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Cameras

Nikon D850 focuses on balancing high resolution and speed

The successor to the Nikon D810 hits 45 megapixels and 7-9 fps continuous shooting.

It's been three years since Nikon released the D810, its image-quality flagship full-frame camera. Its successor, the D850, looks like it's been updated enough to get it through the next three, with a new 45.7-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor (which typically deliver faster readout), Nikon's most recent autofocus and metering systems, 4K video and more.

Nikon plans to ship the D850 in September at $3,300 for the body, which is in line with the D810's launch price. I don't have UK or Australian pricing yet, but that converts directly to about £2,575 and AU$4,170.

What's new

  • Sensor.  Nikon jumps on the full-frame BSI bandwagon, incorporating a 45.7-megapixel version into the D850, still without a blurring antialiasing filter. The sensor in the D810 has been lauded as one of the best ever, so it will be interesting to see how well this one stands up in comparison -- Sony has been producing terrific and getting-better full-frame BSI sensors, so it's possible this one could potentially be a record breaker. (Nikon has not said whose sensor it's using, that's just an educated guess.) It does gain a stop more native low-light sensitivity. And of course, there's the resolution. While it's not quite at the same pixel density as the Canon EOS 5DS and 5DS R's 50.6 megapixels,  it's still enough for most pro print jobs. There's a new medium-resolution raw format to go with it, at 25.5MP.
  • Autofocus and metering systems.  The D850 inherits the excellent autofocus and metering systems that were introduced in the D5, along with the Expeed 5 processing engine. It's a big jump forward from the D810 if you shoot things that move or need low-light sensitivity. Speaking of which...
  • Continuous shooting speed.  7 frames per second is pretty good, especially at the D850's resolution. With the battery grip, it can do 9fps -- not quite up to the 12fps of the D5 or the 20fps of the Sony A9, but it's at a much higher resolution, and according to Nikon is independent of card speed. 7fps is sufficient for a lot of action. 
  • Design.  The body is essentially the same as the D810's, but with important updates. It now has slots for XQD and SD cards; an SD slot is important given the prevalence of readers and can be a lot cheaper if you don't need the speed of XQD. (However, the fastest versions of comparably sized SD cards can be much more expensive than XQD.) It also gets a tilting touchscreen LCD, which has become essential as Live View shooting is now common. The updated viewfinder has 0.75x magnification, the highest in a dSLR (though not as high as the 0.78x electronic viewfinders in the latest Sony full-frame models). Nikon says it has a deeper grip -- the camera's about 0.2 in/3 mm bigger -- but it didn't feel that different. D5-like illuminated buttons are welcome as well. The camera loses the flash, though, in order to improve its dust and moisture resistance.
  • Video.  All the video capabilities of the D5 come to the D850 and more: in addition to 4K UHD/30p and 24p video, in-camera 4K time-lapse movies, and 4:2:2 clean UHD output via HDMI, it has 8K time-lapse capture, focus peaking (but only for 1080p shooting) and  120fps HD slow-motion capture which plays back at 24fps. 
  • Features.  A first for Nikon (and dSLRs), the D850 has a Focus Shift bracketing mode similar to the one in Olympus' cameras: it automatically takes a series of shots at different focal planes which you combine using focus-stacking software to create infinite depth-of-field (sharp everywhere) images. You can specify either up to 300 frames or up to 30 interval increments, and it can use electronic shutter to conserve battery life and shutter cycles, and probably to minimize vibration. 
  • Accessories.  The aforementioned battery grip (the MB-D18 Multi Power Battery Pack, for $400) more than doubles rated battery life from 1,840 to 5,140 shots, and Nikon's releasing a film-digitizing adapter (the ES-2 for $150) which attaches to a macro lens and can automatically convert negatives to positives in-camera. (About AU$510/AU$190 and £310/£120 directly converted.)

My take

The D850 sounds like a promising follow-up to the D810 and is probably updated enough to take it through the next three years. Its one major weakness remains, though: autofocusing while shooting video still lags compared with Canon and Sony. 

You can tune into Nikon's livestream discussion around the D850 on August 29 at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.

