Are You Ready for Some Football?

I’m in testing mode at the moment. I’ve got four different cameras and a dozen lenses sitting in the review queue. That means I’m out and active doing a lot of different types of shooting.

This weekend I took the D850 (and a Sony A9) with me to the University of Colorado football game against University of Northern Colorado. This gave me a chance to evaluate the speed aspect of the D850.

I’m not going to go into great detail, but let’s run through just one sequence of shots on a single play and see what comments that generates from me.

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This is a punt reception towards the end of the game. Not exactly the way you want to catch the ball, #21. I’m at the far opposite end of the field with a 300mm lens. But I’ve got a 45.4mp camera, so this is about a 15mp crop that would work just fine for most uses. Thing is, I’m at least 60 yards from the action, so what we really want to know is what the focus is going to do. Right here, it’s exactly where I put it and dead on.

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Still need to get a good grip on the football, dude. I’m firing at 7 fps in this sequence. One thing I can say is that the “slowest card wins” thing is definitely present. For a while I was shooting NEF on the XQD and JPEG on the SD slot. But that limits the buffer to what the SD can manage, and it isn’t as good as the XQD can do. I eventually just pulled the SD card and shot XQD only.

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Okay, we’ve got our hands on the ball now. Even though I’m panning across a busy background, the focus is holding right where I want it. (I’m at f/4, giving me a bit of depth of field, but I’m going by where I see the focus plane: it’s where I asked it to be.)

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Is #44 ever going to get there? 

Meanwhile, let’s talk about image quality. I’m shooting at ISO 800 here, which is keeping my shutter so high that when the sun occasionally popped out I maxed out the shutter speed at 1/8000. One thing I noticed while converting these images was that I was sharpening them but pulling out Color Noise Reduction in the Adobe converter. There’s no noise reduction in these images, and there’s no real visible noise at the pixel peeping level even though those black jerseys are a good place to generate it. I’ve tried far higher ISO values, and so far I’m pleased with what I’m seeing. 

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Everything still going as expected. Let’s widen my crop some for the next shot:

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Focus is still right on the punt returner, I think on his left wrist. Note that the background has been getting busier and busier, giving the camera plenty of opportunity to lose tracking. I’m pretty sure my focus sensor is on dark, by the way. Dark arm or the black part of the jersey. 

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And finally the answer to our question: does #44 ever get there?

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Okay, so a few points:

  • Focus is basically like a D5. Very reliable, great tracking. The one thing that Nikon did that compromises that a teeny bit has to do with the joystick: you can’t push it in, get AF-On and a new autofocus area mode, and still move the cursor. On the D5 you can move the cursor while you’re holding the joystick button in, on the D850 you can’t. Fine, I can live with that, but it’s still a bit of a disappointment. I can see that compromise on the lower priced D500, but the D850?
  • Exposure seems to be very much like the D5/D500: Nikon built in a fair amount of highlight latitude on raw images. So even though -0.3EV exposure compensation was still showing some blinkies and was pushing JPEG exposures about as far as you’d want to go, I shot much of the game at +0.3EV and could still recover all the highlights in the raw files.
  • Detail is incredible. Put an incredible lens on the front of the camera and you’ll get incredible resolution. The sequence above is mostly about 15mp or so images cropped from the full frame. And very credible ones at that. I’d put these up against the 16mp D4 images any day. But with the D4 I’d have needed an 800mm+ lens to get these crops from my position. I didn’t just shoot sports this weekend, and I can say that the full frame images of landscapes and natural scenes I’ve peeked at also look excellent. Definitely a modest but still measurable step up from the D810.
  • Noise handling looks to be quite good. At base ISO we’ve got the D810’s wide dynamic range. But even as I press upwards into the ISO values I tend to use, I’m very pleased with what I see so far. I’m going to hold off judgment against other cameras at specific high ISO values until I have more data and more time to analyze images, but this looks like typical Nikon: as the megapixels went up, that didn’t break anything. Indeed, my first assessment is that the D850 goes far further than the D810 before you get that annoying magenta cast at ridiculous ISO values. If you can tolerate noise, you’re not getting that tint and contrast build-up the way you did with the 36mp sensor cameras.
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