Fully mirrorless, six months in

_Z730319 copy

At the end of last year, I sold my last DSLRs. In a way, they represented the apex of development in the smaller format: the D850, with high frame rates, resolution, high ISO capability, color accuracy, AF tracking and a great viewfinder – if you must still have an optical finder, and unless you need much lighter weight or crazy frame rates, this is probably as good as a DSLR is going to get. The D8xx line proved so good that the D3X high resolution pro body never even got a successor – there was simply no need. It challenged the medium format cameras of its day, and arguably still continues to do so at the 50MP 44x33mm end, especially if you need AF tracking, frame rates, or do a lot of low light work that needs fast lenses. Sitting at the other end of the spectrum, I also bid farewell to the D3500 – the synthesis of consumer manufacturing efficiency; complete with a decently performing, stabilised lens and state of the art sensor at a price less than most entry level mirrorless – or even a decent 1″ compact. Cheaper even, than a spare battery for some cameras. Yet with all of this, you get performance and image quality pros would have done highly immoral things for not that long ago. Despite my various hardware experimentations and diversions, I’ve always kept a DSLR of some sort somewhere in the lineup – even if not primary body. Since then, I’ve been living a mirrorless life – to make up for it, today I offer some reflections on the topic.

1. EVFs are really good enough, and in many ways, better than the optical finders in small format cameras.
The things they couldn’t do – dynamic range, detail, refresh rate – have become a non-issue with the latest generation of panels. Some are so good you can’t even make out individual pixels anymore, no matter how hard you look. It’s worth noting that early restrictions were not down to the availability of panel hardware, but readout rates of the sensor. Sensors can read faster at lower resolutions, either by binning or skipping pixels; to have sufficient pixels to map 1:1 to a 4K panel and sufficient fluidity requires 4K at 60fps readout – which is not a trivial technical undertaking. It’s the reason why a lot of cameras using earlier sensors have such lousy live view; we finally have nuance. And this doesn’t count the things we can now do effortlessly: focus on the sensor plane for both better accuracy and the ability to see DOF effects and focal plane movements as they will be captured; zoom to any point of the image to check focus or details; not go blind when shooting into the sun or other bright point sources. And for some, overlay so many icons you can no longer see your subject. They also make reliability binary: a DSLR’s mirror mechanism is a complex piece of engineering with a lot of moving pieces, and can go out of alignment or not operate properly, causing focusing issues since the AF sub mirror is also attached to the main one, but an EVF either works or doesn’t. In fact, reliability as a whole has become a lot more binary – which is both good and bad.

2. A combination of factors means effectively better optics.
We have a nice convergence here that results in a meaningful bump in image quality even for the same given resolution: new optical technology mainly around computation of more complex and better-corrected optical formulae; new mounts which allow for larger exit pupils, more even frame coverage, new electronic communication pathways and faster apertures; and the continual iterative improvements in manufacturing technology. We’ve actually been seeing some of this for the last few years in regular DSLR lenses, but a lot of these things were restricted by the diameters of older mounts. And we haven’t even started talking about faster AF motors, different AF systems (CDAF requires a different way to move lens elements than PDAF, which in turn requires different movement in the same amount of time; hybrid is something else entirely) and in the case of the Nikon Z, I suspect better assembly precision now that the VR elements have been left out. The risk of decentering is greatly reduced since there isn’t an element that has to be able to move out of the optical axis in the first place.

3. Stabilisation opens up new opportunities and expands the shooting envelope dramatically
Expansion of shooting envelope requires no explanation – not only is every lens stabilised, but stabilised well. It allows for longer exposures and more precise composition and lower ISOs (and thus better image quality). It makes it easier to focus manual lenses since the zoomed view is stable. I was previously of the opinion that optical stabilisation was more effective than sensor shift; I think with improvements in sensor shift tech, it’s better for wider perspectives because of precision of motion, but only about equal at the telephoto end because of limitations in range of motion (and image circle of the lenses). However, it remains true that larger sensors are still more difficult to stabilise; there’s more mass that has to be moved at both higher speeds (to cover/compensate the same effective portion of the frame) and higher precision (since resolution typically also increases with sensor size) – which makes the latest generation of cameras all the more effective. Not only have I not used a tripod in recent memory outside high precision studio work, but I’ve also found myself shooting less and less in the silly ISO realms – even though I can.

4. Battery life is no longer an issue
At least with the Z7 – 1500+ shots per charge shooting with medium format-style shot discipline (i.e. single shot) is common for me. Much higher if I’m shooting bursts. In practice, this is more than a heavy day’s shooting on a documentary job and almost what I got out of the D850, which was the best of the non-gripped DSLRs. I just carry one spare per camera; if I need more either I have bigger problems or seriously need to think about my curation. Gone are the days when I needed eight to ten batteries for the A7RII to do the same…

WhatsApp Image 2019-12-24 at 19.52.53
Let me first apologise for the crappy image – it was the only one I could find in my archives with this relative comparison.

