Nikon D850 Pre-Review

Nikon D850 Pre-Review

By Scott Gietler

Nikon continues to innovate with their flagship dSLR cameras, and the D850 is no exception. Previously photographers had to choose between the speed and video capabilities of the D500 and the sensor size of the D810. That gap still exists although it is closer than before. Let's look at some of the key features of the Nikon D850 for underwater photography and video.

Increase in Megapixels

The D850 expands the pixels on the new backlit CMOS sensor from 36.3 to 45.7 megapixels. This corresponds to the 12% increase in the horizontal pixel width. The higher resolution is welcome, although only people who are shooting very close subjects underwater with the best lenses at the optimal apertures will notice the difference. The pixel dimensions change from 7360x4912 on the D810, to 8256x5504. Ultimately you need to decide if you really need additional megapixels – not everyone does. In DX mode, the sensor will crop down nicely to 20 megapixels, perfect for using the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens, or for greater reach with long/macro lenses. Of course you can always crop in post, but some photographers may prefer to compose in camera at the final resolution.'

Addition of 4K Video, MP4 file format

The Nikon D850 is capable of 4K video using the full width of the sensor at 30p, and 1080p slow-motion video at 120fps, at a bit-rate of over 140 Mbps. This is a very high bit-rate, comparable to the GH5 and 5D Mark IV bit rates, although the 5D does have a 500 Mpbs bit rate option for its 4K video.

Using the full sensor for 4K video is significant, as most cameras implement 4K video in a crop mode, which means you don't get the full angle of view from your lenses.

Focus peaking in 1080p mode, zebra stripes, and a flat picture profile are also offered.

Increased shooting speed & buffer size

The raw file frame rate of the D850 increased from 5 to 7 fps over the Nikon D810, a significant increase due to the new EXCEED 5 processing engine. While still not as fast as the lighting speed of the D500, it is a noticeable difference and will be appreciated when shooting blink of the eye events such as animal behavior. The shooting speed increases to 9fps with the optional battery grip.

The RAW buffer size for 14-bit lossless compressed files has been almost doubled to 51, which should be sufficient for almost any shooting scenario. For 12-bit raw files, it is an astounding 127 images. You will want to be using the XQD card to take full advantage

Larger Viewfinder

The built-in viewfinder is 7% larger than the D810, rated at 0.75 instead of 0.7, which is a welcome change, although we still recommend the external viewfinder with an underwater housing for an even larger view.

New Autofocus System

The D850 has inherited the 154 point auto-focus system of the Nikon D5, which means it has a dedicated auto-focus engine and significantly more auto-focus points. Further testing will need to be done to determine how this applies to underwater photography and video, since the D810 auto-focus worked fairly well underwater, and this doesn't change the fact that auto-focus will always be challenging in a low-contrast environment.

Boasting -4 EV range instead of -2 EV range, this implies that the camera's autofocus may work better in low light conditions. The central auto-focus point is rated to -4 EV (4 stops darker than a “normal” light benchmark), and the remaining auto-focus points at -3 EV, and this may benefit underwater photographers shooting in low-light conditions, and should give improved performance when using teleconverters.

Native ISO boost

The native ISO range of the D850 is now 25,600 ISO, an increase of the 12,800 ISO of the D810. The D850 uses a new back-lit sensor which offers better low-light performance. The test photos we have seen online appear to show at least a 1-stop increase in low-light performance, although we haven't tested the D850 ourselves yet.

On the low end, ISO 64 is a welcome option for shooting in bright conditions, which is also available with the Nikon D810 but not the D800.

The open issue is dynamic range – it is not clear if Nikon is able to improve low-light capability without the dynamic range suffering. We have heard that Nikon is claiming that the DR is as good as the Nikon D810, but we have not seen this tested yet.


