Nikon D750: Legen…dary!

 
It’s been six long years since the D700 was released, and longterm loyalists of that camera had probably lost patience, waiting for a real upgrade. Raj Lalwani tests the Nikon D750 to realise the joys of having to wait for it.

The Nikon D700 was a camera that I had fallen for, hook, line and sinker, exactly six years ago, when I had tested it for Better Photography. Ever since then, I have lost my heart to several cameras from various brands, DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, tiny compacts, but nothing, not even the best of technology, seemed to replace the bond that had set in, with the D700.

Features
And that is why I was extremely skeptical about testing the D750. Another D700 update, I thought to myself in my head. After all, Nikon users have a right to be upset. It has been six long years. The D800 may have seemed like an upgrade in terms of nomenclature, but not only was the camera a little slower, 36MP demanded a completely different philosophy of shooting. The D600, on the other hand, had a far improved sensor, but was a big downgrade in terms of focusing and build quality.

Meanwhile, Canon seemed to have taken on that role quite well. The 5D Mark III shot video, did not compromise in terms of AF and did not have an unmanageably high resolution… all the things that one expected from the D700 update.

The D750 signals the company returning to its original D700esque philosophy, but with a few important caveats. First, the camera does not use the same 16MP sensor as the current flagship. Instead, it uses a 24MP sensor that seems to be a modified version of the one used in the D610. Contrary to most recent Nikon launches, this sensor has an AA filter. Those who enjoy the potentially extra detail captured in cameras like the RX1R, D810 and D7100 may regret this decision, but the real world difference is not that much. In fact, one can only imagine that this would be an advantage to get lesser artefacts while shooting video.

Video gets a major boost, for two main reasons. First, the video functionality is identical to the D810, which is basically, Nikon’s best video-specced camera. This includes 1080/60p video, built-in stereo recording, a zebra stripes option that helps check for blown out highlights and a new ‘Flat’ Picture Control mode. The Flat mode retains a fantastic level of tonality and is particularly useful for those who wish to postprocess the video later to get a particular look. Other video features include simultaneous recording via HDMI and to the memory card, power aperture control in Live View and Auto ISO control in the Manual exposure mode for video. Considering how good these sensors are in low light, video at the highest ISO settings looks nice and clean, and this option can be coupled intelligently with Exposure Compensation to give both convenience and control.

The D750 is the only full frame DSLR (not counting the DSLT A99) to have a tilting screen.

The D750 is the only full frame DSLR (not counting the DSLT A99) to have a tilting screen.

Secondly, the camera has a tilting LCD screen! This makes it the first full frame DSLR to have one (technically, the Alpha 99 is a DSLT), and will be a boon for videographers. Personally, I find it interesting that Nikon full frame has a video advantage over Canon full frame, which is unusual.

To digress, I have grown to believe that every camera should have a tilting screen. That may be an overarching statement, but look at it this way. It’s invaluable for video. It’s useful for photojournalists who need to raise their cameras above their shoulders to get photos through crowds. For a street photographer, it’s a good way of getting a sneak shot from the hip while framing carefully. For a slow and measured photographer who may be shooting landscapes, it’s the faux equivalent of a ground glass that he can look down at, and make his composition. And we have come to this stage, in the past year or so, when Live View in DSLRs has become adequately fast. No, it’s not near as good as an Olympus/Panasonic mirrorless camera or a Sony DSLT camera. But in cameras like the Canon 70D/7D Mark II and Nikon D4S/D810/D750, Live View AF is infinitely more usable than it was in previous cameras.

In terms of still photography, the camera is actually very similar to the D810. The camera has the same 51-point Multi-CAM 3500FX AF system seen in the D810, but goes one step further. It is more sensitive, rated down to -3EV. In the past (and even today), we see sensors outperforming autofocus modules. So while cameras can see in the most minute of light, the autofocus struggles to do so. A sensitivity of -3EV ensures that this does not happen. Even while shooting at ISO 51,200, f/1.8 and 1/60sec (a cat sleeping in a really, really dark alley), the camera focused easily, something that I daresay, even the D4S would struggle with. WiFi, Group Area AF and Highlight Weighted metering are some other useful features.

The amount of detail headroom in the files is superior to any other camera at this price point. In this photograph, the children were completely in the shadows with a bright sky behind them. Despite that and in spite of not using fill flash, I was able to retrieve detail from the shadows of the JPEG file, without introducing any fresh noise. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Out of the box, the camera can shoot at 6.5fps, which is faster than the 5fps shooting of the D700. However, the D700 could do 8fps, when used with a battery pack, while the D750 cannot manage a faster speed.

The buffer is not bad. When shooting 14-bit Lossless Compressed RAW, the camera can shoot 15 frames at one go. This is lesser than the D700’s buffer of 20 frames and the D810’s buffer of 28 frames. But when shooting 12-bit Compressed RAW, the D750’s buffer becomes faster than the D700’s (33 frames versus 26).

Handling
Though the D750’s moniker implies that it’s the D700’s upgrade, the body looks much like the D610. I was terribly disappointed to notice this. After a month of shooting, I stand corrected. First, the build quality is definitely better than the D610, as the D750 uses carbon fiber along with magnesium alloy and not plastic. The battery compartment door is very flimsy, an aberration that plagues the D610 and D7100, as well. The viewfinder, despite not having a rounded eyepiece like the D700/D810/D4S, is similar in specifications to the D810.

