Nikon D750 Review | It’s Achilles, Less His Heel
When people let themselves go a bit, or crest the hill of middle age and begin the unrelenting slope to physical demise, there are a myriad of things that can be done to soften the blow and re-incentivize their target market, even with younger attractive versions around. Tummies ravaged by pregnancy can be vacuumed and re-upholstered; breasts betrayed by gravity can be exhumed, larger than in life; and a head as barren as a college dorm fridge, can be replanted. If only it were so easy for brands to re-incentivize camera consumers.
The older camera manufacturers have really had their work cut out because there is no shortage of options for anyone looking to get into photography now, on any level, so the arms race to be relevant is visceral, and it seems as though the marketing boys are always pushing out new ‘2.0’ models in an effort to capture or keep your attention. Nikon, arguably has been leading the pack with this, offering 2 versions to almost all their DSLRs. But how much different can they be? Really, it can seem as though they just shuffle internal furniture around and slap a ’10′ on the moniker.
In the realm of full frame, of which Nikon has an impressive 5 offerings, we saw it with the D600, an excellent camera all round. It heralded a new level of incentive, was a departure for the company and many were sold, but, like a teenager, it was pre-mature and had issues with spots. So a ‘new’ camera was launched, the D610, which was really the camera the D600 was meant to be. It was much the same of the D800/E that evolved into the D810 – again, a classic afterthought, and really, while the 610 and 810 are brilliant in their own rights, they were sort of a stiff apology from Nikon that you had to pay for – and a stiff apology is a second insult.
So what exactly is Nikon doing with the oddly positioned, and oddly numbered, D750? Surely they couldn’t be apologizing for the D700, a cult icon in its own right. Is this its successor? The answer to that is no, but it’s also the wrong question. The D700 was brilliant for its time, but its time has passed.
But what the Lord hath taken away the Lord handeth back, in black. It may mirror the D610 when looking at it, and the D810 when looking through it, but this FrankenNikon is not really a camera just to fill the gap. It’s taken them both and splashed the Styx over the parts mother Achilles missed. There is no heel.
It is a gem, a genuine gem that will surprise you. Let me clarify, regardless of your experience, or what you shoot with, the D750 will surprise you. Using it is like being set-up with a date your friends told you was amazing, but you couldn’t see it, only to find out mid-way through the evening that you’ve been subconsciously contemplating marriage since the first ten minutes.
The D750 is better compared to the D810 and D4s than to the D610. Sure they share pretty much the same sensor so the image quality should be the same (the D610 produces stunning images), but it’s how it gets there. Fair to say that the current line-up of Nikon FX cameras have IQs in the mid-triple digits, and render beautiful images from sharpness, to dynamic range, color, and so forth. If you shoot any of their cameras now and end up with poor images, it’s time to pause and reflect on your ability.
And while there’s a lot of talk about the D810 providing superior image quality to anything else in the Nikon line-up, I would say that’s a matter of definition, and to some degree, opinion. If it’s the lack of AA filter and the bounty of megapixels that provide a crop ability and resolution ‘advantage,’ that makes you think it’s the better one, that probably pertains to what you shoot, and how.
Most who will buy these cameras now understand that 24MP is more than enough for 99% of work, and a shooter that knows what they’re doing will generally have no need for the massive files from the D810. And yes, I can hear some of you shouting the D810 will shoot about 35MB RAW files in the 12- bit compressed mode, but still…
The D750 does incredibly well in low light, and that ability (more on that to come) has much to do with the breadth of its dynamic range. Even at ISOs pushing significantly pass 5000, there was no real noticeable banding, blotches, or chroma noise. In my use of both cameras, the D750 bests the D810 in high ISO use – and no doubt the massive pixel count of the D810 has something to do with it, but it’s still worth mentioning for those of you shooting events, or weddings especially. It’s so good in this department, that it allows for a level of editability with the RAW files that’s just remarkable (refer to two images above), and that allows you to push higher ISO, faster shutter speeds, and gives you more confidence in your shooting environment.
What does this translate to? It means the D750 will take you further than you expect, and allow you to push the boundaries of your shooting environments and creativity. The image quality is almost as impressive as its autofocus.
