I am a professional hobbyist and have been shooting with a Nikon D800E for the past 5 years. Generally for what I did, which was mostly night landscape and event photography, I was happy with my D800E. I had a few issues though, but really didn’t seem to find a good enough alternative camera that addressed them.
For example, I really didn’t like the Nikon’s white balance in low light. I found that I preferred the white balance in the Canon Mark III in low light to be more attractive and closer to my taste; however, being a Nikon fan at heart with lots of Nikon equipment – all I could do was some in-camera adjustments, which still didn’t satisfy me, but I learned to live with it.
The other issue I had was that given the massive 36M pixels that the D800/D800E had, it was tough to get top sharpness even with the best Nikon lenses. And despite having my camera calibrated by Nikon I had to spend a lot of time with Auto-Fine tune feature to make it better. Now I must add that I am very picky about sharpness and perhaps what mattered to me may not matter as much to a lot of other people. I just like my images super sharp at 100%.
Lastly, I really enjoy low light photography but given that I do more landscape, I didn’t really see upgrading to a Nikon D4S or D5 as a good option. The high megapixel count is really handy to have.
When the Nikon D810 came out, again I didn’t really see much reasons to upgrade. From time to time I found myself considering the D5 but again the lack of megapixels (for large prints, zooming and cropping) would hold me back. Not to mention that it’s price point is quite sharp.
And now this brings me to today. When the Nikon D850 was announced, the specs seemed very attractive; however, I was still not sure if it would address my specific needs and more importantly if it made sense to spend thousands more for issues that I had learned to live with.
I finally took the plunge and went on the waiting list to get the new Nikon D850 body. The night that I got it I knew I was going to be very happy with it but decided to wait to write a review about it until I had had a chance to use it a little bit more. And frankly after a few events, I was not impressed with some of my photos which I will address below. But let’s start with the top 5 reasons why I love my upgrade to the Nikon D850.
1. Auto White Balance
Like I mentioned above, I didn’t like the white balance on my D800E, especially in low-light where there was this yellow tone and the whites were washed out. I must add that I had this exact same feeling with my Nikon D90, and D7000. So I had just learned to live with the Nikon Auto White Balance. Well, I am pleasantly surprised. I think the Nikon D850 has done a great job in making the Auto White Balance to be so much closer to what it should be especially in low light conditions. This enhancement alone was very exciting for me.
Both of the images below were taken at ISO 12800, F2.8, 1/60s @ 35mm. The first image is the Nikon D850.
2. Low Light Photography
Wow! I really didn’t think that the two-stop difference was going to be that different. Considering that I have a lot of fast 1.4 lenses. Well, I was wrong. Frankly in low-light under the exact same conditions, even with giving the D800E a couple of more stop light through the lens, it is a night and day difference. The pictures are just not in the same category. The D850 is a clear winner by a big margin.
In addition, even pictures taken at high ISO come out useable. This is impressive and I am not sure how much better the D5 is but I am happy with it. The two images below are a from a picture frame in a relatively dark room. They are both taken at F2.8, 1/60s, 35mm. The 2nd image is actually from the Nikon D850 at ISO 16800 while the first one is from Nikon D800E at ISO 12800.
3. 46 Megapixels And The Dynamic Range
Ok so 36 Megapixels was just out of this world when it came out. The level of details I could capture and how much zoom/crop I could do was very impressive. In fact I did a test with a my friend’s Nikon D7000 and his Sigma 50-500mm lens at 500mm against my D800E equipped with a 70-200 lens at 200mm, and I was able to get better zoom at 100% and sharper images when cropped.
The 46 vs 36 is a great bonus, at a distance it does capture additional details that even the D800E doesn’t. In addition, I seem to see a better dynamic range in the D850. I haven’t had too much time to play with this feature but at a glance seems much better.
When you pack that much megapixels into a photo, it’s tough to get super sharpness (at 100%) even with the best lenses. Add that to the inconsistencies that the D800 series had with front and back focusing and it would stand out – at least to me. To clarify, I do have high expectations and my issues were with photos shot at F1.4-F2.8 aperture when viewed at 100%. This expects a lot from the camera body and lens at 36MP!
However, I am pleased that even with greater megapixels, my initial experience with the D850 has been much better. Given the same conditions, I am able to get sharper pictures. I must add that in my limited testing, I find that I get shaper images when using the single point focus vs any of the other focus mode.
Nikon has introduced new 153 focus points – the same as the Nikon flagship D5. In addition there are new modes such as Group focus point. However, I am finding that generally (again in the limited testing that I have done) that I am getting sharper images using the single point mode. But I need to play more with it. At least I am able to get sharper images in comparison.
The first time I held a Nikon D4, I fell in love with how comfortable it was. Initially I thought it was because of the battery grip, so I purchased one for my D800E, but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t as comfortable to hold as the D4 or D5 is even though both of those two cameras are heavier.
Well, that has changed and the grip on the D850 is deeper and hence a lot more comfortable. I was pleased with this.
In summary the above 5 reasons made my upgrade from the Nikon D800E to Nikon D850 well worth it. Not to say that there aren’t other reasons. For example, I am looking forward to trying the wireless (although initial reports are not that impressive). I just think that in 2017, I should be able to easily sync my pictures into my iMac Aperture library.
I also like to share few learning curves I went through. In the last two couple of evening indoor events that I took the D850 to, I found that overall I wasn’t too impressed with my pictures. They looked good on the screen but when I would zoom in or view them at 100%, it was really grainy and not sharp at all.
After doing some investigation and comparing it to my D800E night photos, I realized that even though I was shooting with a Nikon SB900 external flash (but attached) the pictures were mostly shot at ISO 8000, 12000 even 32000! It didn’t make sense. So I changed the max ISO to be 5000. It got better but the pictures were still grainy. I also didn’t remember my D800E night photos to be so grainy.
So here is what I found, when shooting with a flash, my D800E auto-ISO would hover between 400-1200 but generally on the lower side despite having ISO 6400 set as the maximum; however, for some reason the D850 just uses whatever ISO it feels like and generally it is 6400 and above!
The two pictures below are an example of this situation. Under exact same conditions, the Nikon D850 in full manual mode with auto ISO is shooting this image (the first image) at ISO5600 but the D800E is shooting it at ISO 400 (2nd picture).
This was really disappointing because I didn’t want to limit the ISO to be so low but then the pictures were not acceptable to me with such high ISO when I had a great external flash. Until finally I found a new feature that I am happy with. In the new D850 Auto ISO setup, there is a new setting to set a maximum for the auto ISO when a flash is used. This solved the problem. I still don’t understand why the basic auto would use such high ISO but at least I can control is separately now.
Lastly, I like the new touch screen, but something I find a bit annoying is the picture preview. It is slower than my D800 but I can live with it.
All in all, I am very happy with my new camera and glad that I upgraded.