Tech Review: Nikon Z7
A few months ago, Nikon finally entered the full frame mirrorless camera market. It brought out two new cameras, the 24-megapixel Z6 (€2,399) and the 45-megapixel Z7 (€3,899). Because they're mirrorless, they're smaller and thinner than traditional DSLRs. They'll work with existing Nikon lenses if you get a new Nikon adaptor (which costs an extra €319).
Otherwise, Nikon launched three new 'native' lenses for it, a 50mm f1.8 (€699), a 35mm f1.8 (€999) and a 24-70mm f4 (€1,149).
I've been using the higher-megapixel Z7 for over a month with the 35mm f1.8 lens.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the relative ease of use, good ergonomics and image quality: the camera's sensor (almost the same as the stunning D850 model) combined with the really decent 35mm lens produces beautifully balanced, textured photos.
Because the mirrorless model is considerably smaller than the D850 and, unlike the D850, can shoot completely silently, it's also much more discreet when taking shots on the street, at functions or at weddings.
First things first: the quality and shooting capability of this camera are absolutely first rate.
I shoot almost entirely handheld. So the Z7's in-body stabilisation system (a first for Nikon) is a real help, purportedly worth 5 stops. For me, that's the difference between a sharp or a blurry shot in low light at 125th of a second.
Its autofocus is also excellent, improving on the D850 variety with 493 phase-detection autofocus points. It shoots at up to 9 frames per second, which was completely fine for me but isn't up to the speed of some of its rivals. Still, anyone coming from a DSLR has some other obvious advantages to look forward to.
Many DSLR shooters are still unaware just how much time an electronic viewfinder saves you: even the most seasoned professional still arguably wastes a considerable amount of time 'chimping', to see if the shot(s) taken are properly exposed. You simply don't have to do this with a mirrorless camera like the Z7.
One might also argue that for professionals who want the absolute cutting edge of lens technology, a move over to Nikon's 'Z' system will pay dividends. This is because Nikon has equipped the Z7 (and the Z6) with an entirely new mount which is a whopping 25pc wider than the 'F' mount of the company's full frame camera range. Thus, Nikon has already announced that it will be bringing out a 58mm 'Noct' lens with an f0.95 aperture for the Z mount, something it couldn't hope to offer on any of its other camera bodies or mounts.
As it is, the FTZ adaptor for the Z7 works fully with just about all recent Nikon lenses and hundreds more Nikon-compatible lenses without autofocus.
This camera is €200 more expensive than the D850, arguably Nikon's best enthusiast-cum-professional camera and probably the best overall DSLR on the market.
Can it stand up to its own competition, let alone the formidable challenge of Sony's A7iii, A7riii and Canon's Eos R?
Technically, the cheaper, lower-megapixel Eos R is a different niche, being more directly comparable to Nikon's Z6. However, Sony's A7 models are tougher to beat.
Where the Z7 excels is in its ergonomics and future lens line-up. Where it suffers is in the baffling decision to provision the Z7 with just one memory card slot.
For certain professionals, such as wedding photographers, this is a big black mark against the camera. Memory cards rarely fail, but it's a fear that hangs over many event photographers: their livelihood depends on that card. To be fair, the XQD format appears to be highly robust (even if it's way more expensive than an SD card). Still, that single card slot will contributing to any niggling doubts that some professionals have about jumping to Nikon full frame mirrorless at this point.
(Another personal bugbear about the XQD format is that there are very few accessories and adaptors to support it, unlike the plethora of SD card adaptors you can get for laptops, pro-tablets and phones.)
Nikon can't really be complacent about features like this. Sony has already overtaken both Nikon and Canon in professional full frame camera sales. Its lead may be increasing, too, with the new professional lenses being released. Nikon needs to act quickly if it's to stem the flow over to Sony.
I didn't really test the Z7's video capability to any professional standard. Technically, it shoots 4K at 30 frames per second or HD (1080p) at 120 frames per second. This, allied to the in-body stabilisation, is completely adequate for the vast majority of amateur shooters.
The 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen is useful, although I do always wonder why touchscreens don't extend out to full 'vari-angle' effect, as they're so much handier for portraits and videos.
The Z7 is a really good camera that delivers superb image quality. I suspect some professionals will wait because of the single card slot.