Nikon D850- First Impressions from a Leica shooter by Ashwin Rao

Nikon D850- First Impressions from a Leica shooter

by Ashwin Rao

HI, friends and fellow photographers, recently, I was fortunate to purchase my first full frame DSLR in the past 8 years. The Nikon D850, with its unique “skill set” and spec sheet, are enough to send many people to the camera store salivating for a taste. Coming from someone who primarily uses the Leica M system, I had some hesitations about getting back into an SLR system, but so far, the experience has been smooth. It certainly helps that I had a brief foray with the Nikon D500 as a means of shooting family sporting events, and I came away incredibly impressed by the D500. For any of you looking for an affordable sports shooter and you are okay with a APS-C crop factor, you can do no wrong. Get the D500. For those of you willing to spend a bit more, the D850 may be the most versatile camera I have ever handled, and it’s worthy of all of that saliva, so to speak.

Here are my first impressions:

This is the first Full Frame SLR I have had since the 5D/5DII, and I am having a nice time with it, though it is big compared to the M system and does remind me at times of why I moved to rangefinders and stuck with 7 years ago. Technique is a MUST to get the images right, and I need to spend a bit of time making sure to fine-tune adjust my lenses, since 47 MP show every error in technique or missed focus. In my opinion,  the D850 does outshine the M10’s sensor on a few levels (dynamic range in the highlights being the primary area of noticeable benefit), but I still prefer the M10’s color profile for skin tones. Keep in mind that I have been and will continue to be an M shooter at heart, and this certainly introduces the element of bias to my writings. However, the D850 is really nice, and many, including myself, feel that it’s the most relevant DSLR for full frame SLR enthusiasts and most photographers wanting to step up to “best gear” territory. Ihas an incredible, bright viewfinder. It’s focusing system is fantastic, having been borrowed from the Nikon D5 and D500. You  have to try it out to get a real sense for how wonderful this system is. A big blus: the D850 achieves focuse will even when the lights are dim.

Here’s a big caveat for those who are already invested in the Nikon ecosystem. You may need to re-consider your lens choices. The D850 really does require the best glass that Nikon/Sigma/Tamron have to offer, since many older lenses are not designed to resolve to 47+ megapixels. That being said, you may never notice resolution limitations in the real world with normal print sizes. But, should you wish to crop your images liberally, or print large, or shoot landscapes using critical technique, you should have the best glass on hand. Nikon has recommendations for the D850 on their site. Thom Hogan, who knows far more than me on the topic, has his own list. Other sites, such as Photographylife, are great resources for Nikon shooters getting into the game for the first time. In my opinion, lenses such as the Sigma ART primes, the Tamron G2 zooms, and of course the most recent Nikon primes and recent zooms (28 mm f/1.4, 105 mm f/1.4, most fast glass 200 mm or above, many of the ED and fluorite coated lenses) will do well. Check out these other sites, as they are certainly more informed than me….

I was lucky enough to get the accessory grip and D5 (EN-EL18) battery with the camera, and the grip/battery make the D850 a speed demon. The grip may obviate any need for the D500 or D5, unless you like working with 2 bodies for sporting events. I have yet to fully understand accuracy of the focusing system compared to the D5 or D500, but I imagine that it’ll be close, particularly in Dx mode.  If you get the grip, you can save a bunch of money if you consider the much cheaper Wasabi Power dual battery charger and the Wasabi batteries,, which are 1/3-1/4 the price of the Nikon Branded options and work just as well. I am sure other off market brands are fine, but in my experience so far, the Wasabi brand just works.

Getting the ACCESSORY GRIP really gives you the option of having  “4 cameras in one” :

1)A measured Full Frame FX megapixel beast – effectively a MF replacement if you good glass capable of resolving to the sensor, and impeccable technique – weighed tripod, etc…
2) FX sports shooter with a 9FPS high frame rate, limited by buffer capacity, adequate for those who shoot sports in “short bursts” so as to not reach the buffer limit imposed by processing huge files
3) DX sports shooter that echoes the performance of the D500 at a more reasonable megapixel count, with better buffer and 9FPS.
4) A non-gripped camera that is more compact and still offers 7FPS of accurate focusing in either FX or DX mode: think a souped up D810 or D750.

