The D850 Blog


From Hot to Not

Ah, the Internet. First, new tech on announcement gets the pile-on-hype effect, where the product can do no wrong. Eventually the product gets shipped and the measurebators get all upset when their expectations of fantastical, imagined gains aren't met. 

The D850 has gone from Hot to Not in less than two months. At least if we're to believe the Internet. In particular, two things seem to have dulled the enthusiasm, with a third pushing those on the fence off. 

  1. It doesn't have the D5 Autofocus. This all seems to stem from one test done with what appears to be 3D Tracking. I'm still testing, so I can't say anything definitive at the moment. I suspect that there are subtle changes due to the differing viewfinder blackout times of the D5 and D850. But as many of you know, I've been pushing the D850 into areas you wouldn't normally expect it to be, such as sidelines sports. I can tell you that it works perfectly fine, though you may need to pay some attention to your settings and adjust accordingly.
  2. It's not a stop better than the D810. In actual measurements, I'd say that is completely true. But it also wasn't something I was expecting to be true. We don't have that big a generational gain in sensors any more. But there's more to this than just a measurement. Let me describe it this way: same shot, same situation, same settings, in every case I've preferred the D850 files to the D810 files. Every case. It's a subtle thing, and I'm not sure that I can yet ascribe it to a specific change Nikon made. I'm still digging (thanks Iliah, for RawDigger). But the difference is there, though small enough that some might miss it. But then again, I now have 45mp instead of 36mp and I've got a small gain? How can I not like that?
  3. Nikon's greedy. The third item tends to be something to do with the features. The lack of built-in flash. The absurd cost of gaining 2 fps. The second slot being SD. The power-hungry and still broken SnapBridge. Yeah, I hear you. These things can be disappointments on a US$3300 camera. 

Ironically, the more I shoot with the D850, the more I like it and the hotter I get about it. Exactly the opposite of the Internet. 

I think the conclusion in my review of the D850 is going to be very similar to my conclusion about the D810. On paper and in actual measured testing, it doesn't seem like the bar has been moved all that much (D800->D810, or D810->D850). In reality, the sum of the parts add up to a far better experience in doing the things that you want the camera to do. Moreover, the camera now does more things than it used to. For example, the D850 is more than a passable pro DX camera, it's nearly equivalent to the D500 with only frame rate being lower. The D810 wasn't quite that. 

I'm nearly prepared to say that Nikon has done the right thing by the D850 iteration: they've now iterated the best all-around camera you could get twice, and in both iterations they've moved the bar considerably forward. Which is going to keep it at the top of my best all-around camera list. 

This camera should still be hot. Don't believe everything the dogs are writing on the Internet.

Nikon's Recommended Lenses, Maybe

Hmm. Not sure what's going on here, but dpreview re-published a list of Nikon's recommended lenses for the D850 from SLR Lounge, and then amended that list a few hours later when NikonUSA seems to have woken up from a slumber. 

First the amended list (original list items shown with *).

Primes

  • 14mm f/2.8D#
  • 19mm f/4E PC-E*
  • 20mm f/1.8G*
  • 24mm f/1.4G
  • 24mm f/1.8G
  • 24mm f/3.5D PC-E
  • 28mm f/1.8G
  • 35mm f/1.4G
  • 45mm f/2.8D PC-E
  • 58mm f/1.4G
  • 85mm f/1.4G
  • 85mm f/2.8D PC-E
  • 105mm f/1.4E*
  • 105mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor
  • 200mm f/2*
  • 300mm f/2.8G
  • 300mm f/4D
  • 300mm f/4E
  • 400mm f/2.8E*
  • 500mm f/4E
  • 600mm f/4E
  • 800mm f/4E

Zooms

  • 14-24mm f/2.8G*
  • 16-35mm f/4G
  • 16-80mm f/2.8-4E#
  • 17-35mm f/2.8D#
  • 24-70mm f/2.8E*
  • 24-120mm f/4G#
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E*
  • 70-200mm f/4G
  • 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G*#
  • 200-400mm f/4G

NikonUSA appears to be totally asleep at the wheel. The 28mm f/1.4E, a very good lens that I just reviewed, isn't on their "final" list but was on the initial list. Likewise, the 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E was on the initial list but not on the final list. I'm also not sure why the 85mm f/1.8G wouldn't be on that list, other than the fact that NikonUSA really wants to sell the f/1.4 version. Someone is just winging these "lists" off the top of their head is my guess.

