September 12th 2014 saw the announcement of Nikon D750. Every time Nikon makes a new product announcement I find myself on their page reading about what it is even if the product doesn’t fit in my line of professional photography.
It takes me a 2 minute glance over the ‘Primary Features’ section to almost form an opinion about the product. In the case with Nikon D750 something struck me and it seemed as though Nikon has put out a DSLR ahead of its times and tried it’s best to cut back a little.
Beginning of October 2014, Nikon Professional Services India sent us 2 D750 bodies & a few lenses for a hands-on field review of the new DSLRs; I had a handful of days for putting together my thoughts on the D750.
Having played with the 2 cameras; one for video & other for stills, I was still a tad curious to learn how it would perform on a paid commissioned assignment. Testing a new system on a paid assignment is always tricky and I don’t recommend anyone doing it till before you’ve learned & programmed the new camera to the way you shoot. On a paid assignment everything is strictly time-bound and there are absolutely no excuses on missing shots/moments. I placed an order for one D750 body for myself the same month for further testing.
The following review is based on my field testing of the D750. I was confident reporting on this camera post 2 paid commissioned shoots and this is my in-depth review of the Nikon D750.
Lenses used for the review:
- Nikkor 24-70 f2.8G
- Nikkor 80-200D f2.8 AFS
- Nikkor 135 f2 DC
- Nikkor 85 f1.4G
- Barsoom Café, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi
For my professional work I haven’t been a fan of either entry level DSLRs, FX or DX. As the name suggests, Nikon possibly targeted the D750 in line with the D700; which at its time sat right next to the flagship D3 and ranked as a pro-level DSLR. D700 announced in 2008 is now generations behind D750 in technology and we all pondered why D750? D750 is a much closer successor to the newer D610. If Nikon had blocked D400 as the natural successor to its pro DX D300/D300s, then where did D500 disappear? Between the years 2011-2013 there were a lot of rumors regarding a new Nikon DSLR to fit its DX lineup, ideally the D400 which instead of surfacing as a reality went underground. Only by considering the leaps & jumps in technology it is imminent that full frame sensors are the way forward. Consumer mindset fixated to higher megapixels met their demands with highly affordable entry level DX (APS-C) DSLRs that deliver 24 megapixels, but that’s where the APS-C (24x16mm) sensors reach their upper limit. Megapixel war still looming about and FX (36x24mm) sensors considering their bigger physical surface area were redesigned to output a whooping 36 megapixels as seen in Nikon’s D800, D800E & the latest D810. The transition of photographers from DX to FX is a breeze now, with DSLRs offering in camera crop modes, at 36 megapixels on D8xx DSLRs with the DX 1.5x crop mode enabled the sensor is still delivering 15 megapixel files. D750 being a 24 megapixel FX camera on the DX 1.5x crop mode delivers 10 megapixel files.
In camera crop mode is not ‘just’ another feature anymore; it is highly beneficial for consumers aimed at replacing their Nikon DX DSLRs without immediately replacing their existing DX lenses and still being able to shoot high’er’ megapixels. Nikon introduced in camera crop modes back in 2008 in their D3, D3s & D700 FX DSLRs. FX (36×24), DX 1.5x (24×16) & 5:4 (30×24) are crop modes found in the D3 & D3s while D700 supports only FX & DX modes. It just didn’t make sense having a 12 megapixel full frame camera deliver 5 megapixel files at 1.5x crop mode. The tradeoff with the D3s programmed to shoot crop modes was slightly higher frame rates.
Since the 1990’s Nikon has been very consistent with the ergonomics of their film and digital SLR cameras. Introduction of the 2 dedicated command dials for aperture & shutter placed brilliantly under the photographer’s index/middle finger and thumb while capturing images makes for an ingenious system that meets the requirements of highly demanding professional photographers shooting commissioned work. Missing a moment is a rarity! When I’m asked, “Why Nikon” my answer isn’t because Nikon cameras are more superior to their competition, rather purely because of ergonomically consistent cameras they’ve managed to retain over the decades.
I started my photography journey with a passed down Zeiss Contax Ikon (rangefinder), Nikon F80; successor to my Nikon FM3A, in 2004 was my first camera that supported the dedicated command dials, having identified that as a major plus; I couldn’t do without the same going forward.
