Playing With the D850: Do You Really Need That Newest Camera?

I had the glorious opportunity to play with the highly-anticipated (at least for me) upgrade from the D810, the D850. I wanted to touch on a few things, namely the hype and if one really needs this new camera. For me, absolutely I do and I'll explain why. This isn't a review of the D850, but just a few key things that I was really wondering about and needed to know before upgrading.

Hoping for Features That Directly Help Me

While waiting for the D850 announcement, I'm not ashamed to admit I was refreshing the news page a lot. I even set up a notifier for when the Nikon news page was updated I'd receive a text. The reason? I've always been a gear junkie and I always want the newest coolest hottest thing. But in this case I have an excuse. See, I shoot primarily with a Zeiss 85mm f/1.4. With precise manual focus I can accurately achieve critical focus right where I need it. I primarily do that with live view off a tripod. It's just my shooting style; it won't work for everyone but for me it does.

So I literally each day was saying: "If you just give me a D810 with focus peaking, that'll be good enough. I'll buy it." Because let's face it, the D810 is a great camera and already smokes Canon's best offering in the thing that I find more important than most other features: dynamic range. The D850 improving on that even in a slight way would put Canon two generations behind.

Focus peaking is a game changer for those that shoot manual focus lenses, mostly from a workflow perspective. Sure, we can already achieve critical focus, but it's a bit more work: live view, zoom in, pan around, shoot then next frame, click zoom, zoom again. It's not the most fun thing.

When the announcement came, it stated that the D850 had focus peaking for video (non 4K) and I was pretty excited. I figured if it had it for video, it must have it for photo. I was pleased when I finally got the camera in my hands to see that it does indeed have focus peaking for photo. You do have to switch it to manual focus for the peaking to work which makes sense as you wouldn't necessarily want that in AF mode.

There are three levels of peaking with thin, medium, and thick lines, as well as four colors for the peaking to choose from, default being red. I couldn't have been happier. There wasn't much info about this in the news documentation and understandably so since I do realize the way I shoot is certainly in the minority of the bulk of Nikon's users.

While I was messing around with that, I noticed something else I was unaware of: a split screen zoom. It's pretty interesting but I didn't play with it too much.

Another pleasant surprise was the picture quality of the live view screen itself. It seems to have a much improved frame rate and better clarity from the D810. This is another one of those things that seems like it may not be as significant as others, but when you use it all the time, it's very nice to have upgrades like that.

The Touchscreen

This was another welcomed feature and I like it, but it does have a few little quirks. A phone-like two-finger zoom is awesome for reviewing the image and checking focus. It's a tiny bit laggy to get into but very usable and I was ecstatic about that.

I was, however, disappointed to see that it does not let you zoom that way in live view to take a photo. It's only for reviewing a photo. Still, it's a very welcomed feature over the now very clunky-seeming zoom process on the D810 and prior.

Tap to focus and tap to shoot on the live view screen was pretty interesting, however I would never actually use that and it's easy to just turn that off.

Do You Really Need to Upgrade?

Well that greatly depends on how you shoot. A business-minded person would say, "Will buying this new camera make me any more money?" and the answer is likely no.

While the image quality on the D850 is outstanding, so is the D810. When it comes to a camera, everybody (myself included) always wants to have the newest latest best, but in reality the old saying of "the camera doesn't make a picture" really is true. We don't like this news because we want a tool to "do something" for us; That special lens to give us a certain look or that new camera to give us super clean images. But at the end of the day, making that awesome image is directly on us regardless of the gear. I've seen countless stunning work created on an old Canon 5D.

For me, the image quality of the D810 is already plenty sufficient for most work.

Shot with the D810 and Zeiss 1.4/85

But, features that make your life easier might very well be enough to cause the upgrade. For me it does since I shoot manual focus primarily. The focus peaking is a game changer for me.

What do you think? Are there features that will make you upgrade?

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Chuck Tintera's picture

Need it? Want it!

Chuck Eggen's picture

For me it's just "want it."

Juan Carlos Ayala's picture

Managed to bag one from the first shipment. Image quality as good as expected and a boat load of helpful features (focus peaking, time-lapse feature, top notch AF.... the list goes on and on). Aside from the 30 minute recording limit and the odd absence of focus peaking in 4k, this is a winner. Swapped my D810 for it and am not looking back.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

Since I am just a hobbyist, there is never any need to do an upgrade. But getting the pictures you want in a faster and easier way is probably more rewarding for a pro than for an amateur like me.
If you can get the same results with less trouble, it might be worth the money.
I have a Sony a6300 but eye-af is a great feature. It enables me get sharp eyes in an easy manner.
If you are used to central focus and then recompose, and you have eye-af, you'll get the same results in a far faster and easier way. Plus with the feature face detection, the exposure will be set to the face, saving time.
The same for zebra when shooting video. I can see if my video is overexposed.
So extra feature could make your life far easier.

rodney simba masarirambi's picture

I have a D5300 so this would be my first full frame. I primarily want to try Astro & landscape photography. Think I will but I might wait for the refurbs/open boxes to come in. Save some money at least.

