The D850 is the camera Nikon desperately needed


posted Wednesday, August 30, 2017 at 2:48 PM EDT


The D850 is the camera Nikon desperately, terribly needed. It's a “win” that the storied camera manufacturer had been lacking for the better part of a year, surrounded on all sides either by disappointing or nonexistent news. 

A year ago, Nikon looked scared. The biggest story to come out of Nikon in the last twelve months was that they discontinued an entire camera line without selling a single one of them. If you recall, that was the DL line of 4K compact cameras that never saw the light of day. I remember being briefed on them at NAB in 2016. I had my hands on them. That was the last I heard of them before the news hit that they would not be shipping.


Cancelled. That’s not good for morale, for customer support, or for business investment. (The problems appeared to be the fault of the third-party company who was fabbing their processor chips, but it was nonetheless terrible news for Nikon.)

Later that year, Nikon cut 10% of its domestic workforce (1000 jobs) amid a 30% fall over the last three years of their total camera sales. They of course were not alone in seeing a drop in camera sales, as Canon and Sony both have seen dips in demand/sales in various camera segments over the same period, but Nikon lacks the size and diversification of the others. Nikon has divisions in other optics-related businesses, but some of those have struggled (leading to their recent restructuring), and there's no printer or other tech division to help hold up the imaging business. So when you see news that the camera industry is hurting, it hurts extra badly for Nikon.

They tried to go the way of the action camera, but reception of their line of KeyMission cameras has been tepid at best. It certainly wasn’t the saving grace Nikon was hoping for.

The KeyMission trio of cameras are nice, but haven't enjoyed the reception Nikon hoped for.

The last really major camera Nikon released was the duo of the D5 and D500, and that was way back in February of 2016. That was 18 months ago. 18 months of pretty much silence. Earlier this year, Nikon had nothing to say at CES, NAB or CP+. They did announce the D7500 in April of this year, and while it's an excellent camera, it's frankly more incremental than trend-setting. Call it a solid double, vs a home run that resets expectations. They teased the D850 just prior, but their 100th anniversary came and went with nothing of consequence, met with disappointment from fans.

So is it a surprise that the competition had basically written off Nikon? Canon has set their sights on Sony, and is prepared to duke it out there for the future of imaging. Sony is happy to oblige. Can you blame them for focusing on each other? Nikon looked like it was receding, and Sony expanding. If you’re going to fight a war, you’re going to focus on the threat.

Nikon stopped looking like a threat.

So taking in all that, the D850 should not exist. Recent history doesn’t support such a camera being produced, let alone the powerhouse that Nikon managed to create. It far exceeded both my own expectations and probably those of the marketplace. Considering that just six months ago there was nary a word of anything on Nikon’s 2017 road map (according to my own sources as well as those from other outlets you might have read), having a new flagship camera ready for sale in 2017, is incredibly surprising.

The specs on the D850 are undeniably impressive: 45.7 megapixel full frame CMOs sensor, and Nikon’s first backside illuminated one in a DSLR at that. Seven frames per second capture time with up to nine if you use the battery grip. It offers full frame 4K video, which puts the Canon 5D Mark IV (you know, the line of cameras that started DSLR video) to shame. The D5's exceptional 153 autofocus point system, a new image processing engine, a touch screen, incredible ISO range, exceptional dynamic range and more. The camera hits so many high notes that it boggles the mind, especially when you consider where Nikon was just six months ago.

The D850 is the camera Nikon desperately, terribly needed.

They need this camera to succeed. They are backed into a corner. But never has the “caged animal” metaphor been more on point.

Today, Nikon doesn’t look scared. No, with the D850, Nikon looks dangerous.