What this review isn’t: pixel peeping and statistical comparisons between various cameras.
What this review is: a real world account in a professional environment from a gear lover with high standards. It’s not intended to be a catch-all review, it’s specifically tailored for my own needs and shooting style.
Important notes: 1) These cameras were paid for by myself, it’s an unbiased review. 2) I have used and compared gear from many other brands. They didn’t hit the spot and hence not adopted professionally. 3) Every shot (except dance floor) is ambient/available light. No flash whatsoever.
Nikon D750 vs Nikon D3S
I’ve been using two Nikon D3s’s for the last few years. I adore this camera, and have often touted it as the perfect choice for wedding photography. Arguably the best mix of megapixels in terms of print ability and online/offline storage, impeccable AF, low second hand prices and the greatest high ISO ability (in the context of dynamic range) of any serious professional action camera.
While weddings aren’t as fast as sport, I move quickly and shoot quickly. If you consider that ‘poor technique’, consider this: I don’t want a camera that can’t keep up with me. I want a camera that is transparent; a seamless element of my thought and action process. The D3s has been a faithful servant in this regard where many others have failed.
D3S Upgrade Path
With each body nearing the 300K shutter mark, it’s time to find replacements. The logical choice is the D4s. Incredibly capable, but do I need that outstanding buffer? Not really.
The D610 and DF, as good as they are, have less powerful AF systems. While perfect for some, I’m both spoiled by and used to Nikon’s best.
The D810 has the 51 point AF system, but at 36 megapixels and 5fps, it doesn’t have the speed. A revelation for studio, landscape and portrait photographers however.
Enter the Nikon D750. An upgraded (I think) D610 sensor with low light ability that exceeds the D810. The latest and greatest Nikon 51 point AF system that focuses at -3EV. Dual card slots of the same format (SD). 6.5 fps, only 2.5 shy of the D3s. 24 pixels of the Mega variety.
In the UK at launch the D3s was £3500 new (they’re around £2000 ($3,330 USD) second hand now). The D4s is £4800 ($6,497 USD).
The D750 is £1800 ($2,297 USD).
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G (FX) Review
As to not make it any easier on the D750, I paired it with the new 35/1.8 from Nikon. A smaller, cheaper and lighter version of its older brother – my workhorse lens for the last 4 years – the Nikon 35mm 1.4G. A perfect fit for the D750.
So that’s a D750 + 35/1.8 combo (£2265) vs the D3s + 35/1.4 (£4980 at purchase).
A tough ask.
Two D750s and 35/1.8 arrived on Friday, just before I had to leave for a wedding. Handy. A single D750 and the new 35mm lens came with me and was used along side the D3s, and most importantly, used in the way I would use a D3s; quickly and without compromise.
If it could keep up with that pace, it was going to be a very special camera at that price point and size.
Nikon D750 Autofocus
Autofocus, along with sensor technology, is at the core of professional camera performance. For the way I shoot (often wide open at ƒ1.4), manual focus is not fast enough. Missed autofocus is a missed moment. A camera that nails focus boosts your confidence. Confidence and creativity are intrinsically linked.
I manually select the AF point and employ continuous focus (AF-C). I don’t need the camera to determine the focus point, my composition and eye does that. All the camera needs to do is nail the object I’m focusing on.
After running it through its paces, I’m glad to report that the AF on the D750 is outstanding; my creative freedom of movement was unimpeded. Both centre and outer AF points performed admirably. I pushed the camera and expected to see missed focus shots, but nearly every time the D750 surprised me with absolutely spot on focus. It is better than I had hoped, and I had high hopes.
The ceremony – walking down the aisle – shot you see at the top of this post was in very low light. The D750 had no problems whatsoever nailing focus with an outer point (lower middle). Being able to take that kind of shot and not rely on the center point is a huge boost for compositional ability.
The two shots below were taken quickly. Both hit first time. The lady who dropped the drinks wasn’t too impressed with me taking the shot, but it was a perfect test. I didn’t even look through the viewfinder; the focus point was already selected and I guessed the subject position within the frame.
Before the D750 was released, one of my concerns was the buffer. I’d read reports that the D610 was not suited for fast action. Coming from a D3s, built for sport, it was a potential deal breaker.
