Monday: I stopped by World of photography and saw for the first time in person, the Nikon Z7.
Tuesday: I walked in with a D5 and walked out with the Z7 system.
I’m standing here holding the new Nikon Z7, and it feels great! A camera that I had no plans to own. I wasn’t expecting even to be able to see the camera till after Christmas. It’s widely sold out, with a waiting list at most major retailers. But here I am at my friend Gary’s shop, using it for the first time. It feels wonderful, just like a mini Nikon DSLR, the EVF is big and bright, sharp as a tack and the color is outstanding. I found myself coming back the next day and walking out with a Z7. The D5 is an incredible camera, but it’s big bulky and ill-suited for 98% of the work I do. The Z7 is small, light, fast and frankly almost as good as the D5. I’m not going to bury the lead here; the Nikon Z7 is very possibly the best mirrorless camera I have ever used.
That’s right, every camera shop in the U.S. may have a waiting list, but I have in my hands the new release from Nikon, the Nikon Z7. When the news broke of this camera I had a number of initial complaints, none of which can I recall now that I hold this marvelous little camera in my hands. What follows is not our normal full hands-on, real-world user review or commentary, but rather my first impressions after less than 48 hrs with the camera.
I’m with Gary at his shop, World of photography, holding the Z7 with mounted 24-70/ƒ4 lens and we’re talking about what it is, what it may be in the future and what we’d hoped for from the system. Although we test and use Mirrorless cameras here at FP, they are in fact, a hard sell for me. This is because I’m not overly fond of photographing via CCTV. The absolutely wonderfully handling Hassie X1D has sat for weeks unused on a shelf, our Pen F has been used for testing only, I sold the SL, and I almost never use the M10’s very nice EVF. Lets not even go into the variety of things I dislike about the Sony AR7 series. But standing here holding the new Nikon Z7, I have to admit, it feels really nice. Then we turned it on…
Right away the camera comes to life in my hands, the big HD articulating touchscreen warns me to extend to the collapsed lens before shooting. I stood there for a moment waiting for another message telling me the camera was ready before I realized it had been ready! As soon as you turn the camera on, it’s ready. There is virtually no discernible delay in readying the Z7. None. You turn it on and it’s on. That’s it. Get shooting. After playing with it for a few moments it was clear Nikon was serious about their first entry into the world of full-frame mirrorless cameras. Forget anything you’ve read or heard. The Nikon Z7 is a serious camera, for serious photographers. Period. On Monday I was checking out a camera I had been complaining about a week ago, on Tuesday I walked in World of photography, handed Gary my D5 and walked out with a Z7.
And I have not one single regret.
This isn’t a case of mirrorless lust. I own the Sony AR7 II, the Hassie X1D, the M10 (it has a stellar EVF), the Fuji X100f, I’ve owned the X-T1, X-T2, X-Pro 1 and 2, the Leica SL, the Oly Pen F, the Leica CL, and what I haven’t owned, I’ve used (with exception to the new Canon mirrorless, which I will check out next week!). The point is… I actually don’t have a lot of love in my heart for mirrorless cameras. They’re slow to start, buggy, full of issues DSLRs don’t have, the EVFs have their own issues like blackouts and lag, the lenses are often as big as their DSLR counterparts and just as often not as good. Battery life sucks, focus speeds aren’t as good, frankly in almost every way a mirrorless camera just isn’t as good as a DSLR. Don’t argue with me mirrorless fanboys/girls, don’t make excuses, mirrorless camera have drawbacks. There are also advantages, such as exposure preview and lightweight bodies. But in the full frame mirrorless world, I’ve yet to use a mirrorless system I would recommend with full confidence to a DSLR user who demands the best from his tools. But after a day with the Nikon Z7… I’m very close to being able to do just that. If you are one of the many, many people who have been craving a mirrorless camera that is every bit as good as your DSLR is at, well almost everything… Congrats, Nikon may have what you’ve been waiting for.
