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Nikon Z7 Real World Review Z Series

Nikon Z7 Real World Review Z Series
TrueToad 2206

Nikon Z7 Real World Review Z Series

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Nikon Pro Mirrorless Camera

The Short Story is: If you shoot stills/portraiture, landscapes, Macro or general photography the Nikon Z7 is a top-shelf camera for those photography tasks - if you have the funds consider buying a Nikon Z7. If you need a camera primarily for the video aspect I recommend you take a look at the Nikon Z6.  If you do fast moving action - birds in flight etc, visit the photographer's notes section and hear me whine.

** My comments concerning focus is primarily based on FTZ adapted Nikkor Telephoto Lenses and NOT the Native Z lenses. I found the current (3) native lenses work well enough to meet my general photography needs. So don't be put off by some of my whining in the Photographers Notes Section below. Consider a D850 if you do action photography.

The Z7 Review

Thoughts on the Z7: Opening the box and pulling out the Z7 was impressive the build quality is excellent. The Nikon Z7 immediately felt at home in my hands Just like my other Nikons except it was firm and light. Everything on the Z7 was easy to navigate with many improvements and options for customizations.  I spent a few days brushing up on the new Z7 and established a few customized configurations for my photography needs, for Landscapes, for Birds in Flight, Macro and Landscape.

I had been using a Fujifilm XT-2 and XT-3 at the time I purchased the Nikon Z7 so, I was accustomed to the benefits of using mirrorless. If you have never used a mirrorless camera once you do it is hard to go back to a DSLR. Like switching from a film camera to your first DLSR - Magic.

Benefits of Z7 Mirrorless:

  • More Information provided in the viewfinder and LCD and is customizable.
  • The EVF displays the exposure in real time - WYSIWYG, What you see is what you get.
  • No Mirror for more quite operations and less vibration + focus is done directly off the sensor
  • Lighter and smaller
  • Better Video and Live View
  • Faster Frame Rates
  • Video Autofocus
  • True Silent Shooting
  • The BEST time lapse of ANY camera - NO camera on the market is on the Z7 level
  • The best ergonomics of any camera

The EVF: The EVF is one of my favorite likes with the Nikon Z7, an excellent EVF. It is what everyone says it is - Big and Bright with minimal lag and excellent refresh rates. Looking through you see your basic exposure information but now you see a lot more information and the best part you can customize what and where you see it. If it becomes too cluttered you can declutter with a touch of the DISP button. On the sides of the EVF is a push-pull diopter to adjust for eyesight with or without glasses, and a button to switch between EVF only, LCD only or both. The EVF also has a long eye relief to keep your nose off the LCD when looking through the EVF.

The LCD: 3.2" of bright easy to read information. Like the EVF you can add lots or minimal information on display + the LCD is touch sensitive allowing you to change many settings with touch without going into the menu. In image preview mode you can pinch and zoom with your fingers, and while zoomed in scroll to the next or previous photo without needed to un-zoom.  In short, the LCD is another favorite feature of the Z7, while the LDC does tilt - it will not flip out.

Menus and Customizations: Another Favorite Feature of The Z7. The Nikon Z is highly customizable and offers 3 dedicated slots for profiles and allows 3 profiles for video shooters as well. With a turn of a top dial, you can move from a landscape profile to an Action shooting Profile for example and if you switch to video have 3 profiles for that mode as well.  The i menu has been around on other cameras but now you can customize it, remove items you don't use and replace with ones you do. You literally never need to take your eye off the viewfinder to access and change settings from the i menu. You may also set and change the action of function buttons such as what the lens focus ring does, I set mine for f/stops. Even your record button can be set for a function in still photo mode. Bottom Line the Z7 camera is made to fit you.

Battery Life: This depends on how much video you shoot - I think for every hour of video shooting you need 1 battery. For still photos using only the EVF I got near 600 with the LCD I was around 450 with one bar left. 

Video Performance: I do not shoot too much video - so my insights are not too helpful here.  What I do know is the Z7 is a plausible platform for shooting video secondary to stills. If you are a dedicated video primarily and shoot some stills - take a look a the Z6. All I can say is the Z7 video performance is superior to any other Nikon camera except the Z6.

Ergonomics: Another Favorite Feature of the Z7. In my hand, the Nikon Z7 felt right at home. The grip is deep and provides easy carry characteristics. Nothing about the camera feels cramped or awkward, it feels tough and ready to go.