I’m also (extremely) glad to report that the buffer is ample. For the confetti shots I was able to burst 2-4 shots every second or sooner without issue. It did fill up and slow down at the end, but by then it was over (see the end of the review for a video demonstrating the buffer). I took 30 shots in total. 24 had completely nailed AF, 3 were out (the very first 3, which could have been my own doing) and the last 3 were slightly off yet easily recoverable with minimal sharpening. Very impressive. I was using the excellent 24mm 1.4G Nikon lens.
Buffer/write speed update: I have since tested the SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/s SD card and it’s even better. Even when the buffer is full the D750 shoots at around 4FPS, and the buffer clears itself much faster. Highly recommended. See the video (Update 4) at the end of this review.
3D focus tracking works exceptionally well, especially for targets that move across the frame (kids running across fields, as an example), although I still prefer manual focus point selection. I might play with it more over winter.
D750 Camera Settings
I’ve set my D750 up similarly to the D3s. If you’d like to try my settings (anything not mentioned is default):
- Aperture Priority
- Matrix metering
- AF-C, 9 Point
- Auto ISO: Base 100, Max 12800, Min Shutter 1/250
- Playback Display Options: Tick [Highlights, Histogram, Overview]. Adds additional review screens (up/down on D-Pad to cycle).
- Image Review: OFF.
Photo Shooting Menu
- Filename: RHP. Of course 🙂
- Slot 2 Role: Backup (both RAW). If I ever need a backup, it has to be RAW.
- Image Quality: RAW. Naturally.
- RAW Recording: Lossless Compressed, 12bit. Uses less space, hence more shots on the card with essentially zero detail lost.
- Color space: Adobe. I use Lightroom and Photoshop, so why not.
- a3 – Focus Tracking: 1 (sometimes OFF). I prefer the AF to concentrate on whatever is directly under the AF point.
- a5 – AF Point Illumination: ON. AF points blink red when pressed.
- a6 – AF Point Wrap: ON. This really should be on by default.
- a9 – AF Asset Lamp: OFF. Obviously.
- b3 – Easy Exposure Comp: RESET (ON). I found myself missing the ExpComp button (used to D3s placement), this circumvents the issue as you don’t have to press the ExpComp button to change its value.
- b4 – Matrix Face Detection: OFF. It will be ON at my next wedding for further testing however.
- d7 – Viewfinder Grid: ON. Horizontal lines useful for straight composition.
- f1 – OK Button – Playback: Zoom 100%. Essential for checking focus.
- f3 – Assign Preview: My Menu
- f5 – Command Dial – Menus & Playback: ON
- f7 – Slot Empty: LOCK. Stops you using camera with no card.
While the AF point spread doesn’t cover the frame as fully as the D3s, I didn’t find it a problem. Any extreme compositions could be executed by locking focus (AE/AF-L button) and recomposing slightly, something I’ve always done anyway. It occurred to me that if I overlaid the 12MP resolution of the D3s through the D750 viewfinder, the D750 AF points would essentially cover that imaginary D3s frame. In the ‘worst’ case scenario (in other words, needing AF on a subject in the corner of the frame) I could use an outer point, then crop the image and still have higher resolution than the D3s. While entirely unscientific, it made me grin at least.
I use the outer AF points all day, their performance is very important for my style of shooting. These shots were all taken successfully using the outer focus points.
D750 Low Light Autofocus
In short – this is next level low light autofocus. Really. I performed many tests in a darkened room, focusing on objects in conditions that would stop every other camera I’ve tested. Time after time, the D750 exceeded my expectations.
D750 Low Light Capability
Having been spoiled by the D3s, which had incredible dynamic range at high ISOs, my hopes were high. But also ‘fair’. I wasn’t expecting magic. But that’s what I found. Even with the ‘cheaper’ lens – the new Nikon 35mm 1.8G – it was outstanding.
The below photograph is straight out of camera (!) wide open (ƒ1.8) and ISO 9000. All I did was desaturate the blue channel to remove a blue tint caused by the window.
Incredible! It made the dark church look like a brightly lit room, with ease. Notice the quality of dynamic range, even at ISO 9000. Much to play with. The 100% crop shows the quality of the noise; gorgeous.
No chroma noise, no patches and no banding. Uniform and consistent. Quality stuff, guys and girls. Remember that’s SOOC without any noise reduction whatsoever.
The D750 had no problem finding contrast in testing environments. The below shots were taken in darker conditions than the results suggest – as that’s the power of a top sensor paired with top autofocus:
How about on the dancefloor, where things get hectic? I often pair the D3s with the Nikon 24-70mm 2.8G (which has fairy dust in its AF engine), using the AF assist on the SB-910 speedlight.
