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Nikon D850 Experience Report: AF Fine Tune, Focusing Precision, Accuracy with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G + Focus Shift Behavior

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

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

This page supplements and extends the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E assessment, but in this case taking a hard look at focusing precision and focus shift and whether AF fine tune is of value. It also looks at the best performance that can be obtained from f/2.8 through f/8 by focusing manually at each aperture, avoiding focus shift.

Experience Report: Autofocus Precision and Focus Shift, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G

This is a very in-depth study. I urge anyone shooting a high-res DSLR or the Nikon 14-24/2.8G to study the serious problems that are seen here, because these sorts of things can happen with other lenses too. I do not hold the D850 responsible in this case, but nevertheless it shows that it is not safe to assume much about AF precision regardless of how advanced a camera is. It also shows just how damaging focus shift can be to sharpness.

AF fine-tune submenu under SETUP MENU
f2.8 @ 1/3200 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-09 14:22:51
NIKON D850 + Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED @ 14mm

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Nikon D850, Priorities

I know some readers want to know specific things about the Nikon D850.

I’m working as hard as I can, but I’ve lost some time including being ill yesterday and today and the smoky conditions and the unwanted rat problem. (Update: I seem to be recovering from whatever Bad Thing I ate, joking of course but it would be justice).

Plus, I don’t like to publish things that I am not entirely sure about, I like to confirm anything about which a doubt lingers.

For example, D810 vs D850 color looked identical to me in my first try. So maybe there is some other situation or colors that do differ. I see relevance to real differences in field shots, and I don’t have a studio, but it can be tough to get the right scene with constant lighting.

As another example, whether the D850 compensates for focus shift, particularly with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G and given the lousy out of the box accuracy of the Nikon 105/1.4E. Setting aside the very concerning +20 fine focus adjustment needed to get it focusing at the right distance (suggesting that the flange focal distance issue can push FFA to its limits), the variably-blurred focusing at f/2.8 makes it trickier to prove-out something, say, at f/4. That said, setting the D850 to f/4 and focusing/shooting set that way delivered excellent results (with +20 FFA), whereas f/2.8 did not! What do I conclude with that? I think the D850 compensates for optical focus shift, but behavioral variability raises legitimate doubt.

Nikon D850 flange focal distance issue

Nikon PR has not responded appropriately regarding the flange focal distance error question—five days ago I asked to be put into contact with a knowledgeable technical representative. I’d expect a camera company to want to jump on what looks like a build error in general (both bodies plus user reports).

Update: just got this today:

Currently we have the senior technical marketing team here in the US working with Japan to see if they have any insight into your inquiry. I’ll let you know as soon as I hear back from them, which will likely take some time. Thanks for your patience in the meantime!

Any response is good, but I have a phone and Nikon has a phone. I am not a person to dawdle, so I guess I don’t understand why making a phone call is so hard.

Something new

Finally, priorities have to shift just a bit: stay tuned for something new here in this blog tomorrow.

Reader Comment: D850 Negative Behavior with Shutter Vibration

Jeff S writes:

I know you've been testing the D850 in the field as well as some studio set ups quite a bit.

At the studio I shoot at we've just started testing the D850. Were noticing some negative behavior with shutter vibration when shooting small objects like rings/jewelry etc. We've been also using LED Lighting so in the recent test we were shooting at 100 ISO at slower shutter speeds i.e., 1/6 sec at f/11. Were noticing unusable captures from shutter vibrations.

To solve, it took going to 4000 ISO at 1/650 sec to get vibration free captures. Silent shutter seemed to work pretty well though, but this is a bit concerning. We did not have this problem with the D810.

Also, Live view on Capture one 10 is useless right now. Not sure if this is a Capture One issue (or update on their end needed ) or a needed firmware update by Nikon etc.

Was curious if you've done any critical testing that might show similar results regarding vibration.

DIGLLOYD: shutter vibration is a serious problem with cameras, and has been even since the Nikon D1x (with super telephotos). But today’s cameras have solutions, excepting the unmitigated disaster of the Sony A7R, which the Sony A7R II solved.

With the D850, I've seen no vibration issues at all doing this using EFC shutter and at up to 135mm; I see extremely good detail such as in Examples of Outstanding Resolving Power. Although those are not the 1/6 second shutter speed, many images I've shot are in that range.

I am shooting the D850 the same way I’ve shot the D810 for years, to play it safe until I can be sure of any surprises.

I would look at how shutter release is being done.

This is how I shoot in the field:

  • Two second delay, since I press the shutter button with my finger (and very gently). With longer focal lengths, I may use 3 or 5 second delay.
  • Electronic shutter (but not silent shutter because all electronic shutter can cause image shape distortions for moving objects), such as shown with the Fujifilm GFX in Blur and Image Deformation with Fully Electronic Shutter.
  • M-up mode. On press takes the image X seconds later (X being the delay time).

In a studio, the all electronic shutter (silent shutter) mode should have zero vibration, since the shutter does not open or close at all. And since the subject does not move, there should be no issue with image deformation. So there should be no issue there except shutter release or subject movement.

Continued from Jeff S:

Shooting in silent shutter mode does seem to solve the problem, so that's a solution for sure. However at 1/20s shooting near 1:1 magnification there is obvious damaging vibration in normal shutter/cable release mode which we did not find on the D810's used on the same test. It shouldn't exist.

We don't use mirror lock up as it slows down production, do 10 focus stack frames typically per shot on these jewelry sets, and normally shoot strobe, so it's not an issue. However we recently began switching some systems to LED for possible motion usage, and the issue has become apparent.

This is just concerning, because we noticed the normal shutter seems to have more vibration than the D810?? If users are not aware, don't lock up or use silent shutter, it could pose a problem -similar to the issue with the old D800 vibration issues. Unless the first body we got in to test is defective, it's a bit strange?

DIGLLOYD: I’m not sure I understand the shooting protocols being discussed. But if shooting strobes, then the strobe might have been freezing motion by its very short duration, masking a flaw in shooting protocol.

Using a cable release is a risky business; it is a physical link that can transmit tiny movements and it is why I never use one, particularly in the field where wind can subtly jostle it. The D850 4.3 micron pixels are ~4 millionths of an inch.

Check out the stability of the rig; with some unbalanced setups, the tiniest input oscillates through the rig, matter how heavy the tripod. This is a major issue with super telephoto lenses, and macro setups are at risk also.

Any mode that opens the shutter or flips the mirror to start an exposure is unacceptable for critical sharpness unless the shutter speed is very high.

All electronic shutter seems highly appropriate for a studio. If the choice is speed versus blur, the choice seems clear.

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Reader Comment: Focus Stacking + Time Efficiency with Photography

Chuck T writes:

Your FOCUS STACKING articles are inspirational. I was always confused about whether you needed to change the focus point in a "linear" fashion, or as you suggested, by reviewing what you are looking at and choosing the critical points you wish to be sharpest. Knowing that even a 2-3 frame stack can be a real improvement is also helpful as I had thought you needed a minimum of several images to get significant improvements. These are not only useful, but speed up the process at all points (shooting, uploading, editing, waiting for the computer, etc.).

You don't come out and mention this specifically, but one of your "teaching points" is to become more time efficient at all points of photography. At the same time, my technique and quality is also improving. Because you don't mention this (or at least not often), it only is clear when I "do it my way" and then, "do it Lloyd's way". Time is almost always saved doing it Lloyd's way. I still get better photographic performance, but time, is a strong point for spending the money on your website. Who doesn't want to spend less time on the photographic details rather than finding more places/chances to take the next shot.