You may have noticed some # marks in the list. As far as I'm concerned, those lenses probably do not belong on a D850 optimal lens list:

  • 14mm f/2.8: High degrees of CA, high vignetting, poor corners with clear smearing, poor contrast wide open, most of the zooms with this focal length actually are clearly better (e.g. 14-24mm f/2.8). This is a lens that's needed a redesign for over a decade.
  • 16-80mm f/2.8-4E: Yes, a DX lens that Nikon wants to sell more of is on the D850 list for some reason. It's a very good lens. At DX crop. Why you'd have that in your D850 kit I have no idea. 
  • 17-35mm f/2.8D: Guess Nikon still has some stock of this lens they need to sell. Pretty much all the same complaints as with the 14mm, but with the additional problem that it is pretty poor at the 35mm end. Another lens that's needed a redesign for over a decade.
  • 24-120mm f/4G: Another lens Nikon wants to sell you because they make them in volume. But it was struggling with the D800/D810 and things don't get better with more resolution. I'm very tempted to say that you're far better off buying the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5, and you'll appreciate the smaller and lighter build. The 24-120mm f/4G is one of the lenses that I've been considering dropping from my list. I'm pretty close to doing so after having looked at a few more images.
  • 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G: Again, the long end is just weak, and it easily shows on the D850. This is another lens on my "considering dropping" list. Unlike the 24-120mm, the 80-400mm has some redeeming qualities that keep it more in contention, particularly its performance from 80-200mm, and even out to 300mm. I don't think I'll drop it from my list, I'll just add a comment that you'll want better at 400mm.  

In more than a month of shooting now, I've seen nothing that's changing my mind about my best lenses for the D850 list. Indeed, my opinions are solidifying the more I shoot. The only lens I'm still not completely sure of is the 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5, which is currently in my test bag, so I should have an answer soon.

Update: Nikon Rumors found a document on the Japanese Nikon site that lists their recommended lenses for the D850. And yes, it disagrees with the dpreview list in the following ways: no 14mm, added the 28mm f/1.4E, added the other f/1.8 primes, added the 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, added the two DC-Nikkors (105mm and 135mm f/2D), added the older 500mm f/4G, added the 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5, added the older 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8G, and added the 200-500mm f/5.6E. It also omits the 17-35mm f/2.8 and 16-80mm f/2.8-4E DX ;~).  So I was right, NikonUSA seems asleep at the wheel again. 

I'm sticking by my list. 

Greg Benz's Suggestions for the D850

I don't usually do this, but my friend Greg Benz has posted some good starting suggestions for using the D850, and I thought I'd cross comment on them. Greg's choices are quite good and very defendable, but I have a few points to make you might want to also consider.

  • In RGB Histogram image review, remember that you need to then set the highlights display via the thumbnail button+pad. Greg's right, you only need this one view to tell you what's going on with your pixels, but the default is to only display the histogram; you have to add the highlights review.
  • If I have any real questions about Greg's settings, it has to do with Auto WB, Flat Picture Control, and AdobeRGB Color Space. What he's trying to do here is get a better histogram that more closely reflects the raw data. Sorry, but that's not a magic combo. I'm not sure that there is a truly magic combo you can set in camera, but the problem is that the raws are underexposed to the JPEGs (especially with the usual Picture Controls), and the WB twist to the red and blue channels can be a second gotcha. Realistically, you need UniWB with this camera (yeah, working on it). 
  • AF limiting: for landscape shooting, these are rarely useful, as Greg implies. What is useful? Single Point and Group. Single Point gives you pinpoint focus control, Group gives you Closest Focus Priority across a small area. 
  • Greg doesn't mention that CSM #D6 appears to also apply to Quiet Mode shooting. That can be useful if you're not on a tripod.
  • I'm not yet sure about his recommendation of 3 for the focus shift. Thing is, Nikon has embedded a CoC calculation into their steps. The actual steps vary with focal length and aperture based upon that CoC. I think I agree with him that 5—which everyone else is suggesting—probably isn't the right starting value to try for landscapes, it's something lower. That's because Nikon appears to be using a not very good CoC value (probably the same 0.033 as they mark the lenses, not 0.025 as the Zeiss calculations would suggest it should be, or 0.016 as some photo site calculations would suggest). Thus, when you step you have to be wary of slight DOF softness at the front/aft of the focal plane. Step too much and you'll get bad data in the merge. Step too little and it'll take you far too long to stitch the focus in post. Nikon hasn't helped us find the right middle ground, and I believe it to be different for macro work than for large landscape work.
  • As I've noted in my work on AF Fine Tune, don't average the results, select the median. 
  • Yes, ISO 64 is where you want to be. Up to ISO 200 is okay, and with those ISO values set 14-bit Lossless Compressed. At ISO 400 and above, set 12-bit Lossless Compressed.
  • I can't quite agree with his loss-of-resolution off tripod comments. Pixel smear happens over time, thus a 1 pixel smear isn't actually a halving of total resolution. True, smear is not a good thing to have in your pixels, but at low levels I wouldn't worry about it, and deconvolution sharpening can help you recover from very low levels of that type of handling error.
  • Which aperture to use is still something I'm trying to come to grips with. Greg suggests f/8 to f/13. But f/8 is already diffraction limited on a D850. f/13 results are absolutely impacted by diffraction. The tradeoff here is acuity versus depth of field: you can't have both past f/5.6 on the D850. This is why focus shift (ugh, Nikon, what were you thinking using a derogatory term already used in optical evaluation?) becomes very important. Technically, to preserve everything the lens and camera can capture, you want to be at f/4 or f/5.6 and focus stacking to get your depth of field. And as noted above, Nikon didn't make it easy to figure out what the optimal settings to do that would be.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

