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Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review

We review the new Nikon D780, Nikon's new 24mp Full-Frame DSLR, designed to give the best of both world's with the body of a DSLR, and the sensor (and features) found in Nikon's mirrorless cameras.

| Nikon D780 in Digital SLRs

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 In Snow

Quick Verdict

As we found out, the Nikon D780 copes with almost everything you throw at it, including freezing cold climates and continues to produce excellent results. If you're in the market for a full-frame Digital SLR, then the Nikon D780, with a 24mp BSI CMOS sensor, should be very high on your list, particularly if you shoot in low-light conditions, as you'll benefit from the low noise levels on offer. It's going to be particularly beneficial for people who regularly shoot weddings, portraits, or shoot at night, where low-light performance is key. Ultimately the combination of an excellent 24mp BSI CMOS sensor, and high-quality lenses delivers exceptional image quality in a variety of conditions.

+ Pros

  • Excellent noise performance
  • Excellent image quality
  • 4K video looks great
  • Impressive battery life possible
  • Solid and dependable weather-sealed body
  • Built-in help system

- Cons

  • OVF focus and metering not as advanced or accurate as live-view
  • Leaving Bluetooth transfer on can quickly reduce battery life
  • Some will miss the lack of built-in flash


Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 (2)

Nikon's new D780 is designed to be the "best of both worlds" with an optical viewfinder, a vast array of compatible F-mount lenses, impressive battery life, and the 24mp BSI CMOS sensor from Nikon's Z6 mirrorless camera, it offers a DSLR body with some of the advanced features of Nikon's full-frame mirrorless cameras.


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Nikon D780 Features

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 (7)

The Nikon D780 has perhaps the best available full-frame sensor of any DSLR, thanks to having a 24mp full-frame BSI CMOS sensor, which can also be found in the Nikon Z6. With a lower megapixel count than other DSLRs, we get larger pixels on the sensor, and a BSI CMOS sensor gives better noise performance than standard CMOS sensors. This should give improved low-light performance, as well as allow a wider usable ISO range.

There’s built-in phase-detection autofocus (AF), built-in to the sensor, giving high-speed live-view focus speeds. With the sensor from the Nikon Z6, the camera also offers 12fps continuous shooting, using an electronic shutter. This means the Nikon D780 gives you fast snappy performance, whether you’re using the camera as a “traditional” DSLR using the OVF, or whether you’re using the live-view screen.

The D780 has access to Nikon F mount lenses, and we’ve been using a variety of lenses, including the 24-70mm f/2.8 VR, and 70-200mm f/4 VR, plus others.

The D780 has a number of advanced features that have been added or updated compared to the D750:

  • HDR (with JPEG+Raw recording)
  • Focus shift shooting, letting you take a number of shots and put them together later for more of the shot in focus
  • 273 PDAF points for live-view focus
  • 7fps continuous shooting with AF/AE
  • 12fps silent continuous shooting (live-view)
  • Extended ISO range, up to ISO204800
  • 180,000pixel RGB sensor
  • 1/8000s shutter speed, 900s slowest shutter speed (15min)
  • 4K UHD video recording
  • Bluetooth built-in
  • USB3 Type-C connection
  • 2260 shot battery life
  • See our Nikon D780 vs Nikon D750 comparison.


Auto Focus has been improved, with the addition of live-view focus, which lets you use the 273 phase-detection autofocus (AF) points built-in to the sensor, in addition to the 51 AF points available when using the optical viewfinder (OVF). Focus is also more sensitive in low-light when using live view.

The Nikon D780 is designed to offer the best of both worlds, with the 24mp BSI CMOS sensor from the Nikon Z6, plus the tough weather-sealed body of a Nikon DSLR, along with the impressive battery life performance that comes with a Nikon DSLR.

The camera has P, A, S, M shooting modes, giving you manual controls, plus Auto, Effects, and two customisable user modes, U1, and U2. There are a number of "Picture Control" options letting you choose the photo colour settings, including a "Flat" profile which will be useful for video, or for greater control over the final look of an image when processing. These can be customised with options to adjust sharpness (includes clarity), contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. There's also the option to shoot 1:1 aspect ratio photos and, in video mode, you can shoot 16:9 images.

