For a camera that Nikon claims is targeted at the aspirational, enthusiast photographer, the new D750 ticks a surprising number of boxes for features that professionals have begging Nikon for for years. A relatively well-priced and compact full-frame camera, with twin card slots, great low-light performance, fantastic autofocus and – crucially for some – not too many megapixels. Not everybody wants or needs the 36MP of the D810 clogging up their hard drive. And certainly lots of pros either don’t want or can’t justify the mammoth 11fps, full-size D4S which initially cost almost three times the asking price of the D750.
What many have been asking for is the natural descendant of the D700 – a camera that revolutionised wedding photography. Featuring the amazing low-light sensor of the pro-bodied D3 but less bulky and a fraction of the price, the D700 was definitely the wedding pro favourite that even persuaded more than a few Canon users to jump ship. So when Nikon announced the 36MP D800 was its successor, there was an outcry at the new camera’s monster size file sizes and that fact that it was no better than the D700 at low light. Many claimed it was worse, in fact. So much so that the D700 began to attract a premium as a used buy even though it went out of production three years ago now.
So finally, Nikon seemed to have listened and the D750 is the camera lots have been waiting for. The only caveat is that while the D700 was officially a semi-pro offering, the D750 has now been relegated to a serious amateur spec camera. Although it actually has lots of the latest features of the pro-spec D4S and D810, they are mixed with a few of the more consumer-style controls of Nikon’s lesser offerings.
But let’s start with the pro-style features the D750 boasts, starting with the heart of any digital camera which is the sensor. While the D810 has a 36MP monster sensor with no anti-aliasing filter for the ultimate detail at the expense of some high-ISO performance, the range-topping D4S has a 16MP sensor with an anti-aliasing filter that’s the low-light king. Well, the D750 sits right in the middle of the two, with a 24.3MP sensor with an anti-aliasing filter, which many will see as a positive move as it reduces the effect of moiré on repetitive patterns such as fabric.
The sensor has the same pixel rating as the lesser D610, but Nikon claims it’s new and we believe them. It has the perfect mix of more resolution than the D4S, with a fantastic dynamic range that’s close to the D810 ad it’s better at controlling noise than the D610. OK, it may not beat the D4S for low-light but it’s still an amazing performer as you crank the ISO up. At up to 1600 ISO the image is very clean, and if you shoot raw and carefully manage luminance noise in your raw converter, then the images up to 6400 ISO are still amazingly useable. And in reality, there really are very few times you need to go higher than that. Simply put, it’s a brilliant sensor that seems to be just in the sweet spot of resolution versus low-light performance. And with a base ISO of 100, using wider apertures for the shallow depth of field is a real option, too. The colours, too, are very faithful and not too over-saturated. The vast majority of pros will want to shoot in raw to control this, but the Jpeg settings are also really good, especially now you can tweak in-camera clarity for a much bolder image. Raw is still king, though, but it’s nice to have a decent Jpeg conversion when you need it.
For speedy shooting, the camera now uses Nikon’s latest Expeed 4 processing engine which means it can process images faster. This puts the frame rate at an impressive 6.5fps, which is excellent for shooting fast-moving subjects. You’ll need fast cards though, and be careful not to fill up the buffer if you are machine-gunning action shots for prolonged periods. Shooting sequences of a motorbike going round a corner, with the camera set to record raw and full-size Jpegs, it slowed hugely after around eight shots. For that sort of abuse, you really do need a D4S although the D810 would easily keep up at that rate, too. That’s partly why they are more expensive cameras.
To keep the images sharp, the D750 also has a new version of Nikon’s autofocus system which focuses in light levels even lower than the D810, and has 51 autofocus points of which 15 are the more sensitive cross-type. It’s a pro-grade AF system that works incredibly well, and even features the new Group Area AF which debuted on the D4S. The only caveat is that with so many different AF settings available, it takes some time and experience to make sure you choose the right one. Pro cameras have lots of features like this so clued-up users can dial in exactly what they want for each shot. On a semi-pro camera, it may take some users a fair bit of getting used to.
And while on the subject of AF, the biggest disappointment for many is the lack of a dedicated AF-ON button on the rear grip. Many pro shooters disable the AF function from the shutter release and use the AF-ON as the sole way of activating autofocus. Once you’ve done this, many find it difficult to go back to any other way.
The D750 doesn’t have a dedicated AF-ON button but you can assign the similarly-placed AE-L/ AF-L button to work like an AF-ON button. It works, but it’s not quite in the same place so is a bit more fiddly to use if you’re used to a D4, D3, D800 or D700.
In terms of the build and handling of the camera, it does still use some of the more consumer-based controls such as a mode dial instead of dedicated buttons of the pro range. It definitely feels a bit more like a D610 to use. But the camera itself is far more sturdy and solid than a typical Nikon consumer model, as instead of plastic it uses a mix of a magnesium metal body and a mix of carbon fibre-reinforced plastic. It certainly feels solid although not too weighty, and the deep front grip makes it comfortable to hold, even with pro-style glass on the front.
This strength means the camera can be made slightly smaller, and so by adding the first ever articulating screen to a full-frame DSLR which obviously adds a bit of depth, the D750 still remains relatively slim. The screen itself is of the high-quality, 3.2in type as found on the D810 which is just fantastic. You can also fine tune the white balance of the LCD screen which is great and counters some photographers who claimed the old D800 screen had a green cast.
