Introduction and features
Full-frame photography used to be the preserve of professional photographers, but DSLRs like the Canon 6D and Nikon D610 have made it a more realistic proposition for amateur and enthusiast photographers. Nikon’s latest full-frame camera, the D750, sits above the D610 and below the Nikon D810 in the company’s range, giving enthusiasts another model to choose from.
At first, the D750 might look too similar to the D610 to be a worthwhile upgrade, especially since it appears to share the same sensor. In practice, the tilting screen, improved video features and uprated image quality are worthwhile and the D750 stacks up well against its rivals both in the Nikon camp and from Canon. In fact our updated lab test section shows exactly how the Nikon D750 compares against the Nikon D610, Canon 6D and Canon 5D Mark III. We have tested all four of these full-frame cameras for resolution, dynamic range and noise performance. At the heart of the D750 is a newly designed 24.3-million-pixel CMOS sensor and an Expeed 4 processing engine. Unlike the 36Mp D810, the new camera has an anti-aliasing filter over the sensor. This sensor and processor combination enables a native sensitivity range of ISO 100-12,800 with extension settings taking this to ISO 50-51,200. It’s also possible to shoot at up to 6.5 frames per second (fps) and record Full HD video at up to 60p. While 6.5fps is a fair rate, some sports photographers may have been hoping for something a bit higher, perhaps 8fps or more, but then that could have meant a much more expensive camera.
Videographers will appreciate the stereo microphone and headphone ports along with the ability to fine-tune audio levels in isolation before and during recording. It’s also possible to select the sound range (wide/voice) for adjustment and adjust aperture with buttons rather than dials for smoother, quieter operation. Wind noise can also be reduced when recording with the built-in microphone. The D750 is also unique amongst full-frame DSLRs currently in having a tilting screen (though not full articulating) – another advantage when shooting video in particular. When shooting in Live View or video mode, there’s a handy Zebra pattern display to indicate on the screen which areas are in danger of burning out. The D750 can also output uncompressed footage via an HDMI connection to allow high-quality recording to an external device.
Nikon has given the D750 a new Multi-CAM 3500 II autofocus (AF) module, an updated version of the one in the D810. This has 51 AF points, 15 of which are the more sensitive cross-type and 11 that operate down to f/8, which is especially useful for photographers who want to use an extender with their telephoto lenses. As in the D810, the new Group Area AF mode is available to help when shooting subjects that are comparatively small and against a high-contrast or distracting background. Exposure metering is handled by a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor and this enables face detection metering even when the image is composed in the viewfinder – although rather unhelpfully you are unable to see when a face has been detected. There’s also a useful highlight metering option which is calibrated to take greater note of the brightest part of the scene and suggest an exposure that will prevent it from being burned out, but not render it a mid-tone. That could be a blessing for wedding photographers, who will often be struggling to hold on to detail in white dresses, for example. The spot white balance option that enables white balance to be set from a small part of the scene in Live View mode could also find favour amongst these demanding users – especially those that shoot lots of video.
Like the D810, the D750 uses the EN-EL15 Li-ion battery and when flash is used Nikon claims that it will last for 430 shots. Without flash, this extends to up 1,230 shots. Nikon has also introduced the MB-D16 battery pack to complement the D750 for longer shoots. Although there are two card slots, they both accept SD/SDHC/SDXC. One can be used as an overflow store or it can operate as a back-up. Alternatively, the camera can send different file types to one card or the other. While the D750 is compatible with the Nikon’s UT-1 and WT-5 for professional-level wireless image transfer, there’s also Wi-Fi ‘n’ connectivity built-in for the speedy sharing of images and wireless remote control via a smartphone (using Nikon’s Wireless Mobile Utility app).
