Nikon D780 By Spencer Cox 55 CommentsLast Updated On November 13, 2022«1. Overview and Specifications2. Construction and Handling3. Focusing Performance4. Image Quality and Video5. Camera Comparisons6. Summary and Conclusions7. More Image Samples8. Reader Comments»Table of ContentsOverview and SpecificationsConstruction and HandlingFocusing PerformanceImage Quality and VideoCamera ComparisonsSummary and ConclusionsMore Image SamplesReader Comments
Concerning viewfinder light leaks, the D780 comes with a cover for the viewfinder that Nikon included for live view video recording.
Your timely and interesting article was updated Nov 22, I wish I saw it a month ago. I am a D810 owner who toyed with upgrading to a D850 over BF/Xmas – but then got sidetracked with opinions about mirrorless – and I ended up buying nothing. Issues are
– I have a dry cabinet full of FX and DX DSLR lenses which I cannot afford to replace
– But we may never see another FX DSLR update again
I waited YEARS to upgrade from D200 to D500, and frankly I was hoping for a D880 FX. But I came across your article tonight, and decided to look at the D780 a bit. Still very undecided though. A distant Z8 sounds tempting – but the FTZ adapter won’t be fully compatible to all my lenses.
Ironically, here in Australia, your price complaint does not apply (at the moment anyway). The D780 is $1,000 cheaper that the D850. At ~USD$1,500 (INCL 10% tax) it is almost approachable and almost US$1,000 cheaper than the US price for the same.
Seems to me the main advantages the D780 will provide me is better higher ISO performance (ie night photography) and focus bracketing/stacking. In this scenario I will keep the D810 for action. Still. the D780 won’t give me that much more pixels than my MFT system – in fact the Panny GH6 has more pixels, but the ISO performance will be less. GH6/D780 prices are roughly the same – and I already have heaps of MFT lenses.
Got to decided this while Boxing Day sales are still on. Do I jump, or should I just wait for the Nikon Z8 …
(I do a variety of nature photography styles with my Nikons, incl landscape, wildlife, astro, etc)
I am curious, Spencer, what lens is the VR 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3E that is specified on many of the images?
Sure thing, Alan! It’s the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 VC. I’m not sure why our EXIF plugin thinks it has VR and E in the name. Those captions are generated automatically.
A most useful review, which I revisited a few times, until I bought a new D780 last week. Here are my first impressions. I pinned down 3 key factors for my local needs.
#1 higher ISO performance better than the D850 & Z7 (2) D5-D500 level AFC, and not least #3 access to Silent-Shooting and these instances cannot be predicted. On paper, the Z6 specs of the D780 suffice for #1 and #3, with the added positives of the cloned Z6 AFC system with Silent Mode. Factor #2 is contingent on how well the combination of D5 AFC algorithms + EXPEED6 deliver in a D3 era AF sensor.
Anyways, last week I took up the Special offer by Nikon running through June. I also decided the time had arrived to trade in the Z7, pending Nikon releasing a 2nd generation FX Prosumer Z. (To attract buyers/upgraders this Z8 must deliver D5 spec AFC prowess and greatly improve on current Firmware, especially the expanding options in Custom controls to catch up to the D5/D6.) In summary, the new D780 was almost a direct swop for a 2 1/2 year old Z7, which had seen almost daily use.
AFC delivers, Silent-shooting works very well via Lv in my contexts. Preliminary IQ of images shot deliberately at ISOs > 3200 through 6400 to 12800 and 25600 confirm the technical testing of sensors by Photons to Photos.
I most certainly have criticisms of the D780. They include gaps in Menu options, No viewfinder dark-curtain, and No Grip. The Fn button is hard to reach with the bottom finger because it is positioned too low (unlike D500 and D850) (Why, oh why does Nikon mess up what works?). The biggest gaps in custom-menu options is Nikon makes it impossible to map key AF functions to hotkeys. Ideally, I want to access any of three different AFC modes instantly by hot key. This poor design is in stark contrast to many choices of control exposure settings to Pv and/or Fn.
Thus with the D780, you cannot assign AF-On+AF mode to any Fn button (ie AE-AF Lock, AF-On, Fn, Pv). However, you have the choice of 34 options for [b]Pv[/b] and [b]Fn1[/b]; [b]AE-AFL[/b] just 7 options; [b]AF-On[/b] has just 6 options; [b]Brkt has 4 only[/b]; and only a mere 2 functions can be mapped to the Red Record Button. The Z’s do a better here, as you can assign Record to dial between AF modes using only the right hand.
As the D780 stands, Nikon can do much better to upgrade the menu options. Currently, the poorly designed Custom options (F3) cripple optimizing the rich potential of the AF system – for Action genres especially. After all, the D780 brochure emphasizes how the D780 is ideal to shoot action scenes. Nikon need to apply Haptics Criterion 101 – Maximize all Possible Options.