Autofocus – Clever as a fox
It’s important to understand that autofocus is a pillar of modern professional camera performance, and it’s simple to see why. We are pushing cameras in environments so harsh, using such fast glass, with carpaccio-thin focus, that we are relying on them to do a lot of work on our behalf, and one that works better, will not let a decisive moment slip by. When this is considered, taking into account that the D750 focuses down to EV -3 vs -2 in the D810 and D4s, it puts this camera in a league of its own. And it is, in a league of its own.
I could go on and on about how good it is, so I will…
The autofocus on the D750 is the dream Nikon sold to us, and we want more time in bed. The Multi-CAM 3500 II autofocus module is essentially an updated variant of the AF found in the D810, and there are no flies on that. It has the same 51 AF points that nail focus to the edges, and 15 of those are more sensitive cross-type and 11 can be used stopped down to f/8 – that may not be useful to many of you, but if you shoot wildlife or aviation and you are slapping on long glass with teleconverters, it’s helpful.
It also has the same 91,000 pixel meter with face detection implemented for phase detect AF. Interestingly, there is no on-sensor phase detect, which is odd considering the push to use the live view by giving the camera a tilt-screen – so to take advantage of the great AF you’ve gotta use the OVF.
The best part about all of this is that while it’s clever on paper, and wondrous in use. All of the technical things I’ve just listed sort of just effortlessly happen in use. I first, and most notably, saw this when a friend and I were shooting at this empty townhouse we were playing in, that had no running electricity, and the daylight was minimal at noon much less when we were shooting around 18:30, in Toronto in October. When the time came where it was dark to the point of requiring 20/20 and slow steps to navigate the hallways, when we should’ve packed up, we began to hit stride and the best shots kept coming, so we just kept on shooting, and the camera gave me the confidence to do that.
Its combination of high dynamic range at high ISO and low light focusing ability, are as harmonious as gin and tonic, and will have you grinning like an idiot not just because it’s so capable, but because it’s as predictable as a sunrise.
It’s interesting that it’s the listed feature set that caused many D700 users to prematurely kick dirt in the D750‘s face. They rallied that the D700 used CF cards and that those hardly fail. Well, they do, and frankly, I’d rather have the 2 SD card slots any day over a single CF. I always have the second slot mirror the first, for security, and high grade SD cards are great, and SDs are cheap. “Ok, but the D700 had 1/8000 shutter speed,” they would then wail. Yes, good point, except it also had a lowest ISO of 200, which sort of negates the benefit of having 1/8000 over 1/4000 of the D750. I’ll take the lower ISO any day of the week and twice on Sunday. There is no point in comparing the two cameras, to be frank, not in a tech world whose evolution is exponential.
The rest of the key features of the D750 are plastered all over the Internet, but to be concise here’s a basic list:
2 SD card slots
U1 & U2 total recall modes
Multi-CAM 3500 II
As can be seen, the feature set of the D750 is a pleasant blend of D610 and D810, and doesn’t disappoint unless you have utterly specific needs. Those of a video persuasion will be pleased as punch with the stereo mic and headphone ports, along with the auto ISO in video; the Flat Picture Control ability to record uncompressed via HDMI to an external recorder, and the ability to change aperture exposure with buttons versus rings. I haven’t tested the video functionality to a high degree as I do little video, but have good friends who have spoken highly of the camera as a video shooter, though always end with a disclaimer that if you want a video camera you may as well just get a GH4, and that the D750 doesn’t shoot 4K is a disappointment.
In addition, the tilt screen is going to be welcomed warmly by video shooters, and still photographers alike. I think more and more pro-sumer DSLRs will now be coming with tilt/articulating screens due to the positive response to this one. As it was the first out of the gate, Nikon did a good job, but those late to the party will probably make a better entrance, fixing the one major fault of the 750’s. The tilt screen is advantageous for a dozen situations, but would be good for a bushel of them would it have touch screen ability. Touch screen just makes screening images on camera so much quicker, and makes focusing easier while using live view. I feel this was a misstep to omit it.
