The Nikon D850 vs the Sony a7R II – two completely different cameras with similar capabilities.
The Nikon D850 is a 45.7MP DSLR released in the summer of 2017 and is the new favorite for Nikon shooters.
The Sony a7R II is a mirrorless camera with 42.4MP and excellent low light capability, released in the summer of 2015, and succeeded by the a7R III.
There are a few other significant differences between these two cameras that may influence your decision, and you’ll find them outlined below.
Nikon D850 Advantages
- Larger resolution
- Larger, touchscreen LCD
- Faster burst mode and larger buffer
- Significantly longer battery life
- Sensor tests show slightly higher color depth and dynamic range
- Better lens selection than Sony
- Two memory card slots
The Nikon D850 has a slightly larger resolution than the Sony a7R II. The Sony still gives you a fantastic 42.4MP, but the Nikon D850 trumps that at 45.7MP. This isn’t very significant, but if you do a lot of cropping or need extra detail, this might matter to you.
The Nikon D850 also has a better rear LCD than the Sony a7R II. It’s 3.2” while the Sony’s is only 3”, but the D850’s LCD also has the huge added benefit of touchscreen technology. This has become a hot commodity in these days of smartphones.
You’ll love the faster burst rate and the larger buffer of the Nikon D850 if you do any sports or action shooting. The Sony a7R II is limited to 5 frames per second and 23 RAW images, while the Nikon D850 can shoot 7 frames per second and hold a whopping 170 RAW images in its buffer.
It’s no secret that DSLRs will probably forever have the edge on battery life when compared to mirrorless cameras. The Sony a7R II’s battery will peter out after approximately 290 images, but the Nikon D850 can keep going for over 1,800 images.
Sensor tests have also shown that the Nikon D850 has a higher color depth and dynamic range than the Sony a7R II.
Nikon makes some great lenses, and their F-mount lenses have been around forever. Sony mirrorless cameras are still relatively new, so you won’t find near the lens selections for their E mounts.
It’s also surprising that, with the massive resolution of the a7R II, there’s only one memory card slot. The Nikon D850 is equipped with two, just in case you’re shooting so much that you burn through your first card.
Nikon D850 Disadvantages
- No built-in image stabilization
- Menu system not user-friendly
- May get softer images due to the mirror movement
- Large and heavy, even by DSLR standards
Despite being a newer camera, the Nikon D850 isn’t equipped with image stabilization technology. Many of their lenses are equipped with “vibration reduction,” but this will add some weight and cost. It’s even more important to use a tripod or fast shutter speed if you’re handholding shots.
One major complaint about the Nikon D850 is its archaic, unfriendly menu system. Even the most ordinary functions are buried deep in menus that would make no sense to most photographers.
When comparing DLSRs to mirrorless cameras, it’s important to note that mirrorless cameras don’t suffer from the extra vibration caused by mirror slap. This excess vibration can lead to slightly softer images, but the vibration is non-existent in mirrorless cameras.
The Nikon D850 isn’t a small camera. For a prosumer DLSR it runs on the large & heavy side. When you put it next to a mirrorless camera, it looks & feels like a giant!
Sony a7R II Advantages
- Significantly smaller and lighter than Nikon D850
- Built-in five-axis sensor stabilization
- Over twice the autofocus points
- Lack of mirror leads to fewer vibrations
- Better low-light capability
- Cheaper by close to $600
One of the biggest draws to mirrorless cameras is their smaller size and weight, when compared to DSLRs. The Sony a7R II is noticeably smaller than the D850 and is an amazing 13 ounces lighter.
The Sony a7R II, despite being smaller and lighter, also features a five-axis sensor stabilization. This will allow you to handhold your camera for more shots and still get crisp captures up to a half-second long, depending on the focal length. This also allows lenses to be built lighter and cheaper.
The a7R II is also equipped with more than twice the autofocus points. The Nikon D850 has 153 points while the Sony a7R II has 399. On top of that, because the focus points are directly on the sensor of the a7R II, you’ll have better autofocus capability when making movies.
You’ll not only get sharper images on longer exposures thanks to the built-in image stabilization, but the lack of a mirror means that the body won’t be subject to the vibrations caused by mirror slap. Will you notice these vibrations when holding it? Of course not, but they’re enough to affect your image sharpness in some situations.
The Nikon D850 and Sony a7R II both have similar ISO ranges and backlit sensors, but the a7R II has the edge in low light situations. Tests have shown that the a7R II will have less noise and better color reproduction than the Nikon D850.
Finally, the Sony a7R II is quite a bit cheaper than the Nikon D850. The difference was over $600 when released, and you can expect the difference to stay close to that range as the cameras age.
Sony a7R II Disadvantages
- Electronic viewfinder a dealbreaker for many
- Sony E-mount lenses still maturing
- Unable to see settings without looking through EVF or at LCD
- Autofocus system not as advanced, not as good in low light
One big reason why people aren’t accepting mirrorless cameras yet is their electronic viewfinder (EVF). Yes, you get to preview the image through the viewfinder with your exposure and white balance settings, but the digitally-rendered image isn’t as crisp as the DSLR’s pentaprism.
Sony still has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to lenses and other accessories for their mirrorless cameras. Their hotshoe mounts and lens mounts are entirely new and haven’t matured as much as the established Nikon systems. You can use older lenses and flash units with adapters, but without all the functionality.
A common request from Sony users is to put a small LCD screen on the top of the camera so that the user can see ISO, aperture, shutter, and white balance settings without having to look at the rear LCD or EVF. There’s no way to quickly glance at the camera and see what these settings are.
The Sony a7R II may have more autofocus points and better low light capability, but the newer focus technology lacks the accuracy that the D850 has in low light. This could be a big player for concert & event shooters.
Mirrorless technology is exciting, and who doesn’t want a lighter camera? But I think there’s still a lot of room for improvement. So which is better?
If you’re an established DSLR shooter, don’t give up your lenses quite yet. Wait to see where the mirrorless technology goes before switching to an entirely new system.
If you’re new to photography, or just love what mirrorless can offer, then by all means the a7R II is a wonderful camera. Their small size & weight is a blessing to travel photographers.Back to Top