Image Resolution and ISO performance: Another Favorite Feature of the Z7. People reported banding but considering I don't shoot 6 stops under in low light and try to fix in post, I feel that claim is ridiculous at best. Which photographer shoots 6 stops under? The image quality is absolutely stellar and this is where I feel it is better than the D850. I was amazed at the detailed resolution, clarity, and colors this 45.7 BSI sensor was delivering.  To make it even better the ISO performance is also an improvement over the D850 using higher ISOs. This is the only camera so far I used auto ISO without fear of too much noise. 

Shutter Performance: Everything from Silent, Single Frame, low speed to high speed continuous and as usual you can set the number of frames in the continuous mode. I mostly us Continuous Low 4 frames. You can limit the number of total frames in a burst, I set mine to  20 but in RAW your buffer will fill up before you get to 20, with JPEGS you may wish to set the number higher.

In-Camera Stabilization: The Z7 has In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS), Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction (VR). The camera stabilization works better than I expected and the IBIS allows me to use some of my none stabilized lenses and obtain sharper images. I took the Z7 out with a Nikkor 200mm Macro lens and this Camera is a killer in Macro. A note on VR: if your lens has a built-in VR switch turning it off will disable the camera VR as well or if you slide the VR to sports it updates the cameras VR mode as well. The lens VR and in-camera VR cannot be set independently. Nice move by Nikon for In Body Stabilization since that will eliminate the VR buzzing in your videos.

Using the FTZ adapter: I tested most of my many Nikkor, and Sigma lenses, they all worked perfectly. The focus speed test results for most adapted lenses is hardly noticeable and varied from lens to lens. More S lenses will take some time to reach the market so the FTZ adapter is a must in my opinion especially if you have an F mount lens in your stock.  At least you get a $100.00 discount on the FTZ if purchased with the Z camera. If you have Tamron lenses please visit the Tamron site for compatibility, not all Tamron lenses work with the FTZ.

Focus Performance: Lots of variables dictate the results you achieve. Variables such as lens choice (adapted/non-adapted), shooting environment, lighting situation, the subject, distance,  and the person holding the camera. In good lighting using native lenses such as a 24-70 S lens, the focus performance is acceptable not always perfect but acceptable. Good face detection, good tracking but awkward to activate.  Nikon promises eye detection and tracking in a future firmware release - keep your "eye" on the Nikon support site.

* For Movie Mode, you can change the focus speed in the menu as well at tracking sensitivity, I use 4 for speed and high 2 for AF tracking sensitivity (video mode) and get good results.

Button and Dials: Rear buttons are not backlighted which I enjoy on my D850 for astrophotography. The Z7 button layout is easy to navigate and not too crowded with the i menu button is placed right below the joystick to allow quick thumb access to i menu items. A couple buttons have been moved and others dropped altogether.  The ones missing are not missed by myself. The LCD screen and i menu more than makeup for the ones dropped.

How does the Z7 perform in the field: Excellent - feel free to take the camera with you in inclement weather conditions - top-notch weather sealing. The Z7 can go where you go even to Mount Everest if you keep the batteries next to your body during the ascent and when you summit slap in the battery with an 8-15mm and shoot away.

Nikon Z7 with Nikkor 24-70 S f/4

Nikon Z7 with Nikkor 24-70 S f/4

Landscape and Stationary Photography: Out in the field I used the 24-70 S lens, 35mm S and 50mm S with pin pinpoint sharpness edge to edge. Nikon has no better Landscape camera than their Nikon Z7. It is stellar at landscapes due to the high resolution and very accurate color and dynamic range.

ISO 1250 f/5.6 1/1000 Nikkor 600

ISO 1250 f/5.6 1/1000 Nikkor 600

Sports and Wildlife: Using FTZ adapted 600mm ED FL and 400mm ED FL For fast-moving subjects, the Z7 would at times not focus and could not find focus unless I repointed the camera to another object. This occurred several times and was frustrating. When the Z7 did nail focus the images were stunning. While the FTZ is an excellent camera it has some focus performance issues when faced with complex backgrounds and fast moving birds. Not a complete fail but enough to make you say cheese a couple of times.

Z price point: The Nikon Z7 is too expensive of a camera which seems to be a trend with Nikon and now Nikon is offering a $400.00 trade-up (visit eBay and buy a cheap working camera like a D70 for your trade up). Too bad Nikon did not offer a trade up from the onset which sounds like the Z sales are slumping due to focus performance issues and Nikon has a stockpile of Zs in inventory. Another pain point - Nikon screwed me out of $400.00 along with all other early adopters and further infuriating many by falsing stating Nikon had "re-invented mirrorless" how not true that was and how slighted we feel after the fact. My 30 years of Nikon dedication is coming to an end because how poorly the Z was implemented, marketed and how Nikon basically sold a lemon.  The Nikon 1 V3 actually had better focus performance and that is so sad.

