Friday, January 16, 2015

Nikon D750 isn't cheap, but offers a great full-frame value

The Good The Nikon D750 delivers the best photo quality and continuous-shooting performance in its price class, along with a nicely well-rounded feature set.
The Bad Nikon's Wi-Fi implementation is weak and some of the other features could be executed a little better. Plus Live View performance is sad.
The Bottom Line It's not the cheapest camera in its class, but the Nikon D750 delivers an excellent combination of quality, performance and features for its price.

As the long-awaited sucessor to the six-year-old D700, the Nikon D750 delivers admirably. While its $2,300 price tag (£1,800/approximately AU$2,600) inhabits the upper reaches for many enthusiasts, it's a perfect camera for people who are picky about their photographs, who need better high-sensitivity quality than you can get with one of the less-expensive full-frame options or an APS-C-based dSLR, and who need speed for action shooting. Plus, it's a solid option for pros looking for a good value.
The camera comes in a couple of official kit configurations. The $3,000 bundle with the 24-120mm f3.5-5.6 lens is the only Nikon-approved kit in the US, but a 24-85mm f3.5-5.6 kit will also be available in the UK and possibly Australia (I couldn't find any available options with prices at the time this review was published, however).


The D750 will be sold with the 24-120mm lens in the US, plus additional kits with the 24-85mm f3.5-5.6 lens in the UK and possibly Australia. Sarah Tew/CNET

Image quality

Nikon really does a nice job on photo quality. The D750 has an excellent noise profile for both stills and video, and it produces significantly cleaner raw images than the Sony A99 does as ISO sensitivity increases -- unsurprising, since the latter is two years old and its image processing doesn't benefit from a couple years of fine tuning. I like the more neutral white balance of the Sony's default profile, though; Nikon's is just a hair shifted toward red/blue. And while the D810 maintains sharpness and tonal range better across the sensitivity range, for about $1,000 less the D750's photo quality stands up pretty well against the D810's.

JPEGs from the D750 look exceptionally clean up through ISO 1600, where a tiny bit of detail degradation begins in the in-focus areas. At ISO 3200, you can start to see some mushiness develop in the focused areas, and noise-reduction artifacts appear in the out-of-focus areas. Dynamic range displays visible decreases around ISO 3200 as well, with some clipping in low-key areas and loss of tonal distinctions in high-key areas. There's also a slight color shift between ISO 50 (Low) and ISO 100. However, I was happy with the JPEGs as high as ISO 6400 -- though that's dependent upon lighting and scene content -- and had ISO 12800 raw files that I could work with comfortably.
Movie quality looks great, even in low light, though as with the stills you start to lose tonal range about ISO 3200. Nevertheless, best quality video looks sharp, with few visible artifacts, and up to ISO 3200 there's practically no noise sparkle. I suggest switching from the default Picture Control for shooting video, though, unless you like your blacks crushed and your whites blown, even in good light.


Note: We recently updated our testing setup; though the methodology is similar the lighting conditions are not, so the results aren't comparable with previous testing. We're slowly retesting some important older products, and until we have comparable results we will not be posting performance charts.
In both lab and field testing, the D750's shooting performance fared typically for this class of camera; however, it's still really slow in Live View, and there are annoying hitches when accessing some settings.
It takes less than 0.2-second to power on, focus and shoot. Even then the bottleneck is the power switch, since you have to turn it on and press the shutter with the same finger. Single-shot performance is roughly what you'd expect for the money. In both bright and dim conditions (down to about 3 EV), time to focus and shoot runs just under 0.4-second; actual speed is a bit faster than that, since the kit lens tends to drive a little slowly. And while I didn't time it, focus down to -1 EV was is sufficiently fast and accurate as well. Both raw and JPEG take about 0.2-second between consecutive shots.
The camera excels when it comes to continuous-shooting performance, however. It bursts about 6.6fps for highest-quality JPEGs (not even the default of Normal quality) with a buffer well beyond my 30 test shots -- I got bored after 70. That sets a new high for its price class. While raw burst flies at an even faster 7fps, that's only for about 15 shots. After that it drops, though to a still-respectable 4.6fps. It manages about 10 raw+JPEG shots before slowing a lot.
Equally important, the autofocus seems reasonably able to keep up with the continuous shooting; my hit rate of usable shots using the new Group AF was significantly better than Nikon's various tracking options, partly because in those modes you have no real control over the actual focus points it uses. (Your mileage may vary depending upon your personal shooting quirks, of course.) I do miss an option for expanded-point AF, though, which essentially uses a single focus point and only expands to a group of points for support. The single-point autofocus mode is quite accurate and quick.
Unfortunately, the D750's Live View performance remains locked in the doldrums, taking about 1.5 seconds to focus and shoot under optimal conditions.
There's also some sluggishness bringing up screen-based options. For instance, using the back LCD view to change the ISO sensitivity (the only way to see it when the camera's set on a tripod at eye level), I frequently experienced long waits. This is something that Nikon should be able to address in a firmware update, though.

