Nikon D850, Early Impressions

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ShunCheung, Oct 22, 2017.

  1. Well, you'll probably be amazed that there's more pixel level noise, that you might be missing focus more often (because there's more resolution, so you can see when you miss), and if you're anything like me you'll be amazed that they swapped the + and - buttons with no way to override - that completely messed with my chimping process when I tried to use a D800e and D700 alongside each other. Oh, and I was amazed by where they put the AF mode and metering area buttons. But there are lots of upsides too. :)

    (One I didn't realise about the D8x0 series until I'd used it a bit is that the D8x0s have a separate aperture lever motor, so if you have a variable aperture zoom, hold down DoF preview, and zoom it, you'll get a constant aperture. The D700 leaves the lever where it was when you hit the DoF preview, so the aperture changes as you zoom unless you release the DoF preview button and try again. How's that for an obscure thing to be amazed by?)
  2. the D850 has a lot going for it. Obviously it appeals to those chasing resolution. But it is also somewhat of an all-purpose body, in that it has some speed, some performance capability, and Nikon's best implementation of video so far. The increased AF coverage is indeed a selling point, at least for me, since the only other performance-worthy FF DSLRs i know of which can also do this is the Sony A9. (i know you can get wide frame coverage on various mirrorless cams and the D500, but those are APS-C).

    when the D850 specs came out and i saw the DPReview write-up, i thought, could almost use it like a combination D5 and D800, by not always shooting at full-res (which is complete overkill for most action photography). in fact, in 25mp mode, it should have similar noise characteristics as the D5, at about $3k less.

    of coursde, this is somewhat too good to be true., right? you dont get exact D5 performance, because Nikon uses higher-voltage circuitry in its flagship bodies (going back at least to the D200). that's why the D750 isn't quite as good as a D3s in most AF aspects except maybe tracking. So we should expect some sort of tradeoff for getting a consumer body.

    The 850 is interesting in that its main strength and weakness are the same thing: that huge sensor. that's a strength because of impressive image quality and crop-ability, but a weakness in that all those megapixels have to be carefully micromanaged, which could alter one's shooting style.

    the other downside, as Thom Hogan has reported, is that the 24-70/2.8 and 70-2o0/2.8 II lag a bit on that sensor. So if i was thinking i can save $$ vs. a D5 or A9, there go the savings because i would have to upgrade my two main event lenses -- a problem i dont havewith my D750.

    I'm pretty sure I wouldn't mind having a D850, but my gut also tells me i don't need one at this exact moment. Still, it seems like a special camera with as much mojo as Nikon can currently muster, which will make many happy. i may check back in after i win the lottery or closer to end of life cycle.

    oh, one guess about the AWB differences: the more neutral picture style was probably engineered as a nod to videographers. i believe the camera has 4k although not oversampled 4k like the A9.
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2017
  3. The color neutrality of the D5 and newer cameras (in AWB) is a very good thing in my opinion (you actually get three AWB options, in terms of how well it compensates for color tempererature variations in lighting; I use the middle one which produces more neutral results than the D810 but it doesn't force warm lighting into perfectly neutral so it leaves a bit of warmth to the image). It also helps when shooting in the arctic night as the light can be very blue late at night and with the D5 the results look good straight out of the camera, whereas they come out blue with the D810 and earlier cameras (in AWB). Also in tungsten lighting I felt older Nikons were too warm by default. The drawback of such changes is that different cameras now produce different output (though again you can adjust the AWB settings for a better match).

    With regards to the 24-70G vs. E, the earlier version produced images with strong field curvature at the 24mm end which made it very difficult to place the focus on a large group shot and get even sharpness across the image. With the E version this has been corrected, making me very happy as I no longer have to use a separate prime for groups. However, even 12MP was enough to suffer from this issue, no need for 45MP to reveal it. The 70-200/2.8G II's main issue for me was its bokeh at medium to longish distances (double rings etc.). Many complained about the focal length shortening at close distances. The E FL version doesn't have these problems. The AF in the E FL version is quicker (though I don't know if is more accurate, just quicker and the stutter is gone) and the VR has the SPORT mode which I really like, as it behaves as it were not there, more stable viewfinder, less resistance to user will. The tripod mount is more stiff, and the lens is lighter and less front heavy. Optically I think the most important aspect is the improved bokeh behind the subject, the narrower field view, but lensrentals also report much improvement in the MTF at 135mm. Two drawbacks in the E FL version: the position of the zoom ring in the new lens is criticized by some, and the cost of the lens is high. But personally I really like both of the E versions of these zooms. I could use the old ones without problems but for my use the new versions are better. I wouldn't necessarily upgrade because of the D850 but independently of that, if you feel the need.

