Nikon D780 Review

Nikon D780 review
Review

Price when reviewed

£2199

$2696.95
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Our Verdict

The Nikon D780 a great DSLR and is an excellent choice of camera for anyone wedded to an optical viewfinder. It has a solid, dependable body and impressive battery life. It also has Nikon's best Live View system to date, which makes the camera that bit more versatile. As usual with a DSLR, switching between using the viewfinder and the screen to compose images isn't completely seamless, and you can't use the viewfinder in Live View or video mode, but for many photographers, the D780 combines the best of SLR and mirrorless technology.

For

  • Excellent Live View AF system
  • Great battery life
  • Dual UHS-II SD card slots

Against

  • High launch price
  • SLR design means the Live View is not visible in the viewfinder
  • No joystick for speedy AF point selection when using the viewfinder
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).

It went on sale on 23rd January 2020.

Read our guide to the best Nikon cameras

Specification

  • 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 using a pentaprism with 100% view
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot tilting touchscreen
  • Storage: 2x SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-II
  • Battery: EN-EL15b rechargeable Li-ion battery (supplied)
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 143.5 x 115.5 x 76mm / 5.7 x 4.6 x 3inches
  • Weight: 755 g / 1 lb. 10.7 oz. body only, 840 g / 1 lb. 13.7 oz.,with battery and SD card but without body cap,
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. In fact, it has the same 24.5Mp backside illuminated (BSI) sensor as the Z6. Consequently, 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.

Video Capability

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.

It’s also possible to shoot slow-motion movies in-camera, which means the output plays back at the slower speed with no need for settings adjustments.

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.

Sensitivity Range

Enticingly, the D780’s sensor and processing engine combination 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 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 it worked almost perfectly with the D780. There’s just the occasional need to remind the camera and phone to connect after they’ve been apart or the camera’s battery has been removed.

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.

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

As soon as I picked up the D780 I had confidence in 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. This was given some intensive testing during a trip to Iceland where it got very wet when the wind changed direction and blew spray from a waterfall over the camera. It was also blasted by wind-blown sand and exposed to extreme cold, but took it all in its stride.

Control Layout

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.

I find this location logical and quick to access, but existing D750 users may find it takes a little getting used to. Anyone using the D780 as a second body to the D850, and who regularly switches between stills and video shooting will also have to go through a period of adjustment.

There’s another 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. That’s OK, just not as slick as using a joystick.

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 and it’s 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 3.2-inch 2,359,000-dot LCD screen, you’ll see a brighter image that reflects the selected exposure settings.

This proved very useful when I was photographing the aurora borealis or using a Big Stopper type ND filter. Helpfully, the screen is on a tilting bracket so when you’re shooting landscape format images, it can be angled to give a clear view.

The Nikon D780’s screen is also touch-sensitive and it can be used to set the AF point, trip the shutter and make menu setting selections. I find it very responsive to touch and although there’s a good collection of physical controls, the touch control makes the camera quicker and easier to use.

Read our guide to the best camera accessories

Performance

The feel of the Nikon D780 gives a sense of its performance. It’s solid and delivers what you hope in most situations.

Interestingly, the improvements made to the Live View AF system meant that I used the D780 in Live View mode much more than I have any other Nikon DSLR. Even with mirrorless cameras, I tend to favour the viewfinder, but I found myself using the D780’s screen quite a lot.

In some cases that was because I was shooting at a low level and it avoids the need to lie on the ground, but it was also because it’s useful to have the electronic level visible to ensure horizon isn’t wonky.

In addition, shooting in Live View mode brings the ability to preview the image with all the camera settings applied. That’s especially useful when you’re shooting landscapes and you want to capture every scrap on detail and tone possible.

Another advantage of shooting in Live View mode with the D780 is that you can set the AF point far closer to the edges of the frame than you can when you shoot using the viewfinder.

Autofocus

When images are composed in the D780’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.

It also copes very well with low light conditions. In fact, I managed to get it to focus in near darkness.

However, the 51 points are clustered quite close around the centre of the frame and that means you either have to focus and recompose or crop images with some off-centre subjects. As I’ve mentioned, there’s no such issue with the Live View AF system, you can tap on the screen very close to the edge of the frame and it will focus.

Until now Nikon has stuck with a contrast detection system for its DSLRs in Live View, and it’s pretty ponderous. Thankfully, as I’ve already indicated, the D780 makes a big leap forward with its hybrid AF system. It’s fast and decisive, even in quite low light.

Nikon D780 Image Quality

The D780 controls noise well up to around ISO 25,600. At this point raw images have a fine granular texture at 100% on-screen but it’s not problematic. Simultaneously captured Jpegs look a little smoother and softer than the raw files, but they’re still acceptable.

Going above this value results in more visible noise in raw files and Jpegs that look too smooth. The highest expansion value (ISO 204,800) is best avoided unless you need an image for record purposes.

Nikon’s recent full-frame cameras have a good reputation for dynamic range and the D780 continues in this vein. That means that there’s a good range of tones and the highlights don’t burn out too quickly.

However, if you need to underexpose to preserve detail in the brightest parts of the scene, the shadows can withstand hefty brightening. I’ve successfully brightened low-ISO dark images by 3.5Ev or more.

Exposure and Colour

The D780’s screen gives an accurate preview of the exposure and colour of the final image when you’re shooting in Live View mode. And in reflex mode, when the viewfinder is in action, the Matrix metering is reliable. In fact, I found it delivers great results in tricky situations such as when the scene is very bright.

On the colour front, there’s a collection of Picture Control modes to help you get the look you want direct from the camera. The Standard setting is a good all-rounder but it’s worth experimenting with the others and even creating your own using Nikon’s Picture Control Utility 2 software.

There are some Creative Picture Control modes that produce very effective results. The Bleached mode, for example, is great for capturing a desolate ‘Game of Thrones’ look.

The D780 also has a collection of four auto white balance variants and again they are worth investigating to get a result that you like in-camera. However, Auto1 (Keep overall atmosphere) and Natural Light Auto are good choices for natural light photography.

Nikon D780 Battery Life

According to Nikon the D780 has a battery life of 2,260 shots when the viewfinder is in use. That’s a lifespan that mirrorless cameras can currently only dream about.

I took a couple of spare batteries when I was in Iceland and despite shooting many images, recording a few clips of video, reviewing images and using the SnapBridge auto-transfer feature, I never had to swap the battery during the day.

That’s especially impressive given the low temperatures and considering that I shot in Live View mode quite a bit.

It’s also reassuring to know that you’re unlikely to need to open that battery compartment door when you’re standing in a gale on a beach with pounding waves and blasting sand.

Read our Canon EOS 6D Mark II review

Nikon D780 review
Sample Images

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Nikon D780 Image Gallery

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Sample Video

This video was shot on the Nikon D780 in 1080 25p 4x mode to produce in-camera slow motion footage. This was shot in Black Sand Beach, Iceland

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 area. 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.

The Nikon D780 is a great combination of DSLR and mirrorless technology, having two fast and effective autofocus systems. This, the tilting touchscreen, impressive video spec and huge battery life help to make it a versatile camera that’s perfect for its intended audience of experienced photographers.

However, it has to be said that until now Nikon has lagged behind Canon with its Live View AF system. The D780 bring it into line with the best that Canon has to offer in this area.

As great as the D780 is, it feels like we are now reaching the limits of the DSLR design.

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