 If the Z7 is over your budget the Z6 should be a better fit and provide a near identical experience with better video and with the Z6 lower resolution sensor it will have faster FPS for those needing a longer burst of images.

Nikon S-Line Roadmap
Lack of native lens - Other than the three available S lenses, hopefully, Tamron, Sigma and other 3rd party lenses companies come to the table to offer their S lenses for the Nikon Z series.  Not all Tamron lenses work with the FTZ and have compatibility issues working with the FTZ adapter. While this is not a Nikon issue this amplifies some risk in using 3rd party lenses.  Sigma and all Nikon lens work with the FTZ adapter - so Tamron has some work to do on their end.

The NEW Z lens mount. This is AWESOME!! If the Z mount lives up to the promise we should start seeing very sharp and fast S lenses coming out of Nikon. I hope one day Nikon releases a 400mm f 1.4, 600mm f2.8, or an 800mm f/4 S lens. 

Things I like: 

  • I like the three programmable User Modes allowing to quickly change between camera profiles - Sports vs Landscapes
  • I like the programmable lens focus ring on the S lenses
  • I like the Electronic Viewfinder - big, bright and easy to read
  • I like the Best Ever live view on a Nikon Camera Body - finally one that works
  • I like the ergonomics and build quality of the camera body - very solid - and weather resistant - it is a Nikon
  • I like the much-improved video features and focus tracking while in video
  • I like the USB C that facilitates charging the battery
  • I like the lightweight camera - makes me want to pick it up and use it 
  • I like the new lens mount and what the future holds for new lenses
  • I like the In Body Camera Stabilization - IBIS makes my old lenses new again
  • I like the Focus Peaking for use with my older manual focus lens

Things that need attention from Nikon:

  • Focus Performance

Would I recommend a Z7? Yes! and here is the rub, If you can accept and live with the fact the camera will not nail focus each and every time in difficult shooting situations than for sure the Nikon Z7 is well worth your consideration - especially for landscape photography with a large 47mp sensor and superior image quality and compact size the camera stands tall out in the wilds of landscape, still life and general photography.

Final Thoughts: Over many years I have owned dozens of Nikon Film SLR and Digital SLR Cameras.  I can attest the Z7 is an excellent camera in it's on right - not perfect but it certainly has impressive features and I immediately felt at home using the camera and not struggling to find settings.  I compare the Nikon Z7 to the day I moved from my Nikon F100 Film SLR to my First Nikon DSLR, after one day with the first DSLR I stated, I will never go back to FILM and then promptly sold the F100 and digitized all my emulsion film and never looked back. Nikon Z7 Mirrorless is similar to that experience - I will move away from my Nikon DSLRs but am holding onto my D850 until the next Z camera arrives which addresses two slots and better focus performance. Overall,  I am very very pleased with my Nikon Z7 even with some focus issues in certain situations.

 

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TrueToad

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I live at the edge of the forest in semi-moist locations, I enjoy larva, and other delights. Although I am toothless and mostly warty, I am a sight to see.

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Photographer's Notes

This section pertains to FTZ adapted telephoto lenses for fast action wildlife shooting and does not apply to Native S lenses.

Feb 2019: This article was updated in February 2019 following 5 months of real-world use and is the basis for this update. I will also update the overall review following any significant firmware that Nikon may release for the Z. I purchased and own both Nikon Z7 and Z6 cameras along with 3 S lenses. I am a Nikon user for two decades who currently has 65K+ invested in Nikon gear, even more considering the Nikon upgrades I been through. I bought into Nikon brand big time, making this review more difficult to write without sounding too critical of the Nikon Z7. 

My biggest complaint after using the Nikon Z7 for over 5 months extensively is the focus performance, it is a disappointment. I am referring more to the FTZ adapted lenses vs the Native S lenses, so keep that in mind as you read this.  

The Nikon Z's focus in many situations has a difficult time focusing if at all. I have been in situations where the Z7 refuses to focus unless I repoint the lens to a nearby object. I am not using cheap slow lenses, I use Nikon's Top Pro Glass the 600mm f4 ED FL and other pro-Nikon glass like the 400mm ED FL or 70-200 ED FL.  From my experience based on other Nikon Camera bodies I own such as D5, D850, D500 the Nikon Z7 is not comparable in focus performance to Nikon's Pro-Level DSLRs. 

To make matters worse from my perspective was Nikon's hyper-exaggerated advertisement campaign prior to the Z release - "Mirrorless Reinvented" not by a long shot it was more like smoke and mirrors - not mirrorless re-invented.  Once Nikon raised your expectations into the ethers, and you purchased the Z7 then received the camera and threw in more funds for the FTZ adapter - the big reality begins to set in, the camera does not measure up to the hype, maybe the vision but not the Nikon hype, a letdown when it comes to the adapted lenses focus.

