Nikon Z6 & Z7 – The Empire Strikes Back!

Hey. Once in a while we photographers all regress from being advanced beings who only care for light and situations … and become little gearheads and fanboys all over again!

Now, it happened to me! I was eagerly anticipating the release of the first Nikon 35mm full frame mirrorless offering. I used the Sony A7R and A7 II cameras from 2013 right until 2017. Came to love and hate them. Brought home awesome images with even more awesome technical quality. Went to buy a little Fuji in the end to get back more fun and joy to my photography.

And now, the Nikons are there.

Finally, I mean it’s 2018! Yes now they did it! They released a serious mirrorless camera!

Nikon Z7 with 24-70 (Photo: Nikon press release)
Nikon Z7 with 24-70 (Photo: Nikon press release)

Now, shortly before they hit the shelves … what’s my personal take on these two beauties?

The good!

  • 35mm sensors that I am sure will be awesome: Especially the Z6’s 24 MP chip will be a generation ahead of Sony‘s 24 MP offering in their A7 III. The Z7’s 45 MP sits right at the top of what you can get in the 35mm format. (Even though Sony’s A7R III chip won’t be far behind.)
  • Great ergonomics. Sony never got it quite right even though their A7 III series was a big step forward. Nikon is all about photography, with a 101 year heritage, and here it shows. Huge super high-res viewfinder, great OLED top monitor, no weird placement for any button, apparently also a nice hand grip. What’s there not to like?
  • In-body sensor stabilisation. Yay! Nikon understood how valuable this is! You can use it with all your fixed focal length lenses, and even adapted lenses. This is maybe the single best feature! (Yes Sony also offers it.)
  • They only release three lenses at the start but they are spot-on. Two really valuable and also not insanely expensive or huge f/1.8 primes. Especially the 35/1.8 is a direct hit for a guy like me. Thanks Nikon! And then there’s a 24-70/4 zoom that I don’t care that much about – but the first public shots do look stunning nonetheless for that kind of a lens!
  • The adapter for DSLR / SLR Nikkors is kind of cool as it offers the manual lever with automatic diaphragm feature. Good for all Nikkor lenses from 1959 onwards! (It does not offer an auto focus motor for screw-drive Nikkor AF lenses, though.)
  • Wireless connection to copy RAW files on your Mac or PC. I’m not really a computer guy, actually I don’t know if other manufacturers already offer it. My current Fuji X-E3 can’t do it, that I know! Anyway, to me it sounds great to copy RAW files without having to fiddle with the memory card or carry some horrible adapter that plugs in my MacBook.
Nikon Z7 with 24-70 (Photo: Nikon press release)
Nikon Z7 with 24-70 (Photo: Nikon press release)

The bad?

  • Auto focus? I didn’t take the Z7 or Z6 for a shooting myself, but everyone who did so far, came up with some reservations about the autofocus system. Myself, I’m a slow photographer. I think the Nikon’s auto focus will match all my needs. Still, it’s 2018, not 2013. And Nikon already has around 7 years of mirrorless experience (remember the 1 series?) and I’d just wished their new system would be right at the forefront of auto focus performance. Apparently, it isn’t quite there yet.
  • The weird card slot. Hey how many people already bash Nikon for going with that XQD card, and then only offering one slot. Personally, I don’t care. I’m fine with one slot. And I think really most other photographers are. So I understand the complaints but would still say it’s not a real show stopper. By the way, I also don’t care about the advantages of XQD – I don’t do any video nor do I need any speed.
  • Speaking of speed, the Nikons also don’t seem to be quite there yet. Burst rates with full auto focus are lower than with Sony’s comparable offerings and the internal buffer also does not seem to be big. Again, I don’t need all that. Others might. Just figure out what kind of a photog you are, and if the Nikons are okay for you.
  • Battery life, yadda yadda. The Nikons are no miracle, they are just mirrorless bodies in this respect. There’s talk of around 300 shots per battery which is just the normal standard for this kind of cameras … so if you come from a modern DSLR, you might be in for some bad surprises. If you’re shooting mirrorless since a few years (like I do), you know all this already!
Nikon Z7 with 24-70 (Photo: Nikon press release)
Nikon Z7 with 24-70 (Photo: Nikon press release)

Opinion and forecast

The slight but apparently very real downsides to the Nikons’ auto focus system mean that some people will be wanting “more” once it becomes available. Some will stick with the current crop of Sony A7 III or A9 cameras, and they might have a good reason to do so. Others will be happy that Nikon provides a well thought-out “intelligent” adapter for their DSLR lenses.

