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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - More then Excels in Aerial Formula 1 photography

Nikon D850 ISO4000 f3.5 1/200s to 1/800s 16mm focal length Hand-Held

I had planned to write this blog on how the D850 performed in what I term as the most "difficult" photography assignment in my calendar a while back. Aerial photography of the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix (GP) circuit had been my main photography highlight yearly and I had been doing this for a number of years now. Every year I have 2 aerial sessions (12 - 15 mins per session) to capture the images onboard the official Formula 1 FOM helicopter.

From the very beginning I had to use the Nikon Flagship DSLRS to produce the images. I had to use the Nikon D3 and later the D4 and D5.

Other than the flagship Nikons , I did try DSLRs like the Nikon D800 & even the D810. Unfortunately , I could not get the results that I wanted from the 800 series DSLRs then which were already the next best thing after the flagships. They were just not fast enough.

Nikon D850 ISO4000 f3.5 1/200s to 1/800s 14mm focal length Hand-Held

Hardware Used

Nikon D850 setup for 9FPS

Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8

Nikkor 16mm f2.8



- the Marina Bay Night Race Formula 1 circuit's dynamic range was extreme , there is at least a 5 stops exposure difference between the cityscape exposure VS. the F1 Circuit's Track exposure. This was the biggest challenge.

- space constraints in the F1 helicopter , tripods or monopods were useless

- the strong vibrations in the F1 helicopter and wind buffeting through the open window , so holding the camera steadily is a huge challenge

- helicopter flight constraints , the helicopter constantly moves rather then hovers

- limited aerial photography time of 15 minutes

- very poor shooting position - I had to photograph through an open window next to the front passenger seat from the back-seat with extremely limited movement flexibility and I had to make sure I did not mess up the videographer's sophisticated setup.

- 1st five images uploaded to client , 1 hour after touch down.

Nikon D850 ISO4000 f3.5 1/200s to 1/800s 24mm focal length Hand-Held

Techniques used to overcome the challenges

- Using a DSLR with the best high ISO & Dynamic Range performance

- Shooting in RAW , this is one of those ocassions where RAW is a must

- 2 frames High Speed Bracketing

- Shooting in fastest burst rate to minimize misalignment between frames (at least 9FPS)

- DIgital blending capability to produce images with appropriate exposures for both track & city.

Nikon D850 ISO4000 f3.5 1/200s to 1/800s 14mm focal length Hand-Held

Nikon D850 Performance

Like I mentioned , photographing and producing clean ultra high resolution images that have the proper exposure for both the cityscape & the Formula 1 track was the ultimate test for any camera especially given the constraints mentioned above.

Yr 2018 was the very 1st time I used the Nikon D850 and the camera excelled with flying colors.

- in summary , the D850 F1 track images were the BEST so far if compared to the results from the previous years & my client agrees ! This really says a lot about the D850's amazing performace.

- Details captured were superb with the 45.7MP BSI sensor

- Final images were clean & crisp after normal post production workflow

- Colors were vibrant , exactly what the client wanted.

Nikon D850 ISO4000 f3.5 1/200s to 1/800s 16mm focal length Hand-Held

There's not much more to say more about the D850 and I will let the final images shared communicate all the superlatives about this amazing DSLR.

Ending this blog with a view of the F1 helicopter cockpit (this image was when I could still photograph from the passenger seat in the front - currently I to do it from the backseat , pilot is on the right) and the external.

Till the next blog.



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