Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless is remarkably accomplished for a first-generation product, says Andy Westlake, and one of the best cameras the firm has ever made
Nikon Z7 – Hands-on First Look
Here’s our archived first look at the Nikon Z7.
Nikon Z7 & Nikon Z6 : At a glance
- £3399 (Nikon Z7 body only) £2099 (Nikon Z6 body only)
- Twin 45.7MP and 24MP models
- New large-diameter Z-mount
- Released alongside three new Z-mount lenses
- F-mount adapter available
- 5-axis image stabilisation (IBIS)
It’s here. After a month of teasers and social media build-up, Nikon has finally taken the wraps off its brand-new full-frame mirrorless system. Believe us, it’s been well worth the wait; in almost every respect, the firm appears to have delivered exactly what its users have been asking for.
Nikon’s new system will launch with two bodies and three lenses, based around a brand-new large-diameter Z-mount. There’s no doubt where the firm’s intentions lie: with twin bodies – the Z6 and Z7 – that look like miniature versions of the firm’s high-end DSLRs, sporting 24MP and 45.7MP sensors respectively, it’s going head-to-head with Sony’s Alpha 7 III and Alpha 7R III. We’ve been lucky enough to see the Nikon Z7 and its initial set of lenses for real, and the firm has clearly come up with a very capable camera. As a result, Sony’s near-monopoly on full-frame mirrorless has been blown apart, and Canon is going to have to move pretty smartly if it wants to avoid slipping behind.
In designing its new full-frame mirrorless system, Nikon has bowed to the inevitable and introduced a new lens mount. But not any old mount: the firm says that the fully-electronic Z-mount has the largest opening of any full-frame system. In fact its 55mm internal diameter can accommodate f/0.95 lenses, with a 58mm f/0.95 Noctilux already on Nikon’s roadmap; in comparison, the Sony E and Canon EF-M mounts both measure around 47mm, which Nikon suggests will limit them to f/1.4 full-frame lenses. A 16mm flange distance from lens to sensor affords extra freedom to optical designers, while a set of 11 electronic contacts enables rapid data transfer for fast, silent autofocus.
Nikon fully understands that it has to appeal to its existing DSLR users if its new mirrorless system is to be a success. Those who have built up a selection of NIKKOR lenses will be relieved to hear that that they can use their F-mount lenses with both the Nikon Z7 and Nikon Z6 via an adapter. This comes in the form of the FTZ mount adapter, which will cost £269 when it goes on sale. Naturally this will support aperture control and in-lens VR operation, however only AF-S and AF-P lenses with built-in motors will autofocus.
Much like Sony when it launched its Alpha 7 system, Nikon is kicking off with twin bodies that share the same physical dimensions and design, but have different sensors and core specifications. The 45.7MP Z7 boasts 493 phase detection AF points covering 90% of the frame area, a standard sensitivity range of ISO 64-25,600, and shoots at 9 frames per second. Its more affordable Z6 sibling will sport a 24.5MP sensor with 273 PDAF points, while offering ISO 100-51,200 and 12fps shooting. Both cameras use Nikon’s new EXPEED VI processing engine.
Other shared features include a stunning 3.6-million-dot EVF with a huge 0.8x magnification, that’s capable of displaying comprehensive shooting information against a black background on strips above and below the preview image. It features high-quality optics that give a clear view right into the corners even if you wear glasses. It’s one of the largest and clearest we’ve seen, and from our brief time with the camera it seems considerably better than even the A7R III’s excellent finder in a side-by-side comparison.
Both bodies also feature a high-resolution 2.1M-dot tilting rear screen with an improved touch interface, including a fully-customisable i-menu. There’s also an SLR-like top-plate status screen, which displays key shooting info using an OLED display that adapts to the ambient light conditions. This isn’t as large as the top-plate status screen as you get on the Fujifilm GFX-50S and we couldn’t find any way of inverting the display. What it does do is offer a visual of key imaging settings such as shutter speed, aperture, battery power, drive mode and the remaining capacity of the memory card. Hold down the ISO button and the top-plate status screen also clearly reveals the sensitivity value.
In a first for Nikon, 5-axis stabilisation is built into the cameras, offering a claimed 5 stops of compensation for camera shake when shooting hand-held. Compared to the usual pitch and yaw correction that’s provided by in-lens optical stabilisation, it can additionally correct for rotation around the lens axis, which is important when shooting long exposures and hand-held video. It also corrects for left-right and up-down movements, which can have a significant impact when shooting close-ups. As a result, Nikon’s initial set of native lenses don’t include optical stabilisation. When you use an F-mount lens with VR, the in-body and in-lens systems work together, with the lens correcting for pitch and yaw, and the IBIS compensating for the other 3 axes of shake.
