Why the Nikon D850?
Photographers have many brands to choose from today, with models from each brand capable of producing excellent photographs. The latest digital SLR and mirrorless offerings from SONY, Nikon, Canon, FUJI, Pentax and Olympus are all outstanding. Those wishing to upgrade their camera or step into something more substantial beyond their cell phone camera are doing so at a golden period of time. Build quality is excellent, image sensor technology is outstanding and lens technology is the best its been. Despite all the diversity, buyers must be aware that a camera is merely a tool to enable their photographic vision. A great camera can produce a poor image and vice versa. The price of the camera does not necessarily mean you will produce better images, it’s the person using the camera that makes all the difference. Great paintings arise not from the finest materials, they arise from the artist’s utilization of the materials. The same is true for photographs. The camera can enable you to produce great images, but its the photographer’s utilization of the tool that makes the biggest difference.
Knowing the kind of images you want to produce is a key element in your choice of camera. Portraits, street photography, night photography, sports photography, wedding photography, travel photography and landscape photography actually have their own specific requirements and no one camera today tackles all of them well for the advanced amateur or professional photographer. I am a freelance nature photographer and so enter into this question with a fairly specific set of requirements.
So why have I opted to use Nikon over the other brands at this point? I began my experience in photography back in the late 1970s with the Nikon FM. I used it for some time and then moved on to the Nikon N6006. As a nature photographer I found the N6006 to be a wonderful camera, I produced some of my favorite film images with it. I outgrew the camera and in the mid 1990s I moved over to the Canon A2 due to positive reviews and advances in lens technology. But after an early failure of the body I switched back to the Nikon N8008, which for me was another outstanding camera. I took a hiatus beginning around 2000 when my teaching career hit full throttle and my first child arrived. I soon stepped back in to photography and embraced the emerging digital realm with a Nikon D70. Then to a simpler Coolpix P100 and to the Nikon D3200 around 2013. And now to the Nikon D850 which is without a doubt my favorite of them all, even though at times I long for the simplicity of that old N6006. That is a lot of jumping around over four decades, but I have grown to trust Nikon equipment for my photographic needs.
Why not other brands?
If I was in the market for a new interchangeable lens camera for nature photography, would I still stick with the Nikon brand? In short, yes I would. Why? As of February, 2019 I would strongly consider Nikon due to my decades of field experience with the brand as well as the fact that Nikon currently is the best match for my type of photography. The camera I use must be rugged, dependable, not plow through batteries when its cold and must be weather sealed. It must be intuitively designed – that includes the physical layout and the ease of use of the menu system. It must also have am articulating rear screen for working close to the ground. The screen must also be a touch screen to avoid frostbite when trying to adjust dials and buttons. The bulk of my body of work is produced in the Adirondack region of New York where the weather extremes range from mid-90s F and high humidity during the Summer to -40 F with wind chill in the depth of Winter. And in those weather extremes the camera must be weather-sealed against rain, fog, sleet, snow, dust and pollen. Additionally, it must be relatively packable and light. I have kind-of given up this last item, however, now seeing camera weight as a form of exercise. It also must travel well as I have been fortunate enough to begin a phase of my life where new destinations are now an option. And finally it must have a dual-card system so that each image is automatically backed up. That is a lot of criteria to consider and the Nikon D850 delivers on all of it. Except for the weight as its the heaviest camera I have ever owned, but its exercise!
My requirements in a digital camera:
Full frame sensor, greater than 40 MP with no antialias filter
Rugged, dependable and weather sealed
Long battery life
Tolerant of extreme temperatures
Mature portfolio of lenses (the trinity at f2.8)
High and low ISO performance
At least 6 FPS at highest file sizes
Excellent buffer clearing rate
Dual card slots
4K video capability
Tilting touch screen
Again, as of February 2019 there are other camera makers to consider — Fuji, SONY, Canon, Pentax and Olympus all come to mind. I prefer to shoot with full-frame sensors with the highest megapixel count and lowest ISO range as possible. I cannot consider a medium-format system at this point as its cost-prohibitive. For what I need that currently eliminates the FUJI X models as they are crop-sensors. FUJI also produces some beautiful medium-format cameras but they are cost prohibitive. SONY’s A7RIII and A99II are outstanding cameras, but the low battery life and ongoing questions regarding weather sealing continue to keep me away. Their G-Master series of lenses are top notch and the system is capable of generating excellent image quality, but the SONY system does not currently suit my needs. Canon’s 5DSR remains fairly expensive in the full-frame realm and its 50 MP sensor is enticing, but its high ISO performance, lack of tilting and touch screen, lack of wireless connectivity and poorer video options relative to the Nikon D850 have me turned away. Pentax’s K-1 Mark II is also a remarkable camera, but it too does not quite stack up to what the D850 offers. A good treatment of that comparison can be found on this article on Imaging Resource. That said, however, their medium-format 645Z is absolutely enticing until you see the $5500+ body price tag. The same with FUJI’s beautiful GFX 50S medium-format body. And as for Olympus they have doubled-down on their commitment to crop-sensor cameras and currently offer no full-frame models.
What about mirrorless?
The age of the single lens reflex (SLR) camera is over. All of the major camera manufacturers I have discussed here will be switching to mirrorless technology over the coming few years, if they have not already done so. Canon’s EOS R and RP bodies as well as Nikon’s Z6 and Z7 bodies will most likely be marked the final shift towards mirrorless. They might introduce another SLR body or two, but that does not seem likely at this point. I would be very surprised if they updated any lenses for their SLR bodies. Bottom line, the manufacturers are shifting to mirrorless and they will not be returning to SLR technology. In terms mirrorless bodies SONY is the undisputed sales king in this area, but I have avoided using SONY for the aforementioned reasons. Canon’s new EOS-R and RP models do not fit my needs, either. Lower resolution, shorter battery life, immature portfolio of lens options and lack of dual card slots are a few of the reasons why I have avoided them. Nikon’s Z6 and Z7 also lack dual card slots, have shorter battery lives and also have an immature lineup of lenses. Nikon’s Z7 is a window into what will be coming over the next few years, its an impressive camera with a brilliant EVF and a refined focus system. Canon and Nikon have been aggressively building out their new lens offerings and thus far they have been impressive. The specs on Nikon’s new Z-mount 24-70 f2.8 appear terrific, I am very curious to see how it handles in the field. As it stands today, however, I will remain on the sidelines to see what the second and or third generations of these new Z-mount systems will offer. In order to remain competitive in the camera market both companies will most likely be issuing new models over the next three years.
So now what?
So there it stands. A current look at the options that exist for advanced landscape photography camera bodies. Again, please keep in mind the camera is just the artist’s tool. In photography even the best cameras can produce poor images. And far less expensive cameras can produce excellent images. It depends on the eye of the artist, composition, focus, luck, light, proper exposure and proper post-processing techniques. Here is a good instruction of what I mean by “light” by one of my favorite contemporary landscape photographers, Adam Gibbs.
I certainly hope that this was helpful. Any feedback or questions are more than welcome!
This is a developing blog and I look forward to seeing it grow over the next two years with monthly additions. Future topics will most likely include protecting your gear from moisture in the field, travel tips for Ecuador, and photographing Spring colors. If you would like to receive notifications of updates, please feel free to sign up for my free newsletter below.
Peace to you, see you here again soon.