Shooting Experience

By Jeff Keller

I must confess something right up front: I'm a Canon shooter and have been so since the days of the EOS 20D. While it takes some adjusting to the new controls and the fact that the lens goes on backwards (just kidding Nikon fans), I went into my Nikon D750 review with an open mind. After spending a lot of time with the D750, this Canon shooter is starting to feel like I'm missing out on something good.

My experience was a bit different than how I normally review a camera, in that I saw what it was capable of before I'd spent much time with it. My colleague Rishi has been singing the praises of the D750's 3D focus tracking and incredible dynamic range, and had examples to back it up. With that in mind, it was time to try it for myself.

One of my first 'assignments' was watching my niece's soccer game in Southern California. Knowing that this was a great opportunity to see how the camera handled action photography, I brought along the Nikkor 70-200mm F2.8 lens. With my newfound knowledge of how to use the subject tracking tool, I made sure my niece was under the center focus point, halfway-pressed the shutter release, and let the camera go to town.

While neither of these images will be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, they show that the D750 can stay focused on a moving subject (green #8 in this case) even when closer objects enter the frame. ISO 100, 1/1250 sec, f4.5, 195mm.

The example above isn't something I'd print out and hang on my wall, but it's my best example of what the 750D was able to do. My subject was weaving away from the camera and, despite all the other action going on (including a closer player entering the frame) it remained focused on on her. Consider me impressed.

Another thing Nikon's newest cameras are becoming known for is their incredible dynamic range. The Sony-designed sensors capture an incredible amount of detail in the shadows and, when 'pulled up', make my Canon EOS 5D III look like a dinosaur.

JPEG (ISO 100, 1/125 sec, f/5.6, 38mm) Converted Raw (+0.2EV, +100 shadows, +62 whites, -8 blacks, ACR 8.7)

Sunsets are some of our favorite situations in which to test the dynamic range of a camera, and the view from our office doesn't hurt. In the photo above, I metered the sky and left everything on the bottom half stay in the dark. Just because something is in the dark doesn't mean it's been thrown away, though. The D750 has captured all this, and with Adobe Camera Raw (or the software of your choice) you can get a ton of detail back from the dark regions with very little noise. The scene could've been brightened up more, but it would've ended up looking like a bad HDR shot.

After learning how to take advantage of the D750's metering and AF systems, it was time to customize the camera to my liking. I'm not a huge fan of having controls for white balance and ISO to the left of the LCD, as it requires you to move your hand from under the lens to press them. The good news is that you can remap the function of the movie record button to handle ISO, white balance, or image area.  In the end, this is how I configured my D750:

Button Function
OK Reset focus point (rec) / 100% view (playback)
Fn Virtual horizon in viewfinder
DOF preview Viewfinder gridlines
AE/AF lock Default
Movie record + command dials ISO (includes current setting, Auto ISO, minimum shutter speed)

In case you didn't notice, composition and level horizons are not my strong point.

The D750 is a good fit for my large hands, with a grip that feels 'just right'. The body, which is mostly magnesium alloy, feel like your $2300 is money well spent. The D750 is covered with buttons and dials to the point where it may be intimidating to photographers upgrading from, say, the D5300. Thankfully, most controls are easy to reach without having to move your hands, save for the buttons to the left of the display. One control I don't like is the eight-way button on the rear plate - it just doesn't feel right. I find that the 'joystick' on Canon's latest DSLRs to easier to direct and less mushy.

The 3.2" LCD's resolution is very high and easy to see outdoors (both of which I appreciate), though I only used it for menus and image playback. I'm not a huge fan of live view on DSLRs, and I can't imagine using it for anything but tripod work on the D750, as its quite sluggish. The optical viewfinder, on the other hand, is fantastic. It's large (with an FX lens attached), focus points are easy to see, and the shooting data at the bottom is sharp and bright thanks to an OLED panel.

Converted from Raw using ACR 8.7. ISO 280, 1/1000 sec, f/4, 120mm

Since I was almost always using the viewfinder I was pleased with how responsive the D750 was. It turns on instantly, focuses lightning-fast, and doesn't make you wait between shots. The battery life is nuts (in a good way) so I felt no need to charge up before going out for the day. The one area in which performance was lacking (aside from live view focusing) is the meager amount of buffer memory. Seeing how I was reviewing the D750 I shot everything in Raw+JPEG, and in continuous high mode the camera slows down after just 11 shots - and that's with an insanely fast SDXC card. While this wasn't an issue in the majority of my shooting, it was a bother when I was photographing my niece's soccer game.

ISO 450, 1/60 sec, f/5.6, 58mm

I've already shown examples of the D750's impressive dynamic range and focus tracking abilities, and I can summarize its overall photo quality in one word: great. Granted, I was using really nice lenses (24-70 F2.8, 24-120 F4), but the photos I took were incredibly clean and sharp.

While I saw noise starting at ISO 800, it increases at such a low rate that images like the one above (taken by my colleague Rishi Sanyal) at ISO 11,400 are very impressive. 1/125 sec, f/8, 20mm.

Using the default Picture Profile (standard) colors really popped, and I felt no need to change that. The one issue I have with Nikon DSLRs in general is that they tend to overexpose by about a third of a stop, and that's the case with the D750 as well. Quite often I just left the exposure compensation that much lower.

Some of my co-workers have come up to me during the process of this review asking what I thought about Nikon's D750. After thinking about the pros and struggling for cons, I responded 'it's pretty much perfect'. The camera excels at virtually everything it does, which is something that I don't run into often in this job. While I might qualify as a 'Canon fanboy', the D750 has proven to me that my brand of choice has some catching up to do.