Picking a Full Frame Camera from Nikon


The good folks at Nikon Canada have provided me a D750 for evaluation.  The D750 is the long awaited successor to the proven and well loved D700.  It's not the only Nikon full frame of course.  There are the D610, the D810, the D810A, the D3X, the D4 and the D4S.  And of course, one of my personal favourites, the DF.  With so many excellent full frame Nikons to choose from, what makes the D750 such a solid choice and why would you pick it over one of the others?Kudos have to go to Nikon for giving clients choice for a full frame solution.  There's nothing wrong with a crop sensor of course, but if one wants full frame, Nikon has a lot to pick from.

I am not presently a Nikon DSLR owner but the unboxing experience with the D750 was pleasantly surprising.  The D750 is well balanced and fits my hand pretty much perfectly.  When I check the core specs that we all love to check, it reads pretty darn impressive.

The FX sensor captures 24.3 megapixel images.  You can capture images at up to 6.5 frames per second and while that may not be fast enough for fast moving sports, it's probably more than enough for most folks.  Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 12800 with a push to ISO 51200.  Of course the D750 does Full HD video delivering 1080p at 60, 50, 30, 25 and 24 fps.  Like all FX Nikons, there is a DX option when using DX lenses.  The D750 allows for RAW at 14 bit, 12 bit and of course JPEG.

Images are captured on SD cards, the D750 has two slots and you can configure them for RAW on one, JPEG on the other, card cascade (when first fills, shots start going to the second) and card mirroring.

Shutter speed range is 1/4000 to 30s plus bulb.  There has been a fair bit of flack thrown around that the camera cannot do 1/8000 second exposures.  Perhaps this is something that can be changed in firmware.  It would be good if Nikon can do that change in software, as I don't understand why they would put a limited capability shutter in such a fine camera.  Flash sync is at 1/200.

The AF sensor has 51 points.  You can down select the number of points if you wish.  You can see the points illuminated in the display if you wish.  Of the 51, 15 are cross type and all 51 can be used for what Nikon calls their 3D focusing, basically continuous focus for subjects moving in the frame.  The AF works from -3EV to +19EV, really excellent range.

Exposure modes include the usual PASM suspects along with a number of creative modes.  Since I shoot only RAW, the creative modes are of no particular interest to me.

There are three metering modes, centre weighted, matrix and spot.  Nikon also has what they call 3D metering.  It's quite cool that Nikon allows the user to select the weighting circle in the centre weighted mode.  I confess that I don't know that I would be changing this a lot, but I am a geek at heart and love these little engineering easter eggs.

There are 91,000 metering pixels with a metering range of 0 EV to 20 EV.  Exposure compensation range is +- 5 EV in ½ or ⅓ EV increments.  Bracketing is also very flexible with up to 5 images recorded with either 2 EV or 3 EV separation.  If you choose separations of ⅓, ½, ⅔, or 1 EV, you can make up to 9 bracketed images.

Like most Nikon cameras, there is a pop up flash, and like most pop up flashes it's mostly useless as a flash.  Fortunately the D750 fully embraces Nikon's Creative Lighting System (CLS) for controlling off camera flash using Infrared.  IR is not an optimal solution but I give credit to Nikon for the simplicity inherent in CLS.  In addition to the base flash sync, you can set the camera for slower sync and choose between front or rear curtain sync.  Flash exposure compensation ranges from -3 EV to 1 EV in ⅓ , ½ or 1 EV steps.


The rear LCD is terrific.  In addition to delivering over 1.2M dots across the 3.2" display, the LCD provides the capability to tilt down and up and has a 170 degree angle of view.  There has been some criticism that it does not swivel so is not "selfie" oriented.  This is not a failing in my book.

Using the D750

Every time I pick up this camera, I like it more.  The layout of controls is very usable and I don't find things get in the way of making an image.  Every manufacturer has their own way of doing layout and controls of course, one is not necessarily "better" than another, but I like the D750 because I can get to making images quickly without foundering around a lot.  The top deck is more Df than D4.  I have been a photographer for 40 years and have no issues with dials over buttons and menu wheels, and in many cases prefer the dial model for speed and simplicity.  My 1Dx is button oriented and there are days where I would much prefer simple dials.

