Shooting the Nikon D750 in Tanzania on safari was a great decision. The camera performed almost flawlessly.
As I mentioned in the preliminary review, the Nikon D750 is a killer camera. I’ve been using a D750 almost daily now since October 2014 and have found it to be a very capable camera that can be used in a number of professional environments.
I recently took the body to Tanzania for a two-week Nikonians Academy Safari to see how it would perform in the wilds of Africa. During the trip, I subjected it to the typical safari environment including dust, heat, cold, bumps, bean bags, tripods, long lenses, wildlife, landscapes and people. Read on to see how it performed in the categories that I think are most important.
As you would expect, image quality was superb. The 24MP sensor worked very well for my photography and I found sharpness, resolution and clarity to be very good. I also shot a Nikon D800 on the trip with 36MP and used that camera when I needed ultimate resolution. But for almost everything else, the 24MP D750 was perfect. I’ll be able to blow up the images nice and large while using them for just about any purpose, including the largest wall murals. The camera provides lots of pixels in case you need to crop.
Autofocus was excellent. The new Group AF option works very well for bird-in-flight photography. Tracking was excellent. Acquisition was excellent. Accuracy was excellent. I was very pleased with the D750 AF system for everything from portraits to landscapes to fast moving animals. Nice work Nikon.
The camera shares the same autofocus and metering technology as the D4s and D810. The newest addition to the Nikon AF system is group area autofocus. I found myself switching between group area and dynamic 21 area autofocus depending on the subject. If I was photographing a single animal such as a rhinoceros or a flying bird, then I would use group area autofocus. On the other hand, if I was photographing something where I needed critical focus such as a close up of a lion or potentially trying to focus on a single zebra in a herd of zebra, then I would use dynamic 21 point autofocus.
Low Light Performance
I took a number of shots in Tanzania at night and was very pleased with the camera’s long-exposure performance at low ISOs. This isn’t really a significant achievement for the D750 because DSLR cameras have all done a pretty good job at long exposures at low ISOs. The true test is what the photographs look like at ISOs above 6400 and 12,800.
During my trip, I took a few shots in low light during the morning and evening and found the high-ISO performance to be excellent as well. Shooting at 3200 and 6400 shows a small amount of noise, but it is easily removed in post processing. ISO 12,800 is usable, but you definitely see the noise in the images. I’m never afraid to use the high ISOs when I need to get the shot. One of my common refrains is that you can use a noisy shot that isn’t blurry, but you can’t use a blurry shot without noise.
I didn’t shoot any photographs at the extended ISO values of 25,600 or 51,200, but I know from experience that they probably wouldn’t have been that usable anyways.
Auto ISO Performance
I’m using auto ISO more and more on my Nikon cameras because it works so well. The D750 auto ISO performed flawlessly during this trip. I use auto ISO in two ways.
1. When shooting wildlife, I generally want a specific shutter speed in order to freeze the motion. Therefore, I set up the auto ISO system to use 1/500 second or 1/1000 second as my minimum shutter speed. The camera’s metering system then automatically changes ISO to keep the shutter speed at that value.
2. When walking with the camera and hand-holding the camera for my shots, I want to pay close attention to my own ability to hold steady. In this case, I’m most interested in setting my shutter speed to match my lens’ focal length. For example, if I’m shooting at 24mm, then I want my shutter speed to be about 1/25 second. If I’m at 100mm, then I want my shutter speed to be about 1/100 second. In these cases, I set my auto ISO to “Auto” which means that the camera sets the shutter speed equal to the inverse of the focal length (50mm = 1/50 second).
Nikon added a new light meter to this camera called highlight priority metering. This is in addition to Matrix meter, center weighted meter, and spot meter. My habit has been to shoot matrix metering, so I didn’t use the highlight priority metering system for any photographs in Tanzania.
The matrix metering system performed very well in almost all situations and I ended up using it for 99% of my photographs. I was very happy with the results and continue to be impressed with Nikons mastery of their light metering system.
Big bummer here. It is well known that the D750 has a small memory buffer. There were many situations where I was photographing animals such as flying birds or running mammals where I simply ran out of buffer and missed shots. The camera shoots at 6.5 frames per second which is very good and fast. However, it only holds about 13 RAW (NEF) shots before the buffer fills up. That means you get approximately two seconds of shooting before the buffer fills and the camera stops taking shots.
With high-end professional cameras, you just press the shutter release and keep shooting. With the D750, you have to time your photo bursts for peak action and hope that the action is completed before the buffer fills. Wildlife photographers will find this to be very frustrating as I did on multiple occasions.
Ease of Using in Bright Sun
For the most part, readability of the displays in the bright sun is very good, especially on the newly designed rear monitor. Nikon changed the way a few of the settings are accessed on the D750. On some Nikon cameras, you press a button on the back of the camera and then choose the setting by looking at the LCD panel on the top of the camera. On the D750 however, Nikon moved some of the readouts for these settings to the back monitor. For example, White Balance and Qual (RAW/JPG) are adjusted by looking at the back monitor screen.