Design and features

With just a couple of small exceptions, the design of the D750 has a streamlined shooting design, a comfortable, high-quality build and an almost spot-on set of features. The body incorporates magnesium alloy for the rear and top cover, but uses lighter carbon fiber for the front chassis and cover. Physically it bears a striking resemblance to the D610, with comparable weather sealing to the D810.
The design is a useful cross between the consumer and pro models. It has a deep grip with a rubberized section on the back that is perfectly sized for my hands, for whatever that's worth. In the front, accessible via the fingers of your right hand, are two programmable buttons, while the left side has the flash popup/compensation button, bracketing button and manual focus/autofocus switch, with the button that brings up autofocus mode selections. As you'd expect in this class of camera, there are front and back adjustment dials.
On the top left sit a lockable mode and release-mode dials, similar to the D610. In addition to the usual manual, semimanual and automatic modes, there's an Effects mode with a handful of basics: Night Vision (high ISO sensitivity monochrome), Color Sketch, miniature, selective color, silhouette, high key and low key. It also offers a pair of saved user settings slots on the dial.
The release-mode dial contains a full set of choices: single, continuous low and high, quiet single and continuous, mirror up, and a self-timer with options for multiple shots at various intervals.
The left top includes the power switch around the shutter button, and the metering and exposure compensation buttons. There's also a tiny, hard-to-find-by-feel record button near the power switch and the usual status LCD.
On the back you'll find the excellent viewfinder and a large tilting LCD. While I prefer a fully articulated display, this one does a full 90-degree angle facing both up and down. Down the left side of the LCD are the menu, white balance, image quality, and ISO sensitivity buttons, along with Nikon's i button. The latter provides access to context-sensitive semifrequently needed settings.

It incorporates a tilting LCD. Sarah Tew/CNET
Don't confuse the i button with the info button on the right, a non-interactive view of all the current settings. A combo AE-L/AF-L button is reachable via your right thumb. There's one big issue here: you have the ability to program the function of the button as well as to assign the AF-L function to another button on the camera, just like you can on higher-end models like the D810. Unfortunately, if you reassign that button -- I like to make it AE-L only -- then you lose the ability to focus via the shutter button. That's how it works on the D810, but that camera has separate AE-L and AF-L buttons so it's not as big an issue.
The camera also has the same lockable multicontroller with center OK button as the D610. I find it as uncomfortable to use on this camera as every other Nikon that uses it. And at the bottom right is a Live View/Movie toggle switch with a Live View button to initiate it.
You'll also find a solid complement of ports on the left side: an accessory terminal for remotes and Nikon GPS unit, HDMI (supporting clean output), mic and headphone jacks and a USB 3.0 port. And on the right there are two SD card slots, which are great to have.
As for features, the D750 provides all the essentials, plus highlights like multiple exposure, intervalometer and time-lapse with exposure smoothing; orientation-linked focus points; selectable spot size for centerweighted metering plus the ability to set a permanent exposure bias for each metering mode (matrix, center-weighted, spot and highlight-weighted) in 1/6-stop steps up to 1; and 50/60Hz flicker reduction.
In addition to clean HDMI out, the D750 includes the same movie-shooting specific menu as the D810, where you can choose default Picture Control, noise reduction and ISO sensitivity settings for movies. I really wish it let you set a default shutter speed and aperture as well; two custom settings slots aren't enough to handle both still and video needs.
The camera also supports Nikon's power aperture, which lets you change the aperture via the up/down buttons on the multicontroller while recording. Power aperture does not mean silent aperture, though. I also hate that you can't change other settings while shooting. For instance, if I realize that I've got the wrong ISO sensitivity set, I don't like having to stop and jump out, possibly missing something; I'd rather change it while recording and toss the transition portion of the clip later if necessary. I also miss an autofocus sensitivity setting, a feature that Canon debuted with the 7D Mark II, to make the autofocus more usable in video.
The D750 incorporates Wi-Fi connectivity. Unfortunately, the Wi-Fi implementation is pretty weak, at least until Nikon improves its app. In its current incarnation, the app is basically a glorified remote shutter -- effectively all you can do is press the capture icon -- and utility to geotag and transfer photos to a mobile device or share them via the connectors installed on the device. (While Canon's EOS Remote software has more shooting flexibiility, at least Nikon's WMU can directly upload via installed services.)
While the software issue is resolvable, the hardware awkwardness isn't. There's no quick way to enable Wi-Fi in the camera; you have to go into the setup menu to do so, and you can't program another button as a shortcut.