One of the bigger challenges for me is coming from other systems such as Canon and Leica, where the rotation direction for focus, settings wheels and the like is completely opposite.  I know that Nikon has always been this way, and in the long run it really doesn't matter, but for the photographer changing platforms, expect and plan for a bit of a settling in period.  Shooting my 1Dx for a class I was teaching, everything is natural, picking up the D750 to see how long it would take to get frostbite on my fingers in the late afternoon, I had to "think" about direction for selectors, zoom and focus.

For my test, Nikon has supplied their excellent 24-70/2.8 lens.  This is a full frame lens with a decent zoom range and excellent optics.  I am not a big fan of this focal length range, it being both not quite wide enough and too short as a go to lens, nonetheless it works well. Image quality out of the 24-70 is superb, and it uses Nikon's proprietary and extremely effective Nano coating for diffraction and aberration control.  The lens feels like an old Nikkor lens, not like the plastic fantastics found all over the marketplace.  Lash is minimal, zoom creep is non-existent and it moves when you want it to.  I found the manual focus mode worked well but personally I would have preferred a slightly more stiff focus process, perhaps not so stiff as a Zeiss lens, but more like the old Nikkor lenses I used so many years ago.

My work tends to follow a flow I have used for a long time, maximize dynamic range, use the Zone System, meter cautiously and get as much detail as is reasonable so I can make big sharp prints.  I always shoot for print, even though I don't print everything.  Nikon is, according to independent test house DXOmark, kicking the bejeezus out of competitors.  They rank the D750 as delivering 14.5 stops of dynamic range in RAW off the sensor, and having over 24 bits of colour depth in the 14 bit RAW file.  That coupled with a functional high ISO for crap light of 2956 makes this an incredibly capable sensor for the kind of use cases that fit my needs.

I want to come back to the missing 1/8000 shutter speed kerfuffle.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but follow me on this.  At ISO 100 on a sunny day, my aperture would be f:/16 and shutter speed 1/100.  If I opened up to f:/1.4 on the Nikon 35/1.4 that I like so much, I would have to drop to ISO 50 to get that wide open aperture.  So I understand the concern.  Now how many times am I going to face that problem?  In my use case, almost never because I wouldn't want that super wide aperture to shoot a portrait in direct sun.  I would use a scrim and then the missing 1/8000 wouldn't be an issue.  I do not spend a lot of time photographing jet aircraft or trying to freeze a hummingbird's wings, but I do shoot some sports, particularly hockey and polo.  Both demand high shutter speeds to really freeze action.  I can say, that having scanned EXIF on past shots, that I have never needed to go past 1/4000 of a second.  My cameras can do so, I simply have never needed it.  Your mileage may vary, but check your use case before discarding the idea of a D750 because it does not do 1/8000.

I find the AF in the D750 to be very quick and selective control is good.  I tend to set my cameras to use a back button to lock focus and I had a user related issue when trying to program this as the thought process enacted in software is different from other cameras.  I confess I did not spend much time on the problem and went back to default to save time.  Focus is more than quick enough. Like many old school photographers, I tend to lock focus with the centre point and recompose.  If working on a tripod I move the focus point around.  Having 51 focus points is wonderful but in reality I mostly just use one.  For fast action though, I do like the 3D AF implementation very much.  It gives lots of flexibility without requiring an advanced degree in programming to use.

The camera is quite quiet in normal mode without ear shattering mirror slap, and without the feel of its guts bouncing around inside the body.   Nikon has included "quiet" modes for those working in scenarios where shutter and mirror noise could be a problem.  I like that activating them is a physical dial and not a multi-level dive into menus.

Nikon has had past issues with bits of light absorption material coming free to reside on the sensor over time.  I saw none of this on the model that Nikon sent me.

