Nikon D850 Review
This real-world Nikon D850 review features photos I’ve taken with the new camera, and my insights after using the camera in the field. The words “best camera ever” and other superlatives are being thrown around a lot when describing the Nikon D850, and part of my focus in this review will be some thoughts on who will benefit most from those “best camera” qualities, and who might be better off with a different DSLR or mirrorless camera.
In case you’re totally unfamiliar with the Nikon D850, here are some perfunctory specs. The Nikon D850 is a 45.7 MP DSLR with an EXPEED 5 image processing engine faster and improves autofocus speed and accuracy. The camera features a 153-point autofocus system, 7 fps continuous shooting speed, native ISO range of 64 to 25,600, advanced metering system, articulated & touch-screen LCD screen, and so many other bells and whistles that you’re better off just looking at a spec sheet to get an idea of everything the Nikon D850 offers.
As you’ll read in this review, the Nikon D850 is my perfect camera. For a variety of different circumstances, including landscape shooting, it offers unparalleled features and image quality. The Nikon D850 perfectly marries the best features of the D810 and D750 (for those awaiting a D750 replacement, I think this is it), while also pulling some technology from the Nikon D5. As pricey as it might seem, I’d actually say the Nikon D850 is a bargain at “only” $3,300 given the $6,500 price tag of the D5. By almost every meaningful metric, the Nikon D850 is every bit the camera as the D5…
With that said, I don’t think the Nikon D850 is for everyone. Being the “best camera ever” and “my perfect camera” does not make it a necessary upgrade for everyone. There are a lot of features the Nikon D850 offers that make it a big step forward in professional grade Nikon DSLRs, but there are also ways it’s reminiscent of other Nikon cameras of the last ~5 years.
Before we get into the brass tacks of this Nikon D850 review, a quick note. If you’ve stumbled on this site for the first time from somewhere else and are wondering why the heck you should listen to some idiot on a random Disney(?!) fan-site, view my Photo Gallery or check out my other Photography Reviews.
While I blog about Disney, I’m also a semi-professional photographer–this site combines the two interests. I have experience with a wide range of cameras, from just about every Nikon DSLR since the D40 to the Sony RX100 line and beyond. I even switched to mirrorless for a while (Sony A7R II) last year before returning to “Team Nikon.”
This is a “real world” review, meaning that it’s based on my use of the Nikon D850 in the regular course of taking photos in the field (well, more like in the park), not arbitrary photos in a sterile lab. Some people love to photograph lab charts and look at straight out of camera shots at 100% to take a pixel-peeping look at things, but I’m not one of those people.
As an actual photographer who actually takes photos, I see more value in how cameras actually perform in actual scenarios, and how edited photos from it actually look. As such, that’s how I review photography equipment. Actually! Is that enough caveats and background information? Alright, let’s get started with this Nikon D850 review…
The first feature listed for the Nikon D850 is usually its 47.5 MP resolution. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great if you’re wanting to make large prints or are in need of high resolution when cropping. Landscape photographers seem fixated on resolution, so I guess it’s a plus for this audience.
This is not quite my perspective. Realistically, most of us are posting the vast majority of our photos online. The most popular photo-sharing service in the world is Instagram, and the resolution of photos there is so low that even a decade-old camera is overkill in the resolution department.
For me, it’s the idea of being able to make large prints more than the necessity of doing so–99% of my photos are viewed fairly small. I wish this weren’t the case (like most photographers, I dislike Instagram and only use it because that’s where the audience is), and it’s actually a bit ironic that as camera resolution has ballooned, display sizes have shrunk.
One way this resolution is not a downside is in terms of handheld shutter speed. This was a serious issue with the D800, and to a lesser degree the Nikon D810. I found myself having to use faster shutter speeds with that than with my D750 to avoid blur. In my testing, I’ve been able to use my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 handheld with shutter speeds as slow as 1/20th of a second. The 185mm photo below was taken at 1/30th of a second and the eye of the statue is tack sharp.
The question for me with regard to this high resolution is whether the compressed and smaller sizes of raw files (sRAW and mRAW) offer a good compromise, or if they are gimmicks that reduce color detail, dynamic range, and image quality. That was the case with the Nikon D810, rendering its sRAW format useless for a lot of photographers.
Shooting uncompressed full raw in 14-bit mode results in 100+ MB file sizes with the Nikon D850, so I’ll take some reductions where I can get them. The first, and obvious choice is to shoot compressed. This can nearly halve file sizes, and I’ve never had an issue with quality loses using Nikon’s compression. The question is whether the smaller and medium raw files result in a quality loss.
The wheels fell off the D810 sRAW files the moment you started pushing the shadows or recovering highlights, making it more akin to a glorified JPEG than an actual raw file.
