Shooting in the Studio with the Nikon D850 DSLR


By now you have probably heard a lot about the Nikon D850 DSLR. This new camera has been lauded by Nikon fans (and critics) and you’ll get no argument from me. As a colleague phrased it, “Nikon gave us everything we asked for with this camera,” and certainly, it is blessed with Nikon’s best features and latest technologies, including a 45.7MP sensor, native ISO to 25600, 153-point autofocus, a tilting, touchscreen LCD, and 4K UHD video. We took the D850 and a selection of Zeiss Milvus lenses to egg studios, in Brooklyn, to use the camera in a studio setting with natural light and strobes.

With a small team of artists, we put together an enjoyable shoot that highlights the camera’s most impressive features, not to mention the talents of makeup artist Tashi Honnery, model Lara Wolf, and photographer Cory Rice. I produced the shoot, took some BTS photos and spoke with Rice about his experiences using this camera. Below is an excerpt from our conversation and some of the photos we shot that day.

Photographs © Cory Rice and John Harris

John Harris: This is Nikon’s highest-resolution camera, outperforming the D810 by more than 10MP and competing with Canon’s 5DS R and even some medium format cameras, in terms of file size. Sharpness is enhanced, due to the omission of the anti-aliasing filter on the sensor. When working in-studio, shooting models or products for advertising, is that added resolving power a difference-maker for you? How did the images look when enlarged? Was there enough resolution to crop effectively?

Cory Rice: It is absolutely a difference-maker, for two reasons. The simple fact is that one needs to offer [one’s] clients the highest resolution and quality files available. Also, the reasons you stated are the reasons I wanted to test this camera—you can enlarge files for huge prints while maintaining sharp details and crop without fear. The details were incredible and using these Zeiss lenses, the resolution was put to the test, and as I think the images demonstrate, it passed with flying colors.

JH: How was the color rendition—did it accurately reflect the light sources, the subtle color changes in the makeup, and provide the look you wanted?

CR: I think so; I was happy with the colors. We did a little playing around in post but nothing I wouldn’t otherwise do.

JH: The native ISO on the D850 runs from 64-25600, and while we did not shoot in low light, you did experiment with higher-than-normal ISOs. How high were you willing to go before you noticed any problems with noise?

CR: Some images we shot using just natural light with the ISO boosted to 2000, which I would never normally do, and they turned out quite good. I was impressed by that. One of the sample images is a full-frame shot in natural light paired with a blown-up version of a detail to demonstrate this point.

JH: Nikon features the Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF sensor in the D850, the same autofocus sensor used in the ultrafast Nikon D5 DSLR. I realize in the studio, fast focusing may not be as crucial as in sports or wildlife photography, but did you note the effects of this autofocus system, and did you utilize the camera’s 7 fps continuous shooting rate?

CR: For this shoot I mostly used the Zeiss manual focus lenses so I did not test the AF and burst speeds but, prior to the shoot, I was snapping images of cars blasting by my house and while it was not the most scientific of tests, I found the performance to be the equal of any camera I have shot.

[Editor’s note: Please see this article on the ISO performance of the D850 and this video on its AF and burst rate performance.]

JH: The LCD on the D850 offers 2.36m-dot resolution and a capacitive touchscreen with tap-focus and tap-shoot. How important is it to have a high-resolution screen when reviewing fashion images, and did you use the screen in live view mode for touch-focus and touch-shoot?

CR: The live view feature is great for manual focusing, especially on a tripod since you can zoom in very close, even more than I can with my Sony a7R II. I’m not the biggest fan of touchscreens—I find myself making accidental mistakes—but I did use the touch-focus successfully and appreciated the accuracy with which I could focus from the screen. You can also tap-shoot, but I prefer to use the shutter button and like that you can custom-set for tap-focus without tap-shoot. I also liked that I can use a navigation bar on the touch screen to quickly scroll through all my images.

JH: The optical viewfinder offers 0.75 magnification (more than the D5) and a full field of view. Did you use the viewfinder or live view more often?

CR: I used both, but the downside is that I was unable to figure out a good workaround for using live view when shooting with the strobes. Once the exposure was set, everything was too dark to use the live view in a productive manner for focusing and I had to return to the optical viewfinder.

JH: Did you shoot with the XQD memory card or an SD? Or both?

CR: Having both slots built in is a practical advantage, but I used the XQD and it was fine. Review images came up faster when I shot a burst than I am used to with SD or CompactFlash and it was problem free—which is the most important aspect of any storage device.

JH: I noticed that you shot primarily in portrait orientation and on a tripod, but how was the camera ergonomically—in particular, how was the joystick for navigation and setting focus points?

CR: I did take it off the tripod and shot handheld and loved the grip and settings placement. It actually makes me rethink this whole push toward smaller mirrorless cameras, which tend to skimp on the grip and therefore provide less stability and control.

JH: The D850 offers standard 1/250-second maximum sync speed and is compatible with the radio-controlled Advanced Wireless Lighting system, which permits working with the optional WR-R10 Controller, along with the SB-5000 Speedlight, for intuitive, controllable wireless flash shooting. However, you used the PocketWizard Plus X Transceiver and Profoto D2 Monolights. How was shooting with PocketWizards? Any complications?

CR: Not a one, totally seamless. I am curious about shooting with the SB-5000 Speedlights and will have to try that soon; you can control the flash modes from the touch screen on the D850.


JH: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the D850?

CR: Not wanting to sound like a living advertisement, I won’t offer too much hyperbole, but I think this camera is wonderful and definitely the camera best suited for my needs. Having recently shot the D5, I found it on equal footing in terms of AF speed and accuracy and it obviously has the advantage in terms of resolution. I also appreciate the built-in Wi-Fi.



Terrific, but when is Nikon going to send you some so I can spend all my hard earned dough onthis baby?  We've been waiting far too long...come on Nikon send B&H some gear so we can start shooting!

I totall agree Terry!....thinking about an upgrade myself.  Thanks for reading

The camera is great, and the review is informative, but why would you do that to such a beautiful model! 

I'm looking at the photos from my first shoot with a D850 (location portraits with mountains in the background) and am impressed.  This is probably the best camera I've had.  

Dave....Good question! ...I think you echo the feelings of most people who have tried the D850...there is a lot of excitement around this camera, it is ideal for many types of shooters and the reactions coming back to us are very positive.  Thanks for the feedback. 

Great article. Best real world info and opinion about the D850 I've seen yet.