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Nikon D850: Firsthand Reader Comments on Ergonomics and Image Quality

See my Nikon wish list and get Nikon D850 at B&H Photo.

John W writes:

I went in to my local camera store this morning when they first opened and weren't busy, and they let me have about 30 minutes to play around with their D850 demo unit. I took about about 30 handheld shots with it onto my own SD card and I've had a little time with the raw files in PS this afternoon. Here are a few of my headline-style initial reactions.

As advertised, the new optical viewfinder is huge and gorgeous. I loved it. This camera does not feel like an evolution of the D810 the way the D810 felt like an evolution of the D800. This feels like a whole new and different camera which has lots of familial similarities with the D8xx series. Strange as it sounds, it feel very familiar and very different all at the same time. The ergonomics and usability are excellent. The grip is great. Everything about it is quick and responsive. It felt very natural to work with very quickly.

Nikon D850

You can tell immediately that the AF is more responsive than the D810. Maybe it's just me, but having the new ISO button by the shutter is a big deal. That is the way I really want to be able to work with a camera. As far as I am concerned, once we all moved from film to digital, ISO immediately became a routine exposure adjustment, right alongside aperture and shutter speed. It should be just as easy to adjust as those two. Finally, on the D850, it is.

In summary, I became sold very quickly on the ergonomics and usability. Working with this camera is a joy, in a way the D800 and D810 never quite were. And, that was after only 30 minutes of using it. Now, on to image quality: Like the camera body itself, the overall IQ is just flat different from the D800/D810 files. I'm just now starting to wrap my head around specifically what is different, but from immediate impressions, I would never mistake raws from the D850 with raws from the D800/D810 - just like I would never mistake D800/D810 raws for those from Canon or Sony. So, the D850 images are different, but are they better? Again, in IMHO from limited use, in most respects, they are better, but I'm still very concerned about one important element: D850 color looks great to me. Richly saturated, accurate. Very appealing yet natural at the same time. They looked great SOOC.

High ISO noise is definitely better. I was shooting indoors, handheld with no flash, so I shot a lot of stuff between 1,000 and 2,000 ISO. No question. These images are cleaner than I would get from my D810. The SOOC images were very punchy, sharp and detailed. Looking at 100% scale in PS, I could definitely see the additional detail that the 10MP boost was giving me. The "punchiness" is the main reason I would not mistake these images for D800/D810 files. So, I think, overall the contrast profile is somewhat different.

So, that brings me to the possible "fly in the ointment": dynamic range. I have shot a lot of test images in that same store with many different cameras over the years, and I am convinced that the D850 shots I took today were clipping highlights sooner than my D810 would have. Now, maybe my impression is not correct or maybe I need to expose a little differently with this camera than I would with the D810. But, anyway, as of right now - and based on a very small sample of sloppy test shots - I remained concerned with the DR on this camera. That's too bad, because everything else was great.

DIGLLOYD: straight out of camera images can depend on so many settings that I don’t think that tells a whole lot, and very litte for a raw shooter. But I have little doubt that the images are indeed different-looking.

Dynamic range can can only be properly evaluated in raw and with RawDigger (to guarantee proper exposure). The Nikon D810 routines gives away 1.5 to 2 stops of dynamic range for example, such as in Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO vs Pentax 645Z (Pine Creek Sunflowers). And then there are other cameras with pattern and banding noise that “scientific” tests rate as highly as better cameras with no pattern noise. But in all cases, proper exposure is critical.

Regarding noise I would expect the D850 to be improved 4 years later even though it has a higher pixel count. But noise cannot be fairly compared at pixel level: a fixed size print from a 45MP camera will be enlarged less than one for a 36MP camera.

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