Power is provided by an updated EN-EL15b battery, which is physically the same size as that used in the firm’s high-end DSLRs. The good news for Nikon owners who may already own EN-EL15a batteries is that these can also be used. During the press briefing we were told that users can expect to be able to shoot approximately 330 shots on the Z7 with a single charge and around 310 shots on the Z6. Nikon ambassadors who have already used the cameras say you can actually shoot a lot more images on a single charge than what Nikon claim so we’ll have to investigate this further when our review sample arrives.
Keeping on the subject of battery power, both cameras now support in-camera charging through the USB port. Although a vertical power grip isn’t yet available, we’re told an MB-N10 battery pack is currently in development. It will hold two EN-EL15b rechargeable Li-ion batteries, effectively increasing the number of shots possible and/or movie recording time by approximately 1.8x.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are built-in, and Nikon says it’s included a dedicated processor which should provide a more stable connection to devices running its Snapbridge app. The Wi-Fi isn’t exclusively tied to Snapbridge any more, either, which means that the cameras should work with third-party Wi-Fi control programs.
As we’d expect, 4K video recording is available at 30 frames per second, alongside Full HD at up to 120fps. Nikon claims that the cameras will be the best for video that is has ever made, aided by the on-chip phase detection autofocus system. Plenty of advanced features are onboard to aid videographers, including N-log gamma, focus peaking, and a zebra pattern overexposure-warning display.
Other good news for videographers is that the AF speed and AF tracking sensitivity can be adjusted during movie recording. Serious video users will also appreciate that the cameras sync with equipment that supports ATOMOS Open Protocol in 4K UHD and there’s 10-bit HDMI recording with N-log for professional workflow. If this wasn’t enough, focus peaking VR and Active D-Lighting are all available in 4K UHD, and Timecode output makes it easier to synchronise recorded footage.
Build & Handling
In terms of design, the new cameras will look instantly familiar to Nikon users. The body layout and control setup is much like the firm’s high-end DSLRs, with twin control dials and a joystick for moving the focus point, along with familiarly-placed buttons for ISO, exposure compensation, AF-ON and such like. So new owners will be able to pick up the cameras and make the switch to mirrorless pretty much seamlessly.
Both camera bodies are built around a robust magnesium alloy body that’s made up of front, back and top covers. They’re built to the same standard as the Nikon D850, which thoroughly impressed us when it was subjected to harsh weather conditions during our testing. With the same degree of weather sealing and dust resistance as Nikon’s advanced DSLRs, we expect the Nikon Z7 and Nikon Z6 to be able to put up with some serious abuse in the hands of those who push a camera to its limits in the great outdoors.
Unlike Sony, Nikon hasn’t been terrified of making the body large enough to be comfortable to use, so has added a really good-sized handgrip that feels like it should provide decent purchase even when you’re using heavy lenses. Build quality is everything we’ve come to expect from Nikon too. During our hands-on briefing, Nikon was very keen to stress how important it was during the design process to make sure it feels and handles like a Nikon camera should. Close your eyes and pick up either the Z7 or Z6 and you immediately know the camera you’re holding is a Nikon.
One surprise is Nikon’s decision to use only a single card slot in the uncommon XQD format. If you’ve built up a collection of SD or Compact Flash cards over the years you can forget about using them with the Z7 or Z6. Nikon claims that the move across to XQD is necessary to meet future speed demands, but just right now it looks like a strange choice, especially when all the other camera manufacturers can make their cameras work perfectly well with the smaller, cheaper and considerably better-supported SD format.
Having only a single slot means that you can’t simultaneously record your files to two cards to provide an automatic back-up, which many photographers do as a matter of course when failure or card corruption isn’t an option. Wedding photographers are just one type of user who will be disappointed they can’t slot in a second memory card. Could have Nikon squeezed an SD card slot in alongside the XQD card slot? It would be tight, but I think it could have been done. The other thing to bear in mind of course is that XQD cards aren’t exactly cheap and don’t expect to spend much less than £100 for a Sony 32GB XQD flash memory card with read/write speeds of 440MB/s and 400MB/s respectively.
