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First Look: Nikon D750: DSLR Camera Offers Competitive Options for Video Capture

In the competition for sub-$4,000 digital video camera market share, the stakes are high and the field is crowded with strong contenders; Nikon's D750 is a new entrant in the DSLR arena.

In the competition for sub-$4,000 digital video camera market share, the stakes are high and the field is crowded with strong contenders. An increasing number of cameras offer 2K or 4K video output and there are so many different form factors, each with frequently discussed pros and cons, that it’s hard to keep track.

Nikon’s D750 is a new entrant in the DSLR arena. As a DSLR, it’s more still camera than camcorder ergonomically; its highest resolution (downconverted from the full sensor image) is 1920 x 1080; and its excellent sensor and processing technology shines brightest in raw (NEF) still photography.

That said, Nikon’s D750 offers still, video and hybrid shooters used to the DSLR trade-offs significant advances. With its 24.3-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor and Expeed 4 image processing engine (introduced last summer with the Nikon “pro” level D810), this DSLR offers excellent image quality even at high ISO sensitivities, and minimal moiré artifacts. It’s got the same rich LCD screen (RGBW alignment, with white pixel technology) that made a splash with the D810, Wi-Fi-capable controls, clean HDMI output and more.

A first for a Nikon full-frame DSLR, the D750’s 3.2-inch LCD display comes in a pull-out/tilting configuration. This feature is not uncommon on lower-end and mirrorless cameras, but Nikon engineers had been reluctant to add it to the company’s higher-end cameras until they could do so with confidence that the screen would hold up against the punishment a pro could inflict. Having tested the camera and maybe knocked it around a bit, I can report the screen apparatus is quite durable. While fully extended, the screen can be knocked into rocks and walls without issue (though doing so is not suggested). The variable-angle screen is a wonderful feature for composing a shot while holding the camera way above your head or for capturing candid moments.

The D750 offers ISO settings from 100 to 12,800. The range may be extended both above (ISO 51,200) and below (ISO 50). Well exposed images barely show the noise and diminished contrast at 3,200 that would overwhelm images on older DSLRs. Imagery suffers at ISO 6,400 to some extent but would be usable in many cases, unless it’s supposed to cut seamlessly with something shot at 400. But hey, what do you expect? At even higher ISOs—getting into night surveillance territory—details are surprisingly clear. This is obviously truer shooting NEF stills than recording video to H.264, but even if a bit less of the deep shadow detail is recoverable in video, the results of very-high-ISO shooting with the D750 are pleasantly surprising.

A pet peeve of many video shooters working with DSLRs is the moiré effect that occurs when shooting any subject with patterns of close parallel lines. In my experience, Nikon DSLRs have had more issues with moiré than competitors. Point some of the older Nikons at a tree or a fence and watch the images dance! But video I shot with the D750 (and 810) are really almost free of moiré effects. It’s possible to create them if you set your mind to it, but under normal circumstances, it just wasn’t an issue. Nikon attributes this improvement primarily to the camera’s Expeed 4 processing.

The D750 offers two SD card slots that can be set up to record in any number of configurations—for redundancy, to separate still and movie files, etc.—and no capability for the older CF format cards. HD video up to 1080 60p is recorded in-camera in H.264 format. By using the clean HDMI-out, you can also capture a somewhat less compressed, more robust stream to an external recorder, such as the Atomos Ninja I used to capture ProRes 4:2:2, which starts out as a 4:2:2 YCbCr stream. This is still an 8-bit signal like the H.264, but the lower compression offers a bit more information to push images around and pull keys while color grading. The D750 also lets you send an HDMI signal out and record to the SD cards concurrently.

Also of interest to those who plan to color grade their D750 footage, the camera offers a very nice “flat” image profile that can help preserve highlight and especially shadow detail that can be pulled out in the grade. (The setting places sharpening at minimal levels and sets contrast and clarity at zero.)

The camera is outfitted with Nikon’s Advanced Multi-CAM 3500 II autofocus sensor module, the best autofocus technology Nikon has put out to date. It’s almost scarily accurate for still photography and is quite effective at locking onto moving subjects and holding focus, even for video. Among other features, it has a face recognition mode that is quite good at finding and locking onto the nearest face in a shot.

This is great technology, but there will always be limits to even the cleverest autofocus tools for video applications, where everything the lens does is being recorded as part of the shot. Also, of note for those recording audio internally, the sound of the focus motor will still wind up on the track. While the autofocus isn’t perfect, the AF functionality is reason enough to consider buying this camera if a major portion of your work involves shooting stills of fast-moving subjects. Especially when paired with the newest Nikon glass.

Other features include a time-lapse option in video mode, a built-in stereo mic and jack to offer various sound recording options, and zebra stripes to indicate overexposure. The D750 has a light (but not too light) 1.66 pound body and a sturdy, durable frame. It doesn’t have the level of weather-sealing that the more expensive (and officially “pro” level) D810 offers, but like so many other DSLRs that Nikon doesn’t market as “professional,” it’s still a very well designed and well constructed piece of equipment.

At a retail price of $2,296.95, there are definitely competitive options for video shooters most concerned with resolution or more video-centric design, but for those who want a cutting-edge still camera and a very good HD camera in one package, the Nikon D750 is worthy of serious consideration.