D850 Early Review

I stopped in to the local camera shop over the weekend to put my name on the list for a Nikon D850 (affiliate link), but they actually had one in stock, so I got to take it home immediately. I am normally not on the constant need for the latest and greatest bandwagon, but there were a lot of improvements compared to my D610, and I felt it was worth the upgrade. So far that has definitely been the case.
The headline is the 45.7 megapixel images, but there are a lot of features beyond that to make this a compelling camera.

Features I love:

Tilting touch screen: I definitely wanted the tilting screen, which makes shooting very high or low much easier. The design of the screen on the D850 is good for normal photography, allowing the screen to rotate about 90 degrees up or down. It does not rotate 180 for selfies or vlogging, not a big deal for me, but something to keep in mind. I was a little dubious about the touch screen, since most touch screens on non-phone devices seem to leave a lot to be desired. So far it seems to work well, but I want to give it a little longer before I call it great.

Auto focus points: The auto focus sensors in the D610 are clustered quite close to the center. The D850 has a much larger area of AF sensors, which makes composition much easier, especially with moving subjects. This is actually one of the top selling points for me, since the focus points on the D610 are so close together.

Full Frame 4K Video: Most cameras that shoot 4K use the center of the sensor, binning the pixels outside the 3840×2160 at the center. This acts like a crop sensor (usually more extreme than a normal crop sensor), making lenses function like a longer lens. This can be an advantage for long lenses, but a problem for wide angle shots. It is also more difficult to get shallow depth of field shots, similar to a crop sensor camera. The D850 allows you to either use the entire width to the sensor or a DX crop, giving you the greatest possible flexibility.

Silent shooting: In live view, you can activate silent mode which uses an electronic shutter which is completely silent. I use my camera in church during services, so getting rid of the shutter/mirror noise will be great. The other benefit is fewer shutter/mirror activations, so less wear on the camera. The one disadvantage is that it is only available in live view, which makes it harder to hold steady in the places you probably want this feature (weddings, events, etc.)

Resolution: 45.7 megapixels makes for some pretty impressive images, and it also means 19.5 megapixels in DX crop mode, almost up with the D500. For some of the work I’ve been doing that makes DX mode very usable, meaning I can borrow my wife’s Sigma 50-100 f1.8 Art.

Backlit buttons: the buttons on the back and top are backlit for shooting at night, a feature I have been wanting for a while.

Aperture adjustment in Live View: This was available in previous D8XX cameras and probably other pro cameras, but not in the lower end cameras. On the D610 you had to close Live Mode and reopen it, or take a picture, before the aperture changed, so you could not preview DoF in real time. Aperture does not change during video shooting

Shading in the viewfinder: Instead of the normal box to indicate the image area in DX crop mode or the alternative aspect ratios, the viewfinder can show a dark mask. This is selectable if you prefer the outline.

Some other nice features:

Alternative aspect ratios: Along with the standard 2×3 aspect ratio, you can select 1×2, 4×5, or square aspect ratios. Unlike the aspect ratios on my LX10, the raw files are in the chosen aspect ratio, whereas the Lumix creates a full size raw and applies a crop, allowing you to change the crop afterwards.

Frame rate: 7 frames per second out of the box, up to 9 frames per second with the grip and larger battery. There are faster cameras out there, but none pushing the number of pixels the D850 is. Canon’s 50MP 5DS tops out at 5 FPS. Using full size RAW files to an SD card, I could get about 20 images before buffering, the quoted 51 frames is using XQD cards. Using the smallest RAW format (small RAW in DX crop) I got about 120 shots in before it had to slow down.

Multiple RAW file sizes: Along with the 45.7 megapixel images (19.5 in DX), you can select medium (25.6 FX/10.9 DX) or small (11.4 FX/4.9 DX) RAW sizes. You might choose to do this for size concerns, for more images in continuous shooting (I shot about 120 images in small DX mode to an SD card). I probably won’t use this much, but it might be useful if I know that images will only be used for social media.

Video Features: Focus peaking and highlight zebra stripes. Unfortunately theses only work in for HD video, not 4K, probably because 4K takes a lot of processing power, not leaving enough for the extras.

Gripes:

There are bound to be some things that are missing or you would have done differently. For me these are:
Mixed card types: Not wild about the mixed XQD and SD cards. I prefer to have primary and backup cards, so having the mixed types means keeping two card types, and XQD cards are still quite expensive. 

No IR remote: I have used the IR remote as a cable release, it would be nice if it worked with the D850. You can get a wireless remote, but it requires a receiver plugged into the 10-pin socket. The other option is to use Snapbridge for remote control, but that burns battery on the camera and phone.

No Built in Flash: I only really ever used mine as a Creative Lighting System commander, but that was handy at times.

Thoughts about Snapbridge:

I haven’t used it much, but it seems about as horrible as every other camera control app I’ve used. I like the idea of the bluetooth connection with WiFi when needed, but it does not connect all the time, and is slow when it does. I like being able to get the GPS data from the phone, but it is easy to forget to make sure it is connected. I would really like to see a version of camera control that is bluetooth only, without the on-device preview, so you don’t need to go through the wifi connection when you just need a remote shutter button. I have not, and do not really plan to use the automatic download, it seems like it is just a good way to burn storage.
The D850 has a long list of features that make it a compelling option for a professional level DSLR. All in all, it’s a great upgrade to any of the lower end cameras, and some D800 and D810 owners.


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