Nikon D850 review by Russ Barnes

These days I shoot almost exclusively with mirrorless cameras (Panasonic GH5 review coming soon) so I asked Russ as a dedicated and highly respected landscape photographer to write up a Nikon D850 review based on his experience shooting it professionally in the beautiful Peak District.

Here is his Nikon D850 review which will tell you everything that you need to know about the D850 in the real world. If you appreciate this review and the work we put in to it then please buy your Nikon D850 or anything at all using the links below. We will earn a small commission from anything that you buy using the links an it wont cost you a penny more.


Buy the Nikon D850 from Wex in the UK
On paper, the Nikon D850 promises much, it’s certainly a camera that I think Nikon have aimed to disrupt the whole market with by seemingly packing in as much as it possibly can. There are one or two other manufacturers out there lately who have fallen into the rather questionable habit of trying to pass off ageing tech in a ‘new’ body but with the D850 Nikon feels like they are going all out to deliver a dynamite combination of speed, resolution and flexibility. Amongst the questions I will attempt to answer here is does that spec sheet deliver real world improved outcomes over what has come before, and how?

You should know I mainly shoot landscapes, so that will be the main subject focus here. In particular, the 45MP resolution on offer from the D850 lends itself perfectly to this remit, delivering highly detailed files. My experience with Nikon goes back many, many years now and I’ve owned a whole series of their DSLRs and a huge number of lenses. More recently these bodies have included the D800, D800E, D810, Df, D500 and now of course the D850 so I’m fairly well placed to make comparisons of feature sets and image quality. I currently retain three of these – the D850, a D500 and a 720nm converted infrared D800 for my day to day shooting. I should also say in passing that I’ve plenty of experience with the Fuji X Mirrorless system too, though I no longer retain any of it.

Before recently picking up the D850, my ‘main’ landscape camera was the Nikon D810. It was in many ways the camera that everyone really wanted the D800 to be when it was originally released back in 2012. The D810 is a highly refined shooting experience compared to the D800, has a nicely dampened shutter release, delivers that wonderful ISO64 setting for ultra clean files, has an improved rear LCD display and is generally a lovely DSLR to use. I suppose until someone puts a pile of improvements in front of you in a new package it is the sort of camera that many people would continue to be highly satisfied with.

But then things inevitably evolve. Nikon definitely disrupted the marketplace with the rather unexpected release of the D500 right at the start of 2016 in which it grabbed some of the top of the line pro level features from the Nikon D5 and created a DX (crop) sensor high-performance 20.9MP 10 FPS beast at an altogether accessible price point, intended for the mass market. As a landscape photographer I always want a secondary body because frankly the risk of damage to gear is elevated given the occasional dangerous environments and outdoor shooting scenarios that you can encounter. Until the D500 was released I had been using the Df in that role but while the Df produced gorgeous files it was also a deeply flawed and frustrating user experience on many levels all at the same time. The D500 looked to have resolved many of those flaws to me (autofocus and handling being particularly significant improvements) and so I traded my Df and I really haven’t looked back.

In fact, the D500 was so good, something unexpected started to happen – the D500 was becoming my DSLR of choice over the D810 because it just did things so much better, despite having a significant resolution disadvantage. The sheer speed capability and zip about the camera with XQD was a huge revelation, the touchscreen provided a much improved shooting experience while big autofocus, white balance and punchy colour output improvements made me genuinely start to wish I could just somehow have those features combined with the greater 36MP resolution of the D810 along with its ISO advantage. If only….


Does the D850 prove dreams come true? I would have loved to have been in that Nikon design meeting when someone said “Why don’t we try and make a camera that brings the D500 and D810 together in a single package?”. And then someone agreed. When the spec list was initially leaked to the world I don’t think many camera lovers could believe that Nikon were about to do just that – take the power and sheer performance of features drawn from the D5/D500 and combine those with a higher resolution body built on the pedigree of the D810. Could it be we finally had it all, the goldilocks camera; speed, precision, high resolution, handling. Let’s see…

So let’s get down to brass tacks with the D850 and start with the outside and work our way in:

Presence, Handling & Basic Usability

Out of the box, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that first impressions are that the D850 honestly doesn’t look too different to anything Nikon has made before in this series. When sitting alongside my D500 in particular I can barely tell the two apart by sight and it’s definitely more D500 than D810 in its shape and physical presence. There is only a small height and shape difference when you get to the top of the camera where changes are just about apparent. The D850 is more angular with a pinch of extra height (in order to facilitate the new pentaprism viewfinder) but I expect to keep picking up the wrong camera for a long time while the two are in the same bag!

As I reported at the start of this piece I’ve used a plethora of Nikon bodies but I also mentioned the Fuji X System. One of the reasons why I didn’t get on with Fuji at all was that I couldn’t get my hand comfortably around them (I used an X-E2 and X-T1); they were just too small and if I added a more substantial lens up front the X System was a very poorly balanced experience in my view. To a degree, the Nikon Df suffers from a similar narrow grip problem too which is where the D500 totally delivers, and yes, the ‘D500 grip experience’ is carried into the D850, and marginally improved upon. It’s a fantastic substantial feel which you can comfortably hold with larger lenses whilst giving the confidence of being very well balanced, a joy in truth.