The real benefit of being able to flip the screen out and tilt it up of down is using live view for either low-level shots or overhead. It’s a bit like when live view first appeared and many photographers scoffed, saying they’d never use it. But it has some great advantages, and so does a screen that moves. One day, every camera screen will articulate. Maybe it doesn’t flip out like the screen on a video camera yet, but that’s the way we’re heading for sure.
Also unique on a full-frame Nikon camera is that the D750 is the first to have built-in wifi control, where other Nikons require the addition of a plug-in unit that can be very pricey. By using an iPhone or Android smart phone and the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility App, it’s easy to couple up with the D750 so you can download and browse your images on your phone or tablet and share them to social media speedily. This may seem like a gimmick for the Twitter generation but it could have real uses for pros, such as displaying photos wirelessly on a larger screen in real-time, for example. The app also allows you to wirelessly trigger your camera from your phone, too. You can set the app to capture mode, and you’ll see a copy of the live view LCD. Just tap on the screen to select a focusing point then trigger the shutter by pushing a button on your phone screen. That could be really useful for remote camera operation, but disappointingly falls a bit short by not allowing you to use your phone to change camera settings. For that, you need to buy some separate hardware that plugs in. And if you want GPS too, you have to buy the plug-in kit. The built-in wi-fi also affects battery life a little, too. But battery life is very good, so it’s not too much of a strain.
If the wi-fi still smacks of a gimmick aimed at enthusiasts who love nothing more than taking selfies, then the in-camera filters that allow you to do selective colour, tilt/shift style miniaturisation, pseudo fisheye effects and more will also be of little interest outside Instagram fans. But of course, you don’t have to use any of that stuff.
Of course, the D750 has a huge array of video control too, including 60fps at full 1080 HD setting. That means you can do super-smooth slow-motion. It essentially offers the same video controls as the high-end D810 with powered aperture control so settings can be changes mid-frame without a jump in exposure. There are zebra overexpsoure warnings but no focus peaking yet. And the new “flat” video option means the output can be optimised for post-production in Final Cut or Premier Pro video post-processing packages. For video guys, that’s an important asset as is simultaneous recording and outputting to HDMI.
But back to the D750 as a pure photo-taking machine, and it stacks up well. The exposure system is based on the lower-spec D610 but is not really the worse for it. And with digital cameras offering great LCDs with instant histograms to check exposure levels, it’s far less of importance than it maybe used to be – especially if you are shooting raw files. But the lack of a 1/8000th sec top shutter speed may not be to everyone’s liking. Such a fast speed is not usually critical for freezing action but for using wide apertures for a more pronounced bokeh. But it’s nothing an ND filter couldn’t sort at a push. A smaller gripe is that the flash sync speed is just 1/200thsec. That may only be a third of a stop slower than some of its rivals but when you are trying to overpower the sun outdoors using flash, or trying to make sure your photos are pin sharp using a 200mm lens, then it’s a bit disappointing. Especially if you use certain brands of wireless flash triggers than can rob you of an extra third of a stop too. But obviously it’s places like the shutter that Nikon has had to make a few savings in order to compete on price. After all, this is an amazingly feature-packed camera at a price that’s well in the ballpark for an aspiring pro looking to go full frame.
Nikon’s new D750 might not break too much radical new ground for a full-frame camera, apart from its built-in wi-fi and tilting screen. But what it has done is cherry-pick lots of the very important elements of its other cameras and put them all into one, well thought-out package at a reasonable price. Things like twin card slots – in this case, both matching SD slots – are like catnip to working pro photographers who can have an instant safety backup of their work.
Putting aside the consumer-level stuff like arty filters and command dial, the autofocus is fast and precise and works at light levels lower than any other Nikon DSLR. The metering is great, complete with new highlight control to stop you blowing out highlights, and the frame rate speedy enough although the buffer can clog up a bit of you insist on machine-gunning everything that moves.
But it’s the quality of the photos that really matters and in this case, the D750 delivers. The files sizes of he 24.3MP sensor are big enough but not too extreme like the D810, and offer fantastic noise control as ISO creeps upwards. The colour is accurate, the video mode works well and the camera fees solid and handles almost as well as a pro camera. The lack of a dedicated AF-ON button may put some potential buyers off, but it can be worked around. And the decent weather-sealing mean the camera isn’t just for fair-weather use. In fact, there is very little to criticise the D750 for and an awful lot of reasons to praise it. It simply does everything very, very well which makes it one of the most rounded and capable cameras on the market. It may be aimed at the top-end enthusiast but it makes a fantastic buy for a professional photographer too so is highly recommended.
Nikon D750 Specs
Price £1799 body only
Resolution 24.3 million pixels
Sensor 36.0 x 23.9mm FX CMOS with anti-aliasing filter
Lens mount Nikon F
Exposure modes Programme automatic, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual, bulb, time.
Image stabilisation None
Metering Multi, centre-weighted, spot, highlight-weighted
Number of focus points 51 with 15 cross-type sensors
ISO range 100-12,800 (expandable to ISO 50-51,200)
Movie mode Full HD, 1920 x 1080 pixels, 60p
LCD screen 3.2in tiltable, 1229kk dots
Shutter speed range 30s – 1/4000sec
Flash X-speed 1/200 sec
Storage media Twin SD, SDHC, SDXC
Dimensions (WxHxD) 140.5mm x 113mm x 78mm
Weight 980g (including battery and memory card).
- First published in Photo Professional