D750 or D810?

That’s the question I keep getting. It’s an interesting question, and one that that has a nuance to it: it’s not "should I get the D610, D750, or D810," is it?

Let’s speak to that first. The D610 is certainly a very capable camera. But Nikon really hurt that camera’s sales with the way it handled the D600 shutter mess, and now the D750 comes in at the old D6xx price with a number of small, but intriguing changes. In essence, the D610 has become the “stripper” in the lineup. At US$1800, it’s competing against the Sony A7, basically (though Sony once again dropped their price temporarily on it).

So those of you considering a full sensor camera have at the entry level a quintessential question: mirrorless or DSLR? From an image quality standpoint there really isn’t much to distinguish them, as they use basically the same sensor. The D610 “wins” that battle with responsive autofocus, legacy lens support, and a traditional approach that people are familiar with. The D610 “loses” that battle with a higher size and weight, more complexity internally that can go wrong, and a few modern odds and ends such as the PlayMemories Apps that are slowly showing up for the Sony cameras. 

But I no longer consider the D610 the best entry into the Nikon FX lineup. Yes, the D750 is US$500 more expensive in street price at the moment, but even at its slightly inflated price difference—it’ll start sliding towards Christmas—the changes from the D610 to the D750 are almost all exactly where the FX entry camera needs to be, I think. 

What do I mean by that? The D750 improves too many things in small, but meaningful ways:

  • The rear LCD is better in resolution/clarity, and usefully pivots for better Live View support
  • 51-sensor autofocus versus 39, and improved at that (Group AF, lower sensitivity, etc.)
  • Power consumption is lower and you’ll get more shots/charge with the same battery
  • Built-in WiFi support (limited but useful, even for things like remote trigger of camera)
  • 60/50 fps for 1080P
  • Slightly faster frame rate (6.5 versus 6) but especially a deeper buffer
  • Numerous small detail additions: 1.2x crop; up to 9 exposures at +/-3EV in bracketing; the new Flat Picture Control, plus Clarity setting; exposure smoothing in the Intervalometer; a separate Video menu (finally); focus points stored by orientation; zoom to 100% with center button on playback; the ability to assign the Video record button to still functions; and more

About the only thing that is a step backward from the D610 is the 21mm eyepoint position on the viewfinder. And all this is before we consider whether or not Nikon squeezed some more image quality out of the sensor (they did, but I’m not certain how much yet). 

While all those things seem small by themselves, they all add up quite nicely. Despite having the same basic control set (consumer body buttons/controls) as the D610, I find myself liking the D750 much more. It’s a little more responsive, easier to get more control under your fingertips, shoots deeper into action sessions, and has slightly better autofocus performance. Despite how many things are the same between it and the D610, the D750 just feels like a better camera in actual shooting. I’ve put my money where my mouth is: I’ve sold my D610. 

But I asked the question about the D750 versus D810 comparison up front. How’s that play out?


The D810 differences/improvements are less direct for most shooters:

  • 36mp sensor with no AA filter gives you more pixels and larger files to deal with
  • The CompactFlash slot might be desirable to some have those cards around
  • TIFF and 5:4 crop supported
  • 1/8000 second shutter with 1/250 flash sync speed
  • Pro-style body controls (dedicated buttons)
  • Round eyepiece with shutter

You get only 5 fps instead of 6.5 with the D810, no tilting LCD (though a LCD cover), and no built-in WiFi.

I’ll still stand by my assertion that the D810 (previously D800) is the most well-rounded and capable DSLR currently made. That difference comes mostly because of the sensor. 

Here’s the thing: I shoot a lot of different styles in the course of a year: event, wildlife, sports, landscape, travel. Sometimes that 36mp in the D810 is the key differential, as in landscape photography. But when I shoot wildlife I’m often using the DX crop, and starting with 36mp is a big difference from starting with 24mp. Basically, I have a 36mp FX and 15mp DX camera with the D810. Nice. 

With the D750 I’ve got a 24mp FX camera and a 9mp DX camera. Not quite as nice, but good. Some would argue that the D750 is better at low light, but I’m not certain of that at all. Certainly Nikon has tweaked JPEGs once again and that means out-of-camera D750 low-light work looks quite good, even at the pixel peeping level. But I’m not convinced the improvement is there in raw files processed carefully. 

One thing that seems to get forgotten in a lot of discussions is the difference an AA filter makes (the D750 has one, the D810 does not). Put simplistically, at the pixel peeping level the AA filter is going to mask noise a bit at the expense of a slight loss in edge acuity, while removing it does the opposite. This, too, comes into play when you set the camera in DX crop mode (9mp anti-aliased just doesn’t look as good as 15mp not filtered). 

I’ve written for years that I’m all about optimal capture of data, and ultimately, my personal choice is usually going to be the D810 over the D750 because of that: I’m collecting more data that’s been less modified. That very well may be the way you decide between the two cameras: 

  • If you’re a JPEG shooter or a light post processor that sticks to Lightroom’s basic sliders, the D750 is your camera
  • If you’re a NEF shooter only and reach deep into your processing toolkit to extract every last thing you can, the D810 is your camera

That’s not a perfect dichotomy, unfortunately. The D750 may produce a bit more dynamic range at base ISO, for example (don’t quote me on that; preliminary data). But it’s anti-aliased data. Tough trade to call a winner on. 

I really don’t think you can go wrong with either the D750 or D810. Both are excellent cameras, posed a little differently. The D750 has a little more entry-level feel to it (consumer controls), the D810 a little more pro-level to it (pro controls), but in practice it’s mostly a few buttons and controls in different places. In other respects the two cameras both shoot similarly, and produce pretty spectacular results compared to where we were only a few years ago.

What doesn’t tend to influence my opinion of the two is size/weight. Yes, the D750 is a bit smaller all around, but when all is said and done it’s only five ounces lighter (130g). Much more to the point I find my right hand position on the D810 much more comfortable than on the D750 (the D750’s split of the DOF and Fn buttons is dramatically wide, for example, which forces you to move your hand position). I will say that the D750 might be a better balanced choice with the f/1.8G primes Nikon has been producing. At the other extreme, the D810 is clearly a better choice in my mind if you’re sticking the truly big lenses out front. 

But the bottom line is the bottom line: what’s really going to drive you to the D750 is price. Basically US$1000 less than a D810. So you really have to need something in that short list of D810 pluses to justify the price bump. 

Full reviews are coming once I’ve had the chance to do a real trip and some serious shooting with both. Until then, you can’t really go wrong with either, but I’m currently sticking with my D810 as my go-to camera. 

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