Taking the lead from cameras like the D5300 lower down in the range, the D750 has seven Special Effects modes including Nigh Vision, Color Sketch, Miniature Effect, Selective Color, Silhouette, High Key and Low Key, which can be applied to stills and movies. Although it’s a full-frame model with many professional features, Nikon is clearly pitching the D750 at enthusiasts too, using the same broad control layout as the D610 and D7200. The changes to the Picture Control system introduced with the D810 are here too. These includes the new Flat Picture Control mode that produces video footage (and still images) with less contrast, giving greater scope for post-capture grading. There’s also the Clarity control, which enables the micro contrast of images to be adjusted to give the appearance of stronger shapes and outlines, with less risk of halos and over-sharpening problems.
Build and handling
Nikon has used a monocoque construction for the D750 and by using a combination of magnesium alloy and carbon fibre has given it a good solid feel without excessive weight. The camera feels comfortable in the hand and has enough weight to make it feel durable without being too heavy for long shoots. It’s reassuring to know that the camera has the same degree of weatherproofing as the D810. Inside, there’s a Kevlar/carbon fiber-composite shutter, which has been tested to 150,000 cycles. The mirror and shutter movements have a slightly dampened sound; it’s not quite the same sound as the D810, but it’s about the same volume. The D810 and D750 are far more discreet than the D800.
Control and design-wise the D750 looks almost exactly the same as the D610. There’s a mode dial on the left of the top-plate that has the addition of ‘Effects’ for accessing the Special Effects modes. As on the D610, this dial has a lock button that needs to be pressed to allow it to be rotated (a lock that can be clicked on and off would be preferable and less fiddly to use, though). On the back of the camera, the control layout is very similar to the D610’s, but the Info button is to the side of the thumb-rest rather than towards the bottom of the camera; meanwhile, the Live View button and switch are lower down in the space created by moving the Info button. The function of a couple of the buttons to the left of the LCD screen has also changed in comparison with the D610, since the bottom one is now an ‘i’ for information control.
When the ‘i’ button is pressed a list of features appears, as on other recent Nikon SLRs. However, they are now arranged in a list rather than a grid. Unfortunately, there are still a couple of oddly placed customisation options (for example Assign Fn button and Assign preview button) in this list. I can’t understand why these are in a quick access-type menu instead of being restricted to the main menu – customisation is usually a once-only action. It also seems strange that Nikon couples the ‘i’ button with an ‘Info’ button. Pressing the ‘Info’ button reveals the camera’s key settings and it would seem logical to make this interactive so it becomes a route for making adjustments. This would leave the ‘i’ button free for some other purpose.
The interface of the D750 has changed somewhat in comparison with the D610’s. When the white balance button is pressed, for example, the new screen shows more clearly which control is used to switch between preset values and which adjusts the selected value to make images a little warmer or cooler. Similarly, pressing the ISO button reveals that the front command dial is used to set the camera to select the sensitivity value automatically, while the rear dial is used to set a specific sensitivity value. The new interface looks cleaner and clearer. Although at first glance the main menu looks a close match for those on other Nikon SLRs, a second look reveals that the video options now have their own tab in the menu structure – this is a good move that will help users find the options they want more quickly.
Like the D810, the depth of field preview and function (Fn) buttons on the front of the D750 can be set to act as aperture adjusters in order to enable silent changes to be made to aperture while shooting video. However, I found it helpful to set the Fn button to activate the electronic level in the viewfinder to help ensure horizons are straight. Of course the biggest news about the back of the D750 is that the 3.2-inch 1,229,000-dot RGBW screen (the same as on the D810) is mounted on a tilting bracket. This enables the screen to be tipped up through 90 degrees and down through 75. It doesn’t help with selfies, but it makes shooting movies and landscape format stills at high or low angles more comfortable. It’s a good display that shows plenty of detail.
