Rumoured for what seems like forever and a few months since a soft announcement confirmed its imminent presence, the Nikon D850 is finally here.
This professional-grade full-frame DSLR sits at the top of Nikon's camera line-up, as the replacement for the Nikon D810 - a camera already known for its high-resolution images and exceptional dynamic range.
With a significant jump in resolution - the D850 packs in a 46-megapixel full-frame sensor - this DSLR is designed for landscape, fashion and commercial photographers.
Does the added resolution up the ante in the face of Canon's 5DS and can Nikon once again take the high-res camera crown?
Nikon D850 review: Sensor sensation
- 45.7MP full-frame sensor
- Back-illuminated construction
- No low-pass filter
- ISO 64-25,600 sensitivity
The D850's specification really don't disappoint. At its heart is a 45.7-megapixel full frame sensor – not the same sensor 42-million-pixel sensor it was rumoured to have, as found in the Sony Alpha 7RII.
This is the first time ever that a Nikon DSLR has a back-illuminated sensor, which allows more light to hit the photodiodes and results in better image quality compared to traditional sensor architecture.
Another key sensor feature is that it does not have a low-pass filter, which is typically used to soften light to avoid moire, but that at such a high resolution is not a necessary addition. In its absence, detail can be better resolved.
An ISO range of 64-25,600 is offered by the D850 which is decent range considering it's resolution. The camera is likely to deliver superb low-light performance.
For anyone who's a stickler for detail – this is a camera worth looking at, finally putting Nikon in contention with the 50-megapixel Canon EOS 5DS.
Nikon D850 review: Performance
- 153-point autofocus system
- 99 cross-type points
- 7fps burst shooting (9fps with optional grip)
- 1x SD card slot, 1x XQD card slot
Spec wise, the D850 has the same 153-point autofocus system as found in the Nikon D500 and Nikon D5 cameras. That puts it right up there from the off, although you'll want to consider the subjects you shoot - as at almost 50MP it's easier for blur to creep into shots, so upping the shutter speed is advisable.
We got a chance to test out the D850 at Loft Studios in London the day before the official unveiling, to get a real feel for how its features work in real-world shooting situations.
First up was photographing an owl, and later a kookaburra – obviously! Testing focus between background and the owl in the foreground was a decent test for the autofocusing system and it certainly didn't disappoint. It's absolutely rapid when locking on, taking just a fraction of a second - even in low-light. Sure, it's not quite the same level of low-light, as you would expect at gig or a wedding first-dance - but in these early stages of testing it's proven to be of the highest standard.
Autofocusing is the same as the Nikon D5 camera, which is the staple body for many professional sports and wildlife photographers. Of those 153 focusing points, 99 are cross-type – meaning they have the ability to focus on horizontal and vertical details and are usually much faster in certain situations.
Next stop we headed to a studio setup with a couple of Profoto flashes and martial artists. The point here was to show-off the D850's seven frames per second (7fps) burst shooting rate (increasing to 9fps with the additional battery grip). For a camera with such high-resolution output, that's an impressive feat.
It requires a lot of processing power to deliver such speed, though. And here comes the big drawback: the buffer time. We were supplied with class 4 memory cards which struggled to write a raw + JPEG image to the card. When we dropped in our own class 10 SD card it started to become more usable, but was still frightfully slow. It's clear if you're going to use this camera in a meaningful way at high shooting rates then you'll either need UHS-II SD cards - or to use the XQD card slot.
One of the troubles of resolution-monster cameras like the D850 is that files just get in the way of workflow. Lots of big files are great when shooting low volume, but start shooting an event and filling up cards and hard drives becomes incredibly tedious. Thankfully, the D850 gives the photographer the ability to change the raw + JPEG images to lower resolutions. Shooting in small, medium and large raw or JPEG is a very important feature of this camera.
Nikon D850 review: Tilt-angle touchscreen
- 3.2-inch, 2,360k-dot tilt-angle LCD with touchscreen control
- 100% viewfinder field-of-view; 0.75x mag
- 4K video capture (8K time-lapse)
- Weather-sealed body
For our next set-up we headed to what was a still-life automotive section. In this studio we found a handsome man tinkering with a classic car. This was a great opportunity to get to grips with the new tilt-angle LCD touchscreen and menu system.
The 3.2-inch tilting screen of the D850 is highly usable, but Nikon can't say it's the first to add such a feature to a full-frame DSLR - the Pentax K-1 got there before, as did the more recent Canon 6D Mark II, and even Nikon's own D750.
Even so, having such a screen is an incredibly useful feature on a modern DSLR. It will help when capturing video, shooting at high or low angles, or when using live preview instead of shooting through the finder.
One of the best things about the touchscreen is that you can pinch to check focus and navigate menus using your fingers too. A double-tap on the screen brings you closer in when previewing an image - which is great for checking you've nailed the focus.
When the Canon 6D Mark II was announced it left the question: where's 4K video? Well, Nikon has answered that absence head-on in the D850 by including capture in resolutions up to 4K UHD (and also 8k in-camera timelapses).
Nikon has long been at the forefront of DSLR photography and was well ahead of Canon in the high-resolution stakes when it announced the 36MP D800 years back. Since then, despite the D810's strong presence, Canon has snuck in to take the high-res crown - which is exactly what the new D850 answers head-on.
By including a 46MP full-frame sensor, tilt-angle LCD touchscreen, and the company's most proficient autofocus system, the D850 is a very important camera for the Japanese maker. It's also a very impressive one, which functions wonderfully well (except for the limited buffer). The addition of 4K video will be highly appealing to many, too, giving it an arguable edge over its Canon 5DS and 6D II competition.
The Nikon D850 will be available from 7 September, priced £3,500 (body only).