Nikon D850: All Hail the Queen

Nikon D850: All Hail the Queen

Sometimes it pays to appreciate the one you’re with.

A photographer’s relationship with their camera is something like a marriage. It can take forever to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. You always have cold feet leading up to finally saying “I do.” When you finally do take the plunge, you immediately find yourself in a honeymoon period where your new partner can do no wrong. Where everything they say has an extra bit of charm. Where everything just seems to work out right. That period is quickly followed by the discovery that your spouse is, in fact, human like everyone else. They have their quirks and shortcomings too. And a major part of a happy relationship is not expecting to change your partner into someone they are not, but instead accepting them for everything they are, good and bad, and loving them anyway.

There is a thing called the “Seven Year Itch” immortalized by the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe standing atop a New York City ventilation grate doing just enough to keep her white skirt from flying above a PG rating. Of course, for some, it’s more like seven weeks. But inevitably over the course of your relationship, your eyes may begin to wander causing your brain to follow suit. Odds are that you’ll never act on your newly invoked impulses, but still, you can’t seem to help yourself. You start to see your alternatives. You maybe begin to daydream a bit about what life would be like had you married someone else. You might even consider trading in your current spouse for a younger model.

Then one day, on a particularly mundane morning with no special signifier other than it being Flag Day in some far off land you’ve never so much as heard of, you will look across the breakfast table at your spouse and the window light from your modest kitchenette will catch them at just the right angle. They will brush the hair from their face in a way that you’ve seen so many times before than you can picture it with your eyes closed. Noticing your gaze, they will look back at you through kind eyes. The arch of their lips will soon follow and you will suddenly, unexpectedly, find your own lips rising to match their silent smile. And, it’s in that moment that you realize, no matter whatever other options for beauty may exist in the world, no one, and I mean no one could ever be as beautiful as this.

No, I didn’t set out this morning to write an article to inspire readers to renew their wedding vows. Instead, it was just the best analogy to describe the joy you feel when the camera you have is exactly the right one for you.

As an Fstoppers writer, I sometimes get the chance to play with all the shiny toys such as Sony’s excellent A7RIII. And, outside of my professional work, I often choose to shoot with the Fuji X series. The pocketable X100S has been my trusty street photography camera for years. I recently wrote an article about the X-T2 as what I feel is one of the best-designed cameras I have ever held in my hand. It brings pure joy to the photographic process.

But, when it comes time to getting down to work, to actually creating the images that put food in my belly, I have always turned to the brand that started it all for me, Nikon. The Nikon D200 took my digital virginity. That was eventually followed by the D700, then the D800. Recently I’ve upgraded to the new model, the D850, and man oh man am I happy to have her in the family.

She has all the curb appeal a man could ask for. A massive 45.7MP sensor. 4K video recording to die for. A nice large and bright touch screen LCD. And paired with my 24-70mm f/2.8 the autofocus is rapier fast.

Of course, that particular combination of lens and camera is also on the hefty side coming in at 4.37 pounds when held together. Add the battery grip and you find yourself looking forward to setting the camera down once in a while to give your arms a rest. Not that you lack the power to lift 4 pounds, but compared to most mirrorless systems, the weight is noticeable. Again, every spouse has their flaws. No one is perfect.

But like a marriage, the true value of a great camera like the D850 only grows over time. Sure, that fancy model you met at the park may be great for one night of dancing. But are they going to be there for you when times get tough? Are they going to go into battle with you, day-after-day, and deliver consistent results? The D850 will.

The other day I was doing a shoot for a large outdoor brand. The theme of the shoot was trail running. The client specifically wanted the shots to feel “lived in.” They didn’t want posed shots. They wanted shots of someone actually running that were captured “in the moment.” The brief required me to do the shoot in a somewhat remote location. For practical reasons like avoiding crowds and creating a realistic mood, I decided that the best approach would be for me to actually run several miles with the model and shoot along the way. And since this was a photoshoot, that plan required me to run those miles with my camera.

Thankfully, I like to run. So, the cardio portion of the task wasn’t a major stumbling block. And while securing the camera safely inside my pack was a great benefit to my back, my primary concern was reducing the strain on my camera and lens from the constant vibrations of my slow jog along the path. Happily, I can say that between intelligent packing and careful stepping both cameras made it home okay.