The bracketing capability is quite nicely done.  I am not a fan of heavily processed HDR images, but I do like to use 32 bit HDR processing as found in Photoshop and in Photomatix.  The multi step bracket capability is very good.  Set your bracket count, set to continuous shooting and go.  Very simple.  While I don't bracket all the time, I usually do for landscape work and that there is a button on the camera that speeds access to bracketing mode is a real advantage.  I also like how easy it is to bias the bracket over or under without having to manipulate the overall exposure compensation settings.

The pop up flash is what you would expect, an underpowered badly positioned tiny point source that is frequently partially obscured by a large lens hood.  But since I never suggest using these little abominations as flashes, that's no problem.  What it does do with elegance and simplicity is act as a controller for Nikon's creative lighting system.  I borrowed a couple of CLS compatible Phottix and Metz flashes and was easily able to set up multiple zones using TTL or manual and get really good flash control.  The images were nothing to write home about, literally a boring vase, but the flash control is superb.  Other vendors have similar Infrared controlled flash systems, but Nikon does it best in my opinion.  The downside to CLS is that it is infrared based and if you aren't Joe McNally, and I surely am not, getting consistent release can be a challenge even when you are sure you have direct line of sight.  This is not a Nikon issue, this is the fundamental flaw with infrared.  If speedlights are going to be important to you, I would suggest a radio based system such as Phottix's superb Odin and Mitros+ systems that preserve Nikon iTTL without the limitations of infrared transmission.

As much as I don't like the quality of light from the popup and find infrared flash control to be questionable in the real world, I absolutely love that the same button that releases the popup engages the flash exposure compensation setting.  This is, in my opinion, very intuitive design and you use the front wheel to make the settings, activating FEC this way just makes sense.

Some users wonder at the value of dual card slots.  I find the idea very useful.  I only use higher end cards so I have not (yet) had a card fail.  What I like is the capability for automatic card cutover.  When the first card fills up, images automatically start being saved to the second card.  Even though I use 32GB cards as standard (at the moment), this is very useful if you are in a high volume shooting situation and you cannot miss a shot because you are busy futzing with cards.  SD cards are less durable than CF cards, so I am less fond of them but so long as I am not stepping on them this should not be a problem.  Some cameras go with dual slots, one CF and one SD.  I am sure some marketing wiz convinced someone this is a good idea but for a shooting professional or serious enthusiast, this requires keeping two types of cards in play and is just bloody stupid.  I face this already with my 1D Mk IV and 7D Mark II and think someone needs a stick to the head for executing this.  If a company is to do dual card slots, the slots should be for the same type of card.  Even Nikon messes this up in the D4s with two slots, one CF and one XQD.  On the subject of cards, I recommend to participants in my mentoring programs standardizing on Sandisk or Lexar cards.  Another brand may save you $5 but it's not worth the risk of data loss or data corruption as I have had happen with the unrecommended Transcend and other house brand cards.

The tripod socket is directly under the lens line so in perfect position for landscape shots and horizontal rotations.  I had to mount a Really Right Stuff flat plate to the D750 since everything I own uses either a RRS or Arca Swiss dovetail mount.  As I would with any camera where the photographer will shoot in portrait orientation off a tripod, I would suggest an L plate be mounted to help maintain balance and lens orientation.  Contrary to what I have found on other Nikons, the D700 being the leading offender, Nikon have done something to the adhesive that holds the rubber pad to the camera baseplate.  It doesn't move around.  It stays where it is stuck.  This may seem like nit-picking, but moving rubber pads and adhesive residue are not acceptable in a camera of this level.  Good fix Nikon!

The left side of the camera has a series of ports available.  The top port is for a remote shutter trigger.  Like most companies, this is a proprietary port <grrr> but you are not relegated to only Nikon remotes, there are lots of third party remotes that can work well.  I like the Phottix radio system.  Because the D750 has a built in intervalometer, you don't need to spend a lot of money on a remote with one as well.

