Unlike many of my photographer friends I could never be described as a ‘Tackle Tart’, always looking for new kit, upgrades, gadgets. I have been working happily with my Nikon D5100 for six years and only recently decided I needed to change. I read widely and often came away more confused than I began; the choice is huge and everyone has an opinion about which is best, and rarely two opinions are the same. Perhaps the first thing I need to say is that you won’t find here a recommendation, instead I’ll explain the process I went by to make my choice in the hope it may help you make your best choice too.
The most important thing I found was to be honest with myself about the type of photographer I am: the kinds of photographs I take and how that might change in the future. Firstly I had to look at why my current camera was no longer good enough. The main reasons were too small resolution for larger prints, and poor performance in low light.
If all I needed was an image to post online, more megapixels would have been the last thing I needed – as it is I lower quality enormously to Instagram or Facebook a picture, both to reduce file size for faster viewing, and because of the small screens on which they will be seen. I am however having increasing success in Exhibitions and Gallery showings of my work, and for these the 14 Megapixels of the D5100 was beginning to be an issue. I like to print at sizes up to 60cm x 40cm, so I needed a minimum of 20 MP, and maybe higher. Do you print images that large or larger? If not, then any additional resolution may be simply unnecessary. An exception of course would be wildlife photographers, particularly taking photos of birds in flight where the captured image may be cropped to create a digital zoom. Looking in the mirror at my own photography, this is just not an issue for me, and my final pictures are so heavily edited that absolute resolution is almost always irrelevant. My ego might have liked 36 or 50 MP but all that would do for me is create unnecessary demand on computer file storage, and file sizes for editing so large they may bring my work to a crawl. All three of the cameras I considered in the mix would fit my bill.
Low light performance is increasingly important to me, and as much as I have had fun with my D5100, it is not great in this regard. The clear winner here for me was the D750. The larger full-frame sensor simply has a greater surface area with which to catch light. This wasn’t a preference I wanted initially: my lenses are for DX cameras, and FX lenses are more expensive. I also had to recognise I like the Depth of Field advantages full-frame provides; I shoot almost always with aperture-priority, and my first preference on every shot is often how wide-open can I go, shutter speed is about ‘shake’ and nothing else. I’m looking for the artistic impact, not end to end ‘sharpness’ – like Henri Cartier-Bresson, I consider sharpness a bourgeois concept…
Autofocus: again, there is a clear winner but this time that is the D7500. More AF points, over a wider range of view, and faster to hit focus. If I was a sports or wildlife photographer – or even one who made a living with portraits of children or pets – the D7500 would be a significantly better choice. But… I don’t do any of that. The D7500 is better at things I don’t need.
Thinking about other features, I still don’t understand why Nikon removed the second memory-card slot from the D7500, that had previously been in the D7000 range. I’m not sure it would have been a final decider, it did though make it hard to look at the D7500 as much of an improvement on the older D7200. Articulating screens: here the D5600 came into its own. Many Nikon users will gasp with horror at the idea of having a fully-articulated screen – although Canon users don’t seem to see it as an issue! I use a tripod a lot, and in a lot of odd angles. The ability to twist my D5100 screen around in Live-View has been an incredibly useful feature, although for many users it is probably wholly irrelevant. I really struggled with considering the others even with their compromise tilt-screens, but in the end even this feature of the D5600 couldn’t overcome other qualities it had that didn’t suit my needs. Oh, and Touch Screens? I again have no need, even though the D7500 and D5600 have them. Lots of other minor details: LCD resolution; viewfinder size; inbuilt flash – all were in the mix, but were not decisive except after the fact, so to speak. I did consider other options: the D800 series is just too big for me to want to carry around and so for me not worth the additional investment. D4 – errm, out of my price range, but wouldn’t want one anyway. The D500, I thought just too expensive other than for dedicated sports photographers. D600 – just not quite good enough, in need of a refresh (and no doubt will get one soon). Mirrorless cameras, still not quite right for me.
There was however one other factor. In the end, as when I first chose the D5100 it was the most important of all, and yet you will read a hundred Camera Magazines and never hear it mentioned: the feel of the camera in the hand.
The D5000 series has shrunk: I love the feel of my D5100 but the D5600 felt unsatisfactory. Too small and fiddly. A bigger surprise awaited me when I tried the D7500: the clip on the right hand side for fastening the strap dug into my hand. What idiot placed it there? Even after 5 minutes in the camera shop I had an unpleasant indentation on the inside of my finger. However much I tried to discount it (for at this point the D7500 was a strong contender), I knew it would be impossible. I often carry my camera by hand for hours: here I felt uncomfortable after a few minutes. I may be the only person in the world with odd sized hands to have this issue: I don’t care, it was for me the overriding factor. The rest, frankly, is justifying the decision to oneself after the decision has been taken. Choosing cameras is such a personal choice!
Overall then, these were the thought and feeling processes that led me to choose to upgrade to the D750. It felt great in my hand, and had all the additional features that were relevant to MY photography. It isn’t a choice I’ve regretted for a second: moving to full-frame is a paradigm shift, rather than just a better version of what I had before. The low-light performance and improved DoF has exceeded my expectations and I have found it a delight to use. Not that it didn’t have its own teething problems: it has many features that are very different to my old D5100 and a few gotchas caught me out. I still haven’t mastered exposure control – against a light background it has a tendency to underexpose the foreground whatever automatic setting I use; and there are some features of the different autofocus modes I am still learning. It took me six years to outgrow the D5100, and I expect it will be another six before I grow tired of this. That is possibly not what Nikon want to hear…