Finding the right balance is hard to do. Just ask a chef. Adding even one ounce of the wrong ingredient can cause a recipe to quickly go from a delicacy to a disaster. The same can be said of DSLR design. For years, manufacturers have been trying to strike the right balance between features, functionality and price. With a full-frame sensor, tiltable 3.2-inch screen, uncompressed HDMI output, 1080p resolution at 60 frames per second, manual audio controls and zebra bars all at a shade more than $2,000, the D750 may just be Nikon’s piece de resistance.
Believe it or not, there was once a time when a ?” sensor was considered top of the line in the world of digital cinematography. At that time, selective focus was little more than a pipe dream and dynamic range was narrower than a seat on a budget airline. Even so, video enthusiasts the world over bought them in droves since it was all they could afford. Not anymore. With the advent of DSLRs, full-frame sensor sizes have finally been made a reality at a price that won’t break the bank. Nowhere is this more true than for the Nikon D750. For only $2,299, the D750 comes with a full-frame (35.9mmx24mm) CMOS sensor that can produce images as large as 6,016×4,016 pixels. That means you can expect extremely fine detail, incredibly wide shots, and the kind of shallow depth of field that you only find in Hollywood — all for $1,000 cheaper than Nikon’s flagship D810. In addition, due to the increased space between the photodiodes of a full-frame sensor, you’ll also get less light leakage from one pixel to the next resulting in more accurate images and videos.
With the right balance of features, video quality and — most important — price, the D750 is poised to become the most popular DSLR in Nikon’s lineup.
However, it takes more than just a large sensor to make images look great. The image processor is important too. That’s why Nikon included the new EXPEED 4 image processor in the D750. The EXPEED 4 can crunch photos 30 percent faster than its predecessor without giving up detail or color accuracy. This boost in processing speed means that the D750 can fire off shots at a swift six and a half frames per second, making the D750 faster than both the five fps of the D810 and the six fps of the D610. This boost in speed also makes the D750 a perfect choice for photographers who need to capture just the right moment in a news event or sports game. Even more exciting, the faster processor gives the D750 the ability to shoot 1080p video at 60 fps. This is a huge plus if you’re editing in a standard 24 fps timeline since your footage will appear two and a half times slower than real time. Best of all, the faster speed of the processor gives a significant boost to the noise reduction capabilities of the D750. In our tests, we found that we could crank up the ISO to 1600 without getting any discernable noise and up to 3200 before the footage became unusable. This was pretty remarkable given that most DSLRs we’ve tested could only get good footage up to ISO 800 just a few years ago.
Ironically, the one fault that seasoned shooters have with DSLRs is also their greatest strength: their size. Without additional weight in the back and a shoulder mount, it can be a challenge to hold a DSLR steady for hand-held shots. On the flip side, their diminutive stature allows for stealthier shooting which can be a boon when making documentaries or shooting the news. Nikon went decidedly with the latter by using a combination of magnesium alloy and light but strong carbon fiber in the construction of the D750. The result is that the D750 weighs less than any other full-frame DSLR that Nikon offers — just 26.5 ounces. Indeed, the camera felt much lighter in our hands when performing test shots than many other cameras in the same class. This was a good thing since we took our test shots during a week-long tour across the varying terrain that Israel has to offer. In addition to losing weight, Nikon also redesigned the hand grip of the D750 making it thinner than previous models. Though this forced Nikon to make the top LCD screen smaller, we found that the added comfort and natural fit more than made up for the lost screen space. Nikon didn’t stop there. They also weather-sealed the D750 against dust and moisture, putting it firmly among the top tier of cameras. During our testing of the D750, the camera encountered everything from rain on the Sea of Galilee to salt and dust along the Dead Sea without any performance issues. This fact alone made the camera worth almost every penny.
Build quality is important, but what gets shooters really excited about a camera is its features. Fortunately, the Nikon D750 has these in spades. One of the most overlooked features of the D750 is the built-in intervalometer for time-lapse photography. Though it’s been standard fare in Nikon’s lineup for years, it’s a function that oddly requires the purchase of an external controller for other camera manufacturers. With bag space and weight being such a precious commodity to many hard-core shooters, this feature will doubtless come as a welcome relief. The D750 also gives you two ways to do time-lapse photography. For those who want the extra quality and have the right software, there is an intervalometer that can capture either HDR or normal NEF files to the internal SD card. On the other hand, if you don’t have fancy processing software like PhotoMatix Pro, the D750 can do all the hard work for you. There’s a time-lapse function in the video menu that will take a series of photos and render it into an H.264 video internally for immediate playback. This is quite the useful feature for those shooters who would rather save the time and money of processing time-lapses in post. Also, just like the D810, Nikon has now added the ability to take 9,999 photos, allowing shooters to capture time-lapses from sunrise to sunset.
Of course, capturing day long time-lapses requires a battery that can last all day too. To address this, Nikon has included their newly improved EN-EL15 battery which lasts 33 percent longer than their previous offering. Though we found the extra power handy during our testing, we still found ourselves having to keep a close eye on our camera’s power toward the end of our day just to make sure we could get all the shots we needed. However, cinematographers rarely leave home without having several batteries in tow, so this wasn’t a deal-breaker for us.
The one thing we did find annoying about the D750 was its cheap and clumsy charger. The build quality was questionable while the light on the charger blinked at the same rate no matter where the battery was in its charging cycle. This made it very difficult to know how much juice the battery had and seems like a fairly easy fix for Nikon to make.