Nikon D810 + 16-35mm F4 lens. The  16-35mm will continue to be a "go-to" lens for Nikon D850 underwater shooters and videographers

NIkon D850 - Other Changes from the D810

Focus Peaking, focus stacking, LCD resolutuon and more

The D850 adds many additional improvements and upgrades that will be appreciated by hobbyists and professionals alike, including silient Photography Mode in live view XQD card slot instead of CF card slot, Wifi & Bluetooth support, 50% greater battery life, double the LCD resolution, focus stacking, focus peaking for both stills and video, and active D-lighting for video.

Focus peaking and the increase in LCD resolution (now 2.3 million dots) will both be appreciated by underwater macro photographers, who will be able to more easily verify focus of subjects, and check detail, sharpness and clarity in the LCD screen.

Focus Stacking

Focus stacking Iis an exciting new feature offered by the D850. It will automatically take up to 300 shots at different focal points, and the photos can then be combined outside of the camera into one photo where the complete subject is in focus - very useful for macro / supermacro photography. A tripod is necessary, and it is not clear if this can be successfully accomplished underwater except with the calmest water and sedentary subjects.

There is also the ability to downsize RAW files in-camera to 11 or 25 megapixels. IMHO this is a very useful feature that will preserve the flexibility of RAW files and decrease the space and processing needs, when they are not needed.

What's missing?

The is no longer a pop-up flash, and no GPS. The lack of a pop-up flash takes away a safe “backup” solution for underwater shooting with strobes and fiber optic cables, in case your sync cords flood or your flash trigger stops working, both of which are common in the field problems. The serious underwater photographer will have to carefully plan for contingencies now that this backup is not available. However, by removing the flash Nikon was able to improve the weather-resistant capability of the camera.

There is no log gamma option for videographers, which some filmmakers have used for better tonal reproduction. However, there is a “flat” picture profile that can be used for increased dynamic range.

Lenses for Underwater with the Nikon D810

  • Nikon 8-15mm fisheye – this high quality lens gives you a choice between a circular fisheye view and regular fisheye view. The Sigma 15mm and Tokina 10-17mm are also good options. Small dome ports can be used with this lens.
  • Nikon 16-35mm F4 wide-angle – the defacto lens for sharks, rays, dolphins and other shy “big animals” you might see in a place like Cocos or the Galapagos. An 8-inch or larger dome port should be used, which can make the setup a little bulky underwtaer, but still light and easy to manage.
  • Nikon AF-S 60mm macro lens - a very versatile lens for macro, fish and marine life portraits
  • Nikon 105mm VR macro lens -the lens for fish, macro and supermacro. When using this lens underwater, the setup can be a little heavy, and a float ring around the macro port is recommended.


Sea Snake taken with the Nikon D810, Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens at 15mm. We can't wait to try out the Nikon D850 underwater soon

Nikon D850 Underwater Housings

The Nikon D850 will not work in existing housings, and it is debatable as to whether anyone will be able to implement the new joystick control. Hopefully all manufacturers will include an optical trigger for using fiber optic cables.

Underwater Housings from Nauticam, Ikelite, Aquatica and Sea & Sea have been confirmed and are being worked on. We expect to see the housings arriving in October or November of this year.


The Nikon D850 is clearly a major upgrade from the D810, and will attract a wide-range of photographers looking for the lastest upgrade. Sport, landscape, underwater, wildlife, and macro photographers will all find something to like about the camera's new features.

The Nikon D850 certainly is packed full of enough of features and upgrades to truly give you the tools to take your photography, video and creativity to the next level.

From Bluewater Photo's Nikon dSLR expert Matt Sullivan - "As seemingly more and more people are moving to the mirrorless cameras, the all too familiar "DSLR's are dead" shouts are more and more prevalent everyday. Enter the Nikon D850 - a camera that, at least on paper, proves that DSLR's are very, very far from dead. For most underwater shooters, the D850 may well be the best DSLR ever made. In the past there has always been a compromise between speed and high resolution. No more. The D5 autofocus system + 7fps will be more than enough for just about every situation underwater. The dynamic range and ISO performance will be hugely appealing to wide angle shooters and the resolution to allow insane detail and ability to crop heavily will appeal to macro shooters."

The Nikon D850 will be available in September for $3,3300 USD. Contact or call 310-633-5052 for more details.