That’s not the case with the Nikon D850 sRAW and mRAW files. When pushing these files in post, I had an incredible amount of latitude with them. Much more than with the D810–truly a night and day difference.
I’m not prepared to say that the sRAW and mRAW formats have the same amount of dynamic range and color detail as uncompressed, 14-bit raw files. Since they are only 12-bit files, there’s at least some downside. I’ll leave that to someone who does comprehensive lab testing and is better-situated to make a definitive statement.
What I will say is that the sRAW and mRAW files were “good enough” for me in a variety of everyday scenarios, meaning that the Nikon D850 is not overkill when I want to take a photo of a cupcake or relatively mundane scene. Above and below are the same Pinocchio statue shot in Large RAW and the sRAW formats, with identical editing applied. No matter what I did in post, I could not distinguish between the two. Maybe you have a better eye and will spot differences.
To be sure, if there’s an epic sunrise and I’m shooting from a tripod, I’ll be using the full-size raw files. In less “important” situations, the sRAW and mRAW formats are viable solutions for me. I know I’m focusing on something that might be a niche feature, but this is a huge deal to me.
One thing to note is that these settings are buried in the ‘Image Size’ subsection of the ‘Photo Shooting’ menu. Because this camera has so many features, some of them are difficult to find in Nikon’s generally-good menus.
Since I anticipate changing image size frequently, I’ve added this to ‘My Menu’ and programmed the Nikon D850’s front PV button to access ‘My Menu.’ This allows me to make quick changes to settings that matter to me. Irrespective of which features matter to you, I recommend doing this. (Even after doing this, I still accidentally shot the landscape photo of Haunted Mansion Holiday at the top of the next page in sRAW. Whoops.) On that note, we’ll move along to dynamic range, ISO performance, other bells & whistles, and whether you should purchase the Nikon D850 on Page 2.
Thank for the great review Tom , I was really looking forward to read it!
So, speaking of mRAW and sRAW files, I still have few doubts about it: as far as I understood we will get 12 bit RAWs, less detailed than original RAWs but with the same dynamic range as original files, is it correct?
Still cannot understand how and why the raw compression can affect sharpness and detail as seen in your test!
I was a dyed in the wool canon for 30 years. No more. I am slowly jumping ship. Funny thing is, it’s not the hot new body, it’s that the d810 will now be all over for like $700 bucks. I will start there. Thank you for the real world review. Disney is a great proving ground.
Great review. I received my D850 a few days ago, (right after I completed three Disney trips of course). I’m still getting used to the increased resolution over my D750. Every lens flaw becomes noticeable and every facial blemish is exposed. It’s total overkill for my photography hobby. I love it.
Great real world review of the D850 for those of us who are not pixel peepers. If I had an unlimited budget who wouldn’t want one, but in reality I’m hoping there will be deals come holiday season for the D750 or if its an amazing deal even the D610. The body only prices on the D750 are getting lower and even the F4 kit prices are almost under 2k. Unless there is some amazing product announcement around the corner I’m thinking it now might be the time to make the jump to FF, and still have money left to get something like the 35mm art.
Mine has been on order for a month now and I doubt I will have it for my Oct 10th trip. I wonder if I will see you again shooting the Mine Train. 🙂
You think you might go back to team sony with their newer a9 trickle down a7 cameras coming out soon? They seem to have fixed the autofocus, battery life and now have gm 2.8 pro lens.
Probably not. It has nothing to do with Sony, and everything to do with the fact that I just dropped serious money on two new lenses and a Nikon body.
Sony has made some positive strides since I jumped ship on mirrorless, and I still feel like it has more potential for future growth than DSLRs, especially in terms of getting smaller in size. Unfortunately, I’m in a position right now where the Nikon DSLR is likely what I’ll be using for at least the next 3 years.
Sony has done a ton to innovate in the last ~5 years, and I’m really eager to see what else they do, though. I’ll just be watching from the sideline…
Tom…thanks for triggering me. As a d610 owner, lowlight and AF in general have always been my gripe. The 850 is tempting, but so is the 750. Decisions…Decisions…
Tom, why do you think the higher resolution didn’t affect hand holding as much in the D850? Are you using electronic first curtain? I dumped a huge Canon system last year and now have a D500 and A7Rii with which I am currently playing. Love aspects of both. A bit of analysis paralysis right now. Very tempted by D850 but also interested in Sony’s next move.
Thanks for the review. I had a D850 on pre-order and then cancelled it. I’m still on the fence and tempted…
I just don’t see it as the “best of the D750”— my current main camera.
To me, the advantages of the D750 over the D810:
– Price (obviously)
– Smaller size/weight
– Smaller files (why pay for 36/46 mp if you aren’t going to use those pixels?)
Putting aside the price…. the weight and file sizes really scare me off. As a secondary concern, I’m unhappy that Nikon is the only brand left that doesn’t utilize a truly good live view af system.