High Performance AFC using D5 AFC algorithms
Z6 Sensor with industry leading high ISO performance (2nd to D5)
Excellent image quality in low light at higher ISOs ie ISO6400-12800
Z system Liveview. All 3 AF systems (AFC, AFP, AFS) exploit the full sensor area
273-point Z System AF in Lv compared to 51-point OVF AF
i-Menu customizable in OVF and Lv Modes
Touch-screen LCD and it articulates
Charging camera simple via the USB-C port
12 fps in Lv Mode
AF-ON and AE-L/AF-L buttons on rear panel, top of camera-right
Excellent battery life –the widely used ENEL15b (in D500, D850, Z6, Z7)
No Pop-up Flash
Full potential of AF system is crippled by very poorly designed Custom menu options
Position of the Fn button reflects sloppy design. It is hard to reach with 3rd or 4th finger – hampers action shooting
Smaller area of AF sensor window
51-point OVF AF
6-7 fps in OVF
No Viewfinder Curtain
EFFECTs option is in the wrong position on Mode Dial. It interrupts smooth switching from S > A > to U1 and U2.
Release Mode Dial should be larger ie more conspicuous. It is too small and difficult to turn, especially wearing gloves.
No XQD cards. Yes SD cards are cheaper but they are unreliable
Gaps aside, the D780 is a highly refined Nikon camera that has been well thought through (exceptions being Nikon’s sloppy menu design of Custom AF-mode options).
Not everyone will appreciate/need its combination of features, but too few appear to recognize how the D780 fills a unique niche in the bridging the F and Z ecosystems. (Albeit it cannot use any of the excellent Z Nikkors.) So far, nowhere have I read anyone underscore that the D780 e-Manual has almost doubled the # pages of the D750.
Compared to the dated D750, the Nikon is a very different camera. The Menu options have expanded significantly since 2014, but need urgent refining. This is besides the complete redesign of the new Lv and video systems, which Nikon has blended into this DSLR. Workable networking and USB charging exemplify refined features that should be standard on every modern ILC.
Merging some of the best features from the core of the Z system are major game changes – not least the Z6 sensor with its AF capabilities, and the i-Menu (customizable for OVF and LV modes). One can switch quickly between OVF to “EVF” types ‘blad, with the Lv button right next to AF-On to depress with the thumb. The D5 type AFC modes works very well. Compared to the D500 and D850, I find the key difference (so far) is the smaller window with its 51 AF points; but having used Nikon for 3+ decades this is not a crippling handicap.
In due course, I will clean up the notes / points I’ve jotted down, as some wildlife photographers might be interested in reading how the D780 works out with more intensive testing. 4-5 years ago I bought a Used Df primarily for its D4 sensor in low light, and the IQ it delivered is confirmed in several of my wildlife keepers. One way to view the D780 for wildlife is how this affordable hybrid DSLR delivers almost D5 level IQ at much less than price of a Used D5 with the benefits of Practicable Silent-Shooting.
Thanks for the awesome comments and for adding your impressions – very useful!
Excellent Review, Spencer. Moreover, your accompanying images are Magnificent !!
Thanks a lot to you Spencer and the entire “PL pack” for this review. I enjoy your reviews and benefit from it for many years now and it is always a joy reading them. Keeping in mind that a manufacturer should be the one knowing best about its product, it is quite amazing how many extremely valuable details people like you can present to all of us that the manurfacturer keeps rather quiet about and – to be honest – sometimes I think that the guys doing the marketing for the cameras cannot be photographers or videographers themselves :-D .
My thoughts about the D780:
As always the camera preference depends on lots of criteria. Of course there are always people that are keen on always having the newest equipment with the most impressive numbers in the technical data. But having had the opportunity to learn first hand from a professional I think that most of us can bet further if they just get to using the equipment they own now up to its limit. For non-pro photographers on a budget there is always a point where you have to think about what you really need and how to get it.
So the first thing I thouht I have to do something about is frame rate and buffer. So the D780 should be really tempting. But there are downsides as well. If you prefer to shoot “the old-school way” via viewfinder you gain just 1 fps compared to the D750 for the price of having to swap all your memory cards for UHS-II cards and still keep the other ones for the other cameras, because using UHS-II cards in a camera with UHS-I cxontroller can actually mean loosing (!) performance against the UHS-I card (!). So frame rate as an argument for the D780 was gone for me.
