This document is a “running review” of the Nikon D750 digital SLR camera, i.e., over the time I'm planning to occasionally add further bits and pieces.

While reviews about the D750's photographic capabilities are abundant, I'll rather focus on the handling of this camera and other things that I find noteworthy, but that are rarely covered in the usual review articles.

Setting ISO with the Red-Dot button

Metering mode, exposure compensation, and red-dot button below the concentric trigger and power switch.

Metering mode, exposure compensation, and red-dot button below the concentric trigger and power switch.

I never understood why there had to be a dedicated button to start recording movies. But then, as I don't shoot film, there might be a legit reason not to use the usual trigger, so I don't want to say it's a bad idea. However, for me a button only to start recording a movie (which I don't do) is useless, and I hated it on my Nikon D7100. Even more so since I would have loved to make some use of it: On the D7100 it's a pain in the back to change the ISO setting, you basically have to turn your left hand around to reach the back of the camera, and the ISO button is hard to find without looking. Having an ISO button where the red-dot button is would have been great.

Luckily, someone at Nikon had the same idea: On the D750 you may assign the red-dot button to change ISO setting, just hold it down and turn the rear wheel, as you would with the [+/-]-button for setting exposure compensation. This is really cool, and almost perfect.

Buttons on the left rear side of the camera. The 2nd from below either zooms out, or changes ISO, depending on whether the camera is in review mode, or not.

Buttons on the left rear side of the camera. The 2nd from below either zooms out, or changes ISO, depending on whether the camera is in review mode, or not.

There's only one downer: When set to changing ISO, the red-dot button behaves (almost) exactly the same way as the ISO button on the back of the camera does. Surprisingly, this is not what you'd expect (and it is a really nice example to see how intricate these design decisions actually are):

When you hold down the ISO-button (on the rear of the camera, or the red-dot-button when set to change ISO) the rear screen will turn on, which is consistent with holding down the [WB] or [QUAL] buttons on the back. For the red-dot button, however, this is a nuisance: With your eye at the viewfinder, and under low light conditions, the illuminated rear screen distracts you. Instead it should stay off, which would be consistent with the buttons for exposure compensation or metering on the top of the camera. After all, the only reason to have the red-dot-button do ISO was not to have to move the camera away from your eye, so turning on the screen is entirely useless.

A second inconsistency arises in review mode: Here, turning the wheels may change aperture and speed, and —while holding down the respective button on the top of the camera— exposure compensation or metering mode. Not so for ISO! Holding down the red-dot button and turning a wheel will not change the ISO setting. This is unfortunate, but consistent with the ISO button on the back of the camera, which zooms out in image review mode. Obviously, Nikon has realised not to zoom when you press the red-dot button, but they have not thought this through to the end.

Toggle menu settings are clumsy

Most settings that can be toggled (i.e., they are either on or off, like Playback Menu→Image review) require a sub menu to be entered to make the change, instead of just flipping a switch.

After moving to Playback Menu→Image review, three more interactions on different buttons are required — while pressing [Right] would have been sufficient.

After moving to Playback Menu→Image review, three more interactions on different buttons are required — while pressing [Right] would have been sufficient.

Currently, to change (as an example) whether images are displayed right after taking the picture, you have to press [Menu], maybe twice to get to the top level menu, move to Playback Menu, press [Right], move to Image review (which is off in the first screenshot) and press [Right].

Note, that it is entirely clear right now what the user wants to do, so at this point the camera could just toggle the setting and Bob's your uncle. However, the camera presents another sub menu, and we have to press [Up] (or [Down]) to choose the only available other option, and then press [Right] to confirm our choice. These additional interactions are entirely dispensable.

It would be easier if pressing [Ok] or [Right] simply changed the setting. The checkbox in Setup Menu→Copyright information→Attach copyright information is an example.

It would be easier if pressing [Ok] or [Right] simply changed the setting. The checkbox in Setup Menu→Copyright information→Attach copyright information is an example.

By the way: In the example above, any time I pressed [Right] , I could have pressed [Ok] just as well, but I find it physically easier this way since I don't have to move my thumb that often. But you will not get around moving your thumb from [Right] (or [Ok]) to [Up] or [Down], and then back again.

Cripple image quality by default

Some defaults are rather unfortunate. My favourite adversary is the Photo Shooting Menu→Reset photo shooting menu command (followed by the “green reset”, which you can trigger by holding down the buttons with the green dot simultaneously). That's something I hope I never hit accidentally, since it will set my 1900€ camera to shoot mediocre quality JPEGs, and no RAWs, by changing

It also sets a whole bunch of other things that you might like (or not) most notably the role of second card slot, white balance, and the colour space. It actually is quite hard to memorise what's reset, and what's not.

Nikon's choice to disable RAW by default is quite disastrous since it also fiddles with settings that are likely to affect the recorded JPEGs, something you probably cannot recover from without loss of quality.

Higgledy-piggledy settings management

(added Sat 2016-Feb-13)

Now it might be not so straight forward to set the camera up the way you want it. But once done, it certainly will be easy to save these settings, and restore them later on — right?

