Nikon D850

PF 091: Is the Nikon D850 Your Next Camera?

Should the Nikon D850 Be Your Next Camera?

The Nikon D850 is a beast of a camera, packing a lot of specs into one package. A lot of people were waiting to see what Nikon announced and many believe the Nikon D850 raises the bar for the competition.

Can you handle the Nikon D850? More importantly, should you bother with it?

While I think this is an outstanding camera, you need to look on the other side of the specs to understand what it may cost you to own a D850. Let's start with a look at the features.

**This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Key Specifications:

  • 45.7MP BSI CMOS sensor
  • 7 fps continuous shooting with AE/AF (9 with battery grip and EN-EL18b battery)
  • 153-point AF system linked to 180,000-pixel metering system
  • UHD 4K video capture at up to 30p from full sensor width
  • 1080 video at up to 120p, recorded as roughly 1/4 or 1/5th speed slow-mo
  • 4:2:2 8-bit UHD uncompressed output while recording to card
  • 1 XQD slot and 1 UHS II-compliant SD slot
  • Battery life rated at 1840 shots
  • 3.2″ tilting touchscreen with 2.36M-dot (1024×768 pixel) LCD
  • Illuminated controls
  • 19.4MP DX crop (or 8.6MP at 30fps for up to 3 sec)
  • SnapBridge full-time Bluetooth LE connection system with Wi-Fi
  • Advanced time-lapse options (including in-camera 4K video creation)

Here's how I translate the other side of some of these features.

45.7MP BSI CMOS sensor

My main camera now is the Nikon D800 with a 36 megapixel camera. That's the model I picked after shooting with the Nikon D700 with a 12 megapixel sensor. As you can guess, three times the megapixels means larger files.

That means fewer photos on your memory card, and more space consumed on your hard drive. If you upload to an online service, it takes a bit longer to transmit. It also fills up the buffer in your camera faster than small files would.

More megapixels means more…well, everything that handles megapixels.

There is semi-good news. Apparently you can choose to save your RAW files in a smaller megapixel size. Cool. Now who's going to buy a 46 megapixel camera just to shoot it like a 24 megapixel camera? You may as well get a Nikon D750 if that's what you need.

7 fps continuous shooting with AE/AF (9 with battery grip and EN-EL18b battery)

Seven frames per second continuous shooting speed is very impressive for a 46 megapixel camera. Add the battery grip to get nine frames per second and some folks think this may be a good camera for sports photographers.

The Nikon D700 shoots at 5 FPS, up to 8 FPS with the batter grip, and it's only a 12 MP camera. Shooting at 9 FPS is really nice, until you compare it with the Nikon D5 at 12 FPS. The Canon 1Dx Mari IV shoots even faster at 14 FPS.

Now those are the cameras you use to shoot sports. They cost more than double, but sports photography is not a cheap endeavor.

Let's say that you decide this is the right camera for your sports photography. Do you need 46 megapixels for those shots? Good thing you can shoot at a lower resolution.

My photography is primarily portrait and travel. These speeds mean nothing to me. During a portrait session, I turn off continuous mode.

When I take travel photos, it's common for me to use bracketing. I'm never really in a hurry, though. The subjects I'm photographing aren't running away from me. It's not like I see a pretty landscape and think that I need to hurry up and get more frames per second or I'll lose the shot.

On the other hand, this could be quite useful for street shooters or concert photographers.

153-point AF system linked to 180,000-pixel metering system

This is outstanding! It's the same auto-focus system that ships in the flagship Nikon D5. More auto-focus points, better low light performance so you can lock onto your subject when it gets dark. Who wouldn't want that benefit?

Those concert photographers I mentioned above could really benefit from this AF system. Actually, so could sports photographers.

The Nikon D5 auto-focus system has universal praise as one of the best systems to identify, lock and track your subjects. It's a great professional benefit to include in something geared for the Prosumer market.

UHD 4K video capture at up to 30p from full sensor width

While there are photographers who may not need this camera for their still shots, it's a whole new world for Nikon video. This is the first true 4K system in a Nikon DSLR.

Other Nikon DSLRs placed limitations on 4K video. It's heavily cropped, limited to 3 minutes. At $6500, its 4K video gets outclassed by much cheaper, and somewhat older, Panasonic camera.

The Nikon D850 doesn't crop the sensor and shoot H.264 for smaller files than its Canon 5D Mark IV counterpart.

Is it the perfect 4K camera for cinematography? Maybe so, maybe no. However, it's nice to have this to use with your Nikon lenses instead of investing in a Canon, Sony or other system. I think this will appeal most to existing Nikon shooters, but time will tell if others decide to move camp from one brand to another.

1 XQD slot and 1 UHS II-compliant SD slot

If you're shooting most Nikon full frame cameras, you're likely using Compact Flash (CF) cards. I know I have a wallet full of them. None of which will fit inside the new Nikon D850.

Be prepared to purchase a new wallet full of cards, or at least a few. Also, be prepared to spend some money per card.

Looking at a 128GB card size, the average cost for an XQD card is about $160. It's roughly $90 for the UHS II SD cards.

Why did Nikon make the change?

Because XQD is much faster than the aging CF card specs. With larger images to save, the Nikon D850 needs a way to reduce the time to write files from the buffer to the card.