Over the years not much has changed on the right (shooting) side of Nikon cameras, the left side is another story.
The top dial on the left varies in the various segments of DSLRs; namely consumer, prosumer, semi-pro & pro bodies. Being very used to & comfortable with the pro DSLR dial offering quick access to ISO, WB & bracketing offers much faster operation in the field, this is somewhat a different story with the D750. Access to the ISO and White Balance on the D750 are buttons on the left of the screen and I’ve often found myself struggling to toggle those settings as quickly. It would surely have helped if the buttons had some illumination, perhaps on the D750s? Regardless, I cherish the dedicated buttons rather than a rotational dial for consumer modes I will never shoot in.
Photographing with the D750 alongside either of my other DSLRs; D3s, D800 & D4s I tend to specify an auto ISO range for the D750 depending on what I’m photographing, this helps me to keep only one variable besides manual exposure to take care of; white balance.
Auto ISO: with native ISO range from 100-12,800 I tend to specify an auto-ISO setting ranging between 100-6400 for most of my work that serves very well. With high-ISO noise reduction (NR) turned off the D750 does a very good job at keeping the digital noise at its minimum, shooting in more demanding lighting conditions and pushing the camera between 6400-12,800 I tend to turn on the high-ISO NR to low, anything beyond that starts taking away sharpness from images. A point to note, I never push the ISO into H1,H2 modes in any of my cameras, for the D750 H1 is ISO 25,600 & H2 ISO 51,200.
I am left impressed with the high-ISO performance of the D750; ISO 8,000-12,800 with noise reduction set to low/medium the camera shines, the images are easily usable online and made prints of. Although as a rule of thumb and a rule from my best practises; one should keep the ISO on the lower side catering to the scene being captured, only if the scene demands extra ISO; use it. Lower the ISO, sharper and more detailed the image.
Auto ISO with a Nikon TTL speedlight seems limited to 2 ISO stops. Something that is most likely firmware dependent and one of those deliberately ‘cut back’ feature on the D750. I happened to chance upon this finding when I programmed the camera on Aperture Priority and enabled auto-ISO 100-12,800 for testing indoors with a Nikon SB-800 speedlight attached on TTL mode & Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 AF-s lens. The camera limits the auto-ISO to just 2 ISO stops starting with the lowest ISO on the auto-ISO range specified; reflecting my findings, below is how the D750 responded:
- Auto-ISO 100-12,800 | limited between ISO 100-400
- Auto-ISO 200-12,800 | limited between ISO 200-800
- Auto-ISO 400-12,800 | limited between ISO 400-1600
- Auto-ISO 800-12,800 | limited between ISO 800-3200
- Auto-ISO 1600-12,800 | limited between ISO 1600-6400
- Auto-ISO 3200-12,800 | limited between ISO 3200-12,800
It is important to understand and to not confuse that doubling or dividing of any ISO value in the entire ISO range of the camera results in increasing or decreasing one full stop of exposure.
The auto-ISO range is not limited to full ISO stops; i.e. 100, 200, 400, 800 etc. but also 1/3rd fractions of stops. For example in range ISO 400-800 the camera supports ISO 400, 500, 640, 800. Under the auto-ISO range 100-12,800 if the base ISO specified is ISO 500, with the speedlight mounted on TTL mode will be limited between ISO 500-2000. Base ISO 640, limited to ISO 2500 (rounded since the camera doesn’t support ISO 2560 i.e. one stop higher from ISO 640= ISO 1280 (ISO 640 x 2) & 2 stops = ISO 2560 (ISO 1280 x 2 or simply 640 x 4).
*Note: With a Nikon SB-900/910 attached and Auto-ISO range at 100-12800, base ISO of 100-400 has a higher limit of ISO 2200 on D750, D800 & D810. Still more focused tests are required to form a concrete relationship between speedlights and auto-ISO the camera’s support. The speedlight zoom function also influences how the camera calculates the auto-ISO range to a certain degree.
I’ll try to cover most of the points in a more elaborate article on Nikon CLS (creative lighting system).
Most new generation DSLRs offer several inbuilt presets, Kelvin & custom white balance options. In knowing how to use them correctly, help make colour consistency of images more accurate or creative.
