Nikon Z7 Review

Milan Street Photography

The wait is over; Nikon has entered the mirrorless arena. How does the new Z7 fare?

Caveat: This is not an extensive review, rather a review based on 5 days shooting street photography on assignment (predominantly in manual mode using focus peaking).

Those who know me know I've been waiting for this! I was lucky enough to be one of the only people in the world to shoot with the Z7 pre-release (and the first person in Europe to even see it in person). So, how did it go?


First, some background information.

1) I've recently become an ambassador for Nikon (fistpump); I'm assuming some of you assume I am but a puppet. No. I will always be honest and everything I report here is my own opinion based off my experience with the camera and lens.

2) I was hired by Nikon Japan to showcase the technical aspects of the new 35mm ƒ1.8 lens and to provide sample images for its worldwide release. It was not to review the camera itself, and hence this is a preliminary review. Myself and a small team (thanks S, Y and F) walked the streets of Milan, shooting street photography under strict conditions (focus, subject matter, composition etc). Very challenging, but incredibly rewarding.

3) Due to it being a lens assignment—ultimate resolution is paramount—I was given the 45.7MP Z7 monster to play with. It was a pre production model, things may have changed since then. I'll be shooting at the launch event today and will update this post with any necessary changes.

4) I haven't had a chance to use the 24.5MP Z6 yet. When I do, I'll run it through its paces at a wedding and write a follow up review.

5) This is an important one. Due to shooting with a pre production model I had no software that could open the RAW files. Everything you see are JPGs direct from the camera (RAW were recorded also, when Adobe Camera RAW is updated I can access them).

6) There will be plenty of other sites that post all the detailed specs and photographs. As usual, I'm only concerned with how it works.

7) Again, due to the nature of this assignment I didn't explore the AF modes (tracking and whatnot) well enough to comment on them here. From my (very) short tests, they were excellent. I had 5 days to shoot and the assignment was demanding, I had little time to explore the camera fully. The same applies to shooting continuously (FPS), as I prefer to time street photography with a single shot.

On with the show.

Auto Focus

I was expecting big things from Nikon here, as AF has always been a strong point. Happy to report that it is excellent. The center point hit pretty much all the time (I'm talking a VERY high percentage) - this below shot for example, a bird landed next to me on a car roof and I pointed the camera at it, guessing where the center point would be on the bird and hit the shutter. The whole process must have taken at most 1/4 of a second, and the result...


The outer points (full frame coverage) exceeded my expectations. The Z7 has a shade under 500 points. These were both shot using outer points, and in each case the focus was nailed for *every* shot in the series.



One of the most challenging aspects of AF is in backlit conditions. Happy to report that the Z7 is up to the task. This guy was running through the fountains (playing with his kids) at sunset. Quickly! The Z7 nailed the focus.


Low light AF is great, rated to -4EV. I didn't get too much time to test it fully so cannot comment with authority here.

ISO

Since I was focusing on the lens, I didn't have the time to 'properly' test the ISO. Not having access to the RAWs didn't help either. But what I can report, just by looking at the back of the screen - it's top quality. I was shooting a still life scene of a car at night and pushing 25,000. It looked like 3200. Still can't believe it. I'll see if I can find the shot, and if so, I'll add it here later.

Dynamic Range

Exceptional. Even on the SOOC JPGs. The camera's ability to render a scene is amazing. I can't wait to play with the RAW files to see how far then can be pushed and manipulated. As with AF, backlit conditions are an acid test as to how the camera can cope and reproduce dynamic range. Cheaper sensors will wash out very easily and lose detail and colour rendition.

Take a look at this portrait (stopped this couple on the street for 30 seconds, they're not models), shot with the sun behind them and direct into the lens...


The skin tones are incredible. I specifically remember reviewing this shot on the back of the camera and looking up at S with my jaw literally hanging open. All of the skin detail is preserved along with both light and colour dynamic range.

Another shot shooting directly into the sun...


Note both the shadow detail on the right hand side of the frame, and the highlight detail around the sunburst and clouds. Crazy good. The clarity and micro-contrast remains superb and note the quality of the flare (including the flare window reflections).

Focus Peaking

I'm a big—big—fan of focus peaking. It's my preferred way of shooting street (hyperfocal / full manual). Of all the mirrorless cameras to date, Fuji have sat at the top. Sony's is good, but not as accurate as the XT2. So when it came to testing the Nikon Z7, I was both excited and nervous.


The Nikon Z7 performed with aplomb. Exceptional focus peaking (hurrah!). I always test focus peaking wide open in difficult situations (with movement), as that's how you can really separate the wheat from the chaff. I was hitting focus easily at 1.8, over and over again. At higher apertures (I was shooting street at ƒ8-11 most of the time) it's even easier to use.

Sharpness

What. On. Earth.

I was told that Nikon had developed a whole new mount for mirrorless, all for the image quality. I assumed that was marketing speak. I was wrong. The IQ on this is *insane*. I'm not talking about the ƒ8 sweet spot most lenses have either, I'm talking wide open. You don't need to stop down to get the sharpness you want. This shot, for instance, is taken at ƒ1.8...


Here's a corner crop...


Which is this much of the frame...


Remember, this is a SOOC JPG that has been compressed and optimised for the web. On my main screen at full resolution it's amazing - and that's without sharpening! I cannot wait to get my hands on the RAW files and sharpen properly. The sensor on this beast is huge, and now I see why. It really is next level stuff for a camera of this size folks.

Those who demand ultimate IQ - look no further. This camera will be perfect for still life, landscape, portrait photographers. For anyone who craves ultimate IQ, actually. All in an ergonomic and functional body.

Bokeh

Again, next level. Back to the bird, and keep in mind we're looking at shots from a 35mm lens...


Note the way the the transitions from front to back (as the bokeh becomes more prominent) are seamless. Also note how the bokeh is smooth for both highlight and shadow elements (in the trees). That's not easy to do. I've never seen bokeh this good at 35mm. Can't wait to try the 50mm and the 58mm ƒ0.95. Time for the porcelain penguin...


Smooth isn't it? Seamless, in fact. The transition as you go deeper into the frame (further from the lens) is phenomenal. This lens is absolutely stellar and just oozes quality. The sensor and lens system is a new design, akin to medium format in the way bokeh (depth) is rendered. I recall hearing that ƒ1.8 on this system is roughly equal to ƒ1.4 on full frame. That'll be extremely useful for the upcoming 24-70mm ƒ2.8 (it'll look like ƒ2) and I can't even imagine how the Noct 58mm ƒ0.95 will render.

Handling

Now we're getting to the nitty gritty. How does it handle? Nikon ergonomics have been a strong point for years, and the Nikon Z7 follows that tradition. It's solid, professional and sturdy. Must admit I was drooling over the build/production teaser. Anyone else want a chrome version? As with the D750, the grip is deep and offers great control and stability. The body and lens balance is perfect.



Battery Life

Just to re-iterate; I was using a pre production model. The battery usage wasn't fully optimised at that point, and I was told it would be improved when released. Having said that, I was getting around 800-1000 images per battery. Update: I've just finished presenting and shooting at the Nikon UK launch event in London. The official rating is around 330 shots per battery. I have no idea how they ended up at that figure as I had shot a shade under 500 images at the event and only 1/5th of the battery was used. All good there!



Viewfinder & EVF

Big, bright, fast, sharp (as a tack) and super smooth - high FPS. I believe this is the best viewfinder and EVF to date. It makes composing and executing shots like this great fun...



Silent shutter

The benefit of an electronic shutter! Super handy for getting in close and being discreet, not just for street, but for emotionally charged moments at weddings.


Being dual shutter, the Z7/6 also has a mechanical shutter that is not prone to the usual problems of an electronic shutter (such as banding) - you get the best of both worlds. On that note...

Flicker reduction

We were shooting in a train station in Milan under the dreaded fluorescent lights. Green/purple bands and whatnot. S took the camera from me and mentioned he'd turn the flicker reduction system on. I assumed it was a gimmick. I was wrong...


Perfect - no banding whatsoever! When in this mode, the camera automatically detects the frequency in which the lights are operating and adjusts the shutter to match it with a synergistic setting, instantly. Magic.

