Nikon D850 Hands-On Field Test

Nikon D850

I’ve always been a huge fan of Nikon’s DSLRs for photography, but as far as using them for video capture is concerned, calling myself ambivalent would be generous. I’ve tried several times to shoot TCSTV episodes with Nikon cameras, but I’ve always come away frustrated with their operation and underwhelmed by the final image. With that background, you can see why I was nervous when I decided to shoot our Nikon D850 field test with the same camera!

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Nikon D850 Field Test

The D850 marks an important milestone for video capture on a Nikon DSLR, as this is the first time we’ve seen 4K capture that uses the entire width of the sensor, as opposed to a heavy crop. If you prefer the look of Super 35 capture or have DX lenses, you can also record in DX mode, still in 4K. Looking at my first day’s footage, I was thrilled to see little distinguishable quality difference between the two modes, effectively giving me a Super 35 and full-frame camera in the same package. The video is sharp and detailed, exhibiting no signs of moire or aliasing.

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I was disappointed to learn that Nikon still hasn’t introduced any form of Log recording to the D850, so the field test was recorded with the video-optimized “Flat” profile. I was actually quite impressed with this profile; it reminded me of Sony’s “Cine-2” gamma, and captured a respectable dynamic range while still being very easy to grade. I’d love to see true Log recording from Nikon in the future, but the“Flat” profile is a fine alternative for the time being.

While the experience of shooting with the D850 was far less painful than I expected, there are still some serious limitations that would keep me from using it as an A-camera on a professional job. The lack of focus peaking when shooting 4K combined with the focus magnifier being disabled while recording meant that focus pulls were out of the question without an external monitor. The audio pre-amps are also indefensibly poor, so you need to send an extremely strong audio signal into the camera if you want to record audio internally. Autofocus while recording video borders was unusable, so manual focus becomes a necessity. As well (and this is no fault of the camera), Nikkor lenses focus in the opposite direction of most video and cinema lenses, so it will take some practice to nail manual focus consistently.

At the end of shooting this episode, I was truly surprised by the usability and image quality the Nikon D850 can provide video shooters. This camera represents an enormous step forward for Nikon. Now that they have stated their intent to produce a professional mirrorless camera, videographers and cinematographers finally have a great reason to hang on to their Nikkor lenses.

Related Links

Nikon D810

The D850 is the replacement for the 3 year old Nikon D810. The D850 is improved in every regard, but more expensive than the older model. You can find our western-themed review here:

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

The 5D Mark IV is Canon’s closest competitor to the Nikon D850. While the Nikon D850 surpasses the 5D Mark IV in nearly every respect, the Canon’s Dual Pixel AF gives the 5D Mark IV a huge advantage in Live View and video autofocus. You can check out our 5D Mark IV review (produced before the D850 was launched) here:

Sony a99 II

A lesser known camera, the Sony A99 II is actually the closest to the Nikon D850 in terms of capabilities. While it uses the nearly abandoned Sony A-Mount and translucent mirror technology, the A99 II produces gorgeous files from a body with built-in stabilization. Here’s our A99 II episode:

Required Reading

Check out our Nikon D850 Hands-On Review and learn why we loved shooting with the DSLR.