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The Nikon D850 Scores 100 on DXO | Here Are A Few Things You Should Think About When Considering This

By Kishore Sawh on October 8th 2017

As if DXO needed any more attention than what they’ve received for their revamped mobile review approach, they’ve gotten it with their release of the Nikon D850 results. Perhaps the most anticipated camera of the year, the D850 was blessed by the good people at DXO Mark with a score of 100. That’s the first non-medium format ILC to do so, and in doing has many stirred, shook, woke, riled, and all manner of other emotive verbs.

For some, it was if the heavens had parted and rainbows sprung, the rating adopted as validation of their feelings about Nikon, and for others it has been met with disdain. But what does that score really tell us? How should we interpret it, and what does this mean for DXO scores moving forward?

Firstly, anyone who has used the D850 for any length can tell you that its IQ is high, and there’s no doubting that. Without looking at the score you just know its high; it’s visually perceptible. That Nikon’s 100th anniversary camera (which it is) and the successor to the D810 would’ve bested anything else in its class on the market should probably not have come as a major surprise. Nikon needed this. In fact, one could argue they needed more.

When you look at the D850 sat next to its current contemporaries you can’t help but thinking we really have reached a peak, that high-end full-frame cameras today are approaching a state of engineering perfection, and a score of 100 really suggests that. So what happens when you top out a scoreboard? You start over and make a new one.

Which is perhaps what DXO will have to do from this point on (even though DXO grades from 0-infinity), and that’s sort of where one can see that maybe Nikon needed to do more, because of all the flagships in its class the D850 is the last to arrive –or the first– and we can only assume that from now on, other flagships will be ranking about as highly. From Sony or Pentax anyway, and future Nikons.

The Nikon D850 bests the A7Rii’s DXO sensor score, for example, by 2 points, and the a7RII has been around for over 2 years. A 2 year period where Nikon was able to come up with something that bests it by two points. By the calendar we can probably expect the a7RII to molt its skin to reveal a ‘iii’ within the coming 6 months, and it’s not hard to imagine it will re-write the books again, particularly if we consider the how DXO grades.


There’s some empirical evidence to suggest that sensors with a higher megapixel count seem to have a lower noise floor, and thus handle dynamic range better. The Sony is only 3MP short of what the D850 is now, and again it’s not a stretch to think the next will have 60, or 50 on the low end, giving it much the same advantage. But furthermore, we also can tell that DXO tends to put a lot of emphasis and weight on performance at base ISO, and the D850 has a base native ISO of 64 versus the a7RII’s 100. This is, perhaps, fine, but also leads you to wonder how the a7RII would do if Sony sent out a firmware update to allow the a7RII or its successor to be shot at 64, or 50.

Considering the weight DXO Mark places on base ISO performance it is something we should consider. It’s not flawed, necessarily, to do that, but more often than not you are going to be a shooter who cares less about shooting at ISO 64 than you are about shooting at ISO 1600 or 3200. If you’re shooting medium format then it’ll probably matter more, but really, not that many people will find themselves shooting at 64, so on the practical side it’s less broadly relevant.

Interesting to note too that even DXO shows that above ISO 1150 the A7Rii outperforms the D850. It’s not a huge difference from that point on but still about the same difference as between the two when below that. Then of course consider why that may matter. It matters for low light shooting, which is where you trade ISO for shutter speed – because you’ll be able to shoot at faster shutter speeds with better retrievable data, which actually matters more to D850 users because unlike the a7RII it doesn’t have IBIS to grant some leeway. Thus, you actually kind of want it to do better at those levels.

Strangely the a7RII does better than the Nikon again with color sensitivity across the range (granted you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can tell by looking at the images), and then there’s the fact the D850 ranked lower than the a7RII again for sports. That’s particularly interesting considering Nikon marketed the D850 as being able to handle sports. Perhaps that score is reflective of the high ISO capability…

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So again, the score of 100 is a big odd, and you sort of get the feeling that if the D850 didn’t have that lower ISO option the curve would’ve been different. That’s not a slight against the Nikon D850, but with the amount of interest in the camera it’s probably good to consider these things so you can make the best decision on whether or not this is the camera for your specific needs and situation. You may find the findings of Bill Claff of Photos For Photos interesting, as they do somewhat differ from DXO.

Oh, also, comparing it to medium format, as is being done, should probably be looked at contextually also, given they’re not comparing it to current generation MF units.

