Why the Nikon D850 Could Make the Canon 5D Mark IV Obsolete

Why the Nikon D850 Could Make the Canon 5D Mark IV Obsolete

Like the Nikon D750, the Canon 5D Mark IV is the parent brand’s attempt at making what’s arguably the most versatile professional full-frame camera system that fits the needs of most professional photographers, except that it beats the D750 on nearly every metric that matters, as it should for a newer camera. Still, Nikon’s D850 easily strips the versatility title from Canon for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is resolution. The 5DS line, however, isn’t the only thing at which Nikon is taking aim with the new D850.

Resolution alone doesn’t make the 5D Mark IV obsolete. Its 30-megapixel sensor is still extremely capable. But an extra 50-percent bump in resolution isn’t a small difference when you’re considering these cameras could sell for the exact same price. That’s 50 percent of digital crop to play with any day of the week or 50 percent larger prints (by surface area, of course). Pushing so close to 50 megapixels puts the D850 squarely in the realm of the high-end landscape or fine art camera. Canon’s sensor gets you close or at least covers you for most use cases, but Canon shooters currently have to step up to the 5DS line for the truly larger printing capabilities. Point is: resolution still makes a difference.

Of course, while it’s easy to want to compare the D850 to the 5DS R, for instance, the truth is that its speed and other features create something that is more versatile in a number of ways that really count. Most notable of these is frame rate. It’s the 7 fps (9 fps with a grip) frame rate that brings this camera out of its studio or tripod-based platform in the field and provides the flexibility to shoot an entirely different genre of photography. All of a sudden, high-end sports, fast-action wildlife, motorsports, and fast-paced fashion shoots all become possibilities that would have been reserved for something more like the D5. It’s not quite as fast, but the D850 will do a superb job with sports subjects 99 percent of the time that the D5 would have been used when you consider the added speed of the battery grip. When you factor in the increased resolution and state-of-the-art autofocus system from the D5, there’s no question about which body you’d rather have with you for the bulk of your shooting experience. The D850 even meters in up to 1-stop darker scenarios compared to the Mark IV and keeps a similar base ISO range despite the higher pixel density.

While we're talking ISO for just a moment, the fact that the range is similar to that of the Mark IV with a greater number of pixels packed into the same-sized sensor is helpful for a number of reasons. First, shooting up to ISO 25,600 is still plenty respectable. But while that normally means anything shot at two stops within that setting will barely pass as usable for most people, this may not be the case with the D850. Given the massive 45-megapixel sensor, one wouldn't have to increase the relative display size of the file as much to print it with acceptable results. The only question is how Nikon is rating its native ISO. In this case, did they rate it in relation to files from other cameras in its lineup printed to the same size, or to the same level of magnification? This will be something to look out for, but it's likely somewhere in the middle. Regardless, the inclusion of a brand new sensor leaves a lot of room for the imagination to wander and wonder about just what exactly might be possible.

The D850 is also rumored to include a number of niche features that will beat out the Mark IV, including a reworked prism finder with increased magnification, an articulating touchscreen, and in-camera automated focus stacking for macro shooters. These are all of the small things that add up to create a truly superb shooting experience. You can also add features like the backlit buttons, improved weather sealing, joystick selector, and improved battery life to that list. With so many things improved, it's really hard to see where Nikon still has to make this camera better.

Video capability is the big question mark in this entire debate. The D850 will bring 4K video to Nikon’s fourth DSLR. But when it comes to DSLR video, Nikon hasn’t exactly led the pack, historically. Just how versatile the D850 will be depends on what Nikon will do in terms of bitrates, compression, and codec support. Photographers may love this body no matter what, but with more people pulling double duty between stills and video than ever before, it’ll would be great to see Nikon treat the D850 as its one chance to finally get everything right in one body as they have with every other feature.

With the latest rumors saying Nikon won’t necessarily include a 1080p at 120 fps option, but will instead include a generic “slow-motion” setting for full HD, the commitment to video already doesn’t seem to be quite where I’d like it. From a data processing perspective, this should be easily possible considering the camera will do 4K at 30 fps. But of course, there may be other limitations. Even if Nikon won’t introduce an equivalent of Canon’s dual-pixel AF, most professional DSLR video shooters are still manually focusing, especially for the bigger productions.

If Nikon gets video right, that’ll be the end of the Mark IV recommendations for those not already invested in the Canon system. For the savings over the 5D Mark IV, it’s also still been easier for me to recommend the Nikon D750 to friends who aren’t shooting much video. But the D850 has the potential to lock in that brand recommendation for a lot longer.

