5 Reasons To Buy a Nikon D850 — or Any DSLR — in 2021

When it was released in 2017, the Nikon D850 could be considered the alpha and the omega of the SLR photography world. It represented almost every advancement ever made for cameras with swinging mirrors. But are there still reasons to buy one of these, or any DSLR, in 2021?

If you’re YouTuber and photographer Adrian Alford, that’s a definite yes. If you’re the rest of us, that’s a solid maybe, I’d say. Alford makes some good points in the DSLR column, but to play devil’s advocate, some of it is not always the case. Let’s start with price.

While in Australia, where Alford is filming from, there’s a price difference between the Nikon mirrorless and DSLR models, the D850 goes for the same price as the Z 7II, which is $2996. But that number isn’t quite what it seems. What sets the D850 and the Z 7 II mirrorless apart is the lenses. You’ll get very similar performance out of a premium Nikon 24-70mm lens, but in the Z-mount, it will cost you $200 more than the recent DSLR F-mount version, the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR lens. But then again, the almost $2,300 is the only option you have for a Z-mount, whereas if you step one version back in the F-mount, you can get the non-stabilized AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens for just under $1,600. Or a refurbished one for $1,200. That kind of saving is nothing to sneeze at, especially since even at two generations behind, the G version of the lens is extremely sharp and extremely versatile even in 2021. So while the cost of the bodies may be the same, Alford’s point about money stands when you add up the cost of lenses or adapters to use old lenses on mirrorless bodies.

That does all tie into Alford’s point about a large back catalog of lenses being available for the F-mount. The F-mount has been around for decades, and so while some of the older lenses don’t hold up on the newest sensors, there are still plenty of used and older models that do. That sensor is another plus for the D850, as Alford mentions that the sensor is still the same as the one as the new Z models and holds up even today.

That said, two of the things that I always find odd in the mirrorless versus DSLR debate are the points about battery life and autofocus. For one, the addition of eye-autofocus in almost every mirrorless camera out there these days instantly push them to the top of the pile for me, but even in Alford’s use case of wildlife photography, the accuracy of focusing directly off the sensor in a mirrorless camera and not having to worry about micro-adjusting lenses is fantastic. I can’t tell you how much of my life was wasted doing that.

And as for battery life, while it’s slightly worse on a mirrorless camera, I’ve still been able to get through all-day shoots on my Canon EOS R and still have some juice to spare, even in cold temperatures. Maybe not as much as a DSLR would have left, but it still gets me through the day. This wasn’t the case a few years back with the extremely tiny batteries on Micro Four Thirds cameras I had, but times have changed.

Much of what Alford says about the D850 can really apply to any DSLR out there. So it’s 2021, what’s your choice, mirrorless or DSLR? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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38 Comments

MIchael DiGregori's picture

It seems like every advantage the DSLR might have had over the mirrorless camera has faded away into irrelevance, with differences growing less and less. I think all that's left is build-quality, or "heft," or ergonomics, where mirrorless cameras continue to lag, relatively speaking. Easily solved, once we all decide if we want cameras that are easy to hold and manipulate, or smaller cameras that won't make us feel conspicuous, or whatever, and once camera makers bite the bullet and refer back to 1980s Japan for expectations of quality. Personally, the DSLR/mirrorless debate left me far behind a couple thousand dollars ago.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I think the first time I really felt that DSLR "heft" was with the EOS R. I know what you mean - and I owned top-of-the-line Fuji and Panasonic models so I can definitely feel the difference in the approach with the Canon R series and Nikon Z.

Howard Shubs's picture

If I were in the market to replace my D750, maybe I'd care. As it is, the upcoming Fujifilm camera has really caught my eye.

regan albertson's picture

What gets the job done? Mirrorless is marvelous, for sure, but my DSLR cameras are still clicking. I do appreciate the tech advancements, and eventually, by DSLR will be a quaint reminder of tech past.

Michael Sumaquial's picture

The reality is that the Z mount lenses are superior to previous Nikkor lenses. Don't believe me. Do your own research. Nikkor Z lenses are the future and they are even better in image quality than Zeiss lenses.

R S's picture

The S range lenses are just staggeringly good. Worth the move to the Z range alone.

John Nixon's picture

If you are considering buying either a D850 or a Z7ii, this year, then there is some relevance in the article. I already have a D850 and whereas my next camera will likely be a mirrorless Nikon it won’t be a Z7ii - which, as far as I can see, doesn’t do anything better than the D850 does.

Geoffrey Stone's picture

The D850 is a fabulous camera and will provide many images for years to come. In silent mode it acts like a mirrorless anyhow.

Lenses like the AF D 180mm f2.8 are timeless but cant be used on mirrorless except in manual mode..

My 14-24mm f2.8 Tokina 11-20mm f2.8, Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 G2, 90mm 45mm, ...All superb lenses and faultless when used on a D850.

Composition and lighting are more important than the lens & camera. Glass is more important than the camera.

Jan Holler's picture

Just to mention, the unstabilized AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED Lens in mint condition is sold for about $700-800 and on ebay you'll find copies of it for less than $700.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

It's a great lens.

Lawrence Huber's picture

The problem with the old D850 is the new mirrorless have better AF acquisition in stills now and for video the D850 was horrible in AF if the subject moved and can not follow focus by any definition of the term.
Only those still trying to keep their old camera live in the past still claiming past glory as if it were relevant by today's standards.

Michael Clark's picture

Not everyone even cares about video, much less video AF. Top cinematographers still use focus pullers. But then again, for the most part they're not using still cameras, either. Just because particular advantages may be the only things important to you does not mean they're the only things important to everyone.

Lawrence Huber's picture

Many more do care. And that is where the D850 and the primitive AF fails.
If you have the budget for focus pullers you will be using a dedicated video camera. A vast majority of those shooting videos do it alone thus AF that works is critical. And the old worn out D850 does not come close to meeting modern standards and needs.

regan albertson's picture

Lawrence- Was that your personal experience?

Lawrence Huber's picture

Yes I rented one and was not impressed at all.

Jacob Cornelius's picture

I have some very lonely D500 and D750 Nikons collecting dust ever since getting my Z cameras. The total lack of mirror slap is a huge reason why. I can't count how many shots that has ruined.

David Pavlich's picture

I read that mirror slap ruins shots. I can understand in a very quiet place like a church service that a DSLR can be annoying, but that's not where I shoot. I shoot a lot of wildlife and have yet to have a bird or deer or squirrel take off when I took a shot. Matter of fact, I've taken a dozen shots in a row of deer not 20 feet away and have never seen one go tails up and run. I guess I'm lucky.

R S's picture

I don't think that's what he means. I think he means the mirror slap results in blur. When I first bought the Canon 5D (my first FF body) I thought there was something wrong with it as so many images were slightly blurred. I realised it was the HUGE mirror slap that literally shook the camera. I needed to be really well braced to avoid it. The advent of IBIS has reduced this to a great degree. But mirrorless is still better.

David Pavlich's picture

You're probably right. But, I can't say that I have that problem either. Again, I guess I'm just lucky in that regard.

nogalas whisky's picture

the camera makers themselves have blurred the lines between ILC technologies, cutting out features from DSLRs and adding them into MILC's. this strategy (or lack of one) has caused many consumers to defer some purchases.

until camera makers can find a way to clearly distinguish technologies, or seamlessly merge them together, it's probably more prudent for consumers to sit on the sidelines, and plugging any holes with more 'cost effective' second hand gear. no one looks forward to paying full price for solutions, multiple times, whilest the camera makers fool around sorting out duplicate tech. JMO.

CHRISTOPHER BAKER's picture

I’ve been eyeing the Z6ii, but until the glass prices come down, I can’t afford to make the transition. My D750 still works great, but it would be nice to have a smaller body for hiking and some of the new features offered. If Nikon is reading…feel free to gift me one for my upcoming birthday.

J Cortes's picture

If you get the 24-70 Kit with the FTZ adapter you can make the transition much easier . The Z lenses are amazing . They are also plenty to be had on the used market at decent prices . Check MPB.com .

Michael Clark's picture

A lot of the advantages mirrorless cameras offer are more beneficial to less experienced photographers than they are to highly skilled, seasoned photographers.