    The Nikon 70-200/2.8 E FL does really well in lensrentals comparisons by the way, e.g.,

    An Update and Comparison of the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS

    MTF Lens Tests of the New Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 SP Di VC USD G2

    I like that test site because they measure and analyze multiple samples. But optical bench testing is done at infinity focus so close-distance performance should be verified by another source.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  4. FWIW, updating my 70-200 from the mk2 to the E FL version is on my to-do list, partly with the D850 in mind.
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Speaking of the 24-70mm/f2.8 E AF-S VR, I tried that on the D850 recently. At 24mm, there is a bit of barrel distillation, as expected.

    If you pixel peep, you can see some clear purple fringing at the edge of the white uniforms towards the edge of the frame. 46MP means the image is greatly magnified. Overall my main reservation of that 24-70 E is big size; it is a bigger lens than the 300mm/f4 E PF AF-S VR, and it is very expensive for a 24-70. Otherwise I am quite happy with that lens.


    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  6. Thanks, Shun - it doesn't look too bad, and something that DxO (or your choice of lens-aware converter) ought mostly to sort out.
  7. Hmmm ... al this makes it harder. So, more noise than my current D700... My 24-70G and 70-20 VRII are no longer "good enough" (I read Thom's blog too now..). There is no way I am going to upgrade to the 70-200 E and if the 24-70 E is even bigger than the "old" 24-70 .. good grief. I just checked the prices of the new 24-70 and 70-200.. YIKES! I might be better off with a used D810...
  8. My requirements are not as stringent as others' may be -- my most basic requirement is a D8x0 with the AF speed of the D500, which the D850 meets. My primary lenses for this are the Sigma ART lenses (24-35-50) mostly in well-lit conditions. It would be rare for me to go beyond an ISO of 800. So I do plan on getting one as soon as I can put together the money and obviously depending on availability. My target is Q2 (or maybe Q3) 2018.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2017
  9. @kevin_beretta: have you compared D850 photos downsampled to 12 Mpix when you concluded that the D850 has more noise than your D700? I ask because I do not know myself how well the D700 fares today, only that it has aged well. Personally, I am very happy with the five year old technology in the D800, which still produces excellent photos (I prefer that to the more modern D610(D750). Having said that, the D850, will most probably be my next camera hence my interest in this thread.

    Perhaps Shun can also test some of the lenses that he has access to and give his input on which Nikkors are up to the job as well as post comparisons? I do not know If Shun has the previous 24-70 to compare with, but I am sure that I am not the only one that wants to see how the 70-200/2.8 VRII holds up. Perhaps it is still good enough for sports and portraiture but not for landscape?

    Regarding noise; for the third time (third time's the charm, they say), are they shot with in-camera High ISO NR set to off, low, normal or high? I only recently discovered that this setting affects the RAW files as it is available when only RAW is selected. I have not tested it on my cameras to see what effect it actually has on RAW files but I do what it does to small jpgs. As so much of the discussion here is about noise, I think there is value on knowing how these were shot. Same goes for a brief description on the settings used in PS to downsample as results vary with the settings. Sorry for nitpicking, but the better the testing methodology is decribed, the less questions will be asked about the results as they will speak more clearly for themselves.

    Again, providing a few selected RAW-files are so valuable as everyone can be their own judge on what is good enough for them. :)
  10. I never had the High ISO NR to default (normal?) for the entire life of the camera. I didn't know it would make a difference in RAW mode ... Hmm. And if the 24-70 G is not up to snuff anymore, what about the 14-24? Grrr... so many choices and decisions to make. I think what I will do is rent a D850 for a day and stick it on a tripod and shoot a lot of my lenses on it and then make a decision.
  11. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    The mega pixel game is getting silly if you ask me. On the FX sensor, the difference between 36MP and 45MP is very small, and diffraction is going to be a bit of a problem from around f8 on the D850.

    Personally, I would buy the D850 if you are after better AF (than the D800 and D810), better video capability and perhaps some of the new features such as auto focus stacking ... and XQD cards, as I dislike both CF and SD.

    Concerning lenses, I am using the older 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S VR II, and that is still an excellent lens today. Whatever lens that works great on the D800/D810 is likely great on the D850. E.g. my lowly plastic 18-35mm/f3.5-4.5 AF-S shines on the D850.

