Nikon D850 Video

The D850 is proof Nikon is finally taking video seriously

by Jaron Schneider

There have been multiple attempts over the last five or so years by Nikon to show their customers that they are not just a still photography system. Ashton Kutcher tried to convince us, their haphazardly thrown together (and often neglected) filmmaking section on their website had some nice images, and they have liked to talk about making films with their cameras. But in all honesty, few did. As much as Nikon said they supported filmmakers, the words rarely felt backed up by action as their cameras' features fell behind competitor offerings.

But finally, when I look at the D850, I think there are signs that is changing. With the features that Nikon has built in to their new flagship, I think it's fair to say they're finally taking video seriously.

Here are the Nikon D850's video features:

  • Full-frame 4K UHD: at 24/30 fps
  • Slow Motion: Full HD 1080p at up to 120 fps (4x or 5x), DX crop
  • Focus Peaking: When shooting Full HD or in Live View for stills, focus peaking can be enabled which highlights in-focus subjects in the frame to ensure sharpness.
  • 8K / 4K Time-lapse: Create 4K UHD time-lapse videos easily in-camera, or can use the built in intervalometer to capture images for an ultra-high resolution 8K time lapse that can be assembled in post.
  • Zebra stripes: The D850's highlight display mode uses zebra patterns to quickly spot overblown highlights. It is available in two varieties, selectable according to the patterns and textures of the subjects.
  • HDMI output: Record uncompressed, broadcast quality 4:2:2 8-bit 4K UHD footage, directly to an external digital recorder while simultaneously recording to a card.
  • Audio Control: The D850 features an onboard stereo microphone, as well as inputs for headphones and microphone. The camera also features a new audio attenuator to regulate sound levels.
  • Dual card slots: XQD and SD UHS-II
  • Tilting LCD Touchscreen: 3.2-inch, high resolution (2,359k-dot) LCD monitor.
  • EXPEED 5: New processor allows for full-frame 4K UHD video capture and greater power efficiency for longer battery life.

Full video specs:

  • 4K UHD 3,840x2,160 / 30 fps @ 144Mbps
  • 4K UHD 3,840x2,160 / 25 fps @ 144Mbps
  • 4K UHD 3,840x2,160 / 24 fps @ 144Mbps
  • Full HD 1,920x1,080 / 60 fps @ 48 Mbps
  • Full HD 1,920x1,080 / 50 fps @ 48 Mbps
  • Full HD 1,920x1,080 / 30 fps @ 24 Mbps
  • Full HD 1,920x1,080 / 25 fps @ 24 Mbps
  • Full HD 1,920x1,080 / 24 fps @ 24 Mbps
  • HD 1,280x720 / 60 fps @ 24 Mbps
  • HD 1,280x720 / 50 fps @ 24 Mbps
  • Slow-motion: Full HD 1,920x1,080 30p (x4) @ 36 Mbps
  • Slow-motion: Full HD 1,920x1,080 25p (x4) @ 36 Mbps
  • Slow-motion: Full HD 1,920x1,080 24p (x5) @ 29 Mbps

Actual frame rates for 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, and 24p are 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, and 23.976 fps, respectively.

Quality selection available at all sizes except 3,840 x 2,160 (when quality is fixed at high) and 1,920 x 1,080 slow-motion (when quality is fixed at normal). Bitrates provided above are at sample from "high quality."

  • Format: Recorded in MOV or MP4, H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
  • Maximum recording time: 29 minutes 59 seconds. Each movie will be recorded across up to 8 files of up to 4 GB each. The number of files and the length of each file vary with the options selected for Frame size/frame rate and Movie quality. Slow-motion limited to 3 minutes recording.
  • Live View Autofocus: Contrast-detect AF anywhere in frame (camera selects focus point automatically when face-priority AF or subject-tracking AF is selected).

