The Nikon D780 makes a strong case for being the best full-frame DSLR you can buy. It’s the follow-up to 2014’s D750, a camera that was — and remains — extremely popular. While many of the specs haven’t changed dramatically on paper, is there enough packed into Nikon’s newest DSLR to warrant an upgrade? For most people, yes, but some photographers will be just fine sticking with the D750.
- 24MP sensor
- 1080p video
- Contrast-detection AF in live view
- 6.5 fps continuous shooting
- 1,230-shot battery life
- 1.2-million-dot tilting LCD
- New BSI 24MP sensor
- 4K video
- Phase-detection AF in live view
- 7 fps continuous shooting (12 in live view)
- 2,260-shot battery life
- 2.36-million-dot tilting LCD
- No built-in flash
Sensor and processor
In terms of resolution, both the D750 and D780 offer 24 megapixels. However, the D780 uses a new BSI (backside-illuminated) sensor with a dual-gain structure, letting you extend the ISO to 204,800 — 2 stops above the D750. Native ISO range has also been improved, from 100 to 51,200, compared to the D750’s 100 through to 12,800. Because we’re dealing with two full-frame sensors, neither system will disappoint when shooting in low light, but the D780 certainly has the edge on its predecessor.
The D780 also has the Exceed 6 processor, an upgrade over Exceed 4 in the D750. In addition producing images with less noise, it helps the D780 reach faster continuous shooting speed and perform face- and eye-detection autofocus in live view.
That’s not to say the D750 was at all bad. Its image quality holds up well today, and in most situations won’t be noticeably different. Its through-the-viewfinder performance also remains competitive, although the D780 definitely leaps ahead for live view.
For viewfinder shooting, both cameras use the same Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX II autofocus sensor with 51 points. However, the D780 borrows the updated focusing algorithm from the flagship D5, which Nikon says means faster, more reliable autofocus. We’re dealing with fine margins here (the D750 was already quite good), but we did notice the D780 offered excellent tracking performance in our testing — to what degree it was better than the D750 is hard to say without a side-by-side comparison.
But in live view, the D780 really outdoes itself. Its new sensor is built with 273 on-chip phase-detection AF points, making for much faster performance than the D750’s contrast-detection-only live-view autofocus. Combined with the processing power of the Exceed 6, photographers can now enjoy features like face- and eye-tracking in live view. The live view performance is so good, in fact, that we found it nearly always preferable to shooting through the viewfinder, except when it came to high-speed subject tracking.
Even back in 2014, the shutter performance of the D750 left us feeling underwhelmed. For a camera of its class – and then price point — having a max shutter speed of 1/4000 was a bit disappointing. Thankfully, Nikon has brought the D780 up to speed by giving it the shutter mechanism out of the pro-level D850, with a max speed of 1/8000 second. That’s great for working in bright light or capturing fast subjects, something sports and wildlife photographers will love.
But it didn’t just get faster. The D780 can also hold its shutter open longer, up to an impressive 15 minutes, without going into bulb mode. The D750 is limited to 30 seconds. That makes the D780 much more attractive to long-exposure fans, like landscape shooters and astrophotographers.
When it comes to continuous shooting speed, there’s not much to separate the two cameras. The D750 tops out at 6.5 frames per second, just half a frame shy of the D780’s 7 fps. That’s pretty mediocre in today’s market and is certainly nothing to get excited about, but it’s still plenty for most occasions. Need more speed? The D780 can reach 12 fps in live view using the silent electronic shutter and 12-bit RAW.
Back in 2014, we wrote the D750 had “superb 1080p video recording.” It remains true, but in a world where 4K has become standard, it reads a little dated.
That was coming at a time when Nikon was seldom part of the conversation when it came to the best video cameras. My, how times have changed. The D780 inherits more-or-less the same video mode as the mirrorless Nikon Z 6, and that’s a good thing. It shoots 8-bit 4k video (3,840 x 2,160) at 24 or 30 fps internally, or 10-bit into an external HDMI recorder. When recording externally, you also have the option of using Nikon’s N-Log flat color profile for preserving more dynamic range, great for those who don’t mind spending some time color-correcting their footage in post. The D780 also shoots 1080p up 120 fps for 5X slow-motion playback at 24p.
The D750 has a recording limit of 20 minutes, whereas the D780 shoots up to 30 minutes. Both cameras have a built-in stereo microphone and the option of attaching an external microphone for better sound quality as well as headphones for monitoring.
The designs and functionality of the cameras are not too dissimilar. The D780 looks slightly less like a brick, but it’s still a DSLR. Up top the dials remain the same, although a new ISO button has been added for faster access without pulling your eye from the viewfinder.
At first glance, the rear of the cameras look identical. But on closer inspection, you’ll find that the live view button has been moved from the bottom right-hand side up to the right of the viewfinder. This has given space to the info button on the D780. The auto-exposure/autofocus lock button has been moved slightly lower on the D780, making room for a dedicated AF-On button. These are minor, but appreciated, changes — we just wish Nikon had included an AF joystick.
Not surprisingly, the weight of both cameras is almost identical. The D750 weighs 29.5 ounces while the D780 weighs 29.6 ounces, so it weights over so slightly more despite having tossed the built-in flash. The D780 is also a bit larger in every dimension, although it’s difficult to tell.
Battery and storage
DSLRs are known for having great battery life, and the D750 was top of its class in 2014 with a battery rated for 1,230 exposures. Not content to leave well enough alone, the D780 pushes that to 2,260 exposures (although, not having a built-in flash gives it an edge in official CIPA battery testing).
Both cameras also have two SD-card slots, useful for backup, overflow, or separate RAW+JPEG recording. The only slight difference is that the D780 reads higher-speed UHS-II cards, as opposed to UHS-I on the D750. High-speed cards will help clear the image buffer faster during continuous shooting, and can also offload files faster to your computer to save you time during import.
Also helping to lower those import times is the D780’s USB-C port, which is many times faster than the D750’s older USB 2 port.
Time to upgrade?
A cursory look at the spec sheet may not show it, but the D780 is certainly a much-improved version of the D750 — and so it should be, considering the amount of time that has lapsed. But for still photographers who don’t need the advanced video or live view capabilities, the D750 remains a good workhorse camera.
If you’re not currently a D750 owner and considering between it and the D780, we certainly recommend the latter. However, at the time of writing, you can pick up a D750 for $1,500, while the D780 asks you to fork over $2,300. It’s a significant price difference that is worth it if you can afford it, but that extra $800 could also go to a good lens.
Buy the D780 if you shoot both stills and video or could benefit from its better live view performance. Eye-detection is a game changer for portraiture, especially at wide apertures.
Buy (or hold onto) the D750 if you don’t need live view, don’t care about video, or enjoy being able to trigger remote Nikon Speedlights from the built-in flash.
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