Pushing the Nikon D850 Sensor’s Limits

The Nikon D850 has been one of the most popular cameras that launched last year. It came with some useful features for which Nikon users had been waiting a long time, but the biggest surprise was its sensor.

The Nikon D850 is currently one of the most versatile cameras with its high megapixel count, frame rate, and ISO performance. That’s why it is commonly preferred by wedding, landscape, and advertising photographers, as well as enthusiasts. Besides having improvements on the hardware over the previous generation Nikon D810, the Nikon D850 has this versatility because of the new BSI (back-side illuminated) sensor that is used in this model. With this type of sensor and the lack of optical low-pass filter, the D850 produces better image quality with better dynamic range.

In this five-minute video, photographer Tom Mackie tests the D850’s sensor by using it under a massively contrasting location. He shoots a seascape under a cave, where he can capture dark and light areas to see how far he can push up the limits to recover both highlights and shadow details. Mackie uses a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens and a Lee Big Stopper neutral density filter for the one-minute exposure for his test. The final images that show the results that are processed in Lightroom.

What do you think about the D850’s sensor capabilities? Would you prefer shooting multiple exposures instead of relying dynamic range? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Bill Peppas's picture

Unless you find me a camera with a 24eV dynamic range, I'm sticking to two exposures and exposure blending.
For landscape/architecture this is simply the best method if you are serious.

Philipp Pley's picture

Not everyone shoots landscape and architecture, portraits for example are a completely different ballgame, you need high shutter speeds and single exposures. I am happy though that you don't need the D850, saves you a lot of money, you're winning!

Bill Peppas's picture

I've bought the D850.
I need its other stuff other than the slightly higher dynamic range.

For professional portrait photography, you still don't need that high dynamic range ( anything between 10 stops and 13 is more than adequate ), you control the light ( with your settings, ND filters, strobes/lights, diffusers, light modifiers ).

So, basically, there's no shooting situation where D850's high dynamic range is desirable? On one end, it isn't big enough,, because you need 24EV. On the other, it is unnecessarily big, and even cameras wtih 10EV will do. There's nothing in between, ever?

Bill Peppas's picture

If I was lazy and wanted to shoot high contrast scenes with just 1 exposure, I'd want all the DR a camera could give me.
For the time being Dynamic Range is not an issue for me with any of my cameras, or any camera for that matter.

Photo Kaz's picture

Not every scene lends itself to multiple exposures.

Bill Peppas's picture

Unless you have a moving or soon to be gone subject, every scene can be multiple exposed.

Photo Kaz's picture

Thanks for agreeing with me.

user-189304's picture

Here was I thinking that anyone who is serious about landscape sits for days or weeks waiting for the light.

I guess it really is about the gear...

Bill Peppas's picture

Who said it's gear over light/subject/composition/etc ?

user-189304's picture

You did

Bill Peppas's picture

Apparently you can't comprehend what you are reading.

Christoph .'s picture

I've always been a bracket and blend kinda guy, I spent years honing my process for natural looking results. Found it very hard to come away from a scene, even many panoramas without getting a -,=,+1/2 bracket

Now, I'm a full-time real estate/architectural shooter shooting the D850 for 8+ shoots a week and it's very rare I feel the need to blend/bracket (aside from blending flash frames, which is the staple of what I do for colour casts and evenness). ISO 64 and you can be pretty assured it's gonna have it in there. Worst case scenario I may need to blend multiple exposures of the same Raw file, but all the data is still in one file.

Often times when I do bracket ambient light shots, I will put the blended one next to a single frame with the same settings and they're almost identical, bar a little, and I mean little extra noise in the shadows (indistinguishable at web res). Only when I'm shooting something really, really bright with dark shadows do I need to bracket/belnd ambient.

Bill Peppas's picture

The underexposed exposure was never really necessary, all it does is bring noise from raising the shadows.
A common thing the HDR gang usually do :p

What was your previous camera ?
Because if you had something like a D810, D800, D600, Df, you don't really see much of a difference ( if at all ) with the D850 coming from the abovementioned cameras since their Dynamic Range is nearly identical.

Christoph .'s picture

I blend my exposures using luminosity masks and manually, so it's really about exposing for the shadows in one, the highlights in another and a middle exposure to bridge the two smoothly as opposed to a more balanced exposure and bringing in shadow detail and highlights with the other exposures.

Also, previous cameras was D7100, then D800 now D850. I would usually bracket shots I only shoot one exposure for now, the D800 would never retain good, natural colour information in the shadows as well as the D850 does. I do at least 5-6 shoots a week where I am pushing -100 highlight and +100 shadows in ACR/insert-RAW-editor-here in at least one of the shots and the D850 is just better.

Bill Peppas's picture

Technically speaking, if you have to do both at -100 & +100, the shot isn't taken properly.
But if it works out for you, it's ok.

For the shadow exposure, all you need to do is the middle exposure, and turn the shadows, blacks and exposure down, and there you have it, the shadow exposure with less noise and more details.

user-118903's picture

Surprise? C'mon - the sensor is an evolutionary development of its 36MP predecessor at best. Pretty much the same dynamic range was already available in 2012's D800.

The real improvements of the D850 lie elsewhere - in short, how Nikon turned a high-resolution but little bit sluggish landscape and studio camera into an fps and AF speed demon, thus creating the ultimate all-round camera (if one can put up with huge file sizes).

user-189304's picture

I've heard people say similar things re file size, one guy even went so far as to sell his A7R because the file size is too large. The thing I don't understand is (if they own the camera) why people simply don't decrease the resolution, and then if they need it they can dial it back up.

Christoph .'s picture

I've used and pushed the D800 to it's extremes often and now use the D850 and it's far superior for range. Shadows are much cleaner on the D850 and the colour is far more natural. I would often bracket on the D800 because the shadows would come out murky when pushed and highlights lose colour detail sooner on the D800, however the 850 is still quite natural and usable. The 800 might be close on paper but a lot weaker when you're looking at the actual quality of the heavily pushed areas.

Files sizes for uncompressed 14-bit do suck (just under 100mb), but often times I shoot in medium Raw (which is 12-bit 6K) for images that dont need the full range of 14-bit and they're only around 30mb. And unless I'm pushing them drastically they're almost identical.

michael andrew's picture

I find it hard to create images in really contrasts light that look good. Dynamic range is only one component of the aesthetic of a good photograph for me. These images, while looking nice, just seem forced and unreal. The colors are cool, but it’s the light it self, it does not make any sense there should be black and darkness in the cave. That’s what caves look like. I don’t mean to be rude or overly critical, I guess I just don’t prefer 15 stops of dynamic range squashed into strange luminance deliveries. Light is bright and shadows are dark, what’s so wrong with that?

John Kim's picture

I think the video would have been more telling if he showed unedited shots prior to the edited ones to demonstrate the differences ...