Sure, mirrorless AF makes it easier to get certain shots. But plenty of shooters found ways to get those shots before mirrorless overtook DSLRs in terms of AF performance. Ditto with live exposure previews. Plenty of shooters learned how to tell the camera to expose the way they desired before "WYSIWYG" (which really isn't if you're shooting raw and skillfully processing).

Sure, the best new mirrorless lenses may be slightly better at shooting flat test charts than the best of the previous generation of DSLR lenses. But who needs to spend that much when either set of lens options are more than good enough for the intended usage of the results? Who wants to be remembered as the world's best flat test chart photographer?

Not to mention that sometimes the best lenses for flat 2D work are not the best lenses for creating images of a 3D scene. All of that flat field correction usually has a negative effect on bokeh, for instance.

Who would rather be remembered for the impactful images they create in the three dimensional real world?

Choose the kinds of images you want to make. Then choose the best lenses to make those images (which may or may not be the lenses that score the highest shooting flat test charts), then choose the best camera on which those lenses can be hung.

Wellington Guzman's picture

Pre-Ordered Z7 ii like December 12th. Moving up from a D610. Still waiting. Not sure whether to laugh or cry.

James Fuqua's picture

Not sure if same is true for Nikon Z but Canon r5 shoots at 12fps which sounds good however once the battery drops to 70% it drops down to 8fps, the af goes to hell and with most mirrorless they start to get warm and most know as the camera gets warmer the noise gets worse. So these are a few good reasons dslrs have a place. I almost sold my Pentax K1 (a 2016 camera) to get the Canon R5, then found some comparisons and the K1 is still better or on par in low light and image quality.

David Sheehan's picture

I'm curious about this for different reasons to most. Having left all my cameras gathering dust for a few years I recently decided to try and rekindle my love of photography, and one of the first ideas was to see whats going on with cameras these days and if there's a good upgrade to be had. My old Nikon D70(!) was old anyway and only enthusiast level, but I'd taken some great shots (landscapes being my thing mainly) before kids took over my life.

One thing that troubles me is I have found over time an inclination towards smaller more portable cameras - micro 4/3 for example. The best shot is the one you don't miss after all!

So anyway I'm looking at these cameras now and while I see merits to both sides I can't help feel that even if I did spend a wedge of cash on a camera and upgrading lenses, would it really make a difference? Great photographers of yesteryear took amazing pictures because they had the eye, the skills and they were in the right place at the right time. I think a good camera can make it easier, but it's easy to get obsessive over the specs and lose focus of the big picture.

I'm an amateur so I'm the first to admit I know less than most on here, but I look at images from my D90 and think - would a better camera have taken a better image? Maybe slightly, but they look dam good. I look back at my D70 images and they still look great now. So Im inclined to stick with what I have.. but I would love to hear any thoughts on if I'm missing the point, and these really are a whole new level of image quality??

regan albertson's picture

That old tech still works fine, in the right situations. I have a D70 that my nephew uses when he needs more than a cell phone picture with his kids, like party pictures. The optical zoom still beats a cellular camera crop zoom. I have a D200 and a D300S that I have for quick shots in the office so I can get good pix, without hauling my full frames with me. Yes, my iPhone gets great pix, but I don't need a computer to take a picture. The old adage, "the best camera is the one in your hands" lives strong with me.

Mark Griffin's picture

I'm sticking with my Canon DSLR's for now. My clients don't care about what's in my bag, they care about what the quality of my product. The one advantage I find appealing is the silent shutter. My non full frame 90D has an electronic shutter and it's what I use for things like an actual wedding ceremony unless I have to use a high ISO. My customers are happy, so I'm happy.

Mark B's picture

I have not bought into the "mirrorless" hype. But I should start by saying that I don't shoot video. I'm an old school pro who learned in the days of film. I upgraded from my trusty D810 to the D850 about 18 months ago and I have been so thrilled. Even as a pro, I still haven't yet begun to scratch the surface of what this amazing camera can do. For me (and I'm guessing the same is true for most pros), it's all about the glass. From my f1.8 primes to my "fast-glass" zooms, Micros and PC/Es, it would cost me over $15,000 to replace my lenses alone. Size is not a big factor for me in my work, so even with my battery pack (which unlocks 9fps instead of 7fps), I can shoot, literally, for two full days on a full charge.

