Nikon D850 Conclusion

Best Overall Camera for 2017

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70-200mm f/2.8E VR: 185mm, f/2.8, 1/2500s, ISO 160, +0.7EV
This image has been edited. Please click photo for original.

One of our seasoned field testers asked if the D850 was Nikon's best all-around camera ever. After our thorough lab testing, field testing, and yes, even water drenching, we can confidently say it is. The Nikon D850 is an extremely well-rounded and versatile DSLR, one that's up to the task for pretty much any photographic subject. If you want high-res images for detail-rich landscapes, architecture or portraiture, the D850 will get it done. How about speed? You don't usually get "high-res" and "high-speed" in one package, but the D850 is capable of both. With super-fast AF, 7fps burst shooting (or 9fps with added battery grip), and a very deep buffer, the D850 is also a solid choice for photographing sports and action subjects. Combined with classic pro-level Nikon build quality and ruggedness, it's no wonder that the Nikon D850 earned the top spot in our 2017 Camera of the Year Awards.

Stunning image quality: excellent detail, dynamic range & high ISOs

The D850 sports a 45.7-megapixel full-frame sensor, which is Nikon's highest resolution sensor yet and is also their first backside-illuminated (BSI) full-frame sensor. At both low and high ISOs, the D850's image quality is fantastic. Nikon's high-end DSLRs, especially their full-frame models from the last five years or so, have consistently earned high marks for their image quality, and the D850 undoubtedly continues that heritage.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens at 27mm, f/2.8, 15s, ISO 4000.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

At low ISOs, the fine detail from the D850 is fantastic and, like its predecessor, offers excellent dynamic range performance. Its RAW files provide a lot of flexibility not only with shadows and highlights but also to color manipulation and fine detail adjustments. As the ISO rises the D850 is equally impressive, handling high ISO noise very well, and producing images with a great balance of detail and low noise. Given the camera's high-resolution sensor, the D850 is a no-brainer for landscape, architecture and portraiture, but it's also very capable for wildlife photography, with files that offer lots of cropping potential in post.

16-35mm f/4G VR: 16mm, f/11, 0.4s, ISO 64

High-res meets high-speed with fast AF and overall performance

The performance prowess of the D850 is what really elevates this camera beyond its predecessors. The D800/D810 models weren't necessarily sluggish, but they were certainly more focused on landscapes, portraiture and other still subjects; sports and action were not the cameras' strong suits. All that's changed with the D850. Offering 7fps (or 9fps with a battery grip) might not sound that fast, especially nowadays with a number of mirrorless cameras and the likes of the 1DX II or D5 offering nearly double that. But when you consider that the D850 is also capturing images at 45MP at 7/9fps, that's very impressive. What's more is that 7/9fps is plenty fast for all but the most demanding sports and action scenarios. The D850's buffer capacity is also satisfyingly generous, and its buffer clearing speed is just amazingly quick, despite the large 45MP file sizes!

As for autofocus, the D5 and D500 introduced an outstanding and versatile 153-point autofocus system, so imagine our delight when we saw this same AF sensor module makes its way into the D850. The D810's AF system wasn't bad, but this is a significant upgrade in the sheer number of AF points as well as in speed and performance. Needless to say, the D850's focusing system is excellent and supremely fast for both still subjects and, more importantly, for continuous tracking capabilities.

Updated yet familiar design is comfortable, customizable and durable

The D850 doesn't offer a drastic departure from that tried-and-true DSLR shape and design, which we think is a good thing. The D850's classic design makes for a robust, comfortable and balanced camera, yet it offers a nice assortment of new features and refinements to its design that make it more user-friendly and faster to operate in the field. The D850's slightly thinned grip makes the camera more comfortable and easier to hold, and the new tilting, touchscreen display makes it more convenient to use live view or when shooting from a tripod. As expected, there's also a ton of customization available for the controls and buttons, while tweaks such as a repositioned ISO button, illuminated controls and new joystick-style control really improve the camera's overall usability.

And, of course, we can't wrap our review without mentioning the D850's stellar performance in our weather-sealing test. Though we don't know for sure the degree of weather sealing compared to, say, the flagship D5, the D850 withstood a nice (artificial) showering and walked away unscathed. What's more, our first field test saw the D850 withstand some dusty, dry conditions out in Oregon, and the camera was no worse for wear.

Better video experience & 4K, but still limited by contrast-detect AF

Sadly, video will still be a disappointing aspect of the D850 for some. On the one hand, the video quality is quite nice, especially its 4K/30 footage, and the in-camera time-lapse features are impressive. It also includes some advanced features, making it Nikon's most versatile video DSLR yet. However, the fact that the camera still uses sluggish contrast-detect AF for live view and video really puts the D850 at a disadvantage for video compared to other 4K-capable ILCs on the market these days.

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens at 30mm, f/11, 3s, ISO 64.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Summary: Resolution and performance combine for ultimate DSLR versatility

Overall, the D850 is a fantastic camera and is Nikon's most versatile camera to date. At $3,300, we can't say it's the camera for everyone, but for serious photographers who want a camera that can pretty much do it all, the D850 most assuredly fits the bill. For pixel-peepers who demand resolving power and big printmakers, the D850 has you covered, but if sports, action and wildlife photography are more your speed, the D850 also tackles those subjects with ease. The D850's speed and performance will undoubtedly suit photographers' needs for most sports and action subjects. Professional sports shooters, however, will likely opt for more action-centric models, like the D5 or D500, for that extra performance. Yet for those who just want or can only pick a single DSLR, the Nikon D850 offers both speed and resolution -- something that not many other cameras can do.

With excellent build quality, comfortable ergonomics, fantastic image quality and great performance, the Nikon D850 is an all-around amazing package. Unsurprisingly, the D850 earned not only our pick for Best Professional DSLR of 2017, but it also got our top pick for 2017's Best Overall Camera of the Year. No doubt, then, that it also receives a Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • New full-frame backside illuminated 45.7-megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Class-leading resolution
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Very good high ISO performance
  • Improved JPEG image quality compared to predecessor
  • Very quick startup
  • Very fast AF speed
  • Low shutter lag and cycle times
  • Fast 7 fps burst mode
  • Very fast 9 fps burst mode with optional MB-D18 battery grip and EN-EL18b battery
  • Deep buffers with very fast clearing when using fast XQD card
  • Low vibration mechanical shutter
  • Electronic front-curtain shutter now available with optical viewfinder in Q and QC modes
  • All-electronic shutter is available in live view mode
  • Larger optical viewfinder (but see Con regarding coverage)
  • Tilting 3.2-inch high-res touchscreen LCD
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Dual card slots (XQD and SD UHS-II)
  • Auto AF fine-tuning (but still only one setting per lens)
  • Weather-sealed magnesium alloy body
  • Improved ergonomics over D810
  • Illuminated buttons
  • New "Keep White" Auto WB mode
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Automatic Focus Shift mode for focus stacking
  • Full-width 4K videos up to 30 fps
  • Very nice 4K quality
  • Slow-motion Full HD videos at 120 fps
  • External mic and headphone jacks
  • Lossless compression option for RAW files (unlike some competitors)
  • L/M/S RAW file size options
  • In-camera RAW batch processing
  • Simultaneous 4K HDMI output and internal recording
  • 4K time-lapse movies in-camera (8K requires third party software)
  • Focus peaking for Full HD/HD movies or stills in live view mode
  • Adjustable Zebra patterns for video highlights
  • Optical viewfinder tested at only about 98% coverage
  • Limited AF point coverage when using optical viewfinder
  • Live view/movie mode still uses slow and clumsy contrast-detect AF
  • 30 minute video clip limit
  • Focus peaking & electronic VR not supported for 4K video
  • No 4K @ 60fps
  • No AF illuminator
  • No built-in flash
  • Top shutter speed still limited to 1/8000 when using electronic shutter
  • Lack of low-pass filter makes it more prone to moiré with certain subjects
  • Rear directional pad feels mushy and at times unresponsive
  • Built-in Wi-Fi (SnapBridge) has improved, but it's still a sluggish experience


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