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Nikon Z7 Preview |

It’s here. Nikon has teased its entry into the full-frame mirrorless camera space pretty heavily over the past few weeks, but the teasing is over. It’s launched two models, the 24MP Z6 ($1,995.95, body only) and the 45.7MP Z7 ($3,399.95, body only). The cameras are launching along with three lenses and an adapter for F-mount SLR lenses. The premium Z7 will be shipping first, with availability starting on September 27, with the Z6 following in late November. The Z7 challenges Sony’s a7R III in most areas, and I’m more than a little excited to get my hands on one.

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Design: The Mirrorless D850

Let’s cut to the chase—the Z7, at its soul, is a mirrorless D850. And that’s a very good thing, as the D850 is one of the best cameras I’ve ever tested. The Z7 is sized down in all respects, but it still looks and feels like a Nikon, complete with the red accent on the grip. The camera features internal seals to protect it from dust and splashes—Nikon says its sealing is just as good as the D850.

The body measures in at 4.0 by 5.3 by 2.7 inches (HWD) and weighs about 1.5 pounds. It’s a little bit bigger than the Sony a7R III (3.8 by 5.0 by 2.9 inches, 1.5 pounds), and a little bit smaller than the D850 (4.9 by 5.8 by 3.1 inches, 2 pounds). The grip feels just about as deep as the one on the D850, which is a big plus—the Z7 certainly feels just a little more natural to hold than the a7R III.

Getting rid of the mirror box assembly helps to size down the body a bit, but Nikon has succeeded in making this smaller and lighter than a comparable SLR, though not so tiny that you can’t put a real lens on it. I tried it out with an F-mount adapter and the upcoming 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens in a briefing room setting and was very happy with how well the combination handled. I can’t wait to take that combination out into the woods and photograph some wildlife.

Nikon understands ergonomics, and it shows with the Z7. You’ll find the front command dial right where you expect it, toward the top of the handgrip. The unusually large lens mount—big to accommodate f/0.95 lenses—is flanked by two programmable buttons, Fn1 and Fn2. Aside from that, the only front control is the lens release button. And yes, the Z system still mounts and unmounts lenses in the opposite direction as most other camera systems. Long-time Nikon devotees will feel right at home.

Nikon Z7

On the top you’ll find a locking Mode dial. This is a bit of a departure from Nikon’s pro SLR series, which use a Mode button and dial turn to switch between Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual operation. The dial gives you a bit quicker access, as well as full automatic operation if you want, and three custom user profiles to quickly toggle through settings for different situations.

To its right is the hot shoe, which sits atop the raised area that houses the EVF. There’s a button on its left to toggle EVF only, rear LCD only, or automatic eye-sensor switching, and a dial at the right to dial in diopter adjustment. It can mount a microphone, external flash, wireless flash trigger, or other accessory. The Z7 is fully compatible with Nikon’s current Speedlight flash system. There is no in-body flash.

To the right of the hot shoe you’ll find a monochrome OLED information display, just as you would with a pro SLR. It’s something we haven’t seen on a lot of mirrorless cameras—the only other full-frame model with it is the Leica SL. The rectangular display shows all of your exposure details, battery life, and estimated shots left on your memory card.

The rear control dial is positioned at the far right corner, while other top controls are further ahead, atop the grip. The On/Off switch surrounds the shutter release, and it’s flanked by Record, ISO, and EV compensation buttons.

Nikon Z7

Rear controls are laid out similarly to the D850, although there are some differences. The buttons that sit to the left of the LCD on the D850 aren’t there, and none of the Z7’s controls are backlit as they are on the D850. Play and Delete sit in the top left corner, while a toggle switch to change between still and video recording is directly to the right of the eyecup, with the Display button at its center.

The rear AF-ON button, useful for photographers who prefer separate buttons for focus and image capture, is a little further to the right, within spitting distance of the aforementioned rear dial. Directly below it, to the left of the rear thumb rest, is a small joystick, used to move the active focus point around the frame. The i button is directly below that—it brings up a small menu that allows you to quickly adjust certain camera settings.

Continuing to move down the column, there is a directional control pad with the OK button at its center. Below that are the plus and minus buttons, used to zoom in or out when reviewing photos, along with Menu and Drive Mode/Self-Timer buttons. That’s another departure from the D850, which uses a control dial to cycle through its various Drive settings.

Conspicuously absent is a lock switch, a staple of Nikon pro cameras. I don’t think I’ll miss it. I use the D850 quite often—it’s our standard test body for Nikkor lenses—and more often than not I find that the Lock has been turned on inadvertently, which means I can’t move the focus point when I first try. But I recognize that many Nikon pros love the ability to quickly lock in the focus point.

Nikon Z7

One of the benefits of a mirrorless camera is a seamless transition between the rear LCD and EVF—you don’t have to lock the mirror up to switch to Live View. The Z7’s rear display is 3.2 inches in size and very sharp at 2.1 million dots. I wasn’t able to take the camera outside, so I can’t yet speak to how well it does under bright sunlight, but I don’t expect it to lag behind other modern LCDs, which are bright enough to cut through the elements. It is a touch screen, and it does tilt up and down, but it doesn’t face all the way forward.

