Nikon D780 (hands-on) Review

Nikon D780 review
Review

Price when reviewed

£2199

What is the Nikon D780?

Although Nikon has been focusing on its mirrorless cameras recently, it is also a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera manufacturer, and the Nikon D780 is a DSLR. That means the D780 has a mirror that flips up out of the way for image-capture and to enable shots to be composed on its rear screen (in Live View mode).

Apparently, the 5-year-old D750 is set to continue in the range for a while, but the Nikon D780 is its successor. As such, the D780 is a full-frame (FX) format camera and it sits alongside the mirrorless Z6. This means that the D780 is aimed at enthusiast and semi-professional photographers, but it may also be of interest to professional photographers looking for a smaller full-frame camera than the D5 and soon-to-come D6.

Interestingly, the D780 is the first DSLR that Nikon has introduced since it unveiled the mirrorless Z7, Z6 and Z50. This means that it’s also the first camera to benefit from mirrorless camera technology and consequently the autofocusing in Live View mode is streets ahead of that of other Nikon DSLRs.

Nikon D780 Price and Availability

The Nikon D780 has a suggested retail price of £2,199 (approx $2,890) body only. It can also be purchased in a kit with the AF-S 24-120 f/4G ED VR lens for £2,619 (approx $3,442).

According to Nikon, the D780 will go on sale from 23rd January.

Read our guide to the best Nikon cameras

Specifications
  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Announced: 7th January 2020
  • Sensor: Full-frame (FX) 24.5Mp CMOS
  • Lens mount: Nikon F
  • Processor: Expeed 6
  • Sensitivity range: ISO 100-51,200, expandable to 50- 204,800
  • Autofocus system: Viewfinder: 51-points with 15 cross-type, Live View: hybrid (phase and contrast detection) with 273 points and Eye detection
  • Max continuous shooting rate: 7fps with AF/AE, 12fps in Silent Live View mode or 30fps at 8Mp and 120fps at 2Mp
  • Max video quality: 4K at 30p/25p/24p
  • Viewfinder: Optical with 100% view
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot tilting touchscreen
  • Storage: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC
Nikon D780 review
Features

Like the D750 it replaces, the Nikon D780 is a full-frame or FX format DSLR with the Nikon F-lens mount. That means its has a sensor that’s the same size as a 35mm film frame.

Nikon has also stuck with a very similar resolution as the D750 for the D780. However, the 24Mp sensor in the D780 is much newer than the D750’s. And although Nikon’s representatives weren’t able to confirm it ahead of the official announcement, it seems highly likely that the D780 has the same 24.5Mp backside illuminated (BSI) sensor as the Z6. The biggest clue to this is the fact that in video and Live View mode, the D780 uses the same hybrid autofocus system as the Z6.

This system combines phase detection with contrast detection and there are 273 points available for selection, plus Eye-Detection AF for stills-shooting. This AF system is claimed to be sensitive down to -4Ev in normal circumstances and -6Ev in Low Light AF mode with lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2 or wider.

As it’s an SLR, the D780 has another autofocus system for when images are composed in the optical viewfinder. This has a dedicated AF sensor with 51 user-selectable phase detection AF points with 15 cross-type points. According to Nikon this AF system is sensitive down to -3Ev and it offers ‘flagship tracking capabilities’.

Further good news for viewfinder users is that the D780 has the same 180K-pixel RGB sensor (for metering and white balance) and Advanced Scene Recognition system as the D850.

Thanks to the D780’s Expeed 6 processing engine it’s able to shoot full-resolution images at up to 7fps (frames per second) with continuous autofocusing and metering, or 12fps in Silent Live View Photography mode.

The buffer has capacity to enable up to 28 14-bit raw images or 100 Jpeg images to be captured in one hit.

In addition, the D780 can shoot 4K/UHD video at 30p/25p/24p with no cropping. Footage can also be recorded in N-Log, for greater scope for post-capture grading, or Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) for viewing on compatible TVs.

There’s also in-camera time-lapse capability and provided you’re happy with 8Mp images, you can shoot at up to 30fps. Drop to 2Mp and you can record at 120fps.

Enticingly, the D780’s sensor and processing engine combination also enables a wider sensitivity range than the popular D850. The native range is ISO 100–51200, but this can be extended to ISO 50-204800. The D850’s maximum range is ISO 64-102,400, but it also has a resolution of 45.7million pixels.

The D780’s maximum shutter speed is 1/8000sec while we’re told the longest exposure time is 900sec (15mins).

SnapBridge

I’ve been a fan of Nikon’s SnapBridge technology from the outset, but its performance has wavered with different cameras, smartphones and operating systems. Happily it worked very well during my testing of the Nikon Z50, and I hope the same is true with the D780.

