(Pocket-lint) - The camera market is changing and the Nikon D750 is the epitome of that. A full-frame DSLR with a tilt-angle screen? People wouldn't have even considered that not so many years ago because the technology just wasn't nearly up to it.
So why now? The proliferation of the camera market with mirrorless compact system cameras and a tendency for smaller, more manageable products has added pressure to the more traditional companies. Newcomers like using a screen to take shots rather than always relying on a viewfinder.
The Nikon D750 is here to test that market. But is it truly worth paying extra for a DSLR with a tilt-angle screen when Nikon has never quite nailed super-fast live view autofocus? We've been putting the Nikon D750 through its many paces to find out.
A new perspective
Tilt-angle or vari-angle LCD screens aren't a brand new thing in DSLR cameras. Canon has already impressed with its EOS 70D and decent live view thanks to what is calls Dual Pixel autofocus. It's super-fast. But that's the competition.
And Nikon - introducing a tilt-angle screen to its full-frame line-up for the first time in the D750 - hasn't quite caught up to those standards. Swing out the D750's 3.2-inch, 1,229k-dot resolution LCD screen and, although it's quicker to autofocus in live view than previous generations, it poses potential issues given it can't match the viewfinder-based autofocus system (that we'll talk in more detail about later).
Of course it's likely to be based on shooting conditions and what you're shooting as to how much use you will find for the whole tilt-angle mechanism. We've found ourselves sometimes loving the feature, other times cursing.
One example was shooting a grasshopper who happened to land in our path on a walk across a stage of hill-climbing trail. The perfect opportunity to rest the camera on the groun to get down to his (or her - we didn't check) level. Brilliant, a great way to frame the shot.
Only the autofocus for such a small subject in the wider frame can be somewhat tricky to get right in live view mode. First time around and the small centre dot in the boxed-out autofocus area was more interested in the background and that was one shot failed. Fortunately the little chap hadn't flung himself off at pace upon hearing the shutter clack so we were able to shoot a couple more times to get it spot on - and once we had the shot, it was clearly something we couldn't have shot with a normal fixed-screen DSLR. Or maybe we could have if lying down flat like a soldier waiting in the trenches. But our protruding stomach might not have been so agreeable to that. And there are ants, man-eating ants probably.
Later, and in far more exposed sun-bathed conditions, we were trying some over-head work to clear the camera's viewpoint above and beyond some bushes that were in the way. Again, a brilliant opportunity, but the LCD's screen coating in tropical sunshine doesn't make for the very clearest of composition. Back at home in Blighty and the barrage of rain and apparent perma-night conditions obviously showed no such issue, so while we wouldn't call the screen overtly reflective, some situations will be challenging.
Where the tilt-angle really came into its own was with waist-level work, or when resting the camera on a low-down ledge to shoot a long exposure of buildings at night. When you don't need immediate pinpoint focus accuracy or lightning speed there's a lot of value in the tilt feature. Take your time, compose from a comfortable position and it all begins to make a lot of sense.
But compact system cameras needn't fret - the D750 isn't up to those speedy live view standards just yet. That probably puts a question in your mind: do you need to spend the extra £450-ish to get a tilt-angle screen and better autofocus instead of bagging a Nikon D610 (or, of course, another reputable brand of choice you may have your eye on - the Canon EOS 6D is around £1300 body-only these days)?
READ: Nikon D610 review
The answer, of course, depends if it's a feature that you'll ever use, because the D750 is a DSLR at heart and it wants you to use its viewfinder. Which, as it happens, is a great 100 per cent field-of-view finder that sits comfortably to the eye. Sometimes sunlight would catch inside the finder (not from the lens) and cause some flare, as it's not a giant eyecup, but nothing to wildly disrupt what is a great way to work.
The Nikon D750 isn't all just about its tilt-angle screen though. It's the most compact full-frame DSLR that the company has ever made. At 140.5 x 113 x 78 mm it's 4mm slimmer and half a millimetre less wide than the D610.
We wouldn't actually want the camera to be any smaller because as traditional DSLR forms go we like to have an ample grip and sufficient space for the layout to fall naturally to the hands. Some will disagree - and there are smaller full-frame options out there such as the Sony Alpha A7 - but merely shedding a couple of millimetres here and there, at this DSLR scale anyway, only makes a minor difference.