5. The size and weight improvements are meaningful, but with caveats
Whilst ‘best of’ class lenses exist for mirrorless cameras with the expected performance, it’s also very easy to get carried away and land making your kit both heavier and less ergonomic (smaller bodies, smaller grips) than a comparable DLSR setup. The real strength is just how small you can go whilst maintaining image quality, and allowing other factors like stabilisers to compensate for slower apertures. The accompanying image says it all: consumer level DSLR with kit lens vs pro-grade mirrorless with pancake zoom; similar effective practical resolution (Z7 in DX mode delivers a very high quality 20MP, and better acuity than the D3500’s 24MP and not as good kit lens) and a wider shooting envelope due to sensor and stabiliser differences. The Z7 doesn’t feel like it has control or ergonomic limitations, I don’t have to choose what I allocate to the single command dial, and it’s smaller to pack. Note: I could just as easily make this unwieldy by using the 50/0.95 Noct, which looks optically superb but completely unnecessary over the very impressive 50/1.8 S if you don’t shoot it wide open.

6. We are only just beginning to see the beginnings of system maturity
It takes time to design, produce and release lenses. The dust has settled and we’re seeing a usable lineup from all manufacturers – no, it’s not complete, but perhaps we also need to accept that some of the lenses that were considered necessary or impossible previously are now less critical and imminently doable. Don’t be surprised if we actually see a superzoom that’s surprisingly good in the near future – I’ll be the first in line, as I now know that perspective versatility trumps speed under most of the situations I typically shoot in.

7. I still don’t know why low end mirrorless costs more than a DSLR
Maybe it’s the tail end of R&D amortisation, but surely – something with no moving parts (if you have an e-shutter only), no in-body optics (most entry level stuff doesn’t even have an EVF) and a much simpler body design should be cheaper to make. It isn’t cheaper to buy. Pricing this way is not the way to attract new users nor is it the way to save the dying entry level product lines that aren’t getting internal attention anyway (just look at the age of the sensors in some of Canon’s offerings, and lack of difference to earlier ones other than shuffling some buttons around and upping the model number).

8. Whilst control schemes have improved, they’ve still got a long way to go
I’m going to end on this one: digital started by porting over the controls of film to a series of form factors that changed and matured and eventually found consistency. Most modern digitals have more or less settled on a common way of labelling features or settings. Yet few, if any, take advantage of UI improvements learned from mass adoption of other technology; yes, we still need buttons so we can shoot with gloves on and get tactile feedback, but we don’t need never-ending menus. And those buttons can do other things – Canon’s trackpad thingy in the 1DxIII is particularly clever, and should also work with a glove, though the duplication of controls in the 8-way hat switch seems a bit pointless. If Nikon did it, you could add a D-pad and touchscreen to that, leaving just too many ways to accidentally set something incorrectly. Apple got their early phone UI right, bloated a bit with iOS 12 with too many scrolling settings, and now bloated even further with submenus – whilst I understand the desire from some quarters for this, you still don’t have enough control to make it truly user-driven, but you have enough confusion to get in the way. I’m not even sure future computational cameras can have that much control – a lot of the benefits like stacking and exposure fusion or noise reduction are probably most effective when left to AI. They’re certainly not settings I’d want to change on the fly.

But all in all, and in the context of what and how I shoot? I think we’re there, and then some. And the proof is the images that I’m making now that I couldn’t have done before. MT


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  1. iconologist says:

    As many other people noted, a switch to mirrorless was initially driven by the size and weight difference. When companies decided to go big and heavy on lenses for better MTF charts, it became less obvious. I tried Canon M5 with EF-M tiny lenses for ASP-C, but for full frame any new camera mount (L, R, Z, etc.) will bring very expensive and bulky glass. So I went for Leica Q…

  2. A very useful reflection and one that hits home. I am too thinking of reducing and consolidating, as I really don’t like having to face the choice of what system to take every time. Having explored APS-C (fuji x100f, Ricoh GR) and FF DLSR (Nikon Df, mostly with old Nikkor manual primes, 35, 50, 85mm), I started thinking about an Oly Om-D E-M1 II with 12-40 f2.8 for the svelte size and for not having to take multiple lenses with me. I am not a professional and I mostly photograph street and travel. Since you have had plenty of hands-on experience with both systems, would you advise to just go with a Z6 + 24-70 f4 at this stage of the game? From your post, it seems that there wouldn’t really be any significant advantages to the m43 system (at least for my intended use) in terms of size/weight and svelteness of use, and definite disadvantages in terms of image quality (especially in low light). Thanks in advance for any suggestion.

    • Pretty much. I think about composition first, how to get it second – the Z system is good in that it makes it easy to do this…

      No real advantages to M4/3 at this point; for a given size/weight I think FF mirrorless has a much larger performance advantage.

      • Thank you very much for your advice.

      • rorobert says:

        I entirely agree here. I switched from m43 to z mount for this exact reason. Side by side comparison the EM-1 and Z6 are fairly similar in size/weight with a much broader shooting envelop.

  3. vfswong says:

    For my personal use, i “downgrade” to Nikon D80 with several older Nikon lens instead. CCD+JPEG+Very few editing, enough for me 😉

  4. Amirali says:

    Agree on all points. Specially the IBIS and somewhat size. The companies are still fixated on the big lenses when they can pretty much make pretty high quality f2-2.8 lenses. In this regard I am very impressed with the X1D and the 45p lens. That amount of quality in that size is exceptional. If X1D had IBIS that would have been a pretty complete set up.
    My worry is the megapixel race toward future. On a 44×33 50mp is a pretty good middle ground for high iso and resolving power. The 100mp is too much in my opinion (Im sure lots of people will find use cases for it).
    Sony just announced a sensor with some kind of AI chip on it. Lets wait and see what they can get out of it.

    • That’s as much because people tend to buy the bragging rights of 0.95 (rumour has it Leica actually sells more noctiluxes than summiluxes) rather than any sort of practicality. Those who actually have to carry, use, shoot and depend on the hardware buy what works at the most economical cost – especially if it’s a business.

      Ahh, the Hasselblad 45P – like a lot of things (e shutter, 80/1.9, 907x), I rememberer having to fight them to make it. Most of the products I pushed through have only come to market of late; I got nothing but ‘gratitude’ from the greater photographic community in the form of flying bricks for poor decisions made before my time. And ironically never got to use any of the products I developed, either. Hasselblad/DJI couldn’t really understand why anybody would want small MF nor why launching with stock in hand or at least firm delivery dates is important – oh well, their loss. I wish them luck.

      • Amirali says:

        I have thanked you before for your contributions to the photography industry , and I have to do it again. Currently there is nothing like the X1D and the 45p on the market (or has ever been) and the lens is thanks to you. The combination feels like what a modern Leica M should be. I really hope they get encouraged by the feedback and make more lenses like that.

        • Sorry, I admit one tends to remember the personal attacks more than the votes of thanks 😅

          Who knows what the motivations of the Chinese owners are – I was unable to figure it out, making my job nigh on impossible (and one more of the reasons I left)…

      • Wayne Crauder says:

        I a had a noc once. It had neat trick, which soon bored me. I got the chron APO and it was my favorite lens of all time. Half the speed, but the lovely transitions gave a real 3d look at half the speed. The 0.95 always looks to me like it was shot in front of backdrop and no real transitions to give a sense of depth. The rendering of some slower smaller usable seems to create photos I love. I see parts of this look in the CL with 35 gives a rendering almost as nice as the APO. And even more affordable is the Oly 25/1.2 Maybe because I learned in the 60s on a 4X5 field camera, but I see shots in f/2.0 – 2.4. Which probably means I am crazy? Still crop most of prints to 11X14 or 4X5 ratios as it matches what my eye saw. I learned to work with a 645 SLR, but never did get comfortable with 2X3. I find specs mean less to me than the look I like. Which may be different than the look someone else likes.

    • alvareo says:

      Users are also fixated on the big lenses. Users generally want 1.4, heavily corrected, lots of glass. Sharp and free of aberrations wide open. Sure would be cool if we could get more compact 2 and 2.8 lenses with good enough performance (considering today’s optics, “good enough” is pretty great in the grand scheme of things), specially with the noise-free high ISOs we have now

  5. Terence Morrissey says:

    I switched from the Nikon D800e to the Sony A7RIV for the EyeAF feature, the focus (on the eye) and recompose of the DSLR is obsolete for taking portraits. The EyeAF works well nevertheless the Sony menu system is really awful.

  6. Junaid Rahim says:

    Well timed Ming, I’ve just been rummaging through my gear this week and figuring out my next steps. My D750 is still fine, but honestly I’ve never full gelled with it for no particular reason and as a consequence I do not shoot enough with it.

    The Z7 seems to make more sense than the Z6 – with DX resolution, combined with the pancake zoom, it makes a nice small travel camera. But heck the Z6 and the new pancake 28mm, could be so much fun in low light!

    I just shudder at the implication of selling lenses and the money hit – pretty much a complete system change. None of the G lenses are worth keeping with the Z. Maybe my sigma art, but even then the S line is just so good to negate the hassle of the adaptor.

    Final thought on AI – fully agree with your views as well as the UI/UX points. Lets see what the next gen of phones bring, hopefully a step back to simplicity.

    Anyway, I can wait till the prices calm down (heck the Z50 should be seriously cheap in the coming months). Time to get out shooting!

    • William A Giokas says:

      Well the D780 has the same sensor as the Z6 and is an excellent camera. What is your opinion of this camera?

      • Junaid Rahim says:

        Hi William – I’ve not used the D780 so cannot comment. My Z7/Z6 discussion is around usable DX resolution as MT points out below. We are lucky that the two DX zooms released are actually really good and can make for a nice light setup. I’ve never considered DX resolution before when choosing a full frame, but may do this time!

    • You’re probably going to see some used bargains on the market, too. I have two Z7s; I could have gotten a Z6 as the second body but opted for another Z7 as it’s not as though I find myself running out of light as it is, plus the DX crop option doesn’t leave you with much resolution with the Z6.

  7. Richard Bach says:

    As an on-the-fence Nikon user I find this very insightful. It sounds like mirrorless may have finally come of age. It may be time for me to get over my A7 V1 (among others) induced mirrorless trauma.

    I may be in the minority, but I actually enjoy the SLR experience. Especially with some recent ai-s lens acquisitions, I find SLRs pleasant and seamless to use within a certain way of working. I’m also noticing that technology is marching on and modern SLRs, while lovely and refined tools, are certainly not on the bleeding edge of technology. And they certainly aren’t getting any smaller.

    The relative lack of support for Nikon manual lenses with mirrorless is a pretty big negative in my book. Adapter and lack of EXIF data sound no fun, and my current lens lineup/MP count/output is not at the level that critical focusing is an issue. I’m considering keeping the SLR for “shooting for the sake of shooting” work but acquiring the mirrorless for challenging or important work.

    I’m thinking the Z7 will be in my future once some compact primes become available. The IBIS and the idea of having a high quality full frame and walk around DX in one package is enough for me to want it. But I will keep my old D600 even if just for use with some old ai-s lenses. The ratio of resale value to joy of use is enough to keep the SLR around.

    • The A7 V1 was a glimpse into the future if you squinted hard enough. It had a lot of issues though; I presume most of which must have been resolved by the fourth iteration (or at least one would hope). I too enjoy the SLR experience, and an irrational love of the optical finder is probably why I held on this long before switching over fully. So far, I honestly don’t miss it – it just took a long time for the EVFs to get ‘good enough’ that we didn’t notice them anymore.

      Why is a lack of EXIF data critical? Other than for setting the stabiliser focal length (which is a function you don’t have with an SLR anyway), you can usually tell which lens something was shot with by perspective. A big, big plus is ease of focusing though: stabilised view, actual DOF shown (not DOF implied by the focusing screen, often f2.8 or deeper – which makes really fast lenses a guessing game) and magnification to wherever in the frame you want it.

      • Richard J Bach says:

        • Lens profile corrections by aperture works off EXIF data. This is a normal part of my workflow.
        • No aperture in the viewfinder.
        • I admittedly have a few obsessive archivist tendencies

        I mostly use wide to normal lenses, and am usually stopped down so the optical finder works fine for my purposes. I plan to keep the SLR for the experience and use with ai-s lenses, and use the mirrorless for more technically demanding work.

        I wonder if there would be a market for a more manual lens focused F mount adapter (with the ai tab and all). Or even with the screwdriver AF as well. I can’t be the ONLY one with these concerns…

        • Lens profile corrections only apply to lenses that have profiles, though – I’m pretty sure profiles by aperture are only going to exist for the newer (and thus electronic and native) lenses?

          Aperture in finder: agreed on this. I just count clicks, personally. It’s not perfect but does it really matter if f6.7 or f8?

          You do need to set the focal length/ manual lens data to avoid having issues with the stabilizer not calculating shake vs AOV correctly – this would at least give you aperture and FL, so archiving should be easier unless you have a multiple lenses with the same aperture and FL combination.

          To be honest, I’ve sadly learned many times along the way that the market for photographic tools that make perfect logical sense is not always that large…

  8. John A Prosper says:

    It must feel very liberating to have finally refined your working system to a pair of mechanically robust camera bodies, capable of mating with state of the art optics. I want to get there too! 😉

    • Yes – and the scalability, too…the ‘compact system camera’ is the same body with the same controls and ergonomics, but smaller lenses and lower resolution – good enough!

  9. I’ve read your article and you’re right, but still…
    My first mirrorless camera was the GH1, and I don’t know how many I have owned, borrowed or used since then. After I sold my D810 3 years ago, I’ve mostly used mirorless, at the moment two GX8 bodies. They are good cameras. I’ve tried Fuji, Sony, Canon and the Panasonic S1. They are all fine cameras, and the S1 viewfinder is fantastic.

