Nikon D780 overview: Even the very best DSLR remains to be a DSLR

“The Nikon D780 is the DSLR to buy.”

Phase detection in live view

Eye AF works very well

4K video with 10-bit output

Weatherproof design

1 / 8000s to 15m shutter speed

Viewfinder AF feels out of date

More expensive than Nikon Z 6

Some advantages over mirrorless

If you want a DSLR, you should buy the full screen Nikon D780. The $ 2,300 D780 is a new Goldilocks camera and Nikon’s first DSLR with built-in phase detection auto focus.

But do you want a DSLR?

Appearance. I like the D780. It is a balanced camera with strong performance and excellent picture quality. But in 2020 it will be difficult for me to find a reason why I would choose the smaller, lighter and cheaper Nikon Z 6, the mirrorless counterpart of the D780.

Instead of fueling my enthusiasm for DSLRs, shooting the D780 tipped the scales further in favor of mirrorless ones. It’s a good camera, but part of a dying race.

Design and interface

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

The DSLR is the direct further development of the SLR camera or SLR camera from the film era. A SLR camera, which was revolutionary for its time, let photographers see directly through the lens with a reflective mirror and prism (which is old-fashioned for reflective).

DSLRs carried this design into the digital age and replaced silver with silicon, but left the mirror and the viewfinder alone.

However, digital cameras can feed a live feed directly from the sensor and provide another way to display an image through the lens without the need for a bulky mirror box. This is how the mirrorless camera was born.

The supposed advantage of a DSLR is the optical viewfinder, which offers a clear, excellent view. Since electronic viewfinders (EVFs) with OLED screens and resolutions of 6 million pixels have improved, optical viewfinders are not required.

EVFs are also more powerful. You can view exposure and white balance previews, review images, and even call up exposure and focusing aids such as a histogram, zebra crossing, or focus peaking.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

The D780 has numerous live view functions that do not work with the optical viewfinder. Where DSLRs used to be valued for their auto focus, Live View AF now offers many advantages, such as better image coverage and face recognition.

As a result, the DSLR is beginning to feel out of date. And yet Nikon believes that if the Nikon Z 6 – now over a year old – costs only $ 1,850 at the time of writing, it can sell a D780 for $ 2,300.

Why do photographers appreciate DSLR so much? I think there are a few small but important factors that matter. Old-school Nikon photographers have a large collection of F-mount lenses, the battery life of a DSLR is better thanks to the low power consumption of an optical viewfinder, and the DSLR feels familiar.

There is also less competition in the DSLR space since Canon is the only company that makes a competitive camera (and, to be honest, the EOS 6D Mark II doesn’t really compete). Nikon can charge anything it wants for the D780. It owns this part of the DSLR market.

Nikon D780 vs. Nikon D750

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

Despite being half a decade old, following the D750 is difficult. In our 9 out of 10 reviews, Digital Trends called it “outstanding”. It was the best camera for the money at the time and remained the class leader among DSLRs for years.

The new functions of the D780 concentrate on processing and electronics. Thanks to a new 24 megapixel sensor and an Expeed 6 processor, this enables phase detection auto focus in live view as well as face and eye tracking.

It’s all great stuff, but nothing the mirrorless Nikon Z 6 doesn’t have.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

The data sheet is littered with minor but important upgrades. The shutter speed is now 1/8000 second, which is faster than the D750. It can also slow down and allow 15-minute exposures without a remote control. This is a huge increase over the 30 second limit of the D750. For continuous shooting, the speed is increased slightly from 6.5 to 7 frames per second. In live view, the D780 can achieve impressive 12 fps with the electronic shutter (if you drop to 12-bit RAW).

The image sensor has essentially the same resolution, but is now backlit and helps bring the ISO to a new extended maximum of 204,800, 2 steps above the D750. The LCD resolution has increased by over 1 million pixels to a total of 2.36 million.

If expected, video has significant improvements, from Full HD to 4K. Nikon’s flat N-Log color profile is included, as is the 10-bit 4: 2: 2 output via HDMI. This makes the D780 one of the best DSLRs for videos alongside Canon’s massive (and massively expensive) EOS 1D X Mark III. However, this is no better than the mirrorless Nikon Z 6.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

The battery life is significantly improved by a CIPA rating of 2,260 exposures with the optical viewfinder. That’s impressive in every context, and it’s about 1,000 more than the D750. Part of this increase, however, is due to the fact that the D780 no longer has a built-in flash, a feature of the D750 that would have had a negative impact on CIPA test results.

There is no question that the D780 is a worthy replacement for the D750. But whether the D780 as DSLR 2020 is the right camera for you … well, that’s not so clear.


While the D780 benefits from the mirrorless technology of the Z series, the DSLR-specific components of the D750 can hardly be updated. It recycles the same autofocus system with 51-point viewfinders, although it has been updated with the flagship D5 focusing algorithm.

