NIKON Z7 mirrorless
101 things you must know Z7 vs Z6 key differences Z-mount explained S lenses rated
Nikon’s announcement of its new full-frame mirrorless Z6 and Z7 models has set the camera world alight. You don’t have to be a Nikon fan to see the importance of these products, as they mean Sony no longer has the fullframe mirrorless market to itself.
The Nikon Z6 is a more affordable 24-megapixel model aimed at enthusiasts, while the Z7 we’re reviewing is the 45.7-megapixel flagship model.
The full-frame sensor in the Z7 sounds similar to the one in the D850. The difference here is that Nikon has built in a sophisticated on-sensor phase detection system. Its 493 phase detection AF points cover 90 per cent of the image area and work in combination with a conventional contrast autofocus system. It’s a spectacular-sounding setup for a first attempt at full-frame hybrid.
Also new is an in-camera image stabilization system (IBIS). This is another first for Nikon as all of its previous interchangeable lens cameras have used lens-based VR (vibration reduction). The Z6 and Z7 can still use existing VR lenses and the two systems should work seamlessly together. The in-body VR, however, means that Nikon users will also get the benefit of the new five-axis, five-stop VR system even with non-vr lenses.
With the new mirrorless body design comes a new lens mount. At 55mm across the new Nikon Z-mount is 11mm wider than its DSLR F-mount, and Nikon says this has ‘liberated’ its designers, making it possible to produce more ambitious lenses (a 58mm f/0.95 Noct lens is on its way) and step up in optical quality.
The flange-to-sensor distance is just 16mm, which is a lot shorter than the Nikon F-mount. This allows plenty of space for the new Nikon FTZ lens adaptor, which can be bought separately or as part of a bundle with the new cameras. With this adaptor you can fit all 90 or so current Nikon lenses without any operating restrictions and up to 360 lenses altogether. The new mount does not have an autofocus screw drive, so some older AF lenses will be restricted to manual focus, but otherwise this wide compatibility with existing Nikon F lenses will make it easy for current Nikon owners to migrate to the new mount.
There are new Z-mount lenses to go with the new cameras, of course. Initially, there’s a 24-70mm f/4 lens, a 35mm f/1.8 and a 50mm f/1.8, and we’ve tested the first two alongside the Z7 in this review.
Nikon’s ‘roadmap’ includes another six Nikon Z-mount lenses in 2019 and three more in 2020. In the meantime, we’ve tried the Z7 and mount adaptor with several DSLR lenses from Nikon and Sigma, both full-frame and APS-C format, and all appear to work perfectly with the new camera.
For anyone who’s yet to decide on their full-frame mirrorless system, the Nikon Z7 offers a new and compelling alternative to the Sony A7R III. The two cameras are similar in many respects, so the specifications will be examined very closely indeed.
These also include an ISO range of 64-25,600, or ISO32-102,400 in expanded mode, 9fps continuous shooting, 4K UHD video recording, a weather-resistant magnesium alloy body and a 200,000-shot shutter life.
The only possible controversy point is Nikon’s choice of memory card format. There’s only one card slot, for a start, and it takes XQD memory cards. It’s a fast, robust format entirely appropriate for the Z7 and its audience, but it does mean starting a new memory card collection for users and others who’ve previously been using SD/SDHC/SDXC cards.
We’re told the card slot will be compatible with the brand-new and even faster Cfexpress card format when it arrives – physically, these are the same as XQD cards.
Build and handling
The Z7 is a lot like its mirrorless rival, the Sony A7 series, and totally unlike Nikon’s DSLRS. It’s much smaller than the Nikon D850, the DSLR whose technology it largely shares. The size makes mirrorless cameras like this lighter and more portable – one of the key selling points for mirrorless camera technology – but it can make the handling feel unbalanced when you use larger lenses.
This is less of a problem for the Nikon Z7 than perhaps it is for the Sony A7. The Nikon feels slightly larger and has a good-sized grip. It also comes with the new, compact Z-mount 24-70mm f/4, which feels like it was designed to fit the camera body exactly. It’s slim and light, and its almost perfectly cylindrical shape means you can put the camera down on a flat surface without the lens barrel tilting it upwards.
Even with the FTZ adaptor fitted and used with some of Nikon’s bulkier pro lenses, the Z7 isn’t thrown too badly out of balance, and the arrival of its dedicated battery grip should improve the handling with big lenses.
Nikon fans should note that its control layout is not the same as Nikon’s pro DSLRS. Instead, it has a regular mode dial rather than a simple ‘mode’ button, and the drive mode is selected via a button rather than a dedicated control dial. The smaller body does leave just a little less space for external controls, though there is still room on the back for a focus point lever and an AF-ON button. The four-way navigation pad feels slightly small and stiff, but otherwise the Z7 handles very well.