Again, the D750 with the tiny 35/1.8G performed admirably. I don’t think it missed a single shot all evening.
The degree in which a RAW is editable (flexible) has a profound effect on post production abilities. The higher the dynamic range in an image, the more you can do. This is why higher dynamic range at higher ISOs is so important, you maintain the ability to manipulate the image to your liking.
Below are a few SOOC and ‘pushed’ examples of how D750 files can be edited to a normal degree. Note the quality and depth of detail, contrast and colour in the pushed images. Adobe Lightroom was used to edit the images.
You can now download the latest Adobe Camera RAW and DNG converter. Nikon D750 is now officially supported! There is a video guide at the end of this review.
Below is a 100% crop of the pushed shadow area, again, note the high quality colour and noise. Wide open, ƒ1.8 on the 35mm/1.8.
Extreme Sensor Test: 5 Stop Under Exposure
While not a real world example (unless you have serious exposure issues!), below is a 5 stop under exposure at ISO 100. The same gear and settings as before, the Nikon 35/1.8G using 12bit Lossless Compressed RAW recording.
The above image, imported into Lightroom with the exposure pushed +5 stops, is below. Mind boggling detail recovery! The depth of detail in the dark shadow areas seems to defy logic, they are essentially black in the original image. Stunning.
100% crop. What more can I say except to add another superlative? Amazing!
The black and white conversion is as clean as some cameras at ISO 800. Madness.
As requested by quite a few photographers, below is a Canon 5D3 shot taken with exactly the same settings (using the £1200 Canon 50mm 1.2L), and edited with the same settings (although I had to desaturate the magenta and purple channels by about 80% as the blacks were essentially purple.
The 5D3 version has consistent banding and a tartan-like chroma noise. Chroma noise is the type you don’t want, it’s very hard, if not impossible, to fix in post. Even in black and white it looks blotchy. Lower dynamic range is the reason the colours are poor; I couldn’t actually get the whites white without making the rest of the image look unnatural. There is also detail loss in the dark areas.
To save you scrolling I’ve placed the D750 version below again for quick comparison. I repeat, this is not a real world example, it’s simply testing the furthest reaches of the sensor. The Canon 5D3 is a very good camera and it has served many professionals very well indeed. It just shows how good that D750 sensor is, and it’s great to know that capability sits behind your RAW files.
12800 ISO Comparison vs D3S
A few people have requested this, and seeing that it’s a very relevant request, I’ve shot the below comparisons. DPReview will no doubt complete their usual thorough testing and add the D750 to its comparison database. An excellent resource. Until then, these may help you.
In each repeated image, the top is the D750, the bottom the D3s. It was taken in a dark and strongly backlit room (my office, or ‘mancave’ as the wife calls it) with about 2 seconds between them. Both use the Nikon 35/1.4G lens. ISO 128000, ƒ2.8, 1/125 and are SOOC. No noise reduction. The D750 images are down sampled to D3s resolution.
To spice it up, I took only a single shot using the lowest central focus point, the Leica M3 being the target. Interestingly, the D750 focus was spot on, while the D3s front focused. Remember, D750 top and D3s bottom.
Stellar performance from the D750! It has kept pace with the undisputed DXOMark DSLR low light king! Wonderful contrast. The D3s has blown the highlight blue channels however, while the D750 captured them perfectly. In terms of dynamic range, they’re both incredibly capable. That’s not an easy situation for a camera, low light and backlit.
Overall, I’d say it’s incredibly close. Remember that 100% pixel peeping is not at all indicative of real world use; blogs and prints. I’m pretty much sure that most would have a very hard time choosing which is which in a blind A/B test.
I’ll let you make your own minds up. I personally (and professionally) couldn’t be happier; it’s on par with the D3s!
I’ve found my new wedding camera. My high hopes were exceeded, and that was using a £460/$690 lens. The next wedding I’ll be back on the 1.4G primes and 24-70 for the dance floor, and I’ll use two D750s throughout. My two trusty D3s’ will come along as backup (never thought I’d hear myself say that). To create a camera so small with such an incredible sensor and autofocus system that not only offers great dynamic range and quality at higher ISOs, but also focuses in darker conditions, will be absolutely invaluable to countless photographers. Myself included. I am genuinely delighted at how capable this tiny camera is.
I do a lot of travelling for photography, having lighter and smaller gear is always welcomed. To have that with essentially zero drawbacks is a fantastic achievement. The saving in size and weight, while maintaining – and in some contexts even exceeding – the D3s performance is nothing short of amazing.