There are weight differences which are more apparent however. There is a bit of additional heft about the D850 and for comparison I’ve listed the respective weights together below (all include a loaded EN-EL15 battery):

Nikon D500       860g
Nikon D810       980g
Nikon D850       1015g

Now, to anyone other than the most sensitive of people, the D850 won’t feel any different to the D810 weight wise but holding a D500 in one hand and the D850 in the other with my eyes closed, I know which one is which. I put the 155g difference down to the body make up – the D850 comes with a magnesium alloy shell with advanced weather sealing (similar in construction to the D810) while the D500 definitely has more lighter weight plastics used in its bones.

One particular component which is all new in the D850 is its optical viewfinder. It’s technical specification here is that the pentaprism delivers a 0.75x magnification which won’t mean much to most people without a frame of reference. Nikon say that this is the biggest and brightest viewfinder in a Nikon camera yet and from my point of view it is indeed rather gorgeous. I don’t really have anything else to say about this other than from my point of view it remains a key advantage over mirrorless cameras. If you want the ‘mirrorless experience’ you can switch to Live View and Bob’s your Auntie, the best of both worlds.

I’m going to cover the LCD Touchscreen in its own section further below but I should mention the basic accessibility of controls right here. Once again Nikon doesn’t try to do anything too ambitious with its control layout on the D850 and sticks to a very tried and tested button formula which works fantastically well for me. In designing the D850 they pretty much took an identical button layout from the D500 and applied it, including the splendid autofocus point selection joystick which the D810 lacked on the back and the dedicated ISO button on the top near the shutter button which I love. (By the way, you can program the D800 and D810 to change the function of the Movie Record button to do exactly the same). The only thing I continue to take issue with here is the rather confusing application of an ‘i’ button which resides directly next to the ‘info’ button. Even as I write this now I can’t tell you which button does what until you press one. That single nuance aside, all of the main functionality is easily accessible as always and Nikon have a very nicely tuned layout for me.

Another physical feature the D850 inherited from the D500 are buttons which light up on the top and down the back left of the camera (though notably not the buttons to the right of the LCD on the back). Pre-dawn shoots are positively improved here for me – less guesswork and more certainty in very low light improves the shooting experience. Once again, it’s a very useful feature that the D810 didn’t enjoy and another tick for the D850.

The pop-up flash may be gone, but I bought the rather splendid alloy Nikon ASC-01 hotshoe cover to crown my D850

One of the key physical differences I should mention between the D810 and the D850 is the loss of the pop-up flash. It’s true that one or two people will lament this change by Nikon maybe but from most landscape photographer’s point of view I expect it represented a weak point in the D810. It’s sheer presence on the camera compromised weather sealing in my view (I used to regularly mop moisture from under the flash unit after rain or seascape shoots) and so I am very pleased to see it gone. Other opinions will apply here of course(!) but the D500’s design had already done away with it so in my view it also made perfect sense that this particular trend would continue. One or two may find it hard to agree but I genuinely see the removal of the pop-up flash as progress, not a retro-step which downgrades the spec of the D850 in any way.

My verdict on Presence, Handling, & Basic Usability: The D850 definitely has a fantastic grip and all over solid quality feel to it. The design is robust and I see the non-inclusion of the pop-up flash of the D800/D810 as an advantage adding to that strength, but others might see that differently. One or two might find the overall weight unappealing but if so looking at a DSLR in the first place probably isn’t the right choice for you. For those that want the best quality this segment of the camera market has to offer, I challenge you not to be happy with the D850 – it delivers a superb viewfinder experience and all of the right controls are in all of the right places, indeed it improves on everything that has gone before it for me. A big win in this section of the review overall, especially when compared to the D810.

The Touchscreen Experience

More improvements here for the D850. Nikon took the excellent D500 application of the tilting LCD and built on it. This is where some product differentiation starts to show again between models;

  • The D810 has a fixed LCD screen with no touch controls at all. In itself it was very much a big improvement over the original D800/E in Live View and enjoyed a 3.2” 1,229,000 dot resolution.
  • The D500 by comparison to the D810 has a nicely robust tilting 3.2” LCD but enjoyed a resolution boost to 2,359,000 dots, almost doubling the look of image sharpness on the back of the camera. Another big introduction here was touch controls but significantly these do not work in menus, something which I think Nikon could potentially address with Firmware (I won’t hold my breath though!). It is only really useful in landscape orientation though, it doesn’t tilt and flip for use in portrait orientation.
  • Finally, the D850 also enjoys the same predictably strong tilting 3.2” LCD and 2,359,000 super-sharp resolution but now has additional touch controls not only for Live View use but for the camera menus too. Just like the D500 you can touch to focus, touch to release the shutter, pinch and swipe controls (just like your smartphone) in image review etc. It’s still only really best used in landscape orientation but it all adds up to a very predictable and tidy experience – I love it and it was one of my key reasons to buy the camera.

The D850 solution is inevitably the most rounded and usable of all three, so much so I’m now somewhat irritated my D500 doesn’t have quite the same functionality because it’s definitely the right experience on the D850 and I’ve now been spoiled by the improvement. It has been said down the years that tilt screens are a point of weakness and could easily break. In my experience Nikon’s implementation couldn’t make this further from the truth – it’s definitely NOT a flimsy execution and I have no concerns whatsoever. There are plenty of videos on YouTube of photographers swinging their Nikon by the flip-out screen (not something I would generally recommend!) but these just go to support what I’m talking about. I should say that I also frequent one or two photography forums and I haven’t seen a single complaint of LCD screen failure or damage at all in the D500 or D850.