Well, here's a quest for you: Take a look at the manual, and answer the following questions:

  1. When you load previously stored settings via Setup Menu→Save/load settings, will this restore your chosen image area (FX/DX), or the AF setup, or both?

  2. When you switch to previously saved “user settings” by turning the mode dial to U1 or U2, will this restore your chosen image area (FX/DX), or the AF setup, or both?

  3. What exactly is the difference between the “green reset” (holding down the two green buttons for some time) and Photo shooting menu→Reset photo shooting menu?

This quest will send you on quite a journey, which should also tell you something about the quality of the manual provided.

The result is: There is no single menu command, nor magic button combination, that would allow you to bring the camera's settings into a state that you have previously defined.

Some settings, and how they are influenced by the various ways of (re)storing them. ‘RPSM’ is Photo shooting menu→Reset photo shooting menu, ‘Save/load’ is Setup Menu→Save/load settings.
green reset RPSM Save/load U1/U2
Image quality L/norm L/norm stored value stored value
crop FX/DX unchanged FX (full frame) stored value unchanged
Autofocus Auto/Auto unchanged unchanged stored value
Monitor brightness unchanged unchanged unchanged unchanged

So to restore your AF setup (if it is not fully automatic), you have to turn the mode dial to U1 or U2, and you have to have stored this setup via Setup menu→Save user settings in the first place.

However, to restore the image area to, say, FX (full frame) you have to either use Photo shooting menu→Reset photo shooting menu (which you don't want to do because it will also cripple image quality, and set other things that you might not loke, e.g., WB to Auto and metering mode to Matrix), or you go for Setup Menu→Save/load settings→Load settings, provided you have stored a previous setup with FX.

Don't get me wrong: It's not only about these four settings. You will have to figure out for every individual option how it behaves on the different ways to reset (green, photo, movie) and loading/saving via each one of the two means. Also, you will have to memorize that — otherwise you're bound to try-and-error in the field.

What happened?

It's rather sad to say, but the Nikon engineers obviously do not have a clear concept of what settings should be, and how they can be managed. Not at all. What I really find bewildering is that Nikon's engineers decided to cripple image quality be default.

The “user settings” U1/U2 look as if they have been added late in the design process. Probably by the marketing department, panicing because a competitor had U1/U2 on their mode dial. And this happened with the thoughts I suspect marketing guys to be capable of (“Oh, it's so complicated. Can't we just choose a bunch of settings the user might probably like to save?”).

Also the rather awkward/arbitrary choice of which settings are reset by which reset command (or stored by which means) hints at different departments following their own mission without much talking to each other. In the end they probably just handed their findings to the guys editing the manual, in nicely formatted Excel sheets, who then splattered these tables onto pages 199 (what “green reset” does), 292 (lists all(?) defaults), 310 and 318 (what is not stored in U1/U2), 386 (what is stored via Setup Menu→Save/load settings), and finally 460 (which settings are available in which mode).

Good luck with that.

You have probably guessed by now: As a computer scientist, such a design just makes me very very sad. And angry.

Being constructive

I really want to be constructive, so how could this be organised in a better way?

A smarter implementation would use the “green reset” to load the user's settings stored on the SD-card, if any, and only fall back to factory defaults (more sensible than the current) when no settings are available there. The standard argument against this is that it might be more difficult for service personnel to help when the customer messed up — which is void, since they could just remove the SD-card before doing the reset.

A more advanced version would allow to store different profiles in different files on the same SD card, and to offer you a menu to choose amongst them.

The ideal way (in my not so humble opinion) would be to store the configuration in a plain text format (maybe JSON?), and to provide extensive documentation about the possible configurations. Loading a profile that does not contain a certain setting leaves that one unchanged, thus allowing different profiles to be mixed on the fly.

Nikon should kick out U1/U2, and instead provide a configuration mode, which allows to choose which settings are stored in which profile, and which are not. It could be a full-fledged config editor, even allowing to rearrange menus, or hide items the user does not want to be confronted with.

And always remember: pop out the SD-card, green reset, and you're back at factory settings.

Updating Firmware & Distortion Control Data

(added Thu 2015-Dec-03, updated Sat 2016-Feb-13, Fri 2017-Mar-17)

Update: The same recipe works for the latest firmware version 1.11, only the names of the involved files differ from the solution given below.

I do not know why, but Nikon makes it unnecessarily cumbersome to perform a firmware update. And potentially dangerous. Also, they rub it into the face of every Linux user that they don't care a flying toss about them. Here's the story:

Today, I noticed that there's a “C”-firmware update to version 1.10. What you have to do is:

  1. Go to their website,

  2. choose your operating system, i.e., Windows or Mac OS, but unfortunately (and for absolutely no good reason) there's no Linux,

  3. accept the EULA,

  4. download an “installer”, i.e., a program that you run on your computer, and that will do something.

  5. Run the “installer” that you have just downloaded.

    Now you probably know that you must not run programs that come from an untrusted source, because once running, they can cause you quite some harm — or are you one of the folks that download and run all kinds of stuff and don't care if they fuck up?