Thanks for being so darn detail-oriented. I can honestly say I have learned more from you and your website than any of the books or classes or DVD's or web-videos I've seen/read. It's not that I haven't learned from the other sources but they never go through one subject so thoroughly as you do. It doesn't matter if we are talking about a lens, a camera, or a technique.

Thanks again, and, just for the record, YOU are not allowed to retire (your website updates & blogs is what I would miss the most) until I retire from photography (this could be a while).

DIGLLOYD: wow. :)

Focus stacking IMO is a mandatory skill for any landscape photographer, particularly with cameras like the D850.

Which Camera System / Lenses Should Are Best?
✓ Get the ideal system for your needs: diglloyd photographic consulting.

Reader Comment: Really Right Stuff Ultra Pocked Pod

Chuck T writes:

Please change the RRS Pocket Pod to the RRS TFA-01 Ultra Pocket Pod (in your TRIPOD WISHLIST SECTION).

The weight and cost differences are pretty insignificant but the leg adjustment variability helps a lot.

DIGLLOYD: done. I agree—the TFA-01 Ultra Pocket Pod with its adjustable legs is the best choice. It is available in several variants.

My favorite model is the Really Right Stuff TFA-01 Ultra Pocket Pod and BC-18 Microball Package.

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Travel Advisory Update: Eastern Sierra, Owens Valley, Mono Lake, Mammoth Lakes Awful for Photography

I reported 2 few days ago on smoke in the Eastern Sierra Nevada region, which is coming from the terrifying Sonoma fires.

There was one nice idyllic day two days ago in eastern Yosemite: no smoke and instantly-evaporating jet contrails (further south not as nice).

Yesterday was poor and today is worse for horrible for photography, with some kind of thermal inversion causing layered smoke at high altitude. Adding insult to injury, yesterday the conditions changed so that every jet in this extremely busy route leaves a contrail that expands to huge size.

I drove up to Crowley Lake early this morning, and the view towards Mammoth is just as bad, maybe worse. I don’t know how eastern Yosemite is faring today. I will probably head that way tomorrow, hoping for a change—and Thursday might bring light snow.

Smoke layers near Bishop, CA
f2.8 @ 1/10600 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-16 09:36:23
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 6.6mm f/2.8 @ 57mm (6.6mm)

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Sky covered with contrails from airplanes
f1.8 @ 1/3200 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-16 09:44:05
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

James G writes:

I just got back to SLO from the Eastern Sierras late last night and you are right on about the air quality. When I went in over Tioga Pass on Thursday 10/12 the air quality on the western side of Yosemite was horrible. Coming in to Yosemite Valley via Tunnel View you could barely even see Half Dome. I had assumed the smoke was from the big fires in the park just south of Glacier Point Road. Friday though, the air in the Saddlebag/Lee Vining Canyon/Lundy Canyon area was clear and this held through all of Saturday as well. A great opportunity for photography though I had hoped for some nasty weather, which always makes things interesting.

Sunday morning was a different story. I could tell at first light that the winds had shifted as there was definite haze even at altitude in Rock Canyon. Driving down toward Bishop You could see the smoke pouring out of gaps in the mountains (Pine Creek and Bishop Creek) and layering over the alluvial plain below Mt. Tom. Bishop had the worst air quality I’ve ever seen there. I ended up cutting my trip short a day because of the bad air quality (and having left my L-bracket at home). On the drive back home Onion Valley wasn’t so bad but the smoke was pouring over and around Mt. Whitney and Whitney Portal sucked. I pity the climbers who were planning to climb and summit today. Here is a pic my son sent me of the air quality in the east bay (Oakland) on Friday. As bad as the Eastern Sierras were, I was grateful to be there and not in the bay area.

Sorry about your pack rat. At least he/she was confined hopefully to the engine compartment. I remember as a small child mice in the wilds of the Montana Rockies chewing in to my dad’s army surplus sleeping bags to get at the feathers. You may end up having to gas it, though that leaves you with another problem :)

DIGLLOYD: Saturday was a joyously idyllic day. I’m hoping for several of those later this week.

Yes, smoke can be seen pouring down some canyons like Pine Creek. Conditions are highly variable, depending on the vagaries of the wind.

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Readers might know from my review of the Fujifilm GFX system that its sensor is among the finest on the market, and I discussed that in Nikon D850: My Thoughts vs Medium Format, particularly the Fujifilm GFX. The D850 is really really good, but it cannot beat a camera with 50% larger pixels.

Fujifilm GF lenses ~20% off

My personal favorites are the 23mm f/4 and the 110mm f/2.

Do note that not every copy of Fujifilm lenses is problem-free; test your lenses upon arrival and do not assume they are good.

The 32-64mm f/4 is a great all-around if a copy can be obtained free of symmetry issues.

I am not a fan of the 120mm f/4 due to its weight and bulk. Whether its problematic unstable focus point behavior remains after the Fujifilm firmware update I don’t yet know.

Shown below, all of the lenses are around 20% off, even the not yet released 45mm f/2.8.

Mickey Mouse moves into Mercedes Sprinter van with me in the wilderness to get out of the cold

Update: according to Bob B:

Hi, that's a Pika, a close relative of the rabbit, it's not a rodent. They live at high elevations, would be good if you can get it back up high somewhere. They are very cute and hard to find for most of us. I doubt it will hurt your van.

I think not—pikas do not have the long rat tail that this creature did. I have seen pikas a lot, but usually at 10,500' on up; this one was at 10,000'. I am now sure this was no pika, given the tail.

It did do some damage to the van (gnawed on insulation, started stuffing vegetation in). And maybe more that I could not / cannot see.

According to Dick N:

A woodrat by any other name is a woodrat. Neotoma fuscipes - Dusky-footed Woodrat.

and Mark C:

It’s not a pika, at least the image doesn’t look like one. Ears look too big, for one thing. If it has a visible tail, it ain’t a pika. http://faculty.ucr.edu/~chappell/INW/mammals/pika.shtml

Also, pikas are diurnal and woodrats (packrats, Neotoma, whatever) are very nocturnal. Reaching back even farther into the decades, I spent a summer at the Hall Natural Area, working on small mammals. That was about 10K feet, and we occasionally caught woodrats if we left the livetraps open at night.

Unwanted visitor in engine compartment of Mercedes Sprinter van
Looks like Neotoma fuscipes - Dusky-footed Woodrat

Its relatively hairless and quite long tail persuade me that it was a dusky footed woodrat—an animal with a long hairless tail would be losing body heat at 0°F mountain winters, and the tail would frostbite quickly. And it came on board within ~2 miles of the Hall Natural Area.

Below, as originally written before learning it is Neotoma fuscipes

This mouse below (well OK it’s a pack rat and a darn cute one) has set up shop in my engine compartment last night and does not want to leave. It was 23°F up at 10,000' and a nice cozy Mercedes Sprinter engine compartment must feel really good.

I stayed up near Saddlebag Lake the night of Oct 14. In the wee hours, I heard scurrying noises around 1 AM. I started the engine to scare off whatever was messing around in my engine compartment. It did not work; the scurrying restarting not long after, but I fell asleep.

Waking up at first light before sunrise, I spent 20 minutes trying to shoo out cute little Mickey Mouse that had set up shop in my engine compartment. We studied each other for 10 minutes, and from what I could tell, s/he wanted to be friends, so much so that s/he did not want to leave even with the engine running. Just looking wide eyed at me two feet away.