I’m hoping we see a true D750 replacement — that shrinks down the D850 into a smaller body, with a high performing 24-28mp sensor.
The price and weight are definitely there, and today when picking up my Nikon D750 (to take the top photo in this post!) after a few solid days of using the D850, I could definitely feel the difference. I would love to see DSLRs get smaller/lighter, but I’m not sure that’s even possible with added features. Live view AF is still lacking, but the focus peaking feature is a nice gain.
The file size issue can be solved by using the mRAW and sRAW options selectively. I think that’s a ‘best of both worlds’ approach, as there were situations in the past when I carried both cameras to leverage the smaller and larger sizes in the past.
Everything I’m seeing points to this camera being a merger of the D700 & D800 product lines. Between there being no rumors of anything else on the horizon to what this camera does, it just seems unlikely. It’s also quite possible the Nikon doesn’t have the factory capacity or resources to produce both.
With decreased demand, you may be right about the merger. But I hope you’re wrong.
-I’ve been doing enough paid word that I can rationalize the price of the D850 — But $3000+ is still a different league than the $2300 D750.
-You absolutely could make the camera smaller and lighter and preserve most of the goodies. Ok, the viewfinder might not be quite as big. And maybe no XQD slot. And maybe the LCD would have to be a tiny bit smaller. But you should be able to put most of the D850 goodness into a D750 body. And while I know you had issues with the Sony mirrorless…. they are becoming more and more appealing, as less weight. (With how I’ve been shooting lately….. give me a Sony mirrorless with their 12-24, 55/1.8 and 85/1.8… and I’m good to go!). Even the Canon 5div shrunk down from the 5diii. I think the D850 is the biggest heaviest dSLR on the market among newer offerings other than the D5 and 1dxiii. (the built in grip cameras).
-mRaw and sRaw was part of the reason I did pre-order the camera. But then as I thought about it…. It is exceptionally rare I would really crave 46mp. I’d use mRaw 95+% of the time…. and I’m fine with 24mp 100% of the time. It’s just less than 5% where I’d consider maybe using the more MP if they were there. So yes… I can use the mRaw… but why buy a Ferrari just to drive it to the supermarket?
If they basically release a compromised 24mp version of the D850.. just like the D750 is a compromised version of the D810 (consumer body, less MP)… then why pay the extra $1,000 for MP that I’m not going to use?
Who knows… I might end up with the D850. But I’m going to wait 3 months or so…. see if a D760 is on the horizon. See what Sony does with a A7iii.
Thank you for the detailed review! This is so helpful. I think I’ll stick with my D750 for now.
Not a bad decision. The D750 is an incredible camera, and if you don’t need the features the D850 offers, no reason to shell out the additional money!
Well, now that you have that new camera you need a new lens to go with it! A Nikon coworker of mine recently found a “deal” on a Nikon 600mm F/4 and he raves about it! It’s supposedly great for landscape photos, but might be a bit much for carrying around the park.
I have a D600 which I will have had 5 years come December and have debated upgrading it. It took me a couple of days to pull the trigger, but I ordered my D850 on August 29th…so now I am playing the waiting game to get mine since it is still showing back ordered. You review was enjoyable and sad to read – enjoyable since a lot of good information, sad since I still don’t have mine! I am heading to WDW in November for the Wine & Dine half (weekend trip) then back the 1st week of December for a full week. I hope I have it by at least the Christmas trip!
Unfortunately, I don’t have any good news for you on that front. I ordered my camera at like 1:30 a.m. Pacific, around an hour after the order pages went live, and mine was in the second shipment.
When inquiring about why mine didn’t ship with the first shipment, I was advised that Nikon was only providing very limited qualities, and it’d take through the end of October to get through pre-orders. Hopefully you’ll have yours before your November trip, though!
Aug 29th Order from Adorama = October 30th Delivery (I had my retired dad camp out to sign for it this morning) – just in time to leave on Thursday for Wine & Dine weekend!!!
Any chance i could talk you into doing a review of the 7500? I know its crop- but alot of us can’t swing the 3k plus for going to full frame.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the experience with that camera to do a review of it justice. I’ve heard nothing but good things, and have been impressed by every single camera in the D7000 line, though. (I used the D7000 for a couple of years and loved that camera.)
Thanks for the review. I was a little worried that your review might trigger a case of the dreaded Gear Acquisition Syndrome, but luckily it didn’t. I am planning on staying with the D750 for a few more years and completing my lens lineup like you suggested. I am ordering the Nikon 24-70 F/2.8 ED VR lens today so that should keep the G.A.S. bug at bay for a few months. While I may not be getting the D850 right now I clicked on the B&H Affiliate Link in your review to help pay for yours.