The D780 is not only Nikon’s newest DSLR, it’s also the most refined. It replaces the incredibly popular D750, since 2014, and uses an updated 24-megapixel sensor. It is Nikon’s first DSLR camera to incorporate on-chip phase detection autofocus, a feature inherited from its mirrorless Z-series that gives the D780 responsive performance in video and live view modes. Eye detection autofocus, in particular, is very impressive.
In fact, the D780 is essentially the DSLR version of the mirrorless Nikon Z 6.
That begs the question: why buy the D780 when you could get the Z 6, which is currently quite cheaper? Honestly, I think most people are better off doing exactly that. Mirrorless cameras offer advantages in packaging, ease of use and, at least in this case, price. The Z 6 is a capable camera and I love the strategy Nikon is taking with its Z series lenses.
The D780, then, is more of a specialist. Many photographers still love using an optical viewfinder, and the D780, if it’s nothing new, is still nice, offering 100% frame coverage and a brilliant pentaprism. Also, the larger body of a DSLR can be more comfortable when paired with certain lenses, especially longer zooms that get too heavy on mirrorless cameras.
Battery life is another advantage. Optical viewfinders consume very little energy. Combined with efficiency improvements, the D780 can run all day with a CIPA rating of 2,260 shots per charge. I have to imagine that only a small group of people really need that kind of lasting energy, but it’s a welcome feature for those who do, and it means you can save money by not having to buy replacement batteries.
The higher resolution D850 was my previous pick for the best DSLR camera, and that is still the best camera for some photographers, i.e. working professionals. However, I think the D780 offers the best balance of features for the price, and its 4K video and faster live-view autofocus make it the right choice for most customers. I wish Nikon had put an AF joystick in it,