eXtensions - Sunday 15 April 2018


eXtensions - Moving up to Nikon D850 (3): Explorations

By Graham K. Rogers

Nikon D850

I have been trying out a Nikon D850 DSLR the past few days after years of D7000 ownership. Images of a better quality are possible as well as 4K and 8K video output. Having tried out the basic camera features, I began to look at some new and also unfamiliar features.

Geo-location and other remote features

It had always bothered me with the older DSLR cameras I had - when even basic mobile phones had this - that geo-location was not available, at least not easily. There are some workarounds in software that allowed a rough location to be added to the metadata, by clicking on a map, but that took time and I rarely used this. The initial information on the D850 suggested that this was a feature of the camera, but it is not at all straightforward. Nikon has its own GPS Device the GP-1 or GP-1a. This is shown on Amazon as $265, but does not ship here.

Snapbridge Snapbridge Snapbridge

Another Nikon solution that is open to me, is the use of the SnapBridge iOS app. I was able to connect the iPhone to the camera fairly easily and set this up to synchronize clocks and location data. This also needs to be turned on in the camera settings. The location was shown in the settings and appeared on the test photographs I took, so that hurdle was (apparently) crossed quite easily, but I will monitor this for continued data inclusion, particularly when I change locations.

geolocation When the app is open it is continually searching for the Bluetooth connection to the D850, even if the camera is off. I am unsure at this stage if this might affect battery life, as this also continues even when I turned off the Autolink option. The Bluetooth indicator on the iPhone shows that this is always connected so I had to force quit to stop this. It is easy enough. I will just have to remember to preserve battery.

When connected, there are also features that allow the user to download pictures to the iPhone, but this does not work for the larger TIFF or RAW images. Nikon also allows users to upload and access images to its own cloud service, with unlimited space. There is a size limit of 2MP, so the RAW images (46MP) are unavailable.

The D850 does not have the capacity to use an infrared remote control like the D7000. There are timed shots of course, and the ability to use tethering: connecting the camera to a computer using a cable and working from the software. Although I have used Aperture in the past, if I want to tether a camera (for classroom demonstrations), I use Sofortbild which has support for the D850.

Instead of infrared, remote control of the D850 is done via the SnapBridge app and needs the user to make a connection using WiFi. If the app is already connected to the camera with Bluetooth, this should be automatic, albeit a little slow. It took a little while when I first tried, but trying to take a screenshot with the iPhone closed the app and I had difficulty reconnecting. Unless this works first time, every time (like IR) it is not a viable solution.

Focus Shift

One feature that I had not known about until I read the comments on the D850, in DP Review (Carey Rose, Richard Butler, Rishi Sanyal), was the idea of focus shift: what Nikon calls Focus Shift Shooting in its Photo Shooting menu. I first heard of this when reading about photography by Pete Belanger of Apple products (Michael Shane, The Verge). He used a Canon 5D Mark III and a Phase One (then) among other cameras. The interview describes how he would take several images of a product and combine them using Photoshop.

In the 5 years since then, the concept has been developed. The Nikon D850 can take shots at several different focus or depth levels automatically. With the right software such as Helicon Focus to combine the stack of shots, the images can be combined into one. The related Focus Stacking app allows a user to set up a shoot, including front and rear limits for the photographs to be taken.

I tried this quickly with the 85mm lens that was already on the camera, pointing in at objects on my worktop. I did use a tripod for this. I initially used the default setting of 100 images, but changed this to 50 and a time-difference of 1 second between shots. A separate folder can be used, but the images import as normal even if this is used. Once Start is pressed, the camera prepares for the shot and there is a countdown from 50 while it takes each shot. It was interesting to see the focus distance changing on the lens as each shot was taken.

focus shift focus shift

focus shift focus shift

The 50 images show clear focus of a lens in the foreground, moving to a lamp behind then continuing to focus on other objects further back. As this focus shifts, so the lens in the photographs became more blurred. This rather rough and ready first try shows how simple it is to set up this type of shoot with the D850. I would need to select the right lens, locate the subject properly (for example a light box) but the camera does most of the work automatically.

Helicon Focus has a number of licensing options with a lifetime fee of $200. There is also a 30-day trial period so I was able to download the software and work with the test stack I had produced. I installed the app along with a 3D viewer app that is included. Helicon Focus did not seem to like the large NEF (RAW) files I tried to import, so I converted these to JPG and these were acceptable.

Helicon Focus

All I had to do was press the Render button and the 50 images were processed. There was clearly a lot of work going on in the background but this was completed fairly quickly and I saved a 7MB JPG image (115" x 76"). There were several other export options, but this would do for now. I will play with this more in the next few days.

focus shift

Time-lapse Photographs and Movies

When the iPhone was relatively new, I found some software that allowed me to produce time-lapse clips. Apple later included this feature in its Camera app, but even if a shoot takes several hours, the output from the Camera app is always around 30 seconds. There are now several apps available for this, such as iMotion and iTimeLapse. The D850 also has capability of time-lapse photography and this can be done in two ways. The first is in the same Photo Shooting menu: Interval timer shooting.

There are several options here, including start (date/time), and interval between shots from 0.5 sec up to 24 hours. I could specify a start/time in the future, but I was not able to access the end date/time. Camera information suggested this was to be done by selecting number of shots (0-9999) and time interval. I made a test of 200 shots with an interval of 10 seconds between shots. The images recorded can then be processed in suitable software. Unless high resolution output or multiple still photographs are needed, this is not the best solution.

Time lapse photos

The other method is to use the Movie menu where there is a Time-lapse movie option and output is created in a movie format. The default should be 4K but in Interval timer shooting there is an 8K option. When I first looked for the menu item, it was greyed out and I wondered if the lens type was causing this. Others had also seen only a greyed out menu. In my case it was fixed when I put the SD card back (I was downloading images to the Mac) - silly me. As with the Interval timer shooting, I made some settings changes (0.5 seconds/10 minutes) and pressed Start.

focus shift timer lapse

The settings I had gave me a 1920 x 1080 movie, only 1 second long with a 7MB file size. I should have seen that, as the display times are shown at the bottom of the screen. By changing interval and recording times, the video length can be increased: another learning point. I will also check for 4K output. There is a YouTube video from Nikon on this which I used as a way to start.


I am reasonably happy with the photographs that the D850 can produce. The sheer size of the images, plus their sharpness and colours, has me convinced that I was right to make the purchase. As can be seen here, I am still discovering the many extra features and capabilities that the camera has. I am not really a movie-maker, but that must be one of the concepts on my list.


See also:

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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