Hands-On Review: the Full-Frame, High-Performing Nikon D750 DSLR

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Nikon has been busier than ever during the past 2 years, releasing a total of 9 full-frame DSLRs. Less than three months after the release of the D810, Nikon rolled out the D750, with a mid-range 24.3 MP sensor, 51-point autofocus system, 6.5 frame-per-second continuous shooting speed, EXPEED 4 processor, dual SD slots, and high-end video capabilities, in a lightweight body.

At first, one might have the feeling that the D750 is a blend of technologies from existing cameras, but upon closer examination, it is clear that the D750 packs features and technologies that we have not seen previously on Nikon full-frame cameras.

Lens: 24.0-70.0mm f/2.8. Exposure: 0.3 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 100.

First, the D750 is the first Nikon DSLR to get the newest 51-point Multi-CAM 3500 FX II autofocus module. Second, the D750 is the first Nikon full-frame DSLR to have a weather-resistant tilting screen for capturing difficult angles. Third, the D750 is also the first Nikon full-frame DSLR with a built-in Wi-Fi module for both remote control and mobile connectivity.

All these features come in a very lightweight package that weighs less than any other Nikon FX cameras, except for the retro-styled Nikon Df. Overall, the Nikon D750 has an excellent balance of full-frame performance and features, representing tremendous value for many photography enthusiasts and professionals.

Ergonomics

Although the D750 has a build and ergonomics similar to the D610, Nikon has made a significant change to the camera grip to make it a joy to handhold when shooting for prolonged sessions. Take a look at the comparison of the D750 (left, in photo) and the D610, which illustrates the depth and contours of the new grip.

This change makes the D750 much more comfortable to handhold, compared to many other Nikon DSLRs. I shot a couple of weddings and long events with the D750, and my neck and hands did not get as sore as they normally would with other DSLRs. The lighter weight of the camera, along with the redesigned grip, made it very comfortable, especially when using light prime lenses like the new AF-S NIKKOR 20mm f/1.8G ED.

As a result of this change, however, the top-plate LCD had to be reduced in size, which means that some of the information, such as image format, focus mode, and white balance had to be moved to the rear LCD instead. So, if you want to check your white-balance setting on the D750, you will find it on the rear LCD. Personally, I do not mind this change, and I would rather have the more comfortable grip than a few extra bits of information on the top LCD.

Autofocus System and Performance

As I mentioned earlier, the Nikon D750 comes with the latest-generation Multi-CAM 3500 FX II autofocus module, which is an updated version of the 51-point AF system that Nikon has been using in its high-end camera bodies, such as the D4S. The main difference between the new AF module and the older one is its -3 EV sensitivity, making the D750 the most-preferred Nikon DSLR for focusing in low-light conditions or when coupling telephoto lenses with teleconverters. I have been testing the D750 with different lens combinations in various conditions, and found it to be the most reliable and capable autofocus system made by Nikon, to date.

Lens: 24.0-70.0mm f/2.8. Exposure: 1/60 sec.; f/8; ISO 100.

Thanks to the new generation EXPEED 4 processor that can handle data 30% faster, the autofocus system is very robust and accurate. Autofocus performance is excellent when shooting with fast primes like the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G, even in poor indoor lighting conditions. And if you are into wildlife or sports photography, you will be surprised by how well the D750 does with teleconverters. Previously, I have never been satisfied with the AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4D IF-ED lens and 1.7x teleconverter combo, but after using the two on the D750, I am quite happy with the results. At f/6.7 maximum aperture, the lens produces excellent results, can lock on subjects very well and track them almost as fast as when using the lens with the 1.4x teleconverter (my favorite lightweight Nikon combination for wildlife photography). If you have never been able to get good results with the 1.7x and 2x teleconverters, I would encourage you to give them another try with the D750—you might be surprised by the results.

Lens: 150.0-600.0mm f/5.0-6.3. Exposure: 1/500 sec.; f/6.3; ISO 200.

Shooting Speed and Buffer

At 6.5 frames per second continuous shooting speed, the D750 might not be a speed demon like the D4S that can shoot 11 fps, but it is plenty fast for most photography needs. There are many sports and wildlife photographers out there who use even slower D800 / D810 cameras and get amazing shots, so fps speed is not the only important criterion. Some digital cameras can shoot 10 frames per second, but they only last for a mere second, so the camera speed is only one part of the equation. The ability to shoot continuously for an extended period of time is equally important, and that’s where the camera’s buffer size kicks in. Many sports and wildlife shooters were disappointed when they found out that the Nikon D750’s buffer can only accommodate 15 RAW files in 14-bit Lossless Compressed format. That only gives approximately 2.3 seconds of continuous shooting time before the buffer gets full and the camera slows down.

While testing the D750, I discovered that while the camera might not be an ideal candidate for shooting long action sequences, it does very well when shooting in 5-6 shot bursts. The most important factor for keeping up with action is to use fast memory cards. Yes, fast memory cards will make a huge difference in how quickly the buffer empties between those bursts. I have performed tests with older 30MB/sec and 45MB/sec Class 10 SDHC memory cards and I found them too slow for the D750 when shooting action. In comparison, the newer SanDisk 32 GB SDHC UHS-I cards that can transfer up to 95MB/sec performed much better and the buffer cleared noticeably faster. I experimented with shooting in bursts and I was surprised that I could shoot indefinitely until the card filled up if I shot 5-8 shots and gave a second or two in between the bursts—a perfectly acceptable solution for my photography needs. Still, the buffer on the D750 is much better than the buffer of the Nikon D7100, for example, which can only accommodate 6 RAW images before the camera slows to a crawl.