It’s easy to forget that every day, new professional, hobbyist, and amateur photographers alike are stepping up to a new full-frame system and deciding, in many cases, which system to go with. Despite the growth of other brands, the most common question still prevails: Canon or Nikon? Once we hear about the D850’s true specifications and price after tonight’s announcement, that answer just may be “Nikon” — at least until Canon has the opportunity to introduce something new late next year.

Stay tuned for tonight's likely official announcement of the D850, which could ship as soon as early next month.

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31 Comments

Just out of curiosity, why were you not considering the D810 as a competitor to the 5DIV? It was significantly cheaper and is superior across the board on photo specs and actual performance. Of course, now the D850 is still cheaper and even more superior... which is the point of your article. :-)

Adam Ottke's picture

The D810, of course, is/was a main competitor, too. But Canon was the first with the 5D Mk IV to really make something that was ALMOST a one-camera-fits-all body. The D810 still lacked in a number of ways. It was still a bit more specialized toward stills than the Mk IV with its obviously superior video. Now, Nikon has simply bested the competition with the D850, which truly is an all-in-one in every sense. With this, you finally make nearly zero compromises between speed, resolution, video capability (within reason considering we're in the DSLR video space and not the cinema video space), and even price. It's the perfect all-arounder, whereas before, it was still up in the air on the Nikon side, even if Canon had their all-arounder. Just the way I see it, of course.

Money doesn't grow on trees, still holding on to my d800 and Mark 3. At the end of the day these cameras are not mirror-less. My next investment would be in the Mirror-less technology. Why do we ignore 20fps? and harp about measly 7 fps? it doesn't make sense to invest in a non mirror-less system if you have to spend the money. No thanks I would wait

Anonymous's picture

...assuming, of course, you want a mirror-less camera. Not all of us do.

Vincent Pohl's picture

I am curious as how this really stacks up against the 5Ds or 5Dr, however they are just tools at the end of the day are they not?

Adam Ottke's picture

You're right. And there will be a lot of tests comparing the two, no doubt. But I imagine it'll stack up pretty well. IQ should be right there, whereas general speed and other features should be a bit better. But of course the Nikon is cheaper, now. So there's that...

Leigh Miller's picture

Canon has been dead in the water since the 5D3...nothing since even comes close to Sony or Nikon except where lenses "were" concerned.

Adam Ottke's picture

Wow. I thought (and still think) the 5D4 was/still is a great camera, even if something else might edge it out slightly now that it's been out for a little bit. What makes you say that? Just curious about your perspective...

Leigh Miller's picture

Take your pick...dynamic range, high iso performance, video...all lagging cameras that have been on the market less time (in general).

Adam Ottke's picture

But also, in general, you wouldn't say the 5D4 was/is still a very capable, still-excellent all-around camera?

Graham Marley's picture

It's obviously a great camera, but I'm not sure it makes the 5D mkIII/IV "obsolete" unless it magically made every photo taken with a Canon objectively bad.

There's *almost* a contradiction at play. I'd never say high specs on a camera are a waste, but at high resolution, you need a certain amount of shooting discipline to maximize image quality. Squirting out 9 fps on the run is not that kind of discipline. That doesn't mean the photos won't be great, and obviously it's an advantage to be able to do both, but sending a semi-devastating amount of data down the pipe of handheld, run-and-gun shots isn't making me seriously consider switching. WORTHY UPGRADE for Nikon shooters for sure, no doubt, but someone considering ditching their brand needs very personal and specific reasons beyond crazy numbers.

Joel Hernandez's picture

As a Canon shooter, I am happy about this camera. Looks like a "dream camera" to me.
Knowing Canon, they will only match match this technology in 2-3 years, but hey—I'll take it! This camera looks awesome.

MJ Kreyzer's picture

I dream of a world in which the Nikon vs. Canon debate no longer rears its onerous head whenever either company announces a new camera.

They're two different looks. If i were shooting landscapes or architecture I'd go Nikon (except for the D5, a disappointment which still keeps me up at night). I shoot people, however, and much prefer the signature look that Canon produces. My hope- much like the hope of anybody who comments on something on the internet, I'm sure- is that my comment here will reshape the hearts and minds of everybody who reads it while triggering a fundamental shift in the photographic landscape, a shift which would bring about the end of brand-bashing & superfluous debates on which one is better. As far as I'm concerned, if you're picking up a camera that's more than $1000 then you're still going to be capable of pulling an image that's pretty damn swell.

