Nikon D3 vs D850
The Nikon D3 and the Nikon D850 are two professional cameras that were announced, respectively, in August 2007 and July 2017. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. The D3 has a resolution of 12.1 megapixels, whereas the D850 provides 45.4 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
|Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Digital single lens reflex||Digital single lens reflex|
|Nikon F mount lenses||Nikon F mount lenses|
|12.1 MP, Full Frame Sensor||45.4 MP, Full Frame Sensor|
|no Video||4K/30p Video|
|ISO 200-6,400 (100 - 25,600)||ISO 64-25,600 (32 - 102,400)|
|Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|3.0 LCD, 922k dots||3.2 LCD, 2359k dots|
|Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)||Tilting touchscreen|
|11 shutter flaps per second||9 shutter flaps per second|
|Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|4300 shots per battery charge||1840 shots per battery charge|
|160 x 157 x 88 mm, 1300 g||146 x 124 x 79 mm, 1005 g|
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D850? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D850. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D850 is notably smaller (28 percent) than the Nikon D3. Moreover, the D850 is markedly lighter (23 percent) than the D3. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. In this particular case, both cameras feature the same lens mount, so that they can use the same lenses. You can compare the optics available in the Nikon Lens Catalog.
Concerning battery life, the D3 gets 4300 shots out of its EN-EL4a battery, while the D850 can take 1840 images on a single charge of its EN-EL15a power pack. As can be seen in the images above, the D3 has a battery grip built in. This facilitates image-taking in portrait orientation and gives it additional battery power. In order to provide similar functionality for the D850, Nikon provides the MB-D18 vertical grip as an optional accessory (see here on eBay).
The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.
|Nikon D3||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.5 in||45.9 oz||4300||Y||Aug 2007||4,999|
|Nikon D850||5.7 in||4.9 in||3.1 in||35.5 oz||1840||Y||Jul 2017||3,299|
|Canon 5DS||6.0 in||4.6 in||3.0 in||32.8 oz||700||Y||Feb 2015||3,699|
|Canon 5DS R||6.0 in||4.6 in||3.0 in||32.8 oz||700||Y||Feb 2015||3,699|
|Canon 1D Mark III||6.1 in||6.2 in||3.1 in||40.7 oz||2200||Y||Feb 2007||4,499|
|Nikon D5||6.3 in||6.3 in||3.6 in||49.9 oz||3780||Y||Jan 2016||6,499|
|Nikon D4S||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.6 in||47.6 oz||3020||Y||Feb 2014||6,499|
|Nikon D810||5.7 in||4.8 in||3.2 in||34.6 oz||1200||Y||Jun 2014||3,299|
|Nikon D610||5.6 in||4.4 in||3.2 in||30.0 oz||900||Y||Oct 2013||1,999|
|Nikon D4||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.6 in||47.3 oz||2600||Y||Jan 2012||5,999|
|Nikon D3S||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.5 in||43.7 oz||4200||Y||Oct 2009||5,199|
|Nikon D3X||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.5 in||44.4 oz||4400||Y||Dec 2008||7,999|
|Nikon D700||5.8 in||4.8 in||3.0 in||37.9 oz||1000||Y||Jul 2008||2,999|
|Nikon D300||5.8 in||4.5 in||2.9 in||32.6 oz||1000||Y||Aug 2007||1,799|
|Nikon D2Xs||6.2 in||5.9 in||3.4 in||44.2 oz||3800||Y||Jun 2006||4,699|
|Nikon D2X||6.2 in||5.9 in||3.4 in||44.2 oz||3800||Y||Sep 2004||4,999|
Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.
(1) Number of images that can be taken on a full battery charge according to the CIPA-standard; (2) Official announcement.
Any camera decision will naturally be influenced heavily by the price. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The D850 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 34 percent) than the D3, which puts it into a different market segment. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down.
The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
Technology-wise, the D850 uses a more advanced image processing engine (EXPEED 5) than the D3 (EXPEED), with benefits for noise reduction, color accuracy, and processing speed.
Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the D850 offers a higher resolution of 45.4 megapixels, compared with 12.1 MP of the D3. This megapixels advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.35μm versus 8.43μm for the D3). However, it should be noted that the D850 is much more recent (by 9 years and 11 months) than the D3, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the D850 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.
The resolution advantage of the Nikon D850 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D850 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 41.3 x 27.5 inches or 104.9 x 69.9 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 33 x 22 inches or 83.9 x 55.9 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 27.5 x 18.3 inches or 69.9 x 46.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Nikon D3 are 21.3 x 14.2 inches or 54.1 x 36 cm for good quality, 17 x 11.3 inches or 43.2 x 28.8 cm for very good quality, and 14.2 x 9.4 inches or 36 x 24 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Nikon D3 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 200 to ISO 6400, which can be extended to ISO 100-25600. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D850 are ISO 64 to ISO 25600, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 32-102400.
For many cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the D850 offers substantially better image quality than the D3 (overall score 19 points higher). The advantage is based on 2.9 bits higher color depth, 2.6 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.2 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.
|Nikon D3||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2290||81|
|Nikon D850||Full Frame||45.4||8256||5504||4K/30p||26.4||14.8||2660||100|
|Canon 5DS||Full Frame||50.3||8688||5792||1080/30p||24.7||12.4||2381||87|
|Canon 5DS R||Full Frame||50.3||8688||5792||1080/30p||24.6||12.4||2308||86|
|Canon 1D Mark III||APS-H||10.1||3888||2592||none||22.7||11.7||1078||71|
|Nikon D5||Full Frame||20.7||5588||3712||4K/30p||25.1||12.3||2343||88|
|Nikon D4S||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/60p||24.4||13.3||3074||89|
|Nikon D810||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60p||25.7||14.8||2853||97|
|Nikon D610||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/30p||25.1||14.4||2925||94|
|Nikon D4||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/30p||24.7||13.1||2965||89|
|Nikon D3S||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||720/24p||23.5||12.0||3253||82|
|Nikon D3X||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||24.7||13.7||1992||88|
|Nikon D700||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2303||80|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. The D850 indeed provides for movie recording, while the D3 does not. The highest resolution format that the D850 can use is 4K/30p.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The D3 and the D850 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), but the viewfinder of the D850 has a higher magnification than the one of the D3 (0.75x vs 0.70x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Nikon D3 and Nikon D850 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.
|Canon 5DS R||optical||Y||3.2||1040||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
|Canon 1D Mark III||optical||Y||3.0||230||fixed||n||1/8000s||10.0||n||n|
One differentiating feature between the two cameras concerns the touch sensitivity of the rear screen. The D850 has a touchscreen, while the D3 has a conventional panel. Touch control can be particularly helpful, for example, for setting the focus point.
The Nikon D3 and the Nikon D850 both have an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
The D3 writes its imaging data to Compact Flash cards, while the D850 uses SDHC or XQD cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Nikon D3 and Nikon D850 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
|Canon 5DS R||Y||mono||mono||Y||-||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|Canon 1D Mark III||Y||-||-||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
It is notable that the D850 offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the D3 does not provide wifi capability.
Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.
The D850 is a recent model that features in the current product line-up of Nikon. In contrast, the D3 has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on eBay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the D3 was succeeded by the Nikon D4. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Nikon website.
So what is the bottom line? Which of the two cameras – the Nikon D3 or the Nikon D850 – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.
Arguments in favor of the Nikon D3:
- Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (11 vs 9 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- More portrait friendly: Features an integrated vertical grip for easier portrait shooting.
- Longer lasting: Can take more shots (4300 versus 1840) on a single battery charge.
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in August 2007).
Advantages of the Nikon D850:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (45.4 vs 12.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 94%.
- Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
- Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (19 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (2.9 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (2.6 EV of extra DR).