    But… my eyes get tired. I guess is that it’s the flicker of the LCD. I cannot see 100 fps which seems to be the refresh rate of most viewfinder these days, but I suspect my eyes and my brain can. I suspect they can see 240 fps as well, which is the next generation.

    I miss the D810, particularly the viewfinder. I also miss the rock solid build quality. I don’t mind that it says “click-clack” when I take photos. I will wait for the D880 or simply buy a used D850 or even a D810. D780 might be an alternative as well, but I prefer the round Nikon viewfinders where I can change the viewing lens to +2 without degrading the finctionality of the viewfinder. No mirrorless camera can do that, except maybe the Fuji X-Pros. I want to compose my photos looking through a window, not looking at a TV screen. Heavy? Full frame is heavy, no matter what. Nikon’s f/1.8 DSLR lenses are lighter than their mirrorless counterparts anyway, so all in all, weight is the same.

    • I suspect what you’re seeing is the sequential RGB refresh – it’s noticeable if you scan the finder from left to right; for me this lands up causing a mild headache and is one of the reasons I sold my GX80 after a while. The D850s are pretty cheap on the used market now, and honestly, a bargain for the capabilities you get. FF Z-series isn’t that heavy…yes, the f1.8s are a bit heavier, but they focus much faster and are optically leagues ahead of the F mount versions – I think you need to look at the Zeiss lenses to get anything comparable optically, and you lose AF and gain a LOT of weight…

  10. Firstly, that illustrative shot is lovely.

    While it seems many are ready to “welcome our new mirrorless overlords”, to use a Simpsons gag, it will be interesting to see who uses what when seen from the perspective of WHY they shoot.

    For instance, there seems (as far as I’m aware) to be a train of thought that DSLRs are still the top for sports, even with the Sony A9 / A9II muscling in on the action. Had the Olympics not been postponed, it would have been interesting to see (as it will be assuming they are held next year instead) – although I imagine that sponsorship will play as much a part as the performance of the various cameras. I’m guessing that Nikon and Canon have longstanding relationships with sports shooters / agencies, and that Sony wants in, but the venerable old duo aren’t about to open that club open to newcomers unless they have to.

    Similarly, people who “just prefer” older tech (film, rangefinders, etc) will probably stay with those unless they perceive something in mirrorless to tempt them away. I think this could be a “process vs result” thing. While mirrorless seems to be opening up the shooting window, maybe there will still be people who like the challenge of working with minimal “assistance”, for lack of a better word.

    Be interesting to see the direction professional photographers go in (once the world opens up for business again!)

    • Very true: sponsorship and agency purchases factor in massively. But the “big guns” probably are better; I don’t shoot much action so I wouldn’t know (and I can get away with the Z7’s capabilities just fine most of the time). I do remember the D3/D4 being a solid head and shoulders above the rest for tracking ability though. A lot of this also has to do with the higher current from the larger batteries to drive the larger lens motors, too.

  11. Hi Ming
    You are right on the spot and as usual, able to express it with few words only, without being opinionated. Alongside with MF (heavy but still awesome files, … well at least I like them) and FF (Z7 more and more often, and D850) I ask myself about Z50 + 16-50mm for those walks with a purse in a small bag, wife and dog and something “better” than a smartphone (I seem not to be able to hold it properly and am still not that happy with the file quality). It certainly would be a step forward from Nikon 1 series. Do you use the pancake zoom on the Z7 body, or on the Z50 body – and if the latter – could/would you recommend it?

    Having time (I hope I am not wasting it too much 🙂 ) and not being pushed by pecuniary necessities, I still am able to try other things too – a roll of film in a Leica (they are really cheap now in the bay) or infrared or whatever. Nice too, although not on the cutting edge like you. Chapeau, always admired such spirits.

    • I use the pancake on the Z7 since I already had it; there isn’t much size/weight saving to the Z50, but there are some control compromises that would be irritating (and there’s no IBIS, which renders overall stabilisation on VR only somewhat less effective). IQ is better than the Z50 too, and you can always add another lens to take full advantage of the whole sensor area without much weight penalty – the forthcoming 28 and 40 pancakes would be good companions to the 16-50 for lower light situations. I find the Z7 to be a very ‘scalable’ camera in that you can fully rig it or strip it back depending on what the situation calls for.

      Very happy to step back from the cutting edge, I’ve found my nice balance now… 🙂

      • Thank you for your quick answer!
        Glad to hear the news, we are striving for it, which might be the wrong approach. Sometimes it comes, sometimes not.
        Btw. : I was thinking about your “jungle” stitches – is there a way to get it to Switzerland unscathed and in what size (..would you recommend)? If you do it still, of course.