The viewing system is good too. Some photographers will still prefer an optical viewfinder over an electronic one, but Nikon has pulled out all the stops to make the Z7’s EVF as good as possible. With a resolution of 3.69 million dots, it’s so sharp that you really don’t see any granularity, and its digital nature only becomes apparent if you move the camera quickly and see some slight ‘lag’ or blurring. However, the Z7’s EVF seems noticeably less prone to lag and smearing than others we’ve tried.
Viewfinder lag isn’t an issue during normal static photography and might only be noticeable with fast panning movements and during continuous shooting. Like other electronic viewfinders, it has a distracting ‘stop-frame’ look at continuous-high shooting frame rates rather than the
fluid appearance of an optical viewfinder. It doesn’t stop you getting the shot, but it’s something you might not adapt to straight away.
Nikon has made its viewfinder quality a priority, though, using an aspherical element and fluorine coatings for the viewfinder eyepiece.
The rear touchscreen display is rather good too. Its 2.1 million pixel resolution means it looks extremely clear and sharp, and the tilting mechanism is, as ever, useful for low-angle shots and video. It’s a shame there’s no sideways pivot, though, because the tilting mechanism is only useful when the camera is held horizontally.
You can use touch control to select the focus point, focus and shoot with a single tap and make changes to the camera settings. It is useful to be able to tap the screen to shoot when the camera is being held away from your eye, but the downside of touch control on all cameras (not just this one) is it’s easy to change settings accidentally while handling the camera, or find the focus point is off in the corner of the frame when you go to take a shot.
On the Z7, it’s too easy to activate the subject tracking option when the camera is set to wide area AF mode, which means losing precious seconds deactivating it. These are all things you’ll get used to but a reminder that, however useful it can be, touch control can be a nuisance too.
Another issue is that when you flip up the rear screen for a low angle shot and use your finger to set the focus point, the viewfinder’s eye sensor can be activated and the camera switches the display to the viewfinder. You can get round this by manually switching between the viewfinder and screen display, but this is a mild annoyance in itself. These are minor handling issues, but a reminder that mirrorless cameras are not necessarily better in every way than DSLRS.
The OLED status panel on the top of the Z7 is a big step forward. It’s not particularly large, but the reversed white-on-black text is much easier to see than the information on regular ‘green’ LCD displays – especially Nikon’s pro DSLR displays, where some of the icons are tiny.
With its 45.7-megapixel sensor and new-generation Z-mount lenses, the Z7’s image quality is going to be a major selling point. It’s beautiful and does not disappoint us in the slightest.
We’ve already seen what this sensor (or its close relative) can do in the Nikon D850, and in our lab tests the Z7 matches or even improves on this performance. The resolution of both cameras is the highest we’ve recorded
from full-frame cameras, hitting the maximum resolution of our optical test chart right up to ISO3200.
Noise levels are slightly higher than the Sony A7R III, its chief rival, but we’ve seen this before with Nikon cameras and the differences are not too great. What is interesting is that the Z7 produced slightly less noise and higher dynamic range in our lab tests than the D850, perhaps as a result of the Z7’s newer Expeed 6 image processor.
These lab results are borne out in real-world use, where the combination of this high-resolution sensor and Nikon’s new Z-mount lenses proves pretty spectacular.
You can see the results of our lens lab tests in the separate boxes in this review, but the bottom line is that the 24-70mm ‘kit’ lens performs amazingly. All standard zoom lenses involve some degree of optical
compromise, but the 24-70mm f/4’s sharpness across the frame and through the aperture range, together with its aberration and distortion control, puts it in the very top tier. Its specifications may be modest, but as a standard zoom for a professional camera, this ranks with the best.
Nikon’s proud of its new prime lenses, and we got to spend some time with the 35mm f/1.8 Z-mount lens. Stopped down to around f/4 it delivers stunning sharpness, but we wouldn’t hesitate to use it wide open, where it delivers sharp central detail and a beautifully defocused background. You wouldn’t normally shoot wide open in bright light, but doing so with this lens produces an evocative ‘large format’ look.
Nikon’s default Matrix metering system proved as reliable as ever in our tests, and if anything seemed tuned towards preserving highlights. This is welcome, since it’s a lot easier to bring up dark shadow detail than it is to try to recover ‘blown’ skies.
The autofocus system is especially impressive. It’s fast, it’s quiet and its wide frame coverage makes it flexible. It’s exactly the same focus system you get when using the viewfinder, which is one of the key advantages of mirrorless cameras. (With Nikon DSLRS, swapping to Live View means swapping to a slower contrast-based autofocus system.)
Much of the credit for the autofocus performance must go to the new lenses, which are smooth and nearsilent in operation – this makes them ideal for video too.
This is a deeply impressive camera. It may be the company’s first-ever full-frame mirrorless camera, but it’s so polished and well designed that you’d think that Nikon had been making them for years.
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