On the practical side, MM is not a good guest. So far, only minor chewing damage, and I examined every hose and belt I could see, using a flashlight.

The problem is, I cannot get MM to leave, even in the daytime. S/he seems happy as a clam after having taken a ride down 3000' to near Lee Vining. I had thought s/he was out/gone out looking for a more plush Sprinter van, or maybe... a Bentley or something.

I kind of don’t want to spend my winter starving to death down some dirt road when MM chews through the wrong hose or wire, so I’ve parked and propped open the engine compartment. Maybe that will persuade MM to go, particularly around noon when the sun can shine into it. But if MM just hides in some shaded nook or cranny (plenty), I’m going to need some other solution. She is already a poor house guest and cannot be allowed to take up residence and just chew up everything s/he pleases, even if radiator hoses and wiring sheaths are tasty—cars can be totalled that way and then MM would not have a nice warm place to stay.

But I don’t want to be friends, not in my Sprinter van, so I tried leaning on the horn for 20 seconds, opening up hood so sun shines in, idling the engine. Some friendships just don’t work out.

I can’t go on a hike or anything until I am sure that MM is housebroken or out. Chewing up inulation is one thing, but I like my radiator hose just the way it is. The vegetation brought in to make things more comfy had to go too.

Update: I think MM might have left (though I thought that hours ago also). So now I have to drive to quiet place and listen for faint scratching noises. If s/he still wants a friend, I’ll see about that state trooper across the highway!

Update 2: I was wrong. Seems like MM just had her feelings hurt and is playing hard to get.

Update 3: some new lucky friend perhaps... no more signs of MM the next day... parking in the sun and idling the engine (which didn’t bother her before) and leaning on the horn might have done it. I had a bit of a scare when I thought that MM had set up shop inside the air intake filter box, but everything seems to be working now. Hopefully not a deceased MM inside there. Nose will tell in 3-4 days if nothing else.

That’s the air intake filter below and boy am I glad MM didn’t start chewing through the filter and entering the passenger compartment ventilation system. That tape is because I put an extra activated charcoal filter over the stock one, for better filtration of odors—it helps, especially with MM not being housebroken and all.

Unwanted visitor in engine compartment of Mercedes Sprinter van
Looks like Neotoma fuscipes - Dusky-footed Woodrat
f1.8 @ 1/240 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-15 10:30:19
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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Jim: Time for you to pack it in? Give him a name, Mickey Mouse would be fun, and put it on Twitter!!!

Lloyd: I’m driving to your place right now... park right by your garage...

Jim: Then, follow ups : the Adventures of MM, etc"!

Lloyd: ...and he scurried away forever.

Jim: And how poor little MM discovered fancy SF suburbs!😂

Lloyd: this cute little mouse is a foot long (with tail). Might be gone now, gonna have to drive to a quiet place and listen.

Jim: Oh be nice. Poor little mouse! Don't say rat. It's bad for Public relations. The photo is cute. Maybe God sent him to make you famous! Work it kid!!!

Lloyd: it is a big rat. very cute though.

Jim:Sample headline: Mouse moves into car with me in the wilderness to get out of the cold!

Jim: Should I adopt cute little Mickey?

Lloyd: yeah, right in your Bentley back seat!

Jim: Mickey has asked me to adopt him. He even declined to move into a Bentley!😆
Doesn't anyone want to adopt Cute little Freezing Mickey??

Lloyd: Maybe that state trooper across the highway...

Jim: Hahaha!

Lloyd: seriously... I have my hood up and he’s writing a ticket. I’m curious if he will come over and check on me or if “to protect and to serve” means ignoring potentially stranded motorists.

Reader comments

Mark C writes:

Many decades ago I had a VW destroy its engine because a pack rat build its nest in the airflow ductwork around the engine (which was air-cooled, at least pre-nest). And when I worked at the Barcroft Lab there were occasional problems with marmots snacking on tasty grease-covered brake lines.

More to the point, I’m not sure if Neotoma carry Hantavirus — lots of rodents besides Peromyscus (deer mice) can although it’s not clear they transmit it to us. But at least in some areas, Neotoma carry another nasty virus, Whitewater Arroyo Virus (frequently fatal). You definitely don’t want a pack rat living in your vehicle’s ventilation system.

If you can heat-soak the car for long enough in hot sun, that ought to discourage your guest, but a big vehicle has a lot of thermal inertia so it may be difficult.

It’s not a pika, at least the image doesn’t look like one. Ears look too big, for one thing. If it has a visible tail, it ain’t a pika.


DIGLLOYD: I did the heat soak thing yesterday, and I think that did the trick. Fortunately it never got into the ventilation system, just around the perimeter.

Jason W writes:

Mark C's saying that White Water Arroyo virus is "frequently fatal" seems to understate it. In the most salient case where 3 patients were infected 100% died within 8 weeks. This definitely makes a strong case for water filtration!

DIGLLOYD: yikes. Not sure what Jason means about water filtration, but the MSR Guardian water purifier is my recommendation, and a wide move for disaster preparedness.

Mark C continues:

I concur that water filtration may not be relevant; from what little is known about WAV, the route of infection seems similar to Hantavirus: through urine, feces (most commonly dried to dust and inhaled) or maybe biting (not sure if there have been cases of transmission to humans by bites, but that appears to be how deer mice often infect each other). Yes, the few well-documented cases of WAV have usually (always?) been fatal. But it’s not clear (to me) if there are more-or-less symptomless infections, as with Hantavirus. For example, a friend of mine, a mammalogist, tested positive for Hantavirus antibodies — indicating exposure at some point — but she cannot recall ever feeling any of the standard symptoms. There are reports of other similar cases among mammalogists. As a counterpoint: I worked with thousands of deer mice, many wild-caught, in the lab in the ‘80s, and am not seropositive (suggesting but not proving no exposure). This despite doing all the wrong things in those days of innocence before Hantavirus was discovered: being bitten, peed on, breathing dust when cleaning cages, etc. (Now I’ve wandered WAY off topic…).

Whether or not there are non-pathogenic infections with WAV, the best policy is, obviously, Don’t mess with it. I would treat any woodrat urine/feces as potentially infectious. The standard Hantavirus protocol is to spray deer mouse ‘leavings' with 10% bleach before cleaning. That’s probably a good idea for woodrat stuff as well.

And of course, any wild rodent in the western US could carry bubonic plague. Or any wild mammal — there’s a famous case some years back of an NPS employee at Grand Canyon who did a necropsy on a dead mountain lion, caught plague from the carcass, failed to recognize the symptoms in time, and died.

David C writes:

That reminds me of a story that turned out quite differently. Guess how it turns out for a woodchuck in the fan cage of an 8v71 diesel compressor engine when you start it up unawares?

DIGLLOYD: how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

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Travel Advisory: Smoke from Sonoma Fire in Yosemite, Eastern Sierra, Owens Valley, Mono Lake Areas

I reported a few days ago on smoke in the Eastern Sierra Nevada region, which is coming from the terrifying Sonoma fires.

The situation 250 miles away in the Eastern Sierra is very fluid, changing each day; wind patterns are pushing smoke around and an area smoky one day might be clear the next.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a classic warm and crystal clear beautiful day in the Saddlebag Lake / Conness / Hoover Wilderness area—it doesn’t get any nicer than that—it was idyllic.

Sleeping bags like the Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS 850+ fill power down sleeping bag uses a highly water resistant fabric—this bag spent 30 minutes floating in the water (tethered so I would not lose it), and hardly absorbed anything—pretty amazing. This was not an overnight, but a shoot for a project with Western Mountaineering.