The D780 has high-speed data-transfer capability and wireless connectivity, but SnapBridge makes it easy to share Jpegs and raw files with a smart device. I find the automatic transfer of 2Mp images especially useful and I’m looking forward to trying it with the D780.

In addition, the D780 is compatible with the Nikon WT-7 Wireless Transmitter.

Other Features

Like the D850, the D780 uses Nikon’s EL15b rechargeable Li-ion battery. It also has two SD card ports that are compatible with UHS-II media.

Videographers will be pleased to learn that the D780 has audio in and out ports, plus HDMI and USB-C connectivity.

Read our Nikon Z6 review

Nikon D780 review
Build and Handling

So far I’ve only been able to use the Nikon D780 in the confines of a meeting room for a briefing with Nikon UK. However, that short time with the camera left me with a favourable opinion of its build. It has a magnesium alloy body which gives it a nice, solid feel in your hand. The grip is also deep, so you have something to wrap your fingers around.

Also, like the D750, the D780 is dust and weather resistant.

Although the D780’s control layout is very similar to the D750’s, it’s not identical. Neither is it exactly the same as the D850’s. The most noticeable difference from the D750 is that the switch for selecting stills or video mode has moved from below the navigation pad on the D750 and D850 to the top of the backplate, to the right of the viewfinder.

There’s also a change around the shutter release button. The video record, ISO and exposure compensation buttons are arranged in a row behind the shutter button, putting them all in easy reach. The metering options are now accessed via the menu/info screen.

I was hoping that Nikon might give the D780 the D850’s mini-joystick, but sadly, that’s not the case. Instead, the AF point is selected in the same ways as on the D750, using the navigation pad.

As with the D750, the D780 has an exposure mode dial on the left of the top plate. Underneath this is the drive mode dial. It makes it easy to set the exposure and shooting mode you want.

Composing Images

As it’s a DSLR, the D780 has an optical viewfinder. This shows 100% of the scene that will be captured at 0.7x magnification. I’ve yet to use it in anger, but it seems nice and bright.

Being an optical finder, it provides a natural view of the scene through the lens. In dark conditions the view is naturally dark, however, if you switch to Live View mode and compose the image on the D780’s screen, you’ll see a brighter image that reflects the selected exposure settings.

There’s also a tilting 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot LCD screen that allows the AF point to be set and the shutter released by touch. This is on a tilting bracket so it can be tipped for easy viewing from above or below head-height. I found it responsive to my touch and it displays plenty of detail.

Nikon D780 review

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Performance

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take away any images from the D780, and the meeting room didn’t offer a huge array of subjects or conditions to test the camera so I can’t really comment on the quality of the images that the D780 produces. However, as it appears to have the same sensor and processing engine as the Z6, it’s likely to produce very similar-quality images.

Consequently, we can anticipate that the D780 will control noise well up to around ISO 25,600. Above this value, the Z6 starts to lose a bit of detail in low contrast out of focus areas.

Nikon’s recent full-frame cameras have a good reputation for dynamic range and I expect the D780 to continue in this vein. I’ll test it thoroughly in a range of conditions, but I expect to find that underexposed images or deep shadows can withstand substantial brightening. In some cases the Z6’s images can be adjusted by as much as +5EV and still look good.

Autofocus

When images are composed in the D750’s viewfinder, its autofocus system performs brilliantly. It’s fast and accurate even with speeding subjects. And with the right AF mode, it can track subjects around the frame.

Nikon claims that the D780 beats this with ‘flagship tracking capabilities’. I’m looking forward to testing it properly! It certainly seemed fast in the low light and low contrast conditions of the briefing room.

What really impressed me, however, was the Live View AF system. Until now Nikon has stuck with a contrast detection system for its DSLRs in Live View, and it’s pretty ponderous. Thankfully, the D780 makes a big leap forward with its hybrid AF system. I found it fast and decisive, even in quite low light. I’m looking forward to putting it through its paces properly when we get a production sample in for testing.

Read our guide to the best camera accessories

Nikon D780 review
Early Verdict

While much of the recent camera talk has been about mirrorless cameras, DSLRs are still an important part of the camera market and Nikon is a major player in that market. Despite the advances made in mirrorless camera technology, many photographers still prefer the SLR design with an optical viewfinder.

Also, although Nikon F-mount lenses perform extremely well when mounted on Z-series cameras via the FTZ adapter, with longer lenses the balance is better on a bigger camera.

Judging by what I have seen so far, the Nikon D780 is a great combination of DSLR and mirrorless technology. It appears to have two fast and effective autofocus systems. This and the tilting touchscreen should help to make it a versatile camera that’s perfect for its intended audience of experienced photographers.

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Nikon D780

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