The Nikon D5 is absolutely one of the best cameras ever made. But I have a bad back, two hip replacements, and a plate with several pins holding my neck together. I never carried the D5. It’s just too big, too heavy and unnecessary for 98% of what I do. That said, a major concern for me was losing the ability to shoot bursts of RAW photographs quickly without major delay. I didn’t think the Z7 would be up to it, but it performed wonderfully! While shooting RAW only in 14 BIT to my Sony XQD 440 MBS card, I had no issue with slowdown until after around 8 secs of sustained shooting as fast as the camera could go. That’s not just impressive, it’s amazing. And after only about 2-3 secs the Z7 was ready to go again, I did this cycle 3-4 times in a row while tracking my neighbor’s cat as it walked toward me in mid-dusk lighting. My hit ratio with the focus was about 7-8/10, which for an AF system that is supposed to be the main weakness of the camera is very good. The hit ratio on the D5 was about 9/10, so while the AF system may not be as advanced or as fast as the D5 or D850, it’s very good, certainly better than some reviews would have us believe. And I felt it was a little easier to predict and compensate for compared to the D5 3D tracking system. Now in single point AF, which is what I use the most, I had no problems at all with the native lenses, even in low light. Using the 70-200/ƒ2.8 VR G (F Mount) lens with the adaptor was possibly slightly slower than using it on its intended F mount DSLR system in lower light situations. However, after speaking with Nikon’s rep, I learned that the Z7 switches to contrast only when using an F lens and single point focus. Which would make sense of slower focusing speeds in lower light situations where contrast isn’t as clear. I’ll have a report on using F lenses later where I use multiple focus modes.
Speaking of focusing speeds… The kit lens, the 24-70/ƒ4 is very, very fast. Not quite D5 speeds, but much closer than expected. Even in low light there was very little searching. Now in a dark room with VERY little light, the camera searches for a bit. Much less than any other mirrorless camera I’ve used, but still there is that search for a good focus. By default you can use the focus ring to focus even while in AF mode. By doing this in low light, you can effectively reduce or eliminate the searching issue. This is also most likely an issue that can be fixed in a future update.
Using the pinpoint focus, the camera is fast and true. I didn’t have a single shot where I missed the focus on an eye, or even through glasses. In an attempt to have the camera miss completely, I set the 24-70/ƒ4 on a glass countertop, under fluorescent lights reflecting on the front element and very quickly aimed just past the glass to bring the focus on the aperture. And much to my surprise, it found the focus quickly and neatly.
Something remarkably surprising about this kit lens, the 24-70/ƒ4, is it the minimum focus distance. From 24mm through 70mm the min focus distance is very close to your subject, not feet but mere inches. And what’s more is it seems to be very sharp and free of common issues until stopped down to near minimum aperture. The lens collapses down very neatly for transport, and with a firm twist extends and is now ready to use. I can’t remember a single kit lens I’ve ever been impressed with. The 18-55mm Fuji kit lens wasn’t awful, but it also wasn’t very good. And that’s the next best to this wonderful little bit of glass from Nikon. It’s fast, light, accurate and very compact.
When Nikon announced the Z7 system I was thrilled at the possibilities of the new mount, but not much else. The lens line up struck me as not being impressive or really taking advantage of the possibilities presented by this new mount. However now using these lenses, I see that’s not the case. Their design is clearly better than the closest equivalents. For example, Sony/Zeiss have a lens very close in specs. However the 2 weeks I spent with it were dreadful! It was slow to focus, prone to chromatic aberrations (that purple-blue fringing effect that presents itself in your images) and not very sharp. I very much expected the Nikon Z-Mount 24-70/ƒ4 lens to be similar to this Sony equivalent. I was surprised at just how great this little lens is! And next year we are promised the 24-70/ƒ2.8, which I am very excited about after using its slower sibling the ƒ4. I will go so far as to say that if you don’t need the extra speed of an ƒ2.8 lens, you won’t need the faster normal zoom when it comes out next year.
I have very little to complain about here, the focus can be improved and I have no doubt it will be, the lens lineup isn’t incredibly exciting, but is solid and represents most options working professionals need over the next two years. The Z7 F-mount adaptor works so well that I would feel fine about carrying the Z7 as a backup to my DSLR. No other camera I’ve used has worked so well with adapted lenses. Sure you can adapt anything to Sony, some of it works well and some of it not at all, some of it just sorta works. I can slap Hasselblad V series glass on the X1D, but it’s electronic shutter only. So that creates some issues of its own. Here with the Z7 we have a adaptor that lets you use F mount lenses almost as well as they work on your Nikon DSLR. That alone opens up a large portion of the market to Nikon.
The Z7 has a few issues, +4-5 stops of recovery in your exposures starts to show banding (according to some reports, my shots so far haven’t had the issue), and the AF could use some cleaning up when tracking objects. But so far that’s about it as far as I can see. The battery life has been great compared to anything else out there. Nikon says about 300 exposures, which would be awful. But I got about 600 on a partial charge before optimizing any settings to conserve power. Switching to EVF only with auto turn off, and without using the rear display, I was able to seemingly cut the power consumption in half. I’m estimating I can get as many as 800-1200 photos on one battery with good shooting habits such as turning it off after taking a photograph. This is something you can’t do on the street with a camera like the Sony. I like shooting the Sony with the Contax G glass but it takes forever to power up. I flip the switch on my Nikon and it’s on! No fuss no waiting for things to click into place.
