• Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - Extreme Low Light Challenge


Singapore's Night Safari is the best place to give both the photographer and the camera a tremendous AF challenge in extreme low light / low contrast conditions. The Night Safari's light intensity levels vary probably from 1 EV to about 5EV and the contrast levels with subjects that camouflage so well with the surroundings are extremely low.

The Nikon D850 has center AF points that can focus down to a so called -4 EV which on paper should be a non issue even at the Night Safari but don't forget about the EXTREME LOW CONTRAST levels which when combined with the low light levels becomes a mountain of a challenge for any DSLR Auto Focus system.

This image will give you an idea how the habitat for the Fishing Cat really looks like. Let's just say it was pretty dark and the Fishing Cat's greyish (I think it's grey ha ha) coat camouflages with the shadows & environment really well. A real extreme low light & extreme low contrast environment with unpredictable motion behaviour from the Fishing Cat really gave the Nikon D850 AF module & yours truly an extremely tough time !!!

I really wanted this session to be the toughest test for the D850 , so this was the setup that I used :

- Nikon D850 shooting at Full 45.7MP resolution

- Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 with VR (Vibration Reduction) set to ON

- Aperture of f5.6 irrespective of final focal length

- JPEG FINE

- Hand-Held

- High ISO Noise Reduction set to NORMAL

- AF area mode set to either Single or Group (depending which did better for the scene)

Let's get to what everyone wants to know , so how did the Nikon D850's Auto-Focus system do with my "worst case" setup ?

1. Well , to put it plainly this is the first time after using the D850 in so many different conditions including low light sport halls , the D850 REALLY STRUGGLED to lock on !!! Unlike low light sport hall conditions where athletes most like have good color contrast jerseys or logos for the AF module to latch on , this was just not the case here at the Night Safari.

2. This was the first time I have seen the D850 "hunting" for focus like crazy.

3. About 30% of the time the D850 did not manage to focus. It was NOT a good day for the D850.

4. Comparing to the Nikon D500 which has the same AF module as the D850 , the Nikon D500 performed BETTER !!! with about 80% success rate (with the same lens)

5. ...... but when it did lock on (mostly with the GROUP AF area mode) , the D850 does the job by producing really fine and tack sharp images.

What about the extreme high ISO performance from ISO32,254 to ISO51,200 which I had to use to get shutter speeds between 1/15s to 1/30s as I was shooting all the time with the largest aperture of f5.6 ?

The story here was so much better , in short given the extreme high ISOs , the D850 performed brilliantly. Again I was thoroughly impressed and convinced with the D850's performance at such high ISOs. It's CRAZY really and at 45.7MP !!

A straight out of camera JPEG FINE only resized to 3000 pixels for upload, totally unedited !!

Screenshot of above straight out of camera JPEG FINE at 100% magnification

Screenshot of above straight out of camera JPEG FINE at 200% magnification

A second unedited example ........

A straight out of camera JPEG FINE only resized to 3000 pixels for upload, totally unedited !!

Screenshot of above straight out of camera JPEG FINE at 100% magnification

I am so glad to report that the Nikon D850 performs incredibly well at EXTREME HIGH ISO which were between ISO32,254 to ISO51,200.

- Detail retention was just SUPERB when exposed accurately

- The D850 High ISO Noise Reduction engine was brilliant , best implementation to date in any Nikon DSLR that I have used !!! Remember this is at 45.7MP resolution.

I also do have to add that the Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5-5.6 Vibration Reduction (VR) performance worked great giving me a 4 stops advantage allowing me to hand-hold at 400 mm focal length & greater at 1/15s to 1/30s shutter speed.

Highlights from the Night Safari Photography Challenge Session

Fishing Cat series @Night Safari

ISO40,637 , 1/20s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

ISO40,637 , 1/15s , f5.6 , 300mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

ISO40,637 , 1/15s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

ISO40,637 , 1/30s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

Spotted Hyena series@Night Safari

ISO32,254 , 1/15s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

ISO32,254 , 1/15s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

ISO32,254 , 1/15s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

ISO32,254 , 1/15s , f5.6 , 400mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

The SLOW LORIS was the MOST difficult to capture !! Even more difficult than an active Fishing Cat or the Spotted Hyena. At such low light and low contrast conditions , the Slow Loris is anything but slow !!

ISO51,200 , 1/25s , f5.6 , 200mm focal length , Hand-Held , Vibration Reduction ON

I was REALLY being HARSH on the Nikon D850 , some would probably even say an unfair test !!

In the end though , the Nikon D850 DID manage to capture some brilliant images (helped by the 45.7MP sensor) and I must mention the BEST Night Safari images I have to date.

Yes , it did meet it's challenge at the Night Safari with the "worst case" setup I was using. However I am pretty sure that if I had used a f2.8 or faster telephoto lens , the story would probably have been quite different.

Having said all of the above , I have but one conclusion , the Nikon D850 ROCKS !!!!

#Nikon #D850 #80400 #nikkor #NightSafari