Micron, who owns the Lexar brand, recently decided to exit the market for camera cards. That leaves Sony as the sole manufacturer of XQD cards now. Other brands haven't jumped onto XQD in the same way as Nikon, so I have some concerns about its long term viability.

Another problem comes from the lack of competition. Sony doesn't have much incentive to lower prices.

Battery life rated at 1840 shots

Do you know how many shots you can take with your camera on a single battery charge? Neither do I.

This number presumably increases with the battery grip.

3.2″ tilting touchscreen with 2.36M-dot (1024×768 pixel) LCD

Woohoo! Finally, a common feature of much less expensive cameras makes its way to a Nikon full frame DSLR. Why haven't we had this feature for a few years now?

Navigating menus on Nikon cameras is a tedious process. Now with a touch screen, it's about to get a speed bump. Better than that, you can pinch to zoom on your screen while reviewing photos. Much more better than that silly magnifying glass button.

Don't even get me started about the tilt screen. That's going to save me from lying on my belly to get some low angle shots. Better than that, it means I can also put the camera over my head and get shots based upon the live screen view.

Now it just needs to shoot around corners.

Illuminated controls

This is another incredibly beneficial feature. I do a lot of night photography. While I typically remember most buttons that I need, I don't remember the location of all of them. It's nice to have a simple feature to make them visible in the darkness without using a flashlight, cell phone, or other light source.

SnapBridge full-time Bluetooth LE connection system with Wi-Fi

In a modern age, we expect connectivity. Using SnapBridge, you can immediately transfer your photos – those big 46 megapixel photos – over to your iOS or Android device.

Not only does that give you a wireless tether system, but it also uses the GPS information from your phone to geotag your photos. That's cool.

You can up your Instagram game by sharing DSLR photo instead of smart phone photos, too.

Advanced time-lapse options (including in-camera 4K video creation)

I have a passing interest in time-lapse photography. There are some very cool videos on YouTube with time-lapse, but you have to hang out in one spot for a while to get those shots. Seems tedious to me, which is likely why I don't do time-lapse.

Now you can do it in 4K with the Nikon D850. For those who have the patience, I think this is an outstanding feature. Not that you couldn't do 4K time-lapse before. My GoPro HERO 5 Black does 4K time-lapse.

However, the GoPro doesn't have access to my wonderful collection of Nikon/Nikkor lenses. Now that adds some potential creativity to your time-lapse.

The Nikon D850 Costs More Than it Costs

If you think this is the right camera for you, then you can order the Nikon D850 on Amazon. It's just under $3400.

That really isn't the end of the line, though.

Let's assume you're already a Nikon full frame photographer and you have the lenses that you need. There are still some things that will add to your cost when you buy this camera.

The Nikon MB-D18 Battery Grip

I always want, and always recommend getting, a battery grip. Not only does it add more power and a few more frames per second, but it makes portrait orientation photography much more comfortable. You don't have to twist your hand to hit the shutter button on top of the camera. The grip comes with a shutter button right where you need it in portrait orientation.

The Nikon MB-D18 Battery Grip is a new model just for the Nikon D850. Unlike the Nikon MB-D10 for my D700 and the Nikon MB-D12 for my D800, this one foregoes the AA battery frame and uses a custom battery.

The new MB-D18 comes in just under $400, compared to about $370 for the MB-D12 on my Nikon D800. That pushes your cost up to about $3800, but I wouldn't get the D850 without a grip.

New Memory Cards

I mentioned earlier that the Nikon D850 doesn't use the same memory cards as previous Nikon DSLRs (except for the Nikon D5). Instead, you need to get XQD or UHS II SD cards.

One is never enough.

Let's say you get two of each type. That adds $180 for a pair of SD cards and $320 for a pair of XQD cards, all at 128 GB.

Yes, you can buy less expensive SD cards. They'll be slower. Much slower when you start cramming 46 MP files down their throat. Also, you can buy lower capacity cards. However, you don't save that much money going down from 128 GB to 64 GB. Maybe $30 per card.

Don't forget, you have more megapixels, so getting lower capacity cards with slower writing speeds isn't going to make for a great experience when using this camera.

That adds at least $500 to the $3800 I mentioned above…plus tax.

Have You Noticed Something That is Not There to be Noticed?

If you take a close look, you may notice that the Nikon D850 does not have a pop-up flash. For many photographers, this is no big deal.

Those of us who shoot using the Nikon CLS system for small flash often rely upon the pop-up flash on previous models. Without it, that means we have to buy another flash or a commander unit to trigger our flashes.

I'm told Nikon had to forego this feature in order to make the new viewfinder with focus peaking. Nice feature, unless you need to trigger a flash.

Is the Nikon D850 Your Next Camera?

There are people lining up to buy this camera as soon as it's available. Personally, I'm waiting a while longer. If I can rent it first, I may do that before I buy.

My current photography needs are met by the Nikon D800. While this camera has some nice benefits, I'm not ready to plunk down $4500, give or take with tax, just to have the latest thing. I can do more for my photography by traveling to an exotic location or working with some great models.

Yes, I'd love to have SnapBridge, a tilt screen and the other benefits. It just isn't financially feasible yet. I'll move up when it makes sense and then my D800 will become my backup camera.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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