        • Do you mean the ‘Forest’ series? Yes, DHL are still doing their thing so it is no problem to have a canvas in a tube and ship it over. Size: as big as your walls can manage! But realistically, anything up to 54″ (137cm) wide on the short side is the limit (the printer will do 60″ width canvas minus a bit of border, but you need some overlap to be able to stretch and mount it). 🙂

          • Thank you. Yes, ‘Forest’ series, did not mean it pejoratively, just forgot the right name. Sorry. I am not at home right now (“hiding” from Corona in the mountains), but shall come to you later, somewhen in June. Where can I choose one image?
            Till then, take care!

            • That link has them all, actually – just shoot me a mail if you need more info.

              Nice place to hole up – plenty of things to shoot! 🙂

  12. Hi Ming, great post as allways. I would really like to go “semi” mirrorless 😉 I’m thinking about z7 to compliment my d850. I’m shooting weddings mostly, so image compatibility from both cameras is my highest priority. Is there a way to get the same look from raw files taken with both cameras regarding wb and colors? I’m a lightroom users and some time ago I took a spin with z6 and d850 but it was impossible. Z6s files were way different with crazy tint abnormalities. Even with v2 it was a nightmare and I cannot imagine to work with 2000 and more files that way.
    Best regards.

    • Yes, my profile pack generates almost identical results SOOC assuming WB and ADL are set the same. I ran this combination for a while but in the end went fully Z because some lenses have no F equivalent in quality, like the F1.8 S series.

      • Thank. So it works with raw files and LR also?

        • There’s the ACR profile for that, or you could just use capture NX to develop according to profile. But properly tuned JPEGs are 99% of the way there these days…big improvements in the JPEG engine over previous cameras – I was very surprised myself…

  13. David Kovaluk says:

    I fully agree with you mirrorless is “there”. I also find Nikon’s EVF to be particularly compelling. Personally I shoot Nikon Z cameras. I have played around with the A7iii and Fuji’s offerings including their X-T4 and GFX. I still think Nikon’s EVF is just better and I can’t even put my finger on why. But suffice it to say, the minute I began using focus peaking with my vintage lenses was the minute I made the full transition. That capability is just too good. Zooming in to my subject in the finder to check sharpness is critical. And I appreciate your sentiment that we should be thinking about mirrorless as an evolution, what’s next, and not necessarily just “how do we make these do what we have always done…” Rather, “how can we improve the tools.” Again, I’ve been incredibly pleased and impressed with Nikon’s offerings on lenses. I’ve read too many reviews knocking them based on old-hat thinking (“it’s only an f/1.8”, “when will they make ‘pro’ lenses?”, and so on). I use the 35/1.8, 50/1.8, and 85/1.8 daily, for my profession, and they are downright incredible. Also, they all fit in my bag. And this isn’t to say Nikon’s the only one doing things right by any means. There are amazing things being developed across the board in the mirrorless world for certain. It’s an amazing time to be an image maker. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

    • I agree on the EVF, and think it has something to do with the optics after the EVF – the corners don’t feel smeared or distorted.

      As for f1.8s: Lloyd and I campaigned Zeiss long and hard to make an f2 line of Otus-grade lenses – lighter, smaller, just as good – but to no avail. Not everybody needs f1.4 all the time, or at all; with the improved sensors and IBIS, f1.8 lenses that perform well at all points in the envelope mean that you don’t really need or miss faster – and are certainly better than the older f1.4s that had to be realistically used at f2.8 anyway (with an f1.4 ’emergency speed’). Now curious to see what they do with those f2.8 pancakes in the line…the 28 has my name on it.

      • ‘Lloyd and I campaigned Zeiss long and hard to make an f2 line of Otus-grade lenses – lighter, smaller, just as good – but to no avail.’
        Zeiss may not have listened Ming, but Voigtlander did: re their 50mm f2 apo, 65mm f2 macro and 110mm f2.5 apo macro. Also, Lloyd considers Loxia 85mm f2.4 to be Otus -grade.
        That said, rumour is that Zeiss is working on a new line of mirrorless Otus lenses, so there’s still hope…

        • I honestly think they may have missed the boat, given how good some of the new native mirrorless glass is across all systems…

          • I have no idea what Zeiss has been doing lately. At this point I think Voigtlander has supplanted them as the manual focus lens maker of choice. They’re making ultra-wide aperture lenses, character lenses, slow and tiny lenses, and now the smaller Otus-grade lenses many of us have been wishing for for a long time. But as you say, with recent advances in lens design, it may be too late. Still, the new 50mm APO hits all those buttons – size, haptics, ergonomics, image quality – and gives me more pleasure than any other lens I’ve used recently. If only they’d make a 28……

            • It feels like they’re doing Sony licensing…but in all fairness, the market for high end SLR lenses is bugger all these days – so it may not make sense economically to invest there.

