Nikon D850 – Silent shooting
We’ve seen Nikon attempt to quieten its DSLRs in the past by adding shooting modes that effectively dampen the sound of mirror slap. The D850 is equipped with two such modes (one offering 3fps continuous shooting) and both can be found from the drive mode dial on the top corner of the body.
Although these modes do suppress the sound of the shutter a little, mirror slap is still audible. To go one better, Nikon has introduced a silent, zero-vibration electronic shutter to the D850 that enables users to capture images in complete silence when using Live View.
Users are given two silent Live View modes to choose from in the photo shooting menu. Mode 1 offers silent shooting at 6fps at full resolution including Raw, whereas Mode 2 rattles out 8-megapixel shots at 30fps in the JPEG format only.
This new way of shooting will be well received, particularly by wedding and wildlife photographers who are often at risk of frightening or disturbing their subjects in quiet environments.
I tested both modes at a church wedding, and those around me were completely oblivious to the fact I was capturing images throughout the service. It’s a boon for those times when you want to be discreet and work under the radar.
Nikon D850 – Viewfinder and screen
One of the constraints of the Nikon D810 was that it had a fixed screen. After years of waiting it’s good to finally see Nikon embracing a tilting touchscreen on one of its high-resolution pro-spec DSLRs.
The screen is essentially the same 2.36-mdot LCD that you get on the D500. It tilts up and down for waist-level shooting, but isn’t as ingenious as the screen you get on the Fujifilm X-T2 in that it constrains you to shooting in landscape rather than portrait format too.
The angle of tilt is particularly good for low- and high-angle shooting. It goes one better than the D500’s screen, too, in the way the touchscreen can now be used to browse menus and change menu settings. You can’t change exposure variables from the info display or Live View screen, but it offers a big step in the right direction. As for its response, it’s incredibly sensitive and precise to the touch, rivalling the response of Canon’s superb touchscreens.
The viewfinder is equally as impressive as the screen. It doesn’t offer a preview of white balance, exposure or depth of field in the way of an electronic viewfinder, but with its 0.75x magnification and 100% frame coverage it offers a very pleasing view when raised to the eye.
It’s possible to turn on a viewfinder grid display, and I found myself assigning the Fn1 button to viewfinder virtual horizon, which loads a helpful levelling guide on the horizontal and vertical axis to avoid skewed shots. Being the optical type the viewfinder has zero lag, incredibly short blackout time, and there’s the option to block out the viewfinder to prevent any light leak problems during long exposures.
Nikon D850 – Autofocus
Nikon’s professional DSLR’s have long had a good reputation for putting in fast and accurate focusing performances. The D850 is no exception, and with the same Multi-CAM 20K autofocus sensor module seen in Nikon’s flagship D5, it can be relied upon to acquire focus faster than you thought possible.
This is most impressive in very poor lighting conditions. Dimly lit dance floors at wedding venues and low-light wildlife shots are just a couple of examples where I found the capabilities of the D850’s autofocus system excelled beyond my expectations.
I experienced no difficultly at all tracking moving subjects travelling directly towards the camera, even in fading light. A quick fire burst of 18 frames at 7fps set to continuous AF (AF-C) resulted in just three frames of a train travelling towards the camera in excess of 60mph not being perfectly pin-sharp.
The 55 user-selectable points are expanded relative to the D810, but they’re still grouped towards the centre of the frame, meaning there may be the odd occasion when your subject is positioned in an area of the frame where you need to focus first and then recompose.
In similar fashion to other Nikon DSLRs, the AF is changed between single (AF-S) and continuous (AF-C) modes by pressing the AF buttonlocated inside the AF/MF switch and turning the rear dial. Holding down the button and turning the front dial controls the number of points in use in AF-C mode and is also used to select 3D AF tracking.
