Image quality

Raw converted in ACR.
ISO 250 | 1/250 sec | F2.8 | Nikon 50mm F1.8 D
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Image quality from the Nikon D780 is excellent. Users can expect malleable Raw files with plenty of detail and good noise performance. Nikon's JPEG color continues to be a crowd-pleaser. We do recommend dialing down the default noise reduction, which can be a tad aggressive at high ISOs.

Key takeaways:

  • Raw image quality is class-leading with good dynamic range, high levels of detail and good high ISO performance
  • Default JPEG color is class-leading
  • Default JPEG noise reduction can be a tad aggressive, blurring fine detail at high ISOs. We recommend turning it down
  • Noticeable shutter shock at focal lengths beyond 85mm when shooting at slower shutter speeds (~1/30s). Upping your shutter speed or using the camera's 'Quiet Mode' with EFCS on can avoid this

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Raw image quality

Raw image quality from the D780's 24MP sensor looks identical to that of the Nikon Z6. Perceivable differences are most likely due to different lenses being used. Which is to say, The D780's noise levels at high ISOs are on par with the best of its peers and slightly improved over its predecessor, the D750. The same can be said at very high ISOs, where deep shadows have considerably less noise than the D750.

At base ISO, the D780 offers impressive detail capture. However the camera's anti-aliasing filter appears a little stronger than that of the a7 III, resulting in slightly less detail, but better suppression of false color.

It's worth noting we had to modify our studio scene shooting protocol due to shutter shock (more on that below), since our default method of shooting in Single drive mode led to unusable results. We enabled electronic front-curtain shutter (EFCS), switched to Quiet drive mode, and added a short 0.2-second exposure delay.

JPEG image quality

The D780 offers class-leading JPEG color, similar to its mirrorless counterpart, the Nikon Z6. Reds, yellows, greens and blues all look nice and punchy. And skin tones appear to be accurate and pleasing.

Default JPEG sharpening is well-judged: edges are well-defined without looking exaggerated. And sharpening looks noticeably improved when compared to the Nikon D750. But at high ISOs, noise reduction can be a bit over-aggressive, blurring away some of the fine detail that the Sony a7 III manages to hold on to. Still, default noise-reduction is far improved over the D750.

Real-world NR example

Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 14400 | 1/500 sec | F4 | Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 E @ 95mm
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Default JPEG noise reduction can be a tad aggressive. We recommend switching high ISO noise reduction from 'normal' to 'low,' as we did in the image above. Using the slider below, you can easily compare the differences in JPEG noise reduction between the two settings.

Images compared as 50% crops, to represent a reasonable viewing size

Dynamic range

The D780's dual gain sensor offers impressive dynamic range. Raw images shot at ISO 100 and pushed six stops look almost the same as a properly-exposed ISO 6400 image. This means users wishing to maximize highlights in their image can safely underexpose by multiple stops and bring up the shadows and mid-tones in post.

With the Nikon Z6 and Z7, on-sensor phase detect brought about unwanted banding in the shadows of very darkest tones shot with these cameras: the D750, with no on-sensor phase detect, never had this issue. With the the D780, Nikon has done a better job processing out its on-sensor PDAF points compared to its mirrorless siblings.

Shutter shock

The D780 gets a new shutter mechanism with a top mechanical speed of 1/8000 sec (compared to 1/4000 sec on the D750). Unfortunately the new mechanism brings with it a risk for shutter shock. We didn't experience much shutter shock in our general day-to-day shooting, but there are certain instances - easily repeatable in our studio - where it can cause issues. Take a look at the slider below showing images shot using the 70-200 F4 VR lens at 200mm, 1/30s, handheld. On the left is what you'd get shooting the camera as you're likely to shoot - in Single drive mode - and on the right is what you get if you engage Quiet mode with electronic front-curtain shutter engaged:

Specifically, shutter shock can be an issue when shooting focal lengths around 85mm or longer, with the severity increasing with increasing focal length. It only seems to appear at shutter speeds below 1/60s, usually around the 1/30s range. Inexplicably, the severity of the shutter shock can vary from shot to shot, despite identical settings.

The easiest way to avoid this issue is to simply bump up your shutter speed when shooting telephoto lenses. The camera's Auto ISO lets you easily set the camera to bias toward speeds 1/ two or three times the focal length. Another option is to use the camera's 'Quiet' or 'Mup' drive modes, along with the electronic first-curtain shutter (d5 in the Custom Settings menu). Just be aware, the camera's top shutter speed maxes out at 1/2000 sec when EFCS is engaged, and Quiet mode with EFCS adds a slight delay compared to standard Single and Continuous drive modes.