d invest in training and travel before gear any day of the week.

  • Jose A De Leon

    I agree Greg. That’s why I invested in your product and endorse it. You are first and foremost a teacher and secondly an inventor and you back your product with great tutorials and thanks for that I’ve learned a lot! You make a living with your gear, I consider myself and advanced amateur who happens to enjoy high quality. I’m still learning my camera since it has such a big feature set and already there’s a new version of the Sony A77 coming soon. Can’t wait to see what you’re capable of doing with the D850 man! The photos you take are awesome and with Lumienza you really make them pop.

  • Thanks! Really appreciate the support and enthusiasm!

  • What fantastic Pré review my friend, I had one D800 ( Finally!!!!!! ) , the 810 is fantastic and now the 850? Wow, I think it will be amazing, for me whit low budget and all my gear is in 2 hand that is good news because the 810 will be dropped the price!!!!!!! Keep up the amazing work Greg , I hope to see you soon 🙂

  • Exactly, everyone wins. New options, and other great gear gets cheaper! I hope you’re doing well!

  • Trey Danger

    My primary interest in the d850 stems around what the EXPEED processor is going to be able to output with a BSI sensor. They (Nikon) were already getting more DR from the d810 than Sony was getting with the BSI equipped a7rII – (11.6 vs 11.42) – The a7rII also had roughly 6 more megapixels.

  • Trey Danger

    Also, there is a chance that they are only incorporating the Back-Side Illumination to bring life back to the sensor pixels since they are pitched at roughly 4.35 microns now. That’s getting pretty small. So it may just be a balancing act.

  • Will be very interesting to see the results soon!

  • John Farinelli

    I’d like to know a little more about flash sync. There are comments about an electronic shutter for timelaps. Does that mean that this camera is also capable of syncing with flash/strobe at higher that 1/256th of a sec ? Always nice to have when taking portaits outside while taming the sun.

  • The specs say the mas sync speed is 1/250s.

  • Thom Hogan

    As I’ve written, BSI really isn’t going to bring much of a gain to a full frame sensor, if any. That’s because we already had a huge fill factor to start with. Even on the 1″ sensors Sony only managed about a third of a stop gain with BSI being the only change, and the gain scales downward as sensor size increases.

  • Thom Hogan

    According to Nikon, the primary benefit of using BSI was to enable faster bandwidth off the sensor.

  • Alex Corsten

    Thanks for a great review. I own a D800, but never made the jump to the D810. It didn’t seem to be enough of a change to justify 3G. The D850 seems to offer enough to make the switch. I was puzzled by your last note of “No GPS.” Does this mean no built in GPS or have they removed menu support for external GPS? While it would be nice to have internal GPS, I can live with the external support. If they removed it completely, then that might be a showstopper.

  • Thanks, Thom! Still excited to get the D850 for many reasons, but more and more details suggest I may not see a lot of improvement in image quality, even in high ISO noise. Looking forward to getting my hands on it to find out.

  • No built-in GPS. I believe it supports the same external option. Either way, you can always sync a GPX track via computer (using Lightroom or similar).

  • Thom Hogan

    It’s a fine camera. It’s a very nice update to what I still think is the best all-around camera. So it’s going to remain best all-around, I think. Still playing with it. Shooting college sports this weekend with it, which is not something I’d tend to say with a D810.

  • Great to hear!

  • RH6194

    That’s a pretty impressive list of features Greg, but I still can’t justify $3300 (+ an additional $600 if you want the 9 fps) when I own a D810.

    I do get the low light issue, but honestly, a D750 is better in low light and you will still have $2K in your pocket.

    With regard to the increased resolution, I guess my question is where does it end? You say you print 40 x 60″ and I’m sure you do – but you can already easily do that with a D810.

    I’m not really trying to talk you or anyone out of buying one – it’s a sweet body. But as photographers, we are bombarded with a never ending barrage of fancy, expensive new gear. As such, I find myself often struggling to justify my WANTS with a long list of reasons why my current gear is no longer sufficient, when the truth is that my current gear has been meeting my NEEDS quite perfectly until the latest “gee whiz” thing came out.

    There is nothing wrong with us, or anyone else buying something just because we like and want it. As long as we can afford it without failing to meet our other obligations, then we should just buy it and enjoy it – because we WANT TO. No list of reasons or justification is necessary.

    I think we often feel compelled to justify our decision because we want to be seen as making a wise, well thought-out purchase or else we fear, in some way or another, others will disapprove of or criticize our choice. But it really is no one else’s concern!