The good news here is that Nikon changed the color scheme for these types of settings to a simple white and black, high contrast format. The result is that it is pretty easy to read in the bright sunlight. The rear LCD monitor is 3.2” diagonally and has 1.2 million dots of resolution. One of the reasons why it performs so well in the bright sunlight is that each pixel now adds a white dot in addition to the regular RGB dots. This white dot improves brightness and contrast. The viewing angle is nice and wide at 170 degrees, meaning that you can look at the screen from almost any angle and still read the menus.
My preference has always been to use the top LCD of the camera so I wouldn’t have to tilt the camera down to see my settings. I think it is slightly easier to make the adjustments that way than the new way of having to use the rear monitor. That said, it isn’t too big of a deal and I’m not worried about it.
Looking through the viewfinder and being able to see all the camera settings is no problem whatsoever. The readouts for shutter speed, aperture and ISO are bright and bold.
If anything, the display in the viewfinder tends to be slightly too bright, especially during twilight and night time. In these scenarios, I found the viewfinder readout to be obnoxiously bright when trying to compose photographs of the dark scene. The bright numbers along the base can sometimes cause your pupil to contract, which means it is harder to see the ambient light. I wish there was a way to manually reduce the brightness of viewfinder readout like you can in your car with the dashboard brightness adjustment.
The Nikon D750 ergonomics are excellent. In the hand, the camera feels like a million bucks. It is the nicest feeling camera I’ve ever used. Period. The biggest thing that I notice when holding it is how deep the right hand grip is for my fingers. It is much easier to hand hold the camera with long lenses attached and it feels very robust in my hand. Going back and forth between the D750 and cameras like the D800 and D600, I noticed that I missed the deep recessed handgrip of the D750.
The tilting LCD screen in back is also excellent and I used it extensively while shooting videos or composing images at odd angles. In fact, the tilting rear monitor really shines when using the camera on a tripod. In situations where the camera is mounted very high or very low, I found myself using the tilting LCD screen on the back of the camera multiple times per day.
Before I purchased the camera I wondered if the tilting monitor would be more of a gimmick than a useful tool. I also wondered if it would hold up to heavy use in the real world. I can unequivocally say that the tilting rear LCD monitor is extremely useful and is designed for professional use. I hope Nikon exports this new tilting screen to all their future professional cameras such as the D4s replacement and the D810 replacement.
Using the camera on beanbags in the safari vehicles (Toyota Landcruisers) was no problem. All buttons and functions on the body were easily accessible while balancing on the beanbags. In fact, the deep handgrip really helped in these scenarios, especially when picking up the camera when mounted with long telephoto lenses.
Dynamic range is defined as the range of tonalities (brightness) the camera is able to capture, from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights. The D750’s dynamic range is very, very good. It doesn’t quite have the dynamic range of the D800/D810, but I am still blown away with how much detail I can extract from shadows while simultaneously holding detail in the highlights.
Using the shadows and highlights sliders in Lightroom 5.7, I’m able to create pseudo-HDR images from a single file. It is really tremendous being able to take a single shot and have the amazing tonal flexibility available from these RAW files.
The D750 is a very capable video camera. I shot a bit of wildlife and was pleased with the results. I’m happy that the camera now offers the ability to shoot at full HD at 60 frames per second. This allows me to use the footage as slow motion when necessary.
The big improvement with the D750 over previous generations of Nikon cameras is the increase in the number of frames you can program into the time-lapse photo function. Previously, Nikon cameras were limited to 999 images when shooting time-lapses, now the D750 will shoot 9999 images for the sequence. I created a few time-lapse sequences in Africa and used the expanded function each time. Very nice.
YouTube Link: D750 Time-lapse Video
I’d say that the battery life is slightly less than on my D800 camera. I think the reason for this is that many more of the camera’s settings are accessed from the rear LCD monitor than on the D800/D810. At the end of a long shooting day, I found that the battery was down two or three bars (out of five) where my D800 would be down one or two bars.
That said, battery life isn’t an issue and I’m positive that the camera would give me a solid two days of shooting, as long as I was just shooting photographs. Obviously, once you start doing video work or using the built-in Wi-Fi to transfer photos, then battery life will fall off much quicker.
In all, the D750 is a superb camera for taking on safari. It does just about everything exceedingly well. It excels with autofocus, metering, sharpness, dynamic range, video, ergonomics and overall performance. No camera is perfect though, and the only area where the D750 needs improvement is in its buffer capacity. If I were grading the D750, I’d give it a solid 95%.
Further details and discussions
Follow this link for details on the Nikonians Academy African Photo Safari to Tanzania and many other destinations.
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