When looking at the way of using buffer, I remembered the test here on PL by JOhn Sherman regarding the benefit of 14 vs. 12bit RAW and decided to go for 12bit as a default. When looking at the camera infrastructure I found that there is a single controller that has to store every picture twice sequentually when activating the backup mode for the second card. After I never had a single case of a corrupted SD card in my entire life I now work with 12-bit RAW compressed and deactivated backup option, which – especially after practicing more and using the available capacity more conciously – gives me sufficient number of frames with maximum rate of 6 fps and a doubled frame rate of app. 2,5 fps after the buffer has filled up. Consequence: Keep the D750 at a cost of 0.
Step 2: Going backwards :-D
After getting my AF-S 500 PF and falling in love with it, I thought about how often I get the opportunity to go hunting with may camera and the way I typically do it. Then I took a closer look to the good old D7200 review of John Sherman that was published here together with a couple of comparisons. After I got hands on an almost new D7200 in perfect condition for the price of a new TC14E III I now have a perfect image of my D750 regarding handling and functionality, but with a DX sensor and without low pass filter, giving me a really agile and manoeuvrable equivalent of 750mm f5.6 around 3 kg and a 1050mm f5.6 combo with about 6kg using my AF-S 500 G f4 + TC14. Price: 400€
It will probably take years until I even think of another camera rather than my D750 / D7200 set that I am extremely happy with.
But as I said, this is a very personal opinion of a very non-pro person being very old and thus too old school to get new cameras every now and then ;-)
Much appreciated, Thomas, and thank you for adding your thoughts! I think for your needs, the D750/D7200 combo is perfect. Especially with those two 500mm lenses :)
Even though the D780 is a great camera, so is the D750. For existing D750 users, I see no need to switch it out for the newer model, except for heavy videographers (who probably already got the Z6 anyway). There’s a lot of value in sticking with a smaller number of cameras for several years to learn them as well as possible. That’ll make a bigger difference to most photographers than boosts to a few specifications.
Thanks for coming back with this feedback, Spencer. I am glad that you seee itv this way. At the moment I am struggling a bit with the AF fine adjustment with the combo D7200 + AF-S 500 f4 G VR with and without TC but I once I get it done I am really curious about the results with a dim light combo equivalent to a 750mm f4 and a super reach variant equivalent to 1050mm f5.6 :-)
By the time the mirrorless cameras get close enough to replacing DSLRs in wildlife shooting I will probably be happy about every pound I don’t have to carry any more. Just think what a Z 500 f4 S PF could do ! :-D
You haven’t applied the D7200 crop factor to the lens f-number in your equivalence.
D7200 crop factor:
CF = √(36² + 24²) ÷ √(23.5² + 15.6²) ≈ 1.534
500 mm f/5.6 on D7200, has the full-frame equivalent:
500 mm × CF ≈ 767 mm
f/5.6 × CF ≈ f/6.1 [not f/4!]
NB: f/5.6 is actually f/√2.5 ≈ f/5.657
500 mm f/4 with 1.4× TC on D7200, has the full-frame equivalent:
500 mm × 1.4 × CF ≈ 1074 mm
f/4 × 1.4 × CF ≈ f/8.6 [not f/5.6!]
See Equivalence Also Includes Aperture and ISO by Spencer Cox:
NB: f/5.6 is actually f/2^2.5 ≈ f/5.657
Hi Pete, thanks for this one and ouy are right. But I must admit that I was thinking about something totally different when writing the comment and it seems that I got i totally wrong with my wording. Yes, there are these differences between FX and DX in relation to real aperture and the optical result as shown in the article written by Spencer.
What I was focussing on was that the D7200 considers the 500 f4 as an f4 lens – and as a f56 lens with the TC14 on. This means I can get the reach of *roughly* :-) 1050 mm with all AF sensors working. And they do work really well :-)
Well, for me, it sounds great, but the dealbreaker is the lack of flash … I OFTEN use commander mode in the field with remote Nikon flashes ala David Hobby (easy and fast to set up and control, with no additional trigger equipment to lose, batteries to run down, etc.) and in-studio for triggering big Profoto lights. So, sorry, sad but no sale.
Yes, it’s a shame that Nikon is eliminating the pop-up flash without a replacement way to command external flashes. I don’t see this trend reversing any time soon. When was the last high-end Nikon camera with a pop-up flash? I’d consider getting a beat-up used SB-600 or something similar to fulfill purpose, but it’s a kludge that shouldn’t need to exist.
I’d actually like a warm LED flash that could model, fill, and command. When I got my D500 I think 13/15 had built-in flashes. Odd that the most expensive and largest cameras didn’t have them. Common, compete with a smartphone out of the box! :) Light is such an important part of photography. I heard a quote in a seminar that went “A true photographer values light more than focus.”
We shouldn’t have to give up features we had in the past or on other cameras. I really like that viewfinder cover on the D500 as it made if feel more professional, and who wants to keep track of those little plastic pieces?! Why haven’t they made a hot shoe that covers itself?! Maybe an induction connection like my 10yo razor has. My D500 didn’t work with my SB600 so I had to buy new flash gear anyway. Altura and Godox make great affordable remote kits.