I would have liked to have seen Nikon include a small flash like Fuji does with the X-T series, but that’s a minor complaint. And most people will still need to buy a real speed light for their Z7.
So the Z7 is a great camera, I have very little bad to say about it, and if you’ve read my commentaries before you know I’ll complain about anything worth complaining about. I really like this camera, I’d go so far as to say I love it! It’s an exciting platform for those of us that really understand what possibilities this mount opens up for lens design. I have faith in Nikon in this regard. They were able to do remarkable things with the F-mount, which was a difficult mount to design for. Sigma, Zeiss, even Nikon has said this in the past. Yet it never held them back from creating amazing high-end lenses that have stood the test of time. With a mount such as the new S mount for the Z series, Nikon has opened up a world of possibilities. The Z7 handles and shoots very well, has better battery life so far than any mirrorless out there and is absolutely able to stand up against camera like the AR7 III or SL. The only downside I see to when compared to the other high-end mirrorless cameras on the market is the dynamic range. Here banding becomes an issue and that will be a deal breaker for some shooters. But in every other regard, the Nikon Z7 single handily beats the others in its class.
(Why? Handling alone bumps it up above the Sony. But I’ll dive into this topic more in a later post after I’ve had some time with my Nikon and can be sure these early impressions stick.)
Can I recommend the Nikon Z7 at $3400 (body only) or $4000 (with 24-70/ƒ4)? Well that is about $400 more than the Sony A7R III, but unlike the Sony the Nikon is fun to shoot and handles like a DSLR. The Nikon also has a much better mount, better color science, a much better EVF and a wonderful shutter sound and feel. The Sony handles pushing multiple stops (4-5+) better, and performs better in DR and has an eye tracking AF mode the Nikon is missing. Sony also has a whiny shutter sound, handles like it was designed by Sony, isn’t built as well, has a lower resolution back screen than the Nikon and is just enough smaller that is doesn’t fit my hands as well. In my mind the two cameras actually probably even out for most people, but for shooters like Andrew and I, the Nikon wins hands down. If you’re already invested in Nikon’s F line this is a no-brainer if it’s something you can make use of. I like nearly everything about the Nikon better than the Sony, and I haven’t had nearly as much trouble with the AF as some of the reviews out there led me to believe I would have.
Nikon sold this as the mirrorless version of the D850, and it’s honestly just not quite there. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an amazing camera. As I said I’ve been using the outstanding D5 for a few months now, and it’s what I’m directly comparing the Z7 too. While the Nikon isn’t perfect, it is an outstanding camera. I would go so far as to say it’s every bit as good as my D800, if not better in many respects.
I’ve read a couple of reviews now where people have talked about how let down they are and I couldn’t disagree with them more. Nikon has produced a product here that works very, very well. And creates a fantastic image. The AF isn’t as advanced as in the D5 or D850, but it is certainly quite good and with a little tuning up could be exceptional.
Actually, my only real disappointment is in the lens lineup. While the lenses are very good, they’re not very exciting. Canon has a 50/ƒ1.2 that by all reports seems to be very good. Nikon has what promises to be a very good 50/ƒ1.8. Which for documentary photographers/photojournalists is fantastic, but say a wedding photographer, isn’t enticing at all. Nikon does have a 50/ƒ1.2 on the way, but it is at least a year out and we still haven’t been told if it’s an AF lens. Nikon has a 50/ƒ.95 lens on the way, but it’s HUGE and manual focus. That for many people will be a deal breaker. And no word as of yet on a coveted 50/ƒ2 that many of will be wanting for our daily work. Long story short, the lens lineup has a long way to go before it’s as competitive as needed to really stand up to brands like Sony and Fuji.
At the time I’m writing this I’ll admit my testing has been limited and I’ve yet to take it out for a weekend in the field, but it’s the first time I’ve ever had my opinion on a camera completely reverse in the first 2 hrs I’ve spent with it. I wasn’t excited about the Z7. I wasn’t planning on buying one. But I sold my D5, one of the best cameras ever made, for this little mirrorless wonder and I’m incredibly happy I did so. The Nikon Z7 is a great new platform that proves Nikon has an eye on the future and is ready to go head to head with the leaders in the mirrorless market. The Z series is a bold new competitor in the mirrorless world and the Z7 has surpassed all of my expectations.
I wanted a digital mirrorless F2 from Nikon. I didn’t get it.
But what they did give us is a rather amazing little camera that is the first mirrorless camera on the market to feel and handle like a professional DSLR. I traded my D5 for a Z7 and I have no regrets. FP
A more detailed look and commentary on the Nikon Z7 is coming soon, as well as full reviews on the 35/ƒ1.8 S and 24-70/ƒ4 S for the Nikon Z7. View a full gallery of sample images from 14 bit RAW files below.