    If we get negative feedback it will generally be from some jealous associate who can not afford the same new item you just purchased.

    I find it interesting that those who can not afford a particular new item tend to criticize it and tell others why they should not buy it, while those who can afford it and purchase the item will often defend its necessity to their workflow and point out every new feature the item has and how much easier it will make their life!

    These are just honest observations I have made in three years of watching the behavior of photographers in a variety of social media forums. I don’t know how reliable social media is as a “study group”, but it’s interesting all the same!

    I think my main takeaway from what I have learned in all of this is to 1)only buy what I can afford – do not try to keep up with or impress others, 2)if I can afford it and it is JUST a WANT, not to be ashamed to buy it and enjoy it – JUST BECAUSE I CAN, but to also be grateful for my opportunity, 3)if I can not afford it, do not be petty, jealous or envious of others. Rather be satisfied with my blessings and share with others in their happiness and excitement, and 4)above all, to be honest with myself and others about my motivations – justification and explanation is unnecessary!

    Photography is a field where there are endless merchants who all want to sell us their latest gadgets. “Gear lust” can become so consuming that it completely robs the joy of photography from a person. Remember what made you first want to be a photographer – focus on THAT as you hone you skills and create ever more beautiful images and enjoy the ride!!!

  • All valid points. As a professional, it has significant value for me. I’m more likely to nail the image (better focus), has other workflow efficiencies that matter to me, and the resolution is relevant to my work (even though I print at 40×60″ already, some types of media will show more detail at that size). Everyone’s wants:needs are different, which is why I try to explain my rationale so that others can decide if it is relevant to them.

  • RH6194

    Thank you for your reply Greg. I appreciate that you are not just a professional photographer, but also a photo educator – so explaining your rationale to assist others who may be considering this purchase themselves is certainly understood, and I’m sure even appreciated by those in the market.

    I trust you understand my remarks are not aimed at your post or you in any way. I have been observing this “gear lust/gear envy” phenomenon for quite a while. I think this kind of culminated for me in Nikon’s announcement of the D850. For months before it was ever announced and still just in the rumor stage, there were already groups on Facebook and Flickr dedicated to D850 users. By the official announcement date – before it was even available for pre-order – these groups had swelled to over 500 members each. Member comments were just crazy. These people were salivating over a camera when they weren’t yet sure what it’s final specifications would even be.

    That was all I could take without saying something. The interesting thing is that nearly all of them who would try to justify needing the camera would start out with “As a professional….”. I’m not picking that out from YOUR post, but rather from theirs’.

    That raised an interesting question to me: WHO ACTUALLY IS A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER? Typically, I would say a professional is someone who derives their income from that career. However photography in particular seems full of “FAKE professionals”.

    A case in point – I have a Facebook “friend” who was shooting a Nikon D7100 when I made their acquaintance two years ago. At that time, the D7100 was a new body to the person who had upgraded from a D90. The person is a passionate shutter bug and has really improved their skill over these two years. Some of the images really are stunning. As a result, others have complemented the photographers work and a few people have even asked if they could purchase a print.

    A year ago, the one year old D7100 went on the shelf as it was replaced with a D750. When I asked why the person was upgrading so soon the reply began with….you guessed it….”As a professional…”. Now with not even quite a year on that body I have been hearing how what they really need to improve their workflow is a D810. I have heard nothing but “D810” for the past three months from the person.

    The day Nikon made the announcement, I noticed a lot of people dumping D810s like hot potatoes on eBay and other secondary markets. Many had very attractive prices and under 5,000 shutter activations. I emailed the person a few of the more interesting deals I had seen and mentioned there were a lot more on eBay if they wanted to check them out.

    But no…without missing a beat, the mantra “as a professional…” was once again uttered informing me they had decided they really “NEEDED” a D850!

    That was it…all I could take! I had heard this nonsense from so many people for so long that I had to say something. Truthfully, I doubt they have a clue what the D850 can even do. But the person has an ego that is so fragile that they fell the necessity to buy this expensive gadget just so others will be impressed with the gear they are using.

    This is a sickness that I see very pervasive throughout the photography community. Honestly, I have come to the point of considering cancelling my social media accounts. Rather than finding supportive and helpful groups, I find this sad need to compete with each other over how expensive their gear is.