Naturally, as the D750 is an SLR, there’s also an optical viewfinder for composing images. This isn’t the brightest that I’ve used, but it’s still pretty good and it covers 100% of the field of view so there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises around the edges of the frame. If time and subject permits, however, I recommend using Live View when focusing manually. In summary, the controls on the D750 are generally logically arranged and within easy reach, but Nikon could do with applying a little more thought to the use of the ‘i’ and ‘Info’ controls. It also seems that video is finally finding a more comfortable position within a stills camera. According to Nikon UK’s Simon Iddon, the Nikon D750 is “the ultimate enthusiast-level full-frame camera”. Enthusiast photographers are a demanding bunch – they want to be able to shoot all sorts of subjects in a wide variety of situations and get top-notch results. On the whole the D750 won’t disappoint these users. It’s extremely capable and can deliver superb, sharp images with natural colour, perfect exposure, plenty of detail and well controlled noise in a wide range of situations.
As it has a 24-million-pixel sensor with an anti-aliasing filter, the D750 isn’t be able to match the D810 for detail, but it can record a little more than the D610. This is the result of the development in sensor and processor technology since the arrival of the D610. It’s worth bearing in mind that many consider the D610 a hasty upgrade to the D600, which was only brought about to correct the problem with the shutter spraying oily material onto the sensor. Our tests reveal that the D750 controls noise very well. Even when the noise reduction is turned off in the processing of raw files shot at ISO 6400, there is only a little chroma noise visible at 100%. Step up to the native maximum of ISO 12,800 and chroma noise (coloured speckling) becomes more noticeable at 100% on-screen, but it is still controlled very well and the level of detail is impressive, even in shadow areas. Simultaneously captured JPEGs have no chroma noise, but there is luminance noise and images look at little softer under close inspection. Though dynamic range and detail levels drop off at the expansion sensitivity settings, the results still look pretty good. Even images taken at the maximum sensitivity (ISO 51,200) can make decent A3 prints.
In the past we have found Nikon SLR automatic white balance systems perform well in a range of lighting conditions. However, in some cases the D610’s screen makes images captured in shade look too cold and this could trick users into setting the wrong white balance. Thankfully this isn’t a problem with the D750, which has the same screen as the D810. The D750’s automatic white balance system also does a very good job in most conditions. The second Auto setting, which is specifically intended to retain the warm notes of warm lighting, is useful on occasion. But if you really want the warm glow of evening sun to be recorded then the Daylight option is your best bet. Occasionally, there is an inexplicable colour shift of a sequence of images when using the automatic white balance settings and it seems likely that the automatic scene recognition system aspect of the processing is responsible.
I have yet to come across an infallible metering system, but the D750’s Matrix metering system is very good. During my testing it managed to deliver perfectly exposed results even when shooting some very bright subjects like yellow backlit leaves. This doesn’t mean that the exposure compensation wasn’t required on a few occasions – it was, but never when I wouldn’t expect it to be and it wasn’t needed on a few occasions when I thought it might. Rather generously, Nikon has given the D750 an updated version of the AF system as in the D810 and it performs superbly when matched with a decent lens. When using a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, for example, it gets subjects sharp incredibly quickly and is capable of tracking the subject around the frame when the appropriate mode is selected. The fact that it’s sensitive down to -3EV means that it’s also useful in low-light conditions and in many situations it still manages to latch onto subjects quickly. Nikon introduced the new Clarity control in the Picture Control options with the D810 and it’s present in the D750. This control adjusts micro contrast, and boosting it gives the impression of greater sharpness or detail without creating halos along high contrast edges.
It’s useful for giving images extra ‘bite’ straight from the camera. I found the results created in the Monochrome Picture Control mode with the Clarity and Contrast (an image-wide adjustment) were often very pleasant. Part of the beauty of the Picture Controls is that they can be used when shooting raw and JPEG files simultaneously and this means you have a full colour file for processing as well as a treated JPEG. Conversely, even if raw and JPEG recording is selected, rotating the mode dial to the Special Effects option results in only JPEG images being recorded. Theses Effects can be previewed in Live View mode. In many cases previewing the image is enough to convince you to not use the Effect.