READ: Sony Alpha A7 review
Fortunately the D750's design is still decent - it's a near mirror-image of most of the company's full-frame DSLRs - but the trimmer width means the space between the lens and protruding handgrip is a little squeezed. Not a hands-in-clamp situation by any means, but, for example, the extra 5.5mm width of the Nikon D810 makes for a more comfortable use scenario in our view. Unless you have small hands and then - and this is somewhat presumptive - we suspect the D750 would be better suited.
Up top the D750 also trims back on the top panel LCD. The difference in minor to what you'd normally get - our tape-measure says 1.9mm wide on the D750 rather than the 2.5mm of the D810 - but that means a change in what's on the display and how you get to see it. We much prefer a larger display, as the D750's approach autofocus modes has less real-estate to tell you what's what, particularly for the 3D tracking continuous options. It's still clear enough, but certain illustrative elements are absent.
Those are two small compromises in the order of things, though, as if you want a small and light full-frame DSLR paired with a quality, weather-sealed build then the D750 is a fetching prospect. It can't claim to be the lightest full-frame DSLR, though, with the Canon EOS 6D's 680g body a full 160g less than the D750's 840g total - which is roughly how much a 5-inch smartphone weighs these days.
When we started using the D750 the first thing we noticed was how fast it was to respond. Almost absurdly so. With a finger rested on the shutter button, its reaction to even light touches puts it nearer to the hyper-sensitive Nikon D4S. Using a compact camera after and we thought it was broken given how much harder we had to press the shutter button.
READ: Nikon D4S review
This ultra-sensitivity is brilliant though. A deft touch means less chance of rotational camera blur and, of course, less chance of missing that shot - even if you do take a couple of accidental ones in-between the successful ones.
It's apt that we cite the top-tier Nikon D4S too, as the Nikon D750 brings with it an updated second-generation 51-point autofocus sensor (Multi-CAM 3500 II) that is blindingly good - arguably the best you'll find in a modern day camera. The second-gen means extended sensitivity in low-light - it can now autofocus to -3EV - for better focusing in darker conditions, and based on moonlit cityscapes and dark alleyway shots we'd say it does a darn good job. Some competitors boast even higher figures, such as the Panasonic Lumix GH4's -4EV sensitivity.
Show the camera good light and it makes light work of still or moving subjects. Continuous autofocus (AF-C) has an impressive 3D tracking option that reacts quickly to moving subjects and keeps up with them well - there are even detailed ins and outs in the menus to adjust the rapidity of responses to tailor your shooting experience for what you shoot.
The 51-point arrangement doesn't cover the frame to the outer-most edges, but the somewhat centralised arrangement is ample for left-right (up-down in portrait orientation) tracking. Choose from dynamic 9-, 21- and 51-point options, a static arrangement of 5-points, or grouped options. Shooting macaque monkeys in foliage was no trouble despite their occasionally erratic and sudden movements.
What we did quickly learn is that even with Auto ISO switched on, it's all too easy for the camera to opt for lower shutter speeds. Here it's an essential to ensure you set a minimum shutter value within the menu settings. By default we're used to 1/60th sec minimum, with a higher shutter speed preferable, as a number of frames we shot at 1/50th sec or less weren't as crystal clear as we had anticipated. Shooting at high resolution can cause issues with sharpness when a subject is zipping along, but the D750 doesn't have the ultra-high resolution of the 36-megapixel Nikon D810 which you'll need to always boost minimum shutter speed for in order to obtain crystal clear shots.
READ: Nikon D810 review
Trying to then shoot similar scenes with a compact camera we'd whipped out of the back pocket or the D750 set-up in its live view with the tilt-angle screen out proved largely fruitless by comparison. The viewfinder-based autofocus is truly where the DSLR is king, and the D750 can proudly show off its crown in this department.
Under the hood of the D750 is a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor that, although not identical to that of the D610, you can expect results to be largely the same. This isn't the crazy levels of resolution provided by the low-pass-filter-free 36-megapixel Nikon D810, instead the D750 is a camera that strikes a decent balance of resolution and perceivable quality.