    Here is a sample using the Sigma 35mm/f1.4 Art, at f8 and base ISO 64. You can read the larger prints on those business cards.


    mike_halliwell likes this.
  12. Thanks Shun, appreciated.
    I think for me what attracts me to the D850 is the quiet operation possibility, the fact it has a tilt screen and the stacking. I think I am spoiled in terms of AF as I use center point basically always on the D700 and it works in near dark, so I never had any need for more. I next to never shoot sports, running kids or pets. Lots of portraits and landscapes, some street scenery. So pretty basic stuff. I would use my marco lenses and the bellows more if I had more pixels to play with. Being able to crop is a really good thing too. My main goal is travel photography ... My next purchase is LR 6.13 with the ACR update, then the D850. I already have more glass than I need (35 1.8 AF-S, 50 1.4 G, 85 1.4 G, 105 2.8 AF-S, 14-24 2.8, 24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.8 VRII - All Nikon). My real challenge is what to leave home when I am traveling. I think I'm going to settle on the 35, 24-70 and 105. I recently figured out how to manage files in the field without a computer (Android tablet, USB hub and 2 HDDs) so everyhting can pack realtively small. The D850 might be overkill... I shot some of my best pics on a borrowed Df. The stuff that camera put out was magical ...
  13. People have kind of said this, but to add personal experience: comparing pixels with pixels, at the same ISO a D810 is noisier than a D700. If you down-scale the image to the same size, the D800 and D810 have, in my experience, most of a stop advantage over the D700 at higher ISOs - slightly more noise at each pixel goes away when the extra pixels are averaged together. This isn't surprising - less light is hitting each pixel, but given the same total amount of light spread over more pixels, the technology improved. If you want to work out whether you can create a print nearly twice as large with a D850 and retain the same detail as the D700, the noise at the pixel level may bother you; if you're printing (or viewing) at the same size, the D8x0 series are all significantly better than the D700. I got a D800e when they came out and shot it alongside my D700, and there was no contest.

    Well, "good enough" for what? You can certainly see more lens aberrations if you zoom into a pixel level on a higher-resolution sensor, but if you reduce the image size to what you had before, it will look the same. Arguably the biggest danger is that when some areas of the image look sharper, it shows up how much softer others are.

    I use a 70-200mk2 with a D810. It's not quite a D850, but that's only a 1.1x difference, rather than 1.9x for a D700. At f/2.8, it tends to be a little soft and it's hard to hit perfect focus. At f/4 it's perfectly good enough, in my experience (and much better than older versions). Will I upgrade to the E version at some point? Yes, because I'd like to shoot at f/2.8 with less of a compromise to image quality without needing my 200 f/2. On a D700 you can shoot a lot of lenses wide open without worry; on any D8x0 body there are very few lenses that can hold up without dropping off a little - but that's only a problem if you want to use the extremes of the lens and still make the best of the sensor. Put another way, I'll be astonished if the 50mm f/1.8 AF-D isn't very sharp on the D850 by the time you're at f/6.3 - the problem is how it looks at f/1.8.

    Sometimes the difference should affect your lens choice - I ditched my 28-200mm AF-D G that was one of my most-used lenses on a D700 because I could get better results with "digital zoom" on a less flexible lens. I don't think that's true for the f/2.8 AF-S lenses, but their imperfections are certainly more visible.

    I'll also point out that some lens-aware digital post-processing can do wonders. My Tamron 24-70 VC is absolutely not sharp at the corners in JPEG, but gets most of the detail back once DxO has played with it. The same is true of the 14-24 Nikkor. You always gain a bit of noise through the sharpening process, and it's never as perfect as solving things optically - but then there's no perfect lens.

    Dare I point out that the 105mm micro is known to be a little lacking at longer distances? :)
  14. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Moderator

    Since I mentioned the 24-70mm/f2.8 E AF-S VR (82mm filter thread), here is a side-by-side image with the 300mm/f4 E PF (77mm filter).
    The 24-70 is also a lot heavier, since it is a zoom with more elements and the zoom mechanism.

    kevin_beretta likes this.
  15. "Pulling back even a little shadow detail without trying to look unrealistic really pushes the dynamic range..."

    - Bit of an non sequiter argument Andrew.

    The lack of realism is purely a consequence of trying to pour a quart (of subject brightness range) into a pint pot (of display contrast). No amount of increase in captured dynamic range will improve that situation, and in fact may make it worse.

    I also fail to see why a low spatial frequency is correlated with low brightness - only if some lossy compression algorithm is used, maybe.

    My original argument still stands. As long as a lens system and camera dark-chamber of finite size are coupled with a reflective sensor, there will be a practical limit to the brightness range at the sensor. And I would argue that the limit has already been reached for an "average" subject. Unless and until dark chambers are properly AR flocked, and not just painted with a vaguely black paint, and the internal flare of lenses is reduced to near zero, then there is very much a limit to how much "dynamic range" can be utilised.

    Not to mention how any current display can show it. Surface reflection from current screen technology is high enough to make claims of thousands-to-one contrast ratio laughable for a start. Nobody wants to sit in a black-walled, fully darkened room just to watch the telly!
  16. The human brain does local contrast enhancement, local color contrast enhancement, and opens up shadows as needed to see what the person needs to see. Photography and printing also can benefit from carefully considered local adjustments.