Thus far, the D750 seems like the best overall value in the price segment between $1,800 and $3,000 (£1,300 to £2,300/AU$2,000 to $3,400); it's not cheap, but delivers the best combination of performance, image quality, features for the money.
Compared to a more expensive model like the D810, the D750 has only a few shortcomings. Its image quality isn't quite as good and the resolution isn't as high, but both may suffice for a lot of people. It also maxes out at one stop slower shutter speed (1/4,000 sec. vs. 1/8,000 sec.), and it has a lower flash sync of 1/200 vs. 1/250 sec.
But the D750 has advantages over the D810, including an updated, more low-light sensitive autofocus system (I haven't yet run performance tests on the D810) and slightly better continuous-shooting performance; built-in Wi-Fi; a tilting LCD; longer battery life; and it's smaller and lighter. It also has feature advantages over the Canon 5D Mark III, like the tilting LCD, built-in flash and Wi-Fi. (I haven't had a chance to retest the 5D Mark III for performance and image-quality comparison, however.)
The D610 currently runs about $400 (£400/AU$300) less than the D750, but that premium buys you better photo quality, newer autofocus and metering systems, slightly faster continuous shooting, 1080/60p video and clean HDMI out, a tilting LCD, built-in Wi-Fi, USB 3.0 support and better battery life. And, in fact, with a few minor exceptions it has the same body design as the D610. That's a lot more camera for a fairly modest price differential.
The Sony A99 remains a compelling alternative, especially at its lower price, but aside from being old, it doesn't have the continuous-shooting performance, and some people prefer an optical viewfinder to the Sony's electronic viewfinder. And Sony's mirrorless full-frame alternatives -- the A7 series -- just don't offer the performance of a dSLR.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS 6D Nikon D610 Nikon D750 Nikon D810 Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP CMOS
12-channel readout
24.3mp Exmor CMOS
Sensor size 35.8 x 23.9mm 35.8 x 24mm 35.9 x 24mm 35.9 mm x 24mm 35.8 x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 25600/102,400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp) ISO 32 (exp)/64 - ISO 12800/51200 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ISO 102400 (exp,
via multishot NR)
Burst shooting 4.5fps
15 raw/unlimited JPEG
(6fps in DX mode, 7fps with battery grip)
13 raw/14 JPEG
(mag/ effective mag)
97% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 11-pt AF
1 center cross type
9 cross type
(Multi-CAM 4800-FX)
15 cross type
11 cross type to f8
(Multi-CAM 3500-FX II)
15 cross type
11 cross type to f8
(Multi-CAM 3500-FX)
Dual phase-detection system
11 cross type;
102pt focal plane
AF sensitivity
(at center point)
-3 - 18 EV -1 - 19 EV -3 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/4,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 100,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-area iFCL 2,016-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering II 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 1,200 zones
Metering sensitivity 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 17 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p
H.264 Quicktime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p
H.264 Quicktime MOV
1080/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p
H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/60p, 50p @ 42Mbps, 1080/30p, 25p, 24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24MBps
Audio mono; mic input mono; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 29m, 59s 20 minutes 20 minutes 20 minutes internal
40 minutes (with external pack)
Clean HDMI out No No Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD 3 in/7.5 cm
1.04m dots
3.2 in/8 cm
921,000 dots
3.2 in/8cm
921,000 dots
3.2 in/8 cm
921,000 dots
3 in/7.5 cm
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 2 x SDXC 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 2 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi Via optional WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter Wi-Fi Optional
(WT-4A Wireless transmitter or UT-1 Communication Unit with WT-5A)
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Wireless flash No Yes Yes Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 1,090
900 shots
(1,900 mAh)
1,230 shots
(1,900 mAh)
1,200 shots
(1,800 mAh)
410 shots
Size (WHD) 5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8 in
144.8 x 111.8 x 71.1 mm
5.5 x 4.5 x 3.2 in
140.0 x 114.3 x 81.3 mm
5.6 x 4.5 x 3.1 in
140.5 x 113 x 78 mm
5.8 x 4.9 x 3.3 in
146 x 123 x 81.5 mm
5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1 in
147 x 111.2 x 78.4 mm
Body operating weight 27.2 oz.
771.1 g
30.1 oz.
853.3 g
29.6 oz.
840 g
34.6 oz.
980 g
29.2 oz.
Mfr. price
(body only)
£1,300 (est.)
£1,330 (est.)
AU$2,600 (est)
Release date December 2012 October 2013 September 2014 July 2014 October 2012


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