Three ‘S’ Lenses
Nikon has also unveiled three native Z-mount lenses for its new mirrorless system. The 24-70mm f/4 S (£999) and 35mm f/1.8 S (£849) will be available immediately, while the 50mm f/1.8 S (£599) will appear a bit later. The price of the Z7 with the 24-70mm f/4 S will be £3,999, whereas the price of the Z6 with the 24-70mm f/4 S will be £2,699. For an extra £100 you can get either kit supplied with the FTZ mount adapter, which to buy individually will set you back £269.
The lenses are a good match to the cameras in terms of size, and Nikon is promising great things for their optical quality. Indeed it claims that not only are they considerably better than its F-mount f/1.8 Nikkors, they’ll also exceed the optical quality provided by Sony’s equivalents. To achieve this, it’s promising an exceptionally high level of quality control. One neat feature is that the manual focus ring can be customised to operate certain camera functions, when it’s not being used for focusing.
At the launch of the cameras, Nikon unveiled its lens roadmap, which consists a list of lenses we can expect to arrive after the initial three mentioned above. In 2019 we can expect a further six lenses to be added to the range, including the NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, 20mm f/1.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 85mm f/1.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 and 14-30mm f/4. By 2020 Nikon is hoping to have twelve optics in its lineup of ‘S’ lenses, adding a 50mm f/1.2, 24mm f/1.8 and 12-24mm f/2.8. Prices of all these lenses are unknown at this present time.
Nikon FTZ F-mount adapter
Nikon understands that the biggest market for its new mirrorless system is its huge existing DSLR user base. Hence, it’s introducing an adapter that will let them use their existing lenses, and which it says is compatible with approximately 360 lenses.
But as usual with the F-mount, the devil is in the detail. Only those with built-in focus motors – in other words, AF-S and AF-P type – will be fully compatible for both autofocus and autoexposure, equating to over 90 lenses, or almost the entire current range. However the adapter doesn’t have a focus motor built in, so won’t offer AF with D-type lenses, although it’ll still provide autoexposure. Manual focus will be available, of course, and considerably easier and more accurate in comparison to using a DSLR.
Older lenses which don’t have electronic contacts for communicating aperture data to the camera will still mount perfectly happily, but it seems that you’ll have to use them in manual exposure mode.
The road to market will take the following route. After the official announcement on the 23rd August, Nikon will commence its UK roadshow where various product demonstration events will be held at selected retailers across the country. We’re told the Nikon Z7 is the first model to be made available, with pre-orders available almost straight away. The Nikon Z7 will be available to buy from late September. The 24-70mm f/4 S, 35mm f/1.8 S and FTZ mount adapter will also be available to purchase at the same time as the Z7. The Nikon Z6 is then expected to follow slightly later along with the 50mm f/1.8 S.
From the moment Nikon announced its intention to make full-frame mirrorless, the question has been whether it can build the right camera to tempt its existing user-base to dip a toe into these exciting new waters. After even a short time with the camera, I’m confident that it’s got most things right, and unlike the ill-fated 1 System, this new line feels entirely worthy of the Nikon name.
Switching from the Nikon D850 to the Nikon Z7 and vice versa made for an interesting comparison. Whereas the D850 feels like a real brute of a camera, the Z7 feels much leaner and well stripped back. Nikon have been very cautious not to make its full-frame mirrorless cameras too small, which has resulted in the body feeling very comfortable to handle and not too fiddly to operate. The handling is such an important characteristic of any camera, and to me, Nikon has done a great job of ensuring the cameras feel as good as they are to look at.
The body mounted dials and buttons are as good as we’re used to on Nikon’s high-end DSLRs too and the touchscreen is incredibly responsive. Double tapping the screen in playback mode jumps to a 100% magnified view, which is useful for checking sharpness. First impressions of the autofocus performance is that it’s spritely and up to the task of tracking fast moving subjects right across the frame – briefly shown in our video above. Those who like to setup their camera to perform back button focusing will find the AF-ON button falls nicely to hand too.
The body design is excellent, the viewfinder is stunning, and even the most diehard of DSLR fans will surely be tempted to pick one up just to give it a try. With Photokina 2018 fast approaching, I can envisage Nikon’s stand being inundated by thousands of photographers wanting to try it out for themselves.
Naturally, Nikon’s new cameras won’t match Sony’s third-generation models in every respect, but in certain areas it surpasses them already. The question for Nikon isn’t going to be whether the cameras will sell, but whether they can build them fast enough to meet demand.
A stunning top-end mirrorless camera that's every bit as good as the hitherto class-leading Sony A7R III