Spy Black's picture

"As far as I'm concerned, if you're picking up a camera that's more than $1000 then you're still going to be capable of pulling an image that's pretty damn swell."

That pretty much makes your entire argument moot. ;-)

MJ Kreyzer's picture

I know. Making that statement after having picked up a 1DXII and a 5DIV makes me a bit of a hypocrite haha. But Canon just has the look, bruh!

David Moore's picture

If It'll let me mount all my canon glass on it, sure, it'll kill it. lol

Korey Napier's picture

I've thought for a little while now that Nikon cameras across the board were just better spec. and performance wise vs. their Canon counterparts. The D750 kicked the crap out of the 6D (and to some extent is even still better in certain regards than the brand new 6D II). I would also say that the D750 is even better than the 5D III (I, myself switched from the 5D III to the D750 when I was still shooting DSLR).

The D500 is superior in my opinion to the 7D II and is the best APS-C sports and wildlife camera on the market (in bang for your buck terms definitely the best when compared to the D5 or 1DX II). Now the D850 is here and in my opinion is certainly superior to the 5D IV and aside from the fact that it has a bit less resolution, will be superior to the 5DSR as well.

This is all coming from someone who has used both systems in the past and is now shooting with Fuji, so I don't even have a "dog in the fight" anymore. The best thing Canon has going for them (comparatively) is the duel pixel AF in my opinion.

Rex Larsen's picture

The headline is more clickbate and doesn't really make sense.

Norbert Tukora's picture

Love it how people kept saying for years that DSLR is dead, but now my FB news feed is full of people pre-ordering the D850... :D

Cesare Bonazza's picture

100 agree they forgot to mention they look like a pack of Marlboro (Sony)

FFS.... Sensor pixel count is NOT the same thing as resolution. Not nearly. If you don't understand this, go look at some imatest results.

Cesare Bonazza's picture

Let see what Canon Pot Smokers Heads will do, because who created the 6D Mark II need to go to the Russian Gulags. I have hope now that they get to a rehab center very quickly and give me a 5D Mark V or a 1 DX Mark II
combine the 2 unit features with 4 k full frame otherwise in six month from now, I will migrate to Nikon and bye bye Canon. To reply to your comment this camera will kill the 5D mark IV no problem there.

The D850 is a welcome step up, but to me, its trying to cover all photography genres, yet doesn't master any. I photograph architecture and Interiors and will stick with my Fuji GFX

Tony Northrup's picture

It'll never obsolete the 5D Mk IV unless they make a D850 with an EOS mount. Enthusiasts on the Internet get most excited about camera body features, but most photographers just look for the best body that fits their existing expensive lens collection.

But with that said, I can't imagine recommending Canon for many first-time buyers at this point.

Dave Hachey's picture

Up to a point you're correct, lenses are the golden handcuffs that keep us tied to a particular brand. But having said that, I'm seriously considering switching to Nikon just to get the D850 because I don't see any worthy competition coming soon from Canon. I really like my Canon lenses, but the bodies are becoming a limitation, so much so that I've been dabbling with a Sony 7RM2 (I really like it).

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

How does a Nikon camera make a Canon camera obsolete? Or vice versa for that matter?

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

I honestly don't know why anyone gives a shit. The Canon 5D Mk4 does what I need and does it better than previous models. It seems like new or never established photographers are the ones that waste their time and money and concern about fluff.

Khun Hans's picture

Nobody changes from Canon to Nikon or from Nikon to Canon because of a new camera.
Useless Blah..blah comment. Stay in your darkroom and....scanning film for hours..

D600, d610 blotches, spots, d750 banding, d800, d810 similar problems. Nikon's response . . . None, or more realistically, "fxxk you"does anyone honestly think this camera will be any good?. I have been and still am, a Nikon shooter for more than twenty years and I am about to take a financial bath unloading all my glass and my Nikon bodies. I have NEVER seen a company that trivializes it's clientele like Nikon. There is a reason Canon is way ahead of Nikon, they actually listen to their customers. Sony is obviously on the warpath to dominate, and they probably will. As to those who whine about Nikon lenses . . . please, Zeiss, schneider, and surprisingly now sigma far outstrip anything Nikon makes". D850? Who cares

Ricky Perrone's picture

haha, you lost me at "Canon actually listens to their customers" You aren't unloading your Nikon system, what would have you decided to suddenly unload it for at the announcement of the D850?