If you are just looking to know the answer to the question – which are or is the best Nikon full frame DSLR then skip to this. It is not actually one camera, because Nikon makes so many DSLRs and they literally have to offer one for every segment.
The answer to the question of which is the best Nikon full frame DSLR includes not one but three cameras. One each for the entry-level, mid-range and professional segments.
Although I say entry-level, if you are looking for a full frame DSLR then it implies you are anything but a beginner. You must have a decent understanding of the fundamentals of exposure and composition. Heck, it also means you already own at least one other camera and you are now looking to get one of the big boys.
The best Nikon full frame DSLRs:
- D6 (Professional’s Choice)
- D850 (Mid-range and also our all-round choice)
- D780 (Best Nikon Full frame DSLR Entry Level)
D6 – The New Nikon flagship DSLR
The last couple of years saw some interesting additions to the Nikon DSLR lineup. One of which happened just a few days back. I am referring to the new Nikon DSLR flagship – the D6. Till now, Nikon’s flagship DSLR was the extremely capable D5. But this is an Olympic year and like they do in every Olympic year, camera manufacturers have kept themselves busy, trying to woo their customers by launching new and improved versions of their camera lineup. By customers, I mean the professionals. Professionals who shoot sports and action for a living. Because, when it comes to Flagship DSLR bodies these are the prime target customers. The competition has already surged ahead. Canon already came up with their latest flagship – the EOS-1D X Mark III. It was launched at the CES 2020.
Priced at nearly six and a half thousand US dollars the D6 is definitely one of the priciest DSLRs you would have ever invested in. Heck, it is one of the priciest gadgets that you are ever going to invest in. But it more than pays up for itself through its sheer potential and image-making capability.
The D6 is powered by a similar 20.8 megapixel CMOS sensor as the older D5. Evidently there is no jump in the overall megapixel count. There haven’t been any major changes in body design either. Evidently the same accessories like the charger and battery (which was expected) can be used with the D6. In other words if you have used the D5 you will not feel that you are using any new camera. That is until you turn on the beast, raise it up to eye level and gently half-press the shutter release. You will immediately realize that there is, after all, some changes that have undergone. Auto-focusing is blindingly quick. And so is the frame rate. The camera now comes with the EXPEED 6 image-processing engine.
New Auto-focusing System
Speaking of auto-focusing, the older D5 had a 153-point phase-detection AF. 99 out of those points are cross-type. The new camera has a 105-point AF system, all of which are cross-type. Although the new camera has fewer AF points they are now backed by triple sensor technology. So, evidently that means the new camera has a much denser AF point arrangement compared to the older camera.
Additionally, all of the AF points on the new camera are selectable. This gives a lot more composing freedom compared to the older camera. Additionally, the new AF system can detect contrast up to negative 4.5 EV compared to only negative 4 on the older D5. Both of these give you a slight advantage over anybody wielding the older camera.
Additionally, in the new camera, the detection area of the group area focusing (as well as the single point focusing mechanism) has been beefed up to some extent. This ensures that keeping a subject in focus is going to be a lot easier even though it might be moving quickly and in an out of the focus point.
Faster Frame Rate
One of the significant improvements over the older D5 is the boosted frame rate. The older camera could fire at 12 fps. The new camera is able to shoot at 14 fps for a maximum of 200 frames. And in case you are the type of shooter who prefers live-view, the D6 is capable of firing full-resolution frames at a frame rate of 10.5 fps. Live view shooting becomes imperative in situations when you want to capture frames in silent mode.
The new D6 has Bluetooth connectivity built-in. This was something missing in the older D5. Additionally, now you have Wi-Fi built-in to. Earlier you had to use a Wi-Fi adapter in order to connect to a wireless network. This will help photographers who are working to cover sporting events to latch on to the wireless network at the venue and transfer their images seamlessly as they shoot.
Between the three cameras listed here if we had to pick just one that really combines the best of everything that we dream for in a full-frame DSLR then we would have picked the D850. It is by far the best Nikon full frame DSLR in terms of all round performance and price.
The Best All-Round Choice
Excellent resolution, autofocusing and handling.
The D850 packs in the highest number of megapixels among all of Nikon’s current full frame DSLRs. As a matter of fact, it has the highest resolution among all of Nikon’s current DSLRs. Not just full frame.
Plus, there is no optical low pass filter too on the sensor. What it means is that the camera is able to reproduce a lot of sharpness. For a 45.7 megapixel there is also the inherent risk that false colors or moiré might creep in your images when you are shooting fine patterns.