    I’m just not that into gear. I upgraded my D90 also to a D7200 when it was released and I really love it and may actually add a second one. I also was very fortunate to recently have the opportunity to pick up a very lightly used D300s that is in perfect condition for $400 on eBay. Sure, it’s an older 12MP body, but it still takes amazing images and I’m thrilled to own it.

    I’ve had people compliment my images as well and some have suggested I should be a professional. While that obviously sounds like music to our ears, I consider the source. The people, while meaning well, are not at all familiar with photography or with what is involved in running a professional studio. I probably will set up a site on SmugMug and upload some of my better images to see if I can perhaps sell a few prints. However regardless of the outcome I will not be referring to myself as a “professional” photographer. And quite honestly, professional or not, I love the D7200 and wouldn’t change even if I were shooting regular weddings, events or portraits.

    Again, this is NOT a knock at you personally and please don’t take it as such. If anything, the FB friend is probably who it is most aimed at. But again I ask, how in a profession that really has no regulation or testing required is a person to determine who is a REAL professional? My wife and I hired a professional wedding photographer at a bridal event at one of our area malls. She showed us gorgeous images that she claimed were her work in her portfolio. But when our wedding day arrived, she was absolutely terrible!!! This is a long story, but suffice it to say that the only reason we have a wedding album is because of friends who were taking pictures with their phones. The photographer said all the right stuff, showed us a great portfolio, had professional looking contracts, etc., but I don’t think she ever had used a speedlite in her life. Full power, on camera, no bounce, no modifiers….it was a disaster! I really wanted to ask the pastor to pause a moment so I could talk to her and at least get her to bounce the darn thing.

    Anyway, I hope you hear where my frustration is coming from. Real professionals have a hard time in the industry partly because of these types of people giving the good ones a bad name undeservedly!

    Thanks for listening to me rant….TWICE I guess. I promise it is off my chest and I won’t send you another NOVEL! lol Take care and enjoy the new camera. I hope it’s everything you need it to be.

  • I completely hear you, and didn’t take it as a knock on me. I was just chiming in with the nuance of what I’m trying to say, which is that there may or may not be good reasons to update. Upgrading here is a bad business business decision for some pros (poor return on investment), and an excellent choice for others (great new capabilties that may not cost that much after selling an old camera and getting a tax deduction). Same for amateurs, depending on financial means and aspirations. I just want to provide a certain perspective as to why it may or may not make sense for landscape shooters.

    I’d also say this isn’t a photography thing as much as the way people spend money on things they are passionate about (for a variety of good and bad reasons). We could have a conversation about cars, surf boards, or even green lawns and run into the same issues. I see routinely see other people waste money, or pinch pennies they perhaps shouldn’t. Not that I’m in any position to really judge what other people do with their money (or care really). I just hope I might help someone make a better decision by sharing what I’ve learned over time through experience and my own good/bad decisions.

  • RH6194

    Thanks for understanding and tolerating my rant!

    Like you, I’m in no position to judge others. It isn’t my money or decision.

    I really think my bigger issue is this so-call friend on FB who makes me crazy with their ongoing drama (about a LOT more than just photography).

    The simple solution is I need to “cut bait” with that person and get rid of that stress!

    Anyway, thanks for your great perspective -you helped me a lot! Sorry you got drug into this drama in such a roundabout manner!

    You know, stepping back from all of that stuff though, if you have any perspective you might want to share, I think the topic of “How you know if someone is really a qualified pro photographer” would be an interesting blog post. (This goes back to the horrible wedding photographer we hired – what could I have done differently that could have produced a better outcome?)

  • It’s a really good question, and really depends on the type of photography and what someone needs. I’ve shot many weddings over the years, and always used to advisedcouples to make sure first and foremost that they like their photographer. After all, the bride and groom spend about as much time on their wedding photographer as each other on the big day. And when they have chemistry, the photos tend to be much more natural. Of course, reviewing an album and such is always a good idea too.

  • Myfyrbyrd1

    Your statement about the D850 having better weather sealing over the D810 is hard to beleive. I would think the tilt screen hinges and ribbon electrical connection would be a weak point in the weather sealing of this camera. The D810 does not have a tilt screen, so I beleive the D810 is more sealed against the elements.

  • I’m going with what Nikon has released on that, and the removal of the pop-up flash. In my experience with it so far, it feels at least as robust as the D810. The tilt-screen seems very well designed, and the risk there would be if the ribbon were not sealed, as that is the entry point to the camera, but it seems very well built from what I can tell (not that I’ve dunked it or anything yet).


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