Nikon has a new full-frame DSLR: the D850. Announced today, the D850 is a monster of a camera in terms of specs, and it’s one that will cost accordingly — the retail price is $3,299 for just the body when it goes on sale in September. The pro-level D5 may still be the king of Nikon’s current DSLR offerings, but at first glance it’s the D850 that will likely be the Nikon full-frame camera that gets the most use by pros, semi-pros, and amateurs with deep pockets. For all intents and purposes, this is Nikon’s flagship camera going forward.
So what does a 2017 flagship camera look like in Nikon’s eyes? Well, this camera has just about everything you could want from a full-frame DSLR these days. It’s built around a hefty 45.7-megapixel CMOS sensor that’s back-side illuminated — a first for any of Nikon’s full-frame cameras. That should make the D850 handle low light situations pretty well despite the high megapixel count, which usually limits low light quality. And to wrangle those mega files, Nikon’s included its top-line Expeed 5 image processor.
Tons of detail without, but hopefully without the normal tradeoffs
Nikon’s also following a major trend in digital cameras by not including a low pass filter on the D850, which — combined with the high megapixel count — means the camera should be able to capture incredible detail.
And yet, Nikon’s not positioning the D850 as simply a great tool for stills and studio photographers. In fact, there’s a pretty good case to be made for the D850 in almost any shooting scenario judging from its specs. More bluntly: it doesn’t carry as many of the tradeoffs for that resolution that high-resolution DSLRs like Canon’s two-year-old 50-megapixel 5DS line asks of its users. It also outclasses (on paper, at least) Canon’s own “jack of all trades” full-frame camera, the year-old 5D Mark IV.
The D850 outclasses the 5D Mark IV — on paper, at least
That all starts with the D850’s video capabilities — it shoots 4K UHD footage at 30 or 24 frames per second, and 1080p video at up to 120 fps. It can record uncompressed 4:2:2 8-bit 4K UHD footage to an external recorder over the HDMI port while recording locally to a card at the same time. There’s an 8K time-lapse video mode, too, which is double the resolution that’s typically found on DSLRs these days.
But the camera is also relatively fast on the stills side when you consider the size of the files it’s dealing with. It has the same robust 153-point (99 cross type) autofocus system used in the D5, and can shoot 7 frames per second at full, 45.7-megapixel resolution. (If you buy the $399 battery grip, that max speed bumps up to 9 fps.) That’s with a 51-image buffer for 14-bit lossless RAW files, or 170 images shooting at 12-bit.
There’s also a “silent shooting” option — something more commonly seen on mirrorless cameras, not DSLRs — that lets users shoot up to 6 fps at full resolution (or up to 30 fps at 8.6-megapixels). This is done through the camera’s Live View mode, where the mirror stays up out of the way, and so the limitation here is that the camera’s exposure and focus will be locked from the first frame forward. But in the right setting this could be a big help, and it helps (slightly) make up for one of the biggest current shortcomings of DSLRs when compared to mirrorless cameras.
The D850 has two memory card slots — one XQD and one SD — to help capture all that data, and the battery will last for about 1,800 shots (or 70 minutes of video). On the back is a fairly standard 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen, which is surrounded by those illuminated buttons that leaked a few weeks ago. It has a big viewfinder with 0.75x magnification, the highest ever in a Nikon DSLR, according to the company. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Snapbridge (the company’s solution for maintaining a constant connection to your smartphone) are all included as well.
I spent mere minutes with the D850, so I can’t speak to its performance in any meaningful way. But the viewfinder is immersive, the grip on the front is deeper than ever, and the body is sturdy even if it’s not very svelte. As for how it handles the outdoors, the D850 is basically the most weatherproof Nikon camera with the exception of the D5, which is in a league of its own, I was told.
The D850 looks like a mashup of the best things that Nikon is doing at both extremes of its DSLR lineup. It’s got most of the brains and brawn of pro-only cameras like the D5, but with much of the approachability and versatility you typically have to look for in the company’s entry-level and prosumer DSLRs. That “best of all worlds” approach obviously won’t come cheap, but don’t expect that to slow the D850 down. Barring unforeseen issues, this will be the camera that Nikon users will spend the next few years saving to buy, and the one that might cause Canon (or maybe even Sony) shooters to defect.