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Review: Nikon D750 full-frame DSLR

By Leigh D. Stark | 5:57 pm 27/05/2015

Professional cameras tend to cost an arm and a leg, but Nikon’s D750 tries to find a middle ground for less than $2500, packing in 24 megapixels, WiFi, and a body that makes it feel like a real camera.

Features

Another entry in Nikon’s long running “D” series of cameras, the D750 takes what Nikon knows about full-frame technology and applies it to a mid-range camera, or a mid-range enthusiast semi-pro camera as the case appears to be with this one.

The specs are likely too long to go into given the size of this camera, so we’ll get into another of them as we can, starting with the sensor, and for that, Nikon is relying on a 24.9 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, measuring 35.9mm x 24mm, the same size of a 35mm roll of film (hence the term “full-frame”).

Because there’s a full-frame sensor being used here, Nikon’s “FX” format for lenses is also being called on. Despite this, the D750 is compatible with DX lenses, though you’ll only get the centre rectangle of the sensor to work with and changing that roughly 36×24 frame to something more like 24×16.

While Nikon is dabbling with mirrorless technologies in its “1” series of cameras, the D750 follows the mirror-box designs used in previous digital and film bodies, with a single-lens mirror reflex system and an optical viewfinder. Alongside the optical viewfinder offering 100% coverage, you’ll find a 3.2 inch vari-angle LCD offering the same 100% coverage with just over one million dots of resolution.

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Nikon’s D750 continues some of the features found in previous Nikon digitals, such as RAW and JPEG compatibility, 1080p Full HD movie capture, and lots of points of autofocus, with 51 to report of in this camera. Low-light sensitivity caters to a fairly wide range of ISO options, starting with 100 and hitting up to 51200.

A flash is also included in the body, though there is also a hot-shoe at the top of the unit if you ever need to plug in a real flash head unit.

Bracketing options are also provided, as well as numerous buttons that can be made to work with various functions. You will also find a smattering of click wheels and drive controllers, and even scene modes, providing plenty of options for amateurs and professionals alike.

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Two SD card slots are also included, allowing files to be written to the cards separately (such as RAW on one, JPEG on the other).

And just to shake things up, WiFi is also found on this device, with an app available for both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android controlling the camera remotely.

A battery is included with the camera and is charged through a separate battery charge terminal.

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Performance

It’s been a while since someone handed over a big camera for us to review, and that’s likely because so much of what we see has been replaced with smaller, mirrorless cameras.

Not that that’s a bad thing, though; we quite like the compact mirror-box-removed optics devices of today, but sometimes you just yearn for something more, something bigger, meatier, and more grunty.

For the past couple of weeks, that has been what it’s like coming back to an SLR, or a digital SLR (DSLR) to be more precise, with Nikon letting us take up a review of the D750.

We’ve written about Nikon’s bigger cameras before, and while the D800 and D810 grab attention for their large 36 megapixel sensors, and Canon aims to best it with 50 megapixels of goodness, not everyone has the thousands of dollars necessary to tackle those boxes, not including the lenses, of course. As a point, the Nikon D810 fetches a price around $3700 while the Canon’s upcoming 50 megapixel shooter grabs a price closer to the $5000 mark.

If you have a little less to spend, a slightly smaller machine is probably worth checking out, and that’s what leads us to the Nikon D750, a camera sitting closer to the $2400 price.

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Taking a look at it, it’s easy to see where Nikon’s current large cameras draw their inspiration from, and that’s the previous large cameras, or an evolution of them.

In the hands, it’s a familiar feeling, especially if you’re coming from one of Nikon’s other big cameras.

This journalist is, mind you, which makes this review particularly interesting, since he’s been running with the D300 for so long, a camera that has suited him fine.

Nikon's D750 (left) and D300 (right)

Nikon’s D750 (left) and D300 (right)

The question of “who needs more than 12 megapixels?” has long been something weighing on his mind, as he reached into his camera cupboard of not-quite-mysteries to pull out an ageing digital SLR, keen to take some images, though aware that the camera could probably do with an upgrade, especially since nearly every smartphone he’s reviewed features more megapixels.

Granted, the sensors are totally different, and the DSLR will always take a better shot, but that tells you just how old the Nikon D300 is, built from a day when 2 and 4 megapixels were the thing smartphones featured.

There has never been a true and proper upgrade from that body, not unless you count that half-measure that the D300S was, a slight change but not a true update, as Nikon made its move towards the full-frame sensor for the semi-professional bodies instead of the half-size APS-C sensor running with the DX lens format.

That might look like a bunch of acronyms and initialisms, but they’re essential, with full frame technology reliant on a bigger sensor closer to that of a 35mm roll of film, since the sensor occupies the same rectangular frame. Smaller APS-C sensors take up a smaller chunk of this frame, and so each has a different lens format designed to work with each, with the DX lenses of the D300 (and other cameras) designed for the half-size sensor, and FX lenses made for full-frame bodies.

