Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless is remarkably accomplished for a first-generation product, says Andy Westlake, making the Nikon Z7 one of the best cameras the firm has ever made
Nikon Z7 compared to Sony Alpha 7R III
Note: The images in this section show the Sony Alpha 7 III, which has a near-identical physical design to the A7R III
The Nikon Z7’s closest competitor is the highly-acclaimed Sony Alpha 7 III, which until now has been the unquestioned stand-out all-rounder among mirrorless cameras. But the Z 7 is every bit as good, with a similar feature set and image quality. Most photographers would be delighted with either camera, but dig down into the details and each has its own strengths and weaknesses.
In terms of layout, both adopt the same approach, with central viewfinders and tilting rear screens. Both have excellent control layouts, but crucially existing Nikon DSLR users will be able to pick up the Z7 and start using it right away, without having to learn new menus or control logic.
There are some key design differences. The Z 7 has a noticeably larger, more comfortable grip: it’s deep enough to wrap all of your finders around, and isn’t as cramped up against the lens mount. This makes the Z7 more pleasant to hold, especially if you want to use large lenses. Those two customisable function buttons on the front are really handy as well.
In this top-down view, you can again see how Nikon has managed to make a larger grip. Admittedly the Z7 is wider and taller than the A7R III, but not so much that it makes any practical difference. Another subtle difference is the way the Z 7’s viewfinder protrudes further behind the camera, which means you don’t get nose marks on the screen. Nikon’s viewfinder is a bit better than Sony’s too, being larger and clearer (although in truth there’s not much wrong with the A7R III’s).
Both cameras have tilting rear screens. The Z 7’s is higher resolution and operates an superbly-integrated touch interface that lets you change almost any setting, or browse through images in playback. Sony has barely bothered putting any touch functions on at all; just focus area selection and touch shutter.
The Z 7 and A7R III both sport superb sensors; indeed arguably the two best currently available. You’ll get stacks of resolution, huge dynamic range, and impressively low noise at high ISOs. Nikon claims that its larger-diameter lens mount affords lens designers more options, and its initial S lenses are indeed superb. However Sony has a much wider range of native lenses available right now, and its top-end G Master lenses are as good as anything you’ll find. Nikon’s biggest trump card is the ability to use F-mount SLR lenses via the FTZ adapter: existing Nikon users don’t really have a viable option for using their lenses on Sony bodies.
Interestingly, Nikon seems to have noted many of the criticisms that have been aimed at the A7R III and addressed them on the Z 7. This includes neat little design touches like placing the headphone and mic sockets under the same cover, and using folding sections of each cover so you can plug in a microphone or cable release without exposing the other ports. It feels more like a camera that’s been designed with photographers needs in mind.
Another area where this shows comes with autofocus. Nikon displays the active AF area in red, lighting up green when focus is achieved. Sony persists in drawing the AF area in a completely invisible grey, so you have no idea where in the scene it’s placed when you’re trying to reposition it using the joystick. Personally, I find this more important for everyday shooting than Sony’s much-hyped Eye AF, which the Z7 lacks.
Finally, the A7R III uses two SD cards to record files, while the Z 7 has a single XQD slot. Nikon’s engineers are adamant that XQD is the future, and I can see their point: the cards are much faster and more robust. The problem is that SD is still a very much better choice in the present, and two card slots are always better than one.