From the Autofocus custom setting menu you can refine AF settings to suit your way of shooting. For example, you can speed up or slow down the blocked shot AF response, and tell the camera whether you’re shooting an erratic or steady-moving subject from the Focus tracking with lock-on settings. Users are given the option to reduce the number of selectable AF points from 55 to 15, and back button focusing is easy enough to setup from the AF activation sub menu.
Nikon D850 – Performance
Being such a versatile camera, I found myself shooting a wide range of subjects in many different environments to find out how the D850 performs. First, I used the camera to shoot a series of landscapes and quickly found myself blown away by the astonishing detail the sensor resolves.
The marriage of high resolution, fast focus speed and tilt-angle screen allowed me to capture shots bursting with detail from low-angles – far easier than any previous high resolution DSLR Nikon has produced.
The crystal-clear rear display, with its responsive touch control and accurate colour rendition, is excellent for monitoring results. I regularly used the double-tap function combined with the rear dial to quickly zoom into 100% and check focus between shots. Even if you’re not overly keen on the idea of using a touchscreen on a DSLR, the D850’s is so good you’re likely to use it more than you think, especially to navigate the menu.
Testing the D850 at a wedding produced a pleasing set of results with two of my favourite Sigma Art lenses – the 24-35mm f/2 DG HSM Art and 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM. The true test was its silent Live View mode, where I opted for Mode 1 ahead of Mode 2 to prioritise resolution ahead of speed.
While it’s great that the D850 can capture shots without trace of a sound, you’re still totally reliant on contrast-detection for autofocus in Live View, both when shooting stills and video. I did find myself missing a few key shots where the D850 struggled to lock on fast enough, at which point I reverted to phase-detection focusing and composing via the viewfinder at the cost of louder operation.
The D850 can’t quite reach the heights of Canon’s EOS 5D Mark IV, which benefits from on-chip phase detection in Live View thanks to its Dual Pixel AF technology. However, the disadvantage of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is that it doesn’t offer a completely silent shooting mode in Live View like the D850.
To test the D850’s speed capabilities I used it on a car shoot – hanging out the back of a car to get a series of action shots. Without the MB-D18 grip and EN-EL18 high-power battery I was limited to shooting at 7fps, but the AF system proved more than capable of tracking the car, delivering pin-sharp results frame after frame.
However, I did notice that shooting in Raw and Fine JPEG formats at full resolution only gave me around 400 shots or so to play with using a SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB card. If you’re going to shoot at the highest quality at the highest speed on the D850 then you’ll not only need a few high-capacity cards, you’ll need the best quality cards too.
I managed to shoot 20 continuous frames (Raw and Fine JPEG) at full resolution at 7fps to my card before the buffer was reached. To get anywhere close to the promised 51-frame raw buffer – and reach the full potential of the D850’s speed capabilities – you’ll be required to use the finest UHS-II SD cards or XQD cards.
Just as my time with the camera came to an end, I managed to source a Sony 64GB XQD card. In real-world use I found I was recording around 40 (14-bit lossless compressed) Raw files at 7fps before its buffer was reached. This is an impressive number considering the vast volume of data it was being asked to process and write. Formatting the card and switching to 12-bit lossless compressed Raw saw the number of continuously recorded frames increase to 107 at 7fps.
As for Nikon’s wireless connectivity, I found the camera would automatically pair and connect to my iPhone via Bluetooth without issue. However, it wouldn’t always send my latest shots to my mobile device straight away when the auto-link within the app was clearly switched on. It seemed completely random as to when new photos would be transferred from the camera.
To overcome this I ended up using the Download Selected Pictures option, which initiates a Wi-Fi connection with the camera. Then, I manually selected the images I wanted to wirelessly transfer to my camera roll before sharing. Having the option to select the shots you’d like to import at 2MB or full resolution is great in this part of the app, but overall I was left with the impression that SnapBridge could be made more intuitive to use.
The fact it doesn’t offer the option to change exposure settings live in Remote Shooting mode also puts it way behind other apps from rival manufacturers.