I might have a different opinion if I was just starting out--there is something to be said for starting with the most up-to-date technology--but I really can't imagine switching now. If video was a thing I wanted to go into in a serious way, and I had to ditch my existing glass anyway, I'd probably move over to Canon since even their lower end cameras do video better.

And as a couple of people here have noted, the thing that makes me a pretty great photographer is my eye and technical expertise and experience. They have yet to develop a technology that can teach, coach or recreate that.

As a HUGE fan of the D850, I would highly recommend that anyone using a lesser Nikon DSLR now heed the advice and upgrade in 2021 to the D850. It's a platform that will remain relevant and top of the line for many years to come. And even then, most will not be able to fully appreciate ALL of the tings that this camera can do better than almost anything else out there.

Jan Holler's picture

I am still using the D800E. Would you let me know what is the biggest advantage you experience with the D850 over your previous D810, besides a bit better resolution?

bob scola's picture

I'm owned a D800 & a D810 and now a pair of D850's. The shutter on the D800 sounds like a train coming down the tracks. The D810 much quieter with the D850 a bit louder than the D810 but no where near the D800. The AF on the D850 puts the older bodies to shame, especially the D800. And as where the D800 is like 4 FPS, the D850 shoots at 9 FPS with the big battery as is a fantastic action and sports camera. And better ISO

Jan Holler's picture

Thanks, Bob. Those are valid points. The D800 really has a loud shutter and the AF is a bit worse. For fast actions and a faster AF in low light I use the D4. ISO (noise) of the D850 is a bit worse than that of the D800/810 though (RAW). So in my situation a Z camera would make sense.

. .'s picture

I also upgraded to the D850 from the D810. They improved the ergonomics on the 850 by deepening the grip. They also put the ISO button near the shutter release which makes it easier to select ISO with the camera at your eye. The dynamic range is noticeably better too (it still focuses remarkably well in near pitch darkness), and while I don't use the articulating screen that much, it makes things convenient if you shoot from overhead or close to the ground.

Overall there isn't a /huge/ difference between the 810 and 850 and the same might be true comparing the 800E and the 850. I was forced to upgrade mine after my 810 died in the rain, otherwise I'd probably still be using it.

Jan Holler's picture

Thank you.

Colin Millard's picture

I recently decided to get back into photography, having sold off a good deal of my equipment 5 or so years ago. Despite still having a couple F mount lens (24-70 2.8 & 300 f4) I went with the z5. The feel of it in my hands really made the decision for me. The lack of bulk vs DSLR I appreciate. Nikon bundling the adapter for F mount also played in my decision. For anyone thinking about “upgrading” I don’t know, there’s a large cost to replacing lens. For me the z5 works as a “re-entry” camera.

Philip Wowk's picture

Mmm.... I'm definitely sticking with my d3500. I can't see any huge advantage of mirrorless over dslr to justify the cost increase. My main objective is image quality. And the 2 formats are equal on this point. For my needs, wedding shoots, christenings etc, ive had no complaints whatsoever. So basically,id be buying mirrorless just to keep up with the latest technology. I don't work like that. To me,if something is basically very sound,then why should i change? I don't buy something to'fit in'. That type of thing is for people who put style before substance. I MIGHT POSSIBLY change to mirrorless one day. But the advances would have to be fairly monumental. And besides, it's like with a lot of technology. You'd need to be very rich to keep up with the latest tech. Just like wanting the latest mobile phone. They're very pretty and all that, but you don't really need one.

Kennerd Skinnerd's picture

I have enough screens in my life, I don't need one more in my camera.

Philip Wowk's picture

All this talk about mirror slap. Your telling me that the camera manufacturers haven't known about this for years?. Surely as technology has advanced, the efficiency of mirror dampers would have too. And as long as the images are everything you could ever want out the equipment you've got, then what's the point worrying about it. As ive quoted before on other forums, when i check the focus on my images by using the magnification buttons, they are still sharp at nearly 100%.So enlargements are still going to be sharp. And that's with a d3500 with a 35mm 1.8. I've tried mirrorless for a short time and the results were no better. So why should i change?.