eXtensions - Saturday 14 April 2018


eXtensions - Moving up to Nikon D850 (1): Rationale

By Graham K. Rogers

Nikon D850

This week I upgraded to a Nikon D850 DSLR after a few years with the reliable D7000. This is a big jump to a camera with a far bigger sensor, meaning that images of a better quality are within my grasp. A bonus with this purchase is that the camera is made in Thailand, so I am supporting local industry.

Early in June 2016 I wrote in the Bangkok Post about my brief test of the Hasselblad H6D-50: a massive Pro camera with a 50MP sensor. At that time, Hasselblad also had a 100 MP version and they have since produced a 400 MP version ($39,900) as well as a compact mirrorless digital medium format camera which uses the same 50 MP sensor: the X1D. Like Rolls Royce and Ferrari, if you need to ask the price, you cannot afford it.

The H6D-50 is clearly out of my range, although I did wonder about the X1D for a while. I have thought about a move to mirrorless cameras several times (all the major camera makers have excellent examples), but one of the drawbacks for me would be the need to buy new lenses. With the Hasselblad, these are high priced. Also, with my current Nikon D7000 producing RAW files of around 22 MB, I would prefer to improve output. There is always Leica of course, but the initial cost and new lenses put that out of my reach for now

One of the other reasons I had not moved to mirrorless cameras is the lack of a viewfinder. Even with the smartphone, peering at the rear screen trying to focus a scene with the device at arm's length seems alien to me. I tend to bring the screen closer to my face and squint at the image through my glasses. That arm's length stance has never worked for me.

Niokn D850 When Nikon announced the D850, it seemed a good compromise and early reports were positive in the main. The price was not in the stratosphere, the features had evolved, and my lenses would work. This went on my list, but the camera was not immediately available here (as far as I am aware), despite it being made just up the road at Rangsit.

Not long after it arrived, I made the decision, cleared the decks on the credit card and walked into one of the stores selling this in Siam Paragon at 124,900 baht. One interesting point is that although the retailers normally put the cameras on display, only the sealed D850 box was shown in the shops and I had to ask the price.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, here are links to a couple of articles on the D850 that I found useful:

I was disappointed that, having been told that I could buy this credit-free for 12 months. I was only given 6 months. When I buy Apple products the 12-month credit-free option is available. As I had made the decision to buy anyway, this rankled a little. Another concern was the memory cards. The D850 takes SD cards and the new, faster XQD cards (38.5 mm x 29.8 mm x 3.8 mm). Cards are not included, so I needed to buy the new type. When I arrived home and was setting up the camera, I opened the pack with the card and found it was the older CE type. Useless.

The next day I went back to the store (I needed advice on settings too), but the shop did not have the XQD cards as yet. The cost of the card was refunded minus a fee as I had opened the package. The XQD card is available on Amazon, but I will shop around first to see if I can pick one up here.

The manual in the box was in Thai (unsurprisingly) and I downloaded an English version at home. I noticed the battery was the same shape as that in the D7000 (EN-EL15) but was told by the assistant that it would not work. The manual disagrees although indicates that the EN-EL15a cell will allow more pictures to be taken.

D850 D850

I was familiar with many of the controls on the new camera as these are similar to the D7000, with a number of important additions. Like the Hasselblad H6D, the slightly larger rear display is a touch screen, but this also pulls out so can be viewed at an angle (several angles). To the right of the screen is an "i" button that shows display settings options. Press that button twice and a full screen display of the current image settings is shown. This is in white on black, or black on white, depending on ambient lighting. This screen is normally accessed by a button marked "info" to the right of the "i" button.

I initially started setting up the camera the old fashioned way, with the left-right buttons and pressing OK (there is a second OK button too), but found that the touch screen made changes and data entry much quicker.

Photo taken with D850 at ISO 64

I was keen to take some photographs as soon as I could, so stole the SD card from the D7000 and went to work. With my 24mm Nikkor lens I took a couple of shots in the kitchen at ISO 200, then a couple outside, changing the ISO to the new low (for me) of 64. The lens and camera responded perfectly, although I still need to set up focus areas. Later, I upped the level to ISO 25600 and took some more photographs, although this may have been too high for the conditions and I had to dial back exposure when editing. Nonetheless, these initial test images were clear and sharp. And large.

Photo taken with D850 at ISO 25600

The D850 has the ugly Micro-B SuperSpeed connector, which may be better than the tiny plug on the D7000, but Hasselblad moved to the USB-C connector a while back. In the box was a Micro-B to USB cable, but I already have Belkin Micro-B to USB-C cables. With the number of hard disks sold here with that Micro-B connector, I am still surprised that these cables are unavailable here: I bought mine from Amazon.

I initially tried to link the camera to the Mac using this connection, but nothing seemed to work, so I used the old-fashioned method and put the SD card in the Moshi card reader I have. Initially images did not appear. I tried a second time and that was fine: it has been OK since, so perhaps I missed something in my initial try.

With that Hasselblad I had on test, image size was 8772 x 6200 (54,386,400 MP) but these were saved as TIFF with a file size of around 70-80 MB. As it was a test model, I did not set the camera up and it may be that RAW images would have been larger. Those on the D850 are slightly smaller at 8265 x 5504 (45,441,024 MP) with my settings, but with a file size of around 95MB. This may need me to rethink my workflow. More on this in Part 2.

After taking a few test images, it was time to view them on the MacBook Pro I use. I tried the direct camera cable to computer link initially, but that did not seem to work. No disk was shown on the screen and there was no evidence that this was connected. I tried a number of permutations, but eventually removed the SD card and downloaded the files to the Mac. I am using Photos at the moment, but this is beginning to eat space.

D850 D850

I may have to consider more iCloud space too. It is annoying that Apple jumps from 200 GB to 2 TB for iCloud users, with a corresponding increase in the monthly fee. I am also examining other ways to handle the data, and will consider the use of a WD 512 GB SSD drive I have.

But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the D850 does make exceedingly good photographs. . . .


See also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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