The D850, Nikon’s long awaited replacement for the the D810, has created a huge amount of interest and hype, and has helped Nikon launch an important blow back against its main competitors, Canon and Sony. But Sony’s A9 has taken its own fair share of headlines and accolades recently as the industry and working professionals continue to be impressed with the brand’s flagship mirrorless wonder. Both cameras share many features, but there’s also a lot that separates them too. Time to dig a little deeper and find out which big-hitting camera is right for your photography…
Design and ergonomics:
When it comes to design, it’s a case of big versus…well, not so big. The larger D850 weighs in at 1015g, compared to the considerably lighter A9 (673g). The dimensions of the Nikon are larger too, although to a lesser difference than the weight differential. The D850 and the A9 are both full-frame, but while the Nikon features a traditional mirror design to go with its high resolution 45.7-megapixel sensor, the Sony doesn’t have a mirror at all, resulting in far faster continuous shooting figures to go with its 24-megapixel sensor.
Both bodies are weather sealed, ensuring they can be used in harsh environments but there are some big differences too. The D850, which uses lenses with the usual Nikon F mount, has a larger LCD at 3.2-inches, while the E-mount Sony comes in a little smaller at 3-inches. Both screens are touch-sensitive, which is useful when setting up awkward compositions or capturing video (more on that later). In terms of lenses, Nikon shooters will have more optics to select from, but Sony are catching up and releasing more lenses all the time, with third-party manufacturers following suit. Both cameras can offer dual memory card slots, with Nikon users choosing between one SD and one XQD while the Sony can take two SD cards (or a Memory Stick Pro). While the Nikon has a typically optical viewfinder, the Sony has a 3686k electronic viewfinder (EVF), which boasts no blackout during continuous shooting – a useful feature for action photographers shooting wildlife or sports.
While the Nikon has more megapixels, the Sony is the outright leader in both speed and autofocus points. The A9 features a 693 AF-point system and the Nikon uses the same AF system from the brand’s flagship D5 with 153-points. A look at the burst rate figures shows the A9 is the undisputed speed king, offering up to 20 frames per second. That said, the D850 isn’t sluggish for a camera with such high resolution, shooting 7 frames per second, or 9FPS when used with the battery grip.
Let’s talk about sensors. The D850 offers the highest amount of resolution ever from a Nikon DSLR, and the full-frame sensor gives 45.7-megapixels. This figure opens new creative doors, giving professionals resolution on par with Medium Format cameras and the ability to start shooting images destined for billboards. The resolution is also a major leap forward from the 36-megapixel D810, the camera the D850 replaces and also closes the gap on another of Nikon’s major rivals, Canon’s 50-megapixel 5DS/R DSLRs. The Sony features a 24-megapixel sensor, which is a lot less resolution, but this is balanced out by the benefits in terms of speed and autofocus. The A9 doesn’t have an Anti Alias (low pass) filter and this means it should give sharp photos, though this also increases the risk of moire. When it comes to ISO the Sony comes out on top, offering an expanded ISO of 204800, while the D850 maxes out at 102400.
Both cameras offer very tempting specifications for videographers and represent cameras packed with cutting edge technology. Both cameras capture ultra high-quality 4K (3840 x 2160) footage and can also record movies in Full HD at faster frame rates, which can be used to create cool slow motion sequences. Both cameras also have headphone and microphone ports and the Nikon can actually create 8K time-lapse sequences in post production.
Extras and verdict:
Dig a little deeper into the specs sheets and you’ll discover there’s a few more features and functions worth mentioning for both cameras. The D850 has an impressive Focus Bracketing mode that will automatically take up to 300 shots at various depths of field. These images are then merged to produce a single complete photo with front-to-back sharpness. D850 users can also select the size of the RAW file from three options (45MP RAW Large, 25.6 MP RAW Medium, or 11.4 MP RAW). This feature is useful if you are running low on memory or simply don’t want to use the massive large RAW files. Lastly for the Nikon, the D850 has illuminated buttons, which will help photographers find the right option in low light. The A9 has plenty of tricks too! The Sony boasts a very high shutter speed of 1/32000sec due to its electronic shutter, which also enables a silent shooting mode. Built-in 5-axis image stabilisation will help keep images sharp in low light conditions and the 693 AF points cover 93% of the frame.
While both cameras have a lot in common (high ISO, brilliant video specs), there’s also plenty that separates them and these factors could well influence a buying decision. The Nikon D850 offers massively high resolution in a robust, well designed body that gives a high ISO, plenty of AF points and a decent continuous burst rate. What’s more, it pairs all these attributes with first-class video specifications. The A9 can’t match the D850 for resolution, but it ticks all the boxes for speed, boasting superior AF points and industry-leading continuous shooting rates. Like the D850, the A9 is very suitable for those photographers who need to capture high-quality video, as well as stills.