Long term thoughts on the Nikon Z7 and system

_PF05987 copy

I’ve now had a few months, a few assignments and what I’d consider a decent amount of time with the Z7: long enough to be familiar with its various peccadilloes and figure out exactly where it fits in my arsenal. Think of it as an extended field test, and perhaps more important than the initial review that people seem to expect me to produce within hours of a camera’s announcement. Truth is, you don’t really know a camera until you’ve had a chance to use it as you normally would, for the kinds of subjects you normally shoot, for an extended period of time – it’s just not physically possible to cover that many scenarios in a short test. Trouble is, not many of us have the time to do that (and especially not sites that have dozens of cameras to cover every month). It also requires consistency in the way one works to provide a baseline of expectations. As usual, I preface my thoughts with the caveat that not everything will apply to everybody, and validity of course increases the more similar your photographic style is to mine. I may not cover some things that matter to you, and I may obsess over other things that are trivial. With that, and assuming we have a mature audience, let’s move on.

It seems through one means or another, the threshold for me seems to be around 5,000 frames: if a camera passes that limit, it tends to stay as a permanent long term member of the team until there’s a really good reason to replace it. My workhorse cameras make anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 images typically during their lifetime; I’m not a machine gun shooter but will do a lot of timed single shots and extended experiments. Those that stay tend to rack up the miles quickly; the Z7 passed the threshold in early October. Tellingly, I’ve been reaching for it over the D850 in every situation except for shooting watches in the studio – this may seem odd given that a permanent live view camera seems to be optimised for this, except the 85 PCE requires more clearance for some frequently used orientations than my focusing rail setup than the Z7/bracket assembly allows, and the larger body is simply better for this.

We might as well start with the good, I suppose:

  1. Image quality: every bit as good as the D850 in practice, and perhaps slightly better. The tonal response is not the same especially at the highlight end, and yes, if you are an idiot and decide to shoot 5 stops under and push all the time – then you will see noise.
  2. For the first time the JPEG engine in a Nikon is not just usable, but really good. It’d probably be as good as Olympus if we could edit the curves. As it is, what we give up on curve control we gain in highlight rolloff and sharpening precision. And the quality priority JPEGs are so low compression that there are almost no visible artefacts.
  3. The size and form factor: it’s large enough to balance well with legacy F mount glass, but with smaller lenses – either the kit zoom or something smaller and adapted – it’s really a pleasure to carry.
  4. Battery life is phenomenal for mirrorless. At least for the way I shoot; I’ve seen up to 1500 frames on one charge, and again: I don’t machine gun. It’s not as good as the D850, which will get 2500 or so under similar conditions, but this is enough that a single battery gets me through a day. The only other mirrorless camera that can do this is the Olympus E-M1.2.
  5. The sensor is very exposed, and gets dusty faster than other designs – but, the sensor cleaning is effective.
  6. Stabilisation is about as effective as Olympus system before the E-M1.2, which is to say very good indeed.
  7. The top deck OLED is not just useful, but always visible.
  8. I’ve changed my mind about USB-C: it’s handy for charging and file transfer, especially for Apple users. I can charge my camera and transfer files without having to carry another reader or charger – just use the same thing I use for my laptop. However, there are some catches (see Missed opportunities).
  9. The weather sealing is excellent. I’ve shot with it in some really unpleasant scenarios and it never missed a beat – ditto the fluorine coating on the finder and lens front element; it’s really easy to clean.
  10. Those U1-2-3 settings are rather handy…
  11. Overall: it just works. It behaves as you’d expect, when you’d expect, with no surprises or glitches. In short: it works the way you’d expect from a Nikon, and inspires confidence.