Conversely, Nikon really knocked their new OLED screen design out of the park. Not only does it have a gorgeous 3.2-inch 1,190,000 dot screen, it also has the ability to tilt. With the tilting screen, it’s now possible to get great shots from the floor or above your head without having to have a bulky external monitor or an appointment with a chiropractor. Along with that, Nikon also has an assignable “OK” button that zooms into your image at 100 percent, allowing you to make sure the focus is sharp. All of this means that you can safely leave your external monitors at home since the D750 does everything a monitor should.
One of the more interesting new features of the D750 is the internal WiFi chip. With it, you can send pictures right from the D750 to a smartphone device within seconds of pressing the shutter. This is great for shooters who are highly connected to the world of social media since it bypasses the hours of transferring, processing and exporting that typically needs to happen before an NEF file is ready to be viewed. Using the Wireless Mobile Utility application for both the iPhone and Android, you can also control the camera’s shutter remotely as well as view pictures that are on the camera’s SD card. Though we found this to be a useful feature, we were disappointed with the lack of options in the Wireless Mobile Utility. Unlike other popular wireless utilities, it’s not possible to change the ISO, shutter speed or iris settings remotely, and it’s lacking a time-lapse option. These seem like easy features to include in future updates of the software, and we expect Nikon will eventually do so.
As any shooter knows, convenient external controls are hard to live without. The last thing you want to be doing when you’re paying a crew thousands of dollars an hour is digging through a camera’s menu. Fortunately, the D750 has you covered. It has an external control for every function that cinematographers need. There’s the typical front and rear wheel for changing iris and shutter speeds, but there’s also a dedicated switch to toggle video and stills in live-view mode, and an incredibly useful “I” button that allows you to quickly change settings such as video resolution, frame rate, audio levels and headphone levels. Best of all, the “I” button also has an option to show zebra bars over the areas of the image that were overexposed. This is a feature that, until recently, was solely in the realm of camcorders and software hacks. It’s extremely satisfying to see a camera manufacturer such as Nikon include this small yet extremely helpful feature on a DSLR. We also really liked the placement of the video record button, which was smartly placed just to the left of the shutter release. This made it both easy to find and difficult to press by accident.
It’s easy to get excited about the features of a DSLR, but the most important question is how well it shoots video. Most DSLR’s tend to overly compress their video in order to save on space. This leads to blotchy artifacts, a loss of color definition and moire. Though the D750 records in the typical lossy format of H.264/MPEG-4, it has options. You can choose to raise your bit-rate from 12 to 24 Mbps if you have the space and want to keep the quality. With its dual SD/SDHC/SDXC card slots, there should be plenty of space to keep your footage recording at 24 Mbps. In addition, Nikon also allows for uncompressed recording through the D750’s mini-HDMI port located on the side of the camera. This means that if you have an external HDMI recorder, you can get the kind of video quality that’s fit to broadcast.
DSLRs have never been known for their ability to capture good audio, yet good audio quality is arguably more important to making a film seem professional than the picture. That’s what makes the Nikon D750 so surprising. It’s a DSLR that actually comes with an 1/8th inch microphone port and a headphone port for monitoring the audio. In addition, the handy “I” button on the bottom left of the camera allows you to quickly change both the audio recording levels and the headphone levels during a shoot. Even more amazing, there’s an option that allows you to change the frequency response and wind noise reduction levels of the built-in stereo microphone — a feature typically found only on much higher end cameras.
Like we mentioned before, we were really happy with the way the D750 handled noise even at ISO levels up to 3200. However, Nikon also impressed us with their lack of moire and rolling shutter. We also really like the picture profile options that Nikon offers. You can shoot with vivid colors, flat colors, neutral colors, etc. We found that the flat color feature gave us more latitude to correct color in post. Also, the D750 allows you to change the crop factor of the sensor from DX to FX. This means that you can zoom in 1.5x on any image — a nice feature to have when you’ve forgotten to pack a zoom lens in your kit.
THE BOTTOM LINE
2014 was a busy year for Nikon. They released their see-in-the-dark flagship, the D4s in March and their D810 in the spring, which captures images at an eye-opening 7,360 x 4,912 pixels. While each of these cameras were huge leaps forward for Nikon, it seems that they saved their best for last. With its great price, tiltable LCD screen, small size and low-noise imagery, the D750 should be on every DSLR cinematographers’ short list.
Sensor Size: 35.9x24mm
Effective Pixels: 24.3 million
Maximum Still Image Area: 6,016 x 4,016
Still Image File Format: JPEG, NEF (RAW)
Maximum Still Frames Per Second: 6.5
Movie Frame Size and Frame Rate: 1,920 x 1,080 (60p/30p/24p), 1,280 x 720 (60p)
Movie File Format: MOV (H.264/MPEG-4), Linear PCM audio
Maximum Movie Record Time: 20 min.
Storage Media: CompactFlash, SD, SDHC, SDXC
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/4000
Minimum Shutter Speed: 30 seconds or bulb
ISO: 100-12,800, expandable to 50 – 51,200 equivalent
White Balance: auto, color temperature, fluorescent, incandescent, preset
LCD Monitor: 3.2″ (1,229,000 dots)
Interfaces: HDMI (Type-C), headphone, NTSC, USB 2.0
Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes
Battery Type: EN-EL15 Lithium-ion
Accessory Shoe: Yes
Built-In Flash: Yes
Lens Mount: Nikon F mount
Weight: 26.5 ounces
- Full frame sensor
- Low price
- 1080p at 60 fps
- Manual audio controls
- Dual card slots
- Uncompressed video via HDMI port
- Zebra stripes for exposure
- Internal time-lapse
- Excellent noise reduction at high ISO settings
- Internal WiFi can send photos to smartphone
- Slow proprietary USB 2.0 port
- No real autofocus
- WiFi Utility has severely limited functionality
Dan Bruns is an award-winning cinematographer and editor who has worked in video production for more than a decade.