More on the Nikon D780

As we get the chance to go beyond press releases and actually handling the camera and fully contemplating it, a few other things should be pointed out:

  • For once, Nikon's marketing got a consistent message out of the Internet sites covering the launch. Basically "a Z6 in a DSLR body." I actually think that does the D780 a bit of a disservice. As I've pointed out before, all the Z's have been targeted below the near equivalent DSLR. In the Z6's case, that's clearly the D780.
  • Got a screw-drive autofocus lens? Yep, the D780 has no issues with that, while the Z6 and FTZ adapter means you lose autofocus. For some long-term Nikon users, that may be enough to keep them in the DSLR fold awhile longer.
  • Where's the ProRes RAW support? It seems that should have been a no-brainer to bring over from the Z6, but for some reason Nikon's been silent on this. I suspect that this is mostly logistical. Nikon was in silent running mode on the D780. Specific rumors didn't appear until nearly the last minute, and the body is already shipping in some regions within days after the announcement. I suspect that the D780 was an example of what Nikon executives said would be an effort to speed up development and release cycles. ProRes RAW support requires Atomos to be in on the deal, and they might not have had a camera to work with. We'll see if this changes down the line, or whether Nikon will just leave ProRes RAW for the mirrorless cameras.
  • I'm amused that it's taken this long for Nikon to understand that the D810A long exposure time ability was something that we all wanted in all our Nikon cameras. Being able to set a direct shutter speed up to 15 minutes is something that needs to be in the Z6, Z7, D6, and D850. Some might argue it should be in the Z50 and higher cameras, too.
  • Nikon and Canon both have the same problem at the moment: explaining how optical focus is different than sensor focus. We have different modes, different capabilities, and a lot of other differences, some clearly different, some much more nuanced. Getting across "when to use what and why" is going to be something both companies need to spend some time detailing. I'm not holding my breath. 
  • Throwing in the oddball film digitizer feature—formerly only in the D850—is a bit of "throwing in the kitchen sink." Not that I'm complaining, because prior to this Nikon's approach tended to be "take out features" in any camera other than the top end one. Still, adding things like this into the D780 shows me that Nikon is a bit worried about whether "there's enough" in the DSLR still to keep people buying. But then they take out the internal flash and grip option. That's a bit schizophrenic. Pick a lane, Nikon.
  • Nikon continues to not understand "feature = user benefit" marketing. Nikon does mention that the D780 inherits D5-generation focus technology, even though the D780 uses the same physical focus sensor as before. What Nikon fails to do is tell you why inheriting D5-generation focus technology is a user benefit (and it is, clearly so). Try this with your D750 and D780: use 3D tracking and see what happens. One is going to be clearly better at identifying and tracking a subject. Guess which one that is? 
  • I'm starting to think that my biggest objection to the D780 features/changes/improvements will be the AE-L/AF-L button sitting right where we need a thumb stick. The Direction Pad is too far down the back for comfortable focus selector use (same problem as on the Z50). 
bythom D780 back detail

Simple question: is this the proper position and array for things your right thumb controls?

While I've been on the harsh side with my comments on the D780, there is the sum-of-the-parts thing going on here. Just as the D810 was clearly a better camera for the sophisticated user than the D800 despite using the same sensor, so it may be that the D780 is the same thing to the D750. The problem is that this type of difference doesn't show up in specifications or even feature lists. 

The way I look at the sum-of-the-parts thing is this: is the new camera more in my way or less in my way while shooting? And how clearly so? 

Things like the long exposure times are a "less in the way" thing. Removing features like the internal flash may be a "more in the way" thing. The real question thus becomes one of balance. For the things I'd (or you'd) normally use this camera for, did the balance improve, and did it improve enough to make a clear difference to you? 

One of the reasons why people are disagreeing about how they see the D780 is in that last question. For some, the balance may very well have tilted towards a clearly better camera. If you use Live View or video a lot, I'm pretty sure it did. For others, they're guessing that the balance may have tilted the wrong way. That's particularly true for those that use flash or prefer the vertical grip, who may find the camera is now not helping them. 

I think I've been consistent on this: this late in the DSLR cycle I don't think you want to create a new camera where anything triggers a "gets in the way more" issue for someone. Nikon's asking you for US$2300 to upgrade to this camera, and the camera you have is probably perfectly capable of taking excellent photos, after all. Not to mention that there's another choice available in the Z6. 

The D750 was Nikon's best selling full frame DSLR. First, because it was on the market for so long. Second, because it was highly competent. Third due to the fact that it was on substantive discount so often and sat at or just above the top DX camera choices, tempting folk to cross over. The D780 won't have two of those benefits (I'm assuming it will be highly competent). It also has a competitor in the Z6. 

Thus, I don't expect the D780 to be the next "best seller" in Nikon's lineup. I suspect that would be the Z6, and for the same three reasons the D750 was. Nikon doesn't need the D780 to outsell the Z6, but I'm pretty sure they need it to sell well. Only time will tell if they got the balance right. I still suspect the answer is "not quite." 

I've got a lot in my queue and in my testing cycle right now. It's likely that further comments about the D780 will have to wait until I can turn my attention more directly to it.

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