Nikon D850 Dynamic Range Tested and Compared

It would seem that the Nikon D850 can do no wrong and with this latest test and comparison from Tony Northrup, the results seem even more positive. The dynamic range was something a lot of photographers were concerned about, especially due to the higher megapixel count. At ISO 64, it's safe to say that the dynamic range of the D850 is a solid improvement over the Nikon D810. As Northrup demonstrates in his video, the D810 suffered from a heavy magenta cast in recovered shadows whereas the D850 has a more neutral and pleasing look to it. At higher ISO, however, the differences between the two Nikon cameras may not be as significant.

Compared to the Canon 5DS R, it's no surprise that the Nikon is significantly better for recovering shadows. The Canon demonstrate far more noise and banding in its image compared to the Nikon and the difference in detail and sharpness is negligible. The Sony a7R II seems to come very close to the performance of the D850, however due to the Nikon being able to shoot at ISO 64, its dynamic range is slightly better.

The camera that surprised me the most was the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, this Micro Four Thirds camera managed to out perform the D850 in both image quality and dynamic range. It should be mentioned that this is probably due to image averaging, however I still find this to be quite impressive. 

As a Canon shooter, I must admit the D850 has tempted me to switch, but there are still some lenses from Canon that prevent me from doing so. I'd love to know what my fellow Canon shooters think. Is this enough for you to jump ship or is this just part of the cycle?

Usman Dawood's picture

Usman Dawood is a professional architectural photographer based in the UK.

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yes impressive and as canon 5ds user this make me think about switch too , but same as you lenses ... lenses... lenses .... i just hope for next 5ds will radically improve dynamic range and focus peaking will be amazing and tild screen and touch screen in one yes please give it to me baby, i don't neeed more megapixel we need better dynamic range and i'm sure dual pixel focus will beat any nikon focusing in live view mode

You can sell your lenses and get some used Nikon ones, will give some work but won't be expensive. Or are you talking about lenses quality?

For me personally there a few lenses that Canon have which Nikon doesn't seem to have good alternatives for. Mostly tilt shift lenses but also lenses like the 24-70 and 70-200 to some extent.

You're right on the tilt/shift, but I'd disagree on the 24-70 and 70-200. Even the Tamron offerings are competitive to Canon's. I LOVE the new 70-200 G2 from Tamron, and am looking forward to swapping out for their new 24-70.

I haven't actually tried any lenses from Tamron, I might need to have a look at them, thanks for pointing them out.

Upgraded to the 24-70mm G2 - definite improvement. AF is much improved, bokeh is a bit smoother, and the vibration compensation is more effective. Definitely worth the upgrade.

respectfully, it depends how you assess lenses - the Canon 24-70 f/4L leads the class on low distortion at the wide end. Which may not matter to you but it does to me why shoot wide then throw away part of the frame to correct distortion. This is why I don't shoot the 24-105 anymore.

Both The latest Nikon (FL) and Tamron's G2 70-200 are hands down better than Canon's and on the 24-70 front, Tamron's G2 is best and way cheaper... Amazing times indeed....

I totally disagree on this one.. if you haven't been following the photography news for the past year Nikon has released a brand new 19mm Tilt and Shift lens which i have to say after shooting an entire hotel is OUT OF THIS WORLD.. the canon equivalent (17mm) and the 24mm suffer from horrendous purple CA and thats not only my opinion.. I was watching Mike's Kelly tutorial (when art meets architecture) and u can clearly see all the imperfections that canon lens have compare to the nikons.. its simple.. Nikon lens in general are cleaner. especially the primes and the t&s ones.. so i doubt very much that u will have any issues switching to Nikon if really wanted to. I am not a Nikon fan boy I'm a fan of what it works.. I can easily shoot with canon, fuji, nikon etc it doesn't really matter. For me Nikon simply works better. Personal opinion!

"Horrendous Purple Fringing"... Are you serious ? I have both and they produce ZERO CA.

Maybe you are thinking of the results when used with the 1.4 extenders.

Have you actually used these Canon lenses?

The Canon tilt shift lenses are definitively better, it's one of the major advantages. The 24mm has zero CA, in fact, it has less CA than the 40mm Rodenstock lens.

The Nikon 24mm, unfortunately, suffers from distortion, and the 19mm isn't a 17mm. The major flaw that Nikon currently have which in some instances can be an advantage is that they still have the old lens mount. Comparing the two mounts the Canon mount is much larger making lens construction easier.

