The $360 question: Is Nikon's newest 35mm SLR worth the bump up from the N65?
The AF controls are a real pleasure. The green-zone setting on the three-way switch lets the camera choose one of five cross-arrayed AF points, and it will always choose the closest subject it can read. (Nikon gives this the jawbreaking name Dynamic AF Mode with Closest-Subject Priority.) Flick the three-way switch one notch and the camera switches to central AF only. Flick the switch one more notch, and you can now pick the AF point yourself with the jog dial. It is easy to use, easy to understand, and the indication in the viewfinder makes it all the more obvious.
The autofocus will shift automatically from focus-priority to continuous, although in practice, we found the camera to be heavily biased toward locking focus and keeping it there. If you want to ensure that continuous AF tracks a moving subject, your best bet is to switch to the Action mode.
Exposure modes are selected with a left-hand dial. The green auto zone is absolute point-and-shoot. Flash pops up automatically when needed, and there are exactly two user overrides: You can either cancel the anti-redeye lamp, or turn off the flash.
Program mode lets you turn flash on or off, set second-curtain or slow-sync flash, exposure compensation, auto bracket, or shift to equivalent exposures. The rest of the standard exposure and scene modes work as expected, so let's turn our attention to this camera's specific abilities and idiosyncrasies.
Put the camera on manual exposure, and the metering switches from Matrix evaluative to centerweighted. The theory is that manual shooters know what they want to meter, and how to meter it (a midtone area, for example, or a moderate highlight for shooting slides). Similarly, the camera switches to centerweighted pattern when you use the AE- lock button in autoexposure mode. (AE lock is a press-and-hold affair; we would have been happier if you could just press and release to hold a reading.)
All well and good, but what if you want AE lock to hold the Matrix exposure? That's what custom function number 7 is for. CF 7 can also be set to make AE lock take spotmeter readings. If you select your own AF point, the spotmeter sensitivity will move with it. (It makes for a busy thumb.)
If the spotmetering procedure sounds like a bit of a pain to you, we agree. This makes for our sternest criticism of the N75's controls: we'd prefer a separate three-way switch to let shooters choose meter pattern as they wish. (Maybe that's for the N77.5?)
Autofocusing proved generally quite swift, as long as a detail matched a sensor's orientation (which wasn't hard-the vertical and horizontal sensors have good oblique sensitivity as well). Our tests showed that AF in low light was somewhat faster than the N65's. In real-life shooting (including our toughest test target, a black cat in a dim room), low-light focusing was boosted greatly by the incandescent focus-aid lamp. Its intrusiveness, unfortunately, is a consequence of its effectiveness. (You can zap the lamp with a custom function.)
But are 25 meter segments better than six? While the N75's metering worked fine in all sorts of tricky situations like backlight and hard sidelight, so did the N65's. We made comparison shots on slide film with the N75 and N65 and found that in most front-lit or moderately sidelit shots, the two cameras yielded identical or nearly identical exposures on Matrix. With backlighting, though, the N75 often gave more exposure-sometimes over a stop. Which was better? Well, there's no "right" exposure for backlight to begin with; if you like lighter detail in backlit subjects, the N75's Matrix metering may be more to your liking.
The N75's built-in flash worked superbly. In a typical instance, it provided just the right combo of flash and ambient exposure for a sidelit human subject in dark, nonreflective clothing against a light background-exactly the sort of scene that can result in under/overexposure with autoflash. In comparison shots, we found the N75 did a better job than the N65 in maintaining accurate tonality in very light or very dark foreground subjects.
And the bottom line...
Is the N75 worth the $70 premium over the N65? In our view, absolutely. The AF system is clear and convenient, the flash system is terrific, and you get spotmetering (even if you do have to jump through hoops to get it). Overall, it's a great grab-and-go camera with a very high fun factor. The N75 should appeal to everyone, from the almost beginner to the F100 shooter looking for a bargain backup.
Simply, it's a niche-proof camera.