Nikon Learn & Explore

With Z-Camera Features, the D780 Takes Its Place in Nikon's DSLR Lineup

Wedding and portrait photographer Cliff Mautner is a straight-talking pragmatist when it comes to new photo gear. His considerations pretty much consist of, ‘What's the practical value? and How will it work for me?’ This does not make him unique among photographers, but the fact that he won't chase after new stuff simply because it's new stuff makes him ideal to talk with when he gets down to shooting with a new Nikon camera. In this case, the D780.

We'll give you his decision up front: the new camera will replace the D750 in Cliff's trio of the Nikon cameras in his "fit the tool to the job" lineup; the other two members are the Z 6 and the D850.

Cliff's pragmatism is evidenced in our first exchange. We ask, "So, what'd you think of the D780? An advance on the D750?"

And he says, "Look, it's a camera—it's still a box that lets in light."

We acknowledge that he is correct, but we don't get further than that before he begins adding up the pluses of our new box that lets in light.

Product photo of the D780 DSLR and AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4 lens
Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a little girl

© Cliff Mautner

"This is a perfect example of me not having to lay down flat on the floor," Cliff says. "I used the flip-up LCD and lowered the D780. The Eye AF locked on and I fired off several frames with the camera in burst mode. Photographing kids is sometimes like covering a sporting event." D780, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED

Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a little boy smiling at the camera

© Cliff Mautner

A window-light shot aided by a v-shaped reflector that gave Cliff the camera-left fill light he needed. He composed using the LCD and had the D780 set for Live View and Eye AF. "When you're viewing through the LCD you can also connect with your subject and have eye contact when you want to," Cliff says. "That'll always help with the pose and the expression as you talk or direct." D780, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED

"One of the things I really appreciate with the D780 is the  ability to use Live View with the tilt screen, and then use Eye AF [Eye-Detection Autofocus]," he says. Eye AF is one of the features of the D780 that's inherited from the Nikon Z cameras, and essentially it locks on and stays with your subject's eye to ensure precise, critical focus. "I never felt I'd be a photographer who'd hold the camera away from my face and look at the LCD to compose," Cliff adds, "but with the D780 I can use the tilt screen so I don't have to break my back when I want to get a different angle or vantage point, and I can have Eye-Detection AF working for me at the same time."
That combination will work for Cliff for his wedding photography and portraiture, especially when kids are his portrait subjects. "I was able to put the camera at different levels—that's perfect for photographing kids. And with Eye AF, I just had to concentrate on composing the image. The D780 is a phenomenal piece of equipment for children's portraiture."Eye

Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a man in profile wearing a tuxedo

© Cliff Mautner

For a studio portrait that was essentially a test of the D780's ability to resolve shadows and highlights, Cliff used a single directional light source: a window. D780, AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR

Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a couple sitting at a table in front of a very large window

© Cliff Mautner

An image that proved the camera's ability to capture a wide tonal range. Cliff used a 35mm lens to set the scene inside and capture the city setting beyond the window. "This was sort of a test," he says. "The D750 delivered some of the best dynamic range performance of any camera I'd used, and the D780 has inherited that ability." D780, AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED

Handling the Light

The fact that the D780 features the same sensor as the Z 6 is also a big plus for Cliff. "Great ISO performance, great low-light capability," he says. "The Z 6 sensor is the most incredible low-light sensor I've ever encountered, and when I'm shooting wedding-reception dancing and group shots, the D780 with an SB-5000 Speedlight on its hot shoe is going to be an incredibly fast tool to capture those moments."

When we talked with Cliff about some of the photos he'd taken with the D780, light once again became the subject. He described how he takes into consideration the sources of light in a room, and how he often has to decide how to effectively balance them. As he detailed the decisions he has to make, he brought up the D780's auto white balance performance and how essential it was that he have confidence that the camera will capture exactly what he wants. "The D780 does a stellar job with auto white balance, to the point that it's not something I have to think about anymore," Cliff says.

Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a man wearing a tux looking at the camera

© Cliff Mautner

"The D780 handled the mix of window light and the sconces," Cliff says. "I'd set the white balance to Auto 2 (A2), which favors the warm tones that I like. That the background sconces were tungsten did not fool the camera's meter because the subject was exposed with the proper white balance for daylight—that's kind of a big deal." D780, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED

If you relied on the D750 as the workhorse for wedding and portrait photography, the D780 is the perfect upgrade.
Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a bride and groom at a table in a decorated room

© Cliff Mautner

Cliff used an SB-5000 Speedlight fitted with a full CTO gel for this photo. A grid on the Speedlight allowed control of the dispersion of the light so it wouldn't hit the table or the floral arrangement. "My goal was to match the light from the flash to the scene, otherwise the faces would be cooler than the scene. I set auto white balance and the camera handled the shot perfectly." D780, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED

Focus on Performance

Autofocus was an equally important consideration, and the D780's 273-point AF in Live View, inherited from the Z 6, provides the kind of coverage he relies on. "It covers the entire sensor," he says, "and when you're dealing with focus at wide-open apertures, and you're close to your subject—and the closer you are the more shallow the depth of field—it's imperative that focus be spot on. And when you're composing with your subject at the top, bottom, right or left in the frame, you need those focus points to ensure critical focus."

With its improved autofocus performance, the addition of Eye AF and the use of the Z 6 sensor, the D780 proved to be a demonstrably advanced camera for Cliff's photography. "As a wedding and portrait photographer, I can tell you that If you relied on the D750 as the workhorse for wedding and portrait photography, the D780 is the perfect upgrade."

We were pleased to hear that, but not surprised. We're pretty well known for dependable boxes that let in light.

Cliff Mautner D780 photo of a woman

© Cliff Mautner

A window-light-only portrait that showcases the accuracy of Eye-Detection AF through Live View. D780, AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED

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