Exciting features on Nikon's new pro full-frame DSLR

Focus Peaking on a DSLR

Focus peaking, or highlighting edges of subjects in focus on a display, is an absolute must for video professionals. It's a standard feature on every serious video camera, and has been noticeably absent from most DSLRs out there -- certainly none from Canon or Nikon before the D850 have had it. That's right: bafflingly, hardly any DSLR has ever included the feature despite the competition (mirrorless) happily including it on basically every model ever. It's handy for both stills and video, but for motion pictures, it makes manual focusing (a common decision for making video) faster and more accurate than the alternative (zooming in and dialing in focus which is slow, or rack focusing with parfocal lenses, which are rare).

Someone at Nikon decided to take a stand and give the masses what they wanted, and the D850 is one of the few DSLRs to offer focus peaking in video. Though it's only available for the 1080p features (not in 4K), this is a huge step in the right direction.

True Full Frame 4K

I hope that this doesn't get passed over, because having true full frame 4K video is spectacular. The D850's FX BSI CMOS sensor allows 4K UHD output at the full sensor width to 16:9, which gives video shooters a true field of view when shooting video.

This is exceedingly rare in any full frame camera.

For most, including Canon, there is a crop (often times significant) that brings the actual field of view down to at APS-C size, sometimes smaller. That means that what you see with your 24-70mm lens, for example, in stills isn't what you see with the same scene and the same lens equipped in 4K video.

One of the main benefits of shooting video with a DSLR is getting that "full frame look," and cropping in dramatically takes away from that benefit. Keeping the true field of view means making dynamic, dramatic full frame video that is going to look unique among video options on the market.

4K isn't for everyone, though. Often, shooters want to only shoot in 1080p, and it's nice to see that Nikon included five different 1080p settings, both in NTSC and PAL frame rates.

True slow motion in Full HD

Much of the slow-motion video that shooters are used to seeing on DSLRs is just barely slowed down thanks to shooting at a maximum of 60p on a 24p or 30p sequence. The D850 offers up to 5x slow motion in 1080p (if final video output is 24p, otherwise it is 4x slow motion in both 30p and 25p) thanks to a 120 frame per second capture rate. That is slow enough to really see incredible detail in action sequences, and is a welcome addition to any video camera. Slow motion video capture is however fixed to DX format (APS-C crop), regardless of lens used or image area selection.

Built-In Timelapse

Nikon is touting both 4K and 8K timelapse, and it's the latter that will be of most interest to the higher-end shooter. For quick, in-camera timelapse, the 4K mode allows you to have the camera do most of the work, stitching together stills and outputting a finished 4K video file. If you prefer a PC-based workflow, if you bring the D850 stills in for editing the final output video can be up to 8K, the next in-demand video resolution.

In terms of timelapse, the D850 is ready to offer ultra high definition now, and is future-proof to provide content for even higher resolutions as the demand arises.

Other welcome features

  • The clean HDMI out at 4:2:2 8-bit is nice to see, especially since the D850 can record in-camera as well as to an external recorder simultaneously. For those looking for the best quality the camera can offer, this is pretty darn good.
  • Both a headphone and mic jack together is of course a must-have, and Nikon delivered.
  • A tilting screen is always welcome, and it being touch-capable as well is great.
  • Zebra striping for exposure is a big plus, and many video shooters can't imagine using a camera that doesn't have this feature.

Looking at the Nikon D850, I'm seeing a lot more pros than potential cons. Though it doesn't offer 60p at 4K, which is disappointing, the bitrates for 1080p video (including slow motion) seem a bit low, and the autofocus is only contrast-based, the other features Nikon built into the D850 certainly shine brighter than these concerns. Though I'll reserve judgement until I'm able to get hands-on time with the camera myself, there is quite a bit about which to be excited. If nothing else, the D850 shows that Nikon may finally be ready to commit to competing as a video system.

See Part III of Jeremy Gray's D850 Field Test for much more on the camera's video features and performance, including sample videos.


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