Review: Nikon D780

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Rating: 5 out of 5.
Review: Nikon D780 camera

The Nikon D780 is perhaps the best DSLR I have ever shot with. Its low-light capability is phenomenal for a camera in this class. The autofocus is accurate and incredibly fast. After shooting with it for a week, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface with what it can do. I primarily use my camera as . . . a camera. To take still photos. However, this camera is built to have much-increased video functionality over its predecessor, the Nikon D750.

This review is intended to be a more “hands on” analysis. I’ll write a more technical review in the future.

The Camera

The Nikon D780 is what I would consider “medium” size for a full-frame DSLR. It weighs 1.85 lbs (0.84 kg), is 5.7″ (15 cm) wide, 4.6″ (11.7 cm) tall, and 2.9″ (7 cm) deep. It’s only slightly larger and heavier than some of the higher-end crop-sensor cameras from Nikon. The dials, controls, and menus are very intuitive (especially if you have shot with other Nikon DSLRs), I was able to pick up and start shooting with no thought or research. It has no built-in flash but has a hot shoe for external flashes. It is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled, making it easy to transfer photos directly to your phone or another device. The sensor has effectively 24.5 megapixels for a maximum resolution of 6048×4024 pixels. The D780 has a native ISO range of 100, 51200 that can be extended to 50 to 204800, for phenomenal quality in low light. You can read the full specs on Lens Rentals.

Timelapse

I recently had the chance to test out the built-in timelapse feature while viewing some late-season aurora borealis. Normally, creating a timelapse requires running my intervalometer on the camera and then spend a couple of hours editing the photos and then processing through a video editor. It was absolutely incredible that this camera does 90% of the work for you. The downside is that you don’t get the RAW images with it to create stills. That did create a bit of conflict in my head in what I wanted to be doing. I would definitely use the timelapse feature of this camera in the future, but when I want to make sure I have the option of taking photos or making prints, I’d keep to using the built-in intervalometer. Below are some samples timelapses taken with the D780.

Still Images

Low Light

Low-light is where this camera really shines. The native ISO range is 100 to 51200, but extendable to 50 to 204800. This was the primary reason that I rented this camera to try it out initially. In Fairbanks, we were nearing the end of our aurora season (at the end of April it is becoming too light in the night to see them). I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to shoot at ISO 6400 with very little noise in the images. Below is an image taken at ISO 6400 with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens at f/2.8. The photo was exported to jpg, directly from RAW with no editing (only base curve applied).

Zoomed in view of a small portion of the auroral band with no noise reduction applied
Handheld at 500 mm right before sunset (ISO 1000) with Nikkor
VR 200-500mm f/5.6E

Autofocus

The autofocus on the Nikon D780 was also quite impressive. It takes its 51-point autofocus system directly from the Nikon Z6. It’s really made to be used in live view, which took some getting used to for me. I’ve always like my eye behind the viewfinder. You can easily select your focus point using the touch screen in live view, and if your subject is moving, the autofocus system tracks that object almost magically.

Live view with autofocus tracking was great for chasing our little kitty through the woods

Slideshow – Nikon D780 images

HDR

The D780 does have a built-in High Dynamic Range (HDR) image setting. It seems to work fairly well, with little of the common HDR artifacts that make some HDR images so hideous (usually from poor tonemapping). That said, I’m not really into HDR in any way, but I tried it out and I imagine there might be some scenarios where I would use it. I would like some more time to play around with it.

 
 
Sunlight through the trees – Nikon D780 in HDR mode

Below is as close as I took to a side-by-side comparison between HDR mode (left) and normal exposure (right). The HDR mode does a great job at bringing out details in the shadows, and maintaining detail in highlights, however, the color always seems a bit “off”, and it’s a bit difficult to correct (especially since it is only saved in JPG).

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Video

Unfortunately, in the short week I had this camera, I simply did not have the time to really test out the video modes of the D780. I will test again in the future to write more on the video quality. From the little I did play with, I can tell the video quality is fantastic, even handheld. The built-in microphones are directly in front of the external flash hot shoe, and it picked up my breathing somewhat obnoxiously. If you are going to use video mode while you are behind the camera, consider an external, directed microphone. It uses the EN-EL15b rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery (it is cross-compatible with other EN-EL15 batteries), with up to 2260 shots if you are not using Live View.

Unlimited Photo Storage

TL;DR

The Nikon D780 was incredibly fun to shoot with. It has fast and accurate autofocus, great low-light performance, awesome in-camera timelapse, fantastic video quality, and a host of features I’ll probably never use. Yes, I will be purchasing this camera for my arsenal. Of course, I always recommend trying it before you buy, rent this lens now with Lens Rentals.

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