Just as a side point, I put a GGS Larmor LCD protector on my touchscreen to add to its general defence (I did this with my D500 too) – I’ve had a situation on a previous camera where I was pleased it had been there. There is no change in touchscreen responsiveness with this additional protection though obviously you add anything like this at your own ‘risk’.

Pinch to zoom, swipe, double tap, the touchscreen is not only beautifully sharp but fully functional

Some might cry foul here based on my scathing assessment of the pop-up flash on the D810 being a weakness but the truth is that the flip out screen closes very securely to the camera back – you wouldn’t necessarily know it was a tilt screen unless someone showed you how to pull it out. The D850 and D500 share the same robustness here and for landscape photographers like me means I can get really low without having to lie in the undergrowth or puddles. It’s a very welcome addition indeed and a massive improvement over the D810 which lacks all of these features.

My verdict on the Touchscreen Experience: Nikon have implemented an excellent solution with its D850 touchscreen. There is little to complain about – resolution is sharp, responsiveness is predictable and accurate and the tilting capability makes for much easier usage (in landscape orientation at least). You can now access menus as well as Live View controls and its touchscreen is as good an implementation as I have in my iPhone which can only be the best possible reference for Nikon here.

A few minutes on Memory Cards

This might seem like a bit of an odd thing to focus in on but all will become clear in a moment. When Nikon decided the spec for the D850, they once again took the D500 model and replicated the memory card choices – two slots for resiliency or overflow (my preference is for resiliency), one being dedicated to the XQD format and one to the latest UHS-II SD card format. The problem here is that at present both slots operate at different maximum speeds and there’s a bit of debate across the internet about Nikon’s continued preference in respect of the use of XQD.

So far, Nikon have very successfully used the XQD card format in the D4s, D5, D500 and now the D850. I see XQD as a super-fast data card format delivering (at the time of writing) a maximum of around 440MBs per second. That’s a whopping 4Gbits/s of data transfer potential and make no mistake that’s HUGE speed and power. All of this muscle is of course needed to facilitate the native 7 frames per second (FPS) bursts of 45MP images, up to 9 FPS with the additional MB-D18 grip and EN-EL18 battery combo.

So what’s the issue? The issue is one of potential supply issues right now. The story goes that Nikon got together with Sony and Sandisk to develop the XQD format, yet Sandisk still don’t make an XQD card for reasons I can’t explain. Lexar did however enter the market and manufacture these cards right up until they closed their retail division recently, leaving Sony, as the sole supplier. Curiously Lexar have re-emerged claiming they will now continue to produce XQD after all, but for how long who knows. Some see the whole situation as problematic and I can understand why, a narrow market is rarely good news for consumers where specialist items are concerned. The rather quizzical situation is confused further by the fact that Sony (despite being one of the key partners in designing this fantastic card) have not implemented XQD in even the recent release of the A7R MkIII, reserving the cards for only a handful of their high-end video cameras. Bottom line – do I really care about all of this? In a word, no, but it’s context worth pointing out I think. Cards look like they are available at reasonably fair prices and are not in short supply. I personally use Lexar cards in my D500 and D850 for both the XQD and UHS-II SD slot and I can highly recommend them while they are still available. A 64GB card has capacity for around 640 lossless compressed RAW files on the D850.

My choice of memory cards was easy – independent tests has Lexar as the top performer

Here’s the rub though: whether you use XQD or UHS-II SD (or both together), the best cards with highest write speeds unlock the full performance of the D850 and turn it into a lightning fast proposition. It’s spectacular. Don’t put slow cards into this camera because you will positively kill its potential – I shoot with a Lexar 2933x (440MB/s) XQD card in slot 1 and the Lexar 2000x (300MB/s) UHS-II SD card in slot 2. Fast cards ensure that the buffer empties quickly so for those who are trigger happy they will get the most out of it by buying the fastest cards possible. Frankly the 7fps (9 with grip) performance of the D850 absolutely trounces the D810, the D810 is not in the same league at all and these card choices enhance the speed of operation in the camera significantly including image review, download, in-camera re-touching and so on.

My verdict on Memory Cards: Yes, I would much rather actually have both slots utilise the same card format but in real world shooting it’s still a very high performance experience regardless, vastly improved over the D810 and nothing at all to complain about. Just perhaps buy enough XQD card capacity to keep you good for a while…

Let’s get into image quality and the shooting experience now, which is absolutely critical.

Sensor Resolution and ISO Performance

Nikon created a brand new 45MP Back-Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor for the D850 and suggested there would be visible improvement that came with that package. Pinning sensor resolution and ISO performance together for this part of the review is therefore important because these aspects of the camera usually trade off fairly heavily against each other.

