The box that arrived from LensRentals three days ago contained a Nikon D750 (currently on sale for $400 off at $1,897; that's normally the price for the D610, which is on sale for $500 off) and a copy of the new Tamron SP 35mm ƒ/1.8 Di VC USD ($599).
The next day's LensRentals box brought two Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG HSM Art lenses ($899, which is a chunk of change except that's very cheap for its specification—an AF full-frame 35mm ƒ/1.4 lens). They're identical except that one fits Nikon F mount and the other fits Sony A mount. I had in mind doing an evolution-of-FF tryout between the long-in-the-tooth 2008 24-MP Sony A900 and the new 24-MP D750. Predictably (I say that because I predicted it!), we have not had one spot of sunlight since the first box arrived, which annoys me, but then, it is Winter in New York, so what did I expect?
I've only got a few days with this stuff anyway, which is enough for tryouts but not tests. (When I used to write camera reviews, my personal standard was that I had to use the camera for 90 days, exclusively and for real work, before I'd write about it. Ah, youth.)
The lineup that doesn't quite line up
Even before seeing one in person, I considered the D750 the top recommendation among all Nikons. That doesn't mean this is an easy or sensible recommendation, however; Nikon's full-frame lineup is quite confused. It has the D4S (currently $500 off at $5,997), soon to be superseded by the D5; the D810 ($2,797), its 36-MP pixel-leader-o'-the-moment and a hunka hunka burning love (sorry; I mean it's a big ol' dragoon); the faux-retro Dƒ ($2,747 at the moment), which is apparently soon to go the way of all digital things, as end-of-lifecycle discounts have been doing the Whack-A-Mole dance recently; and then the D750 and the D610 (currently on sale for $1,497 and Nikon's best bargain in a FF camera), which are sorta the same but sorta aren't.
You get the feeling these days that Nikon's lineup is designed by a committee, but that the committee no longer meets. As if everybody's thinking straight but nobody's talking to anyone else. The only point of clarity in the FF range is that the D4S is targeted at pros. Beyond that, the D810 is for landscapes and product shots, sorta; the D610 (which I actually like quite a lot but which, as the D600, had a rocky intro with some well-publicized problems) is the entry-level FF; and the Dƒ is the camera that encapsulates Nikonish befuddlement in one body, because it's a retro dials-'n'-buttons buttons camera but a modern all-electronic camera as well. It comes off as not both but neither, a hybrid Frankenidea like a calf born with two heads or some other metaphor of DNA gone wrong. (While remaining a capable camera, of course; it's still a Nikon.) The distinction between the D610 and the D750, in terms of lineup placement, seems inherently difficult to parse. The difference in features between the two is modest (Imaging-Resource has the best comparison page). The biggest difference I notice is the D750's articulated viewing screen.
There's nothing wrong with any of these cameras, I hasten to add. It's just that as a product lineup it's pretty muddled. Nikon never lacks for competence, but recently seems lacking in clarity and, dare I venture to say it, confidence. Or it could be that the lineup suffers in comparison to Sony's bold A7 line, in which the various models each have unusual clarity of purpose.
Well and good
But down to the D750. It's named to conjure the famous D700 from 2008, which our readers in a poll some time back settled on as the #1 best-loved camera of the digital era. For some inexplicable reason, Nikon orphaned the D700. And the D300. When anyone would have thought that follow-ups to both those stalwarts would have been no-brainers. The D750 isn't entirely a logical D700 successor. It's been too many years, for one thing, and, as Thom Hogan points out, the D750 probably has the wrong sensor: to be a D700 heir it should have the one from the Dƒ. Not that there's nothing wrong with the sensor it has.
But I think it serves well enough as a D700 successor in spirit, as it's the current all-rounder FF Nikon that's best targeted at enthusiasts. Well and good.
It's impossible to unlearn what you already know, so I can't guess how the D750 would "present" to someone who's new to Nikon DSLRs or just new to DSLRs in general. They're very familiar to me. As a consequence the controls were mostly already familiar and the camera fell right to hand.
First handshakes with the D750 in the dark and changey weather.
Tamron SP35mm lens.
Nikon builds SLRs, and it is very good at building SLRs, and the D750 is a very good Nikon. It's a pleasure to hold, to look through, and to photograph with. Everything works a treat. It's loud. It has a flip-up viewing screen (I like those). Given time, you'd gradually fill in your knowledge of whichever controls aren't immediately apparent, and the controls you use most often would become second nature. The D750 is quite wonderful. It feels like a privilege to be using it every time I pick it up.