Though the button placement is relatively more consumer-like, the smaller size is a huge advantage. D700 users, especially, will be delighted to notice a dramatic reduction in weight. The D800, and consequently, D810 were lighter than the D700 anyway and this makes the difference dramatic. With a heavy f/2.8 lens, the combination does not feel as strenuous on one’s wrist. And of course, if you enjoy primes, this is a camera that will probably be best enjoyed with the smaller primes in the company’s lineup, like the 28mm f/1.8, 35mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.8. I personally loved using the vintage 28mm f/2 AI-S with the camera. In fact, all those who were considering cameras like the X-T1 and OM-D E-M1 (small and light, yet DSLR-styled with good build), may want to look at the D750 closely… it’s definitely bigger than those cameras, but it’s one of the most well trimmed camera bodies in the DSLR world, without sacrificing build and handling that much.

The D750, unlike the D600/D610/6D, feels extremely quick and responsive, not only in terms of AF speed, but also continuous shooting and buffer capability. I’m making this comparison because in terms of pricing, the D750 largely targets these cameras, though one can say, that it packs in features that even more expensive cameras lack. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

There are downsides to the choice of body though. With larger telephoto lenses, however, you may be better off with a D700/D810/D3S/D4S simply because of better balance. There is no dedicated AF-ON button. I think this is a grave oversight, especially as there was no reason why the company couldn’t have included it in the smaller chassis.

One wonders whether this is it. Would Nikon introduce a camera that uses the more robusy D810 body but has a lower-resolution sensor like the 16MP D4S sensor, this 24MP D750 sensor or even the 12MP Sony Alpha 7S? It’s anybody’s guess.

There are two handling issues, ones that I believe afflict all the recent Nikon FX bodies. One is the decision to not have an AF switch at the back. The D700 had it, but all recent FX cameras have done away with it. It’s easier and faster to change AF modes with a switch, rather than having to look through the viewfinder and use both hands.

Second, the LCD is a little too bright. Even if you switch off Auto Brightness, one needs to set a value of -1 or even -2. Considering that the company’s LCD screens were fantastically accurate until the D700 and D3s, this is not only unfortunate, but also a serious problem on field.

Performance
The D750 is a powerhouse performer. Image quality is fantastic. The amount of detail and headroom in the RAW files is jawdropping and at the lowest ISO, the camera boasts of having the best dynamic range today.

Noise performance at 100% levels is slightly better than the D810… this actually makes it as good as the D3S/D4, and implies a good two-stop improvement over the D700. Autofocus is fast, and battery life, excellent. In fact, the only place where this camera does not knock out the competition is video. While quality and features are excellent, the similarly priced Sony Alpha 7S has far superior video.

This was a photograph shot in the Standard Picture Setting and it had a good amount of shadow detail that showed a railway train behind the dog. Since I had envisioned the picture in B&W, I tried using the In-camera NEF Conversion to see what it can do. One new thing in the D750 is that the Picture Settings (and thus, in-camera NEF Conversion) allow you to also adjust a setting called Clarity. This is different from Contrast, it is much like the Clarity slider in Photoshop, which seems to make the edges of subjects more defined, by actually boosting the midtone contrast. The question, of course, is, why would one use in-camera RAW conversion. It can be of use for a photojournalist in an emergency situation. Moreover, a careful, deliberate adjustment of Picture Settings allows you to observe the LCD and see if the picture is exactly as per your vision. Later, of course, you have the unedited RAW file that you can adjust accordingly, but a optimally tuned JPEG is a great help in terms of previsualisation. However, while the Clarity slider is a great addition, the Nikon Picture Settings still do not allow you to adjust shadow detail and highlight detail separately, and thus do not allow you to design your preferred tone curve. That is a far more useful feature that is currently there in cameras from Pentax, Fujifilm and Olympus cameras. Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Conclusion
When the 5D Mark III came out, we felt that it was a DSLR that struck the perfect balance, a true allrounder in terms of resolution, noise performance, video and autofocus. The D750 is a similar camera on paper, with far superior headroom in RAW… and it is a lot cheaper!

Testshot4

A shutterspeed of 1/200sec and high-power on-camera flash allowed me to overpower ambient daylight and get these surreal colours that are very different from what the naked eye could see. One downside to the D750 is a 1/4000sec maximum shutterspeed and a Flash Sync speed of only 1/200sec. However, if you are a D700 user and are comparing it to the more ‘high-end’ setting of 1/8000sec, remember that the D700 began at ISO 200, while this camera has a base ISO of ISO (can be pulled further to ISO 50). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

At a price of Rs. 1,34,450, not only does it make the D610 obsolete, it is also the best value-for-money pro DSLR one can get. I would go as far out to say that the tilting screen and AF improvements mean that you should go for the much-more-expensive D810 only if you really need that extra resolution and buffer speed.

The D700 was a mythical camera that was so far ahead of its time, that apart from the lack of video, it has stayed competitive, all these years. Neither of the new Nikons felt like an adequate replacement, but the D750 has now changed all that. The legend has moved on, and we have a new pronouncement. Waiting for it was well worth this legendary camera.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
No PC Sync socket, Group AF, no 4k video
12/15
Performance
Excellent image quality, very quick AF that does well even in -3EV light, decent buffer
43/45
Build Quality
Weather sealing, strong and robust magnesium alloy and carbon fiber body
18/20
Ergonomics
Lack of AF point switch, tilting screen
13/15
Warranty & Support
Two years warranty, wide service network
4/5
MRP Rs. 1,34,450
OVERALL 90%
VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5 Stars
Who should buy it? Practically every kind of professional, apart from those who need 36MP or 4k video.
Why? 24MP is not too bad a resolution itself and in terms of its performance, size and price, the Nikon D750 is a unique camera… easily the best in its class!
To see more photos shot by the D750, see our gallery over here.
The D750 is not 100% magnesium alloy and has a terribly flimsy battery compartment door, but can its build quality survive Bombay’s torrential rain? We tried to find out in a fun video, that you can see, here.
Tags: Test, Review, d700, 5D Mark III, full frame camera, Nikon D750, D810, complete review