I was impressed with how well the D780 could keep up with moving subjects with continuous auto focus in Nikon’s 3D tracking mode, but when the Nikon D6 arrived this year and brought a brand new AF system, I’m not sure why Nikon did this did not give the D780 the entire 153-point AF module of the Nikon D5 instead of just the algorithm.

It is strange to hold back if the D780 should survive another 5 to 6 years. The Multi-Cam 3500FX II focusing sensor has roots that go back to the 2007 Nikon D3.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

The viewfinder is the same. It’s a good viewfinder with a bright penta prism and 100% coverage, but its 0.7x magnification is significantly less than the 0.75x magnification of the D850. Yes, the D850 is bigger, but I’m not sure if Nikon needs to worry about keeping the D780 as small as possible, as its mirrorless cameras offer a better solution for photographers who need a compact system.

I would have loved to see an AF joystick, something Nikon has on its other high-end cameras, including the D500 crop sensor. It’s a simple addition that increases usability more than you would expect. Choosing a focus point with the multi-selector pad is okay, but not so ergonomic.

None of these things make the D780 a bad camera. It just can’t be anywhere near the revolutionary leap I hoped for on a DSLR.

picture quality

The viewfinder makes it difficult for you to distinguish the D780 from the D750. However, when you turn on live view, the difference becomes clear.

After generations have waited for Nikon to use Live View autofocus correctly, the time has finally come. In combination with the touchscreen, the focus is quick, accurate and flexible. Eye detection turns on automatically and works well, even if the eyes of a subject are recognized with dark sunglasses.

Daven Mathies / Digital Trends

All of this is great and makes the D780 tilt screen more useful than the Nikon D750.

However, it is the same system as the Nikon Z 6, where things like eye AF can be used through the electronic viewfinder, which is not possible with the D780’s optical viewfinder.

In addition, the Live View autofocus is simply more accurate because the focus is measured on the image sensor itself. Although this is usually not a problem for first-party lenses, I have tested three Sigma Art Primes. One of them focused frontally through the viewfinder and was sharp in live view. I used Nikon’s AF fine-tuning feature to fix this. This is a great feature, but with mirrorless I wouldn’t have had to do anything.

nikon d780 evaluation example 18

Nikon D780 evaluation example 13

Thanks to Eye AF in particular, I used more live view than the viewfinder. But such shots make the D780 an overweight mirrorless camera.

That brings me to my biggest problem with DSLRs. They behave like two different cameras, depending on whether you are using the viewfinder or the LCD screen. This is certainly confusing for beginners and frustrating even as an experienced DSLR shooter.

This does not mean that the D780 does not offer clear advantages for certain applications. A DSLR is still better for wedding and event photographers thanks to the long battery life and compatibility with the AF auxiliary grid projected by an external flash. This helps enormously when recording in dark reception halls, but is not compatible with the Live View autofocus. The two SD card slots are ideal for a live event with high stakes and offer security with redundant memory.

In fact, I will be shooting a wedding with the D780 in about a week. Even as a fan of mirrorless cameras in general, I’m glad I have a DSLR for this job, and I’m happier that the Nikon D780 is the DSLR.

But for anything else? Just give me a Nikon Z 6.

Our opinion

Even if Nikon made the changes that I think are missing – with the D5’s 153-point AF system and the addition of an AF joystick – the D780 would leave me heavily in the mirrorless camp. It’s a good DSLR, but feels like an emergency solution for Nikon D750 owners who are not yet ready to work mirrorless.

Nikon nudges people to the Z series and I see no reason to complain about it. From EVF to image stabilization in the body, Nikon’s Z-cameras offer decisive advantages. I also like the strategy Nikon pursues with the Z-series lenses, which focuses on high quality glass with 1: 1.8 aperture to keep size and cost under control. That’s the future.

The D780 is a thing of the past. A brilliant piece of it, no doubt, but still a thing of the past.

Is there a better alternative?

Yes, the Nikon Z 6. For most people, a mirrorless camera makes more sense. The Z 6 is currently available with the F-mount lens adapter and a memory card for under $ 1,850.

Strictly speaking, the D780 is the best in its class within DSLRs and has no real competitor, although Canon’s EOS 6D Mark II is cheaper at just $ 1,400 at the time of writing.

How long it will take?

The D780 is well built, weatherproof, and should withstand professional wear and tear. If the D750’s lifespan in half a decade is an indication, we expect the D780 to last at least 5 years. If you haven’t done so yet, you will be attracted to new mirrorless cameras during this time.

Should you buy it

If you are still convinced that you need a DSLR, then yes. This is the best in the $ 2,000 price range. Take a moment to consider whether you really need it.

Editor’s recommendations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *