Nikon D850

Hands on Preview!

An absolute beast.

I spent yesterday (Aug 23) demonstrating the brand spanking new Nikon D850 to some select people (news, media, influencers). I've been lucky enough to have had a pre-production model this last week, getting to grips with the new technologies Nikon have augmented their latest DSLR with.

In short: I am seriously impressed.

As before, I'm not going to go into the specifications—there are plenty of sites that do that already—I'm just going to give you a quick taster of the new features that excite me the most and benefit the way I shoot. Since the camera is not even released yet, RAW conversion is not currently available. I cannot delve into the dynamic range and manipulation of the RAW files. Yet.

The images you see on this page are all JPG previews extracted from the RAW files! Let that sink in: they're not even proper full resolution JPGs, they're just the previews embedded in the RAW files (what you see when you view images on the back of the camera or browse via Photo Mechanic). I've only applied minimal editing (slight contrast boost, crop, exposure and the occasional removing of stray hairs and whatnot) to the images.

SOOC JPG #1

No editing whatsoever - blown away by this, the skin tones are fantastic.

100% crop - and remember, this is just the RAW preview! No added sharpening whatsoever. I cannot wait for Adobe RAW compatibility.

(Sort of) SOOC JPG #2

I say 'sort of' as I applied a tiny bit of contrast to this image. When I say tiny, I mean tiny. The colours are spot on. I would never actually do it (shooting RAW is mandatory for me) but I could shoot a wedding in JPGs only with this D850. Never thought I'd hear myself say that.

Again, the skin tones are simply sublime. Now onto the new functionality...

Silent Live View Shooting

A lot of people have been waiting for this; not a 'quiet' mode, but fully silent shooting. Now you have it! It's fantastic to have this option in a Nikon DSLR. Live View autofocus speed remains the same (not as fast as mirrorless alternatives) but hits more accurately than my D750 in LV. That's not what really excited me though, that was:

1. Focus Peaking

Oh yes. I'm a big fan of focus peaking (manual focus). I often choose it over AF even on mirrorless cameras. Some cameras handle it better than others; Fuji's is great, Sony's (when I tried it on the A7s) was very inaccurate. How did the Nikon D850 compare? Top notch.

To really test the camera during demonstrations I was using LV and focus peaking at ƒ1.4. I was able to nail eye focus on subjects quite far away every time. That says it all really. It's fantastic to use for both portraits and reportage. Even easier at higher apertures. Big win there for me.

2. AF-S 'Lock and Load' Mode

Once you acquire focus—albeit AF or manual—the D850 can shoot 6fps (at full 45MP resolution) in this silent mode. Perfect for nailing the moment without sounding like a machine gun. When shooting weddings I don't really need anything over 6fps. The D750 is no D5 with respect to FPS and yet it (the D750) has been my camera of choice since its release (as I travel so much, its small size and light weight make it perfect). I'm sure many people will agree with me here: culling a 14+ hour wedding is not fun. I feel for the people shooting weddings at 20fps with the Sony A9. I'll pass on that, thank you very much :¬)

Touch Screen Shooting

I used to love the OMD EM5, it had a great feature; you could touch the rear screen and it would focus and shoot at that specific point. I'm happy to state that the D850 now has this ability! It's works great too and is perfect when discreetly shooting from the hip.

Additional (Sweet) Features

S/M/L RAW

Boom! This is another addition I've been waiting for. Full size RAWs are 45MP. Too much for me personally. Medium are 25MP. Perfecto! I'll be able to use my 64GB cards as before and not have to replace them with a fleet of more expensive 128GB cards. Small RAW is 11MP.

D5 AF

I love the way Nikon aren't scared to put their flagship AF in cheaper models. The D5's AF is insane (especially in low light), and to have that in the D850 is a huge plus.

Hungry Buffer

Even when you rattle off a large series of shots in continuous mode the buffer clears incredibly quickly (before you ask - yes, when using full 45MP RAW) when using XQD cards. It's blisteringly quick.

High ISO Quality

Blimey. I don't have any files to show you (using the RAW preview JPG wouldn't be fair either), but trust me, it's very, very good indeed. I was shooting at 25,600 ISO in low light on another demo camera (hence no files to show) and even when zooming in to a dark area of the frame at 100% the grain was minimal. My jaw dropped. I'll need the RAW conversion before making a final statement, but early indications are incredibly positive.

Wrapping Up...

A superb DSLR in its own right with some of the key benefits of mirrorless. I love this direction, Nikon. Can't wait to see what the future holds!

The D850 will be great for anyone; wedding, portrait, landscape, sport (9FPS with grip), travel, street and photojournalism. A clear upgrade path for D3, D700, D4, D750 and D810.

Due to A) workload, B) having a pre-production model at home, C) only having my hands on the final production model for a limited time yesterday and D) no RAW conversion yet, I've not been able to run the camera through its full paces at a wedding. I asked to keep one of the D850's (worth trying!) in order to take to a wedding in Italy next week to review fully, but they're needed for more media demonstrations around the UK and Europe.

When a D850 becomes free I'll be sent one for an early review. Exciting times, as I believe it will become my new wedding camera. Never before have Nikon added so many new features. Keep your eyes open for the full review!

Comments

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Joab Smith

Ooo exciting stuff! Those photos look gorgeous too, lovely light (partly thanks to the dynamic range?) and the white balance looks really clean. Do you think the upgrade in visual performance is as great as the D800 was?

Tommy

Looks like this camera could be a game changer, a true successor to the D700 that the other D8XX series camera’s haven’t been up to this point. The ability to shoot at 9fps at this sort of resolution is incredible. Interesting that you mentioned that the high I.S.O performance is going to be right up there as well. Looking forward to getting a hold of one of these a.s.a.p

Christoph

Thanks for your opinion to this new best and thanks for leaving videostuff out!
Looking forward to you full review!!

Prithu De

I use 2 D800s for my Architecture and Interior Photography work and really exited about this new beast.
Seems like a good time to upgrade.
You said the ACR is not yet available, how did you process the photos?
Also are the photos under auto white balance? Or you just customized it?
Looking forward to the full review.
Thanks,
Prithu

Hochzeitsfotograf

I am so impressed about that camera. Nikon showed even one more time, they dont sleep all day long :)

Frank Wood

Ross you were the reason I left Canon and bought 2 x D750, however I’m not sure your review of the D850 is critical enough. Things have moved on and the d850 is now just the latest in steam-powered technology. Nothing new or interesting here. The live view focussing looked woefully slow. For wedding photographers the Sony A9 is light years ahead in almost every area.

Scott

Great article, the images look amazing. Very interesting camera for sure.

Andy Zofka

Oh, I was hoping you would post D850 review/preview soon :-) Sounds pretty epic! Looking forward to see how the RAW files will look like.

Mike

What is the camera doing exactly when producing M and S raw files? Pixel binning?