Is the D780 right for you?

Everyone has different requirements for cameras; what might be perfect for one person could be unworkable for another. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at some common photographic use-cases to see how well we think the Nikon D780 will work for them. From travel to portraits, check out our handy guide to see how Nikon’s latest DSLR could stack up for the types of photography you enjoy.

All images taken by Dan Bracaglia

Travel

Image: Processed from Raw | ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | F2.8 | Nikon AF-D 50mm F1.8

Life on the road leaves little room for error when it comes to gear, so it’s best to have a reliable camera at your side. With a rugged, weather-sealed body, solid battery life and the addition of USB charging, the D780 should make for a trusty companion. It produces great JPEGs right out of camera, and sharing them right away is easy thanks to the camera’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

We’ll admit though, there are smaller options out there, including Nikon’s own Z6 mirrorless camera, and there are even smaller options yet if you don’t need a full-frame sensor. But overall, the D780 is a great travel camera, especially when paired with one of many compact-yet-excellent F-mount lenses.

Video

The D780 makes a strong case for itself as a video camera. It comes with high-quality, oversampled 4K footage and great video autofocus, slow-motion Full HD capture, and retains separate settings for both stills and video – especially handy for shooters that dabble in both disciplines. There’s plenty of room for both headphone and microphone sockets, and the camera can output a 10-bit Log signal to an external recorder over HDMI. There’s focus peaking if you don’t want to rely on autofocus, and zebra warnings will help you control your exposure.

Perhaps the biggest knock against the D780 is simply due to its DSLR design. There’s no electronic viewfinder option, and since the mirror has to flip up to shoot video, you cannot use the optical viewfinder either. There’s also no in-body image stabilization, but a stabilized lens or enabling the camera’s electronic stabilization can smooth your footage out. Lastly, the tilting screen mechanism isn’t as versatile as a fully articulating one for those who want to start vlogging.

In the end, DSLR cameras face stiff competition in general from mirrorless cameras when it comes to video. But for users who have a good collection of F-mount glass, or those who want to use older AF-D lenses for video and get good autofocus, the D780 is your best bet.

Family and moments

Image: Out-of-camera JPEG | ISO 5000 | 1/160 sec | F2.8 | Nikon 35mm F2 D

Capturing fleeting moments of those you hold most dear can be a tricky task; the camera in question has to just work. Thankfully, the D780 has two great autofocus systems that aren’t likely to let you down. You get face-detection through the optical viewfinder and eye detection when you’re using the rear screen. Finally, nice JPEGs and easy sharing mean you can send that keeper of Aunt Betty laughing uncontrollably to her phone while the tears are still streaming down her face.

There’s not much to count against the D780 in this situation, though we’d recommend you dial down the high ISO noise reduction on the camera a bit. And there’s no denying that smaller, lighter options are available on the market that you may be more willing to bring along with you, wherever you go.

Landscape

Image: Processed from Raw | ISO 5600 | 1/160 sec | F5.6| Nikon 35mm F2 D

The D780’s 24-megapixel chip isn’t the highest resolution around, but it offers excellent dynamic range and solid detail capture if you’re not printing wall-sized posters. For hardcore wilderness photographers, the D780’s weather-sealing could be handy if inclement weather strikes, and the abundant controls should be pretty easy to operate with gloves. Excellent battery life means that you basically don’t have to worry about running out of juice, but if you do want to worry about it, remember you can top up with the camera’s USB-C port.

Unlike some competitors, the D780 doesn’t have any sort of resolution-boosting sensor-shift mode, but there’s a built-in focus stacking feature that could be handy. The tilting screen will make it easy to work from a tripod, and you can rely on the autofocus in pretty much any lighting conditions. There is some risk of shutter shock with longer lenses and slower shutter speeds, so be sure to enable the ‘Quiet’ shutter-release mode and the electronic front-curtain shutter in the menus if you find it to be a problem.

Portraits

Image: Converted from Raw | ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F5.6 | Nikon 50mm F1.8 D

The D780 is an excellent choice of camera to capture the essence of others. There are tons of great lenses to choose from, and the JPEG engine does a great job capturing skin tones. The camera’s updated autofocus should also be accurate whether you’re using either the optical finder or the rear screen, but be aware that you only get eye detect on the latter and you could need to calibrate your lenses for the former to get the best results.

