The Nikon D850 is an epic DSLR with amazing 3D tracking autofocus technology and a 45.7-megapixel high-resolution sensor with incredible dynamic range in a robust DSLR body. Almost a year later, Nikon introduced a professional mirrorless camera with many similarities and an identical sensor, in terms of resolution. The Nikon Z7 has a unique sensor implementation, design, and some additional features such as in-body image stabilization, and a faster processor along with a new lens mount design with amazing native glass… But, is it better than the D850? Here are a few things to consider when deciding which one is going to be the most epic camera for you.
The D850 3D tracking AF system using the optical viewfinder is superior for tracking fast-moving subjects. Wildlife and sports photographers will likely prefer the D850 for this reason. But, in live view mode with exposure preview, the D850 autofocus takes a serious hit and the performance is not very stellar at all.
If you enjoy the mirrorless experience of having exposure preview, the Z7 now takes the cake for autofocus through the electronic viewfinder and on the screen since the latest firmware update. I admit that I was underwhelmed when it was first released; so, if you watch or read early reviews of this camera, take it with a grain of salt. Since then, it has improved significantly. It uses on-sensor phase detection technology that has been dramatically improved since its initial implementation on Nikon’s first mirrorless attempts, way back in 2011.
Mirrorless autofocus technology will only continue to improve. And, if you enjoy the benefit of exposure preview through a gorgeous electronic viewfinder, the Z7 would be the best choice here.
This is a tough one. The Nikon Z7 can hit 9 fps with C-AF, and the D850 can also hit 9 fps with the add-on battery grip (without it, it maxes out at 7 fps). It also has a slightly higher flash sync speed — 1/250 compared to 1/200 from the Z7. It’s a very close game when it comes to speed.
The Nikon Z7 is about a half pound lighter than the D850. But, smaller isn’t always better. When reducing the size of the camera, some of the controls are sacrificed. This requires more menu diving to adjust functions and settings. Thankfully, Nikon was good enough to include a DSLR-sized grip on the Z7 to maintain comfortable DSLR-like ergonomics. The viewfinder also protrudes nicely out from the back of the camera, preventing nose contact with the touchscreen. The Z7 wins for overall size since it’s lighter, but does not sacrifice comfort and ergonomics.
The Z7 has a striking amount of resemblance to the D850. But, since it is more compact with less physical space for buttons, it has fewer external controls. With more to customize and more features buried in the menus, it comes with more of a learning curve out of the box. For the long-term DSLR users, I’d be lying if I said it will be a breeze to transition. There will likely be some growing pains, like any new technology. Change is hard. In some ways, it’s like moving from a flip phone to a smartphone. And, look at us all now. Would we even be able to send a text on a flip phone? I was the queen of that in 2007. But, now… probably not so much.
Battery Life & Memory Storage
One of the biggest advantages with a DSLR over a mirrorless camera is battery life. The D850 battery can last for nearly 2000 shots where I was only able to get 600 on the Z7. This could be a big deal if you are traveling or shooting in a remote area without power.
In terms of the memory card. The D850 wins with both SD and XQD slots. The Z7 has one XQD slot, and while XQD cards are more durable, they’re usually more expensive too. This is a huge topic of conversation on internet forums. But, in the real world, many, many photographers just pop one card in their dual card slot cameras anyways.
When you look closely at these two cameras, they are very similar. Deciding on which one to buy will ultimately depend on what you are using it for.
The Nikon D850 would still be my top choice if my dominant subject matter was fast moving such as sports, birds in flight, or lowlight dance photography. The main reason is the incredible 3D autofocus tracking and the 9FPS speed with the grip along with the longer battery life which is more critical when capturing long burst sequences. The ruggedness of the body is also another attractive feature of this DSLR that still share the spotlight with the mirrorless counterpart.
The Z7 would rank higher for me for travel, portraits, and still life like landscapes or close-up nature scenes. The faster processor, in-body image stabilization, exposure preview through the electronic viewfinder, and a more compact body is a very attractive package. Nikon is also currently putting most of their lens development behind the Z system, and some of their latest lenses are the best Nikkor lenses ever made. And, if they do release an F-mount lens, you can adapt it to the Z mount. But, you can’t mount a new Z lens to the DSLR.
When it comes to speed and autofocus, the D850 might outshine it slightly. But, the Z7 is no slouch either, with its new autofocus system that incorporates face and eye detection. It’s already improving since its release through firmware updates. And, major feature improvements are one exciting new side effects of the mirrorless format in general.
In a time where we have two of the most capable Nikon cameras of all-time to choose from with a very narrow price difference, we are spoiled for choices. What I can tell you for certain, is that mirrorless is the future and DSLRs will eventually be replaced because the possibilities with the new technology, sans mirror, are too great to ignore for long.
Want to know more? Watch our Hands-on Review for Photographers:
Featured Products mentioned in this article: