A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to play with a Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera with the new 24-70mm F4 and the 35mm f1.8 and I wanted share some thoughts on whats good and bad and where I think Nikon might be going with their first full frame mirrorless offering. I’m not going to go into the specs sheet as these have been done to death all over the internet, but here is Nikons official page if you want to check them out.
First, some disclaimers. I currently shoot Nikon. This may make me biased, however I have recently been very seriously considering switching to Fujifilm, so I would hardly consider myself brand loyal. Secondly this was a pre-production example with firmware version 1.0 and I was testing it in a shop environment so this is more of a first impressions than a real world review. The Nikon rep says he hasn’t noticed a great deal of improvement between the V1.0 software and the launch V0.53 software on August 23rd so I don’t think there will be a huge improvement between now and when the camera is shipped.
The Actual Camera
Now thats out of the way lets get down to brass tacks. This is an excellent camera, for the majority of photographers it will perform in excess of their requirements. Nikon have hit an excellent balance between size and comfort and whilst I know this is a very subjective topic, I think the ergonomics of this camera are spot on. Its comfortable in the hand and everything is easily accessible and intuitive to use. Nikon users will be very familiar with this camera and will be pleased to hear that the menu system is almost exactly the same as in a Nikon DSLR. The EVF and rear LCD also work amazingly. The EVF is big and bright, its 0.80X magnification is class leading and if you were worried about missing your OVF then fear not, Nikon have you covered. The rear LCD is a touch screen and this has been well implemented. Once you open the menu it is fully navigable using touch functionality, likewise with picture playback.
The camera also feels very solid and well made, there is a certain density to the construction that inspires confidence. I have seen a number of people saying the lenses feel cheap, I have to say I disagree here. The lenses are light weight, in comparison to Nikon DSLR lenses and with the Z7 itself, but to me they gave an impression of quality and I would have no reservations using these lenses in the field. On that note the Nikon Z7 and Z6 are weather sealed to the same level as the D850. I couldn’t test this myself but the rep says he has used the camera during a downpour in Yorkshire and as anyone familiar with Yorkshire will know, that’s no mean feat.
The AutoFocus and Lenses
One aspect I wanted to test as thoroughly as I could was the auto focus. Many of you will know that on sensor auto focus has been a weakness of mirrorless cameras in general and for Nikon in their DSLR’s. The Z7 and Z6 use a hybrid Phase detect and Contrast detect system, with the emphasis heavily on the Phase detect. This is a good thing as a phase detect system should work better with the older DSLR lenses. The system covers 90% of the frame both horizontally and vertically. In my limited testing the system performed quite well, it was noticeably less snappy than the Sony A9 and hunted a little from time to time, but for most applications is should be sufficiently fast and it appears to be very accurate. There is a slight drop in performance at the edges of the frame with a little more hunting but no apparent loss of accuracy. This only seams to effect the two or three focus points closest to the edge and I honestly cant see these being used seriously by many photographers as they are almost touching the edge of frame.
The system also worked well with older F-mount lenses, with only a slight drop in performance compared to the native Z mount lenses. You will have full auto focus with G series lenses and manual focus compatibility with older lenses. I’m not sure I would back Nikons claims that there is no loss of performance, I certainly wouldn’t say the f mount lenses focused as fast as they would on a pro level DSLR, but again, it would be just fine for most applications. If you were wondering if you would be able to keep your F-mount glass, the answer is yes, defiantly yes.
Speaking of the F-mount, the adapter is constructed just as well as the camera and according the the rep, will maintain full weather sealing if used with a weather sealed lease. It not too ungainly either, the balance of the camera is still good and the tripod foot rests nicely in the palm of your hand to support the lease. Once again, the ergonomics of this camera are excellent.
I didn’t have a chance to test the video extensively, but the subject tracking appeared to work well and is certainly way above what we have previously had in Nikon DSLR’s. Anyone who has studied the specs will know Nikon made Video a priority with this camera, with internal 4K and 10bit log output to an external recorder.
Now that we’ve covered some of the good points, lets discuss some areas were I feel Nikon may have fallen a little short.
The Question of Card Slots
The single card slot. This had been the hot topic surrounding the Nikon Z camera release. For those of you who don’t know, first, where have you been, and secondly , the Nikon Z7 and Z6 come with just a single XQD card slot. Many people have been saying that this was a huge oversight by Nikon and are pointing out that the Sony A7III and A7RIII have dual SD card slots and at first I must say I was inclined to agree. Dual card slots have become a bit of an industry standard and Nikon themselves haven’t released a Pro camera with a single card slot since the D700. I personally do enjoy the security of having an instant back up and I know for some this is an absolute deal breaker on this camera. Having actually used the camera, I can say my opinion has changed some what. First, if you haven’t seen an XQD card, have a look before you pass judgement.
The cards, and correspondingly the card slot, is about three times bigger that an SD card, I absolutely believe Nikon when they say they couldn’t fit a second slot in this camera. That being the case, why didn’t they go with SD? Well, XQD is already faster than SD, with speeds of around 440mbs compared to 300mbs in SD. Additional XQD cards have the same form factor as the new CFexpress cards expected to hit the market some time around the end of this year. These cards as substantially faster again, with speeds exceeding 1Gbs. The Z7 and Z6 will be fully compatible with CFexpress with just a firmware update. Additionally it is worth remembering that SD is an relatively old format, having been around since 1999. On the whole I think Nikon is making the wright decision in going with the faster format. Losing your shots is heartbreaking, but dealing with slow cards is a pain every time you shoot. XQD is also an inherently more durable format that SD, making lost data less of an issue.
Yes for some this will still be a problem. If I shot weddings for example, I would have much greater reservations about this, likewise for photo journalists or event photographers. For people who capture genuinely important and irreplaceable moments, for whom a corrupted card could be a career ending failure; this camera is probably not going to be for you. At least not as a primary body, it could still make an excellent backup/video camera, particularly for a Nikon photographer who wants compatibility with their existing lenses. The lack of a second card slot is defiantly a disappointment, but for most people it will probably never be an issue.
The Battery Grip
A more puzzling omission is the battery grip. There isn’t one. Nikon will be releasing a battery pack, which I understand will replace the internal battery entirely and will instead hold two batteries, effectively doubling battery life. However, it will not have a portrait orientation shutter button or any controls at all. And if you were hoping Nikon might re-release a grip at a later date – they wont.
There are no electrical contacts on the bottom of the camera so a future grip is impossible. This also dashes any hopes that Nikon might offer a second card slot in the grip. I really don’t understand why Nikon would do this. The rep said there wasn’t enough space on the bottom to put contacts. Personally I found this unconvincing, Fuji cameras are no bigger and yet have made extensive use of battery grips to not only add power, but also functionality. The only explanation I can conceive of is that the new Z mount is so big and takes up so much space inside the camera, that there was not enough space internally for the contacts. I still find this hugely dissatisfying and for me it is a much bigger oversight than the single card slot, and that is coming from someone who doesn’t even use battery grips.
On the plus side the batteries are far better than the official figures of 330 shots per charge would suggest. I must have taken a couple of hundred photos with no noticeable drop in charge. The rep said he has had around 1100+ shots from a single charge. This is nothing amazing, but should be enough for most people. A spare battery will cost around £70, which makes buying a battery pack even more perplexing since carrying a spare battery will be much cheaper and easier. The battery can also be charged internally via USB-C, and this should work with a portable battery charger. I’m told the camera will still be supplied with a standard mains battery charger as well as the USB-C cable.
The Z7 will retail for £3399 body only, the FTZ adapt will add £100 to that and the 24-70 a further £600. I would defiantly recommend getting these as a package as you will save more than £500 compared to buying theme separately. The Z6 starts at £2099 for the body and is available in the same kits as the Z7. This a little more expensive than the equivalent Sony cameras, the A7rIII and A7III at £3199 and £1999 respectively. I would say that the the Nikon’s feel better built to me and I suspect are more durable, they are also newer cameras and this always commands a price premium. The cameras are expensive, no doubt, but for anyone with an existing collection of F mount glass it is considerably cheaper than buying new native lenses. Personally I would say the price is worth it given what these cameras offer.
So with all that said the question is, would I buy one? Probably yes. I will be waiting until I have seen a final production example and will pay special attention to the image quality, particularly the lenses, but probably yes. I’ve been wanting to go mirrorless for some time and these cameras tick most of the boxes for me. I like the ergonomics and the size is just right, the 24-70 f4 lens in particular will make an excellent general purpose and travel lens, its about the size of a 330ml can of coke. I really like that I can keep my old glass and any other accessories – the Z7 and Z6 are fully compatible with old Nikon flashes for example.
Should you buy one? If you are Nikon shooter wanting to go mirrorless – definitely. These cameras offer a great deal of value for existing Nikon customers. For everyone else, I think there may be better options.
Sony is the obvious competition and in all honesty the Nikon’s aren’t quite as well rounded yet. Nikon lack certain features that Sony offer, the most notable being eye detect autofocus. This is a great feature and I have seen articles that deride Nikon for omitting it. I really don’t think it is that bad, only Olympus had eye detect auto focus before Sony and it is only with the latest generation of Sony cameras that this feature has become really usable. Expecting Nikon to have such a specialist feature was asking too much of a first generation camera and hopefully it is something they will add in the future. Unless you shoot a lot of portraits it really doesn’t matter anyway.
I do believe that in time Nikon will surpass Sony, the overarching theme of these cameras has been looking to the future. Nikon has a track record of making the best camera in their respective class. Look at the Nikon F3, probably the best Manuel focus film SLR, the F6, easily the most refined auto focus film SLR ever. More recently with the D850 and D500, Nikon consistently produces top quality cameras. With the Z cameras Nikon is raising the bar, with better weather sealing and build quality than the competition. The Z mount is larger and has a shorter flange distance than any other full frame camera, period. This gives Nikon enormous freedom when it comes to lens designs and I think we will see some incredible things in the coming years. Additionally Nikon is finally taking Video seriously. With no cinema line to protect, unlike Canon and Sony, we may see Nikon surge into the lead with regards to video.
These cameras are not perfect. But anyone who expected them to be is being unfair. These are a first generation camera, Sony took three generations to perfect the A7 series, and Nikon is substantially ahead of where Sony was when they started. There will be some teething issues, but on the whole these are well thought out cameras with a clear statement of intent from Nikon. Their biggest purpose was to retain existing Nikon customers, and I think they have done this admirably. Nikon should now be looking to rise to the top of the mirrorless game to attract new customers. I have little doubt they will do this, and the sold out pre-orders would suggest many others agree.
Share this first look at the Nikon Mirrorless Z7