              Too bad the Voigt 50 doesn’t play nice on the Z7, but we have the excellent Z50/1.8 so I don’t feel too left out. Interestingly, Voigt makes all of the current Zeiss consumer lenses…I wonder if there’s more to that relationship behind the scenes than either company chooses to let on.

              • I know people shooting the Voigt 65mm apo macro and the Voigt 110mm apo macro on the Z7 via adapter without issue, so I’m surprised to hear there are issues with the 50mm apo: is this something you’ve tested or heard from others Ming?

                • Ah – sorry, wasn’t clear. You can use them with adaptors but need to manually program the FL every time you change lenses to avoid double images/smearing because of the IBIS motion not matching the angle of view. It’s possible, just annoying.

  14. The Nikon Z cameras are living up to and well beyond the promises that my Minolta DiMAGE A2 made way back in 2004: EVF (around 1MP but limited refresh rates), stabilized image sensor (worked very well hand-held!), 7x mechanical zoom (not interchangeable), autofocus, tilting rear LCD, RAW files, etc. Technology in 2004 meant significant compromises: tiny 8MP sensor, very limited ISO range, etc. Nevertheless, it was an amazing camera for the time. I’ve had a couple of Nikon DSLRs in between but my Z6 surpasses them in all the ways you describe so well in your post and in ways that remind me of why I found the A2 surprisingly enjoyable at the time.

    • I always thought that generation of 2/3″ 8MP cameras were quite interesting – the A2, F828, C8080 etc. Actually makes me wonder how something built to those conceptual lines today would fare; I suppose we got that in the 1″ bridge cameras (and RX100 series) in some ways.

  15. As far as cost is concerned, while there may be fewer mechanical parts, there are a lot more electronic parts. Some aspects are relatively expensive – such as replacing the traditional viewfinder and prism with an high resolution EVF that includes multiple elements and coatings associated with high end lenses. I’m not sure I would expect the manufacturing cost or the function provided by the Z6/7 to bring a lower price point.

    • The parts downstream of the prism/EVF are pretty much the same – they are optics to convert an image at infinity into something you can focus on at much shorter distances. A good prism isn’t cheap, but nor is a good EVF – we might have a wash there I think. The rest of the electronics are the same. However, we also don’t have the need to calibrate a separate moving mirror/AF assembly, so there has to be some labor and QC savings there…

  16. I’ve been surprised at the battery life of my Z6 in both good and bad ways. Using silent shutter, I easily get 2000+ shots with 2-3 bars left on the EN-EL15B battery, which was shocking the first time it happened to me. This is with AF-C, airplane mode, d8 off (no preview), and no burst shooting, but maybe 1-3 photos per second on average with repeated button presses.

    Another time, I was lucky to get 300 images on a charge (I think it was a studio shoot with lots of chimping), so it seems like the range of battery life is pretty wide depending on how you shoot. With the D810 and D850, if I shot liveview a lot, like on a landscape shoot, then I’d also use up the battery very quickly.

    I’m still reticent to rely on the Z6 on a lit shoot because of its relatively low sync speed, lower resolution than the D850, and somewhat unreliable EVF and AF behavior under low ambient light but that was with 2.0 firmware. I’ve heard 3.0’s improved its studio behavior quite a bit so I may try it out once we can get close to people again!

    • I think you need to think of mirrorless cameras in terms of runtime/ sensor-on time rather than number of shots; DSLRs are only running the sensor during the exposure so their battery life tends to be a lot more consistent and situation-independent; however if you’re heavily live view then for some reason things tend to be much worse than mirrorless. For normal documentary-style use both the D850 and Z7 yield similar runtime/ number of shots; about 2000-2500 or a day and a half of heavy shooting. For studio work with live view, the Z7 is good for about 4-5h of runtime; the D850 would max out at two under ideal conditions. I’ve not had ‘confidence of operation’ issues, but then again your subjects tend to move a lot around a lot more than mine and under partial/ complex lighting…

  17. One of the features I like about the EVF of the Olympus OM-D is that you can review the image you just took without taking your eye off the viewfinder. Just one touch of the shutter button and you’re back in live view ready to take the next shot.

    • I’ve always found that a bit odd actually – somehow EVF playback on all cameras just seems lower resolution than the live feed most of the time (makes no sense) and not actually that useful for assessing unless you’re under lighting conditions where you can’t see the LCD at all. I just tend to default to not bothering to review the image at all; hard to get exposure and focus wrong these days since WYSIWYG.

  18. Chuck Barker says:

    Hello Ming,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on your photographic life. Your article is a pleasure to read and exceptionally insightful.

    I’ve recently started exploring budget level astrophotography and your article validated some of my own thoughts about good tools.

