I love the idea of “going mirrorless” – having a smaller and lighter camera body without compromising on full frame image quality or high end features is essentially the dream, and it’s exactly what the Nikon Z7 is offering. Mirrorless, full frame and sporting 45.7 megapixels for your high resolution pleasure, as well as 4K ultra-HD video, HD video at a high frame rate of 120fps and 8K time lapse features, the Z7 keeps stills shooters very happy while keeping the doors wide open to video shooters.
The Z7 and its sister, the Z6, are the first cameras on Nikon’s roster designed to be used with the new Nikkor Z series lens range. With a huge 55mm mount diameter and extremely short flange distance (between the lens mount and sensor), the Z series camera and lens combo allows for substantially more light to reach the sensor than a smaller mount could allow – a huge bonus when shooting in low light situations. It also means that ridiculously fast lenses, like the still-in-the-works Nikkor Z 58mm f0.95 Noct lens, can be designed and used – apertures like that aren’t possible on lens mounts with smaller diameters, like Nikon’s older F-mount.
I felt a little spoiled when three boxes of Nikon swag showed up at my house. Ordinarily for a review I’m supplied with the body and a single lens, but in this case I had access to the body, the Z series 35mm f1.8 and 24-70mm f4 lenses and the FTZ mount adapter for F-mount lenses. That meant I had all my bases covered, and could test it out in just about any shooting style or area of photography I felt like. I took it along to a wedding, a commercial shoot and a portrait session to make sure it held up in the field, as well as keeping it with me for a few kicking-around-town coincidental test shots – because it is small enough and light enough to carry around with you, if you want to.
Smaller, lighter camera bodies are one of the big drawcard of mirrorless cameras, but the Z7 still has some heft to it. The body weighs in at 675 grams including the battery – 330 grams lighter than its D-SLR uncle the D850. The electronic viewfinder offers 100% frame coverage and reflects your settings in real time – so you can tell if the shot will be well exposed and white balanced without referring to the in-camera light meter or taking a test shot and checking the histogram. It can also display menus and settings, so you can confirm and change things on the fly without ever lowering the camera from your eye. For those who favour the look of the viewfinder of their D-SLRs, the option to turn off the “apply settings to live view” function allows you to mimic the look of an optical viewfinder.
Having been a Nikon shooter for around 7 years now, I went in fairly confident I could find my way around the Z7 without issue, and I was right. Even coming from my now-7-year-old D800s, changing settings was like second nature. All the exposure settings are in easy reach of the fingertips of your right hand without straying too far from the shutter. The mode dial keeps things simple and straightforward with one fully automatic mode, program, manual and exposure/shutter priority modes, and three custom user modes labelled U1, U2 and U3. These user modes allow you to save your go-to settings for various shooting scenarios and switch between them effortlessly – perfect for shooters who love both landscapes and portraits, or in my case, the rapid change in light as a just-married couple walks back down the aisle of a dimly lit chapel and out into full sun.
I shoot weddings for a living, and I’m accustomed to cameras with dual card slots. I use them to make an immediate backup in-camera while shooting because I’m desperate not to lose someone’s precious memories, so the single card slot in the Z7 does make me a little nervous – as it does plenty of other photographers. When the Z7 and Z6 were first announced, the online photography community was rife with conversation about how many card slots is too many or two few, in-camera backups and do-you-or-don’t-you. When I attended a Nikon Z Series event on the Gold Coast in November last year, Nikon Ambassador and fellow QLD wedding photographer Marcus Bell, who uses Z7s himself, was quick to shoot down concerns that a single card slot is a risk, citing that the format is rugged and robust. I’ve had compact flash cards corrupt on me, in the days before dual card slots became common, and cause all sorts of chaos that I’m determined not to relive so I’m still not a hundred percent convinced, but compact flash cards are much older media and the XQD card I was supplied didn’t give me any reason to doubt it in the two weeks I had with the camera.
For those who shoot both stills and video, the Z7 has you in mind – the rear switch to alternate between video and photo modes completely changes the way the camera approaches things like autofcocus and metering. In stills mode, autofocus (and exposure changes if you’re shooting on an auto or semi-automatic setting) are as quick as possible to make sure you don’t miss the moment. Flick to video mode and, during recording, those changes will happen slowly and smoothly so as not to compromise your cinematic effect. The camera also remembers your settings for each mode – so if you’re shooting at a shutter speed of 1/640 for stills, then flick to video and set it to a shutter speed of 1/60, that 1/640 shutter speed will be waiting for you when you switch back to stills mode. I’ve never had a camera anticipate my needs so well, and switching back to my D800s made me miss the effortless shooting the Z7 had to offer – even if I do prefer the old D-SLR’s skin tones!
Speaking of autofocus, the autofocus on the Z7 did not let me down. With 493 points that cover the whole frame, you’ll never have a dead spot that gets slightly knocked out of focus when you recompose again. You can auto-focus the old fashioned way, with a half-press of the shutter, set up back-button focus like I do, or just tap the rear LCD screen if you prefer not to hold the viewfinder to your eye.
For the shaky-handed ones among us, 5-axis in-camera image stabilisation will get you 5 extra stops brighter with a Z series lens than you could get handheld without it, or helps you reduce vibration when shooting with a lens without its own built-in VR. Add that to the extra brightness possible thanks to the wide Z mount and short flange distance mentioned earlier, and you have a recipe for greatness for anyone who loves to shoot in the dark.
So what’s stopping me from selling off my D800s and switching to a Z series kit? Besides my ongoing trepidation about the single memory card slot which makes me want to err on the side of the D850, It has a lot to do with the cost. With the FTZ mount adapter Nikon shooters can keep using their existing lenses, and old flash units are fully compatible, but one camera body will set you back $4999 – Ted’s currently has a deal going where you can have the FTZ adapter and a 64GB card included at that price. Then there’s the memory cards, if you don’t already own a collection of XQD cards. I’d want two bodies, because I use dual bodies on the job so I can keep a wider lens on one and a telephoto on the other. It adds up… but maybe one day. I AM very intrigued by that Noct lens!
The Z7 is a daring and high performance offering – its power, ease of use and size make it an excellent choice for anyone serious about their images, and a versatile choice for those who shoot both stills and video.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Powerful, intuitive
Lowlights: Only one memory card slot, limited range of lenses available
Price: $4999.95 (body only)/$6499.95 with Nikkor Z 24-70mm f4 lens & FTZ adapter & 64GB card
Review conducted using a retail unit provided by the manufacturer.