The point I wanted to make today—forgive me if I go overboard here in the daily struggle to express myself—is that when you first try a new camera, I think a measure of respect for the process—for the experience—is appropriate. It's just a camera, so nothing about the experience is all that crucial. But, psychologically, you're at a vulnerable stage. You're calibrating broadly, and big missteps or mistakes or frustrations are going to loom larger than they should in your evolving appraisal. What I try to do, if I can, is to make sure that my first experience of a new camera is a positive one. If possible, I use a lens that's already familiar to me; I take some time to sort out the controls, and make sure I have the basic settings all configured correctly and that I know how to do things I'm likely to want to do right off the bat, like change the aperture or apply exposure compensation or switch to manual focus; I make sure the battery's charged and the card is fresh.
And I wait for good light and a relatively target-rich shooting location. The point is that your first experiences are going to go a long way toward setting your first impressions of the equipment, and it's sensible to make sure your first impression is a positive one. Even if you have to wait a few days.
Don't "stress" the camera right away by going directly to a test of whatever extreme capability it's supposed to be better at than the competition, or, worse, don't immediately test the feature the Internet tells you is weak or suspect. You know what a camera needs to shine: good light, middle apertures, low or medium ISO, subjects that are easy to focus on. Feed it what it wants and let it please you from the start. Make demands gradually. You'll make friends more easily that way.
Because it doesn't matter which camera you use, but it does matter that you enjoy using it and that you come to trust it. Doing good work helps your fluency with your equipment, and fluency with your equipment helps you do good work. Of course it doesn't matter so much with a brief tryout using a rental, but it certainly does when you've been saving for six months to buy an expensive camera you hope to use for several years, and it just arrived and you have it in your hand for the first time. In that case especially, what you want with your new camera, like Bogart said at the ending of Casablanca, is "the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Hey, look—the weather's clearing up! I'd better get outside.
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Lorne Black: "I think you are describing the difference between the lust for new equipment and actually using it as intended. Once money changes hands there is often a bit of buyer’s remorse. With cameras, the best way to battle that is to attach a favourite lens and make some photos.
"As to Nikon’s Dƒ, I see it from the other direction. In the ’60s and ’70s most SLRs looked pretty much same, slab sided and with sharp edges. Currently, DSLRs look pretty much the same with softer, rounded edges. Shape has nothing to do with capability though it can affect how comfortable it is to hold. Control layout may be good or bad, but the camera style has little impact. After eight years with my trusty D200, and with no D400 in sight, I was on the verge of buying a D800. But for about the same money the Dƒ offered the D4 sensor in a style I preferred. Admittedly, owning an F2, F3HP, and FM3a does influence my thinking. After two years and 20,000 frames I still find it an amazing bit of kit."
jerry roebuck: "When you have the time, and of course if it interests you, I would be very keen to know how easily this camera works with AI lenses. (I'm an old geezer with some very good Nikkor glass...and failing eyesight, so ease of focus is high priority.) Thank you."
Mike replies: With limited time with the equipment I'm unable to try everything. The D750 with AI lenses is something I'm unlikely to get around to because I'm not interested in it myself. Generally, my position for years has been that it's best to use cameras with the lenses they were designed to be paired with. I've had to modify that position since mirrorless came along, but I still stick to it pretty firmly personally.
I think I'd probably encourage you to switch to AF, Jerry, even if you have to trade a lot of older lenses for only two or three current ones. I often say that I lived at the perfect time to be a photographer. There are many reasons for that, but one of them is that the various automated focusing aids came along at the right time for me. As I got worse at focusing, cameras got better at it. Sweet. If you have problems focusing, the technological solution for you exists and is very effective and convenient, so I'd say you might as well take advantage of it.
Anders responds to jerry: "Kirk Tuck recently posted about using manual focus lenses on modern DSLRs."
Thom Hogan responds to jerry: "The Dƒ is the best of the Nikon DSLRs if you're going to try to manually focus them via the focus screen. It's mildly better than the rest due to some small focus screen changes.
"However, remember that the AF indicators still work on all Nikon DSLRs when you manually focus. They even tell you which way to turn the top of the focus ring on AI lenses ;~) ."
Roger Engle: "I'd be curious to see B&W conversion comparisons between the D750 and X-T1, having heard that both do pretty well."
Mike replies: That's something I'm curious about too. I'll try if I have time.
Chris: "An incredible camera package, no doubt. I don't see the Nikon 35mm ƒ/1.8G ED lens getting much attention online. It's an excellent performing lens, on par with the Sigma in sharpness. You can couple it with a D810 and have a camera package that is actually lighter (by 230g) than the D750/Sigma combo. A light, capable lens on a D810 is nice alternative to consider for anyone's hard-earned $."
Bob Gary: "We need a paragraph or two like that with every camera manual we get so we don't get disappointed. If we applied those evaluations every time we approach any human tool, their usefulness would be so much more rewarding...."