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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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. ;))

Eduardo Francés's picture

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.

Eduardo Francés's picture

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.

EL PIC's picture

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.