D850 - 'The Diva'

I’ve been using the D850 for a few months now and am slowly getting to understand some of its idiosyncrasies and, consequently, thought I’d make a few observations about my initial experiences and why I’ve started calling it ‘The Diva’. So far this year I’ve had the opportunity to use the camera during our trips to The Gambia and southern Spain as well as in Scotland and during a few local days out. These occasions alone have already convinced me that it’s not going to be the ‘suits all situations’ camera that I hoped it would be. So whilst none of this constitutes any form of review, there are a few things worth noting that are either directly or indirectly related to the camera.

Starting with the body itself, I can honestly say the D850 is the most comfortable, well balanced, responsive and ergonomically (near) faultless camera that I’ve ever used. There are just so many things I like about it. I really don’t have any negative comments except, possibly, the fact that it’s bordering on being too perfect. And there lies the (potential) problem. By this I mean that if you’re in the right situation with good conditions and adequate light, the camera will most likely perform very well.

But it will need to be coupled with a suitable well-matched lens and possibly, subject to the lens and situation, need to be mounted on a tripod. And, even if all those requirements are being met, your exposure settings and technique will also need to be correctly applied. Okay, that’s all a be a bit over the top, but the point I’m trying to make here is that the camera is quite demanding. Some requirements, such as the right glass, support, technique etc can be controlled. Conditions can’t, and it’s when you're faced with challenging conditions that you’ll realise the camera doesn’t actually give you any advantages. In fact, all those megapixels suddenly become a bit of a problem in my opinion. High resolution and the facility of being able to crop aggressively in post processing are great features when conditions are good, but can become a hindrance when you’re struggling with poor light and slower than required shutter speeds. Obviously you can’t let all those factors control when you use the camera. Nor can you limit it to only being used on a tripod - in fact I’ve been using it as much handheld as supported. But, the truth of the matter is that it does have limitations, and it’s those limitations that need to be discovered.

You need to understand when the D850 is going to deliver and when its going to struggle, and the fact that it will struggle at times is why it won’t become an 'all situations' camera (for me) like the D810 was. That certainly doesn’t mean the D810 had more going for it, it’s just that the D850 is more demanding, which is exactly why I’m now referring to it as ‘The Diva’, as in ‘temperamental and difficult to please’.

So that’s a bit about the camera, but what about lenses and the importance that's been placed on using good quality glass. There’s been a lot written about this subject, probably more than for any other camera. The lists you’ll find on the internet cover all suitable lenses from the longest telephoto primes down to macro and fisheye. For now I’m only concerned with my three primary wildlife lenses; the 500mm f/4E, 200-500mm f/5.6 and 70-200mm f/2.8E. Nikon list all three, whereas Thom Hogan says the 200-500mm is questionable with the D850. I have few issues with that lens . It worked surprisingly well on my D810 and, from what I can currently see, is performing equally as well on the D850. It has its limitations, but at the price it’s a blimmin' good lens. Although I’d still use the 500mm f/4E every time in the UK and where possible in Europe, the smaller, lighter and more versatile 200-500mm f/5.6 zoom is my now go-to lens for when I travel to Africa or South America. The problem I have is not with my lenses per se, but with the 500mm f/4 plus TC-14E III teleconverter, but that’s another story.

My lenses are not responsible for any shortcomings with image quality. Any issues I’ve found to date are as a result of conditions that require exposure settings that I can’t achieve without something being compromised. As a wildlife photographer I generally shoot close to wide open so when the light is poor and the ISO starts to increase my only option is to reduce shutter speed. I’ve read that when you use the D850 you should be looking at a higher shutter speed, especially if your handholding, than you would have used with any previous camera, including the D810. Whether that is strictly due or not I’m still not sure, but I do know what shutter speeds I need to utilise in different situations whether that be to capture action or to combat movement such as when photographing from a boat. From my experience you can’t put figures and limits on minimum shutter speeds or maximum ISO settings as they vary depending on the situation, subject, distance etc, etc. But, what I do know is that the D850 struggles when the going gets tough.

This brings me to the important matter of an alternative or supplemental body. For quite a while before purchasing the D850, I had two identically set up D810’s - one acting as my main camera and the other as a spare or second body when operating from a safari vehicle or, on occasions, when in a hide. I’ve previously spoken about the possibility of having two D850’s, or just keeping one of my D810’s as a spare until the D5 gets upgraded and then considering whether that would make a good combination. Whilst I definitely want (need) two camera bodies, I’ve ruled out two of these options for various reasons.

If the D850 could be classed as a ‘suit all situations’ camera in the context of wildlife photography, then my original idea of swapping out both my D810’s for two D850’s was valid, albeit expensive, but given that I’ve now named it ’The Diva’ it’s obvious that two Divas can’t work together. So, that possibility is no longer a consideration.

I had a feeling that would be the case, so was pretty sure I would simply run the D850 alongside my remaining D810 (one having been traded in) until either the D5s/D6 was announced or possibly the D760, or I finally bit the bullet regarding going back to a DX crop sensor body as with the D500. Surprisingly that option was short-lived because, quite simply, when I went back to the D810 it already felt dated and noticeably slower in operation, particularly in respect of AF performance, than the D850. It would be okay if I only wanted it as a spare body, but not when I need a second camera and lens option readily to hand - the two lens combinations that I would use are 500mm f/4 plus 200-500mm f/5.6 when working from a static position such as in a hide, and 200-500mm f/5.6 plus 70-200mm f/2.8 when travelling and photographing from a safari vehicle.

So, given the above situation it was a question of what to do? Realistically I only had two viable options - the D5 or the D500. In the end the decision was pretty easy. I’ll explain why in the next article.

Footnote : to ensure there's no breach of copyright, I confirm that the 'Diva with a camera' thumbnail image I used for this article is a crop from a piece of original illustrative artwork by Italian artist Nik Guerra (
D850 - 'The Diva'

Tony - ‘tickspics’
Friday, 15th June 2018

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