Oh, lest I forget to mention, then there’s the ‘Quiet’ modes. Yeah, well, they’re not so quiet. The quiet mode feels almost as loud, and more drawn out. Shooting it in quiet environments was sort of pointless, as the noise it makes is like the stifled cough of a self-conscious butler – awkward and more noticeable.
*note: WiFi option for live view streaming to an iPad or iPhone/handheld device has a quicker response time than expected, but still too limited for my liking to make it worthwhile for anything other than sending images wirelessly. Until the capability is there to adjust more camera settings while in the WiFi live view, I won’t use it much. Honestly, I would rather they put in a USB 3 instead of USB2 to make data transfer and tethering faster.
What is there really to say here? It looks much like the D610, which looks pretty much identical to the D7100, a camera that costs a thousand less than the D750. What’s going on here? Well, in actuality the D750 is a bit bigger, it’s more robust with its monocoque magnesium build. That magnesium is what helps keep this thing so light, and while some have echoed that too light equals cheap, you won’t notice it when you have a decent size lens on it, and then you’ll be thankful for it as the hours pass. It being light is a good thing.
Another good thing is the camera is extremely customizable, and combing that with the U1 and U2 modes makes for speedy transitions from one environment to another, and general speedy use. It’s still amazing to me that the D810 doesn’t have these total recall modes, and a huge turnoff that it doesn’t.
But, personally, the best bit of the design, is the grip. It’s the best grip I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. For those with big hands, holding most cameras can be like shaking hands with a hobbit – you sort of shake fingers. This though, is like shaking the hand of your father-in-law, it’s firm, has depth, and lets you know it’s there.
Well I guess this sort of ties into design and value, but the build quality is, overall, what you have come to expect from Nikon DSLRs, and especially those of an FX nature. All the Nikon full frame cameras just feel solid, like there is little fear of dropping them or banging them into things. This is great for me, as I view most electronics, as tools, and I don’t like to molly coddle them. Due to its lightness, it can come across as a bit less sturdy than the D810, and even less so than the D610, but I wouldn’t be put off by that.
When you do pick up a full frame Nikon these days, you can’t help but think that over the years they’ve continuously beaten on the craft to come up with a formula for something solid and reliable. It reminds me of Porsche this way, they don’t look good (Porsche fans will never get me to think they do until Porsche changes), but the benefit of building what is essentially the same car for decades is that they’ve pretty much figured out all the problems, and solved them.
It costs $2,300 before you take it to the register, and that’s no small amount of money, but in the camera world, for what you’re getting, I really can think of only few equal or better values. Some may be swayed since D610s can be had now for about $1400, and after tax that’s near-as-makes-no-difference $1000 less than the D750. That’s enough for someone building up to get a decent tripod, a nifty 50, maybe even a 35 1.8 and maybe a flash, depending on how you shop. To me, for most people, this would be the stiffest competition.
What the creation of the D750 has done, in my opinion, is render the D810 and D4s niche cameras, for those in need of oh-so-many pixels, or an absurd amount of frames per second. Otherwise, why would you not get the D750? I don’t really know. I mean, avoiding the 750 because it has a tilt screen and SD cards, is sort of like avoiding Blake Lively in your bed because she has a mole.
So what it doesn’t quite look like a Nikon flagship or thoroughbred, it damn well performs like one. It’s a blessing that walking around town, it looks about the same, and behaves as civil as any smaller DSLR, but when called upon, it pushes the edge of the performance envelope. I know no other DSLR that does this Jeckyll and Hyde trick so well.
It’s actually a bit weird at first, because it looks so much like a DX DSLR in the vein of the D7100, so when you pick it up, and it doesn’t have the mechanical heft of the D810 or grunt of the D4s, you have to have faith that it’s going to perform. Because the magic is on the inside, you have to trust something you can’t see, and when you trust something like this you expect to feel detached, but you don’t. You feel capable, no matter who you are, and that’s a wonderful thing.
So what I’ve realized is that Nikon hasn’t really built a new camera. What they’ve done is create a new yardstick.
Get yours here. Really, get one.
All edited images were done using the SLR Lounge Preset System, and Photoshop
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CREDITS: All photographs shared by Kishore Sawh are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.