Comparative specs


Canon EOS 5DSCanon EOS 5DS RNikon D810Nikon D850

Sensor effective resolution

50.6MP CMOS

14-bit

50.6MP CMOS

14-bit

36.3MP CMOS

14-bit

45.7MP BSI CMOS

14-bit

Sensor size

36 mm x 24mm

36 mm x 24mm

35.9 mm x 24mm

35.9 mm x 23.9mm

Focal-length multiplier

1.0x

1.0x

1.0x

1.0x

OLPF

Yes

Yes (disabled)

No

No

Sensitivity range

ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/12800 (exp)

ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/12800 (exp)

ISO 32 (exp)/64 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp)

ISO 32 (exp)/64 - ISO 25600/102,400 (exp)

Burst shooting

5fps

14 raw/510 JPEG

(JPEG rating not at highest quality)

5fps

14 raw/510 JPEG

(JPEG rating not at highest quality)

5fps

n/a

(6fps in DX mode, 7fps with battery grip)

7fps

51 raw (14-bit)/170 raw (12-bit)

(9fps with battery grip)

Viewfinder 

(mag/ effective mag)

Optical

100% coverage

0.71x/0.71x

Optical

100% coverage

0.71x/0.71x

Optical

100% coverage

0.70x/0.70x

Optical

100% coverage

0.75x/0.75x

Hot Shoe

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Autofocus

61-pt High Density Reticular phase detection

41 cross-type to f4

5 dual cross-type at f2.8

1 cross-type at f8

61-pt High Density Reticular phase detection

41 cross-type to f4

5 dual cross-type at f2.8

1 cross-type at f8

51-pt

15 cross type

11 cross type to f8

(Multi-CAM 3500-FX)

153-point

99 cross-type

(15 cross-type to f8)

Multi-CAM 20K

AF sensitivity

(at center point)

-2 - 18 EV

-2 - 18 EV

-2 - 19 EV

-4 - 20 EV

Shutter speed

1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync

1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync

1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync

Shutter durability

150,000 cycles

150,000 cycles

200,000 cycles

200,000 cycles

Metering

150,000-pixel RGB+IR with 252 zones

150,000-pixel RGB+IR with 252 zones

91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III

180,000-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering III

Metering sensitivity

0 - 20 EV

0 - 20 EV

0 - 20 EV

-3 - 20 EV

Best video

H.264 QuickTime MOV

1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p

H.264 QuickTime MOV

1080/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p

H.264 QuickTime MOV

1080/60p, 50p @ 42Mbps, 1080/30p, 25p, 24p

@ 24Mbps

H.264 QuickTime MOV 4K UHD/30p, 25p, 24p

Audio

mono; mic input

mono; mic input

stereo; mic input; headphone jack

stereo; mic input; headphone jack

Manual aperture and shutter in video

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Maximum best-quality recording time

4GB/29m59s

4GB/29m59s

20 minutes internal

40 minutes (with external pack)

29:59 minutes

Clean HDMI out

No

No

Yes

Yes

IS

Optical

Optical

Optical

Optical

LCD

3.2 in/8.1 cm

Fixed

1.04m dots

3.2 in/8.1 cm

Fixed

1.04m dots

3.2 in/8 cm

Fixed

921,000 dots plus extra set of white dots

3.2 in/8 cm

Tilting touchscreen

2.4 million dots

Memory slots

1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC

1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC

1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC

1 x SD, 1 x XQD

Wireless connection

Optional

(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7)

Optional

(Wireless File Transmitter WFT-E7)

Optional 

(WT-4A Wireless transmitter or UT-1 Communication Unit with WT-5A)

Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Flash

No

No

Yes

No

Wireless flash

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery life (CIPA rating)

700 shots

(1,865 mAh)

700 shots

(1,865 mAh)

1,200 shots

(1,800 mAh)

1,840 shots

(1,900 mAh)

Size (WHD)

6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 in

152 x 116.4 x 76.4 mm

6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 in

152 x 116.4 x 76.4 mm

5.8 x 4.9 x 3.3 in

146 x 123 x 81.5 mm mm

5.8 x 4.9 x 3.1 in

146 x 124 x 78.5 mm

Body operating weight

29.8 oz (est.)

845 g (est.)

29.8 oz (est.)

845 g (est.)

34.6 oz

980 g

32.3 oz (est.)

915 g (est.)

Mfr. price (body only)

$3,500

£2,950

AU$4,500

$3,700

£3,150 (est.)

AU$4,900

$2,800

£2,400 (est.)

AU$3,800 (est.)

$3,300 

Release date

June 2015

June 2015

July 2014

September 2017

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