I’m in testing mode at the moment. I’ve got four different cameras and a dozen lenses sitting in the review queue. That means I’m out and active doing a lot of different types of shooting.

This weekend I took the D850 (and a Sony A9) with me to the University of Colorado football game against University of Northern Colorado. This gave me a chance to evaluate the speed aspect of the D850.

I’m not going to go into great detail, but let’s run through just one sequence of shots on a single play and see what comments that generates from me.

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42261


This is a punt reception towards the end of the game. Not exactly the way you want to catch the ball, #21. I’m at the far opposite end of the field with a 300mm lens. But I’ve got a 45.4mp camera, so this is about a 15mp crop that would work just fine for most uses. Thing is, I’m at least 60 yards from the action, so what we really want to know is what the focus is going to do. Right here, it’s exactly where I put it and dead on.

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42262

 
Still need to get a good grip on the football, dude. I’m firing at 7 fps in this sequence. One thing I can say is that the “slowest card wins” thing is definitely present. For a while I was shooting NEF on the XQD and JPEG on the SD slot. But that limits the buffer to what the SD can manage, and it isn’t as good as the XQD can do. I eventually just pulled the SD card and shot XQD only.

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42263


Okay, we’ve got our hands on the ball now. Even though I’m panning across a busy background, the focus is holding right where I want it. (I’m at f/4, giving me a bit of depth of field, but I’m going by where I see the focus plane: it’s where I asked it to be.)

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42264


Is #44 ever going to get there? 

Meanwhile, let’s talk about image quality. I’m shooting at ISO 800 here, which is keeping my shutter so high that when the sun occasionally popped out I maxed out the shutter speed at 1/8000. One thing I noticed while converting these images was that I was sharpening them but pulling out Color Noise Reduction in the Adobe converter. There’s no noise reduction in these images, and there’s no real visible noise at the pixel peeping level even though those black jerseys are a good place to generate it. I’ve tried far higher ISO values, and so far I’m pleased with what I’m seeing. 

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42265


Everything still going as expected. Let’s widen my crop some for the next shot:

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42266


Focus is still right on the punt returner, I think on his left wrist. Note that the background has been getting busier and busier, giving the camera plenty of opportunity to lose tracking. I’m pretty sure my focus sensor is on dark, by the way. Dark arm or the black part of the jersey. 

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42267
bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42268
bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42269
bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42270


And finally the answer to our question: does #44 ever get there?

bythom us co CU versus UNC football 9-17-2017 42271


Okay, so a few points:

  • Focus is basically like a D5. Very reliable, great tracking. The one thing that Nikon did that compromises that a teeny bit has to do with the joystick: you can’t push it in, get AF-On and a new autofocus area mode, and still move the cursor. On the D5 you can move the cursor while you’re holding the joystick button in, on the D850 you can’t. Fine, I can live with that, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment. I can see that compromise on the lower priced D500, but the D850?
  • Exposure seems to be very much like the D5/D500: Nikon built in a fair amount of highlight latitude on raw images. So even though -0.3EV exposure compensation was still showing some blinkies and was pushing JPEG exposures about as far as you’d want to go, I shot much of the game at +0.3EV and could still recover all the highlights in the raw files.
  • Detail is incredible. Put an incredible lens on the front of the camera and you’ll get incredible resolution. The sequence above is mostly about 15mp or so images cropped from the full frame. And very credible ones at that. I’d put these up against the 16mp D4 images any day. But with the D4 I’d have needed an 800mm+ lens to get these crops from my position. I didn’t just shoot sports this weekend, and I can say that the full frame images of landscapes and natural scenes I’ve peeked at also look excellent. Definitely a modest but still measurable step up from the D810.
  • Noise handling looks to be quite good. At base ISO we’ve got the D810’s wide dynamic range. But even as I press upwards into the ISO values I tend to use, I’m very pleased with what I see so far. I’m going to hold off judgment against other cameras at specific high ISO values until I have more data and more time to analyze images, but this looks like typical Nikon: as the megapixels went up, that didn’t break anything. Indeed, my first assessment is that the D850 goes far further than the D810 before you get that annoying magenta cast at ridiculous ISO values. If you can tolerate noise, you’re not getting that tint and contrast build-up the way you did with the 36mp sensor cameras.

mRaw and sRaw are Raw, but...

My friend Iliah Borg sent me a message about the D850 medium and small mode raw files and how he thinks they’re created. I have to admit, I hadn’t yet gotten around to looking at anything other than full size images. After all, I’ve got my hands full trying to figure out some basic things about the D850.

My apologies to Nikon. I was wrong when I wrote on launch that they were still using the old “near JPEG” style of smaller raw images pioneered by Canon. It’s clear that Nikon is now doing something different, but it’s also clear that something isn’t quite as we expected.

Visually, the smaller raw sizes just don’t look like they have the “right” acuity. At the pixel peeping level there’s a roughness to them I wasn’t expecting. 

So here’s what seems to happen in the D850: the camera is doing a double re-sampling. And using more pixels than the large size uses! This actually may be the source of the 45.7mp number (45,749,760 is the actual calculation of the total pixels generated initially).

Normally when you shoot at NEF (RAW) Large you get 8256 x 5504 pixel images. When you shoot in NEF though, the camera actually generates 8288 x 5520 pixels. Interesting. 

Okay, so what happens with those 45.7mp pixels when you shoot smaller NEF (RAW) sizes?

A double resampling, that’s what. 8288 x 5520 appears to be resampled to get 7104 x 4728 data, then resampled again to get 6192 x 4128 pixels for NEF (RAW) Medium. For Small, 8288 x 5520 becomes 6216 x 4136 then 4128 x 2752 on the second resample. So we get a 1.15x division followed by a 1.15x division (though the rounding is different for each, so they’re not perfectly equal). This results in a 1.32 reduction in file size: 41.5MB > 30MB > 21.9MB. 

This leads me to something I hadn’t caught before: if you choose Medium and Small for raw images, you will be switched to 12-bit Lossless Compressed; you have no choice of bit depth or compression. 

Quite obviously, someone has discovered an interesting mathematical formula you can apply to data that can get you something akin to new 12-bit Bayer data at a different size. What that is I can’t yet find a patent or description for. 

The strange thing is that the data generated is back in Bayer form, not the double reduction. It’s not clear to me yet if it stayed Bayer all the time (doubtful), or that it was demosaiced into intermediary pixels, then remosaiced back to Bayer in the final pass. There’s some strange resampling routines going on in the camera I haven’t seen or heard of before.

But it also explains why the first time I looked closely at a NEF (RAW) Medium image it seemed just a bit odd to me. Edge acuity changed in some way I can’t yet describe. It just looks a bit fuzzier than I’d expect. I also haven’t yet managed to do enough testing to determine whether white balance coefficients are used at any step in the process.  

I’m sure Iliah is doing more testing. As will I. This is a very interesting discovery, and something we haven’t seem before from anyone else.

Now, the question is whether you’d rather have a 25.6mp 12-bit lossless compressed image that’s 30MB in size or a 45.4mp 12-bit compressed image that’s 34.2MB in size. First approximation: the latter, especially since your buffer just got cut in half. But I need to do much more testing...

Some First IQ Observations

As usual, I don't think Adobe's initial NEF conversion is up to snuff. Whether it will be tweaked in the future is a good question. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't.