- Better jpgs: Has a more modern image processing engine (EXPEED 5 vs EXPEED).
- Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/30p video.
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.75x vs 0.70x).
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (2359k vs 922k dots).
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
- More compact: Is smaller (146x124mm vs 160x157mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 295g or 23 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.0 vs 2.0).
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Easier device pairing: Supports NFC for fast wireless image transfer over short distances.
- Easier wireless transfer: Supports Bluetooth for image sharing without cables.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (34 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Reflects 9 years and 11 months of technical progress since the D3 launch.
If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D850 is the clear winner of the contest (20 : 5 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera. A professional wildlife photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a family photog, and a person interested in architecture has distinct needs from a sports shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D850 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the D3 and the D850 in practical situations. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.
This is where reviews by experts come in. The following table reports the overall ratings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, and photographyblog). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|Nikon D3||..||+ +||5/5||o||4.5/5||Aug 2007||4,999|
|Nikon D850||+ +||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Jul 2017||3,299|
|Canon 5DS||+||83/100||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2015||3,699|
|Canon 5DS R||+||83/100||5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2015||3,699|
|Canon 1D Mark III||..||..||..||o||..||Feb 2007||4,499|
|Nikon D5||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||6,499|
|Nikon D4S||..||..||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2014||6,499|
|Nikon D810||..||86/100||5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jun 2014||3,299|
|Nikon D610||+ +||87/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2013||1,999|
|Nikon D4||..||..||4.5/5||..||4.5/5||Jan 2012||5,999|
|Nikon D3S||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Oct 2009||5,199|
|Nikon D3X||..||86/100||4/5||5/5||5/5||Dec 2008||7,999|
|Nikon D700||89/100||+ +||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2008||2,999|
|Nikon D300||+ +||+ +||5/5||o||4.5/5||Aug 2007||1,799|
|Nikon D2Xs||..||..||..||o||..||Jun 2006||4,699|
|Nikon D2X||..||+ +||..||o||..||Sep 2004||4,999|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just make your choice using the following search menu. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored.
Specifications: Nikon D3 vs Nikon D850
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Nikon F mount lenses||Nikon F mount lenses|
|Launch Date||August 2007||July 2017|
|Launch Price||USD 4,999||USD 3,299|
|Sensor Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 23.9 mm||35.9 x 23.9 mm|
|Sensor Area||860.4 mm2||858.01 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.2 mm||43.1 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12.1 Megapixels||45.4 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4256 x 2832 pixels||8256 x 5504 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||8.43 μm||4.35 μm|
|Pixel Density||1.40 MP/cm2||5.30 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||no AA filter|
|Movie Capability||no Video||4K/30p Video|
|ISO Setting||200 - 6,400 ISO||64 - 25,600 ISO|
|ISO Boost||100 - 25,600 ISO||32 - 102,400 ISO|
|Image Processor||EXPEED||EXPEED 5|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||81||100|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||23.5||26.4|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||12.2||14.8|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||2290||2660|
|Screen Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||Control Panel|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.2inch|
|LCD Resolution||922k dots||2359k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Touch Input||no Touchscreen||Touchscreen|
|Shooting Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||Phase-detect AF|
|Continuous Shooting||11 shutter flaps/s||9 shutter flaps/s|
|Shutter Life Expectancy||300 000 actuations||200 000 actuations|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||Intervalometer built-in|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||CF cards||SDXC or XQD cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Dual card slots|
|Connectivity Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 3.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Microphone Port||no MIC socket||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||no Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||Wifi built-in|
|Near-Field Communication||no NFC||NFC built-in|
|Bluetooth Support||no Bluetooth||Bluetooth built-in|
|Body Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D850|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||4300 shots per charge||1840 shots per charge|
160 x 157 x 88 mm
(6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5 in)
146 x 124 x 79 mm
(5.7 x 4.9 x 3.1 in)
|Camera Weight||1300 g (45.9 oz)||1005 g (35.5 oz)|
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