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Nikon D850: Is Lack of Availability Due to Limited Sensor Supply? Whose Sensor?

See my Nikon wish list.

The about $3300 Nikon D850 remains “New Item - Released In Limited Qty” more than a month after release and still “Preorder”. That has not happened for many years in the DSLR market that I can recall.

The planned production of the best-ever-made DSLR surely cannot have been underestimated this badly by Nikon given so much sales history, although it is a possibility.

Since Nikon has never shown us severe supply constraints like this before and is surely capable of building more than enough camera bodies quickly, my theory is that sensor supply is the gating factor, due to limited production capacity and/or too-low yields.

Which brings me to another point: I don’t think this is a Sony sensor in the D850. It behaves much less well in some night-shot circumstances versus the Nikon D810 (though it can also be excellent). Its color is superb, the best yet for a DSLR or mirrorless, or so my eyes say and I agree that it has traits more akin to the Leica M10 sensor than the Sony A7R II sensor. But of course Nikon has had years to tune color behavior, so it is hard to be certain.

Furthermore, Sony is sticking with its existing 42-megapixel sensor in the Sony A7R III. Nor would it make production sense to make a 45 alongside a 42 megapixel sensor.

John G’s comment led me to this post above:

I’ve been attempting to research the origins of Nikon’s D850 sensor.

It never made sense to me that Sony made the sensor as Nikon has made the strategic (and smart) to eliminate their dependance on the Sony for sensors.

Also, the D850 sensor is 45.7MP compared to the the latest Sony a7R III, which is, of course, 42.4MP. It makes no sense that they would make a special sensor with higher resolution for Nikon than is featured in their own current flagship.

Most recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that Sony is almost certainly not the source, but instead Nikon is working closely with TowerJazz. Many have suggested that only sensors use BSI, but in fact TowerJazz has also been working on BSI for several years and have already produced them. It would make sense to debut it in the D850, since Nikon’s track record with building support hardware/software/sensor interfaces is excellent.

BTW, TowerJazz is also working with Leica, and by all reports is the maker of the (excellent) M10 sensor, as well as the Q and the SL.

DIGLLOYD: it adds up and seems quite credible to me.

MC writes:

Just went to Mike's camera in Menlo park and been told that if you order one today next week you'll get. B&H had 4000 units order so this is why you have to wait so long.

I don't think the sensor theory you wrote about hold true both technically (TowerJazz doesn't have BSI tech and D850 most probably are built in the old toshiba fab that Sony purchased) Nikon started using toshiba sensor long time ago for the d7200 and the d850 is very close to stitching 2 aps sensor. If you read thoms blog among some bs you will find this info

DIGLLOYD: I don’t claim to know the correct answer, nor to my knowledge does anyone else either as yet.

My B&H contacts with which I've worked for years won’t even tell me confidentially how many orders they have, so I don’t know how 4000 can be claimed, or who can claim it. To my knowledge based on working with B&H for a decade, B&H would never reveal this kind of competitive information, at least not intentionally. But it’s a big organization.

Let’s see if this supply constrain remains, but not for years has a new DSLR been supply constrained like this—“no one” likes DSLRs any more—the sales environment has been flat and declining for years.

If Nikon can ship a camera or two to smaller dealers upon ordering, that tells us nothing other than that Nikon may prioritize small numbers to small dealers over shipping a truckload with 4000 cameras to a large vendor—can’t freeze out a wide seller network.

Tower reportedly has BSI but I have not directly confirmed this.

The new sensor is distinctly different in its noise behavior than the D810 sensor, with D850 underexposed long exposures showing much more noise and also underexposed long exposures showing severe pixie dust issues, which remind me of the M10 behavior. Much more like the Leica SL sensor pixie dust issues.

A stitched sensor would usually show up in images (based on seeing this in past cameras), and I have seen no evidence of this whatsoever. However, technology has improved and it’s quite possible it is there and I have missed it.

Stan B writes:

I read your D850 availability article with interest. The MB-D18 grip also seems to be almost impossible to get. I ordered one on 8/25 from B&H with no luck yet. That can’t be a sensor issue.

It will be interesting to see what the D850 supply/demand situation might have been after the dust settles. Thanks very much for your excellent coverage of the D850. You’re talking me into getting with the program with focus stacking.

DIGLLOYD: I agree on the grip thing not being a sensor related issue (obviously), there that can be many other explanations for accessories which have been in short supply from a variety of vendors after a new camera launches.. For example, batteries were in extremely short supply for Leica and Hasselblad X for half a year. But it’s not just batteries; I’ve seen delays on many accessories from every vendor over the years. Battery grips could just be deprioritized for some reason, so I don’t think this tells us anything.

Walter L writes:

I think the lack of availability is more like a regional problem. You can easily find and buy a new D850 body in Hong Kong, Tokyo and a few other Asian cities.

I think the problem is more about the internal office politics or conflicts among different Nikon overseas subsidiaries than sensor supply, although the latter is also a factor delaying the supply.

One more thing: traditionally the official listed price of Nikon camera bodies in the U.S. is the same or higher than that in Hong Kong. (Hong Kong Dollar has been pegged to U.S. Dollar for several decades and therefore is chosen as a comparison here.) It's true up to D500. But the listed price of D850 in the U.S. is 7.5% lower than that in Hong Kong. Not only Hong Kong, but also almost the whole Europe and many parts of the world by an unusually wide margin. Just a wild guess -- Nikon is sending more bodies to those overseas subsidiaries who offer a higher wholesale price?

DIGLLOYD: interesting. If it is about internal conflicts, then Nikon as a whole is in worse trouble than ever; without all parts of the company pulling in the same direction, Nikon could become non-viable in the camera business. A certain level of sales is essential for R&D and new relevant products. Lately, Nikon has produced wasted time and money on foolish new product failures while letting its DSLR line wither and not delivering any mirrorless full frame product..

As I understand it, Nikon USA is an independent subsidiary with its own pricing and warranty policies. Also, it is my understanding that Nikon USA will not repair a non-USA Nikon anything, e.g., gray market. But I have not checked on that policy for some years now.

Bob P writes:

Maybe the 850 is in short supply due to the QC problems you unconvered?

DIGLLOYD: if that is the case, we’ll never know. It will be interesting to hear what Nikon techs have to say about the flange focal issue.

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