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Nikon D850: Something Special

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

See my growing review of the Nikon D850 in Advanced DSLR.

What I am saying here will emerge pictorially in continued pages that I have coming; it takes a lot of time to shoot, analyze and publish, particularly in an unusual office in difficult conditions.

In a nutshell, I’ll say this: the Nikon D850 has something special to its image quality. I think it is a combination of higher resolution along with something intangible in the color or whatever—I don’t have a handle on the particulars, but this idea has been nagging at me for few days and will not go away. I respect that from many years of reviewing and using gear in the field—I’ve learned to pay attention to it.

So I would say this: if you plan on using a Nikon DSLR for any length of time going forward, get the D850. It hardly felt different at first, but things started to grow on me, particularly the high-res screen and general responsiveness. It still has a few longstanding operational issues that need not exist, but I won’t be looking back and wishing for my D810.

That said, readers should also see my editorial of the Nikon D850 vs medium format.

It’s just too bad that the flange focal distance of the Nikon D850is way off—it mars an otherwise superb effort.

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 brings together all the wonderful attributes of the 21/2.8 Distagon, but with a wider field of view. I love shooting it late in the day because of its contrast and color rendition.

Blue Dusk
f5.6 @ 30.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-12 19:00:59
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]
Blue Dusk
f5.6 @ 1487.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-12 19:44:48
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]
Early Night
f2.8 @ 1177.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-12 19:21:27
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]

David N writes:

For years I did technical analysis of motion picture films and telecine transfer techniques for NBC. We shot various emulsions from Eastman and Fuji, printed on normal and low-contrast positive stocks, color-timed and printed at the major labs and transferred to tape at all the major Hollywood post production facilities. The labs all had slightly different philosophies of preferred density and color balance, and the film chains, all state-of-the-art at that time (1980's to 1990's) reproduced the images with fidelity, but with certain subtle distinctions. In most cases, these distinctions, although apparent to the eye, could not be measured by the best scopes or waveform monitors. But we could tell which film chains were best in interpreting the film image, and which would best serve the broadcast quality aims of the network.

Which brings me to your initial impressions of the image characteristics of the D850 (I’m still waiting for mine from B&H - I've been using the D810 for three years.) I have the sense that what you're seeing may be beyond measurement. In those days when film transfers began to be made from the original camera negatives rather than from the print (to save money), we became aware there was a certain magic relationship between luminance and chrominance that, when properly adjusted, made the negative look more like the print and enhanced the story-telling properties of the program. And that, after all, is the objective of all movies: story telling. Same with still images, which is telling a story in one shot, rather than 24/sec. So a tweak in the chrominance/luminance relationship combined with subtle adjustments in the luminance scale in the D850? Just a thought ... any kind of small change could have been made to the sensor; but it doesn’t take much to make a difference, and as I discovered, sometimes too subtle to measure, but significant to those with a practiced eye.

As you are no doubt aware, a number of prominent directors (Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino...) have induced Kodak to manufacture color negative film because they feel it lends some (ineffable) property to their work. Some of it is, I suppose, the natural logarithmic response of film vs the natural straight-line of a digital sensor that needs to be contorted in the shadows and highlights to resemble film. Whatever, they feel it helps to transport their audience.

So, in the words of Ralph Evans, one of the great gurus at Eastman Kodak: what one should aim for in pictorial photography, is a "pleasing departure from reality,” and not necessarily point-by-point colorimetric accuracy. The old Technicolor IB process is a good example of this ... but that's another story for another day.

My highest compliments to you on your incredibly insightful and helpful investigations and commentaries. You truly stand alone.

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