I guess that as a “first entry” in a new system, the Nikon’s just won’t be as ironed-out as Sony’s current offerings – but I also won’t get in panic over it. Auto focus will be overall good and responsive. Just think about what you need – and if you demand the perfect continuous auto focus, do your testing before you buy into the new system.

If the Nikons become a success, there will be a second generation, or a “top pro” model positioned above the Z7, sooner than later! That one surely will also address the issue that the Z6 and Z7 offer one card slot only, which seems to upset many photographers in the internet right now :)

I am sure the Nikons will be a big success!

Many photogs just will be happy to have another choice finally. Sony was the only serious 35mm digital mirrorless system for a long time (yes, and there’s Leica’s M and SL, but they’re a real niche product).

Many people will also be happy that a real camera company enters big way into the mirrorless market. Sony just isn’t a camera company. They are a tech company. You feel it in a lot of ways, from the ergonomics to the lens lineup. Sony knows how to impress, but they don’t always see the bigger picture it seems. To please the photographer all around.

Nikon now offers a choice for those photographers that care. Finally! Nikon is a name that stands for photography, not just for electronics. You can already sense it in the way the Nikon Z6 & Z7 bodies are designed. The top deck is much better thought-out than the one of all the Sony A7 cameras. The white-on-black top display is perfectly positioned (better even than on the Fuji X-H1 where adding the top display meant that the exposure compensation dial is omitted). The Nikons’ viewfinders are reported to be absolute top notch, with 3.6 million dots resolution, even in the Z6.

Nikon Z7 with 50mm f/1.8 (Photo: Nikon press release)
Nikon Z7 with 50mm f/1.8 (Photo: Nikon press release)

Nikon Z6 – the price/performance killer?

My personal pic of the two, so far, would be the Z6. It’s below 2.000 USD / EUR (body only) and that’s just a great price for a 2018 release that offers all the goods! Only its sensor is different to the Z7. In contrast, the Sony A7 III also has a downgraded viewfinder compared to the A7R III, for example.

If you don’t absolutely need the Z7’s resolution, I’d thus always take the Z6. It seems just a great price for a great camera!

If you do need the Z7’s resolution, are more a landscape photographer instead of an action guy … sure, go for the Z7 then. I’d personally maybe also wait for the next round of Fuji medium format cameras … an intriguing option for even more extreme overall image quality.

Yes, having seen the first full size samples, the Z7’s output is awesome, that’s for sure! (But so is any 40+ MP’s camera, if you know your way around your favorite RAW converter.)

Lenses? What about third-party adapters?

My pic for lenses? The apparently very sharp and detailed 24-70 f/4 zoom is hard to beat if you’re shopping for versatility. I like that it is smaller then typical f/2.8 zooms which makes it much better suited for travel photography!

But personally I am more intrigued by the 35 mm f/1.8 (around 900 EUR) and the 50 mm f/1.8 (around 600 or 650 EUR).

These two are considerably more expensive than their DSLR counterparts but, pending test results, my guess is that they are also considerably better. I’m a 35 + 50 + 90 mm kind of guy, and there’s a 85 mm f/1.8 already on Nikon’s near-future roadmap. These three – maybe even only the 35 and 85 – are basically all I’d ever need! But I never was a wide-angle guy …

I am also intrigued by the possibility to go for third-party adapters (once they are available, which won’t take long). On my Sony A7 cameras, the Contax G 90 mm f/2.8 was just such a gorgeous lens, if you can handle manual focus. It had a beautiful rendering and plenty of sharpness, and mechanical quality was impeccable! A lens like that is really hard to beat! Nikon’s big electronic viewfinder and their in-body stabilisation will be very helpful when handling manual glass, even though the stabilisation most likely won’t be as effective as it is with a dedicated new Nikkor.

Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 (Photo: Nikon press release)

The Nikon Z lens lineup: Some f/1.8 awesomeness :)

Current lenses (released at the start of the Z system):

  • 35mm f/1.8 for around 850 USD / 900 EUR
  • 50mm f/1.8 for around 600 USD / 650 EUR
  • 24-70 mm f/4 that is also available as a kit lens

On Nikon’s official roadmap until 2020:

  • 20 mm f/1.8
  • 24 mm f/1.8
  • 85 mm f/1.8
  • 58 mm f/0.95 (apparently a manual focus lens)
  • 14-24 mm f/2.8
  • 24-70 mm f/2.8
  • 70-200 mm f/2.8
  • 14-30 mm f/4
  • 50 mm f/1.2

See the roadmap as published by Nikon here.