Anyone investigating this end of the DSLR market should already understand the reason why lower resolution cameras perform better at higher ISO (and if you don’t you had better look it up elsewhere first!) which is why the 16MP Nikon Df, with its hand-me-down D4 sensor performs so beautifully at higher ISO and why the D810 struggles to deliver usable quality images over ISO6400 (my opinion of course). Resolution and High ISO continue to be in contention no matter how good the implementation is, though clearly as time moves on and technology improves every camera company is seeking the holy grail of good quality High ISO with the benefits of higher resolution. The question is, did Nikon really manage to pull this feat off and improve the performance over the D810?

Well, my answer is yes, and no. I’m really not sitting on the fence here, it just depends what your definition of ‘improvement’ is. Some people are looking for the unicorn ‘one stop improvement’ with every camera release which frankly was never likely here and has definitely not been delivered. However, the way I see things is that Nikon took the D810’s excellent class leading 36MP sensor (which Canon shooters would still probably trade a kidney for!) and re-engineered it to deliver a 9MP resolution bump to 45MP. That’s a 25% pixel level boost which I think is pretty significant in its own right. Nikon not only delivered this boost while protecting the lower ISO performance (which would have been a REAL concern to me if they hadn’t) but in addition, from what I can see, also managed a marginal higher ISO improvement (which is subtle, but present). Probably the more significant improvement is Nikon managed to deal with the removal of the magenta cast that is usually present in blacks and is experienced at high ISO settings in the vast majority of digital cameras. I’m not clear whether they managed to deal with this at a circuitry level (benefits of the BSI sensor perhaps) or whether it’s dealt with via software as the RAW file is recorded but whichever way you look at it, that is also an improvement.

The sensor delivers exceptional detail and colour, the combination of ISO64 and 45MP is staggering

For landscape purposes the camera operates at its optimum level at ISO 64 where it continues to produce super clean files with huge available dynamic range (a whopping 14.8 EV). I can certainly see the resolution advantage over the D810 on my 5k iMac screen but whether that translates to even the largest of prints is debateable. What I do know is that this performance is definitely real competition for certain Medium Format cameras making the D850 look like a bargain in real terms.

My verdict on Sensor Resolution & ISO Performance: Nikon may not have delivered immediately noticeable vast improvements in image quality but that does not mean significant improvements have not been delivered over a camera like the Nikon D810, a DSLR which already provided outstanding image quality, particularly at low ISO. For me, a resolution boost to 45MP whilst retaining its world class low ISO performance was already an achievement but there are high ISO enhancements too which makes the D850 sensor the benchmark against which all other camera manufacturers will want to compete.

Focus Modes & Tuning

As part of the hybrid D810/D500 collision approach to building the D850, it inherited the same Autofocus (AF) module used in the D500 (and D5). It has 153 AF points (99 of those being highly responsive cross-type) and the camera also has its own dedicated AF processor which in theory speeds everything up (which it definitely does).

My experience with all of the D800 series is that autofocus never felt that ‘secure’. Low light performance could be hit and miss, and tracking was always good without being amazing. The performance of outer AF points could sometimes be unreliable too, depending on which lens was used. All of this experience changed when I got my hands on the D500 and so I was pretty excited to hear that the D850 would get the same module.

I’m not going to lie, it’s not something I’ve extensively tested in anger so far and a lot of the time my subject matter doesn’t really push the camera in this respect, however I do see a reliability improvement for sure over the D810 so far. If you’re really interested in the finer detail of AF performance it may be best to seek out a D850 review from say a wildlife photographer who can go to town on this particular element but suffice to say I’m very satisfied regardless.

However, I’m not throwing in the towel just here on this section because there are indeed other exciting changes to the focus system that are genuinely big reasons why the D850 was an easy choice for me:

  • Manual Focus:A really big deal this for me – as a landscaper I have four all manual lenses; three Zeiss offerings and a Nikon Tilt Shift PC-e. The news is Nikon finally implemented focus peaking in the D850, a feature which is usually synonymous with mirrorless cameras and finally means that accurate manual focussing can be easily achieved (Live View only). Often new features need a couple of generations before they are great, but I have to say that from where I’m sitting they executed it perfectly first time…

Basically, instead of just using the rangefinder style ‘green dot’ focussing method for manual focus through the viewfinder, you can now switch to Live View, activate Focus Peaking and select a red, blue, yellow or white highlight to demonstrate exactly where in the scene you are focussing and how much depth of field you have. These different colour highlight options make it a breeze to use, particularly fantastic for Tilt Shift and narrow depth of field lenses like my all manual Zeiss 100mm f/2 and 85mm f/1.4. This is genuinely a significant game changing feature on its own for anyone who loves to shoot manual primes, and critical to get spot on with so much resolution at your disposal.

Red highlights in Live View Focus Peaking help to deliver an easy to see view of your available depth of field

And here’s the output – absolutely pin-point focus where it needs to be for all manual lenses

  • Focus Shift:I finally have a real complaint here because I take umbrage with the name of this feature. This option broadly allows you to set a focus point in a scene and will then automatically ‘shift’ an autofocus lens (it must be a G or latest E AF-S series lens, not an older AF-D series with a screw drive by the way) by a number of steps which you determine or until it reaches infinity. The end objective is a focus stack which delivers extended depth of field. It doesn’t combine the frames in camera, you have to do all of this yourself afterwards in a program like Photoshop.

Focus Shift shooting is accessible from a single menu page, remember AF-S lenses only however

Nikon should have just called it ‘focus stacking’ to avoid confusion (I suspect there was probably a copyright issue here somewhere however, hence the mediocre alternative name), it’s a poor use of confused terminology but otherwise this is an absolute boon for landscape (and macro). Critically this is a fully intuitive feature – as soon as you need instructions, improvements like this are lost and thankfully Nikon implemented this well in my view. You may also wish to take a look at a software product called Helicon Focus, it’s probably the focus stacking tool of choice for those who spend a lot of time doing these.

  • New Multiple Exposure Enhancements: Nikon fully developed this and didn’t really say anything about it. It’s finally on par with the Canon experience with a whole pile of new options and that’s great news for trying more creative approaches. This is a genuinely unique implementation in the whole Nikon lineup, the D500 and D5 didn’t get this improvement. If you’re interested in a more artistic use of your camera then this is a great feature to investigate, I’ll be making much more use of this going forward.
  • Automatic AF Fine tuning: This is another useful option that was implemented in the D500 but in truth it’s not all that automatic. Judgement is still required but what matters is that with resolution pushing upwards from the D810, fine tuning your lenses remains very important. Of nine lenses I own, seven of them required a +/- adjustment in AF fine tune so it’s a critical part of the arsenal in ensuring the best possible outcomes for your images.

My verdict on Focus Modes & Tuning: Autofocus has become a lot more predictable with the D850, performance is on par with my D500 experience and well ahead of my former D810. What makes as much impact here for my landscape discipline though is the simple yet highly effective implementation of focus peaking which is a really big deal and something I’ve waited to see for years from Nikon. In effect this gives you the ‘mirrorless advantage’ in a DSLR. The new ‘Focus Shift’ mode makes focus stacking a less cumbersome process while brand new enhancements to Multiple Exposure is more of a catch-up with Canon than anything unique. Automatic AF Fine Tuning rounds off a fabulous package of measures in the D850 which all add to its usability and contribute to assisting in getting at the best quality outcomes for photographs.

Almost as a post-script here I’m just going to write a couple of words on Lens Performance because there is a lot of questionable information on the internet about this. Some people are worried that their lenses are ‘not good enough’ or are ‘out-resolved’ by a higher resolution sensor such as that belonging to the D850. This is simply untrue. I’ve used 35 year old Nikon AI-s primes on the D810 with no Image Quality issues whatsoever. The real world way of looking at this is actually very simple; with increased resolution, ALL lenses will actually look better but there are undoubtedly some lenses that absolutely shine.

In my case, and I put this list here purely for information only without recommendation, the top performers so far have been as below:

Zeiss 25mm f/2 ZF.2 (manual)
Nikon 45mm f/2.8 PC-e (manual)
Zeiss 100mm f/2 ZF.2 (manual)
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR
Nikon 70-200mm f/4G VR

Final Words

Congratulations for getting to the end of this piece, I hope the information here is helpful. I haven’t reviewed every single aspect of the camera because some of this stuff has been done to death elsewhere already, I’ve only included things which I think are of genuine consequence and anything else not mentioned is either untested, of no interest to me or I simply don’t see my opinion as adding any value to what is already known.

Honestly, I can only provide a very high recommendation for the D850. It’s an overall package that offers a very significant list of improvements over my D810, which I’ve now sold. It certainly is a D500 on resolution steroids to me, though for mainly purposes associated with needing a second camera, I will be retaining my D500 alongside my D850 (and specialist infrared converted D800). The D810 was a great ride while it lasted – the sensor set the bar high for what was to follow but I’m pleased to say that Nikon delivered plenty of all-round improvements which are justified by the pomp that has greeted the camera. If you’d like to see more of my photography, visit

I’ll leave you with a bit of Peak District imagery.


Canon 80D Review- Conclusion

Having read our Canon 80D review, is this the camera for you?

The Canon 80D has improved on previous models in the series in some important aspects, not least of all image quality.

We welcome the new 24mp sensor which puts it on a more even playing field with it’s rivals from Nikon and Sony. The added resolution while not that noticeable and certainly not a deal breaker is always welcome.

What we like most about the new sensor is the improved dynamic range and the roughly 1 stop of extra high ISO performance. More importantly it allows 80% of the sensor to be used for the Dual Pixel Cmos AF.

The physical controls and handling of the 80D feel well refined and so they should after all these years. With the exception of the placement of the on/off switch and the rear control dial we can’t really fault the handling of the 80D. We also like the build quality as it feels like a solid tool that can stand up to plenty of abuse. It may not quite be in the same league as the Canon 7D MKII or Nikon D500 but at this price point it is certainly solid enough.

It would be nice to see dual card slots on the Canon 80D

The lack of dual card slots is disappointing, especially for professional use as having in camera back up is a great feature for pros.

The image quality is good but not mind blowing, the Nikon D7200 produces sharper images thanks to the lack of AA filter and the Sony A6300 images are better too in terms of dynamic range and high ISO performance.

We are a little disappointed that Canon did not implement 4k video on the 80D but then 1080 is all that a lot of people feel they need at the moment. However when Canon’s competitors offer it at around the same price point it may be wise for Canon to match it.

The actual video quality from the Canon 80D at 1080 is good and relatively free from artifacts and moire. Rolling shutter is also reasonably well controlled although as with the competition if that is a real issue for you then better to look elsewhere.

