Is the D850 Losing to Canon's 5D Mark IV?

Photographer and YouTube content creator Thomas Heaton has been testing different cameras, looking to replace his Canon 5D Mark IV. In his most recent video, he gets some surprising results when testing the Nikon D850.

He claims the Nikon D850 is a clear winner in resolution tests, both on screen and in test prints. This isn't a particularly surprising result, given the 15+ megapixel advantage of the D850. The resolution differences, even after YouTube's heavy compression, are still visible in fine details like the fence line in his sample image. The resolution test doesn't go very in-depth, as he doesn't mention test results for different apertures, focal lengths, or classes of lenses- but given his very positive attitude to D850's performance, I expect he was satisfied with the performance.

Moving on to dynamic range, Thomas tests the two cameras under identical settings, in a strongly backlit forest scene. Here is where Thomas breaks with the typical view of this camera matchup he declares the Canon a clear winner in dynamic range. He thinks the foreground's boosted details are muddy in the Nikon, and points out the "sharper" Canon image.

I think there are a few issues with this test, including weather conditions, exposure settings, and post processing. Weather and exposure are intrinsically linked, and in this test, Thomas kept all the settings between the cameras identical. This would put the D850 at a disadvantage, as it is not being used at its strongest base ISO. Further, if the lightning conditions changed between shots, the exposures may be even less comparable. Finally, a number of comments pointed out that the lens may either be a bad copy, subject to shake, or focus was missed on the Nikon shot, all potentially contributing to the poor performance.

Thomas mentions he still has a number of cameras to review, and that the D850 is a competent contender. It sounds like he is a bit unsure of the Nikon given its apparent disappointing dynamic range, but even he mentions something may be off about the testing.

I haven't shot with a D850 yet, as I use a D810, but even given my older generation body, I've seen much more impressive shadow and highlight recovery from my files. I'm pretty surprised at the results. What do you think? Have you been surprised by a piece of gear before?

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Fritz Asuro's picture

If you have used a D850, the headline of this article won't be a thing.

Deleted Account's picture

Thomas Heaton seems like a really nice guy and that's all I have to say about that.

Thomas Campbell's picture

I've edited the D850 and 5D4 side by side on a wedding and have to disagree. Don't know what pixel peepers and controlled tests show, but my real world work had the D850 much better than the 5D4 for dynamic range and editability.

michael andrew's picture

I think its safe to say that the at higher ISO (800+) the dynamic range and IQ between these 2 cameras will be similar. Are you referring to ISO 64-200?

Marc Perino's picture

I have also made similar observations, Thomas. The dynamic range in the raw images from the D850 were superior than the ones from the 5DM4. That is why we decided on the D850.

Although I have to say the difference between the 5DM2 and the 5DM4 were enormous in terms of dynamic range. But in the end the 15MP more resolution and the display were also factors to choose Nikon.

NO, the D850 isn't losing. This is a case of two lone test images that somehow manage to misrepresent the true potential of a camera.

Thomas is a fantastic landscape photographer, however, he repeatedly states that he's not a professional gear reviewer, and these results might have been entirely due to user error.

As someone who IS a professoinal gear reviewer, (that's not a brag, I'm sure Thomas makes way more than I do!) ...I can at say when there is even the slightest question about odd results, you immediately get back out and double-check or triple-check them. What you DON'T do is, start a video with the one hype claim that you're later going to repeatedly say might possibly be totally incorrect.

The D850 is capable of insanely sharp results in all conditions, including high-dynamic range conditions, and the Nikon 24-70's, at those landscape apertures, are just as sharp as the Canon. In fact considering the megapixels and the lack of AA filter on the Nikon, ANY lens on either camera, even if you put a Zeiss Otus on the Canon and a $99 50 1.8 on the Nikon, ...should lead to higher central sharpness on the Nikon by f/5.6-8...

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

"What you DON'T do is, start a video with the one hype claim that you're later going to repeatedly say might possibly be totally incorrect."

That is exactly what i thought when watching that video.
A weird approach to just do one test and make a video, at least one that he showed.

Maximilian Sulzer's picture

"What you DON'T do is, start a video with the one hype claim that you're later going to repeatedly say might possibly be totally incorrect."

That's exactly what i thought while watching the video.
It's a weird approach to just take one test and then make a video (at least he showed only one test).

Charles Gaudreault's picture

that the art of youtube, clickbaity titles and in the intro you go all in with the killer quotes to make them subs continue to watch

Nikons 10yr old lens designs have let the d850 down. Luckily it seems like the new Z system lenses are bringing modern technology into Nikons lineup and making some amazing glass.

Not sure what you mean exactly, if you are referring to the electronics on the lenses then sure, but in general the quality on Nikon glass is superb and has been for well over 10 years.

Compared to what?

I’m saying Canon glass is overall better quality than Nikon glass.

Deleted Account's picture

Since you are talking about comparison, where can we find the data concluding your statement?

Unpopular opinion: I think deciding lens quality among Canon or Nikon is pretty subjective. They both seem to be of the same general high quality. Not like Zeis Otus lenses or anything but they are both equally damn good for sure. I like Nikon lenses just because they feel tankier to me than Canon lenses. I can also use Nikon lenses from waaaay back when with out having to use an adapter saving me loads of cash. But when you compare modern lenses from both companies they are generally the same quality.

Tony Northrup's picture

Haven't watched the video, but I have tested the image quality of these cameras thoroughly and the D850 most definitely has dramatically better DR than the Canon 5D MK IV at the base ISOs. All differences disappear at higher ISOs, including DR and detail.

Yea, I was fairly taken back by the dynamic range result. I use a D850 as my main rig and honestly I find it's DR to be incredible. I do have a few issues with the camera, but DR is not one of them.

No D850 didn’t loose to 5D mark IV. Canon glasses are simply better. So eco-system matters more than individual camera. But photographer makes all the difference, not gears.

michaeljin's picture

Or it can just be because you lose DR when you're not shooting your camera at base ISO...

Yes, the base ISO is the only place where a each camera has their optima DR and that is where the difference is.

Look at the real world photographs sampling, instead a theoretical laboratory ones that DXO does.

There are best FF sensors measured to best 4/3" sensor. The best FF at base ISO is the D850, but one can now consider is it really, as you have ISO 64 while the second best is Sony A7 III that gets only 0.06 stops less but gives you ISO 100. Which one is for you more important, ISO 64 or ISO 100? As well notice that Pentax K-1 has exactly same result there at ISO 100. So for a strong light landscape photographer who can stay in the ISO 64-100 range, a D850, K-1 and A7 III are the best choices. And that is where Canon has 0.6 stops less DR

But go from ISO 64 to ISO 100 with D850 and you just lost the 0.5 stops DR and Sony A7 III as K-1 are better, and the D850 is less than 0.2 stops better than 5D IV. That difference at ISO 100 is already negligent. So D850 is par with the 5D IV at ISO 100, while Sony A7 III and K-1 are better choices.

Now, go a one stop higher ISO, from 100 to 200. And look that what happens. Olympus E-M1 II is par with Nikon D850 and Canon 5D IV. Those has lost the "FF advantages" to the 1/4 size sensor, that is now sitting in its base ISO, but with FF you still get a 0.6 stops better DR. Only a Sony A7 III is capable to pull 0.9 stops better DR there. No where 2 stops that theorists claims. And Pentax K-1 is second best, leaving Nikon D850 and Canon 5D IV behind. So worst FF sensor at ISO 200, is Nikon D850. Then Canon 5D IV, Pentax K-1 and best is Sony A7 III.

Keep going just little bit forward, ISO 250. Just 1/3 stops higher ISO and dramatic change. Now even the best FF sensor, Sony A7 III has only a 0.5 stops better DR than Olympus E-M1 II with sensor that is 1/4 of the area. Where is the 2 stops advantage? Gone....

After that, every other FF sensor has around 0.5 stops or less, advantage in DR compared to 4/3" sensor until ISO 640 when only Sony A7 III pulls up a difference of 1 stop to 4/3" sensor, but others keep that 0.3-0.5 stops.

And suddenly Pentax K-1 catches and becomes the best, with penalty of fine details because noise reduction methods. So if wanted best DR after ISO 640, it is Pentax K-1, and it is only sensor that can do 2 stops difference to 4/3" sensor (that produce better resolution and details).

So if you are not going to be able stay at ISO 64-100 range, most landscape photographers has no advantage to stay on FF. They can really drop down to 4/3" size even as that 0.3-0.5 stops DR difference is negligent. Even the "all cameras at base ISO" difference is tiny compared that what one can do with extremely fast capture rates to capture multiple frames for exposure bracketing, lets say at 60 FPS speed? Ie. a capture of two frames at 1/4000 and 1/250 will give a 4/3" sensor a difference of 4 stops with two frames, pulling it about 2.5 stops better than any FF sensor with single frame, and doing that in less time than 1/200 exposure time of single frame, no camera shake, no vibrations etc. And two frame stacking will lower the noise a lot as well.

Now, consider that how many landscape photographer is using ND filters etc? Meaning long exposures, so you don't need to care so much about motion. Now one can start to perform the stacking benefits. No more need for gradient filters, no more "big stopper" because your 1-2 stop ND filter will eliminate that as you just shoot a 60 frame sequence with 1/30 exposure time, generating 2 seconds ND filter for faster moving. Increase the delay between frames and you can generate longer ND exposure times, lets say 1 second between each frame, and you have worth of one minute ND filter, but with just 1/30 exposure time and 60 frames.
It takes about 3-4 minutes from a i7 computer to stack those 60 frames.
Now do it in two phases, 2x 30 frame batches, 4-5 stops difference. Now you can do the HDR as well, capturing a 15 stops DR and worth of 60 second long exposure. Something that no FF can do a single frame with filters, and you maintain the full control of the image quality and composition as there is no single glass with split gradient breaking an vertical lines etc. You can even do it with busy landscapes where something steps in the frame, as you don't get ghosting as you average it out. Far superior to any traditional landscape photography methods.

Now, nothing doesn't mean FF user can't do the same, they just don't have the performance to do it, but same method can be applied. The interesting part too? E-M1 II allows to use a HR mode, now you get 80 Mpix, no bayer filtering, no aliasing, true colors etc, and it works great because you are doing long exposure with 2-3 stops ND filter only. The HR mode doesn't have the alignment problems in long exposures that it does have when needed to take capture 8 frames in one second period and subjects moves little, as the ND filter removes the limitation of it.

But when one wants to do the landscape photography with people in it, like traditional advertising etc with powerful strobes, jumping people etc, single frame is important, but as you are in control of the light, you anyways will eliminate the requirement for wide DR capture, the FF that would have its main plase, loses DR and noise advantage to even 4/3" sensor, but maintains totally the resolution for heavy cropping. So if one is good to frame the shot, FF has negligent difference there even at larger 24" prints.

So where is the benefit of those D850 and 5D IV differences? It sits exactly in the situations where one doesn't do any long exposures, does require maximal dynamic range that doesn't go past 11.5 stops and needs maximal resolution for 50% or larger cropping for 24" or larger prints.

It becomes very niche situation benefit really, to carry larger and heavier gear, heavier tripod and limited to a old DSLR technology, but huge benefit with a battery lifetime to be able frame the shot and wait for hours ready to release shutter, something that mirrorless will struggle as battery last only about 4 hours regardless do you take 1 frame or 2000 frames.

Heaton is awesome. I’m sorry that he didn’t like your camera and that he isn’t a camera scientist. Poor guy has been ready to upgrade from the 5d4 for a minute but Canon won’t let him. Also, why did I read an article defending a camera from a youtubers non-scientific test?!?!

Jack Bronziet's picture

Agreed! I feel like the article was way too defensive compared to what tom and the video were saying

it's good that everyone want to test two camera, at first he learn some thing about camera and then publish the video in youtbbe; one setting for two different camera?!! and lens diffraction is not important for high resolution camera like to d850 with f14 aperture shooting??

No D850 didn’t loose to 5D mark IV. Canon glasses are simply better. So eco-system matters more than individual camera. But photographer makes all the difference, not gears.

michaeljin's picture

I don't believe that your choice of lens affects the dynamic range of your sensor. Most likely this is the result of the D850 not being shot at base ISO while the 5DIV was.

Deleted Account's picture

I thought I was reading PetaPixel for a mo.

Watch the video guys. I was afraid an article was gonna be made reacting to this video, with commenters immediately assuming Thomas said the D850 is worse... The main issue Thomas points out is the chromatic aberrations by the Nikon glass. And he concludes by saying it's mostly the lens' fault, not the camera, and that Canon is known for their fantastic glass. He shot directly into the sun, don't most lenses suck at this and will show chromatic aberration ?

Spy Black's picture

I dunno, I work in a studio where we shoot Canons. Don't see this "fantastic glass" you're talking about. My experiences show that Canon and Nikon are 6 of one, half a dozen of another. They both have good and bad lenses.

The actual real world test results- Nikon D850 - 11.63 stops DR versus 10.83 stops for the Canon

But that is only when it is ISO 64 vs ISO 100.
Set both cameras to ISO 100, and difference is 11.08 stops vs 10.83 stops. That is less than a 0.3 stops, a 0.25 stops difference.

DXO does fancy false laboratory tests, PTP does real world sampling and you get to see the difference at the real actual ISO values you would dial to the camera when you are using it.

The lesson? If you want to maximize the DR for single frame, you can't go away from the base ISO. You are required to stick a different ISO values between cameras (ie. ISO 64 vs ISO 100 vs ISO 200 etc). But if you want to maximize the dynamic range of the scene, you do bracketing. Now every camera out there are basically on the same level. That just with two frames even!

There is no sense to argue which camera is better, if you take in the consideration the photographer multiple methods and techniques to maximize the scene dynamic range capture and IQ.

Photography is not about single frame performance in extreme niche situation, it is about creativity and methods, and skill to apply them to each different situation.

You will never get the values that DXO is reporting, never. Just waste of time to use their test results. It is like reading the car manufacturer specs sheets of the car top speeds, that you will never reach no matter how you would drive your car on the airfield landing strip, because they are pure theoretical values without real effects (wind, tires, weight, temperature, fuel etc), and then simply such simple fact, you would never drive the car such way that the differences would matter! A Formula 1 driver would... But if 1 person from 100 million is a professional Formula driver or test driver in the world, it doesn't matter as there is always a 100 million person who is walking, using bicycle, drives a normal car... They don't need those extreme speed performances.

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

And that from the guy who basically said the EOS R is sh*t and doesn't exite him.

I wonder how many years he had to spend in photography to find out the lens is the most crucial factor for image quality and nothing else.

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