Michael Topham looks at how Nikon has improved one of its most popular full frame DSLRs and made an even more impressive all-rounder

Product Overview

Nikon D780

Product:

Nikon D780 review: hands-on first look

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£2,199.00 (Body Only)

Nikon D780: At a glance

  • £2,199 body only
  • £2,619 with Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/4 G ED VR lens
  • 24.5MP Full Frame CMOS sensor
  • Nikon F Mount
  • ISO 100-12,800 (ISO 50-204,800 extended)
  • Hybrid AF system
  • 3.2in, 2,360k-dot tilting touchscreen
  • 12fps continuous shooting in Live View (7fps via OVF)
  • In-camera USB charging

When Nikon announced the Z 50 at the end of last year, the manufacturer was keen to stress that their strategy going forward would be to run their DSLR and mirrorless systems in tandem. The reasoning for this is that Nikon firmly believes photographers see advantages of both systems, with DSLR’s continuing to be the first choice of those who prefer an optical viewfinder and having longer battery life and mirrorless cameras becoming extremely popular with those who are more conscious of size, weight and portability.

Nikon D780 review

The D780 boasts a wider ISO range than the D850. Work with ISO 100–51200, extendable up to 204800 and down to ISO 50.

Nikon has backed up what they said by releasing a new DSLR for a new decade that’s designed to have all-round appeal with enthusiasts and professionals. The new camera we’re talking about is the Nikon D780. You could easily be mistaken for thinking this new release could mark the end for the much-loved D750, but Nikon has confirmed the D750 will remain in the lineup for quite some time, with the D780 slotting in-between the D750 and Z 6 in the company’s product lineup. Perhaps most interesting of all is the way Nikon has taken some of its learning’s from mirrorless and applied it into the D780, which is said to be Nikon’s most versatile DSLR ever.

Nikon D780: Features

Although the pixel count is similar to the D750, the D780 introduces a new full frame CMOS sensor with a resolution of 24.5-million-pixels. Like the chip used in the Nikon Z 6, the D780’s sensor features a low-pass filter and benefits from a backside-illuminated structure to maximize its light gathering capabilities.

By effectively implementing the same sensor and on chip phase detection that the Z 6 uses, users get the same 51-point autofocus system with 15 cross-type points as the D750 when focusing via the optical viewfinder and 273-point phase-detection autofocus when it’s used in Live View. This is the first time we’ve seen a Nikon DSLR borrow an AF system for Live View from one of their mirrorless models and suggests the same approach could be repeated with other DSLRs that are due a refresh in the future.

Nikon D780 review

The 0.70x optical viewfinder gives a wide field of view and 100% coverage. The tilting 2359k-dot LCD monitor offers touch functionality.

Users can expect focusing in Live View to perform just as it does on the Z 6, with the added benefit of eye-detection AF and the option to select which eye the camera focuses on. Users get all the respective DSLR/mirrorless AF-area modes one could expect and the detection range of the AF system spans all the way down to -6EV in its low-light mode. The 51-point Phase-Detection AF system is sensitive down to -3 EV.

By uniting Nikon’s latest EXPEED 6 image processor with the sensor, the D780 can shoot at 12fps in silent mode with Live View, however this drops to 7fps when it’s used in SLR mode with the optical viewfinder. The buffer is claimed to allow up to 28 Raw files to recorded continuously (or 100 JPEGs) before its limit is reached.

Comparing the D780’s specs to the D750’s also tells us it offers a wider ISO range. Whereas the D750 shoots between ISO 100-12,800 (expandable to 50-51,200), the D780 has a sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200, expandable to ISO 50-204,800.

Nikon D780 review

Dual SD card slots feature at the side of the Nikon D780. Button and dial placement at the rear will be very familiar to Nikon D750 users

Shifting our focus to video, the D780 is now capable of in-camera 4K recording at up to 30fps using the full width of the sensor. Those wishing to experiment with slow motion can do so at Full HD at up to 120fps. Videographers will be pleased to receive helpful aids such as a peaking display for accurate manual focus, and zebra patterns to avoid overexposure, while microphone and headphone sockets are also built in and are located at the side of the body next to the mini HDMI, USB Type C and accessory ports.

In-camera charging via USB, dual SD card slots (both UHS-II compatible) and wirelessly connectivity (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) round off the D780’s comprehensive set of features that’ll appeal not only to high-end enthusiasts, but also professionals who don’t require the super high resolutions offered by models like the D850 or Z 7.

Nikon D780: Viewfinder and screen

Very few changes are found at the rear of the D780. The button layout is identical with a line of five buttons arranged down the left of the screen, a four-way controller within easy reach of the thumb and a Live View button encircled by a stills/video switch.

