Review of the Nikon D850

October 31, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Being a Nikon Professional Services member paid off in a big way with the release of the Nikon D850. While most are still struggling to get their hands on this camera, two months after its release I received mine two days after it was released, and it does not disappoint.

For context, my previous camera was a Nikon D750 which I also got the week it was released, so the camera is around three years old and had a bad fall in Norway that I repaired. In its three months in the shop (yah, for real, that's another story that I will touch upon towards the end of this blog) I realized that the D750 needed to become my second body and I needed a new primary camera. I sold my second body, D7000 and some lenses and went in for the new D850. Here is my review, complete with photo samples.

The Positives...

First impression of the camera is the ease of the transition from the D750 to the D850. I was out shooting senior portraits two days after I received it with the manual in my bag and I never needed to look at it throughout the entire shoot. Using this camera was intuitive from the moment I took it out of the box.

The most important difference, which users of the D800 and D810 will say 'duh' to, is that the ISO button is where it should be, within fingers reach of the shutter and aperture controls.

It is very hard to understand why the ISO button was where it was on the D750. See it here on the left column in the back? They did not even make it the bottom button for 'blind-location' when the eye is in the viewfinder.

I would even go so far to say that if you are a professional photographer who uses the camera hard and fast that the ISO button being near where the shutter and aperture controls are makes this camera worth the price alone. Really. If you have used the D750 you will understand what I mean. I had to take my eye out of the viewfinder easily 60% of the time to find that damn button, which is ridiculous, three controls, Shutter, Aperture and ISO are everything in photography. Putting them in the same place is so crucial to fast adjustments that it has completely changed the way I shoot. When shooting with the D750 I did everything I could to change the settings via Aperture and Shutter with ISO only as a last desperate option. In one month of shooting with the D850 I have been able to use every ISO setting fluidly. Here is the first venue shoot I did for Beth Hart a week after getting the camera, this photo at 1600 ISO with a 180mm fixed lens at f/2.8...

Beth HartBeth Hart

As you can see the clarity is ridiculous. At ISO 1600 in the D750 I would have visible degradation and pixelation. As a digital photographer who tries to avoid the grainy look as a style I never shot above 1600, when I did, I hated the results. On the D850 this is what ISO 3200 looks like...

I'm pretty sure I can go at least three settings higher in ISO and still be satisfied with the lack of digital noise, but I haven't been brave enough yet.

So that's ISO, it's my number one favorite upgrade on the camera. Because I shoot in low lighting for music regularly it is one of the biggest pluses for me to the camera. That also couples with an improvement in low-lighting focus. The D750 was the queen of low light focus, I had never used anything better. It was tested as focusing two stops lower than any other camera on the market, the D850, four stops! Here is Stevie Wonder from last weekend...

...ISO 1000, 1/100 sec, f/5.3, 240mm with my mid-level lens. That's a camera! My ability to use my 180mm f/2.8 in low-lighting and crop in to using about 50% of the photo came into play heavily in my decision to buy this camera as well. Do I buy the 400mm f/2.8 lens at $11,199.95 or use my 180mm that cost me $700 refurbished and crop in using a third of the photograph with little degredation? Well with the D850 I could finally do that.

What about the quality? Here is a senior portrait I shot a few days after receiving the camera...

...tell me you can't feel the texture of the wood on the door. Everyone has talked about the quality of the photos and they are right, at 45.7 megapixels, it's just freaking ridiculous. Look at the detail on this cliff...

As a fine-art, portrait and music photographer primarily I also had the great joy of using the 7fps feature of continuous high-speed shooting at the US Grand Prix last weekend. This is not something I use often, but I got a taste for it last weekend. I shot on a monopod and got up to 14 photographs of a car in one pass. Unfortunately the photos were shot from General Admission seating which puts a fence between you and the car almost everywhere on the track. Here is the newly crowned Four Time World Champion Lewis Hamilton in a series of three photos in one pass that all worked...

So, yeah, I'm in love with the camera. Even more so since Lightroom finally updated their software and I can import the RAW photographs into my system in Lightroom for the first time. I am blown away by the quality first, then ease of use, then the features. The feature I like the most coming from the D750 tilt screen is the Touch capability on the D850's tilt screen. I even used it with E-gloves when shooting in the snow 3 weeks ago and it responded beautifully. Nikon seems to have put a lot of work into LiveView mode which I played with, but really don't use... I'm old school, love my viewfinder. Another feature I like is the ability to shoot in three different sizes of RAW. With a 45.7 megapixel camera this could really come in handy. I am currently using 6TB of my 8TB photo drive pre-D850. So those are the positives...

Now for the negatives...

The iPad software by Nikon, SnapBridge is a disaster. After struggling to get any photographs onto my iPad from the camera (something I did regularly with the D750) for weeks during travel I finally realized the problem. SnapBridge doesn't accept RAW photos! Now I shoot in RAW with a VERY expensive 128GB Lexar XQD card as primary, with a backup to a 128GB SD card. I know of no one that uses the XQD cards (I know they are used on the D5) and have no idea as to their reliability long-term. Therefore having a RAW backup on the SD card (which has never failed me) is essential at this point. I am not willing to shoot RAW + JPEG, so I cannot get my photographs onto my iPad. This is a huge problem for me as I post to social media almost daily and really love the ability to edit in Lightroom Mobile and post while I am on the road shooting.

The only other major problem is that XQD card. So far it performs great, but I ran out of room on the card in Austin (7 frames per second!) and didn't have a second card to shoot with. Why? The highest rated one, Lexar stopped producing XQD cards, but then as of yesterday they say they are going to produce them again, but there are almost none available. Sony has a card, which is also currently unavailable for $189.95!

Nikon. I ranted on Facebook this year about a long and painful attempt to fix my D750 that went on for more than 3 months with Nikon. The summary is that I had a broken Accessory Terminal and I had to send it in three times before they fixed it. Each time it was there for a very long time, then sent back without being fixed. Over that time I found Nikon to be one of the most inept customer service systems that I have ever worked with. Truly. They have taken away the ability for anyone else to repair their equipment so you cannot even get a quote for a repair until you send your equipment in to Nikon... which is a black hole. Again I am an NPS member with supposed quicker turn arounds and top priority in repairs, yet every time I sent that camera in it disappeared for 10x longer than they said it would take. Let's just summarize it this way. Nikon has a profoundly horrible customer service system and people answering your questions have more than likely never even seen your camera. So that's a negative...

...but I still bought this Nikon camera! I did seriously considering jumping ship to Sony or Fuji. I didn't jump, mostly because I own thousands of dollars of Nikon equipment that I could never afford to replace, but also because the equipment itself is unparalleled in quality and reliability. The D850 is my 4th DSLR from Nikon and the equipment has been faultlessly reliable, tough and most importantly the quality of the output has been consistently fantastic as I have climbed from a D70, to a D7000, to a D750, and now to the D850. Nikon gets a special shout out for the White Balance which I think is the best in the industry. But this camera? It's insane how all-purpose perfect it truly is. So I highly recommend this camera, with the caveat that if you have to deal with Nikon the company you are in for a very bad experience. That being said after years as a professional Nikon photographer, 98% of my Nikon experience has been with the equipment and only 2% with the company.

Here's one more photograph for you, thanks for reading my review!


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