The camera pairs the sensor with an EXPEED 5 image-processing engine. Although this is slower than the latest EXPEED 6 image processor this still is a formidable unit and capable of handling large resolution with a decent frame rate as well. This is something that is rare in the DSLR segment where cameras would either give you high resolution or high frame rates and never both at the same time. The D850 is one of those rare exceptions. 7 frames per second for a maximum of 51 frames consecutively before the buffer overruns.
On top of that, you have the option to plug in the optional battery grip. This boosts the frame rate all the way to fps. If you are a sports shooter or love wildlife photography especially bird photography you would love the excellent 9 fps frame rate. The extra number of frames can make all the difference in the number of shooting situations.
Some photographers prefer manually selecting 12-bit shooting mode rather than 14-bit. Well, before you do that try and make at least half a dozen shots at the lowest ISO in different lighting situations. One set in 14-bit and the other set in 12-bit. Of the same scene. And then compare the images to find out salvaged details from the shadow areas, noise after you do that and details in highlights if you are exposing for it. If the results that you see are identical or it is impossible to make any discernible differences then you can safely shoot at 12-bit shooting mode. The whole reason for doing that being you could have a slight edge in a better buffer, smaller file size and in some cameras faster frame rates.
To add to that the D850 has a BSI sensor. As we know BSI sensors are the best when it comes to low light photography. This is because the wiring on these sensors is at the back of the sensor surface leaving behind extra space for the light-sensitive photodiodes to capture light without any hindrances. The result is a higher signal to noise ratio, lower noise, and overall cleaner images.
Why do we consider the D850 as the most complete camera system from Nikon? Because it combines a lot of things. It may not be the fastest in terms of continuous shooting, it may not have the best weather sealing or the cheapest, but it combines adequate proportions of each of the parameters that an average camera buyer looks for.
And that the D850 is a highly rated camera is vindicated when you look at the rest of the spec sheet. Many of which matches with that of the D5. The D5 happened to be the flagship Nikon DSLR before the D6 was announced. The D850 has the same auto-focusing mechanism as the D5. The same 153 point system with 99 cross-type AF points. 55 out of which are manually selectable.
The D850 is not the flagship Nikon DSLR. So, build quality is not at par with what you would expect with the best Nikon full frame DSLR, i.e., the D5 (and henceforth the D6). But still build quality is extremely good. The underlying chassis of the D850 is made of magnesium alloy and has been given weather sealing. The camera can effectively repel moisture and dust when working at outdoor locations.
D780 is a mid-range full frame DSLR. It currently is one of the most affordable full frame DSLRs by Nikon. If you have been looking to upgrade to a full frame Nikon DSLR the D780 surely is a camera that is worth taking a look. The reasons are manifold. First, it has the latest EXPEED 6 image-processing sensor. Second is the sensor.
Great Budget Full-Frame
BSI sensor. EXPEED 6 image processor. Faster autofocusing.
Though the D780 has a similar resolution as the D750, the real mumbo-jumbo is in the inherent sensor technology. The D780 has a back-illuminated technology-powered sensor. That invariably suggests that the D780 is capable of producing cleaner images at higher ISO compared to other similar non-BSI sensor-equipped cameras.
Normally when we compare DSLR cameras we tend to compare the number of megapixels, i.e., the resolution of the camera as against its competitors. In that sense, the entry-level full frame DSLRs by Nikon mostly have around 24-megapixel resolution. And the D780 has the same.
Faster Frame Rate
The D780 has a slightly faster frame rate compared to the D750. 7 fps as against 6.5 fps. And that gives you a few more frames to choose from. As a sports or wildlife photographer, this could mean the difference between getting a stunning image and missing the moment forever. But the live view shooting is what gives you a lot more frames. 12 to be exact and when using the silent shooting mechanism.
Faster Shutter Speed
With the tiny-weeny increase in frame rate, one important thing that might just miss your attention is the faster Shutter Speed that the shutter mechanism of the D780 is capable of producing. The older D750 could only fire at 1/4000 sec. The new D780 can fire at a much quicker 1/8000 sec. This allows the camera to make good exposures even in extremely bright conditions and take advantage of faster lenses without having to use an ND filter otherwise.
The D780 is the better choice for video shooting if you are comparing it with the D750. Why? Because it gives you a bit more options in your hand in terms of the shooting resolution that you could choose. You could choose between full HD and UHD. UHD recording is possible up to 30 frames per second and full HD up to a maximum of 120 frames per second. Along with that you also get N-Log Gamma and HLG which gives you a much higher amount of control when editing your videos in the post.
Slightly Higher ISO Sensitivity
The D780 has a slightly higher ISO sensitivity compared to the D750. So, you can push it all the way 51200. Now, for all practical reasons, you would never ever shoot at ISO 51200 because the images are always going to be too noisy. But it shows that the new sensor is a bit more flexible.
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