The Nikon D850 promises two amazing cameras in one; a speed beast with up to 9fps continuous shooting and the 153-point autofocus system from the flagship D5, together with a super high-resolution 45.7Mp full frame sensor. It sounds too good to be true.
Intrigued to see if the D850’s image quality would hold up against some of the best pound-for-pound image quality you can get, I teamed up with photographer Andy Saywell and headed off to shoot some landscapes and portraits with it and the 51.4Mp medium format Fujifilm GFX 50S.
In our extensive testing, shooting landscapes and portraits in a wide range of environments and different lighting conditions, the Nikon D850’s image quality isn’t quite as good as the Fujifilm GFX 50S, but it’s not far off.
The most telling difference is sharpness and low light image quality.
When the GFX nails focus, it’s outrageously sharp and its low light jpegs at high ISO are cleaner in the shadows while its raw files can be pulled about more without a significant impact on noise.
The D850 remains amazingly good and at roughly half the cost of the GFX, compatible with the vast range of Nikon and third party lenses and accessories and the performance credentials to effortlessly shoot virtual any subject it’s a mouth-watering prospect.
Nikon D850 with Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8G & 105mm f/1.4E and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A
Fujifilm GFX 50S with GF 23mm f/4, GF 32-64mm f/4, GF 45mm f/2.8 & GF 110mm f/2
Early morning landscape
The GFX’s ‘cropped’ 43.8×32.9mm sensor offers 68% more surface area compared to the D850’s 35.9×23.9mm full frame chip. Being physically bigger, but with a similar resolution, means the GFX offers greater ‘pixel pitch’ of 5.3µm, compared to 4.3µm on the Nikon D850. That, in theory, improves the light gathering potential of the GFX sensor and a cleaner signal should translate into better dynamic range.
To test this, we shot some early morning landscapes, exposing to retain detail in the bright sky and seeing how much shadow detail we could pull back in raw processing.
Fujifilm GFX 50S
Pulling out detail in the raw file with +3 exposure and +35 shadows via Lightroom CC there’s not a significant amount of difference in the shadow areas in front of the rock. Viewing images 1:1 on screen, both control noise really well. Sure, there’s some deterioration on both, but considering how hard the files have been pushed it’s very acceptable and I don’t think you can really say one’s better than the other.
Focusing on the foreground and shooting at the lens’s respective minimum apertures, f/22 for the Nikkor 14-24mm and f/32 for the GF 23mm, extends the depth-of-field as much as possible. The D850’s physically smaller sensor will inherently record greater depth-of-field, but closing down the Fujifilm lens that extra stop to f/32 offsets that. So sharpness on the horizon is again broadly the same on both cameras.
Shooting at minimum aperture, diffraction reduces the overall resolution of both lenses. It’s fair to say neither are amazingly sharp in the background, but with trees on the far horizon still clearly defined, together with reasonable sharpness on the foreground, both are capable of great depth-of-field.
Examining crops of the background, you can see the GFX has delivered slightly improved contrast and colour, resulting in better definition in the valley. Both images had the sky pulled back using a -1.5 EV reduction in Exposure and -50 Highlights Graduated Filter and both skies look amazing. The blues maybe slightly richer from the D850 and the oranges more vibrant on the GFX, but small tweaks to the colour channels with the HSL controls you could get similar results on both.
Once the sun had peaked over the horizon, we turned around to shoot with the light behind. Opening up the aperture a stop to reduce diffraction and shooting with the sun behind for a less challenging exposure to maximise the image quality potential of the sensors.
The golden sunlight is a little richer and more vibrant on the GFX shot, with the D850 needing a +10 boost to saturation and vibrance to achieve a similar result. Viewing crops on screen the GFX is a little sharper, thanks again to a little more contrast and definition pulling out details, but to be fair there’s really not much in it. Raw adjustments were limited to +0.7 Exposure, +50 Shadows, -100 Highlights to lightening the shadows a bit, whilst retaining good highlight detail in the sky.
A Graduated Filter boosting the Whites +100 also made the foreground ‘pop’ a little more. Noise in the shadows is again minimal at 1:1 screen view on both files, with no sign of any chromatic noise. There’s a little luminance noise in the sky, but it’s the same on both files and far from concerning.
Fujifilm GFX 50S
For printing landscapes, I prefer the D850’s native 3:2 aspect ratio, compared to 4:3 on the GFX. If you crop the GFX files to 3:2, the resolution is exactly the same as the D850, so both produce a 30×20-inch print at 275ppi. If you print standard A paper sizes, however, there’s slightly less cropping involved with the GFX. So you get an A1 print at 249ppi on GFX, compared to 235ppi on the D850.
It’s not a significant difference, with both packing plenty of resolution for large scale prints, but depending where your images are destined for one of the aspect ratios might make more sense.
After a spot of breakfast and with the light still good, we headed off for a few additional shots. Shooting f/16 on both lenses, but this time using the GF 32-64mm f/4, we found a spot with plenty of blue and green tones to assess the colour.
WIth a Custom White Balance of 7000 Kelvin and +10 Tint set for both during raw conversion and again I’d say the GFX is marginally richer, warmer and more saturated, but there’s not much in it, and a few colour tweaks to the D850 file and the result could be the same.
FujiFilm GFX 50S
This was the first shot where we noticed the GFX was considerably sharper. We were shooting the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 A at its minimum f/16 aperture, compared to f/16 being a mid-aperture on the GF lens, so diffraction will play a part, but still, the tree stump in the foreground is significantly sharper on the GFX file.
Depth-of-field is fractionally better on the Nikon file, with marginally better detail retention in the bridge in the background, but close down the GF lens to f/22 and it’d be the same and we’d be prepared to bet the GFX file is still sharper.
So, in summary from this landscape shoot, we concluded there isn’t a huge amount of difference in dynamic range when shooting at low ISOs in good light and although the GFX just edges it for colour saturation, it’s close.
Using minimum apertures on the GF lenses, sharpness is good, with decent depth-of-field, but open up the aperture a stop or two on the GFX lenses and sharpness is insane for those landscape shots you don’t need the maximum depth-of-field.