What I’d written prior to the announcements …..
In order to keep all my thoughts and observations on this subject in one place, the following extracts are, with some minor adjustments, virtually word for word as they first appeared on this website prior to Nikon’s official pre-launch announcement at the end of July.
Reviewing my gear for future trips
This is what I wrote at the end of June for my 2017 Q2 (April to June) quarterly diary, just before all the D850 rumours started to emerge :
I won’t repeat what I said in my previous quarterly diary other than the headline I used, which was "D810 - not for ‘action’ or high ISO". The burning question therefore in respect of Peru, and indeed a couple of other trips we have planned for next year, is will the D810 cut it? The answer is almost certainly not. At times yes, but for low light in the rainforest, no. Would the D5 solve the problem? Yes, without a doubt, but as I’ve noted before it’s heavy and costly. And, sometime next year, there’ll probably be a better D5S model available. Would the much smaller D500 DX model be an option? I don’t think so. I won’t go into the reasons here, but I’m not convinced enough to make what I still believe is a backward step from the FX format. If you’ve grown up using a crop sensor camera then purchasing a D500 is a no-brainer, but if you’ve previously switched to full size format you’ll be loath to see reduced IQ to gain reach, better AF or possibly ISO performance. Similarly, I know that the IQ from the D5 would be inferior to the D810. But then the D5 may be getting shots where the D810 would struggle or fail. So, the jury regarding that ’next camera’ is still out and may stay out for a while longer unless Nikon surprise us with the magical D900.
D810 - not for ‘action’ or high ISO
I used this title on my 2017 Q1 (January to March) quarterly diary to highlight my concerns about the D810 and my desire for a new camera that I was calling the D900 :
Let’s start with the issue I’ve been deliberating over for some time. At present I’m still using the D810 as my main camera. I love the size, control layout, dynamic range, resolution and IQ. But, it’s a tad sluggish at times - frame rate and AF acquisition particularly. Generally I live with these restrictions and don’t have much of a problem. That being said I’d buy a 24 MP D900 tomorrow if Nikon announced that they were bridging the FX gap between the D750 and professional D5. Without moving back to DX and purchasing a D500 (which is a consideration) or spending a fortune on the bulky D5, I’m currently in limbo. There are rumours that a D820 may be coming sometime in the next few months and, if it does, I’ll almost certainly upgrade, but that will still not give me an ‘action’ camera. The shortcomings of the D810 were laid bare during our trip to Finland when a number of issues arose that were emphasised by comparison with how the D5 was performing in the same conditions. For five days I sat alongside another photographer who was alternating between the D5 and the D500, and most of the time using the same 500mm f/4E lens that I do. I don’t believe his end results were any better than mine, but the D5 dealt with everything thrown at it including sustained ‘action’ and ISO settings way beyond anything I would dare to go to. I won’t repeat all the issues here as they’re included as a footnote under the Kuusamo ‘travel section’ write-up. However, they can be briefly summarised as - problems with initial focus acquisition in certain situations, maintaining fast action focus , slow frame rate and low buffer capacity, and usable high ISO settings.
My concerns about the D810
The following comments were appended as a footnote on my Kuusamo, Finland trip report that I wrote in March 2017. It seems like a good starting point for what is now going to be an ongoing D850 diary :
I’ve had odd situations before when I’ve been frustrated with my camera, but never to the degree that I experienced on this particular trip. The D810 is a superb camera that, in my opinion, is great for wildlife photography in certain situations. The dynamic range, high resolution and 36MP sensor that allows you to crop in are great features, but it certainly can’t be regarded as a performance ‘action’ camera. The large file sizes and associated mediocre frame rate are normally of no great consequence. In fact, my two biggest issues prior to this trip have been initial focus acquisition on moving subjects in certain situations, and its inconsistency with even moderately high ISO settings, particularly with birds. However, on this trip these issues were far more noticeable, and not helped by comparing results with the D5 that was being used by one of the other photographers who accompanied us. I’d list the four biggest issues as follows :-
1) Initial focus acquisition for the eagle flight shots when working in the relatively restricted space of a hide when your line of sight along the top of the lens is obscured. Normally I have no problem with flight shots, but on this trip I was constantly frustrated by not being able to align my shots. The camera constantly failed to pick up the birds and lock-on, whereas the chap with the D5 was just pointing in the general direction and, most of the time, acquiring and holding focus, whereas the D810 always wanted a couple of seconds to think about it by which time the bird had moved off the focus point.
2) Holding focus on the very fast incoming Hawk Owl. This didn’t surprise me as much the initial focus acquisition problem, as it’s quite normal to get the odd sequence shot out of focus, but when you’re faced with a rare and special opportunity it’s surprising how much more you notice this problem. And, of course, when you only have a frame rate of only 5 fps compared with double that rate with the D5 you end up capturing about a third of the number of shots as the chap laying (in the snow) alongside you. It was another very frustrating situation particularly when you’re trying to capture specific shots just as the owl is swooping down on its prey.
3) The next problem was that, despite the pedestrian frame rate of the D810, the buffer was filling up far too quickly and taking an age to clear. I guess that part of this problem was caused by the very cold conditions, but again when you’re sitting there waiting for the camera to respond and the chap with the D5 is still rattling off 11 fps as the eagle makes a turn, you realise that another opportunity has passed you by.
4) We then have the ISO problem and the inability to get get the frame rate or depth-of-field that you would really like. I was often trying to work with a far too large aperture for the Black Grouse and for the smaller birds in the woodland hide, and similarly for the Hawk Owl where you ideally needed 4000th of a second or faster ideally at f/7.1 or more. I pushed sensitivity to ISO1100 and even ISO1600 on occasions but didn’t like going higher, whereas the D5 in manual mode and auto-ISO was happily producing great results at ISO3200 or even at ISO6400 or higher.
I’ll carry these notes and thoughts forward as this is an issue that needs addressing - I’m still hoping that a D900 might come later this year but, if not, I may well have to consider purchasing a D5 or the next generation thereof.