This is one of the reasons Canon have lenses for the EF mount that go all the way down to f1.0.

Don't get me wrong Nikon lenses are incredible, Canon just seems to have some lenses that are much better for me and many other shooters.

The whole lens mount size / aperture thing could be discussed. Nikon has a 50/1.2. Or the 50mm f/1.1 they did back in 1956 for a lens mount that was even smaller. Nikon COULD do new lenses with bigger apertures than 1.4 if they really wanted.

Actually, that's a fair point. Having said that, weren't they manual lenses meaning you could make them much smaller?

I'll be saving up for a used 5ds r. Since I don't ever crank the shadows to 100 or change exposure by 4 stops.

That's pretty sad to have to save up for a so-so camera. :-(
Just kidding! :-)

I'd love to change over, but the cost is too high. I really do hope Canon are fanacially hurt by this though. Might make them get their act together.

When is their 100th Anniversary? ;-)

No Olympus does not. That image stacking, which has severe limits in practical use.

I hope Canon after the 850 can put out something similar.. for video and photo. The change is too expensive!

Yes i jumped ship from Canon to Olympus. Pixel peeping tests put to the side you can not beat the little guy.

I haven't shot with any Olympus cameras so far however, this video has made me very interested in one.

Re the EMI mk2 quality: "It should be mentioned that this is probably due to image averaging, however I still find this to be quite impressive." Ah, yeah, that should be "mentioned," because it's a limitation so serious that it basically negates the Olympus from the conversation. It requires ZERO subject movement and a tripod.

This was in the video therefore needed to be discussed. Also there are many practical applications for this feature.

For landscapes, architecture and product photography this can be very useful. Movement can be very easily masked out with another layer for those kinds of shots.

Thanks for the comment John.

This claim, that the EM-1 Mk2's high dynamic range is due to image averaging, makes absolutely no sense to me. Unless the hi res mode is using some exposure bracketing on the sly, then dynamic range should be completely unaffected. Noise and resolution should see significant improvement, but not dynamic range. The average of eight blown highlights is still a blown highlight. But, maybe there really is some automatic exposure bracketing going on.

There may well be some more work being put into the images internally and it may not be just image averaging however still pretty cool right?

T.N. says it's a minor improvement in dynamic range over the 810, not enough for an 810 user to bother thinking of switching for that reason alone. Mr Northrup is particularly clear in his detailed reviews, it is important that reviewers of reviews don't take his clarity and muck it up.

Hi John thanks for the comment. I was careful to use the same words Tony Did in his video by describing it as a solid improvement. I agree with him on that front. I also mention at higher ISO the diffferences may not be as significant. I think this was a fair and accurate description.

Hi! When you compare with the Olympus E-M1 mk2, I notice you mention that the Nikon has the advantage of Focus Peaking when zoomed in, but so does the Olympus.

And I'm sure you have noticed the diffraction, but nevertheless I would like to mention that diffraction becomes an issue with the Olympus at apertures above around 5.6. I have a series of testshots at different F-stops using High Res that shows this. I guess this is why Olympus doesn't allow for apertures above 8 in High Res Mode. Keeping this in mind I think the little Olympus is incredible at High Res.

And here I am using a full frame camera from 2008 not pushing more than 1/2 stop and never have needed to push the image as much as they do in these crazy tests...

I - as part of a photographer/postproduction team - work also still with files from a Canon 5DM2 from 2008. But - as an intermediate camera - we also work right now with a Fuji X-T2 for smaller jobs.
For professional jobs we also worked with rental cameras (Phase One IQ160, 5DM3, 5DM4, 5DSR) and whatnot. We chose the camera for the job since we are doing portraits and film posters and the requirements are sometimes totally different.

But I have to say that the sensor improvement of the 2016 X-T2 was significant for the shooting and postproduction workflow in relation to the 2008 camera body.
For our 1st body/camera we will make the switch from the 5DM2 to the new Nikon D850 as soon as it is available for us.

I do not say that one is not capable to make decent or excellent photos with a 9 year old camera. To the contrary. But technology moves on. And - mostly - in good directions. Why not take advantage of it and push your visual style even further ?! Shoot something in lowlight that was 9 years ago almost impossible without heavy image degradation. Maybe your subject feels more comfortable without much light equipment ?! Now you can shoot more intimate with less noise and higher resolution. And still get in focus without a flashlight.

