NIKON Z7 mir­ror­less

101 things you must know Z7 vs Z6 key dif­fer­ences Z-mount ex­plained S lenses rated

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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.

Per­for­mance

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.

The new mir­ror­less sys­tem is fi­nally here with the ar­rival of the Z7, but should you ditch your DSLR?

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