So it sounds like we don’t really rate the Canon 80D as being great for any one particular feature and that would be fair to say with the exception of Dual Pixel Cmos AF which is genuinely superb.

Yes the Nikon D7200 has better image quality and tracking focus for stills and the Sony A6300 offers better video quality.

However if you need a camera that shoots good stills and decent video then we would recommend the Canon EOS 80D over and above both of those cameras due to the following features. . The stills are good, the video is good, the auto focus in video is the best that there currently is, it handles nicely, has an articulated touch screen, is well built and allows you to use Canon’s vast range of native lenses.

Canon 80D vs Nikon D7200

The Nikon D7200 has a few advantages over the Canon 80D which will be particularly important to stills photographers. The lack of AA filter offers sharper images with more detail. The high ISO performance and dynamic range is also better. The Nikon D7200’s 3D tracking auto focus also works better than the Canon equivalent, offering better target acquisition and retention giving you more keepers.

In the Canon 80Ds favour are better movie auto focus thanks to dual pixel Cmos AF and a fully articulated touch screen which really does make shooting video very easy and intuitive. Touch to focus makes pulling focus incredibly easy and Dual Pixel Cmos AF is easily the best video focus system currently available.

 Canon 80D vs Sony A6300

In the 80D’s favour are 100% coverage optical viewfinder, articulated touch screen, better ergonomics, much better battery life, better native lens selection, better choice of external flash accessories.

In favour of the Sony A6300 is most importantly 4k video, slightly better still image quality, small size and weight, faster FPS at 11 vs 7 for the Canon.

As a camera we prefer the Canon 80D due to its usability but there is no denying that on paper the Sony offers the better specs.

Here are our recommendations:


Stills only photographer with no current investment in lenses – 

Get the Nikon D7200 for better image quality and auto focus.

Existing Canon users- 

Get the Canon 80D over the Nikon D7200. It’s close enough in stills performance and offers better video.

Video Users- 

If you don’t need 4k video then the 80D is a good choice, not just because it offers decent video quality but it is the usability of the 80D that makes it a good choice. The articulated touch screen along with dual pixel Cmos AF really do make shooting video a breeze.

If you need 4k then look at the Sony A6300, A7SII, A7RII or Panasonic GH4.


Canon 80D Review – Auto Focus and Image quality

Canon 80D Review – Auto Focus

The closest rivals to the Canon 80D are Canon’s own top of the line APS-C 7D MK II and Nikon’s D7200. While the Canon 80D can’t compete with the 7d mk II’s 10fps shooting speed it does get quite close at 7fps.

Is this good enough to negate the need to splash out more cash on the 7d MK II. It also offers a 1 fps advantage over the Nikon D7200 so is it better for rapid shooting than its Nikon rival.

Also of interest is that the 80D now offers a 45 point focus system (all cross type) and can focus down to -3ev. This is quite a significant upgrade from the 70d’s 19 point focus system which also only focused down to -.5 ev.

We did some basic testing with the 80D and Nikon D7200 side by side to get a feel for the performance of the two.

The Canon 80D was set to high speed mode with tracking auto focus enabled and the sensitivity of the auto focus set to its default level.

The Nikon D7200 was set to high speed mode with 3D auto focus.

We found that the 80D’s 7fps shooting rate seemed significantly faster than the D7200 in use. It felt faster and more fluid and on top of that we were able to take about 50% more photos with the 80D before the buffer filled up. One of the issues we found with the D7100 a few years ago was that it had a really small buffer which hindered shooting lots of photos at high fps in raw.

The D7200 hundred has improved in this area but the 80D is noticeably better.

However when it came to auto focus accuracy when tracking a moving subject the Nikon D7200 performed better than the 80D. With the Nikon shooting a burst of 10 photos of our scruffy little poodle running at us it managed to get 8 shots in focus. The 80D only achieved a score of 6 images in focus. We repeated this test several times, always using the 18-135 Canon kit lens and the Nikon 18-140mm kit lens supplied with the D7200 and found the results to be similar each time.

Canon 80D Auto Focus

Nikon D7200 Auto Focus

In conclusion if good fast tracking auto focus for stills is important to you then you may be better served by the Nikon D7200 or better still either the 7D MK II or D500.

Although we didn’t run side by side tests of the 80D vs the 7D MKII we have used the 7D Mk II a lot previously and while the 80D put in a decent performance it is simply not in the same league for fast action as its bigger brother. The 7D MK II has a separate auto focus section within the menu which allows for a variety of customisation not available on the 80D.

The spread of the auto focus points on the 7D MK II is larger and you are given more options to fine tune the system. It is also more responsive and accurate. From out testing the 7D MK II achieved hit rates of 80-90% on moving subjects. Combine that with 10fps shooting and it clearly bests the 80D.

However most people who want or need to shoot fast action will in all likelihood already be looking at the 7D MK II or the new Nikon D500. However the 80D is no slouch and compared to mirrorless offerings the system is fast, responsive but perhaps not quite as accurate.

Video Performance

What the 80D does offer is a competitive stills camera while also being a very nice video camera. The combination of an articulated touch screen with Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology makes shooting videos a breeze.

Flip out the LCD screen and simply touch to focus and the response from the camera is very fast, quickly moving the desired part of the image in to focus. The new 18-135mm Nano lens is fast and quiet while focusing.

Check out our quick video below to see touch to focus in action.

When put in to tracking mode the auto focus can keep up with steadily moving objects such as a presenter walking through a scene without hunting back and forth for focus and ruining the shot.

The combination of the above technologies puts it way ahead of the D7200 if you shoot video as the performance of the Nikon auto focus in video is sketchy at best and of course, there is no articulated screen. The 7D MK II actually focuses better than the 80D for video but the articulated touch screen makes the 80D a better, more usable choice for video overall.


The Canon EOS 80D offers mic in and headphone out jacks which adds a level of professionalism to those more in to creating video but the lack of 4K video at this price point when competitors like the Sony A6300 offer it is disappointing.

There is also no truly flat picture profile although we found shooting in Canon’s natural picture profile with sharpness, contrast and saturation all set to their minimum settings gave a fairly flat image that could be graded in post quite nicely.

The video coming out of the 80D at 1080 24p is good if not mind blowing. It doesn’t suffer with major artifacts and is clean. However video from the Panasonic GH4 and Sony A6300 is sharper and in the case of the latter, holds together better at high ISO’s.  Don’t forget that with those two cameras you can also shoot in 4k and down sample the video to a 1080p timeline and get even sharper looking video too.

Even though other cameras offer more in terms of video image quality and indeed functionality the 80D is a nice tool when creating video thanks to its articulated touch screen and the fact that you can use the vast range of Canon EF lenses without having to mess around with adapters (albeit EF lenses will be subject to a crop factor of 1.6x on the 80D body).


Image Quality


One area where Canon seem to have been overtaken recently is image quality. This all started with the Nikon D810 a couple of years ago offering a 36mp sensor and improved dynamic range thanks to Sony’s sensor technology. Canon’s high ISO performance was also lacking so have they managed to catch up with the new 24mp APS-C sensor in the 80D or not.


We have now been shooting the Canon EOS 80D for around a month and in that time we have come to appreciate the new sensor. It is an improvement over the older 20mp sensor found in the 7dMK II in terms of high ISO performance and dynamic range and it offers a small improvement in IQ thanks to the jump up from 20 to 24mp.


Below are samples of some portraits taken with the 80D. They were shot in Raw and Jpeg using window light and just the on-camera flash for a little fill light. The aim was to shoot some nice high key shots and we found that the 80D did a decent job. The full resolution files are available on Flickr


Canon 80D Portraits

Here is a straight conversion of the original Raw file and a 100% crop of the same file. The image was shot with the new 18-135mm nano lens at f/5.6, 1/160, ISO 500 and shows good detail thanks to the new 24mp sensor.

Here is an image that we deliberately over exposed and then in post attempted to recover the highlights by reducing the exposure by 2EV




Un-Edited Jpeg intentionally over exposed.



Raw file of the same shot with highlights recovered by 2EV in Lightroom


As you can see the 80D did a pretty decent job of recovering the hghlights but there are areas where there is significant loss of detail such as in the curtain in the centre of the image. It does show that if you accidentally clip the highlights a little then there is some headroom for recovery with the new sensor.


Below is a shot which was underexposed and Lightroom warned of blocked shadows in the subjects hair.

Shot at ISO 100


And here is a crop from the top of the hair with the image pushed +3EV

Shadow Recovery is definitely an improved area with the new sensor


We are pretty impressed with the 80D’s ability to push the shadows by +3EV and still retain detail without much noise at all. For landscape photographers in particular this marks a significant improvement over previous Canon sensors which would introduce noise trying to perform similar tasks. For landscape photographers in particular this will give the ability to shoot to ensure no clipped highlights and simply push the shadows as required in post, giving a boost to dynamic range.


Noise performance


One area we were interested in was how the new 24mp sensor performs at high ISOs in real world situations. You can shoot all the test charts you want but it is in the real world that we see the true performance available.

Below are a few samples shot at high ISOs.



Raw shot at f/2.5 , 1/125, ISO 6400
100% crop of the above image


As you can see from the cropped image at ISo 6400 we are still getting pretty usable files. There is some noise but it is not objectionable and in fact the noise pattern is quite pleasant. This image is an unedited raw file so with a tiny bit of luminance noise reduction in Lightroom we would have no problem using this image. One thing we did notice was that under indoor lighting the Canon 80D’s white balance tended to oversaturate the red channel so we would advise shooting in Raw to easily correct this in post.


Below is another raw image at ISO 6400. We have shown a 100% crop with no noise reduction and then a further one with just 25 of luminance noise reduction in Lightroom to show the results you can easily obtain. Note the white balance is over saturated in the red and  magenta channels again.

f/2.5, 1/100, ISO 6400 Unedited Raw
100% Crop of the above Image
Same as above with +25 Luminance NR in Lightroom added.


From our testing we think the sensor in the Canon 80D provides about a 1 stop advantage in high ISO performance over the 7D MK II.


Here is another example, this time at ISO 3200

f/4, 1/160, ISO 3200, 100% crop no PP

Below is a gallery of SOOC Jpeg images we shot with the 80D. These and more are available on our Flickr page

Canon 80D SOOC Jpegs

So is the Canon 80D the right choice for you? Check out our conclusion to find out

Canon 80D Review


Welcome to our Canon EOS 80D review.