There are a range of Creative Picture Controls, that give your images a different style of look with options including Dream, Morning, Pop, Sunday, Somber, Dramatic, Silence, Bleached, Melancholic, Pure, Denim, Toy, Sepia, Blue, Red, Pink, Charcoal, Graphite, Binary, Carbon.

Video: The D780 offers 4K video recording - 4K UHD resolution video can be recorded at 30/25 or 24p, with no crop for up to 29 minutes. With 10-bit N-Log (via HDMI) and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) options. Built-in timecode is included. FullHD video can be recorded at speeds up to 120fps, with sound, allowing for creative slow-motion video.

Bluetooth has been added to the camera, in addition to Wi-Fi, and this lets you transfer images using low-power Bluetooth. You can set this to continue to transfer photos, even when the camera is switched off, however, you'll need to keep an eye on battery life as this could leave you with less battery life than expected.

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 (8)


Key Features

  • 24MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor
  • 3.2inch tilting touch-screen, 2360K dots
  • 0.7x magnification optical viewfinder - Eye-level pentaprism
  • 273 PDAF points (Live-view)
  • 51 PDAF points (OVF)
  • 7fps continuous shooting
  • 12fps silent continuous shooting (live-view)
  • ISO range: 100-51200, extended ISO range: 50-204800
  • 180,000-pixel RGB sensor (exposure)
  • 1/8000s fastest shutter speed
  • 900s slowest shutter
  • -3EV OVF AF sensitivity
  • -4 / -6EV low-light AF (live-view)
  • 4K UHD Video, FullHD video (120fps)
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth added
  • Dual UHS-II SD card slots
  • USB3 Type-C connection
  • No built-in flash
  • 2260 shot battery life

Nikon D780 Handling

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 (3)

The Nikon D780 feels great in the hand. There's a solid feel thanks to the magnesium alloy body, giving reassurance and confidence in the camera. The grip is ample, and comfortable, with a generous helping of rubber grip to hold on to. The camera weighs 840g (body only, with battery and SD card), making it quite heavy in comparison to mirrorless cameras, and smaller DSLRs, however, there will be those that prefer their camera to have some weight attached. It certainly helps balance the camera, when using Nikon's larger lenses, such as the 24-70mm f/2.8 VR.

The battery and memory card compartments are solid enough, with ample weather sealing. This is made of foam around the memory card compartment, and rubber around the battery compartment. The rubber covers protect the side ports and are re-assuringly snug in fit. We tested the camera in a variety of adverse weather conditions, including on a frozen lake at -10C, as well as next to a waterfall where the camera was covered in spray (see picture below). The camera continued to perform flawlessly.

We tested the camera in a variety of adverse weather conditions, including on a frozen lake at -10C, as well as next to a waterfall where the camera was covered in spray (see below). The camera continued to perform flawlessly.

The top LCD gives vital information at a quick glance, as well as displaying the status of your memory card(s) when the cameras switched off. The LCD screen can be illuminated in low-light, however, the camera buttons aren't illuminated, this being a feature of more sports orientated cameras in Nikon's line up, such as the Nikon D850, D500, and D5 / D6.

There's quick access to ISO and exposure compensation, as well as a video button next to these. Press the ISO button and you can use use the rear command dial to adjust the ISO speed, or use the front command dial to switch between AUTO ISO and fixed ISO. This makes it quick and easy to change this without having to go into the Nikon menus. The mode dial is locking, meaning you need to press the middle button to turn it. Under the mode dial you'll find the drive mode dial, again this is a locking dial, and stops you accidentally turning this. The camera is designed for two-handed operation, with a row of buttons on the left of the rear screen.

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 In Water Spray1
Nikon D780 In Water Spray

There's a multi-direction D-Pad on the back of the camera, which can be used to adjust the AF position, as well as go through the menu options. There's a fairly small OK button in the middle, that could be difficult to use with gloves on. Unfortunately, there's no joystick on the rear of the camera, however, you will find one on the Nikon D500, and D850 - if you're not used to using one this shouldn't be an issue. The layout of controls, buttons, and switches should be familiar to anyone who's used other Nikon DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras. You can use the i button (in italics) to quickly access on-screen settings, and you can use the touch-screen to select and change settings.

