Monday, June 1, 2015

Why I Switched From The D800 To D750


After much debate, and some testing, I made the switch from the D800 to the D750. Now some might ask, why switch from one of Nikon's highest resolution "semi-pro" models to the 24MP "consumer" grade D750? Did I switch because one camera is surprisingly better than the other? That depends on what one considers better. The D800 has more resolution, so if that is better then moving to the D750 is downgrade in that respect. Why the D750 and not a D810? If I wanted what the D810 offered I would have simply kept the D800. To be blunt, price increase of the D810 ($3499 Cdn) over the D800 ($2999 Cdn) was a little much for what was offered as an upgrade. Then consider that the value of a used D800 has dropped significantly since the D810 was released (around a $1000 drop). Add in the factor of a more limited budget, and the price tag of the D750 ($2399 Cdn), and that is part made it rather attractive choice. Keep in mind I was not paying full retail price, since I traded in my D800.


Getting right to the point, here are the top 10 reasons for switching from the D800 to the D750, in no particular order. I'll dig into some of these reasons later.
  1. The D750 is more responsive than the D800
  2. The User modes (U1 & U2) makes it easy to quickly change between saved settings
  3. More compact and lighter weight
  4. No important loss of functionality (dedicated AF-ON button aside)
  5. Vari-angle LCD
  6. Wifi
  7. Card slots are the same type
  8. Faster Continous Shooting Speed
  9. Quieter shutter (than D800/D800E)
  10. Smaller file sizes
To get the ball rolling, I will point out that a camera like the D750 was what I was looking for when purchasing the D800. At the time that was not an option, since even the D600 had not been announced at that point. For the multi-purpose shooting style that I use, these reasons listed above were enough to give up the great 36MP sensor of the D800, but I realize not everyone would agree with these points. That's okay, since each photographer is going to have a given tolerances, due to differing requirements from a camera. I had a few other reasons for going with the D750 over the D810, and it was not just about that and the price difference. One reason not mentioned in the list about was the removal of the AA (anti-aliasing) filter in the D810. I picked the D800 over the D800E for the same reason. Having an AA filter is actually helpful for video work, and I do like shooting video from time to time, mostly of family and friends (so don't expect video samples). 

Do I miss the higher resolution sensor of the D800? When I mess up and don't frame properly, yes. When I wish I had more detail? I haven't found the D750 to be lacking in terms of detail, at least when using lenses that deliver the highest level of sharpness. Do I miss the dedicated AF-ON button? Not as much as I thought I would to be honest. I have not even bothered to program the AE-L/AF-L button to AF-ON. This is an odd shift, since I have been a strong proponent of using back button auto focus since I first had access to it via a dedicated button on the D300.

Now a more in-depth look at the 10 points mentioned earlier.

1. The D750 is more responsive than the D800

The D800 is not a camera that I would ever describe as being fast, not that it was overtly slow either. It is hard to put into words, but the D800 just seemed to lack responsiveness to quickly changing situations. Whether it was a combination of settings, with the high resolution sensor, or just the speed of the camera itself, the D800 just seemed okay in terms of speed. The buffer was not small, compared to the D750, and is was not slow to clear with fast CF cards. Yet the camera just lacks the responsiveness that I was looking for in a general purpose camera. The D750 seems to bring that quickness, and the sense of responsiveness. Anecdotal, or just a feeling I have? Maybe, but the D750's speed does not seem to be something only I have noticed. 

The area of speed I noticed first came in the form of a more responsive liveview system, both in terms of auto focus and the switching between liveview and viewfinder shooting. This has been improved again with the recent C1.02 update released by Nikon in late May. The second area of speed that I noticed was in terms of auto focus, it just seems snappier. Most likely due to a combination of the Expeed 4 processor and the more sensitive multi-cam 3500FX II AF sensor. The D750 just seems to nail focus more often, even with lenses that the D800 struggled with. 

2. The User modes (U1 & U2) makes it easy to quickly change between saved settings

The user modes that first appeared on the D7000 have opened the door for users to quickly change saved settings without needing to dive into the menu. While I appreciated that the higher end cameras could have more different settings saved in the banks, they were seemingly slower to use. Why? There were as many as four different actions needed to change them, depending on the situation, from entering the menu to actually switching banks. Worse yet, the camera would not restore previously saved settings, rather it maintained any changes made to a bank. The user modes on the other hand will revert to previously saved settings, unless the updated settings are saved. 

The advantage of having previous settings restored is that a user can quickly change U modes and know that when returning to that mode later, it will do what it was intended to do without pausing to wonder if the settings are correct. The U modes save everything, ISO settings, shutter speed, aperture, shooting mode, (aperture priority, manual etc), to the picture controls, movie settings, and more. This means that all the settings you make will be saved to that given U-mode, right down to copyright information and user comments. You could then switch to another U-mode and have another separate set. Great for situations when you might need to hand the camera off to another photographer for example. 

3. More Compact and Light Weight

While this was not high on the list of reasons for choosing the D750, the lighter, more compact body is not a downside. The lighter weight is most noticeable when working with smaller primes, than fast F2.8 zooms. That said, it is not like the D750 is small or super light weight, it is still a largish camera compared to any bridge cameras and a smartphone. Even though the camera is smaller than the D800, the improved hand grip on the D750 makes it a very comfortable camera to shoot with.