Oh, right. I forgot to mention I was carrying two cameras. You see, in addition to being a photographer, I am also a bit of a masochist. Knowing that the most likely usage for these images would be in an advertorial (printed in a magazine) versus outdoor advertising (billboard), I actually entertained the idea of shooting the series with my small mirrorless crop sensor camera instead. It would be significantly lighter for jogging purposes. And since the original plan was for the images not to be printed excessively large, the image quality produced by the mirrorless system would be plenty adequate for the job. But, of course me being me, I was also stricken with a competing thought. What if, upon seeing the series, the client decided they did want to use the images for printing super large? Usually, that is known prior to a shoot, but this particular client is a bit unique (I am intentionally not identifying the client since the series is not yet public). But, if the client did decide, after the fact, that they wanted to use the images in a billboard campaign, having the extra resolution would be a major plus in getting the work accepted (and getting me an improved paycheck for additional license fees). So which choice would I make?

Well, going back to my previous claim of masochism, or stupidity depending on how you look at it, I decided to bring both. I knew I would primarily shoot the series on my Nikon. But I wanted to shoot a few frames with the other camera as well to get a sense of how the two would stack up one-on-one.

Well, from the title of the article, I’m guessing you already know who won. Of course the Nikon won. It’s full frame versus crop sensor. It’s 46MP versus 24MP. It’s not exactly an apples versus apples comparison. And these two cameras serve very different purposes and both perform their specific tasks very well. This essay is not meant to be a knock on any camera model or a pixel peeping declaration of quality. That's not the moral of the story.

But sitting in front of Capture One, going over the images from the shoot, I was suddenly reminded just how well the Nikon D850 does its job. Suddenly, I was sitting at that breakfast table again, being reminded in a flash just how much I love my wife. Pulling out shadow detail in post from a supremely contrasty day without adding significant noise to the image. Cropping in to adjust my chronic tendency towards uneven horizon lines. Preparing multiple cropped orientations from the 46MP files to give my client options for their various layouts. Pushing in to wide shots of my subject running towards the camera in the distance, checking focus with the loupe tool, and seeing eyes as tack sharp as if shot close up in a controlled studio.

Image after image, I was simply blown away by the quality. It was as if the D850 knew I had brought a competitor into its arena, and stepped up its game to not only beat but crush the opponent and to remove any doubt. I thought back to reading Laura Hillenbrand’s book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” where she describes the legendary race horse’s tendency to simply trot during its solo training sessions, much to the annoyance of its trainers. But the second you put a second horse on the track, no matter it’s physical attributes, Seabiscuit would take his pace to another level and outrun his opponent for sheer pride alone. In the face of competition is where the horse’s true greatness would shine. Going through my files, I felt as though the D850 had noticed the presence of the second camera in the bag and decided to throw down the gauntlet. It wanted to remind me who was boss. It succeeded.

As our relationships grow with time, it is part of human nature that we begin to undervalue the people in our lives that are “always there.” We tend to go looking for the next best thing, gleefully deluding ourselves into thinking that the grass is always greener on the other side. But sometimes moments come along to remind us just how good we already have it. We take a fresh look at the parts of our life that have become “routine,” and suddenly remember that they are anything but.

I’ve been shooting Nikon professionally for thirteen years now and the D850 has only taken my appreciation to the next level. Looking forward to seeing our relationship develop for years to come.

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Previous comments
Deleted Account's picture

Really? I have the 24-70 E and it's plenty sharp. Maybe I'm not zooming in far enough to see it. ;-)

Nacona Nix's picture

I pixel peep like mad. It's pathological.

Jonathan Reid's picture

If someone stole all my canon gear, I’d totally move over to this beauty with the insurance money.

Jozef Povazan's picture

Just leave it on a bench in park and watch to have it stolen :) and get the D850 then :) Cheers

Ben Bezuidenhout's picture

Paid advert I asume.

Jim Cutler's picture

Why do you think that?

Jim Cutler's picture

I use other cameras for travel. But when I work I use the D850 and am reminded why I am thankful to have it. Stunning quality.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Oh, yeah. Travel is all Fuji for me. Either the XT2 or X100S. Can't beat the weight. My Nikon gets the call on "game day" :-)

Ken Hilts's picture

For anyone still following this thread - just placed an order for a D850 from Allen's Camera ( in Levittown, PA. Brandon replied very promptly to my inquiry, they do have some in stock. They are an authorized dealer (found them from Nikon's site).

Lawrence Huber's picture

For a year old repost post. This is interesting as the D850 is very dated by today's standards.
Canon R5 makes it look positively primitive with the D850 primitive AF in video lack of FF 8K lack of 20 fps etc.
Plus the primitive last legs F mount and flippy mirror.

Boris Grishenko's picture

Z50 is now better.