The lens lineup is awesome! Instead of über-big f/1.4s, there will be a really solid selection of f/1.8 lenses. That in itself will already be a huge benefit over Sony’s currently bigger, but still much more chaotic lens lineup.

For the usual pro’s requirements, there will also be the “holy trinity” of huge f/2.8 zooms. Nothing I need personally, but others will. There’s thankfully also a smaller 14-30 mm f/4 super-wideangle zoom and last not least the 24-70 mm f/4 standard zoom.

No other telephoto lenses, no macros yet. If you really need those and want mirrorless, either check out Nikon’s SLR lens adapter, or go Sony, or stay with your DSLR, or maybe consider a MFT or Fuji second system …

Nikon Z mount – 16 mm flange distance

What does that mean? Flange distance is the distance between the bayonet mount and the sensor. It means there will be an abundance of third-party adapters for all lenses. I think there’s not a single lens that can’t be adapted to such a short flange distance. Leica M? Contax G? Any other lens ever made for 35mm film? You name it. Maybe they can even design a Sony-A7-to-Nikon-Z adapter. (Then you could just slap on all that Voigtländer glass …)

There will be many many adapters. I am sure. And the in-body stabilisation works with all of these …

What we don’t know yet is how well the sensor will perform with adapted wide-angle lenses. M mount lenses come to mind – on Sony A7 camers, most but not all lenses with a focal length of 35mm and longer do work perfectly, but not the more wide-angle ones! We’ll see how it is with the Nikon. I personally don’t believe there will be a big difference here.

There’s also much talk about the big diameter of Nikon’s Z mount. Especially compared with the more narrow mount of the Sony A7 series. Personally, I don’t think it matters that much – unless you want über-fast f/1.2 or f/0.95 lenses. Those beasts apparently are much easier to design with the bigger Z mount, yes.

Nikon Z7 showing the big bayonet mount. (Photo: Nikon press release)
Nikon Z7 showing the big bayonet mount. (Photo: Nikon press release)

What do DSLR shooters think?

Well, you got me. That’s the one question I have no clue about. My last Nikon DSLR was a D2x. And before that, I once had a D1x. I loved them, but it’s many years ago. I switched to mirrorless back in 2012 and never ever looked back. (Well I did when I was interested in a Nikon Df – but I didn’t get it … that would have been a very emotional purchase, not based on any practical consideration …)

So I have no clue how the Nikon Z6 or Z7 appeal to photographers who, say, currently own a Nikon D750 or D850 …

Do I want a Nikon Z?

You bet I want! I love these cameras already! They are a Nikon! I was shooting film SLR Nikons since my youth. Loved them for their ruggedness, beautiful lenses, utter reliability. I see the Nikon Z6 & Z7 can be the same kind of cameras for the current and future digital mirrorless camera world.

Okay, nonetheless, there’s strong competition. Sony’s first-generation A7 is still available and just dirt cheap, the A7R is dirt cheap with a still first-class high res sensor, the A7 II series add valuable in-body stabilisation while still being sold for basically half the price of Nikon’s newest. And finally, Sony’s state-of-the-art A7 III series – at the same prices as the Nikons – maybe has a real edge in auto focus performance.

I have shot my Sonys, they were good, awesome even. But I was never a Sony guy overall. Handling and also the slightly erratic lens lineup (here a f/2.8, there a f/1.4, here a cheapie, then next something über-expensive) never really made me feel in camera heaven. Won’t go back.

Fuji has only APS-C … smaller, cheaper, nice to handle. I love my Fuji X-E3. I don’t think it’s real competition though. However, Fuji also has the 44x33mm medium format, and they’re apparently about to realise a nice, compact body in late 2018 or early 2019 – for a similar price point to Nikon’s Z7. For a slow guy who prints big like me, that one sounds a really interesting idea!

Isn’t it nice to have all those magnificent cameras? I applaud Nikon to finally take the plunge. It really was about time!

More first reviews and opinions about the Nikon Z6 & Z7:

Have fun!
Thomas

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