4 Months with a Nikon D850

January 02, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Shooting landscapes, people, products, and BIF.

Scootering HomeScootering HomeAmish Girl Bike Scooter Evening Ride

From this image taken in early October, I saw the potential in the D850 with improved focus tracking and more detail in the files. I do a fair amount of pixel peeking, looking closely at the original raw file in Lightroom (8256 x 5504 pixels) @ 3:1 magnification, I could count (if I had the patients), the individual leaves on the tree behind the subject. I was able to acquire a focus lock on the moving subject (the Amish girl on the scooter) by setting the camera to 3-D tracking, then placing focus on the subject via the sub-selector button on the back of the camera, then moving my thumb up to the AF-ON button for back-button autofocus to let the camera track the subject as I made final adjustments to overall composition (just a fraction of a second before taking the image).  Camera settings: Manual exposure mode, ISO 125, 80-400mm @ 120mm, f/4.8, 1/400 second.  The camera was on a tripod but with a lightly tighten ball head so I could make split-second fluid compositional changes. 



Wednesday, 09/13/2017, UPS delivered my 1st Nikon D850 camera.  Just about a month earlier on 8/24, I got the email sent to Nikon Professional Services members offering priority delivery on a new D850, an offer I couldn’t refuse, and immediately got an order off to Roberts Camera.  I’ve owned many Nikon pro camera’s over the years like the D3, D4s, D800, D810, and D5, plus lots of their pro glass which I’ve used as a working pro which qualified me for the NPS program. 

Love it!  I find the D850 an impressive upgrade over the D810 for how I shoot!  Some examples:


New Perspectives with Tilting Monitor & Focus Peaking

Being an older guy, being able to easily take images on the ground and not having to lay flat behind the camera to do so, or having the camera positioned above your head higher than you can stand, and still getting the images is exhilarating.

Camera Settings: Manual exposure mode, ISO 64, 19mm, f/14, 4.0 seconds

Taken with the D850 no more than 5 inches above the wet rock with an attached Really Right Stuff D850-L bracket clamped to an RRS BH-55 ball head attached to a flattened tripod, with a 19 mm PC Nikkor Tilt/Shift lens and a Nikon MC-30A cable release.  My approach with a Tilt/Shift is to first see the composition then place the camera/tripod. With landscape photography, I’m almost always using Manual exposure so I’m making the decisions on ISO, shutter, and aperture. Next, I adjust the lens shift for the final composition, then refine the manual focus and lens tilt for the depth of field. With the D850, getting just the right DOF and focus using Focus Peaking in live view is “what you see is what you get.”  The icing on the cake, the tilting monitor on the back of the D850, it’s tilted up towards me and I’m kneeling behind the camera looking down at the tilted monitor using the touch screen to make final adjustments before pressing the trigger on the cable release. 

Here’s another example but in this case, the D850 is above my head on the same setup that is described for the previous image but the tripod is stretched out, with legs on different rocks at different elevations.  I’ve got the D850 at this height above my head so it can get more of the yellow fall colors behind the falls. This time the tilting monitor on the back of the D850 is tilted down and I’m looking up at the monitor.  Camera settings: Manual exposure mode, ISO 64, 19 mm, f/11 1/4 second.


Selective DOF with Focus Shift

If I had set the number of shots in the D850 PHOTO SHOOTING MENU greater than 30, the trees in the background would be sharper which might have taken away the emphasis I wanted on the pumpkins. Using an aperture of f/3.2 vs f/11 or greater also provided better optical quality in the files.  Focus shift set (30 images) with a micro Nikkor 105mm. Manual exposure mode @ ISO 64, f/3.2, 1/40 second.   

I was fortunate to get a few minutes with no wind at this spot, so I was able to capture a few focus shift sets without the leaves moving. 35 image focus shift using 80-400mm @ 360mm. Manual exposure mode @ ISO 64, f/11, 0.4 second.   Swift River, Coos Canyon, Maine

The capture time of the first and last image in the 35 image set was 5:33:32 and 5:34:11. That’s less than a minute and I got 35 images, which was critical in getting a finished, post-processed product without the leaves moving. The D850 PHOTO SHOOTING MENU settings for this; Number of shots = 35, Focus step width = 5, Interval until next shot = 0, Exposure smoothing ON, and Silent photography ON. It took a couple of test runs to get to the right “Number of shots” needed.  I started by focusing the camera on the closest red leaf, then guessed at the “Number of shots” setting (think I started at 20) then looked at focus on the last image taken in the set and as necessary, increased the “Number of shots” then repeated until the focus range needed was captured, which was 35.

To getting the DOF (depth of field) I wanted, it turned out I only needed 9 images from the 35 image focus shift set for post-processing. There were 15 images in the focus shift set from the tree trunks to before the rocks and another 11 images at the rocks towards infinity that I didn’t need. I did the post-processing with Lightroom, Photoshop, and Helicon Focus.


