The D850 Development Announcement

On July 25th, the 100th anniversary of the company's founding, Nikon put a “Development Announcement” on their Web site for the D850. The press release didn’t say much, but there have been a few images of the camera circulating that give us some additional details, plus lots of rumors about the camera's features.

Let’s start with the idea of a Development Announcement. 

I think I’ve been pretty clear about this over the years: I don’t like this kind of marketing mumbo-jumbo. It’s sort of a cry in the dark: “hey I’m still here.” Nikon has used this type of announcement in the past, most notably with the D70, when Nikon perceived that Canon might be getting an edge in true consumer DSLRs before Nikon got to market with one. 

The good news is that Nikon generally doesn’t resort to pre-announcing announcements unless they’re 100% confident that they have a winner coming. Every Nikon product that has been preceded with a Development Announcement has turned out to be a well-received product by the market, and often a seminal product. 

The bad news is that the D850 isn’t ready yet, and this announcement is a delaying tactic trying to keep the faithful in line and not diverting to competitive products. I know a number of folk who sold their D800 or D810 in anticipation of a D850 coming this summer, but they’re all going to have a Nikon-less summer/fall, which isn’t making them happy. The other bad news is that Nikon is still going down a path of carefully walking feature sets backwards and forwards simultaneously.

Which brings us to what we know about the upcoming camera. The released images show a tilting rear screen (ala the D500) and removal of the pop-up flash (also ala the D500). The D850 will have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (Snapbridge), but apparently not GPS. 

Nikon’s description of the new product is vague and full of very hyper statements and strong language: e.g. “will exceed the expectations”, “formidable”, “will not compromise on exceptional image quality.” Nikon also promises new technologies, features, and performance enhancement that are the “direct result of feedback from users over the years.”

Oh, Nikon. 

So close, but not quite there. Who added the words “over the years”? Bad marketer. Bad marketer. The implication, of course, is that those requests weren’t granted for many years, but now they will be, which doesn’t exactly put Nikon in a favorable light. 

There’s plenty of speculation on the exact feature set of the D850 running around the Internet. I will say that it took awhile for people to notice the change at the side of the viewfinder and a few other small things that imply something new of different is going on. But we’ll let those things be revealed by Nikon when they’re ready. 

Which, of course, is the other problem with a development announcement: Nikon simply says “at a later date.” We don’t know if this is a one month warning, two month warning, or six month warning before the D850 officially gets announced. I suspect from the things I’m hearing, that it’s more towards the middle, and that Nikon will keep leaking small things about the new camera to keep people talking and speculating about it. In other words, I don't expect the camera to be announced until at least October, and availability may be after Thanksgiving. 

I’m sure you want to know more, and that’s the one positive thing about a Development Announcement: it makes you ask for more details. Here’s what Nikon Rumors thinks the D850 is: 45-46mp, XQD/SD, new AF with joystick, no flash, Snapbridge, 8K time-lapse, 4K video in full crop, tillable touchscreen, faster than 8 fps in some way. That sounds about right, and corresponds to the details I know about the new camera. But there are still a few surprises and positive things that haven’t been revealed/discovered. 

Here’s what I think at the moment: the D850 is going to be a natural, wanted, and useful upgrade for D800/D810 users, and this is especially true if the image quality has been moved forward a notch again. Since 2012, Nikon has managed to make the best all-around DSLR on the market, and the D850 is going to step into that role pretty naturally. 

Some are calling the hypothetical D850 the "baby D5." I don't think so. The D500 is clearly the baby D5. What the D850 is spreads across more than just a hyper sports/PJ camera. I've called the D8xx models the best all around DSLRs cameras available pretty much since the D800 came out. It seems clear to me that Nikon thinks the same. What Nikon seems to be doing is making it more all-around by fleshing out little things like more resolution, faster operation, etc. But don't expect the price to stay at the D810's level. I'll be very surprised if the D850 is less than US$3999. 

The D850 still doesn’t solve Nikon’s biggest problem, though: mirrorless. 

Some speculated that a switch at the side of the viewfinder is for an EVF/OVF mode. Let’s say that’s were true for a moment (it isn't). While such an option would make the D850 even more versatile and desirable, it still doesn’t answer Nikon’s need for mirrorless: the D850 is still a bigger and heavier body that the Sony A7 series bodies, and Nikon’s lens set doesn’t have the small f/4 zooms that make the A7’s pretty handy as highly capable travel cameras. 

Likewise, full frame 4K doesn’t exactly set the world on fire now, especially since Nikon’s lenses are pretty useless for true quality video. While the 8K time-lapse feature is interesting, frankly all that’s doing is saving some of us a step, as shooting 36mp sequences has been netting many of us the same thing for years, at least after we assemble the images into video.

Am I excited about the upcoming D850? 

Yes. The D810 has been my goto camera for awhile now (other than sports and sometimes wildlife, but even there it is highly usable). And by all indications, the D810 is about to turn into an even better D850. 

Will the D850 be the knock-out blow that Nikon has needed for awhile now?

No. Like the D500, it will sell well and keep a lot of the faithful in the Nikon F-mount ranks. It will turn out to be a reasonably strong anchor in the camera storms that are going on right now.

Again, a great D850 doesn’t really solve any of Nikon’s real problems. Nikon is getting weaker and weaker in the very small camera and consumer camera realms. Nikon doesn’t really have a video product. Nikon isn’t growing in sales or gaining market share. For us serious enthusiasts and pros, though, the prognosis is still good. The D500, D850, and D5 make up a powerful trio of products, and the D7500 and D750 provide most of that to the more price conscious among those groups. 

So, enjoy the Development Announcement and get your credit card ready. 

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