That does not mean that I condone extreme over- our underexposure without a reason. I go to great lengths (with flags, scrims, reflectors, polyboards) to establish a correct exposure as much as I can. But it just means that I am better prepared for any situation that might arise. Or I am more flexible on outside shoots.

With the D850 we now would more than double our resolution AND have more dynamic range and in extremely difficult situations. And I am more than happy to have that extra latitude.
We can offer portraits and at the same time can shoot filmposters without renting a expensive Phase One or a buying a 5DSR.

So as "crazy" as these tests might seem. They show the limits of these cameras. In studio photography we used the 5DSR oftentimes and it worked just fine because I can control the light. But when I pushed it harder in post I came across some weird banding. With the 5DM2 I had even more banding.

Outside under a bridge with harsh sunlight with lots of dark shadows (one of our real world scenarios) I was happy to use the improved DR of the 5DM4 in post. And I guess I would be even happier with the D850.

So I guess I am saying: progress is good! But that does not mean everybody should buy this camera. But I will. ;))

Great for you, however to me it is like a cool circus trick made to impress, dunno but be it Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Pentax, Oly, etcThese tests seem more oriented to gear heads than to me.

Lack of low pass filter would only mean more PP work for me (moire and clothes) and it is in vogue now, but they do it to try to mitigate high pixel density problems with diffraction.

In those jobs I need exceptional image quality, I rent a medium format camera, 16 bit raw from a big sensor with big photoosites :)

We will also rent a PhaseOne if the situation demands it. But the last couple of shoots we did fine with 5DSR - everybody was happy.

In the end the equipment is not as important as the lighting and the concept. But as I said: if there is something better out there I am gonna use it. And I guess it is ok after 9 years to upgrade. ;)

After the D850 we talk again in 5 years. ;)

Actually, the Olympus is good at the base ISO of 64 if placed on a tripod. But if there is any movement, then the Olympus loses its advantage. Now, how many photographers will be using a tripod for most of their photo shoot? For that reason, the Nikon D850 is the top rated camera at base ISO. And at high ISO, the D850 totally crushes the Olympus. The D850 had superior focus sharpness to the Olympus because of the focus peaking as seen in the image. The face of the toy guy in the picture and the text on the toy camera were much sharper on the D850. Plus, the D850 does image stacking as an option which is otherwise built into the Olympus. So in summary, the Nikon D850 is the complete camera for professionals as compared to Canon, Sony, and Olympus.

I can see Canon shooters buying the D850 and a few Nikon lenses without necessarily getting rid of their existing system unless they have the need and are investing for the future.

Two big advantages that Nikon has had over Canon are Dynamic Range and the lack of a low-pass optical filter. The fact that the D850 does not have the low-pass filter makes its pictures significantly sharper than anything that Canon's professional cameras can produce. And now with the new focus peaking and higher resolution of 46 MP, the D850 is a formidable camera for enthusiasts and professionals.

Sorry wrong reply space

In fact I would personally say that the lenses alone should be a reason to consider a switch, in particular the 70-200 f2.8 E FL and the stabilized 24-70 f2.8. You can of course use the Tamron or the Sigma 24-70 to get stabilization on the Canon, but you loose weather sealing and pro build. Now stabilization is not needed all the time of course, but a 24-70mm f2.8's main value is to be a universal design, a swiss knife of a lens. I will always prefer primes when I go for some specific application. So from that angle, stabilization is essential on a 24-70 f2.8.

As far as the 70-200 f2.8 E FL, my first hand experience is that it is in Otus territory in terms of image quality (both sharpness, micro detail, lack of CA and bokeh), focuses faster than my 400mm f2. 8 E FL, has the best VR there is and is of course fully weather sealed. I am still wondering whether they had to sell their soul to the devil to come up with such a design... ;)

The D850 is icing on the cake.

Invest in Lens and Tolerate the Camera !!

Many years ago at RIT we determined that the lens max efficiency of any 24 x 36 mm sensor was 25 MP and that could be 30 MP now.
If you are into pixel peep and want to see af errors and lens distortions like Chromatic etc. as Rocky says ... Go For It !!

I will wait for something significant like correctly working ML sensors but know all too well that Limitations are in Todays Optics.