But looking at standard color tests in controlled lighting, I see the usual Adobe default conversion problems: there's too much of what Adobe calls Orange luminance, and the default Color Noise Reduction value is almost twice what it should be. Greens go slightly yellow, Reds and yellows go slightly orange. Orange goes flat. 

Adobe's default (ISO 6400):

D850 colorchecker


Some quick corrections:

d850 colorchecker 2


You can definitely dial in more accurate color with a little work in ACR on your NEFs. But that's been true for as long as I can remember. (Just remember, these are JPEGs and managed by an image manager to scale with screen size on the Web site, so what you see may not be exactly what I see.)

Noise at higher ISO values seems higher in the blue channel than the red, and Nikon appears to be using some sort of pre-WB adjustment to the raw data again, whose effect is to generate more luminance noise than color noise. 

But these are very first impression. I've got a lot more shooting to do, and more raw converters to test. Overall, the D850 seems to be about where I'd expect it to be if it were a D500 sensor with some slight tweaking.

The External Cheese

I went over the menu cheese moving earlier, now it's time to talk about the external side of things. You know, buttons, knobs, and dials.

This is a trickier proposition. Nikon made a number of adjustments and changes in the D5 generation, so do I describe differences from the D5/D500, or from the D810? 

Let's get the D5 generation stuff out of the way:

  • ISO button behind the shutter release instead of Mode (moves to top left cluster)
  • Red record movie button shifts to the inferior position behind the shutter release
  • Addition of an Fn2 button
  • Addition of a focus control joystick
  • Removal of the AE-L/AF-L button

The good news is that Nikon's been consistent about this on the D5, D500, and now D850. There is no additional cheese moving between models, thank goodness. Well, okay, some really slight things: the D500's front function buttons are positioned a little differently, but that's partly because Nikon is packing more into a smaller body.

To a D810 user, though, the big non-generational changes would be the repositioning of the i and info buttons, and the changes to which connectors are under which rubber doors on the left side of the camera. The Direction pad also gets a bit smaller and moves lower on the rear, probably because of the joystick inclusion. 

We've lost the onboard flash, so we also lose the flash release button and the Autofocus Assist lamp, which now just becomes the self timer and remote operation light.  

If you care, the microphone and speaker positions completely changed. The built-in stereo mics are now on the sides of the viewfinder, while the speaker is now up above the rear LCD instead of to the right of it. Likewise, the Card Write Indicator lamp has moved position some, too.

Overall, though, none of this results in any functional issues that I can see, other than the addition of the D5 generation stuff. That's the way I think such changes really should occur, rather than the model-by-model migration of things we've gotten a few times in Nikon's DSLR history. 

So overall I'm happy with the cheese that was moved, and the cheese that was left in place. Better still, I can move between the D5, D500, and D850 cameras without much in the way of cognitive dissonance interrupting my train of photographic thought. The one weirdly in this: the XQD and SD slots are reversed between the D500 and D850. The D500 has stacked XQD on top, the D850 has offset XQD on bottom. I can live with that, but is a bit strange that the bigger camera seemed to have more troubles fitting in two slots than the smaller one.

But—you knew there had to be a but, right?—all is not perfect in the D810 to D850 migration. The vertical grip required is completely different, and if you've got D810 tailored Arca Swiss plates, you'll need new ones. Everywhere I look on the D850 there are subtle shape differences. The D850 is a bit boxier and upright in design than the slanty shapes you find in many areas on the D810. 

More About Appropriate D850 Lenses

I've gotten a fair amount of pushback on my D850 lens list, mostly about lenses that weren't on the list, or ones that I've indicated that I'm going to examine more closely. 

My belief is this: if you're going to be buying at the front edge of the pixel wars (now basically 42mp+ for full frame), you really need to think about what you're trying to achieve and why. More sampling (more pixels) should result in more accuracy to the underlying scene. Some call this resolution, but I think it's simply better if you stay in the digital realm with the terminology: more sampling means more accuracy to the thing you sampled. 

But lenses are also part of the overall equation. 

Think of it this way: if you have retinal issues, it's not going to matter a lot what eyeglasses you put in front of your eyes. If you have a perfect retina, it does make a difference as to what eyeglasses (or cornea adjustment/replacement) you put in front of it. Well, we're getting better "retinas" in our cameras, we need a great lens in front of it. 

