D850 vs D500

When my good friend and AMAZING wildlife photographer, David Archer, invited me to play with his new D850, I jumped at the chance! Thanks again, David!!!

I’ve read all the reviews, and seen all the stats. But what I wanted to know was how well it would stand up in those dim conference rooms and dark churches I frequently deal with when covering corporate events and weddings. The flagship Nikon D5 is my main camera. The D500 is my secondary. My question was, would the D850 beat the D500 in low light?!?

In my opinion, for what I shoot, the “Pixel Race” ended a LOOOONG time ago! Huge enlargements from any modern camera with a 20-24MP sensor will turn out gorgeous. So the D850’s huge 47MP sensor has no appeal to me. In most situations, I would probably shoot it in the Medium RAW setting, which is approximately 25MP. The REAL challenge that remains, is dealing with shooting in low-light conditions. I have yet to see a real-world comparison in this situation between Nikon’s latest work-horses, the D5, D500, and D850.

I already knew my D5 would be superior to both the D850 and the D500 at high-iso settings. Still, I brought it along and incorporated it in the test. There wasn’t even a comparison!!! And since my goal was to determine if the D850 would be a better secondary-camera than my D500, I simplified the comparison to just those two bodies.

David and I met for lunch at the delicious Ti-Ney Bangkok Thai restaurant in Summerville. I mounted my 70-200 f2.8 to a tripod. Because the D850 is so new, I knew I couldn’t open the RAW files in Lightroom. So all cameras were set to JPG. I mounted each camera to the lens and took 3 shots…ISO 1600, ISO 3200, and ISO 6400. That was it! That’s all I cared about!

Back at the work station, I imported all the images. Next, the D850 files were normalized to be the same size as the D500 files, bringing them both to approximately 21MP. Downsizing the 47MP file to 21MP surely helped improve the grain characteristics of that camera. But again, this was a “real world” type of test. In other words, if I’m faced with a difficult lighting situation, what’s the BEST low-light performance I can get out of each camera? No adjustments were made to noise reduction or sharpness in post-processing. Next to each high-resolution image, I also outputed a 100% crop. So the images go as follows:

D850 @ 1600
D850 @1600 100% crop
D850 @ 3200
D850 @ 3200 100% crop
D850 @ 6400
D850 @ 6400 100% crop
D500 @ 1600
D500 @1600 100% crop
D500 @ 3200
D500 @ 3200 100% crop
D500 @ 6400
D500 @ 6400 100% crop

One thing I did note was that the D850 files look softer than the D500 files. That may have been partly due to the JPG settings in that camera. Unfortunately I didn’t check to make sure both JPG profiles were the same. It also might be due to the fact that my 70-200 lens is calibrated to my D500 body and not to the D850. So the focus might have been off a little. But regardless, I’m very impressed with the D850!!!

What do you think?