The EVF is big and sharp. The OLED panel packs 3.69 million dots of resolution into half of an inch. It’s married to optics developed by Nikon to project it to your eye with big 0.8x magnification. That’s just a little bit larger than the 0.78x EVF found in the Sony a7R III.

Connectivity and Power

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are built in. The Z7 supports Nikon SnapBridge, which uses Bluetooth for automatic, low-resolution image transfer to your phone, but also supports manual full-resolution JPG transfer. Wi-Fi is used for remote control from Android or iOS devices.

Physical ports include 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, a USB-C port, mini HDMI, and an accessory port, all located on the left side of the body. The battery loads in the bottom.

Nikon Z7

Nikon has opted to only put one memory card slot in the Z7, and it’s XQD. The slot is on the right side of the camera. The door that covers it is part of the thumb rest, which makes the camera look a little odd when it’s opened. I would have liked to see dual slots, but I’m happy that Nikon is looking ahead to the future with its memory format choice. I’ve been using XQD in the D850 and D500 and find the cards to be fast, sturdier than SD, and reliable. The physical format is also designed to scale for the future. While it won’t support them at launch, Nikon plans to issue a firmware update to add support for the CFexpress format, which is physically identical to XQD, but has the potential to deliver much, much faster transfer speeds. The current standard supports 1,970MBps, compared with 1,000MBps for XQD, and a future revision promises to deliver cards with 7,880MBps throughput.

The Z7 uses an EN-EL15b battery. It looks just like the EN-EL15a that ships with the D850, and you can also use EN-EL15a or the original EN-EL15 to power the Z7, you just won’t get as many shots per charge. The three variations are physically identical, but only the EN-EL15b supports in-camera charging via the included EH-7P Charging AC Adapter. You can charge any of the three in the dedicated MH-25a Battery Charger, which is also included. Nikon has not yet published expected battery life.

An add-on battery grip, the MB-N10 Multi-Power Battery Pack, which holds two EN-EL15b batteries, is on the horizon, but we don’t know how much it will cost. The grip is weather sealed, just like the body. It will go on sale next year.

New System, New Challenges

Launching a brand new camera system is hard. A camera without a lens is a doorstop. Nikon SLR owners are used to having access to decades worth of glass, from modern high-resolution lenses to vintage glass that has tons of character.

Nikon Z7

The Z system is launching with three lenses, two of which will be available immediately. There’s one zoom, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S ($999.95), which will be offered in a kit with the Z7 for $3,999.95. It’s quite compact, and while it’s not an f/2.8 zoom, it does focus to 11.8 inches for close-up work.

It’s joined by two primes—the $849.95 Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S will ship at the same time as the 24-70mm and Z7, and the $599.95 Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S will follow in late October. All three lenses are weather sealed, feature fluorine coating, and balance very nicely on the Z-series body. We’ll have more information on the new glass once we get a chance to use the system in the field.

Nikon Z7

Three lenses does not a system make. Thankfully Nikon has a ton of F-mount SLR glass on sale now, and the $249.95 Mount Adapter FTZ. The adapter offers full autofocus support for Nikkor lenses with internal focus motors—screw-drive lenses can be used with manual focus. It’s available for $149.95 when bought along with a Z7 or Z6 through the end of 2018, and is a no-brainer buy for photographers with a big library of F-mount glass. I tried it out with the new 500mm f/5.6E and it works pretty well, though focus hunted a bit. I was in a dimly lit office environment, however.

Nikon has shared its lens development plans for the system through 2020. We’re getting a manual focus Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct lens in early 2019. It’s a massive prime, inspired by a lens introduced in the late 1970s, the AI Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2. The Noct-Nikkor is still popular today—used copies can fetch thousands of dollars.

The rest of 2019 looks promising. Nikon plans to release a 20mm f/1.8, a 85mm f/1.8, a 24-70mm f/2.8, a 70-200mm f/2.8, and a 14-30mm f/4. In 2020 it has a 50mm f/1.2, a 24mm f/1.8, and a 14-24mm f/2.8 slated. Lens roadmaps can change a bit, so don’t take this as gospel, but feel comfortable that the company wants to grow the Z system lens library aggressively.

Nikon Z7

Aside from lenses, the Z series is compatible with existing flashes and many of the same accessories that work with Nikon SLRs.

Autofocus and Imaging

Size and weight aren’t the only advantages to mirrorless. The design shifts the autofocus system from a dedicated phase detection module to the sensor. Because of this, you’ll never have to dial in autofocus adjustments for individual lenses. And while calibrating focus on a D850 or D5 is a simple, automized affair, it’s something that you don’t want to have to do in the midst of a paid gig.

The Z7’s on-sensor autofocus system is modern, and competitive with offerings from Sony on paper. A mix of phase and contrast detection points—493 in total—cover 90 percent of the sensor’s surface area. That’s a much larger portion than you get with any full-frame SLR, and it allows the Z7 to track subjects at 9 frames per second—without the need for an add-on battery grip, which you need to get the D850 to shoot at 9fps. Shooting at 9fps does cut Raw quality to 12-bit, versus 14-bit for the only slightly slower 8fps capture rate.