The not so good

  1. Tracking AF could use work, as could face detect. But I suspect this is mostly because we lack the lock-on behaviour options that the D850 and co have; even these cameras require tuning for your specific subject for optimal performance.
  2. The ergonomics in places are a bit messed up. The AF joystick is still too low and not in an intuitive position, and the mode switch/display button is in too critical a position for something so unimportant. I’d have swapped it with the AF joystick. The exposure compensation button is impossible to reach, and I suspect only placed there for consistency with other models. Fortunately there’s quick adjustment using the unused dial in PSA modes, so we’re ok in practice.
  3. I think there’s one customisable button missing, for AF modes. By the time you set up everything else, you’re one button short. Perhaps one of the other buttons on the top deck should be programmable.
  4. Overall, with the options being as extensive as they are, the menu system really needs an overhaul, and cryptic settings renaming – or at least a better explanation with the ‘?’ key.
  5. Some battery drain is present with the camera off. It’s not bad, but higher than previously for a Nikon; be aware that if you let the camera sit for a week or two without use, don’t assume it’s still fully charged. We’ve also lost the detailed battery status screen, so there’s no way to tell the age of a battery and exact % charge without putting it in another camera. (I stand corrected – it was there, somehow managed to miss it every time I looked through the menu). Fortunately, the five segment display seems to be linear.
  6. Wireless protocol implementation is a mess. The UI is not intuitive nor is the connection fast or easy to activate. Too bad, as wireless tethering was exciting…until it proved to waste more time than just ejecting the card and transferring.
  7. No more protect key, it’s buried in…a menu.
  8. The 24-70 displays pronounced field curvature at distance; one has to be very careful with this because whilst your centre might look great, your corners will need help (or stopping down). I suppose there has to have been some compromise somewhere for that price and size.
  9. It seems the sensor cover glass is thick enough to not play so nicely with non-telecentric wides: the edges of most M mount lenses under 35mm aren’t pretty, even known ‘good’ lenses for native M. Looks like we’ll have to wait for the native AF solutions, and hope that some of the promised size savings carry through. Teles are great though.
  10. Ergonomics on the FTZ adaptor are a bit clunky: that tripod mount ‘bulge’ can sometimes get in the way of comfort. Would be nice to have a square edge on at least one side for making an anti-rotation L bracket, though. Or better yet, an Olympus Pen-F-style grip pinky extension-cum-Arca bracket.

Missed opportunities:

  1. The top deck OLED doesn’t show other settings, e.g. when you have a shortcut button pressed and say WB options visible, they only show on the rear screen and then at the lowest (not variable) brightness – it’s impossible to see in bright sunlight.
  2. The touchscreen can’t be used as an AF trackpad, and the joystick isn’t really that fast to use in practice.
  3. USB-C file transfer requires separate software, rather than just appearing as a storage device. There is no way to set this.
  4. We have wireless transmission over bluetooth and wifi…but no inbuilt compatibility for Nikon’s own wireless radio-triggered flashes. Missed opportunity, or accessory gouging?

There’s one elephant in the room: lenses, or more specifically, the philosophy around which they’re designed. If you don’t like 35 or 50mm, or a 24-70/4 zoom, then you’ve got no choice but to turn to adaptors (fortunately, Novoflex has high quality options) for the time being, of which only Nikon’s FTZ will give full functionality, and only with F mount glass. The problem here is one of balance, much like Sony faces: you might save a bit of weight and volume off the camera body, but once you put a SLR-type lens on it, ergonomics suffer and the advantages are pretty much negated (other than the precision of having AF at the imaging plane). What I think is needed is not bulky and fast lenses, but a good practical compromise: f1.8 is fine if it allows size to remain balanced; collapsible zooms are good because they reduce packing volume. As much as I love how the AFS 70-200/4 VR performs on the Z7, I’d really like to have a collapsible option that can complement the 24-70 and not require a bag with a nearly 25cm long compartment. I’d even consider some really compact f2.8 MF pancake glass – maybe sell it in a 28-50-85mm set. It’s viable given just how easy MF is with this EVF and adjustable peaking; surely a risk now and then might be worthwhile, Nikon? MT

My ACR profiles and custom JPEG Picture Controls for this camera (and the D850) are available here.

The Nikon Z7 in various combination bundles is available here from B&H or Amazon. As usual, referral purchases cost you nothing extra but do help to support the costs of running this site.

__________________

Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop videos, and the individual Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!

We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved

Trackbacks

  1. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  2. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  3. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  4. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  5. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  6. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  7. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  8. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  9. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, mostly the 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  10. […] shot with an iPhone 11 Pro and edited in-phone, except for the second image, which was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  11. […] shot with an iPhone 11 Pro and edited in-phone, except for the second image, which was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  12. […] shot with an iPhone 11 Pro and edited in-phone, except for the second image, which was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  13. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  14. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  15. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  16. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  17. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  18. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  19. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  20. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  21. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

  22. […] series was shot with a Nikon Z7, a 24-70/4 S and my custom SOOC JPEG […]

Leave a Reply to Ming Thein Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: