Nikon D850 review (sort of)

Nikon D850 and the new guitar problem by Christian Handl

I had the chance to play with the new Nikon D850 very early (August 30th, 2017) and could also work with RAW files thanks to Raw Therapee. To make it short, the file quality is very good, nothing to complain about. On the other hand, also nothing to get too excited, as the files of my beaten D800 are more than good enough still for 99% of my work. Even the files of the D750 are perfect most of the time.

Warning, this is pixel peeping at 200%
Both pictures are made with the Nikon 50 mm f1,8 lens @f8 with a tripod and with mirror up. Left D850 with Iso 64 and electronic first curtain, right Nikon D800 with Iso 100. There is a small difference in resolution and dynamic range. With a zoom lens like the 24-120 it is less or not visible at all, with a “better” lens there might be a bigger difference (I do not own an Otus lens).

So why upgrade at all? I already skipped the D810, although I occasionally got mild G.A.S. symptoms the last years. It is an investment of at least 4000.-€ (incl. tax here in Europe) as you have to buy an XQD card and a card reader up front with this camera. I even tried to argue me off this purchase. I failed because a week ago I strolled through a town here in Lower Austria. To my astonishment, one of the photoshops had the D850 on display. And when I phoned them three days later the camera was still available, so I bought it. Seems like here in Austria not so many photographers want to spend 4000.-€, because the shops here don’t get larger quantities like in the USA.

What tipped me off was not a technical feature, like the good viewfinder, better AF or more megapixel. It was realizing that the attitude of „ I do not need this, it does not matter which camera I use, any will do“, has a psychological problem. Yes, for most of my projects, 24 Mp will be more than enough and yes most of my customers won’t see any difference with the pictures no matter what camera I use. If anyone out there thinks he gets more revenue, more customers with a new digital camera, think twice.

But with photography it is like music, you do not do it just for making money, you also are linked to this art or craft, because for making money even a job as a house cleaner would be better. If I would look at what I earn per hour, I would kick myself. But photography is the only thing which keeps me going, which is kicking my butt saying „get up, get out, get some pictures“.

Buying such a camera is for me a way to take my laziness out of me. It forces me to make new projects because buying such a camera and then just making a few snapshots – no way!

So here are some excuses I found so far to purchase it nevertheless:
The live view stream has a better resolution, it was 640 pixels and is now 1024 pixels to match the higher magnification of the rear screen, which helps if you do studio work and use camera control pro, or the rear screen and a magnification loupe. The split screen function is helpful, but at Nikon, nobody seems to use the Tilt/Shift lenses, because it is still not possible to look at the upper left and lower right corner in split screen mode at the same time.

For checking sharpness when you use the tilt of a lens like the 45mm TS the new focus peaking function helps. One good thing though is that now the 24mm TS lens rotates in both directions. With the D800/810, it was blocked by the bigger viewfinder/flash combo.

The less protruding viewfinder allows full rotation with the 24 mm TS lens

The screen is now tiltable, ok that´s good (I like and use the tiltable screen of the D750 often), but anyone taking vertical pictures at Nikon? Fuji is doing it right with the Xt-2.

The illuminated buttons are nice to have, but only at the left row. On the other hand, even at night photography I still need a red led lamp to see my surrounding or find pieces of equipment in my bag.

The better AF and speed is also a big improvement to my D800, I am looking forward to using that on my next trip to Africa. But for the 9 frames/sec, there is the need of further investment in grip, battery, and charger. Maybe the D500 might be the better investment for action or sport. Yes, the D850 might be the best “all-around camera” which can do anything from birds in flight to landscape or architecture. But there are situations where changing lenses (often) is not such a good thing to do and also the second body on longer trips is a wise thing to pack into your camera bag. So this D850 is not the “all in one solution” you might think. Also, only the best lenses shine on the D850, this is certainly also the case with long telephoto lenses. So paired with a 600 mm f4 you get a dream team up to the moment you take your gear on board of an aircraft. Can you manage the 8kg weight restrictions or do you buy a second seat?

If you want to make the best of this AF you have a steep learning curve up front. I can recommend „Secrets of the Nikon AF System“ from Steve Perry. This pdf has 467 pages! So much about digital makes photography easier.