Keep in mind that, being a DSLR, the D780 is fairly sizable and could look ‘professional’ to some subjects and intimidating to others. High-end studio portraitists may also wish for more resolution, but we think the D780’s 24 megapixels will serve most users just fine indeed.

Lifestyle and people

Image: Converted from Raw | ISO 3200 | 1/250 sec | F1.4 | Tamron 35mm F1.4

For users looking to up their Instagram game, a good lifestyle camera needs to offer abundantly better image quality than a smartphone – broadly speaking, the D780 absolutely does. If you want real bokeh, baby, you got real bokeh, baby. On the other hand, a lifestyle camera should be easy to have on you at all times. In this regard, the D780 is a pretty chunky option for those used to only carrying a smartphone. And, though we think it’s a handsomely designed camera, the retro-chic appearance of some competitors may be more attractive to you.

But back to image quality – the D780’s excellent JPEGs are great for immediate social sharing with Nikon’s solid Snapbridge app, though you can also tweak Raw files in-camera to get even better results. Excellent autofocus, especially in poor light, will only serve to broaden the situations in which you can get just the right shot. If you’re not against carrying a full-frame DSLR around with you, the D780 is a solid option for this type of photography.

Candid and street

Image: Converted from Raw | ISO 250 | 1/160 sec | F2.5 | Nikon 35mm F1.8G

Ah, street photographers – those who cherish the quiet, the discreet, the cool. It’s obvious that the D780 isn’t the most subtle, blend-in-to-the-background sort of camera around. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t got plenty going for it in terms of capability.

The D780 is super responsive, so you can quickly adapt to changing situations with ease (and check your settings on the top LCD). The tilting touchscreen makes it easy to shoot from the hip, and if you’re the type of person who likes to share your photos with those you’ve just photographed, the Snapbridge app makes it easy to send off the camera’s excellent JPEGs right away.

If you do want to try to make the D780 as unobtrusive as possible, you can enable the ‘Quiet’ shutter (which is only slightly quieter), or if you’re not worried about rolling shutter artifacts, you can shoot using a fully silent electronic shutter in live view mode.

Sport, action and wildlife

Image: Converted from Raw | ISO 25600 | 1/640 sec | F2.8 | Nikon 70-200mm F2.8

When it comes to capturing sports and action, the D780 has a lot going for it. This isn’t too much of a surprise – the D700-series has historically been pretty well-suited for this sort of work, provided you don’t need super-fast burst speeds. The fact is, 7 fps through the viewfinder is fast enough for a lot of different sports, and the D780 has a deep, 100-frame buffer which clears quickly thanks to dual UHS-II memory cards. In other words, it’s rare that you’ll find yourself waiting for the camera. Supporting all this is great image quality in both JPEG and Raw and a deep catalog of F-mount telephoto glass.

This brings us to the autofocus system – the 51-point viewfinder system is absolutely excellent in terms of reliability, but there’s no getting around the fact that the spread across the frame is pretty limiting these days.

Many competing mirrorless cameras have as near-as-makes-no-difference 100% autofocus coverage in their electronic viewfinders, which can be compositionally freeing. You can get a similar type of system on the D780 if you use the rear screen, but that can make for an unwieldy setup with large or heavy lenses. Ergonomically, we’d also love to see an AF joystick for moving the AF point around in the viewfinder – the eight-way directional pad is serviceable, but not ideal.

Weddings and events

Image: Out-of-camera JPEG | ISO 14400 | 1/320 sec | F2.8 | Nikon 85mm F1.8G

Being a very well-rounded camera, the D780 is a great choice for a wedding and event photographer. It’s got solid image quality in all lighting conditions, its 24MP of resolution tends to be plenty without eating up all your drive space, it’s rugged, has great battery life and dual card slots for instant backup of those irreplaceable moments.

The viewfinder autofocus system also works extremely well in low light, and though the eye-detection option in live view shooting is great, it’s not available in the viewfinder and live view tracking in general isn’t super reliable as light levels drop. But really, we’re nitpicking here. The D750 was already a camera long-favored by wedding and event shooters; the D780 should perform even better.

Is the D780 right for you?

There we have it – the D780 is an incredibly well-rounded camera that, if not the absolute best camera for any one of these use-cases, will at least perform very well across most photographic disciplines.

But what do you think? Is there a specific type of photography you dabble in that we don’t mention here? Let us know in the comments.

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