Nikon D850 Field Test Part III

Is the D850 the best Nikon DSLR ever for video?

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 12/01/2017

Recap of Field Test Part II

In my Field Test Part II, I discussed RAW files from the D850, how the D850 compares to the D800/D810. I also touched on using the D850 for wildlife and for night photography. In this Field Test Part III, I will discuss the camera's built-in timelapse functionality and video features.

Built-in timelapse functionality
D850 timelapse video #1
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens; three second intervals; Exposure Smoothing Off.
Download Original (212.8 MB .MP4 File)

The D850 has extensive timelapse functionality, including built-in 4K timelapses as well as an 8K timelapse function, although these 8K sequences are not compiled in-camera like the 4K timelapses.

When shooting 4K timelapses in-camera, you have control over the shooting interval, total shooting time and whether exposure smoothing and "silent photography" is enabled. I like how much control over the timelapses you have with the D850. Another nice touch is that as you adjust the settings, the camera automatically updates the total shooting time and the length of the final timelapse sequence, which is of course dependent upon interval, shooting time and the frame rate of the final video.

D850 timelapse video #2
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens; three second intervals; Exposure Smoothing On.
Download Original (226 MB .MP4 File)

The exposure smoothing works well, although I prefer having it turned off for a more natural look. In the video above, exposure smoothing is turned on. Below, it is turned off.

D850 timelapse video #3
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens; three second intervals; Exposure Smoothing Off.
Download Original (225.3 MB .MP4 File)

Overall, the D850 makes it easy to capture nice timelapse videos. The in-camera menus are intuitive and easy to understand. The 4K timelapse video quality is definitely impressive, and I like that the camera records using the full width of the sensor, which is very nice. You can set the camera to capture images for an 8K time lapse video, although you cannot compile the video in-camera, but must do it on your computer.

D850 timelapse video #4
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens; three second intervals; Exposure Smoothing Off.
Download Original (233.7 MB .MP4 File)
Video Shooting

Introduction

On the traditional video side of things, the D850 is similarly strong. In fact, I think it's Nikon's best video camera to date thanks in part to 4K UHD video at the full width of the sensor. The D850 has a dedicated video setting menu, which is good and provides direct access to important camera settings, including file naming, memory card destination, image area, frame size/frame rate, movie quality, movie file type (MOV or MP4), ISO sensitivity settings, white balance, Picture Control and management, high ISO noise reduction, flicker reduction, microphone sensitivity, attenuator, frequency response, wind noise reduction, electronic VR and timelapse movie. A very good feature on the D850 is that these settings apply only to video recording. It's nice to be able to have different ISO settings for still recording and video, for example.

D850 4K video sample (ISO 800)
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E: 32mm, f/5, ISO 800, 1/50s shutter speed.
Download Original (327.8 MB .MP4 File)

Features

While it cannot shoot 4K/60p video, the D850 can record 4K Ultra HD video at up to 30 frames per second, which is sufficient in most cases. Nikon has only recently become more serious about video features in their DSLRs, and the D850 is the culmination of the strides the company has made. In addition to the 4K/30p, the camera can also do Full HD video at up to 120 fps. There's also an option to use an FX or DX image area, if you want, which gives you some flexibility with your video framing without needing to change lenses. It should be noted that for slow-motion video modes (1080/100p or 1080/120p), the D850 is automatically switched into the DX frame size mode (and video quality is set to "Normal"). One of the other big features of the camera is focus peaking, another first for Nikon in a DSLR.

The D850 offers focus peaking for video, but only when recording in Full HD and with highlight warnings disabled.

Regarding focus peaking, there are three settings for the intensity of the focus peaking and four colors to choose from (red, yellow, blue and white). Before you get too excited, there are some limitations to focus peaking. For one, it cannot be used when recording 4K video. It also cannot be used when relying on electronic image stabilization, shooting in slow motion, or using Active D-Lighting in movies (it is available for stills). There are also zebra stripe exposure warnings, which work well across a variety of shooting modes -- but again, these can't be displayed at the same time as focus peaking. You can set thresholds for when these zebra exposure warnings will appear, and the feature can be activated via the touchscreen.

While not quite the same as having Log profiles, the D850 does have a Flat Picture Control setting that decreases contrast and creates a flatter curve, making video better-suited for color grading during post-processing.

D850 4K video with Flat picture setting
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens
Download Original (261.3 MB .MP4 File)

The touchscreen implementation when recording video is very good. You can scroll through many settings, including: image area, frame size/rate, movie quality, active D-lighting, microphone sensitivity, attenuator, frequency response, wind noise reduction, memory card destination, monitor brightness, multi-selector power aperture, multi-selector exposure compensation, highlight display, headphone volume, electronic vibration reduction and focus peaking.

Zebra warnings are useful and you can choose from a couple different patterns on the D850 and set the threshold for when the exposure warnings appear.

Electronic vibration reduction is available when recording Full HD video, but not 4K video. The VR functionality works okay, but it's not spectacular and it does create some unnatural looking movements as you can see in the video below. Further, it does crop in a bit, which you can see in the frame comparison images below.

The image frame with vibration reduction disabled. This is the same for Full HD and 4K videos.

The image frame with vibration reduction enabled. This feature is only available when recording Full HD video.
 
D850 Full HD video with electronic VR enabled
1920 x 1080; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens
Download Original (113.3 MB .MP4 File)

D850 Full HD video with electronic VR disabled
1920 x 1080; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens
Download Original (110.2 MB .MP4 File)

The D850 has an HDMI output which offers completely clean HDMI out. Video is outputted at a maximum of 8-bit 4:2:2. Via the camera's setup menu, you can access a lot of settings including output resolution, external recording and advanced settings, which include output range, output display size, live view on-screen display and dual monitor settings. There are a lot of good features here that show that Nikon has been listening to video users.

The D850 offers many HDMI output options, including clean HDMI output.

Autofocus

Having used quite a few Nikon DSLR cameras, I'm used to their video autofocus being quite poor. Despite the excellent autofocus system in the D850 when shooting photos through the viewfinder, the autofocus performance is still not as good when recording video (or when using live view). The D850 still relies upon a contrast-detect autofocus system for live view/video, which results in sluggish and jumpy focus with a lot of micro adjustments being made during recording.

D850 Autofocus Testing
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens
Download full autofocus test video (471.9 MB .MP4 File)

As you can see in the video above, the autofocus is not particularly quick when selecting a new subject. It is not only on the slower side, but it regularly makes small adjustments, which can be very jarring in a video. This is more prominent when recording in low light, such as the stream clips in the second part of the video, but it often occurs when shooting in bright light as well.

A nice aspect of the D850's live view autofocus system is that the camera's touchscreen works well for moving the autofocus point around and you can use magnified live view when recording video to check focus if you are manually focusing.

It's disappointing that the video autofocus performance of the D850 is not better because as we will see, the camera's actual video quality is quite impressive.

Video Quality

At low ISOs, the D850 records good 4K UHD video with strong detail. At ISO 64-400, the D850's video has a lot of nice fine detail and has good dynamic range and color. Through ISO 1600, the D850's 4K video still looks good, but at ISO 3200, the fine detail drops off a bit while color and dynamic range remain good.

D850 ISO Testing
3840 x 2160; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E lens
Download full autofocus test video (559.8 MB .MP4 File)

At ISO 6400, the detail continues to drop, but I would consider the video still usable. The dynamic range drops a bit, but there is not a lot of noise in the video. At ISO 12,800, the detail gets very washed out, and there is considerable visible noise. The D850 can record video at ISO 25,600 and ISO 51,200 as well, but they are both very noisy and likely not worth using unless it is absolutely necessary.

Video Summary

The D850's video features are strong, and the camera is well-suited to be a serious video camera for more controlled situations. However, the video autofocus performance is underwhelming, making run-and-gun filming or tracking moving subjects very difficult. If you are manually focusing, the D850 captures very good 4K UHD video. Further, there are some nice features, such as electronic VR and focus peaking, although neither of those are available when recording 4K video.

D850 Field Test Part III Summary

Strong video features but there is still room to grow

What I liked:

  • Tilting touchscreen display
  • A lot of nice video features
  • Full width 4K video recording
  • Very nice 4K quality

What I disliked:

  • Poor video autofocus
  • Some highly-touted video features are limited in practice

The D850's multimedia features are as good as any of Nikon's cameras to date. The built-in timelapse mode works well and is easy to use. With respect to video itself, the D850 finally records 4K UHD using the full width of the sensor, a first for a Nikon full-frame DSLR. Autofocus performance during video recording is still underwhelming, which is par for the course for a Nikon DSLR. However, if you are comfortable with manually focusing, the D850 is a very powerful video camera.

D850 Field Test Overall Summary

As we have seen throughout our three Field Tests for the D850, it is a very powerful and versatile full-frame DSLR. It has the best image quality of any Nikon camera we've tested, and its autofocus system, performance and handling features are very good. It is an expensive camera, yes, but it provides a lot of value for many different types of photographers including portrait, studio, sports and wildlife photographers. Further, it has the strongest video features of any Nikon DSLR to date. Overall, the D850 is an excellent professional DSLR camera -- which is why we gave it our Camera of the Year (Best Pro DSLR) award this year -- and is perhaps Nikon's best camera ever.

 



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