Being an optimistic person I hope the Nikon Software Engineers are busy optimizing the algorithm and software code for a firmware update to address the lackluster focus performance. If Nikon releases a Firmware FIX for the focus issues that could be the lifesaver for the Z and revitalize Nikon consumer confidence for Nikon Mirrorless - otherwise, every owner of the Z has a LEMON, a camera that will depreciate faster than a Ford Pinto following a rear-end collision. The irony is a brand new Ford Pinto cost less than a Z7: Ford had knowledge of a design flaw in the Pinto and rather than fix the issue they ignored it. That move almost cost Ford their Name Brand. Do camera companies have lemon laws? - they should at $3500.00. Companies should be held responsible for misleading information and lackluster performance.

If you do fast action - Nature Wildlife shooting in tough shooting environments with adapted lenses I do not recommend the Z7 as your first mirrorless camera, you will be frustrated.

For Landscapes, Macro, Stills/Portraiture the Nikon Z7 can deliver fantastic images in the right conditions and if that is the only photography you do - consider buying one, except you will need to wait years for native lenses beyond the 3 basic kit lenses offered. Forcing you to buy into Nikon's legacy DSLR lenses and adapt them which by the Nikon Vision is on the way out, or pray and hope third parties release Z lenses. By the time Nikon comes to the mirrorless market in a serious way, Sony will have entrenched itself in full frame mirrorless consumer base. Sony is already edging into the Sports Action sector with its new Pro-Level 400mm f/2.8 lens release.

Back in the day, the PRO Level Sports Photography Market was comprised of Nikon and Canon who split the pie 50/50, Black n White living in harmony on the Sports Sidelines.  Now Sony is in the game big time adding their big G gold branding to the mix. Split the pie three ways and you get 1/3rd less. Nikon's delayed their come to Jesus mirrorless meeting and gave Sony a free pass for the next two years to reign and solidify Sony's lead position even more.

The Z7 was not Nikon's first mirrorless interchangeable camera it was the Nikon 1 CX postage stamp-sized sensor system and having the same toy like twist to unlock lenses,  which in my opinion Nikon should have made the Nikon 1 V3 with a full-frame sensor. The Nikon 1 V3 was on the same level as the Z7 is now except the Nikon 1 had a tiny CX 2.7 crop sensor, and yes it too had an F mount adapter for your Nikkor legacy lenses. It was wildly amusing to twist on my Nikkor 600 + 1.4 TC onto the 2.7 crop Nikon 1 for a 2268mm FOV.  But alas the Nikon 1 line was pulled from the market because it failed against smartphones and larger sensor brothers. People who wish to carry small use their Smart Phone, those who want an interchangeable lens camera went for a DSLR. Nikon missed the boat with too many of everything, just like Nikon does today. A couple years ago Nikon was putting out a new point n shoot every month in 10 color variations and in many choices within variations - what was Nikon thinking? Throw good RD money away competing with smartphone cameras. 

Let me redeem myself by saying the Nikon Z7 is a high quality, well made, weather-tough, excellent high-resolution image rendering camera with many pluses that surpass Sony - except focus.

Nikon should Consider: People who invested like me more than two decades into Nikon gear and more in upgrades are now considering abandoning Nikon for Sony. Sony now has a 400mm, I am waiting for a Sony 600mm to drop then I make a decision because Sony already has native lenses for their mirrorless cameras, they just need a 600mm.

If I sounded too critical - I apologize. I own a Z7 and Z6 and more than most wanted the Z camera to be a solid hit and as good as my D850 which Nikon wrongly compared it to. While the Nikon Z is a 90% success it lacks dependable & repeatalble focus.  Nikon should have said - this is our first Full Frame Mirrorless Camera we put our engineers to work designing a platform for Nikon's Mirrorless future - as new S lenses and Mirrorless Cameras are released we will be offering trade up options which they have for the Z cameras.

Lens
  • NIKKOR 24-70mm f/4 S
Camera Body
  • Nikon Z7
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Grant

An excellent and balanced review with refreshing honesty and genuine experience. Thank you.

May I say I don't think it is right to refer to the future Z mount lenses as "S lenses". Apparently S series is just one line of Z mount lenses, and there will be more lines, e.g. cheaper.

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TrueToad

Thanks for the comments. As far as "S" lenses go - Nikon published their Road Map reflecting the S line lenses through 2020. But as you stated I am sure Nikon will offer other Z mount lens branded differently.

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