We're also in a realm now where we have only a narrow band between fully-achieved acuity versus aliasing caused by diffraction. If you're shooting with f/5.6 lenses or worse, you're losing some of the benefit gained at the sensor by bending some of the light before it hits it. 

A common question led me to my current thoughts on the subject: A7rII or D810 (D850)?

Handled poorly, I'd say you're better off with the A7rII. 

Oh dear, don't open up your email to fire off a response to me just yet...

If you're not into best-possible shot discipline and don't know how to get dead-on focus out of a phase detect autofocus system with tons of options and tricky bits, I'd argue that you're better off with the A7rII for two reasons (1) it has sensor-based IS to deal with the bad camera handling, no matter what lens you put on it; and (2) it follows up its initial focus guess with a contrast-based verification. In AF-S mode with mostly non-moving subjects (especially faces), most people handling the camera somewhat casually are going to get "better looking" images out of an A7rII with the 24-70mm f/4 than they would out of a D810/D850 with the 24-70mm f/2.8E. Whoa. That 24-70mm f/2.8E is a better lens. How's that happen?

It happens because the person in question here was never going to achieve all that the D8xx/24-70mm combo could provide them, while the Sony A7rII/24-70mm combo could. Even though the Sony is a lesser lens overall, the camera's achieving everything that lens can provide. 

Which gets me to why I'm being critical with lens selection in the high-pixel Nikon cameras now: I think you're buying the D850 to try to achieve everything it can produce. I sure hope so, otherwise you're spending too much money (buy the D750). 

Trying to come up with an arbitrary bar over which we get best-possible-performance and below we get okay-but-not-up-to-camera's-potential is a task fraught with hazards. I took on that task knowing the hazards. 

One area of disagreement others have with my placement of that bar has to do with center versus edge performance. 

No doubt most Nikkors perform admirably in the very central region of the frame on a D850. Nikon really doesn't make a dud FX lens in that respect, though a lot of the zooms get into the less-than-admirable level at the telephoto end of their focal range (e.g. 80-400mm, 28-300mm, etc.). Plus they're often at the start of diffraction impacts wide open in telephoto use, so stopping down doesn't really pull in more useful acuity. 

But why did you buy a 46mp in the first place? For better center-of-image? Not likely. More likely is that you want to print bigger. And that means that you're using edge pixels. 

This is where it gets real tricky and I'm willing to have the debate/discussion: if I print at 27" (D850) versus 20" (D750), are you going to look at that print at the same distance or will you step back further from the D850 print? ;~) If you pick the latter, then maybe the edge performance isn't as important as I make it out to be. If you pick the former, those edges are going to get more revealing of what my lens is up to.

This isn't the only hazard in my defining a bar above and below which lenses do and don't work so great on the D850, but it's indicative of the kind of thinking I went through in trying to establish my own standards here. I'm comfortable that the lenses on my list perform as I expect with the added sampling. Lenses not on the list, I'm not so comfortable with.

I will say this: the 200-500mm f/5.6 is one lens I got a lot of pushback on. After all, I reviewed it positively. I should re-evaluate both those things, and will. But note that in my review I found 500mm doing that thing the other non-f/2.8 zooms tend to do: get soft and lose edge acuity. In thinking about this some more and looking back at some of my D810 shots with the lens, I think that it's right below my bar. It might get just above the bar if I only shot in DX crop on the FX bodies. So how you're using this lens plays a part in how you'd evaluate it.

Look, no list from anyone using any criteria is perfect. That includes mine. But I can tell you this, my list is indicative of the lenses I'll be using on my D850. You're not going to see me wandering around the canals of Venice with a 28-300mm sitting on the front of my D850 and me proclaiming this is the perfect travel combo. Not my style, and not the level of quality I want to produce. Your mileage may vary. But make sure you know how and why it varies.

Menu Cheese Mostly Unmoved

I'm sure you're all waiting for the cheese-moving comments. 

Okay, so let's walk through the D850 menu system a bit and see what we find that's worth commenting on. The current "standard" for Nikon cheese is the D5 and D500, and to a lesser degree the D7500. 

PLAYBACK menu: no changes. Yes.