Nikon used to get flack for not taking video seriously.  As an enthusiast videographer I REALLY appreciate that there is a jack for an external high impedance microphone (because built-in mics all suck) and there is also a headphone jack so you can monitor your audio in real time.  I regularly use a TASCAM DR-60D for audio recording for DSLR video and it's nice to be able to do a single feed into the camera to record the audio with the video, and to be able to monitor audio right off the camera.  Of course I could plug in directly to the TASCAM, but what if you don't have one?

There is a mini-HDMI port so you can connect the camera directly to an HDMI ready television for image playback or even when learning the camera so you can see the menus in large screen glory.  I use this function as an educator a lot.  There is also a USB 2 port to connect the camera to your computer.  Sadly it is not a standard USB connector and the Nikon supplied cable is too short to be useful for anything.  I never recommend downloading images directly from the camera, this has proven to be a horribly slow process.  Why Nikon at this point in time did not go to the much faster USB3 is a serious disappointment.  USB2 has been crap since instantiation, the sooner we see it go the way of the dodo, the better.  Since I shoot tethered a lot, the use of USB2 is a real disappointment to me.  A bigger disappointment is that months after release, Nikon still hasn't got their thumbs out to get their interface specs to software vendors.  As of this writing you STILL cannot tether a D750 to Lightroom or Capture One.  Yes I know that Nikon makes capture software.  The less said about it the better.  Where the D750 might make an excellent second or third body to a D4 or D4s owner, this is diluted by the inability to tether to the leading software options.  This is a big bad mark in my book.

The D750 has the capability to drive focus on DX lenses that don't have focus motors themselves.  I find it more ridiculous that Nikon actually builds lenses without focus motors when the majority have them.  This is a "feature" that only exists to offset a dumb decision years ago.

Depth of field preview is well positioned and does not require finger gymnastics to activate.  This is such a useful function but notoriously misunderstood.  Good control placement will help photographers leverage it more.


The Live View option is perfectly placed for me.  Engaging Live View is a conscious act, and I don't mind that the button is placed out of position for fast actuation.  Personally I prefer it.  I also like that it is a simple rocker switch to flip from stills live view to video live view.  Again no menus, or multi-button holds and spins.  While the LCD does not move around to do selfies as previously noted, it does have a high range of articulation for when the camera needs to be higher than eye level such as on a boom or tripod or very low to the ground to be easier on aging photographers whose knees are on strike.  The tilt mechanism is all metal and very solid so fears of the thing coming off in your hand are, I think, unwarranted.

Nikon uses a rocker wheel instead of a rotating wheel on the back of their cameras.  This is a Nikon design point and I don't like it.  I get a lot more misses with the rocker than I do with the precision of the wheel such as used by Canon.  I have large hands, the rocker is small and unlike the precision found in other controls feels rubbery and imprecise.

The camera is powered by Nikon's proven EN-EL15 battery.  It comes with a proper wall charger so I can be charging a battery while still using the camera with another battery, a value proposition that some competitors are too cheap to figure out.  There is an accessory battery grip available for the D750, the MB-D16.  I tend to put battery grips on everything I own.  Yes it increases the weight but it makes the camera easier to grip in my world and with my hands.  There is an AC power option as well, a very useful tool when working long hours in the studio.  The CIPA rating on the EN-EL15 is 1,230 images on a full charge which is great and a real advantage that DSLRs bring over mirrorless cameras that tend to cap out below 300 images.  The camera is rated for use from 0 to 40 centigrade.  I can say with safety that it lasted much longer at -20 centigrade than I did.

I must confess I spent no time at all testing the in camera picture modes nor the in camera processing.  I don't shoot JPEGs and I always use post processing on a large viewable screen so none of these functions are of any use to me whatsoever.  If they matter to you, you will likely find another reviewer who enjoys this sort of thing and who has invested time in the study of them.

