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  • Lars Jameson

5 Years With the D850

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

One of my first steel wool shots, final days of my D3100

Five years ago, I was an amateur photographer learning everything I could with a Nikon D3100. I was shooting so often that at this point I had very much outgrown the capabilities of the entry level camera. The tech loving nerd that I am, I spent weeks doing research on different cameras and their advantages. Mirrorless cameras had been around but were not as amazing as they are today, and I preferred Nikon as it was the system I initially learned on. The Nikon D850 was going to release soon, and I decided that it would be the best option for what I wanted to do. I was also considering the Sony a7R III at the time, but my preference for the Nikon system won in the end. And I am so very glad that it did.

45.7 Megapixels. A blessing and a curse to be completely honest. Early on I did not think far ahead in this regard. The raw file sizes come in at just under 100 MB. In the past 5 years I have maxed out the capacity of the hard drives I started with, and nearly filled another 7 TB drive dedicated entirely to storing my photos. Granted, I was also shooting with other cameras in this time so that is not only D850 images, but it definitely contributed to filling my drives faster.

The Disco Biscuits, Vegas 2018, D850

Over the years I did a little bit of everything with the camera, but it saw most of its use for event and landscape photography. The dynamic range made it a beast for both concerts and natural scenes, and often allowed me to capture exceptional detail even in difficult light. Overall, I think the D850 is a great jack of all trades camera, though I probably feel that way because of how much I tried to do with one.

My D850 has seen a lot of action in five years. The shutter count is closing in on 114,000 actuations. This information led me to a crisis of sorts, leading me to find a successor. We can talk more about the camera I chose later though. While I have a different primary camera right now, the D850 is still going strong and being used when the extra resolution and dynamic range are more important factors.

Star trails over Joshua Tree

Aside from the dynamic range, I also loved having the time-lapse features. The camera has two ways of doing time-lapses. One way is a video time-lapse mode that produces footage in camera at 4K resolution. This is fantastic for when you want a high quality time-lapse without absolutely slaughtering your shutter count. While I did use this feature quite often, I also did things differently just as much. The other way to do time-lapses with the D850 is to use an intervalometer and have the camera shoot individual frames. Typically I would have about 1500-2500 frames per time-lapse, though this varied greatly. The benefit to this method is that when you compile the images into your time-lapse footage, the resolution is a whopping 8K.

Over time I have heard people regard the D850 as the greatest DSLR ever made. For me, it is the greatest I have ever been fortunate enough to use, even in the mirrorless age. The camera held up to everything I threw at it and helped me carve out a place for myself as a photographer. I used it for travel, had its photos published in the news, shot countless concerts and large events. I lugged this behemoth around cities, up mountains, and through deserts. It has never once failed me or delivered results I couldn’t appreciate.

Me shooting with the D850 on top of Mt. Monadnock

The Mirrorless Dilemma

While the D850 is a beast of a DSLR that remains completely relevant in 2022, Mirrorless cameras are indeed the future. I knew this would be the case when I got my D850. A little while into ownership I wanted to get a backup camera. While most photographers would get a backup camera that uses the same lens mount, I decided to play it different and invest in a new system. I’ve long appreciated the wonderful images that Fujifilm cameras take, so I got myself an XT-2 and lugged it around nearly everywhere I went with the D850.

Shot with the XT-2 in Los Angeles

I could write all about my experience with the Fuji, but that’s for another time. The reason I mention it here is because the XT-2 gave me the advantages that come with a mirrorless camera; the EVF, the silent shooting, the focus peaking (which is also available on the D850 via live view), the compact size, etc. Having been exposed to the wonders of going mirrorless I knew I would eventually want to own a full frame mirrorless camera.

Stone Henge in winter, D850

And so, with 114,000 shutter actuations on the D850 hanging over my head, I found a replacement. I had been following Nikon’s releases and skipped the original Z cameras. While the Z7 seemed to be similar in some ways to the D850, I wanted to wait for Nikon to catch up to Sony and Cannon more. I did not want to buy into Sony or Cannon’s systems because even though they are fantastic, and better in some ways, I prefer Nikon in almost every way. Nikon and Fuji cameras produce images that speak to me differently, and that is why I decided to get a Nikon Z6II.

“But what about the difference in resolution?” you may be wondering. Well, yes, that is a tradeoff. Sure. But after watching countless reviews and going through every bit of information I could find, I saw the Z6II as a fantastic camera with all the features I wanted, with reasonable resolution and the smaller file sizes that come with it.

HDR stitch of 5 Z6II frames

High resolution is great in some use cases, which I will keep the D850 around for, but the advantages of mirrorless systems have become too important to me to forgo in a daily driver. Even over the last few years I’ve been relying on my Fujifilm for most situations because of the advantages of mirrorless cameras and its smaller file sizes. Have you tried stitching HDR brackets from a high-resolution camera? It takes forever. That time adds up.

So far in my experience the Z6II does everything that made me happy with my D850, and more. I absolutely love the flexibility of the camera and look forward to using it over the next few years. While the Z6II will make life easier in many ways, the D850 is truly a God-tier DSLR that can do everything I have thrown at it, and it was truly a privilege to shoot with over the past five years. It’s so good that I am sure I will be keeping it until it completely dies.

One of my favorite images I captured with the D850

I will update in a few weeks on my thoughts about my new Z6II. Stay Tuned.

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