In today’s post, we will compare the similarities and differences between two professional-grade cameras from Nikon, the Nikon D810 and D850. And, ultimately, help determine which of these cameras are best suited to your specific shooting demands. In many respects, the D850 represents the merger of its predecessor, the D810, and flagship D5 into a single unified body. However, considering the price gap, capabilities, and performance differences between these cameras, is it a worthy upgrade for current Nikon owners? And should those who are new to the ecosystem forego the cheaper body? Let’s take a look.
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Size & Dimensions
Both cameras are enormous, though expected for these kinds of robust professional-grade bodies. At first glance, the cameras look virtually identical, though they do differ slightly. In this case, the difference is a meager 35g in weight, where the successor weighs 915g compared to the predecessors 880g. Besides this, however, both cameras are similarly sized at 146 x 124 x 80 mm.
Physical Controls & Ergonomics
In the hands, however, you immediately notice the successor features a more pronounced and deeper grip, delivering a more comfortable and reassuring hold. While it’s not a significant difference, it is a notable one.
Nikon has removed the AE-EL lock button and replaced it, instead, with an AF joystick on the successor. Nice, this is a welcomed addition that provides more immediate access to AF point selection. The successor also features an additional custom button, FN2. Outside of this, the buttons between both cameras are largely identical; only minor changes have occurred in positioning.
The successor inherits fully illuminated buttons from the Nikon D5, helpful when composing in the dark.
Both cameras feature 3.2-inch TFT LCDs. Their differences come in the form of resolutions and articulation, both of which are areas the successor updates. It now has a resolution of 2.36M dots, compared to just 1.23M dots on the predecessor. And, interestingly, it now offers a touchscreen tilting display that articulates approx 90 degrees upwards and downwards. This addition is a first for a Nikon flagship full-frame camera, inherited from the spirit of the Nikon D500 series.
Both cameras have optical viewfinders with 100% coverage in both horizontal and vertical planes. Their difference, however, is in their magnification. Yet another area Nikon improves with the successor, where it features a slightly larger magnification of 0.75x instead of 0.7x.
One significant change in the successor comes in its updated sensor resolution. It now features a generous 45.7-megapixel CMOS sensor, almost a 25% increase in resolution over the predecessor 36.3-megapixel sensor. Overall, this allows the camera to resolve fine details better, which delivers excellent resolution during large format printing. Granted, this increase in resolution is only apparent when using Nikon’s flagship lenses, as it is incredibly subtle in most cases. Outside of this increase, however, both cameras still lack Optical Low Pass Filters, allowing them to resolve extraordinary details, albeit at the risk of moiré. The successor improves upon existing dynamic range as well by providing more neutral colors, resulting in more natural post-production recovery.
The jump in resolution means an accompanying bump in file sizes. The RAW images the successors delivers are upwards of 90 MBs each! Per file. Significantly increasing the storage demand for those who shoot its maximum 14-bit uncompressed RAW format. Thankfully, it supports three different sizes of RAW images, from small-large, reducing both resolution and file sizes accordingly.
Outside of the resolution differences, both cameras still feature a native ISO of 64. However, the successor provides a 1 stop improvement in the upper range, now at 25,600 instead of 12,800, resulting in slightly better low light performance.
Another significant improvement comes in the successor’s video capabilities. It now shoots uncropped 4K UHD video up to 30 fps, instead of just 1080p Full HD. Hands-down, this is the most significant separating factor between both these cameras, and ultimately, why someone would choose the successor or not. Not only does the successor now feature 4K recording, but it also has super slow motion 1080p up to 120 fps. When shooting in this format, it renders this footage to 24 fps in-camera. Not only does the predecessor lack 4K altogether, but its 1080p was also limited to 60 fps. The successor even expands upon the video recording limits, where it shoots all formats, be it 4K or 1080p, at the industry-standard limit of 29 minutes and 59 seconds. The predecessor limits its highest quality (1080p 60 fps) at 20 minutes. Overall, the successor offers superior video capabilities and makes the more futureproofed offering of the two cameras in this regard. If video is important to you, the successor is the no brainer option here.
The successor also improves on the existing autofocus system of the predecessor, now inheriting much of the technology from Nikon’s flagship D5. In terms of overall coverage, it provides a 300% improvement, moving from the 51-point AF system to a 153-point system. The improved distribution of the AF points across the frame reduces much of the need to focus and recompose. The updated system also brings along updated tracking, which is now far superior at tracking movement across the frame. It expands on the predecessors strictly 3D-tracking and adds dynamic-area AF and group-area AF as well. And it even delivers better low light performance, offering points that are now sensitive down to -4 EV, doubling that of the predecessor. Overall, these features, combined with its 99-cross type compatible AF points, create quite a confident system.
Since the successor also features a touchscreen LCD, it now sports touch focus, significantly simplifying the process of pulling focus when shooting in Live View.
The successor features the updated EN-EL15a battery, which increases its longevity to an impressive 1,840 shots per charge. This marks a 35% improvement over the predecessors 1,200 shot battery life.
User Interface & Menus
Both cameras offer excellent customization over their programmable buttons and have a customizable My Menu.
The successor now features manual focus peaking, to better gauge critical focus when using manual focus.
The successor offers built-in focus stacking, where it takes a series of images and automatically names them for convenience with this technique.
The successor now offers completely silent shooting using the electronic front-curtain shutter, which also delivers continuous shooting speeds of 6 fps. It is a significant step in technology for a Nikon flagship SLR and useful addition for those who need completely silent shooting or the absolute best image quality available.
Both cameras feature headphone inputs.
Both cameras feature microphone inputs.
Both cameras have Flash Sync terminals for more direct connections to external flashes.
The successor now features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for remote shooting and wireless image transfer. To perform these functions on the predecessor, you must first purchase the Eye-Fi unit.
The successor offers better continuous shooting speeds, now at 7 fps and expandable to 9 fps with the optional battery grip. The predecessor, however, only shoots 5 fps and expands to 7 fps with the optional grip. It also supplies almost twice the buffer depth as well, now at 51 RAW images in a row instead of just 28.
While both cameras feature dual card slots, Nikon has opted to include the latest XQD media format on the successor. While simultaneously upgrading the existing SD slot to UHS-II compatibility. XQD is expensive but provides superior read/write speeds over the older CompactFlash (CF) format found in the predecessor.
Unlike the predecessor, the successor lacks a built-in pop-up flash.
So which is best?
Overall the successor makes the more accomplished camera of the two offerings and is a lovely refresh to its predecessor’s existing feature set and performance. Nikon has improved nearly every comparable component of the successor and has delivered quite a compelling upgrade. In every aspect, it makes for a better camera. The only reason someone would choose the older camera, in this case, is for a budget, or they would prefer a built-in pop-up flash while shooting. Otherwise, it’s the obvious choice if you’re willing to forgo the extra additional cost for its possession.