It inherits the same 0.7x optical viewfinder from the D750 that offers 100% coverage and the screen remains the same size (3.2in) and is the tilting type. It’s good to see touchscreen functionality added, which the D750 lacked, and the resolution of the screen has also increased from 1.229k-dots to 2.360k-dots.

Nikon D780 review

A top view of the Nikon D780 showing its fairly small but valuable top plate LCD panel

As for its build quality, the Nikon D780 has a dust and water resistant magnesium alloy body. This makes it just as tough as the D750 and those with eager eyes will notice a facelift to some of the dials and controls on the top plate. In all other respects the Nikon D780 is much of a likeness to the D750 and thanks to its deep handgrip, it feels very well balanced with small, lightweight lenses or larger, heavier telephoto zooms.

Nikon has confirmed that existing D750 users who might own Nikon’s MB-D16 battery grip won’t be able to use it with the Nikon D780 as it’s not compatible. With regard to battery life, we’ve been told Nikon D780 users can expect to shoot approximately 2060 shots on a single charge.

Nikon D780: First impressions

The Nikon D780 is a blend of what we liked about the D750, with innards adopted from the Nikon Z 6 and a few other improvements added for good measure. Having spent some time with the Nikon D780 during a press briefing, we can confirm its focusing in Live View performs exactly as it does on the Z 6, while out of Live View it behaves and focuses just like the D750.

Nikon D780 review

The Nikon D750 features the same 180K-pixel RGB sensor and Advanced Scene Recognition system as the D850. Battery life is claimed to be a healthy 2060 shots

For Nikon users who’ve invested heavily in F-mount lenses, aren’t ready to commit to mirrorless, but need a new, reliable and very capable workhorse, the Nikon D780 should fit the bill nicely. The improvements to focusing in Live View, the addition of touchscreen control and option to charge the battery in-camera address the criticisms we made when we reviewed the D750 back in 2014.

First impressions suggest it has potential to be one of the best all-round DSLRs we’ve ever tested, but we’ll need to wait for our review sample to arrive before we pass final judgement.

New Nikon lenses on the horizon

At the same time as announcing the D780, Nikon has released a pair of new zooms. The latest arrival in the F-mount is the NIKKOR AF-S 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR – a pro-spec zoom designed for sports and action photography with high-end DSLRs like the forthcoming Nikon D6.

Nikon D780 review

The lens features 25 elements in 19 groups, with Nikon’s ED glass and SR glass as well as ARNEO and Nano Crystal coatings.

Its arrival ties in with this year’s Tokyo 2020 Olympic games where many pros shooting Nikon will call for a fast medium telephoto zoom in demanding low-light situations. It features a complex construction of 25 elements in 19 groups and in addition to Extra-low dispersion (ED) glass, special short wavelength spectrum (SR) glass is used to combat blue fringing that traditional lenses typically have a hard time correcting.

Claimed to offer a prime-like lens performance, it’s fully weather sealed, has built-in Vibration Reduction (VR) that’s effective to four stops, a memory recall button, works with all of Nikon’s 1.4x and 2x tele converters and features an integrated tripod foot. It’ll go on sale on the 23rd January and will cost €10,999.

The second lens – the NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S is more of a mainstream optic and has been included in Nikon’s Z lens roadmap for a while. It strengthens Nikon’s lens portfolio for its Z series cameras and is a lens many have been patiently waiting for.

Nikon D780 review

Although it can’t easily be seen in this view, an OLED lens information panel is included, allowing users to glance at aperture, focus distance, exact focal length and ISO settings from the lens

It has a construction of 21 elements in 18 groups and features Nikon’s special short wavelength spectrum (SR) glass in addition to ARNEO and fluorine coatings. Other key features include a weather sealed construction, 9-blade aperture, control ring, Fn button to which 21 different functions can be assigned, and 1m minimum focus distance at full telephoto (0.5m at 70mm).

The NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S accepts filters and adapters via a 77mm thread and it weighs 1360g without the tripod collar, or 1440g when it’s fitted. The lens is expected to be available to buy later this month at a price of €2799. We have already requested a sample of the lens so watch this space for our full review.

Nikon D780: Specifications

Details

Sensor:24.5-million-pixel full-frame CMOS sensor
Focal length mag:1x
Lens Mount:Nikon F-mount
Shutter speeds:30secs- 1/8000sec, bulb
Continuous shooting:12fps in Silent Mode (Live View), 7fps via optical viewfinder
Screen:3.2in, 2,360k-dot tilting touchscreen
Viewfinder:Optical Viewfinder, 0.70x magnification, 100% coverage
AF points:51-point autofocus system via viewfinder, 273-point phase-detection AF in Live View
Video:4K at 30p/25p/24p
External microphone:Yes
Memory card:Dual SD card slots, UHS-II compatible
Power:Nikon EN-EL15b battery
Battery life:2060 shots
In-camera charging via USB:Yes