When you carry two cameras with you all day these ergonomic benefits cannot be understated.
Battery and card storage; with RAW recording set to 12bit Lossless Compressed and a 64GB card (Lexar x600, 90MB/Sec), the readout displayed 1.5K shots. I actually took 2.3K, and the shot counter still displayed 200 remaining. You only need four 64GB cards to shoot 5,000images per wedding with 1:1 RAW backup. I used two batteries shooting that 2.3K figure, with only a fifth of the second battery being used. I’d been playing with menus and WiFi the night before too. Very impressive. Two batteries per camera is ample for a long wedding.
The User Mode (U1 and U2 on the dial) profiles are perfect. On the D3s I had custom ‘shooting banks’ (i.e. profiles) set up for switching between aperture priority and manual (used for dance floor and off camera flash). You could select them through the camera menu. I prefer it on the D750, using the dial, it’s much quicker. To save settings to U1 or U2, choose the mode you wish to use on the main dial (M, A, S etc.) and set the camera up as intended. Then simply press the Menu button, go to Setup Menu(the spanner icon) and select Save user settings. You then choose U1 or U2. Note: it even saves the AF point selection! Remember to reset it to the center point when saving user modes.
With regards to the shutter maximum of 1/4000, it’s negligible to me as the D3s was ISO 200 and 1/8000 (with the D750 base ISO of 100, it’s identical). In direct harsh sunlight the lowest aperture you’ll get is 2.8, but I’m usually in documentary mode in bright sun. If you need ƒ1.4 for direct sun portraits you can always pop an ND filter on the lens.
Nikon D700 advocates. This is your next camera. Your prayers have been answered (I came from a D700 by the way, a fantastic camera). The low light and AF increase is game changing.
Canon shooters. If you were waiting for the right time, and I know many who are, the time is now. I have owned and shot with a 5D3. This D750 lands a haymaker so accurate that its rivals are not only knocked out for the count of ten, they have a fleet of people running around them trying to return them to consciousness. The 5D4 has it’s work cut out for it. Exciting times for both Nikon and Canon users, as competition supercharges technological evolution.
D3 and D3s users. Unless you need the larger buffer and FPS for full on sport/action, I can whole heartedly recommend this upgrade path.
- Tiny, compared to the D3s
- Featherlight, compared to the D3s
- Perfect ergonomic fit and grip for my hands
- Incredible AF in all light
- Incredible dynamic range
- D3s level high ISO ability!
- Wide exposure compensation range: +/- 5
- Balances well with 24, 35 and 85 1.4G primes
- Fast shooting, great buffer with the right card
- Tilting screen will come in handy
- Fast Live View
- SD cards are cheap as chips
- Excellent User Mode profiles
- Highly customisable
- Built-in WiFi (so handy)
- 2.5K shots on a 64GB card
- Good battery life (similar to D3s)
- Did I say it’s awesome?
The Could Be Better
- Live View: Double exposures don’t work (infinitely easier with live overlay, please add this Nikon!)
- Live View: Exposure Preview should be on by default (shows real time exposure)
- Live View: Button hold + D-Pad for much bigger focus area control / movement
- Need an option to disable the LCD activating when changing ISO
- Quiet mode. It’s not quiet!
- AF point spread
- 1/4000 shutter
Nikon, you’ve created a monster. Throughout this review all I could think was ‘Return of the Jedi’. This camera is an absolute gem.
Since this is a single usage review (although over a solid 15 hour wedding and tested in critical conditions) I’ll follow up this review with a report on the D750 with the 1.4G line of lenses and a higher maximum ISO (24K) at the end of the season (November).
As for the 35/1.8G – a mini miracle. Crazy fast AF, essentially weightless, small form factor and great image quality. Nice bokeh too:
Will it replace my 35/1.4G? No. The 1.4G has better contrast and colours in harsher lighting conditions (especially wide open), but that’s to be expected since it’s over twice the price and weight.
Will I keep it? Oh yes.
I’ll leave you with some more D750 and 35/1.8G goodness, a combination I predict many, many wedding photographers will be adopting.
There is simply nothing on the market that can match the combination of the Nikon D750 price, size/weight and performance.
Update 1: Buffer Performance Video
Update 2: Quiet Shutter and Back Button Focusing Video
Update 3: LiveView Essential Tweak – Exposure Preview
Update 4: SanDisk Extreme Pro 95Mb/s Seed Test