There's something about full-frame image quality; the large sensor size opens up more creative depth of field possibilities which, used correctly, have an untouchable look and feel about them.
Using the D750 we've not found any lighting conditions to be problematic, and with the Expeed 4 image processor and a sensitivity range scaling from ISO 100 - 51,200 it's unlikely any subject will be out of your photographic reach.
But you will probably find yourself wanting to tinker with the settings within the camera for optimal results. The thing that struck us when reviewing images on screen is how the D750 opts for fairly aggressive processing by default and, with lens correction adjustment switched on, you'll lose sharpness.
Side-by-side with raw shots, JPEG frames at any sensitivity don't exhibit the same level of detail finery in things like the definition in a butterfly's antennae or detailed building brickwork. You really must shoot in raw to get the very best results - particularly at the lowest sensitivities.
Get in-camera processing settings put to their lowest and switch off distortion correction and you'll get better (albeit more distorted, depending on your lens of choice) results. We've been using the 16-35mm f/4, 28-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 alongside the pictured 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 (pictured) for this test.
With settings tweaked even high ISO sensitivity shots look fantastic, and it's here the in-camera processing shows its worth. To be able to casually shoot at four-figure ISO sensitivities without the need to think much about it is great - and that includes night-time cityscapes shot hand-held with deep and dark shadow areas bearing little to no colour noise.
Indeed we'd happily shoot up to around ISO 6400 before calling it a day, but as Auto ISO can be set-up as you please with a minimum and maximum cap that's no problem. Just avoid the headline-grabbing ISO 51,200 as, well, it's pretty pointless - but all part of the numbers game.
Exposures were always accurate, auto white balance was considerate (sometimes a little magenta in raw files) and if you want to enhance a frame in-camera then there's a retouch menu with a variety of options. Add filters, crop, then send a shot to a smart device via Wi-Fi using the Nikon Wireless Utility (WMU) application.
We successfully sent some files to our smartphone while away and were happy enough with how easy the system was to use. But since arriving back in the UK the camera and app don't seem to want to talk to one another and a lack of options within the camera doesn't aid in resolving that issue. This is still early stage Wi-Fi and given that current conclusion it needs to be a lot more practical and available for us to see it as a viable option. An uninstall will soon fix our issue - but that's a long-winded resolve that we don't want to find happen again.
In the week we've been testing the Nikon D750 we've not needed to charge the battery once. We've carried a spare with us just in case - it's the same EN-EL15 battery as in many other models, including D810 and D610 - but it was never needed.
Now we didn't spend seven days shooting every waking second of the day, but that kind of staying power isn't something the compact system camera conglomerate can lay claim to by a considerable margin. Nikon's claim of 1230 shots per charge from the D750 seems like a realistic one to us. How about that for software advancement?
Don't expect such great longevity if you're going to crunch through heaps of 1080p60 video capture or sync to the app via Wi-Fi a lot - but with such features available a decent battery to back it up is most welcome.
There's some logic to adding a tilt-angle screen to Nikon's full-frame DSLR range, but we found it an occasional-use feature in the D750 given just how much better viewfinder-based autofocus is. It's a good first bash, even if it's not sufficient to keep the compact system camera concern at bay.
What you're perhaps more likely to buy the Nikon D750 for is its excellent raw image quality, ace autofocus system, super responsiveness, sturdy build, long-lasting battery life and relatively compact size. That last point does begin to push on the point of compromise when it comes to the small LCD top plate and available grip-to-lens space though.
But a word of caution: don't max out the in-camera processing and lens correction settings as it will cost the resulting image quality. Nikon has been overly aggressive in the D750's treatment of JPEG images, whereas the available raw files exemplify its significant potential. We've got some great shots, you just need to put the extra post-processing work in.
Irrelevant of its tilt-angle screen the Nikon D750 brings together many successful elements that make it an undeniably great DSLR camera. If anything it's the fixed-screen competition - even from within Nikon's own range - that might see it stall, because it's not the camera to bring a new wave of hype to DSLR live view use. Don't think of it in that singular dimension, though, and it's a solid DSLR.