Radio-Controlled Advanced Wireless Lighting

Using a WR-A10/WR-R20 (attached to the D850 10-pin terminal) that transmits and receives radio-communications between the D850 and SB-5000 flashes, I was able to selectively light this couple in a very dark brewery with just 3 SB-5000 flashes.

My main light (a single SB-5000) off to my front right was attached to a softbox. To my left a silver reflector reflecting some of the main light towards the couple to lighten the shadows in their faces. I also placed two SB-5000s behind them to bring out a few details in the background.  I like being able to control the flash power setting and flash modes (manual or TTL) at the camera using the D850 Flash control menu.  And I really like that communications between the D850 and the 3 SB-5000 Speedlight worked 100% of the time.  Camera settings: Manual exposure mode, ISO 400, 105mm, f/5.6, 1/200 second.  SB-5000 Flash settings: Main light TTL, two behind the couple - Manual @ 1/4 power.

Adding to this configuration for a commercial product shoot in a dark warehouse, I’m adding 3 Einstein Flash Units (studio lights) with PocketWizard PowerMC2 receivers and a PocketWizard MiniTT1 attached to the D850 accessory shoe. So now I have a D850 with WR-A10/WR-R20 (attached to the D850 10-pin terminal) communicating with 4 SB-5000 Speedlight, and a PocketWizard MiniTT1 attached to the D850 accessory shoe communicating with 3 Einstein Flash Units.  It all works.  With this setup, I’m shooting all the flashes in manual mode and controlling the Speedlight settings from the back of the camera. The following images were taken with a 24-70mm. 

Metal & Feathered BIF

Lesson learned:  Shoot FAST, very FAST!  It took me a few outings with the D850 combined with the 80-400mm and especially the 600mm to understand just how fast this needs to be.  Camera settings for the above 2 images: D850 with MB-D18 grip, Manual exposure mode, Auto ISO. ISO 160, 80-400mm @ 400mm, f/5.6, 1/1600 sec.

For speeding aircraft and Birds In Flight (BIF), what worked for me with a D4s, D5, or even with a D810, wasn’t hitting the mark with the D850. If a plane has propellers, I like to show their movement in my images. So my shutter speed for props was typically around 1/250th second with the 80-400mm lens.  I’d pan/burst shoot the approaching plane with the hope of getting a few images out of the burst showing both blade movement and some critically sharp detail. My keeper rate was around 30%.  

But my keeper rate dropped to about 5% with a D850 at a shutter speed of 1/250th sec.  A keeper for me has to have (1) good angle of light on the subject (2) taken from a position on the flight line with good foreground and background (3) must have razor-sharp details (4) excellent image quality and (5) an appealing angle of presentation. 

I wasn’t getting razor-sharp detail!  In November around the time of the airshow I was researching the D850’s AF Area Modes, AF fine-tuning, and custom control assignments (setting up back button focus), looking for optimal configuration for action photography.  Thru shooting and research, it became obvious the more tightly packed pixels in a D850 imaging sensor required faster shutter speed for handholding and panning.  

For shutter speed for a D850, I’m now going with 4 times the lens focal length. If I’m using a 400mm lens, my shutter speed is 1/1600 second or faster.  For a 600mm lens, shutter speed is 1/2400 second or faster.  For my D5, I’m using a different multiplier.  3 times the lens focal length given the fewer but larger pixels in a similar-sized imaging sensor works for the D5.   

Camera settings: D850 with MB-D18 grip, Manual exposure mode, Auto ISO. ISO 6400, 600mm, f/4, 1/5000 sec.

I’ve been pleased with recent outings with the D850 setting shutter speed based on 4 times focal length, setting the widest possible aperture then letting the camera pick ISO, as long as ISO is no greater than 1800.  For BIF, ISO is another factor when picking between a D5 or D850, this mostly occurs during the early morning or late evening.  Because I’m needing to get the shutter speed fast to freeze action, I’m pushing hard on the ISO. If ISO is at 1800 or less, I’m using the D850.  If ISO is greater than 1800, then it's the D5 (however, rules are made to be broken - spoonbill image above, ISO 6400 with D850).  I find the D850 is better in bright light, it has a better dynamic range, better image quality, and more detail than my D5.  I believe if I’m in a situation where I need greater then 1800 ISO, I’m going to have to do moderate noise reduction in post-processing, and given this, it’s likely I’m going to like the image quality and remaining detail in a processed D5 file better then a processed D850 file, in this situation.

Camera settings, above 3 images: D850 with MB-D18 grip, Manual exposure mode, Auto ISO. ISO 1800, 600mm, f/4, 1/5000 sec.


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