Idyllic mid-October day in Hoover Wilderness area
f1.8 @ 1/2500 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-14 16:16:52
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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October 15 smoke conditions

Just before sunrise, I awoke to a strong smoke smell and found that my anticipated shoot that day looked to be dead in the water. First of all the smoke, extensive jet contrails all over the sky by mid-morning (yesterday’s conditions left no contrails). Maybe later today conditions will change, but today will be different I think, since the contrails are horizon to horizon and that means a weather change.

Conditions as of 9:40AM:

Smoke basically everywhere:

  • Saddlebag Lake, eastern entrance to Yosemite, eastern Yosemite, Lee Vining canyon, Mono Lake all are smoky.
  • I see smoke towards Mammoth Lakes also.
  • A friend reports smoke in the Pine Creek, Mt Tom and Bishop area.

Pretty much the whole Eastern Sierra area is a mess right now. Maybe wind will help later today.

Some areas are relatively clear, as here with Lee Vining Canyon waterfall. Ellery lake is completely drained; if left that way it will be one block of solid ice and kill every remaining fish in it.

But smoke is not my main concern right now; I have a pack rat problem. I can’t go on a hike or anything until I am sure that critter is out, otherwise it could do real damage.

Lee Vining Canyon waterfall, down-canyon of Yosemite
f1.8 @ 1/1150 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-15 08:08:15
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van, Lee Vining Canyon, Hwy 120
f1.8 @ 1/6000 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-15 08:24:30
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

The problem with smoke (aside from the odor), is that any kind of backlighting shot goes extremely hazy.

Smoke from Sonoma Fires in Lee Vining Canyon, Hwy 120 east of Yosemite
f1.8 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 25; 2017-10-15 08:12:46
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]
Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van, Lee Vining Canyon, Hwy 120, smoke in Lee Vining Canyon
f1.8 @ 1/3200 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-15 08:06:40
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

[low-res image for bot]

Nikon D850 Experience Report: Adjusting Autofocus Accuracy with the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E

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

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

This page walks through the process of getting a lens to focus accurately on the Nikon D850, in the field and in a way that can be applied most anywhere without needing special targets. It shows before (“out of the box”) and what a huge difference it can make to use the AF fine-tune feature, that is, transforming an unusable blurred image to a beautifully crisp one by adjusting the autofocus offset.

AF fine-tune submenu under SETUP MENU

Experience Report: Adjusting Autofocus Accuracy with the Nikon 105/1.4E

Two samples of the 45-megapixel Nikon D850 have shown a flange focal distance error with my Zeiss lenses that might be related to two Nikon AF lenses being so far off as to deliver unusable images out of the box—the 105/1.4E and the 14-24/2.8G. That such extreme adjustments are offered (-20 to +20) appears to implicitly acknowledge a build tolerance range that is highly variable. Indeed my 14-24/2.8G needed +20 to focus properly—the extreme end of the range.

I love the image quality of the D850, but the sloppy build tolerances are distressing. I may defer purchasing a D850 until Nikon gives me an answer on what the heck is going on—I’ve asked and I await an answer (the D850 I have is on loan). I do not know if I’ll get an answer—my experience on a number of occasions tells me that companies prefer to stonewall on issues like this, but I’ll given Nikon the benefit of the doubt for now.

I’d like to see just one (1) Nikon D850 that has a proper flange focal distance, that is, one that focuses my Zeiss lenses just like my D810 (which in turn matched the D800E and D800). I’d also like to see perfect sensor-mount parallelism, because either the D850 I have now is skewed like the previous one, or the Nikon 105/1.4E is skewed (or both).

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Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Aperture Series: Low View of Bristlecone Trunks (Nikon D850)

See my Nikon wish list and get Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 at B&H Photo.

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

The series gives an idea of close-range rendering style to far distance from f/1.4 through f/11. A 3-frame focus stack is also included.

Bokeh and secondary color correction are also lid bare in this bluish dusk mountain light, as well as the outstanding resolving power of the Milvus 35/1.4 on the 45-megapixel Nikon D850.

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 Aperture Series: Low View of Bristlecone Trunks

Includes images up to full camera resolution plus an 3-frame focus stack shot at f/11 with an astounding amount of detail that is impossible to achieve at f/11 or even f/22 (which would wreck the image from diffraction).

Bristlecone Trunks, Dusk
f1.4 @ 1/320 sec, ISO 31; 2017-10-12 17:13:11
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4

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SSD Upgrade for MacBook Pro Retina
Internal SSD Wishlist…

Nikon D850: Challenging Exposures

See my Nikon wish list and get Nikon D850 at B&H Photo as well as the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8.

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

I’ve started a page showing challenging exposures and how the Nikon D850 handled them. There will be ongoing additions.

Nikon D850: Examples of Image Quality in Challenging Lighting (just started)

Images up to full camera resolution.

The earth shadow rises (visible only at high altitude like here) behind a young bristlecone, which might possibly see 1.8 million more if it lives to the 5000+ years that a few do.

Young Bristlecone and Earth Shadow Rising
f11 @ 0.5 sec, ISO 31; 2017-10-12 18:18:14 [focus stack 2 frames]
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Distagon Aperture Series: Infinity (Nikon D850)

See my Nikon wish list and get Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 at B&H Photo.

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

This series is all about rendering style and mood, a prized quality in Zeiss lenses that is hard to explain except by shooting them over time and just liking the rendering style.

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8: Rising Earth Shadow seen from White Mountains Barren Plain

Includes images up to full camera resolution.

f10 @ 30.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-12 18:50:45
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Nikon D850: Finest Long Exposure DSLR I Have Ever Seen by Leaps and Bounds

See my Nikon wish list and get Nikon D850 at B&H Photo as well as the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8.

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

I got very excited when I processed this shot!

This is the finest long exposure I have ever seen with a DSLR or mirrorless camera through late 2017. And it was done *without* long exposure noise reduction and with a push and shadow boost and vignetting correction. In other words, I put the D850 at quite a major disadvantage as to noise.

The image quality is jaw dropping. The noise is fine-grained and film-like yet better than any commercial film ever was. I’ve never seen anything like it from any DSLR or mirrorless before.

Nikon D850: Image Quality with Long Exposures

Nikon D850: Examples of Image Quality in Challenging Lighting (just started)

Images up to full camera resolution. I show the Adobe Camera Raw processing settings as well as RawDigger histograms.

This image and others also included in Zeiss Milvus 18/2.8 Examples: Eastern Sierra and White Mountains, though without the D850 commentary and histograms. I am trying to do two things at once: report on the D850, which shines with Zeiss lenses, and at the same time not forget to include those images in diglloyd Zeiss DSLR Lenses. The latter gets full aperture series and lens-centric coverage; the D850 review uses single images for specific illustrative purposes.

No Sony mirrorless can even approach this quality for night shooting—it’s like a tricycle against a corvette. As of now, I have no interest in shooting Sony mirrorless until Sony ups their game to D850 level or beyond (and I mean that not just for night shooting but every type of shooting, in terms of total image quality). It is just no contest, and I don’t put much stock into lab tests other than a starting point, and I’m willing to carry the lenses and pay the weight penalty to shoot the D850. Plus I refuse to accept the longstanding irritation of Sony’s pre-cooked raw files and/or uncompressed space-wasting raw files instead of properly-done lossless compressed raw.

The Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 brings together all the wonderful attributes of the 21/2.8 Distagon, and it works great at night, shot here wide open. Great lens! Go get one.

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

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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

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

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

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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.

DIGLLOYD: interesting!

Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo

Travel Advisory: Heavy Smoke in Owens Valley / Eastern Sierra from Sonoma Fire

Update: see Oct 15 report.


I am writing this blog entry about 100 feet from here in my Sprinter van at 10 PM.

The reason that I am still hunkered down in the White Mountains is severe unhealthy smoke from that horrible killer fire in Sonoma. The winds have blown that smoke to the east. That may look like fog off in the distance, but it is smoke.

Up here at 11,800' down to about 10,000' in this vicinity, the air is crystal clear. But down below up to about 10,000' is smoke, filling the entire Owens Valley and from what I can tell from my vantage point, polluting the Eastern Sierra up to about the 10,500' level. The smoke rings the White Mountains north/south/east/west: in every direction I can see that nasty smoky haze. This one area where I am seems to be an island in the smoke—amazing, but I’ll gladly take it.

Last night it got down to 15°F (23°F inside the cabin), but I was warm and very comfortable on my Exped Megamat with thick wool pad and summer comforter with a Western Mountaineering Cloud 9 comforter. If it gets really cold, then I have the Western Mountaineering Cypress sleeping bag, a wonder of 850+ fill power (really 910), good to -30°F. Ad-hoc insulation has helped by about 6°F.

The Sprinter adventure van has performed like a champ. Started right up at 15°F the day before yesterday—not one hiccup at all in the cold at altitude. It is a 6 cylinder 3 liter turbo diesel with 4WD and tough tires and it doesn’t seem to notice that it is at nearly 12,000' (well, a little lag on 18° slopes here and there). I’ve done all my posts for nearly a week right inside the van. That’s why I’m burning fuel. No CO whatsoever in cabin, checked with pro-grade carbon monoxide meter.

I’m running low on diesel fuel for my Sprinter now (3/8 tank). I use it to heat the cabin morning and evening and to charge the 5 kilowatt battery which runs all my computer gear. I made the mistake one very cold night of sucking down 2 kilowatts for a space heater, but the Sprinter can pump 50-60 amps into it while idling at 960 rpm.

If anyone is coming up here (Patriarch Grove or so) and can bring 5 or 10 or 20 gallons of diesel #2 (no biodiesel!), I’ll pay cash—I don’t want to descend into that nasty smoke filled valley* and I still have water for 3 days and food for more.

* I’ve checked with a friend near Bishop and he says it is about as thick as he has ever seen it, and he can hardly even make out the city. I have asthma, and I don’t want to breathe that smoke if I can avoid it.

It’s almost deserted up here—just the way I like it. Daytime highs are about 50°F, but that feels warm in the sun. When the heat lamp goes behind the hills late in the day, temps plunge below freezing very quickly—it was 28°F inside my van when I got back from a shooting hike. But I relish the cold, at least for brief periods like this.

My family at home in the SF bay area has all the windows closed with several air cleaners going, schools are strictly indoor everything, outdoor events are canceled, etc due to very unhealthy smoke levels. It’s a nuisance and health hazard, but nothing compared to the devastation north of San Francisco—I feel lucky to have never had to confront a fire like that, or a hurricane.

View from 11,800' down to Patriarch Grove, White Mountains of California
f1.8 @ 1/5700 sec, ISO 20; 2017-10-12 12:21:18
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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I wanted to get inside my Mercedes Spinter photography adventure van and idle that engine and get the interior up from 28°F (yes, inside) to something more comfortable. So I shot this and more as well, first—work first, warm up and eat later.

Mercedes Sprinter van, Late Dusk at 11800' elevation
f2.8 @ 30.0 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-12 19:04:56
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Deals on Factory Sealed iMac 5K at OWC + Refurbished Mac Deals

See my computing wish list.

OWC (MacSales.com) often sells factory sealed Macs. You can trust them to stand behind what they sell, be it a Mac or any kind of peripheral.

OWC / MacSales.com also has Oktoberfest deals through Oct 18.


Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower

Nikon D850: Mine Also Has a Problematic Flange Focal Distance (way past infinity mark).

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

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

Related posts on this issue:

Flange focal distance = distance from the lens mount to the sensor. It should be the distance at which lenses focus to infinity at normal temperature.

Nikon D850 flange focal distance WAY OFF—
requires going way beyond infinity mark

When I received my very own Nikon D850 from B&H after the lost and found UPS episode, I tested it for asymmetry and it looked good. However, it had/has the same problem with infinity focus: to focus all of my Zeiss lenses (and the Nikon 14-24), the lens has to be focused way past the infinity mark. Every one of them.

This was never an issue with the D800, D800E, D810. Just swapping lenses between the D850 and D810 shows that the D850 is out of spec; every lens has to go quite a ways beyond the infinity mark, most of them using up 3/4 of the range from the mark to the hard mechanical stop.

Put the same lenses on my trusty D810 and the focus position is normal for all of them, right on or very close to the infinity mark.

My camera is not the only one. The one I borrowed had this problem (and asymmetry too). One reader returned his because it had the same problem. I bet there are many of them out there with this issue, but since most users shoot Nikon zooms with autofocus, no one pays any attention to it.

The flange focal distance was perfect on my D800, D800E, and D810. It is now wrong on the Nikon D850. Is this sloppy quality control, or some deliberate (and destructive) decision by Nikon?

Some lenses cannot focus past a hard mechanical infinity focus. I’m in the mountains and so I cannot test 20 or so other lenses including old Nikkors. But all my Zeiss glass is now “past infinity” on the D850, as is the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G. With the 14-24, I had to dial in +20 to get autofocus right—seems like a symptom of the same disease.

Today, in the 50°F range, the Zeiss Milvus 18/2.8 was already way past the infinity mark, with very little mechanical focusing range to spare. By the time it was 28°F (it cools off fast at 11,500'), there was no range left. I wonder what would happen at 15°F or 0°F? Plenty of people shoot in the winter.

I’ve asked Nikon PR for an official statement on this matter. The D850 flange focal distance error is unacceptable, and I want an answer. It is a serious problem for shooters like me, shooting Nikon, Sigma, Zeiss and other brand lenses. The loaner camera I had showed the same issue. Another user wrote to report the same issue. This is not a one-off “bad sample”: Nikon has something seriously wrong with D850 production tolerances.

Craig H writes:

I read your blog articles on this matter with great interest. Although I am not in the market for a D850 (I now shoot Sony), I am a former Nikon shooter. I wonder whether other symptoms of this issue may arise in a similar vein to what you may experience if you use a lens adapter with bad tolerances on a Sony.

I tried using my old F-mount Tamron 15-30 2.8 VC on my A7RII with an adapter that evidently was not properly calibrated (too thin). Not only was infinity focus reached on all my Nikon glass before the infinity marker (including on lenses that had a perfectly calibrated hard stop on my D810) but I found that this flange focal length inaccuracy introduced severe field curvature on the 15-30 that was not present on the D810.

I later learned this can manifest itself with certain lenses if the adapter is not of the correct thickness - I wonder if this lens (or indeed others) may have a similar problem on the D850, or at least on those samples of which have this inaccuracy present? The 15-30 is an excellent lens, and if I was a D850 buyer I would be quite annoyed if it did not work properly on my camera. The field curvature I experienced with this too-thin adapter rendered the lens essentially unusable at any aperture for landscape work.

DIGLLOYD: in the case of lens adapters, it is better to have a little slop that tends to reach infinity focus before (marked) infinity focus on the lens. This is because lenses have variation; if the adapter fixed a position that is nominallly correct and/or it was out of spec just a little then a lens could not reach infinity. So it is a good idea for a lens adapter to allow a bit of slop unless the build tolerances are extremely tight.