The Canon EOS 80D is a mid range DSLR featuring a new 24mp APS-C sensor, 7 FPS continuous shooting along with a 45 point AF system and full HD 1080/60p video.

The Canon 80D comes about 3 years after the 70d which is in line with Canon’s standard release schedule with XXD bodies.

The Canon 80D is a step up from entry level cameras offering a more fully featured body and better build construction for those seeking more control while not wanting the size, weight and cost of professional DSLR’s.

The most interesting points of note with the Canon 80D is the new 24mp sensor which promises better resolution, low light performance and importantly for Canon when competing against Nikon’s D7xx series bodies, better dynamic range.

The new 24mp sensor like that of the 20mp 70d employs Canon’s dual pixel CMOS AF technology allowing 80% of the pixels on the sensor to act as phase detect AF points. This in theory allows for smooth continuous AF in live view and video mode. It has been upgraded from the 70d to work with all lenses and all video quality settings. We will take a look to see what the updated technology has to offer.

The new 45 point AF system now features all cross type AF points, with 27 working at F/8 and all of them now focusing down to -3EV. Along with a fully articulated touch screen and WiFi the 80D now features NFC for quick connections to smart devices.

We tested the Canon 80D alongside the new 18-135mm Nano USM kit lens which is supposed to offer both the speed and smoothness of focusing of STM lenses for movies while keeping up with USM lenses for Stills.


Build Quality and handling


Having used a Fuji X100T for a lot of shooting in recent years there is something substantial and reassuring about handling the Canon 80D. There is no doubt that the ergonomics of a DSLR are pretty much near perfect when it comes to photography.

The camera feels very solid in the hand yet it doesn’t feel too heavy to shoot for extended periods of time. The grip is substantial and allows you to confidently hold the camera in one hand, something not always true of mirror-less bodies.


The first thing we notice about the Canon 80D as we switch it on is that it has retained the position of the on/off switch on top of the body just behind the PASM dial. We hate this position a it prevents us from turning the camera on while holding it one handed (ala Nikon bodies). However it is a small gripe as once turned on you can just leave it that way and rely on the camera to enter sleep mode to save battery life. The battery used for the Canon 80D is the same as all the newer Canon bodies, the LP-E6N 1865 mAh. Our first charge gave us 686 shots but that included a lot of playing with the menus and setting up the camera as well as shooting numerous short videos. Our subsequent charges gave us around 1000 shots each time. More than enough for a days shooting.

With the new 18-135mm Nano USM kit lens attached the camera feels well balanced and at 730g it is substantial but doesn’t feel overly bulky like the 7D mk II (910g) can.

If you are used to shooting Canon bodies then the 80D will feel reassuringly familiar with similar button layout. There is no AF joystick which you get on the 7dmkII but instead we have the ability to use the articulated touch screen for quick focusing in video and live view modes. However that doesn’t help when shooting stills through the optical viewfinder.

On the top of the camera body we have the display screen giving quick access to your settings along with dedicated buttons to change AF, Drive modes, ISO and metering, as well as a button to light up the display. A little further forward we have the control dial and a further button to quickly change focusing mode. In front of that is the shutter release button.

All the buttons feel well made, solid and give positive tactile feedback for easy use with your eye to the viewfinder.

The only issue we have with the controls are the on/off switch placement (as previously mentioned) and the D-pad on the rear of the body which is somewhat obstructed by the control wheel around it. It just doesn’t feel natural when using it as the wheel is a little too deep and obstructs your thumb from getting purchase on the D-pad.

Taking a leaf out of Fuji’s book we have a Q button on the reverse which gives quick access to your most regularly used features and functions. We really like this as we can quickly change settings without having to either delve in to the menus or use Canon’s customisable My Menu tab, which lets be honest is a bit rubbish.

Dedicated live view/video button, AF-on, zoom, playback . delete, control wheel lock, menu and info buttons round out the layout on the back of the camera body.

The mode dial on top now features two programmable custom modes which is always a welcome feature.

The new viewfinder is crisp, clear and now offers 100% viewfinder coverage, up from 98% on the 70D making composition much better with the 80D. It also offers diopter adjustment, always good for users of eye glasses.

The Canon 80D like its predecessor features a fully articulated touch screen. Some people bemoan articulated screens however we really appreciate them. It is easy to underestimate just how useful they are for composing shots in unusual angles and combined with the touch screen it is a fantastic tool and one that video enthusiasts in particular will appreciate.

If you don’t like an articulated screen (and we don’t know why you wouldn’t once you have used one) you can simply flip it in to the body, screen facing out and use it as a standard fixed screen. Alternatively if you are shooting using only the viewfinder you can close the LCD altogether with the glass facing the body and know that it is protected from scratches and damage.

The articulated screen is very flexible in terms of how you choose to use it.

We found the articulated screen one of the best features of the 80D and wish that Nikon would implement it on their D7xx series of bodies.

One disappointment is that the Canon 80D only takes a single SD card. We would have liked Canon to take from the Nikon D7xx series bodies which have had dual SD card slots for some time now.


Check out our  Canon 80D auto focus and Image quality results


Exit mobile version