    As for whether the extra dynamic range is real-world useful, in my experience, it is, in the sense that it makes the images look smoother and more beautiful. I haven't purposefully carried out testing by shooting identical images with two cameras simply because I'm more interested in getting the images that I need/want than testing and comparing equipment, but I will try to illustrate this at a future opportunity. I know that subjectively D810 ISO 64 images in sunlight look smoother than D5 ISO 100 images. I find that this perception of different quality is increased if I lift the midpoint of the tone curve to lighten midtones and decrease highlight contrast which is a technique I use a lot. I'll see what I can do about making a real-world comparison illustrating the benefits of high low ISO dynamic range without making excessive adjustments that might make the image look unnatural. I feel it should be easy to do actually.
  17. In my opinion this isn't quite the right conclusion to make. The D850 should show equal or a bit better results than the D810 with any lens (at the image level, not necessarily at the level of individual pixels). The autofocus module is much better and so the real-world results relying on autofocus should be significantly better especially if you use the outermost points or shoot in low light (or both). There should not be any issue using the 24-70G or the 70-200/2.8G II that you didn't have using current bodies. The 24-70G has strong field curvature at 24mm which can be an issue but that issue is plainly visible already with 12MP cameras. While the 24-70/2.8E is larger and heavier than the G version, it does feel very well balanced in use. And the 70-200/2.8E is actually lighter than the G II and is less front heavy, which makes me often lift the camera with lens attached with just one hand. However, I agree these two new lenses are very expensive and it may make no sense to update to them from a value or personal or business economics point of view.

    However if you choose between the D850 and D810 (staying with your existing lenses, which makes perfect sense), I would still go with the D850 because of the Multi-CAM 20k AF module. That is, if you use AF.
    kevin_beretta likes this.
  18. I clearly didn't explain that one very well. I'll try again.

    The argument is, I believe, that if some portion of the image is of very high brightness compared with other portions, this will cause internal reflections that increase the brightness of the darker regions captured.

    My counter-argument was that these internal reflections are likely to be diffuse (low spatial frequency), and that, while they'll raise the minimum intensity level at the sensor, they'll be adding a relatively constant amount to all the pixels. I would expect the result to be similar to raising the black level of the image, and that it could be compensated for by adjusting the black point (or, more locally, using "clarity" filters intended to remove atmospheric fog). Technically I guess this makes the significant measurement what DxO calls "color sensitivity", which should measure your ability to differentiate tones at various points in the tone curve - although it's probably a mix of both, since in my experience lens coatings and internal baffling is such that I've not seen huge issues with internal reflections. Since raw files are typically linear, the significant factor is the ability to avoid noise in the read electronics regardless.

    True, although my living room is certainly quite dim when i'm watching telly. Most HDR TVs can't support large areas of high brightness - the intent is that the average brightess level remains within a small factor of traditional screens (which were standardised at 100nits, with wide variations in reality) and the ability to do very bright regions is restricted to small areas of the display or limited durations. Making the sun and some specular highlights, or car headlights, look very bright doesn't necessarily light up the entire room. The same is true in a photographic capture - just because I don't want to blow out the edges of some clouds doesn't mean I'm expecting large areas of the scene to be bright.
  19. "I would expect the result to be similar to raising the black level of the image,"

    - Not similar to, it is raising the black level. And of course flare and scattered light are a low spatial frequency phenomenon. I don't see how that's at all relevant. In fact overall fogging has a zero spatial frequency within the bounds of the image.

    ".... and that it could be compensated for by adjusting the black point..."

    - How, exactly?
    Let's say you have 0.05% of the maximum sensor brightness reflected, diffused and uniformly re-reflected into the shadow areas of the sensor. That gives a contrast ratio at the sensor surface of 2000:1, or about 11 stops. That's it! That's all the DR that the sensor can possibly capture - full stop. You can't have negative light that subtracts from the base fog level.

    Yes, you can lower the black level to zero display brightness, but you can't reconstruct image detail that (might have) existed at a brightness level well below that of the fogging.

    It's like trying to dig any signal out from a level below a masking white noise. SNR is what it is, and there's nothing that can alter it apart from getting rid of the noise at source.

    So, given that there must be some practical limit to the brightness range presented to the sensor. What good does increasing theoretical sensor DR do?

    By all means increase A/D bit depth, because that increases the degree of differentiation between brightness levels. However, the image brightness range is effectively limited by the optical system in front of and surrounding the sensor.
  20. "I know that subjectively D810 ISO 64 images in sunlight look smoother than D5 ISO 100 images."

    - What do you mean by 'smoother' Ilkka?

    Such nebulous subjective descriptions aren't evidence of anything. Because to me, 'smoother' could mean showing less detail and making things more plastic-looking.

    For example: The skin tones and textures in CGI renderings look smoother to me, but that just makes them appear less than realistic.

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