I had “upgraded” my D750 to a D500. I just never meshed with the d750. The D500 doesn’t have user modes or the flash, and is very bulky. I just spent 4 months and $4,000 trying to go mirrorless and it isn’t for me yet. Most of the time I get better photos with the EVF, but the UI, and lacking buttons and dials ruins the experience.
Great page, I get my D780 tomorrow!
I haven’t used the D780 yet. It does slightly interest me because, although the D750 was a great camera it also seemed a bit ‘crippled’ with the 1/4000sec and lower range eyepiece, so these issues have now been improved. Additionally, with Expeed 6 the D780 surely functions a lot faster.
However, at £2200 in the UK, it is a no go for me because you can get a new Z6 for £1500 or a mint used Z6 for £1200. Alternatively, you can get a brand new D750 with 24-120mm for £1600 or a mint used D850 for £2000. Hence, I would find it almost bizarre for anyone to pay the full new price for a D780. Although the D780 is clearly an improvement on the D750, the progress isn’t that far for 5-years, so I see it more as a £1700 body. I guess they just placed it half-way between Z6 and Z7 prices just to attempt some separation.
Agreed! The new price of the D780 shouldn’t be higher than the price of a mint used/refurbished D850. It’ll go down before long (the Z cameras were also fairly overpriced when they came out, and are quite reasonable now) but for now it’s a hard sell new.
Still, an excellent camera. When the prices shift to their proper levels, I would recommend the D780 above pretty much any of its competitors (including from Nikon) as a generalist, do-everything camera. Nikon has refined its upper-midrange DSLRs so much at this point that they are almost completely devoid of flaws. I’m curious to see how they’ll try to improve it next time around (and how soon they’ll fully shift their attention to mirrorless instead; certainly the name D780 doesn’t leave room for much more than a D790 to replace it)!
Yes, once the D780 is down to a reasonable price, the choice between it and the Z6 is much closer. But even then, I am seeing a lot of professionals who do mostly commercial / portrait / studio / landscape work choosing the Z6, mainly because of the more compact body and great Z glass.
Buy from Panamoz mate. D780 body and 24-120 for £1700 with a fantastic 3yr warranty.
I have to agree with your comment on price. A brand new D850 is $2330 on eBay today – hard to make a case for the D780 unless the video features trump everything else for you. In which case a Z6 is a better option and cheaper.
I agree with that sentiment – at similar prices, the D850 would be my pick hands-down.
Once the newness of the D780 starts to fade, I’m sure that its price will decrease correspondingly. I’d be surprised to see it selling for more than $2000 new by the end of the year, and significantly less if bought used, refurbished, or new on sites like eBay. I tried to make my “value” judgment in that context – the Z6 was also overpriced when it first came out.
Just the way it goes! That’s why I buy most of my camera gear used or refurbished these days, from reliable sellers. Photography is already an expensive enough profession/hobby :)
Thank you for a very balanced and thoughtful review. I shoot a crop sensor Nikon and I try to keep up with full frame options “just in case”….. For my style of shooting (general photography, motorsports, herding dogs, wildlife in marginal lighting), it would seem to be the best choice (ignoring the D5 which is not in budget). The most appealing part of the review is your assessment of refinement – improving on performance and usability aspects of an already highly capable camera. Make a good tool better. I don’t need all the latest bells and whistles – this would do just fine, thank you. My biggest observations are the limited PDAF coverage area and the 1/200th sync speed. Neither are deal breakers, but presumably relatively easy to have done right in the first place…. So why not? Price is not an issue – it will come down in time (probably sooner that we would like, unfortunately). My priorities center around reliability, consistent performance at a high level, solid AF. I’m happy with 24 MP – sounds like something that should be on my short list. Thanks again – To all, stay well.
Sure thing, Nick! Based on what you say, I’d agree that the D780 should be on your shortlist. Same, perhaps, with the previous D750 if you want to save some money – given that ISO performance is still quite good and comparable to the D780 up to ISO 6400, and the AF system is fundamentally similar too. The significantly smaller buffer is probably the biggest issue with that route for your needs.
The D780’s 1/200 sync speed is frustrating, I agree. I wish Nikon had gone the other way and trended toward a default of 1/320 or faster in its new cameras, but apparently that’s not going to happen any time soon.
As for the AF point coverage, phase detect systems have rarely covered much of the viewfinder area on full frame cameras, and the D780’s 51 point system is actually better than some. But it’s really the domain of the 153-point system. It would have been nice if Nikon had snuck that into this camera, but it looks like it will still be a while before that feature is available on a full-frame DSLR with a midrange price.