High Resolution, Low Noise, and High Dynamic Range—Yes, You Can Have It All!The Nikon D850 is probably best defined by its extremely sharp 46MP sensor and its ability to capture a VERY high dynamic range without sacrificing resolution. In the past, a shooter had to decide between high-resolution or good low-light performance and high dynamic range from their camera. The Nikon D850 gives us underwater shooters the low-light ability and high dynamic range we need for the underwater environment with one of the highest resolutions in the industry.
The resolution increase from the Nikon D810's 36MP to the new 46MP of the Nikon D850 would usually come at the cost of a drop in dynamic range and a drop in high-ISO low-noise performance, but in our topside testing, we have found this to not be the case. This high-resolution performance is important for divers who want make very large prints of their images, but one can take advantage of the options it presents for selective cropping without losing too much resolution. This is most useful when shooting macro or super macro, and can serve as an alternative to using extreme reproduction ration macro lenses that would yield an unusable depth of field for many underwater shooters. While it may not yield the same optical results, it does allow you to crop your image way tighter than it was actually shot, with plenty of resolution to make larger prints.
Along with the step up in resolution, we also get an increase in dynamic range. Dynamic range is the amount of detail you can capture from shadows to highlights, without clipping at either end and losing detail. The Nikon D850 has a base ISO sensitivity of 64, giving an extra 2/3rds of a stop of shadow detail beyond what you would be able to capture at ISO 100. Why does this matter for the underwater photographer? Sun balls. When shooting a sun ball, you are trying to expose for literally the brightest subject possible, the sun, plus an often dark or shadowed reef in the foreground. The Nikon D850 maintains detail in the shadows, and the sun is still exposed properly and maintains detail in the highlights. By shooting the Nikon D850 at ISO 64 it gives the most dynamic range possible out of any SLR camera, and it firmly puts it on par with larger sensor Medium Format cameras.
This photo is similar to how you would compose an underwater sun ball shot, with the sun high and bright and in the frame, and the wall with the graffiti in the foreground in shadows. The Nikon D850 maintains an incredible amount of detail in both the brightest and darkest areas of the frame, where other cameras will clip the highlights and shadows in these areas and loose detail. No post-processing was done to this image and the meter was set at dead 0. Shot with Nikon 8-15mm Fisheye Lens
Superior Autofocus Gains Over The D810Autofocus has always been one of Nikon’s strong points. The autofocus engine is carried over from the Nikon D5 and Nikon D500, and we’ve been impressed by both of these cameras' accuracy and speed when shooting macro and super macro and how they snap to focus while other lenses just hunt back and forth. The Nikon D850 gains 3D focus tracking which works really well in our topside testing, accurately picking up the subject and following it. We’ll have to see how well it performs underwater before we can give the final word, but if it is anything like the Nikon D5 and Nikon D500, anyone coming from a Nikon D810 will be super pleased with the performance increase.
Speed and Megapixels—You Can Have BothThe Nikon D850 is capable of shooting 7 frames per second with a 51-shot RAW buffer. It is impressive to get this fast of a frame rate with a 46MP image. For most underwater shooters who use strobes, this is going to be plenty fast enough to keep up and will always be faster than the recycle time of your strobes. The Nikon D850 will pretty much always be ready for the shot and you won’t buffer out. We felt that the previous Nikon D810 model had a noticeable lag when it came to image review immediately after the shot was taken, but the Nikon D850 image processing speed is majorly improved meaning you can review your images quicker allowing you to pull off more shots while chimping when time is critical.
4K Movies Taken From The Full Sensor WidthThe Nikon D850 can now capture 4K video from the full width of the sensor. We’re happy about the full frame 4K feature because the D5 and Nikon D500 used a heavy crop factor in 4K, reducing the angle of coverage by massive amounts and making it not very usable for wide angle video. How does a 46MP sensor get down to the about 8.3mp resolution of 4K video? The Nikon D850 uses pixel-binning, which is the less-intensive way of achieving this but it won’t yield as sharp of a result as downsampling from 46MP to 4K. That being said, the processing power to achieve that downsampling would be monstrous, so it’s understandable for Nikon to go the pixel binning route. For us underwater shooters this means that we can finally utilize the full width of our wide angle lenses since we no longer have to deal with such a heavy crop factor.
White balance has never been a strong point of Nikon cameras when it comes to underwater video. They have often struggled to capture an accurate custom white balance at depth, however shooting with video lights can yield pretty good results. There is also some rolling shutter effect concern due to the huge amount of data and readout speed of the sensor. Given all of these factors, we’re not going to pass the final judgment on the Nikon D850 video capabilities until we can give it a proper and thorough underwater field test.
Body and Button Layout Changes—Won’t Fit In Your D810 HousingThe body of the Nikon D850 has also evolved and dropped the pop-up flash of the D810. This is to have better weather sealing to make the camera more water resistant. While it certainly won’t survive a flood, the camera body can withstand getting a bit wet.
The button layout, body size, and camera tray mount have changed positions quite significantly enough that there is no cross-compatibility with Nikon D810 housings, but the good news is you can pre-order your Nikon D850 cameras and housings from Backscatter today! Every major manufacturer is going to support this camera, so stay tuned for the latest news and reviews as soon as we’re able to get this system underwater.
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Nikon D850 FX Full Frame DSLR Camera Body