So my old, ageing D300 is not only old and ageing, is not only running a megapixel amount that my smartphone can beat without trying (yes, there’s more to it than that), but also takes a smaller lens format now aimed at the consumer and enthusiast range, not the semi-professional and professional market that it was originally skewed towards.

My how time flies when you’re not buying cameras.

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A few years ago, Nikon shook things up with the introduction of some bodies designed to make the pro style of camera a little more appealing to people without the same sort of budgets. Cameras like the D800 not only introduced a tremendous amount of megapixels (36 if we recall), but also paved the way for lesser priced variants like the D750, which this review is focused on.

Looking at the camera, it’s easy to see the semi-professional design which it is based on, taking its cues from the previous semi-pro bodies but doing away with the Compact Flash slot, and yet keeping the top LCD and control wheels.

If you’ve ever used a Nikon before this, chances are, you’ll be good to go, but in case you haven’t a quick run down.

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There’s the main function and setting control wheel on the left locked into position until you press the centre button and rotate the wheel, which will let you access the manual modes — Aperture, Shutter, Program, and Manual — as well as a bunch of scene and effects settings, because you don’t necessarily have to be a pro to touch this camera.

Underneath it is the image settings and capture speed wheel, again locked into position until you press a lock button to the left of it, with this wheel letting you quickly change settings from shooting one frame to many via continuous on low or high speeds, multiple exposure, time exposure, or one of two quiet modes.

By the right grip are the regular two control wheels at the front — beneath the finger — and at the back — by the thumb, while a bunch of other buttons dominate the back, dotting the frame around the LCD which in this model isn’t just fixed to the unit, but has a degree of vari-angle design and extends from the body, allowing you to see it bottom-up, top-down, or just ever so slightly off from the back.

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And that’s the camera.

Oh yes, one other thing: there is a flash built into this body, surprising us greatly, since professional bodies and some semi-professional models tend to lack the flash and force you to go grab a proper flash head. But not this one.

You can still opt for a full-size flash head if need be, but you don’t need to, so that is something.

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In the hands, this familiar Nikon design means the same ergonomics we’ve seen for ages are moved over to this model ,with a comfortable if not slightly more pronounced grip than usual, bottom and base that extends a little too far but still balances nicely with a proper hand hold, and a good solid compressed plastic construction which is also blended with some magnesium.

It’s not the strongest camera you’ll ever see, but it still offers a solid weight that’s hard to ignore.

That said, your shoulders will notice it, and carrying the Nikon D750 isn’t like moving through the crowd with a lightweight mirrorless camera, with a close to one kilogram weight, depending on the lens you choose. Your hands won’t thank you, but at least it feels substantial, so good luck ever thinking you’ve lost the thing.

With the power switch the right, you can switch the camera on, and the Nikon D750 is pretty much ready to go the moment you do.

From there you can select your mode and even play with some automatic modes, not something pro cameras are especially known for, but we found the manual modes more to our liking. That said, it’s nice to see a bit of column A and a bit of column B offering up a range of selections for both amateurs and professionals alike.

Whoever had the camera before us forgot to give back the viewfinder cover, which is why it's missing fro, this picture.

Whoever had the camera before us forgot to give back the viewfinder cover, which is why it’s missing fro, this picture.

Once you’re ready, though, you can get to taking photos, and the experience is pretty much spot on for old Nikon users, with click wheels at both the front and the back for selecting aperture and shutter speeds, a comfortable grip, and a solid body that makes you feel at ease as you hold it.

Images are quick to fire and there’s a lovely firm shutter sound — a proper mechanical click that tells you yes, the camera has your shot down — and then the photo is written quickly to the card.

You’ll also find the LCD is speedy and available if you choose to get images or video with the LCD switched on, and the focus is relatively snappy, though not as fast through this as we’ve seen with other cameras.

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That said, we’re delighted that full-frame for Nikon means DX lenses — lenses made for the APS-C sensor cameras — are compatible with this model.

While Canon sticks by the logic that you need to upgrade to proper full-frame lenses to make use of its full-frame cameras, Nikon suggests it, but doesn’t force it, with lenses from the other DX cameras — say the D300 or D3200 — working well here if you need to take them out.

That means if you have one of these older cameras, your upgrade path isn’t as hard to manage, and while you should probably think about acquiring some new full-frame glass later on down the track, you’re not necessarily required to first go.

Positive news for the wallet is always well regarded.

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Image quality is also pretty strong, and while we initially started this review with that whole “who needs more than 12 megapixels argument”, the images out of this 24 megapixel sensor aren’t just larger, they’re also of a higher quality thanks to that bigger-in-size full-frame sensor.

As a result, the detail is more present and noticeable, and Nikon’s processing allows the colour to shine, with strong recreation and excellent imagery.

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Images from afar and up close. This is the whole image of a bee in a flower, and below is a 100 percent crop. Yikes, the hairs on that bug are super sharp!

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Low-light performance also appears to do well, and while we didn’t spend as much time as we normally do out in the dark testing the high ISO settings, we found darkness looked black and clear, though obviously the more you push the sensitivity, the noisier this area is going to get.

Image from the Nikon D750 with a telescope attached to the camera.

Image from the Nikon D750 with a telescope attached to the camera.

One thing we didn’t like was the wireless software, which is some of the weakest we’ve seen.

This might be a teething issue for Nikon, or it might even be just unfinished and underdeveloped software. We hope it’s the latter, because what you get from Nikon’s WiFi effort feels lazy at best.

On the one hand, you can transfer images from your camera to your smartphone easily, quickly linking up a smartphone or tablet to the camera via a wireless ID and letting the app send images from one to the other.

The catch in this, however, is you’re not given a whole heap of image settings. Rather, there are two, with “recommended size” sending at a size optimised for your device’s display, while VGA is just plain crappy old 640×480.

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We’re not even going to mention VGA because really it’s not worthwhile, but the recommended size option is bizarre, specifically because if you have a phone with a Full HD screen, that 1920×1080 is the maximum size you’ll get.

Shooting in the regular film aspect ratio of 3:2, that 1920×1080 maximum comes out as 1620×1080, and that’s the maximum transfer you can receive. If you like working on your images remotely, this lack of definition is jarring, simply because you can’t get much of the 24 megapixels transferred to your smartphone or tablet. Hey, you can’t even get 2 megapixels transferred. Why? Because the app needs to be better, and just isn’t.

It’s not much better for controlling the camera, which the app also supports, but again not particularly well.

Controlling the camera basically occurs with a shutter button, and not much else. That is technically remote shooting, and granted when we decided to use it, we were plugged into a telescope and running on manual mode. That said, the camera let us change the shutter speed (not the aperture because there was no aperture ring), and let us take a look at the ISO, but the app wouldn’t let us do either, basically telling us what the app could do, which wasn’t much.

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Here’s what the Nikon D750 camera app does: not much.

That’s our best definition, because it really feels unfinished and half thought up, especially in comparison to a camera that works so well on so many levels.

The one positive upside to this is that we don’t think it’s a fault of the camera, and that all that it would take for this to be fixed is a new app. That said, you’ll have to wait for Nikon to pull that one out.

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Nikon’s take on the battery could also do with a bit of work, with still an external charger required for the battery pack.

Here’s the thing, Nikon: we’ve seen Samsung show us an impressive little future where its big cameras get a microUSB port on the side, and allow the camera to charge up simply by plugging into the standard mobile phone charge port used around the world.

We like it, and it makes sense, because if you’re running out of power in a pinch, you can simply whip out an external power pack, plug in a microUSB dongle, and charge your camera up. It’s lovely. Why are you not there yet, we wonder?

As modern as the rest of the D750 package is, its battery charging station is not.

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Conclusion

There are cameras, and then there are cameras.

For most of this reviewer’s life, he has been a Nikon guy, and while he has a Canon or two around the place, and certainly enjoys some of the other cameras he has picked up, predominantly he has shot most of the photos he prizes with a Nikon.

There are two lenses he lives on, and that’s a Sigma 30mm F/1.4 and a Tamron macro 90mm F/2.8, and while he hasn’t updated his main camera in a while, he still values his Nikon D300.

Recently, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II nearly made him switch, with a strong consideration appearing in his brain.

It’s a tremendously impressive camera, and somewhere between the fantastic design, ergonomics, and size, not to mention the build and picture quality and the Steadicam-like way of handling video, he was almost convinced. “Go on,” he almost screamed, “let me sell my existing Nikon glass and I’ll jump ship.”

He was almost convinced.

Image from the Nikon D750.

Image from the Nikon D750.

But then there are cameras like the Nikon D750, cameras that give him pause, and practically stop him in his tracks, with a suggestion that maybe selling a lens system isn’t the best ideas, because Nikon is still producing top notch bodies like this.

There is so much to like about this camera, from the design, to the build, to the slight improvements on other cameras, to the sound of the shutter clacking away and the fact that the wireless functionality is a fantastic inclusion that Nikon should have brought into places ages ago.

It’s still a big camera, and one questions whether it’s worth carrying something so huge, so hulking anymore. That’s the real question you have to ask yourself, and why it might be worth jumping ship to another system and another camera.

We can even forget the calamity that is Nikon’s loose interpretation of WiFi because, while it should be better, there’s always the chance of an update later on.

But if you don’t care, and you’re after something driven by quality and excellence, Nikon’s D750 is it, and even allows his older DX-based lenses to work.

Fantastic. Now we just need to work on getting those shoulder muscles stronger.

Price (RRP)

$2400 (roughly); Nikon does not release RRPs;

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Excellent image quality; Built very well; Comfortable to hold; Supports both FX (full-frame) and DX (APS-C size) lenses; Very fast; Offers up two SD card slots;

Product Cons

Heavy; Requires external battery charger, with no microUSB charging; Function buttons don't always pay attention to what you've asked them to do; WiFi control needs so much more work; Transfer over WiFi doesn't support full resolution, and the largest setting sizes for your screen resolution;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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