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10 Reasons to Skip the Nikon D780 in 2023

The Nikon D780 generated a lot of excitement when it was first announced in January 2020. As a high-end DSLR, it promised pro-level performance for both stills and video, inheriting many of the improvements Nikon had been making to its mirrorless Z series. And for Nikon DSLR shooters, it was a compelling upgrade over popular models like the D750.

However, even at the time of its release, the D780 had some notable drawbacks compared to the competition. And now, over three years later, it is even harder to recommend for most people. The world of cameras has changed rapidly, with the shift to mirrorless accelerating. While the D780 remains a highly capable camera, here are 10 reasons I believe you should skip it in 2023:

1. Lack of In-Body Image Stabilization

One of the most glaring omissions from the D780‘s spec sheet was in-body image stabilization (IBIS). This feature, which physically moves the sensor to counteract camera shake, has become increasingly common in mirrorless cameras and even some newer DSLRs. It‘s especially useful for shooting video handheld or in low light conditions.

The D780 relies on lens-based vibration reduction (VR) instead. While some of Nikon‘s F-mount lenses have excellent VR, it‘s not available on all lenses. And even the best lens-based stabilization typically can‘t match the performance of IBIS when it comes to video or slower shutter speeds. For a camera aimed at advanced shooters and videographers, the lack of IBIS was a notable drawback.

2. No Built-In Flash

Another surprising omission for a camera in this class was a built-in flash. While advanced shooters may prefer to use external flashes, a pop-up flash can still be very handy for casual shooting, fill light outdoors, or triggering remote flashes wirelessly.

Most entry-level and mid-range DSLRs have offered built-in flashes for years. So it was odd to see this feature missing on a higher-end model like the D780. It means having to bring an external flash even for basic flash needs, adding to the bulk and cost of the system.

3. Unreliable Subject Tracking Autofocus

The D780 offered improved autofocus compared to previous Nikon DSLRs, with better coverage, sensitivity, and tracking. However, it still wasn‘t fully reliable, especially when it came to tracking moving subjects in video mode.

In practice, the AF could lose track of subjects or hunt at times, particularly in lower light or with faster motion. This was an area where higher-end mirrorless cameras had a clear edge, with more advanced tracking capabilities and faster, more decisive focus.

For a camera marketed towards videographers and action shooters, the D780‘s AF left something to be desired. It was a step up from older DSLRs but still behind the cutting edge.

4. Shutter Shock at Longer Focal Lengths

The D780 exhibited noticeable shutter shock, especially when used with longer telephoto lenses. This is caused by the vibrations from the mechanical shutter and mirror slap, and can lead to blurry photos even at relatively fast shutter speeds.

While shutter shock is a common issue with DSLRs, some handle it better than others. The D780 seems particularly prone to it based on user reports. Using the electronic front-curtain shutter or fully electronic shutter (in live view) can mitigate the issue, but limits burst rate and may have other tradeoffs like rolling shutter.

5. Heavy-Handed Noise Reduction for JPEGs

For photographers who prefer to shoot in JPEG mode rather than RAW, the D780 applies very aggressive noise reduction by default. While this can produce clean-looking images, it also smears away a lot of detail and can result in unnatural, "plasticky" skin tones.

Of course, the noise reduction level is adjustable. But the impact is quite strong even at lower NR settings. Processing RAW files yourself gives you much more control and better results for high ISO shots. But if you depend on JPEGs straight out of the camera, the D780‘s heavy-handed processing may not be to your taste.

6. Inconsistent Autofocus Point Display

One annoying quirk of the D780 is how it displays autofocus points differently in the optical viewfinder versus live view on the rear screen. The behavior and number of selectable points varies between the two modes, which can be confusing.

In the optical viewfinder, you‘re limited to 51 selectable points in typical DSLR fashion. Switch to live view, though, and you can position the AF point almost anywhere in the frame, more like a mirrorless camera. But the live view focusing is generally slower than using the dedicated AF sensor through the viewfinder.

These differences in AF behavior between the optical and live view shooting can take some getting used to. And the inconsistency is a symptom of the D780‘s somewhat split personality, caught between DSLR and mirrorless paradigms.

7. Video Capabilities Improved but Still Trailing Mirrorless Rivals

To be fair, the D780 brought some very welcome improvements to video compared to previous Nikon DSLRs. It can shoot 4K at up to 30p from the full sensor width, and 1080p at up to 120p for slow motion. It supports 10-bit output over HDMI for improved color depth when recording externally. And it has useful tools like focus peaking and zebra warnings.

However, it still lags behind the video capabilities of comparable mirrorless cameras in some ways. It lacks 4K60p recording, which has become common in this class. There‘s no option for 10-bit internal recording, only 8-bit. And the 4K is still line-skipped rather than downsampled, meaning it isn‘t using the full resolution of the sensor.