We’ll have to see how well it performs in the real world, but when you consider it took Sony four years of development to move from the now-antiquated focus system of the original a7 series to net similar autofocus coverage, Nikon’s first effort looks pretty good. It almost matches the Sony a9 in sensor coverage—the a9 covers 93 percent with focus points, and it exceeds the 68 percent offered by the Z7’s closest competition, the 42MP Sony a7R III.

Nikon Z7

The mechanical focal plane shutter fires from 30 seconds through 1/8,000-second in all modes. If you switch to Manual you also have the option of Bulb, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down, and Time, which opens with a click and closes with a second press of the shutter release. Electronic first curtain is supported to minimize vibration, and there is a fully electronic shutter option for silent shooting. But remember the Z7 does not have a global electronic shutter, so you’ll want to avoid using the fully electronic shutter when photographing fast-moving action.

The image sensor is very similar to the one used by the D850, though it’s not exactly the same. The D850 doesn’t have on-sensor phase detection, after all. But the resolution is just about the same, and the Z7 also sports a BSI CMOS design for superior high-ISO performance, as well as the base ISO 64 sensitivity for wide-aperture imaging under bright light. The top native ISO is 25600, but extended options are available up to ISO 102400. As with the D850, the Z7’s sensor does not include an optical low-pass filter (OLPF) in its design. (The Z6 does have one.)

And the sensor is stabilized. The Z7 includes 5-axis image stabilization, so any lens you attach benefits. This includes non-native and adapted lenses, although you have to input the focal length in the camera menu (similar to what Nikon SLR owners are used to doing for non-CPU SLR lenses), and you only get three axes of correction with manual focus glass. There’s a technical limitation for that—to benefit from all five axes you need to know the distance between camera and focus point, and that’s not something the camera can figure out with a manual focus lens attached.

We’ll have to wait and see how the Z7 performs in the real world and in lab tests, but there’s no reason to think that it will differ significantly from the D850 in image quality.

Video: Nikon Finally Gets Fast Focus

Adding on-sensor focus means that the Z7 should focus as quickly and effectively when recording video as it does with stills. The slower, contrast-based focus when recording video with the D850 and other Nikon SLRs has long been a weak point, so it’s good to see the Z7 address that directly.

In terms of video quality, the camera records at 4K at 24, 25, or 30fps, and can utilize the full width of the frame if you’d like. Autofocus is available, and in an upgrade from the D850, you can use a peaking focus aid when working manually at 4K—the D850 only supports that function at 1080p.

Nikon Z7

The autofocus system offers adjustable speed. If you’re recording sports or other action you can set it to react very quickly to changes in focus, or you can tune it to perform slow, cinematic racks when adjusting focus.

Internal recording to XQD is available with H.264 compression. Uncompressed output is available via the mini HDMI port. The uncompressed output is 10-bit quality, and a flat N-Log profile is available when using an external recorder. It’s also possible to record to the card and external recorder simultaneously, but doing so cuts the HDMI output to 8-bit.

A DX crop for video is available. When using it the Z7 downsamples native 5K footage to 4K, which will give you the best video quality, but will sacrifice some wide-angle coverage. There’s also slow-motion, but only at 1080p. You can push the frame rate to 120fps when recording in HD, and still capture audio.

There’s also time-lapse. The Z7 can record 4K time-lapse internally as a video file, or you can shoot stills and drop them into a video editor to take advantage of the sensor’s high pixel count and Raw capture. Your self-made time-lapses can be exported at 8K quality.

First Impressions

It’s no secret that I adore the D850—it received a five-star review, and continues to deliver superlative results when I use it when reviewing lenses and other accessories. Its image sensor never disappoints, and its autofocus system and burst rate better almost every other camera out there.

The Z7 isn’t the D850, but it’s not that far off. It uses a very similar image sensor, can shoot just as fast, and certainly betters its SLR cousin when it comes to video. It’s a bit smaller, can be used with Nikon SLR lenses via an adapter, and it’s only a matter of time before we see manual focus adapters available for other systems—I’ve no doubt that you’ll be able to use Canon FD, Leica M and R, Pentax K, and other vintage lenses with the Z7 in a matter of months, if that’s your cup of tea.

It’s about time that one of the iconic names in photography joined the mirrorless fray. The benefits of eliminating the mirror box assembly are palpable, and EVFs are so good these days that an optical viewfinder is no longer a must-have for a pro camera. I don’t expect Nikon to be the only big name to release a full-frame mirrorless system in the near future—if the rumor mill is to be believed, Canon won’t be too far behind. Both are certain to give Sony some competition, and that’s seldom a bad thing for consumers. On paper, the Z7 looks like a serious challenger to Sony’s a7R III.

I’m going to start work reviewing the Z7 to see if it lives up to its potential as soon as Nikon makes it available. The camera can be ordered now, and Nikon expects shipments to start on September 27.

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