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?

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36 Comments

Matus Kicka's picture

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 ...lol, 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

Ariel Martini's picture

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?

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Nicholas Chopp's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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

Nicholas Chopp's picture

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.

Ariel Novoplansky's picture

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....

Stelios Kyriakides's picture

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!

michael andrew's picture

"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?

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Jacob Jexmark's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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

Kyle Medina's picture

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.

Anonymous's picture

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

Jonathan Reid's picture

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.

Anonymous's picture

When is their 100th Anniversary? ;-)

All I need is a Nikon shooter willing to trade straight across with 400 f/2.8 lenses and I'll move from Canon to Nikon. Canon has their head stuck somewhere when it comes to improving dynamic range. Many shots it does not matter, but when you need it they don't have it. Nikon and Sony(and apparently Olympus) does.

Anonymous's picture

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

Gabriele Zanon's picture

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

John Miller's picture

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

Usman Dawood's picture

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

Anonymous's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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?

Anonymous's picture

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.

Usman Dawood's picture

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.

Eduardo Francés's picture

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...