4. No Loss Of Functionality (Dedicated AF-ON button aside)

When all is said and done there are almost no features found on the modern D8x0 cameras that cannot be found on the D750, dedicated AF-ON button aside. All the menu options, button programmability is there. While the D750 lacks dedicated buttons for ISO, White Balance and Image Quality, those buttons don't get a lot of use these days. ISO control can be programmed to the video recording button, which is move convenient than reaching to the far side of the camera anyway. White Balance? Since I shoot in RAW I do not worry about getting it right in camera, unless I am working in specific lighting. Quality? I shoot RAW, so this button is kind of redundant anyway. All the metering modes, AF modes etc from the D810 are there are on the D750 as well. The D750 actually has more features, thanks to the dedicated movie settings menu that the D8x0 bodies lack. Lets not even include the superior user modes over the "settings banks" of the D8x0 cameras.

5. Vari-angle LCD

The vari-angle LCD on the D750 opens up new possibilities. What kind of possibilities? The kind that were only open to those with a right angle viewfinder before. Shooting at high or low angles, such as macro photos, without laying in the mud. The only downgrade with this LCD is that unlike the D8x0 cameras it lacks the ambient light sensor that adjusts screen brightness automatically to suit the conditions.

6. Wifi

Wifi, a seemly over hyped feature in cameras these days, does have uses. For example, a connected Android or iOS device can function as a wireless remote. If you always have a smartphone on you, there is no longer a need to buy or bring along Nikon's overpriced IR remote. Nikon's native WMU (Wireless Mobile Utility) is somewhat lacking, and can only control the focus area and the shutter. What WMU does open the door to is the instant upload of web friendly sized jpegs from the camera to your phone for quick sharing.

Hopefully in the future Nikon will enable more features via the WMU app, like full control of camera settings like aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

7. Card Slots Are The Same Type

One of my biggest gripes about the D8x0 cameras is the use of mixed card slots. I always found myself asking, why CF and SD? Why not one or the other? One card type is always easier to manage, in terms of card storage and transpiration. Thankfully the D750 continued the legacy of the D6x0 cameras and has dual SDHC/SDXC card slots. This makes the camera more accessible to those moving up from DX (crop sensor) Nikon cameras, who likely already have a stack of SDHC cards lying around. While the functional speed of SD cards is slower, in most cameras (no current Nikon cameras support UHS-II read/write speeds), they are smaller, making it easier to pack more of them into a pouch for example. That does not even take into account the lower cost for similar speed rated cards.

8. Faster Continous Shooting Speed

The D800 was speed limited to 4FPS, unless you used DX crop mode, which is somewhat slow for a modern camera. While the speed was not unwarranted, considering the file size, it is somewhat restrictive for any action shooting. The D750 on the other hand is a little faster coming in a 6.5FPS. While 6.5FPS on the D750 may only last around 2 seconds, due to the smallish buffer, that is more than enough for most bursts, at least in my experience. Faster SDHC cards will also make shooting action much easier, as the buffer will clear sooner.

9. Quieter Shutter

The D800 had one of the loudest shutter/mirror slaps of any camera I've used, so the the much quieter setup on the D750 is a welcome change. There are two reasons for this, first it is just quieter and thus less disruptive in any given situation. Secondly the redesigned shutter/mirror system means there is less shutter/mirror shock to cause micro vibrations which can ruin photos. I can point to numerous long exposure shots that may well have been softened by shutter shock on the D800. That is the primary reason why Nikon redesigned the shutter for the D810! While I was unable to do a direct comparison, side by side, I can tell from taking similar types of photos that the D750 is far less likely to have shots softened by shutter shock than the D800.

10. Smaller File Size

Smaller file size might not sound like a big deal in an age where 6TB and 8TB drives are available on the retail market, but in terms of file management and time spent uploading and editing photos it does make a difference. I never found the D800 files to be hard to work with, until I wanted to work with large panorama sets or bracketed shots for an HDR photo. Lets just say that you could fill a 16GB card extremely fast if you were shooting panoramas or taking bracketed sets. The D750 with the same 16GB card can hold almost twice as many 14bit RAW images, which to me is a big advantage. Why? The fewer times I have to swap cards in the field, and when uploading images, the better. Was this one of the main reasons I moved from the D800 to the D750? No.

Conclusion:

The list of 10 reasons above were among the points that pushed me to choose the D750 as a replacement for the D800. While none of the reasons alone were enough to get me to make the move, by putting them all together, with other factors, it made switching to the D750 very compelling. Will those reasons be right for everyone? I doubt it. Should they be? Not likely. Is it okay if you think I made the wrong move? Sure, I will not hold it against you. I can honestly say that the D750 was the camera I wanted to have when the D800 was purchased. At the time a camera like the D750 did not exist, even the D600 was not available yet, if that helps to put things into perspective. Would I have liked the D750 to have controls similar to the D800? Sure, it would not hurt. The physical controls were not one of the primary reasons I made the choice I did. In any case I did choose the D750 to replace the D800 in my bag, so at the end of the day that is all I can say. I'll be finishing a full write up about the D750 soonish.