Focus - The D780 offers both the AF system of a DSLR, with 51 AF points when using the OVF, and also the on-sensor phase-detection system of the Nikon Z6, with 273 AF points when using live-view. Live view focus has the added benefit of face and eye-detection AF, with OVF focus limited to only face detection. Live-view focus also offers much wider coverage, letting you set the focus point to almost anywhere on the screen (except to the very far corners). In live-view, you can set the focus point using the touch-screen, or using the D-pad on the back. Using the left AF button, and front command dial, you can quickly choose the different AF modes, which include: Auto, Single, 9, 21, 51 AF points, 3D, and Group. Focus shift can be selected in the photo menus, and once you have your shots, you'll need to use a third-party application, such as Adobe Photoshop to put the images together.

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 Ovf Area Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 Ovf Focus Area
Nikon D780 OVF View OVF Focus - outer focus points shown

What is the AF-EV range? The D780 has a good autofocus EV range, being able to focus in low-light down to -3 EV (moonlight) using the OVF focus system, although the camera can struggle in VERY low-light (eg a music gig in a basement with terrible lighting). Live-view focus can focus down to -4 EV, or -6 EV when using the low-light focus mode (an option that can be enabled in the Custom settings menus).

The optical viewfinder (OVF) gives a relatively large view of the scene. Red illuminated focus points are re-assuring, giving clear confirmation of the focus point, and the camera will display a "FLICKER" warning when there is the possibility of flicker from artificial lighting. The viewfinder displays a good level of information including the metering, shutter, aperture, ISO speed and remaining shots.

The screen is a 3.2inch touch-screen that tilts up as well as down. This makes it particularly useful for live-view stills shooting as well as recording video. The resolution is good at 2.3 million dots, and the refresh rate is reasonable, but not the fastest we've seen. Viewing angles are excellent and viewability is very good, even outdoors in bright light. The screen does not tilt far enough for use as a "selfie" or vlogging screen.

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 (5)

Menus – The menus are clearly laid out, with colour coding for each section, starting with Playback, Photo Shooting, Movie Shooting, Custom Setting, Setup, Retouch, and My Menu. The Retouch menu has options to process raw files in-camera, as well as apply other edits to your photos. Built-in help gives you a quick guide to the options available and helps make the camera easier to use.

Side note: Keeping photo and movie options in their own sections helps with finding the options you're looking for and is something we wish Sony (and others) would implement. The Custom Settings menus are colour coded so that you can more quickly get to the section you're looking for, and is something we wish Olympus would re-introduce into its cameras!

Wireless Connectivity - Using Bluetooth, you need to be very aware of whether the camera is set to transfer images when switched off, as this can quickly drain the battery, leaving you with an almost flat battery when you wake up in the morning. Bluetooth is also relatively slow compared to Wi-Fi, so if you have a large number of photos to transfer (even when transferring 2mp images), you would be better served by switching over to Wi-Fi. Using Wi-Fi you can remotely control the camera from the SnapBridge app. Location information is supported so that you can add GPS data to images from your smartphone.

Nikon D780 Tested To The Limits Review: Nikon D780 (6)

Battery life - Battery life is rated at 2260 shots according to Nikon / CIPA test results, which is excellent. However, extended use of Bluetooth / Wi-Fi, as well as leaving Bluetooth transfer switched on will reduce the battery life. Using live-view shooting will also reduce the battery life as the sensor is on constantly, compared to shooting through the OVF, where the sensor is only switched on to take the photo.

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D780

LakeAilenRadarAutumn leaves

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andybebbs Avatar
andybebbs 15 647 1 England
19 Feb 2020 7:11AM
why you would leave the flash off this model is a really poor decision.Sad
kaz84 Avatar
kaz84 3
19 Feb 2020 2:19PM
Sounds like an evolution rather than revolution ... i.e not an update for d750 users but an option for new FF entrants. Did you test for shutter shock? If so what were your findings? If not, why?
joshwa Avatar
joshwa Plus
13 927 1 United Kingdom
19 Feb 2020 3:01PM
Hi Kaz84, we took over 2,500 photos and didn't notice it as an issue, with the camera on standard settings.
kaz84 Avatar
kaz84 3
19 Feb 2020 8:27PM

Quote:Hi Kaz84, we took over 2,500 photos and didn't notice it as an issue, with the camera on standard settings.

Thank you for responding. I will try to find the speed/focal combination shots in your gallery. A couple of early adopter colleagues are reporting shutter shock at 1/10 - 1/40 sec, 200mm and f/3.5 (nautical & civil twilight landscapes). Obviously one can increase the "ISO" increase the shutter speed.

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