As it has included Wi-Fi connectivity in the D750, Nikon has gone a step further than Canon with its 7D Mark II for those wanting to control the camera remotely. However, Nikon’s free Wireless Mobile Utility (WMU) app only offers very limited control over the camera. The live view image can be seen on a smartphone screen and the autofocus point can be set with a tap on the screen, but there’s no control over the exposure settings. It is in effect just a wireless remote release with live view.
We’ll start with the resolution tests, and for this each camera is tested right across the ISO range, shooting both JPEG and raw images. For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts. Nikon D750 resolution tests:
Raw (converted to TIFF) resolution analysis: The differences when shooting raw files are less obvious, but here too the Nikon D750 delivers results which are at the top of the group. It’s closest rival is the other Nikon, the D610. This misty scene looked fairly monochromatic, but switching to the Monochrome Picture Style has made a more graphic image. Click here for full resolution image. The D750 is a great SLR camera. Its AF system is fast and effective, its Matrix metering system is very capable delivering correct exposure in a wide range of situations and it produces images that have natural, yet vibrant colours.
The D750 has a monocoque construction and is as weatherproof as the D810, which means it feels solid in the hand and can be used in less than perfect conditions. It also has plenty of creative control and a tilting screen that makes it easier to compose images from unusually high or low angles. The addition of a Zebra display is also a bonus for regular Live View users and videographers. One of the D750’s biggest selling points, however, is its 51 AF points system, which has 15 cross-type points with 11 that operate down to f/8. There’s also an array of AF modes and customisation options to tailor the system to the photographer and the subject. It affords professional-level control.
While it’s clear that the D750 is an excellent camera, there are a few aspects that don’t quite sit right on a camera that is intended to be ‘the ultimate enthusiast-level full-frame SLR’. The Special Effects options for instance can be fun, but some of the results are pretty awful and unlikely to be used by an enthusiast photographer. Nikon could make these Effects more attractive to enthusiasts by enabling a ‘clean’ raw file to be recorded at the same time and allowing them to be used in the advanced exposure modes so that there’s control over shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity. But no, they are JPEG-only and exposure is set automatically. Similarly, the HDR mode is a JPEG-only option. To date Pentax and Canon are the only companies to allow raw file recording of the images that make up HDR images. I’d also like Nikon to rethink the options available for quick access via the ‘I’ button and make them of more use on a shot-by-shot basis. Some of the settings made visible via the ‘Info’ button would be a good starting point. In addition, it would be nice if Nikon could upgrade its Wireless Mobile Utility app to give control over exposure settings via a smartphone. Some enthusiast sports photographers may also have been hoping that the maximum continuous shooting rate might have been a bit higher, perhaps 8 frames per second (fps) to match the D300S with its battery-pack.
It may seem rather harsh that the ‘We dislike’ section is longer than the ‘We like’ section, but that’s partly because some of the gripes take a bit more explaining. They are also really requests for tweaks rather than major faults. And some could probably be resolved with a firmware upgrade if Nikon was willing. In truth, Nikon has produced a well-rounded, enthusiast-level SLR. It has the majority of the features that an enthusiast would want, along with a few modern niceties like Wi-Fi connectivity. There are a few inclusions that seem more aimed at less experienced photographers that could perhaps have been better thought out for the enthusiast, but all the essentials that an enthusiast want are there and based upon proven systems.
It’s also good to see the introduction of a tilting screen on a full-frame camera – it’s a shame it’s not fully articulating, but it’s a move in the right direction and on a weatherproof system. It also compares well with its immediate rivals, offering a wider range of features than the Nikon D610 and Canon 6D, while substantially undercutting the Canon 5D Mark III. It’s worth pointing out, though, that these aren’t the only potential rivals – Sony’s A7-series cameras also offer full-frame sensors, high resolution images and extensive video options. Mirrorless cameras may operate on a different principle, but they can deliver results every bit as good as a DSLRs.