Nikon makes a big deal that the D750 has WiFi.  Okay, so what?  Setting it up is very easy.  Go to the wifi setting in the menu system and enable the wifi.  Go to your smart device, find the advertised network and connect to it.  Now launch the Nikon WMU app on your smart device.  You can take pictures remotely, and have them download as JPEGs to your smart device, or view the remote pictures on the card in the camera, and share them using Mail or Facebook or Twitter.  There was no option to change camera settings that I could find, or even to modify exposure.  It seemed mostly snapshot centric or to simplify upload of out of camera JPEGs to social media.  I know full well that manufacturer's get hammered if they don't have the ability to post every darn thing to social media in real time so I understand the logic of having wifi in the camera.  It's not sufficiently deep to be of use to me (full remote camera control on a larger RETINA display would be wonderful - but that's not here) and I have no interest in either Fakebook or Twitter and especially not in posting unprocessed images, so for my use cases, at the current level of implementation, this function has zero value.

Another place that manufacturers tend to get hammered on is if the LCD display is not a touch screen.  I have a neuropathy in my right eye so am a left eyed shooter.  Hence my nose is often touching the LCD.  When I encounter cameras with touch screens I scramble to find a way to turn the function off.  Moreover, since this is definitely targeted to the pro or serious enthusiast, the majority of images will be made at the eyepiece not on the LCD held at arm's length, thus the need for touch is reduced significantly.  This improves battery life, reduces software complexity and keeps things relatively simple. I appreciate that some readers will disagree and that's ok, we're going to agree to disagree.  I would like Nikon to give a gold star to whichever engineer prevented some mc marketing person from putting a touch screen on this camera.

Sample Images

There is nothing particularly spectacular about the subject matter in these samples.  What they do tell is that the sensor dynamic range is as rich as you should expect.  Noise is well controlled, even in the ISO6400 HDR of the single guitar.


If I were looking at getting into full frame and did not have a huge investment in another manufacturer's glass, I would definitely look at the D750 as a prime candidate.  At an MSRP of $2549 for the body it is well priced for what it delivers.  About $1000 less than a Canon 5D Mk III body, and with the Canon 6D not comparing in function, it occupies its own niche.  Sony's A7 Mark II is the closest competitor right up to where you start picking glass, and then the discussion is over.  Nikon glass kicks Sony glass to the curb, except for the rare and extremely expensive Zeiss optics.  The glass will almost always outlive the body in productive life and while Sony is making amazing cameras today, their lens selection is still too lightweight for my needs.  I am not the normal buyer however, so your mileage may vary.

Of the many cameras I have reviewed in the last year, the D750 is a clear leader.  As a photographer for now over 40 years, this is the kind of camera that I would buy if I were in the market and didn't already have over a dozen lenses in another vendor's mount.  While a D4s would be my first choice, my work necessitates more than one body, and I could actually get by for most things with the D750.  It's a bit slow for hockey and polo in terms of frames per second, but if I do my job of research and prep, I could make it work.  It is not festooned with a zillion pseudo-programmable buttons and I really believe that real photographers were involved in the control layout and the functions of the placed controls.  Nikon's own glass is superb and there are some very good third party optics available to fit properly.  I did not encounter any of the acknowledged issues with flare in my testing.  While I am saddened by the recent flurry of Nikon releases that had serious faults on release, I respect that they are accepting of them and making things right for customers.  The image quality is excellent, the dynamic range on the sensor is incredible, and the camera is extremely usable for my own needs.

While I do not presently shoot Nikon DSLRs, I shot their SLRs in the past and still use Nikkor lenses on my Sinar 4x5.  My precision spotting scope is also a Nikon product and only the Leica scope outperforms it in my tests.  Nikon glass has been long respected and with cause.  While I would never buy a Nikon DX lens, their pure FX lineup  remains excellent.  Couple those to a body like the D750 and you have a brilliant photographic solution.

The D750 clearly demonstrates that Nikon has not forgotten serious enthusiast and professional photographers.  Their entry level DSLRs are absolutely the best value in the marketplace at this time of writing by my value criteria and the D750 is very well placed in its price point.  More useable than the D610 and less expensive than the D810.  I like it a lot.  This is a camera that I would buy, its return on value absolutely justifies the cost in this very competitive marketplace.  Thanks again to Nikon Canada and Steve and the team at Strategic Ampersand for making this evaluation happen.