    C Barker

  19. William says:

    Well done on switching over. I’ve never understood why DSLRs were made in the first place, and my last camera with a reflex mirror had 35mm film running through it. I’ve never bought a DSLR; the huge lenses needed were a major turnoff. It seems to me that the film camera paradigm had been carried over into digital cameras without any of the major manufacturers thinking critically about how a digital camera would work best. I started with a cheap Canon S80 to learn the basics of digital photography, so I wouldn’t lock myself into a system I would later regret. After waiting years for Canon or Nikon to come up with a decent compact system camera, I switched over to Olympus m4/3. The OMD EM1 that I have today is about the same size as the film SLRs I owned back in the 80s. Ditto with the mZuiko lenses. They feel good in the hand and I’ve never found myself weighed down by a heavy bag of camera gear. I’ve pitched my tent in the Olympus paddock and won’t be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.

    • Took a long time simply because there wasn’t one system that could do everything I needed. That intermediate limbo was annoying as to cover all of the usual bases you’d have to have two sets of lenses or one set with adaptors and mindfulness of what was and wasn’t fully compatible – leading to more weight than all-DSLR. 4/3s tried not to go down the film paradigm, but only M4/3 made it work. Even then, the common thought that you can’t change too many of the parameters held until the mobile phone makers started with a completely clean slate; somehow the camera makers still can’t bring themselves to break away yet.

      I don’t honestly see any major changes or improvements in any paddock in the near future – so if what you’ve got works for you, stick with it.

  20. “And the proof is the images that I’m making now that I couldn’t have done before.”

    The picture you posted with this article supported the above statement. I thought shooting hand-held and close to base ISO was only possible with MFT. With the Z7/Z6, it opened another chapter – thanks to IBIS. I am a big fan of MFT and I only wish Olympus’ new E-M1.3 had an upgraded sensor…just saying ;).

    • I’d say IBIS on both is comparable, with perhaps a slight edge to M4/3 – it isn’t the ‘slightly better’ of the Sony systems or optical-only OIS/VR. If I Wass doing a lot of low light work I’d go Z6; the extra couple of stops on the sensor and reduced DOF of fast lenses largely negates the resolution advantage of the Z7. There are good arguments to have both…

  21. Nice summary. Now, the question is how much AI will we begin to see in future models? Personally, now that the mirrorless has matured more and DSLR’s have hit their peaks, it would be nice if the companies would start to think out of the box a bit more, not unlike when Apple introduced the iPad or iPhone to the world. A product that would get us to think about what we are doing in wholly different ways. Heck, I would be tickled if they could just offer a grip that contained a 4G or 5G and wifi or BT connections that could be programmed and run on its own battery. Shoot my photos and have the ability to have them sent into the cloud where I want them or to a device nearby. The convenience of a smartphone with the IQ of a modern ILC camera. I guess a guy can dream.


    • Good question. I think they want to put in more, but are going to be restricted by development budgets (in turn restricted by decreasing sales, and you can see where this spiral goes…). There is no doubt that the phone makers have thoroughly overtaken the conventional camera companies in terms of software and UI…as with every industry, not having experience also means not having the baggage of history…

      • I was unsure whether or not to buy into the Z series yet, or to wait until there might be an even better second generation in near future. But then, giving the general trend / decline in overall camera market sales and now on top of that the market hit due to the current pandemic, I jumped on the bandwagon to support the Nikon company right now. I don’t want Nikon’s camera division to go out of business, so my purchase hopefully contributes to that not happening.

        Best regards

        • There’ll always be improvements in everything – question is, are we at ‘good enough’ and what are the images you’re not getting now worth to you? I got my Z7 on launch day and have zero regrets; this coming from a D850, MF etc…

          • Reading your reply and then my post again I noticed that it did not express what I wanted to say.

            I actually do (!) find the Z is more than capable, and indeed a big upgrade to my current mirrorless gear (Olympus m4/3 and Sony aps-c, after having abandoned DSLRs a few years back). I just wasn’t sure how big the upgrade is and how much I need or want it before testing a rented Z7 (I could not get a Z6 for rental, which is the model I’m after).

            I could have waited another year or so, as my current gear is ‘good enough’ for my photography, but besides better IQ (which doesn’t make me a better photographer, but is very welcome of course) I enjoyed the handling of the Z so much that my desire to shoot has increased a lot. And it will widen my shooting envelope.

            On top of this I feel it is the just the right time to support Nikon in their big move to mirrorless, especially in current times.

            Best regards

            • In short – it’s a big upgrade. You have a stabiliser very nearly as capable as the Olympus, but the envelope of a FF sensor – easily 3 stops better in noise and DR. Add fantastic f1.8 lenses to that which both perform amazingly well wide open and are a good balance of size, price etc. and you’ve got a really impressive package. Would be nice to have a 16 bit sensor, but they need to leave something for the next generation it seems…

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