Lens: 24.0-70.0mm f/2.8. Exposure: 0.6 sec.; f/8; ISO 100.

Battery Life

With a 1,230-shot CIPA-rated battery life, the D750 can take more photos than any other standard-profile Nikon DSLR, which is very impressive. Since CIPA rating requires cameras to be used in different settings and environments, including Live View usage, the 1,230-shot specification is much lower than what you can capture when using the camera without Live View. And if you want to maximize battery life, you can also turn off image review, so that the camera does not display the image on the LCD after each shot. When shooting a wedding, I captured roughly 800 frames on the primary D750 (with image review turned on) and the battery life indicator showed 58% charge remaining at the end of the wedding. Another D750 showed 40% charge left after 1,102 images, so I could easily get more than 2,000 images in both cameras if I shot all the way until the end.

That’s pretty amazing, especially for those who travel and cannot recharge often. And those who need more can get the MB-D16 battery grip, which will allow using two EN-EL15 batteries, for twice the capacity. I am also very happy that Nikon is sticking to the same battery on many cameras. With the D750, there are now eight cameras that use the same battery: Nikon D7000, D7100, D600, D610, D800, D800E, D810, and Nikon 1 V1. So I can use the EN-EL15 battery interchangeably between my D750, D800E, and D810, and I do not have to carry extra chargers when I travel.

Lens: 85.0mm f/1.8. Exposure: 1/100 sec.; f/1.8; ISO 220.

Live View, Tilting Screen, and Wi-Fi

The Nikon D750 has an excellent 1:1 pixel level Live View mode, with no interpolation issues. This means that you can see very fine details when zoomed in to pixel-level view, which makes contrast detection and manual focusing a breeze to use. I have used the D750 in Live View mode in a number of different scenarios: when shooting landscapes or macro, in combination with the tilt screen, or the dance floor during a wedding—also in combination with the tilting screen. Live View worked great, because it allowed me to capture images with precise focus and best sharpness, and I was very happy with the results.

Lens: 85.0mm f/1.8. Exposure: 1/640 sec.; f/2.8; ISO 100.

The tilting screen was very useful when shooting in Live View mode, because I could change angles and still see what was going on. It is great that you can tilt the screen up or down at 90 degrees—this allows capturing all kinds of difficult angles.

The built-in Wi-Fi is also a useful feature, because it allows transferring of images between the camera and a mobile or a tablet device. You will have to download the Nikon Wireless Mobile Utility (available for both Apple iOS and Android devices) and you can then control the camera remotely and take pictures with it, or use the app to transfer images from the camera to your device.

Sensor Performance

Nikon has been known to use the best sensor technology on the market in its DSLR cameras (whether making their own or using Sony’s sensors) and the D750 is no exception. The 24.3MP sensor found on the D750 is superb and delivers very clean images at high ISOs. I spent a considerable amount of time evaluating the performance of the D750 sensor and came to the conclusion that it has, overall, the best noise performance among current Nikon DSLR cameras. The only camera that gave slightly better results at extremely high ISOs above ISO 12800 was the Nikon D4S, but it is not relevant for me, since I never shoot above ISO 12800 anyway—too much noise for my taste.

Lens: 20.0mm f/1.8. Exposure: 1/60 sec.; f/5.6; ISO 200.

Although we have pretty much hit the innovation wall in current CMOS sensor technology, Nikon has been applying some smart noise-reduction algorithms as part of its image-processing pipeline. The result is slightly darker shadows, but much cleaner output, as demonstrated in the example below that compares the output from the Nikon D600 / D610 and the D750.

Dynamic Range

The dynamic range of the D750 is superb, as it is on other Nikon DSLRs, including the D610. I have tried recovering both highlights and shadows from RAW images and I have been impressed by the results. Take a look at the underexposed image below that was recovered later in Lightroom (+2.1 Exposure, +90 Shadows, +30 Whites, -10 Blacks, +10 Saturation).


Movie Recording

Although I am not into movie recording, the D750 was heavily marketed by Nikon to appeal to videographers. The D750 inherited many of the movie-recording features from the D810, such as zebra stripes and separate video ISO sensitivity controls, making the D750 a very effective DSLR for videography. In fact, the D750 is more videographer friendly, because Nikon consolidated all video features into a separate “Movie Shooting Menu.” The camera can record 1080p videos at up to 60 fps using the H.264/MPEG-4 codec, and you can slow down the frame rate to 50, 30, 25, or 24 fps. There is a built-in stereo microphone for recording sound and you can connect a microphone via the external stereo microphone jack on the side of the camera. As specified by Nikon, the D750 is also capable of outputting uncompressed 4:2:2 8-bit video feed via HDMI, and video can be recorded simultaneously to memory cards and the external recorder. Video footage is very impressive, especially at high ISOs. The rolling shutter issue is mostly taken care of, although if you move the camera too fast, you will still see the effect a little. Unlike the limited movie-recording functions of the D600/D610, the D750 is not limited to the set aperture in Live View mode—you can adjust all three exposure variables on the fly when shooting in Manual mode.

Conclusion

After using the Nikon D750 for more than a month, I must say that I am very impressed with the camera—it is a great all-around machine that can be used effectively for most photography needs. It strikes a balance of features, sensor resolution, image quality, ergonomics, and excellent autofocus system among current Nikon DSLRs. The camera presents a tremendous value for enthusiasts and professionals who want top-notch performance from a full-frame DSLR in a lightweight package. Coupled with Nikon’s arsenal of superb lenses and a plethora of third-party lens options and accessories, the D750 may soon become Nikon’s best seller in the full-frame lineup.

Lens: 50.0mm f/1.8. Exposure: 1/200 sec.; f/4.0; ISO 100.