Thoughts on Field Shooting the Nikon D850, even though Nikon Degraded D850 Operability vs D810 + Nikon D850 vs Sony Mirrorless Usability
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Background — conditions
Over 10 weeks through about mid-November, I spent about 8 of those ten weeks in the field in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van, which exceeded my expectations in most every way, and allowed me to work wherever I was with efficiency just as high as at home by mimicking the same computer setup, powered by a 5 kW lithium battery. I never came close to having battery power issues, and the convenience of eat/sleep/hike/work right in the field was terrific. I was very comfortable in terms of sleep/bed indeed better than home since no teenagers were around to wake me up or keep me away, and no noise but wind and the occasional howling coyote was to be heard.
Much of the time in the mountains, the daylight temperatures were in the 28°F to 38°F range, and often with some wind. Though late October and November light can be favorable for many hours, often my favorite time to shoot is dusk, and when that big heater in the sky dips below the peaks, the temperature feels 20°F colder pretty much instantly, and thermally-induced wind picks up right at the same time. Medium weight gloves were mandatory* much of the time. My fingers and hands become unusable otherwise (ever need to pee but with fingers too cold and stiff to unzip the fly?).
I have learned that I can’t cheat my fingers once the temperature gets to a certain point, so the gloves stay on. Hand warmers stuffed into the gloves or pockets can stave off a few more degrees drop also but watch that iPhone—it does not like a hand warmer in a pocket next to it.
At some point, the heavy gloves have to go on, and few cameras remain easily usable.
* Fingerless gloves or gloves with flip-off fingertips are often suggested to me. They are not warm enough to begin with, and just leave me with frozen fingertips anyway.
Camera usability in the field
But here I want to talk about my perspective on usability when shooting a camera in the field in cold conditions.
Obviously I am not talking about basic point-and-shoot operation here, but contemplative tripod-based shooting with a goal towards ideal exposures, focus stacking, etc, where one is interacting with buttons and controls quite a bit.
Nikon has degraded the D850 design by shrinking the 4-way controller. Pick up the D810 and D850 and see for yourself. My thumb easily covers and hides the D850 controller, but less so on the D810 and with superior depth to it on the D810—superior haptics on the D810.
Put on medium weight gloves and start cursing: with gloves on, the D850 controller is a significantly impaired experience next to the D810 4-way controller, provoking too many errors in operating it.
The D850 4-way controller is acceptable (just) when fingers are warm and pliant in lightweight gloves, or pliant and bare. But with medium or heavy gloves and/or when fingers are stiff and numb from cold, I can no longer operate the 4-way controller reliably and easily without making frequent errors. It is still usable, but it requires more attention, and when my fingers get really stiff, the operability suffers to an annoying degree.
Does any designer at Nikon have a clue what an anti-feature this 4-way controller change this is? Maybe Nikon doesn’t consider sub-freezing shooting a design goal, since the D850 has to pampered, the D850 being rated for no colder than 32°F and with no more than 85% humidity, ruling it out as non-viable in much of the world much of the time*. Of course I dismiss those stated specifications as they are not real limits, but there they are on paper.
* Winters in temperate and northern/southern latitudes, the entire USA eastern seaboard and much of the Midwest (humidity and heat), Death Valley National Park and numerous others much of the year, etc. Colder pretty much instantly. Medium weight gloves were mandatory much of the time.
vs Sony mirrorless
So the D850 4-way controller has been degraded versus the D810. Bummer.
Still, the Nikon D850 field shooting experience* (tripod-based work) trumps the Sony mirrorless shooting experience easily. The Sony A7 series camera are just too small with buttons and controllers too small even with warm fingers and with greatly inferior ergonomics (EVF excepted). The ways the D850 operates is just faster and more fluid, the lack of an EVF option being the only weakness.
If I’m out there in the field doing serious landscape photography with a tripod, the D850 is just way better to operate. Sony has a long way to go to 'get there' and the A7R III shows no signs of figuring that out in any ergonomic sense.
* My comments should not be confused with snap-and-go image or point-focus-shoot image making nor the 'carry' issue: the D850 is larger and heaver especially the Zeiss lenses I use on it.
Below, I use the 3X Zacuto Z-Finder and I do not bolt it on. Sadly, Zacuto has dropped the 3X and only offers 2.5 at this juncture. I am glad I bought a spare.