There is variation between camera bodie on flange focal distance even of the same model: I owned two Canon 5D bodies some years back. One of them would focus at infinity right at the hard limit, the other would reach infinity focus just before that. Same lens—two of the same brand/model camera bodies.

As for field curvature being exacerbated by flange focal distance, I know of no technical reason that could change field curvature behavior unless an adapter has glass in it, and I would never buy that type of adapter, excepting the Metabones SpeedBooster. If the lens is at infinity focus and the distance to the sensor is correct, the lens care not what the flange focal offset is. That’s why I can still work with my Zeiss lenses on the D850 (barely)—because they have some mechanical focusing range beyond the infinity mark.

Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower

Nikon D850: White Balance and Tint with Color Checker Card, ISO 31 and ISO 64 Compared

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

When I get a new camera, I establish processing parameters, particularly white balance and tint, because these can vary by camera. In fact, the Nikon D850 requires a significantly different white balance than the Nikon D810, at least in Adobe Camera Raw.

This page is extremely interesting as to the value of using ISO 31 vs ISO 64; see the tips. Actually, I think it is of general interest for any camera for its findings, in that other cameras might behave nicely at a 'Lo' pseudo-ISO, or not.

Nikon D850: Color Balance with Adobe Camera Raw: ISO 31 and ISO 64, Color Checker Card

Update: I’ve added the (quite different) Nikon D810 settings. The Nikon D850 does not behave the same as the Nikon D810 in terms of color temperature and tint needed for proper white balance.

Update 2: I’ve added the white balance and tint for the Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED and Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.

f6.3 @ 1/320 sec, ISO 31; 2017-10-11 14:10:59
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Otus 1.4/85 ZF.2

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OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Nikon D850: My Thoughts vs Medium Format, particularly the Fujifilm GFX

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

See my in-depth review of the Fujifilm GFX and my growing review of the Nikon D850.

I offer my view on the Nikon D850 versus the medium format Fujifilm GFX. I have long considered this matter with respect to the Nikon D810; the D850 improves the DSLR argument incrementally (a worthy increment to be sure). I cite both my subjective impressions as well as hard facts of several kinds.

Nikon D850: Editorial For Those Considering Medium Format

The D850 is a very fine camera capable of outstanding imagery. It will become my new workhorse camera, supplanting the D810.

There is that good-better-best thing that Apple likes to use. Except that it is far more complicated, with many other considerations, which all depend not on the gear alone, but on user needs and preferences and likes and dislikes. There is a right answer when all those factors are considered.

Fujifilm GFX and Nikon D850

Dr S writes:

Thank you for answering the question I have had on my brain since you started your D850 review—Nikon D850 vs. Fuji GFX in Those considering Medium Format.

You have demonstrated a brand-neutral, objective approach to evaluating the products and have come up with conclusions that are rational, well-supported by example, and very useful to those who subscribe to your website.

Though I am not going to go out and spend mucho $$$$ changing systems or even adding to what I already have (yet) , the information you provide helps expand the knowledge-base of these products.

Thanks again.

DIGLLOYD: always my goal to be brand neutral and to hit 'em hard when they deserve it and to praise where praise is due—justice.

As I will be buying the D850 for long term use, I will be able to do some kind of shootout vs the GFX when it arrives with that new 45mm lens.

OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

Nikon D850: 45 megapixels + Zeiss Milvus 35/1.4 + Focus Stacking Can Make Incredible Detailed Images.

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

I’ve added this outstanding example of focus stacking in two places at image sizes up to full resolution. It really is incredible on an iMac 5K.

I think this is the most detailed image of its kind (bristlecone) that I have ever made (as of Oct 2017). The detail that it includes in the wood grain is quite incredible considering the near foreground all the way to the end of the tree trunk at top left. I credit the Nikon D850 45-megapixel sensor with getting this image to a level I have not yet seen out of any DSLR, resolving extremely fine wood grain detail. Of course, the world class performande of the Zeiss Milvus 35/1.4 did its part. The extra resolution along with the pixel quality is stunning.

This kind of detail is not remotely approachable with lesser cameras like Fujifilm X. Why would I waste my time with a 16MP or 20MP sensor on something like this? It would utterly mash the fine wood grain, which is beautiful.

As usual, stacked with Zerene Stacker.

Presented in two places at up to full resolution:

Nikon D850: Examples of Outstanding Resolving Power

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4: Examples: Eastern Sierra

Gnarled Old Bristlecone Stump in Rosy Sunset Glow
f11 @ 1.3 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-10 18:29:56 [focus stack 4 frames]
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4

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Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo

Nikon D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Aperture Series: Bristlecone Hillside With Snow (Nikon D850)

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

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

This series is a far-field evaluation of sharpness of the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8. It is one of the most difficult challenges for a lens, where the slightest deviation in symmetry or sharpness stands out like a sore thumb.

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Aperture Series: Bristlecone Hillside With Lingering Snow Field (Nikon D850)

Includes images up to full resolution from f/2.8 to f/11.

Typical bristlecone growth pattern on 11,700' elevation hillside
f9 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 100; 2017-10-08 15:10:55
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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This content delivered to you from 11,800' in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van.

Lloyd’s Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van at 11800'
f1.4 @ 1/8000 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-09 16:22:48
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4

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Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

Shootout: Nikon D850 vs D810 for Low ISO Noise

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

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

Update 2017-10-11: I’ve added a conclusions section discussing my view of the findings of this analysis.


This page evaluates low ISO noise with the Nikon D850 versus its D810 predecessor, long renowned for outstanding image quality and very low noise at ISO 64.

Also examined is how much benefit accrues in using “Lo” ISO values on each camera. These values are not real ISOs, and deliver a significantly different tonal scale. In essence, they simply record brightness without any gamma curve. They require special care during exposure to avoid blowing out highlights.

A few questions that I wanted answered:

  • Is the Nikon D850 at ISO 64 superior in per pixel noise to the D810, or is it perhaps about the same relative to the pixel count? Ditto for pseudo-ISO 31 (D850) vs pseudo-ISO 50 (D810).
  • Can a Nikon D810 at pseudo-ISO 50 equal a Nikon D850 at ISO 64?
  • What are the negative effects of using the pseudo ISO “Lo” settings versus real ISO.

Noise and Dynamic Range Shootout: D850 vs D810 (Sprinter Van)

Includes full resolution images at ISO 31 and ISO 64 for both cameras, as well as actual pixels crops, enlarged-to-match actual pixels crops and RawDigger histograms.

My Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van turned out to be an excellent test subject for this article. As well, this content delivered from 11,800' in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van.

Lloyd’s Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van
f1.4 @ 1/4000 sec, ISO 31; 2017-10-09 16:23:52
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4

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A short site downtime today

This site will be down for a short while mid-afternoon today, around 14:00 or so PST, for site maintenance.

Nikon D850 as a High Quality Black and White Camera? (and better than M Monochrom Type 246 for sure)

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

Back in 2015 I wrote Heresy: Canon 5DS R as a Black and White Camera Better Than Leica M Monochrom Type 246?.

For a comparison, see Canon 5DS R is a Sharper and More Versatile Monochrome Camera than Leica M Monochrom Typ 246.

So now I think that the Nikon D850 has the same promise. Want monochrome quality better than Leica MM? Get a Nikon D850, shoot in color, convert to B&W after the shot with a staggering number of approaches that can bring out tonal differences that the MM cannot (it cannot record color differences at all, a filter or no filter bakes-in the tonal mappings between colors). Downsample to 24 megapixels just to make the point (the Leica MM resolution), go gaga at the incredible detail and quality.

