D850 rumours, announcements and early reviews

Whilst the initial rumours about a pending D810 upgrade can be traced back to February 2017 and probably further, they didn’t really start gathering pace until the end of May, which was when most of the rumour sources seemed reasonably sure that the camera would have a 46Mp sensor. Other specification related matters were also being talked about with a little more certainty, rather than the previous guesswork. These were features such as 4K video, tilting touch-screen, back-lit buttons etc, but the emphasis was clearly on its expected resolution and the EXPEED 5 processor and AF system that it was bound to inherit from the D5/D500. Most of these write-ups were speculating that the camera would be called the D820. One I read even mentioned a D900, which mirrored my thoughts. The rumours continued through June and July, and by mid July it was almost a given that the camera would be called the D850 and that its announcement would be before the end of the month.

Coming Soon

This proved correct, because Nikon made an announcement on 25th July 2017, but it wasn’t quite what the press and rumour-mongers were expecting. In fact, it was more of a statement than an announcement, as it confirmed ...

the development of the next generation full-frame, high-resolution, high-speed digital SLR camera with the upcoming release of the highly anticipated Nikon D850 ”.

I think that this was the first time a new camera has had an announcement of this type. It was a bit of a teaser, because it didn’t give any specification details or an anticipated launch date. Whether it was a planned announcement or something Nikon decided to do to quell the rumours is unclear but, if it was, it tended to have the opposite effect as the rumour machine started to go into overdrive. It was a classic marketing announcement that said just enough to get people talking. Every word was being picked over, particularly the references to its "high-speed capabilities" and "sports photography".

Expectations were definitely rising.
Special Announcement

The official company announcement followed a month later on 24th August 2017 ...

Nikon releases the D850 digital SLR camera - the next-generation full-frame digital SLR camera with an optimised combination of high-resolution and high-speed performance across multiple genres of photography ”.

A quick Google search will pull up the full wording, but for the record only five primary features were listed :-
  • An effective pixel count of 45.7 megapixels and a new backside illumination Nikon FX-format CMOS sensor,
  • High-speed continuous shooting at approximately 7/9 fps captures motion,
  • Silent photography eliminates the sound of shutter release and mechanical vibrations with capture of 45-MP images,
  • Nikon's first digital SLR camera to support full-frame 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) movie recording,
  • 8K time-lapse video creation that makes the most of interval timer photography.
Other important features, such as the EXPEED 5 processor and incorporation of the 153-point AF system from the D5 were referred to, but in conjunction with the statements about the listed features, so that even after carefully reading through the announcement you wanted to see a more user-friendly write-up. That’s often the case with official announcements, and it’s not until you start looking at the marketing material and the full specifications list that you get to the detail you really want to see.

Personally I found the NikonUSA press release far more informative, as it was an easier read and put more emphasis on the features that I was interested in. Following the somewhat hyped up headline entitled “Extreme Speed & Epic Resolution” the announcement went on to explain what the camera could realistically achieve. Under the more balanced subtitle of “The Ultimate Combination of Resolution and Speed”, and the associated references to the camera setting a "new benchmark in DSLR image quality, with an unprecedented combination of resolution, dynamic range, ISO and processing power”, they highlighted four important features. They were High-Speed Capture, Wide ISO Range, Flagship Focus System and the EXPEED 5 image-processing engine. Whilst I didn’t read anything here that I wasn’t expecting it was just nice to see some of the features that I wanted officially confirmed.
I am the Difference Maker

At the same time as these official announcements, many of the on-line photography and camera review sites were posting their own confirmation of the camera's release with some giving their "initial view" or “first impressions”, under such headlines as “the monster has arrived”. Over the next couple of weeks, the "first impressions" were already becoming "hands on" or "real world” reviews with many of these being video presentations on YouTube.

Whilst I looked at just about everything that had D850 in the title I was cautious, because although these presenters should be impartial and thereby able to provide an unbiased opinion, they are doing it as a job. They review all sorts of photography gear from different manufacturers. I’m sure that they are all very knowledgable, but have they really spent enough time with the piece of equipment they’re reviewing, particularly when it’s a new camera with as many features as the D850, and are they totally au fait with the system - in this case Nikon?

Personally I relate to a well-written detailed review such as those published by the likes of PhotographyLife or DP Review than one from a more generalist source. But I far prefer reading articles written by an individual, particularly if they are a Nikon user and, even more so, if they’re a wildlife photographer. My personal favourites are the Nikon aficionado Thom Hogan who regularly writes really good articles, and the American nature photographers Brad Hill and Steve Perry. And with specific reference to the D850, I will add the well-known UK wildlife photographer Richard Peters, who is a Nikon Ambassador, and was actively involved in both the launch and initial testing of the camera. But, my overriding favourite, of the four people I’ve mentioned, is without doubt Steve Perry. If you Googled the name you would almost certainly bring up the American singer and songwriter who performed with the group Journey, so I guess this is why the photographer Steve Perry uses a different name for his website, which is Backcountry Gallery. His photography e-books ('Secrets to the Nikon Autofocus System' and ‘Secrets to Stunning Wildlife Photography’) and his series of YouTube tutorials are now almost legendary in Nikon circles. Not only is he extremely knowledgable, but he’s happy to share that knowledge, which he does in a very clear way - check him out.

At the time of writing, Thom Hogan, Brad Hill and Steve Perry have all promised a lot more feedback regarding their personal experiences with the D850 during proper use in the field rather than through controlled testing. I will certainly be keeping a watch for when those reports and articles become available.

Tony - 'tickspics'
Tuesday, 26th September 2017

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