    Is Nikon trustworthy? Probably. But they provide the “installer” over an unsecured connection, so you do not really know whether it's been replaced with malware by some evildoer…

    Running the “installer” should produce a file D750Update/D750_0110.bin, that's the “firmware image”

  6. which you then have to move to an SD-card.

  7. Put that SD-card into your camera, and switch it on. Go to the Menu Setup→Firmware version, select update, and confirm. Wait. In the meantime,

  8. clean up your computer, i.e., remove the “installer”, you will not need it any more.

This process is overly complex. Not only is Nikon required to provide different “installers” for different operating systems, but they also expose you to a security hazard, and rule out Linux users in a rather blunt way. Instead, they could just provide the D750_0110.bin for download, and you would be fine, no matter what operating system you used. You would not have to run any “installer”, i.e., from above list we could skip steps 2, 5, and 8, and change 4 to: Download the firmware. Also, Nikon would not have to support different executable installers for Mac and Windows.

The Linux solution

What really reveals Nikon's approach as a farce is that (at least the Windows executable) is nothing but a simple, stupid, self-extracting RAR-file. On a standard Linux installation, do:

$ file F-D750-V110W.exe
F-D750-V110W.exe: PE32 executable (GUI) Intel 80386, for MS Windows, RAR self-extracting archive

So we can simply extract it (using a free RAR extractor)…

$ unrar x F-D750-V110W.exe

UNRAR 5.30 beta 4 freeware      Copyright (c) 1993-2015 Alexander Roshal

Extracting from F-D750-V110W.exe

;The comment below contains SFX script commands

Creating    D750Update                                                OK
Extracting  D750Update/D750_0110.bin                                  OK
All OK

…and copy it to an SD-card…

$ mount /dev/sdc1
Mounted /org/freedesktop/UDisks/devices/sdc1 at /media/D750
$ cp D750Update/D750_0110.bin /media/D750/
$ umount $_

…done. Put that SD-card into your camera, and switch it on. Go to the Menu Setup→Firmware version, select update, and confirm. Wait.

About one year ago I've had a conversation with a very friendly Nikon helpdesk guy (Nikon Germany) about the same issue for the D7100. That's when I discovered the “installer” to be nothing but a needless wrapper.

He promised to pass on my suggestions for an improved update process, but it seems not to have reached the Nikon engineers yet.

Distortion Control Data

Shortly after publishing this for the first time, a reader pointed out to me that this recipe works for firmware updates, but not for Nikon's “Distortion Control Data”. For DCD it was actually required to run a program on your computer to generate the file, and it was not just unpacking. I have no idea what they were doing.

At least this seems to be easier now. Of course, Nikon does not adopt the sane approach (to distribute the DCD file for good), but they seem to use a self-extracting RAR-file now: I've just managed today (2016-Feb-13) to use the same unrar hack as above to unpack the Windows executable containing Version 2.013.

$ file F-DCDATA-2013W.exe
F-DCDATA-2013W.exe: PE32 executable (GUI) Intel 80386, for MS Windows, RAR self-extracting archive
$ unrar x F-DCDATA-2013W.exe
Creating    DCDATAUpdate                                              OK
Extracting  DCDATAUpdate/NKLD0213.BIN                                 OK
All OK

$ mount /dev/sdc1
Mounted /org/freedesktop/UDisks/devices/sdc1 at /media/D750
$ cp DCDATAUpdate/NKLD0213.BIN /media/D750/
$ umount $_

Then proceed as described on Nikon's website.

Highlight what you're changing

A real plus over the D7100 is the indication of the selected metering option (spot, matrix, ...) in the viewfinder. Thanks for that!

When you hold down [+/-] to set exposure compensation, the ISO-button, or the button to select the metering option, you'll see feedback on the top LCD, and on the rear screen if that's switched on. But in the viewfinder you'll only get visual feedback for exposure compensation, not for the other two.

I would refrain from disabling all other information (as is done in the top LCD, maybe due to space restrictions) because in any semi-automatic mode (A, S, P) you probably want to observe the aperture or speed settings while changing ISO.

Unnecessary features

The quality setting

Do you frequently change the quality of the photos you take? I find the [QUAL]-button to be the most useless one. I never want to change this setting, and I actually fear to do so by accident (which might give me low equality JPEGs instead of RAWs). I can see only one reason to reduce the quality: High speed continuous burst for a lot of frames. But I do this so rarely, I'd rather have this hidden in a menu.

Missing features

Voice memos

This camera does have a microphone, and it does have the software to encode audio. It would be nice to have a function, to attach a voice recording to an image, or (even better) to record a voice memo on its own, without a link to any photograph. One can always sort out via the time stamps where it belongs. Of course you could do a video instead, but that would be a waste of memory.



This Review is a work in progress, and I'll certainly add to it in the future. The following is a list of reminders to myself what I want to look at. Just ignore it if it does not make sense to you...

All contents © by me. Last updated Sat 2016-Feb-13 22:40:40 CET.