The more I look at the Nikon D850 and what it can deliver at 45 megapixels, the more I like it for black and white. I’ll be showing some examples of black and white conversions from Nikon D850 images. IMO, it rocks.

Below, toggle for the color version.

View from 11,800' of Patriarch Grove and area to southwest
f1.8 @ 1/400 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-09 17:09:51
NIKON D850 + Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art

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Nikon D850 + Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Aperture Series: Bird’s Eye View of Patriarch Grove

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

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

This series tests the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art on the 45-megapixel Nikon D850 with a finely detailed distant landscape scene, where any lens weakness or field curvature pops out like a sore thumb.

New ground is broken here in textural detail; it leaves one wishing for more, because it sure looks like there is more to be had, if only the sensor had the resolving power. What impresses here at all apertures is the textural detail. With less sensors and lenses, the sagebrush flats and rocky hillsides would just turn to mush, or spurious detail—see the full-res images.

Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Aperture Series: Bird’s Eye View of Patriarch Grove (Nikon D850)

Images presented at up to full 45 megapixel resolution from the Nikon D850.

I highly recommend the about $1399 Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art.

Separately, I’ve started a page for the D850 with examples that are particularly fine in showing how much detail can be captured:

Nikon D850: Examples of Outstanding Resolving Power

View from 11,800' of Patriarch Grove and area to southwest
f1.8 @ 1/400 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-09 17:09:51
NIKON D850 + Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art

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This content delivered to you from 11,800' in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van.

Lloyd’s Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van at 11800'
f1.4 @ 1/8000 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-09 16:22:48
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4

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Nikon D850: Downloadable Settings File, Field Notes

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

This might save those with a new D850 a little time by loading settings I deem appropriate for my work, assuming similar shooting style.

Downloadable Nikon D850 Settings File

I’ve started a field notes / observations page which will grow as I work with the D850.

Nikon D850: Field Notes, Usage, Impressions

Nikon D850: ISO 31 vs ISO 64 and vs D810

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

Sometimes a simple thing is harder to show than I’d like, that is, I like robust examples not just good enough crops. Yesterday I shot some ISO 31 vs ISO 64 examples on the Nikon D850 and found that there are clear gains to be had with ISO 31 under some circumstances, but what about side effects? ISO 31 is not a real ISO.

The Nikon D810 offers a base ISO of 60 with a “Lo” (not a real ISO) of 50.

The D850 maintains that base ISO of 64, but goes to a “Lo” of pseudo-ISO 31.

There are at least two interesting noise and sharpness questions that come to mind:

  • Does the Nikon D850 at ISO 31/64 outperform the Nikon D810 at ISO 50/64?
  • Does the Nikon D810 at ISO 50 outperform the Nikon D850 at ISO 64?
  • Is sharpness lost at ISO “Lo”? (I have seen this with some cameras).

To do this right means using underexposure, but I’d rather show a real-world shot than simply shoot a patch of something and underexpose it, that is, I’d like to learn and show whether Nikon D850 ISO 31 represents a new quality standard when one wishes to reach deep into the shadows and record usable detail.

Doing it right also means using RawDigger, and not assuming that the “same” exposure value is really the same, which is frequently is not. To validate “better”, the sensor must be exploited to its maximum possible dynamic range, without blowing out highlights. Whether that is actually done requires RawDigger to prove it, not the shooter’s assumptions.

I’m working on this comparison today. I’ve shot material and I’m analyzing it. ISO 64 is already so good on the D810 that ferreting out gains or losses on the D850 is no easy challenge.

Update, late Monday: I’ve got the shots I need. I’ll be comparing D850 noise to D810 noise and also ISO 64 to ISO 31 for noise and other behaviors.

I’m doing all the work right here at 11800' elevation. Yes, I mean right here inside this van working on my dual-screens and publishing via AT&T personal hotspot.

Lloyd’s Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van at 11,800', view to White Mountain Peak
f6.3 @ 1/15 sec, ISO 31; 2017-10-09 16:54:45
NIKON D850 + Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art

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All my computer gear works fine up here: 2015 iMac 5K and my NEC PA302W wide gamut display.

The road getting here is in the worst shape in 50 years—have a real spare tire or it will be $1000 or more to get yerself outa here. That’s why I went with BF Goodrich K02 all-terrain tires with their triple-ply sidewalls and anti-bruise compound.

Altitude above Patriarch Grove
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Ad-Hoc Insulating the Sprinter Photography Adventure Van at 17°F + Western Mountaineering Down Cypress GWS Sleeping Bag

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

See also Gear for the Mountains.

My Sprinter photography adventure van has (as yet) unfinished walls, meaning only the barest layer of insulation applied, so it gets very cold inside when it is cold outside. Yet to be done is for 4 inches of blue jean insulation covered by wallboard covered by a carpet-like fabric.

On my last trip, it got down to 19°F with the van reaching 23°F inside (the “low” figure at lower left of display). I was comfortable with a down comforter and and electric blanket, but even for me that is a colder than I prefer.

Last night it got down to 17° (preceded by 40mph winds at 25°F), but I had hung 4 down sleeping bags on the van walls (delaminated shells donated to me courtesy of Western Mountaineering). Those sleeping bags kept the van a comfortable 28°F (the “low” figure at lower left of display), probably 7°F warmer than it would have been. The next night, temperatures did not dip below 30°F outside and 32°F inside.

I bought two of these ThermoPro TP50 thermometer/hygrometer units at Amazon—they work great and are magnetic too. I stick one of then on the outside of the van (magnetic) to get nighttime lows and compare it to the inside readings. The bottom left “low” figure is the lowest temperature reached; ignore the other figures.

Lowest night temperatures inside my Sprinter van (left) and outside my Sprinter van (right)
f1.8 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 32; 2017-10-09 08:40:28
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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On another colder night with wind of 20 mph or so at 11,800' elevation, the inside temperature dropped to 22°F (outside temp 15°F). That wind really cooled things down more, in spite of the 4 down sleeping bags acting as ad-hoc insulation. Some water inside my Yeti Tundra 210 cooler had begun refreezing!

Lowest night temperatures outside, and inside my Sprinter van (right)
f1.8 @ 1/17 sec, ISO 40; 2017-10-12 07:35:01
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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Mercedes Sprinter adventure van high above Patriarch Grove
f9 @ 1/1000 sec, ISO 100; 2017-10-08 13:50:47
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Give me power!

Even with a 5 kW lithium battery, power demands to both compute in the van and run a 1.45 kW space heater are too high to last for long (space heater is for intermittent use of 30 minutes or so, to take the chill off). Idling the Sprinter engine preserves battery life quite well, supplying 110 amps or so. Still, I don’t like idling for hours on end (and thus burning fuel in a remote area), and it’s clear that a 10 kW system is going to afford a lot more flexibility.

Power usage while computing and running elecric heater

Give me insulation!

Before I came up to the mountains this trip, I paid a visit to Western Mountaineering in San Jose, CA. Their products are all made right there—Made in USA.

Western Mountaineering Flash XR down jacket

Western Mountaineering carries many weights of down jackets including my all-time favorite Flash XR down jacket*, down pants, sleeping bags , down booties, sleep sacks, and so on. In my opinion, all of their products are “undersold” or “understated” meaning the quality is the best you’ll find anywhere, really superb. For example, what Western Mountaineering calls their 850+ down is really 910 fill down. Look around and you will find that 850 is hard to find and only in the very top-end products, with most vendors using 800 (good), 700 (adequate), and 600 (low grade). So 850+ (910) is incredible

* The Flash XR is so critical to my outdoor adventures that if I were a hundred miles from home, I’d turn around and go get it (unless I had something else adequate but not idea along). It is an essential piece of safety gear.