PHOTO SHOOTING menu: the masking selection for crop display has been moved into the Image Area section of this menu, a better choice than the older and odd bolted-onto-an-obscure-Custom-Setting way it was done in the past. Yes. The Flash Control option still only works with SB-300, SB-400, SB-500, or SB-5000 Speedlights. No. We've got some new White Balance and Picture Control options, but those just are additions into the usual menu choices. The big change that's long overdue is actually a potential workflow saver: you can designate things like Interval Timing or Focus Shift Shooting [sic] to place their images in a new and distinct folder. Yes, sort of. The problem here is whether or not your image ingesting system/process recognizes and preserves these additional folders, or just grabs everything from all folders when you ingest. We need programs like Lightroom to stack/group the images from these special folders, and Photo Mechanic to preserve the folders.

MOVIE SHOOTING menu: much the same as PHOTO SHOOTING in terms of the few changes.

CUSTOM SETTINGS menu: we get new options to change peaking color and the highlight (zebra) level, virtual VR switch necessary for AF-P lenses is present (wrong spot, Nikon), and there are some minor additions/changes to some of the settings. Fn2 and the video Fn button assignments still have very limited choices, showing that Nikon hasn't really heard their users here.

SETUP menu: say what? IPTC data has been removed. No. Bad Nikon. The networking options (SnapBridge and WT-7) are still a warren of messy and confusing menu items. 

RETOUCH menu: Edit Movie is now Trim Movie. We get a new Side-by-Side Comparison option.

Overall, the menus are relatively unscathed and not re-ordered, so cheese-moving is minimal.

I get the impression though that Nikon is struggling with firmware size. It seems that if anything gets added to menus these days, something else tends to disappear. I have to wonder whether or not Nikon is trying to fit firmware into a particular size constraint rather than letting it grow organically. This has implications on what they can do in firmware fixes in the future, obviously, and may explain why we don't get a lot of them, particularly additions. 

In passing I'll note that the manuals have a lot of the usual missing, incorrect, or poor wording that you tend to find in rushed-to-market products. 

One thing I did note in the manual that I didn't expect and now have to test is this: the power source you use impacts your buffer size. Surprisingly, the EN-EL18b 9 fps buffer sizes are considerably lower than the EN-EL15a 7 fps buffer sizes, more so than the difference of 2 fps would suggest.

For instance, the way you'd typically shoot speed (12-bit Lossless Compressed*) you get 170 shots at 7 fps and 54 shots at 9 fps. So twenty-four seconds of shooting at 7 fps versus six seconds of shooting at 9 fps. That 4:1 differential doesn't seem right. The implication is that the amount of data being generated at 9 fps is over the optimal handling limit of EXPEED and thus results in a more restrictive buffer. (For DX shooters it's 200 and 91, or 28 seconds and 10 seconds, which shouldn't be limiting.)

Of course six seconds at 9 fps is still more than enough for most shooters. Still, if you're shooting series of bursts in rapid sequence, as you might with some sports shooting, there's a chance you're going to slowly move towards buffer limitations during that sequence. This is obviously something I'll have to test in practice. Indeed, I'll be doing that next weekend at a college football game.

*Okay, I knew you were going to ask. 14-bit on the D850 looks like it is only useful at the lowest ISO values. Beyond about ISO 200 you don't get any real benefit in the data from the extra bits. Given that 14-bit Lossless Compressed is a 51 shot buffer instead of 170, yeah, you're not going to use 14-bit for speed work (e.g. sports and wildlife). You're better off saving the file space and gaining the buffer space. 

D850 Pre-Orders

Updated (below) 

It appears that the usual "two per dealer" initial shipment of cameras is now "one per dealer" with the D850. 

About a week ago I got messages from Nikon NPS to verify my Priority Purchase of a D850, as did a lot of other NPS folk. Apparently NikonUSA was caught off guard with how many NPS PP requests they received, and wanted to verify their count. 

Well, it's been verified. The net result is that every Pro Authorized dealer will get only one camera in the initial shipment (plus whatever some number of the NPS PP units that were ordered through them). Usually, they get two. Thus, from day one the D850 is going to be pretty much a sell-out in the US. It's unclear if other countries have the same problem, but it's certainly possible.

A second batch of Nikon D850's will arrive in the US mid-month, and dealers will get an additional allocation then. 

But what has happened looks like it will be a repeat of the D800 experience: a lot of folk in pre-order lists won't get a camera initially. If NikonUSA also repeats the small allocations they gave the big dealers back at the D800 launch, that means that Adorama, Amazon, and B&H are going to take a long while to get everyone off the list. 

Update: I'm getting reports of dealers who got what must have been NPS units but with no documentation from Nikon as to who they should go to. This is going to cause chaos if widespread. 


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