You can find the DXO Nikon D850 review here.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Greg Gulbransen

    I appreciate your article but honestly I find it quite silly.  Take a deep breath and think about the “what and why” behind your content.  If the Nikon brand is not good enough for your talent and you really feel they are letting you down as such a professional photographer than by all means move on. 
    At present I shoot the Nikon 850 and the Phase One with the Tri chromatic back but honestly I have no issues with the wonderful Canon and Sony cameras.  I would be quite happy any and all of them and I am glad they compete to push each other.  I suggest we all shoot more and complain less.

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  2. Anders Madsen

    “but really, not that many people will find themselves shooting at 64, so on the practical side it’s less broadly relevant.”Unless you are a commercial and advertising photographer who does the main body of his work in the studio or using flash on location, that is. Which, I can tell you from first hand experience, is exactly the kind of photographers that are dumping older Nikon D800, D800E and D810 on eBay right now and upgrading in so large quantities that the D850 goes in and out of stock all the time.We make a living producing consistent, efficient, reliable results for our clients, and for anyone owning a Nikon full frame camera with a ton of clicks on the shutter, the D850 is exactly the right camera at the right time. We can upgrade and know for a fact, that we are able to deliver the finest files possible with a 35 mm camera at the moment, and that only those who wants to pay for medium format files can have it better. 
    Provided, of course, that we are able to use the camera to its fullest extent, but that goes for any piece of equipment out there.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Anders, of course there are those and situations out there which call for ISO 64, but frankly, in the broad scheme of things those would be the exceptions and not the rule – especially in a camera priced to sell. And it is, priced to sell. In addition, while on benchmark tests the difference between ISO 64 and ISO 100 performance is discernible enough to see a gap on a chart, even there it isn’t that great a gap, and frankly, at ISO 100 you’d be hard pressed to find those who could tell the difference in the imagery. This is practical side.  

      I also think when you say for Nikon users with a lot of clicks, looking for a new body, that again is a narrow area compared to who will be looking at and may buy this camera. I mean if Nikon was just aiming to make D810 users happy then I guess they did a decent job, but there’s about no innovation here. I have the D850 on my desk as I type, and it’s brilliant in many ways, but it is, to me…. a swan song. Nikon just isn’t providing anything to help you do your job easier or better. It’s just a slightly better version of old tech, in my opinion. 

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  3. Tom Stoncel

    “not that many people will find themselves shooting at 64” Really??? Is there any data to back this up? 

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  4. Thomas Starlit

    A difference of two points probably won’t change anyone’s photography for the better. D850 mainly looks better because it hit the “magic” 100 which to many will sound as a perfect score, although the scale is open ended. I have both a D810 and a A7RII and although the gearhead in me would like to “upgrade” to D850, I doubt if I ever will. When was the last time you looked at a picture and thought “Wow, it must be taken with X camera?” And then looked up the EXIF to get your suspicion confirmed?

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    • Dave Lyons

      “Wow, it must be taken with X camera?”

      When I see certain types of shots on say ig (like big landscapes), I can generally tell which were taken with a d8XX body, they just have a look and sharpness to them.

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  5. Christian Fiore

    Meanwhile, if you switch to the Screen charts, the D850’s sensor is an overgrown D500 sensor. Within margin of error differences on all points and tests. 

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Interesting, I will have a look through. 

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    • Dave Lyons

      Except that it’s not a Sony sensor. So the interesting part is that the Nikon designed, non-Sony sensor is basically right there (if not better, close enough both ways) with Sony’s best…I’m sure Sony isn’t to thrilled with that! I would suspect that it’s close to the D500 since it was a Nikon designed sensor and it would make sense to stay on the same path to keep colors and such easier to match.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Dave Lyons – I would be somewhat cautious in saying Nikon designed that sensor. For one thing, they always say that but Nikon has no means to and never has been able to make their own sensor. At best they’ll have a laundry list of things they want, go to a producer, and either they’ll tailor it or adjust some in existence already. Don’t be fooled into thinking ‘designed’ means they did the work. Sony though, they do it from the ground up. Also, I know the rumors that the D850’s sensor comes from the Israeli company, and while I could see that, there are  logistical issues to consider there. In addition, BSI, as a term, may be a trademarked term – I’m not sure, but there is a Sony patent in 2009 that suggests in this instance that it’s their term, and if it is, Nikon wouldnt be able to call it a BSI without it being a Sony sensor – to my understanding.

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    • Dave Lyons

      Kishore Sawh obviously I could be wrong but I thought it was already confirmed a bit back that it was towerjazz… and no i didn’t get that from twinkletoes on youtube.

      I’ll have to see if I can find where I saw that as it was pretty in-depth on why it wasn’t a sony.

      Personally, as long as canon isn’t making them I could careless as long as it delivers and if it’s a Sony then prey it isn’t a star eater.  I just thought the riddle was already solved. Make’s no difference to me.

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