The D750’s auto white balance (auto WB) overall does a very good job in determining colour temperature & colour cast of the scene being photographed. In my experience with the D750 the auto WB is slightly thrown off & is inconsistent in low/dim lit conditions with warm tungsten lights.
In lighting conditions where I feel the D750 may not perform consistently with WB, I always manually preset a white balance with a colour temperature reading from the scene being photographed. There are four ways to manually define WB on this camera;
- ‘K’ Kelvin mode and specify a value for WB
- Choosing colour temperature from an existing user made image of similar lighting conditions in camera. This option is available in all Nikon DSLR’s, best use for it is when the DSLR doesn’t support other means of manually setting WB i.e. entry level DSLR’s.
- The traditional grey card technique, where the user programs the camera to determine the correct WB value. This is done by selecting a ‘PRE’ WB slot and taking an exposure of light falling on a grey card, the camera will render the card as neutral grey eliminating any colour cast. Best use when making images with speedlights/strobes.
- PRE WB from live view, this is an option which is standard to all new generation Nikon DSLR’s, barring the entry level DSLR’s. This has become my favourite method, its super fast and convenient. Live view shows you the WB change immediately. To use this method one needs to start live view, select a PRE slot to be programmed and press OK; that’s all to it! In case you aren’t happy with the WB reading, hit the PRE slot and take another reading without the need to restart live view. This option shouldn’t be used when using in built flash/speedlights/strobes as live view will not trigger the flash/lights resulting in an incorrect WB on the final image.
Dynamic range is the difference between the lightest and darkest area in an image. Once your subject exceeds the camera’s dynamic range, the highlights wash out to pure white and/or the darks become pure black.
The D750 has a superb dynamic range. To achieve the maximum dynamic, one should explore the Active D-lighting option in high contrasty scenes. Active D-lighting is one such major & powerful feature that is often overlooked.
Contrast vastly limits dynamic range of a scene the camera is trying to capture, the contrast slider under ‘Picture Control’ in your camera’s menu will only limit contrast to the final image and not the scene being captured; Active D-lighting proactively makes that adjustment before the image is made.
In my review I deliberately had turned off Active D-lighting to bank upon the D750’s actual dynamic range capabilities (for what it is). Just like any other exposure setting while making an image; Active D-lighting should be considered depending upon the given scenarios of the scene being captured.
Shadow details unlike highlight details are much more forgiving during retouching/recovery. With the D750 I was impressed with 10 stops recovery of exposure. On the contrary; 3 stops for highlight recovery. I tend to generally make images ranging -0.3 to -1.7EV under the exposure determined by the camera ‘center weighted’ metering mode. I call this ‘playing safe’ and I’m sure by now you know why.
Majority of times I would simply delete a missed exposure, now with newer generation cameras I’m pushing myself to change that habit.
Having said that, I was in awe once the image below was brought back to life in post by a simple slider adjustment!
A great inbuilt feature; sadly isn’t unlocked to deliver its maximum potential via Nikon WMU (wireless mobile utility) app.
- App is built for IOS & Android devices as of now.
- Supports live-view feed from the camera on a smart device and only allows the user to choose a focus point by tapping the screen to command the camera to AF on that point.
- Pinch & zoom function to confirm focus paired with the ability to manual focus / fine-tune from the smart device would have been great.
- Besides wirelessly triggering the camera, the user can’t change any exposure settings.
- There are only 2 modes supported by the app; ‘Take photos’ & ‘View photos’.
- There are no video options, no start/stop recording either.
- Wireless triggering instantly downloads the captured image from the camera to the device, this feature however can be disabled. I choose to disable it when making composites, since it slows the operation of the camera by taking time wirelessly transferring each image.
- It allows for embedding location data via GPS from your smart device on images.
- Once the smart device is connected to the camera, user cannot delete images directly on camera, the device needs to first be disconnected before the camera has full control; this is a nuisance.
- It would have been nice if the camera itself had a more elaborate wifi menu, allowing of SSID renaming and Passkey to be configured in camera rather than on the app.
- Pay special attention to the following:
- Notice the live view button on the D750 to the right of the screen? It should be on the camera icon (photo live view) and not video.
- On camera icon: it will capture images (RAW NEF files included) in the same aspect ratio and resolution of the camera, i.e. 3:2 @6016 x 4016 pixels (native full resolution for D750).