Marc Lapensee's picture

Same here. Looking for a FF and the D850 looks awesome!

rodney simba masarirambi's picture

And it’s the first camera that I can say that aside from price I can say I wouldn’t compromising on choice

David Apeji's picture

You wanted to pinch to zoom in live view mode?? How do you expect your on-screen gesture to translate to turning a (non-motorized) zoom ring?

Tony Northrup's picture

Digitally zooming the display to see pixels 1:1.

Bill Larkin's picture

yes, zooming in to 100% pixels for precise focus. not a lens zoom obviously.

Troy Phillips's picture

This would be a huge upgrade for me for what I shoot. I have the d810 and d500. The speed at which I can use the d500 is night and day better than the d810.
I shoot live music and it's a lot of low light or crazy light situations. The d500 is more accurate and fast at acquiring focus . But the ff 36mp sensor of the d810 is just plain higher quality than the sensor in the d500. Especially in lowlight high ISO . I can handle a picture from the d500 up to 3200 ISO and usually 6400 on the d810. This is the extremes but where I shoot many many times that's not even enough. I like the fine dotted grain of the d810 to the squiggly worm like d500 grain. Now I've seen the d850s grain is finer and very pleasing to me and the high ISO auto white balance color looks nice also. Better than the d810. The faster fps is always better with a better buffer. Then there is the Medium Raw files that will be nice in good lighting situations where I wouldn't have to push the files a lot.

Michael Kormos's picture

I received mine yesterday. What an unbelievable camera! Been playing with it ever since.

Roman Craner's picture

Focus stacking is the killer app for me.

J Cortes's picture

No need for it, but definitely a want. It has a nice feature set. Just wish Nikon came out with FF mirrorless already. I have the D810 and I like the thought of having a D850, but I'll wait a bit before upgrading. I'm curious to see how the AF works compared to the D5 and D500 as far as focusing accuracy and speed. Focus peaking is nice, but it's limited to live view only and if I remember correctly same goes for the silent shutter. Try holding the camera with a 70-200 during live mode using the LCD viewfinder. Still, it's a nice upgrade.

Bill Larkin's picture

the AF is VERY fast and accurate in low/dim light, I was very impressed. The 810 sucks AF in low light. 850 felt like a big improvement.

Andrew Ashley's picture

Upgrading from D800, so all of those incremental upgrades make it well worth it!

Paul Scharff's picture

As a Canon shooter, the one thing this camera does which Canon's recent entries have not done is take the previous iteration up a dramatic level. Canon seems to just move things up a notch with their line extentions (exceptions: 5D2, 1DX1, and to a lesser degree 7D2). Considering what less than $3,500 gets you, I can see why those who can afford it are seeking it out.

Joe Chirilov's picture

I see right through your attempt to get us to cancel our orders so you can bump your place up in the waitlist. :-P

Andy Foster's picture

Got my D850 in the first batch, I am an existing D810 owner.

Tried and loved so far.
4k Video without the crop! And timelapse in 4k
Focus on the touch screen - loved this on the D500
Slowmotion 120fps at 1080p, love this great testing it with the kids.

Shot in tough conditions at the weekend, kids party tracking kids light coming through the trees, exposed for the highlights with a +1.3 exposure comp and a little tweak on shadows in post, really amazing shots (big improvement on the D810).
Not been able to use in the studio yet as I shoot tethered, and no Capture One update.

Today I put my DX lens on it (that usually sits on the D500) Sigma Art 1.8 18-35, and shot with that for the afternoon in DX mode. Great shots, and still at 20+ megapixel.

Screen is really nice, as is the viewfinder.

Having got used to the D500, having the buttons the same layout was nice.

Still testing out the features, and as soon as Capture One updates to allow for the camera then the D810 will be sold

Mark James's picture

Looks like an awesome camera, but I found it funny that you are so excited about focus peaking. I thought it was a standard feature for a few years now. It is a great tool and I find myself using manual focus more often with it.

Scott Weaver's picture

If someone is so successful they can afford to upgrade with every model, more power to them. But most of us upgrade every other model or so, but will of course want this model when they do. There are many many features of this camera that are highly desirable for me and I certainly look forward to acquiring it... just not at this time!