One bonus: When I have shot in Dx mode the camera provides “frame lines” within the viewfinder that make it even nice to see what’s coming in and out of frame, which is great for sporting events, and is great for those of us used to shooting with rangefinder.That’s it for now. I hope you enjoy the thoughts, as a guy coming from Leica, who’s returning to FF SLR’s after a LONG hiatus 🙂


  1. F

    CHOICE of lenses and body and perfect companion to your Leica by beeing so different machines.

  2. Ashwin, great post, one to discourage the brand war fanboys, and that’s always a good thing.
    I’ve been an slr man since I abandoned a very basic Werra for a Zenit E, and going through the D700/D8xx series, the D850 really is a smooth and responsive tool, that feels very natural in my right hand. I almost never carry more than one 1.4G prime (600 grs max, ha!), and use a wriststrap instead of having it slowly banging a sizeable dent in my chestbone. So the weight doesn’t bother me, but the imagr quality is always a pleasant surprise. And you used the 28 and 105E’s, heavier, even better… And my favourite lens of all, the 58. A miracle lens for my close-up portraiture.

  3. Very nice read Ashwin! Thank you!

    It’s a big step (back) to DSLR. I would like to see a report from you using the Sony A7r3. I use mine with native leses nowadays, but I used Leica R lenses on my A7r’s (35 2.0, 50 1.4, 50 2.0, 80 1.4). I bought the Leica M50 1.4 once secondhand, but didn’t like the outcome. Leica M lenses are not as magical used on a Sony A7r. The Leica R leses are.

    I think you’ll be surprised.

    Thanks again! Please keep up the good work.

  4. Ashwin, I have always enjoyed your guest posts here – I swear you get ALL the coolest new camera toys! I’m curious though, when you say ” … as a guy coming from Leica, who’s returning to FF SLR’s after a LONG hiatus.” do you mean you’re selling off your Leica (and Sony) gear and sticking with Nikon? Or, are you just adding to your camera arsenal? I’ve read that the D850 is impressive, but feel it would be a lateral move from my a7R2.

    • Hi Glen, I am sticking with my M’s as the primary camera, as I will never leave Leica. I enjoy RF shooting too much. I just had not had an SLR in 7 years, meaning that I have re-introduced the SLR into my kit 🙂

      The M system remains my primary, and the D850 will be great for sports or where 47 megapixels would be valuable (Landscape type work)

  5. Hi Ashwin – I would stick to M series, if I was going to experiment the Hasselblad and Fuji new Medium formats are far superior to the latest and newest DSLRs IMO, (have a look at Ming’s work with the Hassy) The shots posted are nice but if you told that the first one was shot with the new iPhone I am not sure to many would have queried I have also seen others go from Leica M to the latest DSLRs and have been disappointed in the results.

    • A medium format may tick the first box above but I don’t know any that would qualify as a sports camera.
      I love shooting with my Leica M and (older) medium format cameras, but it is difficult to argue that full-frame DSLRs are the most versatile photographic tools.
      I see the Hasselblad X1D more as a Leica M competitor, actually.

    • Ian, you need your eyes checked if you think the first photo could have been taken with a iPhone (old, new or otherwise!).*

      As for disappointment with the results of the latest DSLRs – well, it’s not the car, it’s the driver.

      * Beautiful portrait, Ashwin!

    • Agree with first guy, seen images with smartphones as good if not better than this, especially with the one Leica lenses are on. It will all be smartphone photography soon, These dlsr cameras are dinosaurs.

  6. It is so interesting to see your venture back to DSLRs because at this time I was looking at my Nikon 810 system just this morning and weighing the possibilities of moving it all off to a better home…. I used Canon for years as a wedding photographer and turned to Nikon as I moved from weddings to event photography. I preferred the skin tone rendering of Canon for the former and the quicker more positive focus along with better flash control for the latter.
    HOWEVER… each time I make images with the Leica M(262) or SL (601) .. the results just look BETTER.. and that was the case even years ago with my first Leica M2… the images always looked just BETTER….so why shoot weddings with Canon? It was commercially viable and the results were in the ‘professional’ quality expected by the customer at the time….same for events, now I am not under the heavy pressure of production any more and the Leica images really satisfy my personal expectations of results I want for myself. The SL does everything I currently need in photography…

    • Hi Stuart, I dipped my toes in the water with the D500, which is really an awesome camera….the D850 is a beast, and hopefully one that I can tame. That being said, I prefer my Leica system for 90% of what I do, due to size and glass. I am keeping all of my M kit, though I have streamlined things a bit on the lens front, knowing now that I primarily shoot at 28, 35, and 50 mm focal lengths using the RF system.

Comments are closed.