- On Video icon: it will capture images (RAW NEF files included) in the aspect ratio for video; 16:9 @6016 x 3376 pixels; this is not the native resolution or aspect ratio for DSLRs shooting images. Notice that the camera drops vertical resolution?
- All images including RAW (NEF) files are saved on the SD card in-camera are in the aspect ratio reflecting the live view settings at the time of shooting.
- This setting has to be made before hitting ‘Take photos’ on your smart device.
- Aspect ratio of 16×9 renders the image pretty much useless with top and bottom areas majorly cropped out.
- Needless to say there is a lot that can be done to greatly improve this feature.
JPEGs straight off the D750 in Standard profile, Auto WB; downsized for web (High JPEG 8/12 Baseline Optimized), no retouching/colour correction/exposure correction.
ISO 12,800 NR-High
ISO 2,500 NR-Normal
ISO 1,100 NR-Off
ISO 8,000 NR-Low
ISO 1,250 NR-Low
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 2,800 NR-Off
ISO 640 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 800 NR-Off
ISO 800 NR-Off
ISO 800 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 12,800 NR-High
ISO 450 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off S:1/4000
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 100 NR-Off
ISO 500 NR-Off
Pros & Cons
- Smaller & lighter body than most other FX DSLRs I’ve used and reviewed
- Deep grip design; fits both large and smaller hands very well
- Wonderful ISO range & excellent high ISO noise handling capabilities
- Outstanding dynamic range
- PRE/custom White balance using Live view
- Dual SD card slots; similar card slots are preferred by me
- Great low-light auto focus
- Highlight weighted metering
- Quick access toggle button ‘i’ for frequently used features.
- Tilt screen is a bonus as it aids in making images in difficult angles
- Manual colour & brightness calibration for the screen (wonder if ever they’ll have support for attaching a screen calibrator for much greater colour accuracy).
- Inbuilt support for Time-lapse photography; this creates in camera time-lapse movie clips in addition to Interval timer shooting, that primarily captures stills.
- Random flare issue, identified and fixed.
- At times there seems to be a slight delay in making an exposure after the camera has locked focus on AF-s mode.
- Functionality of inbuilt wifi is highly limited with Nikon wmu (wireless mobile utility) app.
- Fastest shutter speed 1/4000, for most this shouldn’t be a bother.
- The hot-shoe mount seems to be a fraction longer resulting in accessories/speedlights to have some play when attached.
- Auto WB colour cast and accuracy needs some in-camera improvement in warm/tungsten ambient low-light conditions. In mixed lighting does a much better job.
- Multi-selector button placement is slightly lower and the button itself is smaller than what I’m used to.
- Placement of Fn button a little hard to reach
- Release mode dial lock button placement
- AE-L/AF-L program to AF-on disables AF on the main shutter button
- Tilt screen is a great addition, although I’ve always found it much more comfortable and faster making images through the viewfinder. Guess it’s a habit I’ve developed over many years & should explore shooting in live-view a little more.
- Inbuilt wifi is severely limited in functionality.
- No 10 pin accessory terminal, has a different accessory port (as found on all non-pro Nikon DSLRs & a few high-end coolpix cameras) supporting MC-DC2 connection on the side for WR1 (wireless remote), GP1- GPS unit, etc.
- No Flash sync terminal; can be overcome with Nikon AS-15 Sync Terminal Adapter if required although I doubt.
- Manual Focus- focus lock beep would have been a great feature in addition to the focus lock light in the viewfinder.
Having gone back and forth comparing ergonomics of D750 with other Nikon DSLRs I’ve used over the years, the D750 is similar in many ways but still takes a little getting used to the layout.
For most of my commissioned travel assignments I prefer travelling as light as possible, with the lenses taking most space and adding to the weight I’m always happier with just one camera body and in this regard this will be it!
There are plenty of customizations that the D750 offers, independent programmable buttons far exceed most DSLRs in the market today and this is another major selling point for the camera.
The Nikon D750 is a definite all-rounder and handles most photography situations/challenges very well; in short: it’s a happy little camera!
What next? D400 dx & D500 fx mirrorless; or perhaps Nikon 1 V4/5 dx/fx mirrorless?