Nikon D850 - The ultra high resolution DSLR which is Sports Photography capable
Thanks to Nikon Singapore for wanting to work with me as one of the thirty two Nikon D850 Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa campaign photographers. Truly honoured and proud to be associated with the Nikon brand and craftsmanship.
As I work with numerous photography genres, I use different Nikon cameras for different genres. When it comes to sports and wildlife I use the Nikon D4 and the Nikon D500. For all other genres, I used the Nikon D810 which has a 36.3 megapixel (MP) sensor resolution and before that the Nikon D800, so I am highly familiar with the capabilities of the 800 series of DSLRs.
When I acquired the D810, I was already very happy with the significant improvements over the D800 and already considered the D810 as an excellent all rounder. However when I used the D810 for sports, wildlife or fast action photography, I always wished Nikon would provide that 2 frames per second burst rate additional over the 5 FPS standard burst rate (I just needed 7 FPS) and a D4 or even a D500 AF tracking performance.
So when Nikon announced the Nikon D850 in August 2017 and that it was going to be an ultra high resolution 45.7MP Full Frame DSLR with a standard 7 FPS burst rate & with the same AF system as the D5/D500 I was like WOW, Nikon listened !!!
So does the Nikon D850 meet my expectations as a DSLR for sports photography ? Well, I had the privilege to use the D850 to photograph the action at the 9th ASEAN PARA Games held at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Here is my take on the THREE most important areas a camera
capable of photographing sports must have.
1. SUPERB AUTOFOCUS tracking @7 Frames Per Sec (FPS)
A very significant overall improvement over the D810 for both tracking and in extreme low
light conditions. I am not being scientific here but if the flagship D5's (20.8MP) heralded AF is
a 10, the D850 to me is a strong 8.5, now to me this was definitely expected as the D5's AF
module has to handle continuous tracking at a burst rate of 12 FPS ...... so be open minded
when you read some of the reviews out there comparing the D850's AF tracking with that of
The D850 captured this 15 shots triple jump sequence with a 100% focus hit rate (I kid you not).
I was shooting at full 45.7MP resolution at 7FPS in JPEG FINE format (Note: JPEG is the file
format used by sports photographers) and changing my zoom focal length during the entire
Used AF-C (continuous) tracking, Group AF Area mode
Blocked shot AF response set to 2, Subject Motion set at mid point between erratic & steady
The D850's autofocus option also allows the AF-C priority selection, Blocked shot AF response and Subject Motion to be set seperately. This is very important to me as I can now customise how the camera tracks the action for different sports.
In swimming for example, I set the Blocked shot AF response to 4 so that the AF tracking does not lock on to the splashes immediately
Where else for say athletics like sprint events, I would set the Blocked Shot AF response to either Level 2 or 3 so that the Focus Tracking with Lock-on is more sensitive to track the faster runners.
All in all, the D850's AF system is such a huge improvement over the D810 elevating the all
rounder status of this new camera.
2. The EXTREME HIGH ISO performance was EXCELLENT in terms of grain control & details
During this games, I pushed the D850 all the way up to ISO12,800 and still captured great
action images with excellent details. Examine this example of an Indonesian Para table tennis
player in action. I have also included a 100% magnification to show the excellent eyelash
details captured and the clean consistent grain patterns of the worse case black background.
To see these kind of grain control at ISO12,800 with the absence of multi coloured noise at
45.7MP is a superb achievement by Nikon. Many sports are held in indoor lighted sports
locations, so shooting with the fastest f2.8 glass is not sufficient, the camera has to have an
extremely good high ISO performance and in this the respect the D850 performs brilliantly.
In camera High ISO Noise reduction was set to LOW.
3. Dynamic Range performance of both JPEG and RAW files were excellent
Even though I only used JPEG FINE file format during the PARA games, I have shot using the
D850 RAW format and can vouch for the dynamic range performance. Even with a significantly
higher sensor resolution, the dynamic range was comparable to my benchmark D810. The
vaunted shadow details recovery which I value so much is intact and just as effective with the
In this athletics capture, the highlight details of the white jersey and the athlete's face under
the stadium floodlights were well controlled.
Nikon has a winner here with the new 45.7MP Full Frame Back Side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS
sensor with provides excellent dynamic range and superb details (details are even better than
From what I have written, you can see that I am totally smitten with the D850's AF, dynamic range, high ISO and high speed capability. In addition to the above areas mentioned, the D850 inherits the other Nikon advantages (and improves on some of them) which are important for a sports photographer namely:
- Back AF-ON button with the option of de-activating the shutter release button for AF purposes
- The largest optical viewfinder for viewing all the action
- Superb Battery life performance (even better than the D810 and uses the same battery too)
- a new 3.2" tilting screen (which I have not really exploited yet) which is touch screen capable
- allows 9FPS with the MB-D18 battery grip (already ordered)
- most importantly a robust weather sealed body.
So is this the BEST all rounder DSLR from Nikon ? To me the hands-down winner for now and sets a new benchmark for the rest to emulate.
Note: all images captured by the Nikon D850 paired with a Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5/5.6 lens.