He has also a good video about the new AF fine tune feature. Which gets things into perspective fast, because he shows that you should do 12 readings to get a good average number. And you must center in Live View the AF point, otherwise, a cryptic Text shows up. It took me more than half hour to find that I accidentally switched the AF point in live view a little bit. The fine tune numbers where sometimes quite consistent, with other lenses like the Tokina Makro the readings were more erratic, but at least it did not refuse to take a third party lens. AF fine tune with one click? Sadly no!

Now checking the fine tune with a real furry animal, a teddy bear. What I found I did not like because the numbers for my 300 mm f2,8 lens were simply said garbage. With the 1,4 Tc I had -17, but testing it with different numbers the best one was 0, or AF fine tune set to “off”. Seems like the AF fine tune feature is very prone to (user) error.

Silent shooting mode sounded great for me, but it is only available in live view mode. So that means shooting with a 3,800 € camera similar to a smartphone (or as someone stated, you hold the camera away from you like a smelly diaper). While you can adapt the viewfinder (diopter adjustment) to your (poor) eyesight, not so for the rear screen, which means you might need your glasses on and I am still not sure if live view AF is usable in a dark church? But the screen with the better resolution is really a big step forward and the touch screen feature is great! Now all the menus are touch sensitive, which is a good thing and speeds navigating in the menu. Certainly scrolling through pictures is also much faster.

I was also very interested in the so-called „Best optical Viewfinder ever“ of the D850.

It is bright and certainly better than the one in the D750, but as numbers suggest: magnification of D810 is 0,70 with eyepoint 17 mm, the D850 has increased that to 0,75 with also 17 mm eyepoint. Hey, great, an increase of 0,05! Did Nikon really want to make the best optical viewfinder or did they reduce cost by skipping the flash? I used the built-in flash quite often for remote control of macro flash. With the D850 I will need a commander module or dedicated flashes=extra weight to carry.

I am beyond 50 and get more and more problems with my eyesight, certainly, a big bright viewfinder helps. But also the size of the letters in the viewfinder and the menu is interesting. Here nothing has changed, but it was quite useable before.

Automated stacked shots for macro looks good on paper, but with the app “helicon remote“ or even more versatile “DSLR-dashboard“ this was possible with every Nikon Camera which had open Wifi. See the problem, the snap bridge Bluetooth/Wifi of the new Nikon cameras is not allowing 3rd party apps to function like before, its a more closed system with very poor functionality.

Also to my big disappointment this feature does not work with the Nikon 200 mm f4 Macro lens or my Tokina 100 mm f2,8 Macro, only AF-S or AF-P lenses are supported. When I tried it manually I encountered a problem with snap bridge (surprise?), in LiveView, there is no focus peaking on the smartphone, live view on camera and releasing the shutter on the snap bridge app does also not work. So back to the good old cable release! Silent shutter does work, but without flash, it won’t fire.

I tried a stacked shot with 30 frames. I use a mac book pro retina with 16 GB Ram and 2,8 GHz quad processor. Such a task takes this computer to his limits, but he managed to do it. So I do not think that this camera will force me to buy a new computer, but it slows some tasks down like panoramas or stacked shots.

64 ISO, F8, 1/40 sec
A stack of 30 frames, manual mode with an Oben macro slider and the 100 mm f2,8 macro from Tokina. Silent shutter “1” shutter release via snap bridge app. Working very accurate would be good, as the processing on the computer took about 30 minutes. Every mistake means back to the start. Here I missed the opportunity to use the 4:5 Raw file option, which would have reduced file size. No need to record more of the black area.

The time-lapse features I have not checked so far. But the same here like with stacked shots. Good if you are satisfied with the onboard tools, bad if you want to do your own thing because snap bridge again limits this. The electronic shutter is certainly a good idea because with heavy use of time-lapse you can get beyond the limit of the mechanical shutter.

And now to the “new guitar problem“:

Take a side step and imagine you are a musician, a guitar player. You have a decent model of an electric guitar. Now you have an offer for a guitar used and played by Eric Clapton, or a new model with fantastic new whatever advertised. Guess what? Is there a guitar player out there who thinks he will be a better player just with a new guitar? Yes, there will be a lot of them, although they know that practicing is way more important. Some even stated that talent is overrated because someone who is practicing like hell will beat the talented any time.

This post was originally published hereIf you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

Check D850 availability: B&H | Adorama | Amazon | BuyDig | Cameta | Focus Camera | eBay | WEX | Jessops

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