Hands on with the Nikon D850

Most readers of this blog know I have a long standing association with Nikon.  I use their cameras (although I don’t get them for free), I’ve taught for them at universities all over the country, I regularly teach courses for them at the Nikon School in the West End, and I shot a big campaign for the D500 last year.  Despite all that, I was still very pleasantly surprised to be asked to get hands on with the new D850 before it was officially launched.  I had a sample, pre-production body from Saturday, then was able to use a full production body at the UK press and retail launch on Wednesday.

Nikon D850
There you go. This one had black tape over the number when I received it. Very black ops….

By now the full spec will be all over the internet, along with more than a handful of reviews, and thousands of opinions, so I’m not going to go into too much depth, I’ll just talk about the bits in it which I think are particularly appealing.

A trio of D850s at the launch day.

The main D850 selling point for me is the combination of speed and resolution.  Working like I do, I have some jobs where I can be in a studio, on a tripod, with lots of lights, and quality is the key.  There’s time to control all the elements, and time to refine details and do things properly.  Historically, this is where I’ve used my D800.  I also have lots of jobs where I’m moving very fast, and the things I’m photographing are moving very fast too.  High frame rate, along with rapid and accurate autofocus, tend to win out in this instance over sheer resolution, with build quality tucked away in there somewhere too.  These are jobs for my D4.

Now along comes a camera that will do 7fps (9 with the added grip) at full 45 megapixels resolution.  That’s two jobs in one.  Even neater, it has a usable range of RAW resolutions – medium at 25MP, and small at 11MP.  11 is a touch on the small side, but 25 is perfect for working alongside my D4.  I frequently shoot adventure races and the like with 2 bodies – one with a 24-70, and one with a 70-200, or one with a flash, one without.  My previous combo of D800/D4 meant that for shoots like these I was generating a massive amount of (frankly redundant) data when shooting with the D800 at full res.  At medium RAW on the D850 I can still have all the benefits of shooting RAW, but without quite so much backlog when it comes to processing.  Plus, the buffer takes a LONG time to fill at this res!

D850 launch
Phoebe and Jean-Paul testing out the speed of the D850.  Don’t worry, there’s a crash mat just left of frame.

There are all sorts of other clever features too, which I didn’t really have time to try out.  I played around with the silent shooting (something I may have call to use on rare occasions), and the touch screen autofocus (which made me feel like I was in Minority Report, because I just can’t get used to touch screens)!  I had no real opportunity to play with the video functions either, but I know it will shoot in 4k, and do 120fps at 1080.  I was a bit anxious about the tilting screen on the back, as I always associate those with cheaper cameras.  I’ll admit they can be very handy, but I always fear that in professional use, by which I mean, my own clumsy, cack-handed use, they’ll snap off pretty quickly.  This one feels very tough indeed, so hopefully that’s not going to be the case.

Don’t try this at home kids.

You can probably tell, I quite like the D850.  In truth, given that my D800 is now 5 1/2 years old, whatever Nikon brought out next was likely to end up in my bag, but I’m over the moon that the spec is as high as it’s turned out to be.  It’s very comforting spending money on something that actually adds to my business and improves what I can shoot, rather than simply having to replace exhausted kit!

No crash mats in this shot!


I’ve also made a quick video on youtube, although it covers most of the stuff I’ve talked about in this post.  But if you’re a fan of the sound of my voice…..

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