I had come in looking for a queen side box baffled down comforter for these cold temperatures (FYI, comforters except the Cloud Nine are not sold to the public at large). It was not in stock but I spied a new sleeping bag they had, the Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag.

I also purchased the new Western Mountaineering QuickFlash down jacket—I have never seen a better made down jacket, and it is 850+ down fill—extremely light and extremely warm, and without a hood (my Flash XR has a hood, which I deem mandatory for my colder outings).

I am definitely not a fan of tight feet or “mummy bags” and won’t buy 'em. And that’s what caught my eye: the Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS has a very wide footprint including the feet area, and it can be unzipped like a blanket. It has the widest foot box I have ever seen in a down sleeping bag of this quality. Too hot—not really—it lofts so well that it can be “tented” and hold its shape for less cold nights.

Needless to say, I pounced on it and brought it along. It performed fantastically well last night. What a superb product. I bought the 6' 6" model with right-hand zipper.

* In Western Mountaineering “underselling” parlance, 850+ down means 910 fill power down—ultra high end and rare to find. That kind of down (I was shown a sample) is very expensive, very light and fluffy, the puff of the puffs when down is processed by grade.

Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag
Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag specifications
Western Mountaineering Cypress GWS down sleeping bag specifications
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Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Examples

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

I’ve started a page of examples for the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8—only two now, but more to follow.

Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 Examples: Eastern Sierra and White Mountains

The Milvus 18/2.8 works very well on the Nikon D850 and is particularly attractive for its size and weight; it feels at home on the D850.

This snow never melted here from the winter of 2016/2017; it is hard and now ice, with glacial-like cracks at intervals. A few heavy winters and it would become a substantial ice field.

High in the inhospitable environment, bristlecone pines thrive at elevations up to 11,600' / 3535 meters. Two “young” (perhaps 30 years old) juveniles site high on an exposed ridge, hardy newcomers as the climate has warmed up since the 1800's/early 1900's. It does look like treeline is rising.

f9 @ 1/640 sec, ISO 100; 2017-10-08 15:28:34 [focus stack 3 frames]
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Faces and shapes abound in this old bristlecone. I like the way the last ray of sunshine caught one “face”, seemingly conversion with the other.

f11 @ 1/100 sec, ISO 64; 2017-10-08 17:44:51
NIKON D850 + Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8

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Nikon D850: Configuration Tip for Image Review: Use RAW + JPEG Superfine

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

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

Some cameras (nearly all if not all) display this behavior: when a raw image is magnified, it becomes blotchy and blocky at 100%. That’s because the camera is not rendering the raw file, but magnifying the low quality heavily compressed JPEG embedded in the raw file, which makes the image blotchy as well as showing the square JPEG tiles—not good at all for checking image detail or critical focus and a real waste of the high-res Nikon D850 rear LCD.

With the Nikon D850, I see a night-and-day difference in image quality when zoomed into 100% or 200%: with Raw + JPEG Superfine, the image is smooth and detailed, free of blotchiness and the obvious JPEG blocks seen without it. The Nikon D850 is clearly displaying the high quality JPEG, not the low quality JPEG embedded in the raw file.

Other cameras, Nikon or other brands (like Ricoh GR), might benefit from this approach.

So if reviewing images critically in the field is in your shooting approach, be sure to set the camera to RAW+JPEG (I chose the highest possible quality for the JPEGs).

When I download my images, I just select all the JPEGs and trash them. This is a nuisance, but it works. Another solution might be to have the camera record the JPEGs to the 2nd storage card (TBD: I need to verify that this works).

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Nikon D850: New Copy Seems Good (except for infinity focus)

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

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

I arrived in the Eastern Sierra last night at my friend’s place and there the lost and then found Nikon D850 sat in a box intact and with no signs of damage or similar—excellent.

With the Nikon D850 loaned to me by a reader, I found a substantial error in the Nikon D850 flange focal distance which required all my Zeiss Otus lenses and others to be racked to the mechanical limit in order to achieve infinity focus—a very bad sign.

Further testing showed an unacceptable sensor/mount misalignment resulting in a badly blurred right side (if focused at left or center). I returned that D850 to its owner, who is returning it for exchange for another one, a course of action I recommended and agree with—it was just too far off to make me happy about adjusting it.

My D850

Early this morning I mounted the excellent Really Right Stuff L-bracket for the Nikon D850 (all my cameras use RRS brackets), and proceeded to check for left/right symmetry as per Testing for a Misaligned Sensor.

In general I am pleased—this Nikon D850 is one that perhaps is not absolutely perfect (too close to say), so it is good to go for work I had to abort with the previous one.

I found that within a very small margin of error (my ability to focus, small lens deviations, small sensor/mount deviation, etc), I would call it “in spec”. I would need more testing with suitable subjects and dual cameras (D850 and D810) to say if the camera is off: I think the sensor/mount parallelism might be off by a very small amount, but it is as good as I might hope for out of the box. I might send it in at some point and ask for perfection, that is, perfect parallel alignment to the lens mount as good as Nikon can achieve. This was done once for me with the Nikon D800E, and my Nikon D810 is perfect as far as I could say for 3 years. For now, I feel the D850 is good to go.

  • The Sigma 85/1.4 DG HSM Art was very slightly asymmetric. The asymmetry is within a tiny margin of focusing error. Indeed it is less than the margin of error I saw with that D850 AF system with the Sigma. I recommend to not rely on conventional AF for pin-sharp results (at least at f/1.4 at far distance), and from what I saw in Live View, I would not rely on contrast detect AF in Live View for peak results without verifying best focus; I found I could improve sharpness by manually focusing at 100% or 200%.
  • The Otus 55/1.4 was symmetric, within my ability to check on the subject at hand.
  • The Otus 85 was very slightly asymmetric, as a bit concerning since I have special MTF symmetry data for it from Zeiss, and it is as perfect as one could ever build, with 2% variation to the corners, I wouild call it cine-lens grade symmetry. That suggests that the D850 sensor is not perfectly parallel to the lens mount.
  • The Sigma 135/1.8 DG HSM Art looks symmetric, but longer focal lengths are less sensitive to the issue; I’ll see what further field tests show.

To emphasize, the very slight asymmetry I am seeing is at a level which will be seen only by careful scrutiny at 100% or 200% at f/1.4 or f/2 in Live View (or taken image). I can’t hold Nikon to a tighter standard than that in a mass market camera, though I would like perfection or as close to it as technicallly feasible. Tolerances are extremely demanding with more megapixels, for cameras and lenses alike.

Flange focal distance

There is one thing I am not happy about with this new D850, and that is that my Otus lenses use about half their focusing range beyond the infinity mark, as shown below whereas the Nikon D810 focuses at or very close to the mark with the same lenses. So that flange focal distance tolerance seems to be off, just as with the prior problem D850. It is concerning in that very cold temperature might make infinity focus unreachable (or at least I think it is cold that would be the issue, versus, say, 110°F heat).

Infinity focus using Nikon D850 for Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 APO-Planar
f1.8 @ 1/60 sec, ISO 32; 2017-10-08 08:28:55
iPhone 7 Plus + iPhone 7 Plus back dual camera 3.99mm f/1.8 @ 28mm (4mm)

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