Video autofocus also falls short of the best mirrorless models, as mentioned earlier. And rolling shutter can be an issue when panning quickly or shooting fast motion in 4K. Overall, while the D780 is much more capable for video than something like the D750, it isn‘t quite a match for higher-end mirrorless cameras when it comes to video features and quality.

8. Live View Experience Lags Behind Mirrorless Competitors

The D780‘s live view mode, which uses the main image sensor for focusing and framing, is certainly better than previous Nikon DSLRs. But it still doesn‘t provide the same seamless, responsive experience as a modern mirrorless camera.

There‘s still a slight delay when switching between the optical viewfinder and live view, as the mirror has to flip up out of the way. Autofocus in live view is usable but slower than using the dedicated AF sensor, and not as snappy as the on-sensor AF in most mirrorless cameras.

The rear screen also doesn‘t have the same level of detail and real-time preview as most EVFs. It can be harder to judge exposure and depth of field on the fixed LCD panel. And shooting through it for extended periods is less comfortable than using a good EVF.

Overall, while the live view mode is handy for certain situations like video or tripod shooting, it doesn‘t replace the optical viewfinder for general shooting the way an EVF does. The experience feels a bit tacked-on compared to cameras designed from the ground up for electronic viewing.

9. DSLR Form Factor Starting to Feel Dated

Mirrorless cameras have come a long way in the past few years, to the point where they now match or exceed DSLRs in most performance metrics. And part of their appeal is the more compact, streamlined form factor made possible by eliminating the mirror box and optical viewfinder.

In comparison, the D780‘s chunky DSLR body can feel a bit dated, even though it‘s a relatively new model. It‘s larger and heavier than most full-frame mirrorless cameras, even those with built-in grips. And the deep, protruding grip design that was once a Nikon hallmark now seems overly bulky compared to the svelte mirrorless options.

While some shooters still prefer the size and heft of a DSLR, the ergonomic advantages are not as clear-cut as they once were. And for travel, everyday shooting, or anytime you want to pack light, a smaller mirrorless system is very appealing. Even Nikon‘s own Z series cameras feel much more portable than the D780 while offering similar or better capabilities in many ways.

10. Investing in DSLR Lenses & System Less Appealing Today

Perhaps the biggest reason to skip the D780 in 2023 has less to do with the camera itself and more with the overall trends in the industry. It‘s becoming harder and harder to recommend investing in a DSLR system today given the clear momentum behind mirrorless.

Both of the big two camera brands, Canon and Nikon, have essentially shifted all of their development efforts to mirrorless. They may release the occasional new DSLR model, but the bulk of the innovation and lens releases are focused on their RF and Z mount mirrorless systems respectively. Even longtime DSLR holdouts like sports shooters and photojournalists are making the switch.

Buying into the Nikon F mount system today means committing to a lens lineup that is likely to see few new additions and eventually be phased out altogether. And while many F mount lenses can be adapted to the Z system, native mirrorless lenses tend to offer advantages like faster autofocus, more advanced optical designs, and better overall integration.

The Nikon D780 may be a highly capable camera on its own merits. But investing in it means buying into a system that feels like a technological dead end, even if DSLRs remain viable for many uses today. And that‘s a tough case to make given the breadth and momentum of mirrorless options now available.

Conclusion

The Nikon D780 was an impressive DSLR on its launch in 2020, and it remains a highly capable camera today. For Nikon DSLR shooters, it‘s still one of the best options for advanced stills and video work, with good image quality, controls, and handling.

However, its appeal in 2023 is limited by the factors outlined above. From specific feature omissions and performance quirks to the larger trends reshaping the camera industry. Unless you have a specific reason to stick with DSLRs and the Nikon F system, it‘s hard to recommend the D780 over the many excellent and often more affordable full-frame mirrorless options now available.

As a passionate camera enthusiast and someone who has followed the industry closely over the past decade, my perspective is that mirrorless is the clear future for the majority of photographers. The traditional DSLR design still has its place for certain use cases, but its days as the default choice for serious shooters are numbered. And that makes it harder to get excited about new DSLR models, even ones as capable as the Nikon D780.

If you‘re looking to invest in a new camera system today, I believe mirrorless is the way to go for most people. Even within the Nikon ecosystem, models like the Z6 II and Z7 II offer most of the D780‘s capabilities in a more modern and compact form factor, with access to all the latest and greatest Z mount lenses.

Change can be hard, especially for photographers heavily invested in a particular system or way of shooting. But the mirrorless wave is only gaining momentum, and there‘s never been a better time to make the switch. The Nikon D780 may be a fitting capstone to the DSLR era, but it‘s not the camera I would recommend for most people looking to the future.