Image Stabilisation

5-stop internal vibration reduction. Not only that, but the internal VR works *with* the VR on a lens. Crazy. Here's a night time landscape shot hand held wide open at ƒ1.8, ISO 1600 and 1/20th.


So good! The 100% crops from this image are mind blowing (don't have time to do that for you as I'm off to Lake Como to shoot and don't have the source files).

Other Stuff

  • The lenses are small, light and the 35mm has an expensive feeling focus ring. Great torque.
  • Double Exposures now have an image overlay! Fun times ahead.
  • Single card slot. The only chink in the armour, I'd much prefer a backup card in the body. XQD is a very reliable format, but still, the omission of a second slot (I'm assuming for size) is an odd one at this price point and target market. This will be the talking point for many professionals, especially those who shoot on location and/or travel. Dual slots = peace of mind. * Please read the updates that follow the conclusion.
  • Pricing. The Z7 is £3399 and the Z6 is £2099 (!). Very competitive. The 35mm (the best I've used) is under a grand at £849! The 50mm is £599 (!!). Very surprised about the pricing considering how good these lenses are. If the 35mm launched at £2500 I'd have understood why. Bargain.
  • FTZ Mount lets you use all of your current Nikkor F-Mount lenses with full ability (AF and whatnot). Boom!
  • Following on from that, all Nikon flashes are compatible straight out of the gate. Sonic boom! No need to invest in another flash system. It will be very easy to add a Z7 or Z6 to the collection and transition to the new stuff over time.
  • Z7 vs Z6 in a nutshell: 45.7 vs 24.5MP; Max 9FPS vs 12FPS; ISO 50-25000 vs 100-50000. Reminds me of the D750 vs D800/D850. Maximum resolution and IQ vs maximum speed and ISO.

Bumped into the Queen of England in Milan, she gave me a wave...





Conclusion

Nikon's future has been set here - a fantastic mirrorless camera and a revolutionary new sensor and lens system. I can't wait to try the full line-up. I've never seen images of this quality anywhere near this price. It's like having the benefits of (mini) medium format in a small mirrorless body (but with top drawer AF, handling and ISO). The price vs performance is off the charts.

Nikon - dual card slots in the next version please, of all the forward thinking with this new system, a step backwards was taken here. Unfortunately—considering how good this camera and lens is—it'll take a lot of the focus away from what is an exceptional piece of technology.

Will I be opening the wallet? Yes. A Z6, 35mm and 50mm will be mine as soon as possible to integrate with my current setup. I'll likely grab the Z7 once the 24-70mm ƒ2.8 is released.

Full review once I have them!

Update: 23/08/2018 @ 08:45 - As anticipated the single card slot is generating a lot of comments on the internet and in private groups. "Single card slot!?" is all over the place. Understandably, as that was one of my own first comments after handling the camera (I'd seen no specs). It'll be a deal breaker for some, but for those on the fence, do give this system a go. After 5 days of using it for this review I had barely given it a second thought. Peace!

Update: 23/08/2018 @ 11:48 - Just got to the airport and had some time to catch up with the buzz. A tech savvy friend of mine (hello, Rob) posted this, and I thought it worth sharing:

"These engineers knew what they were doing making this a one slot camera. There *must* be a good reason for it. I know exactly how those technical discussions go during the R&D phase and it's not something they forgot or decided to do for fun. It would have been discussed at length. 1) Perhaps the MTBF (note: Mean Time Between Failures) stats are so good for XQD cards that they believe it's just not necessary, i.e. the stats/maths result in one XQD being equivalent to two CF/SD's for example. 2. Perhaps there’s some intelligent card check, which constantly proofs the integrity and alerts potential failure. I just feel there has to be a technically sound reasoning behind this seemingly bizarre decision."

On that note, I kept my eye on the competitors, and had seen a few card failure reports for one particular brand with dual card slots. Also a poorly implemented flash system. I've never had a card failure, but have friends who have. It's not clean cut unfortunately.

I'd love to hear from Nikon about this. Failures aside, I find dual cards handy as I can separate them when travelling; one set in the hold luggage and the other set on my person. You can of course backup to a portable drive and use that instead, but that means having to take a laptop and other gear (for single weekend destination weddings I rarely take the MacBook).

I'm travelling at the moment and will be shooting over the next few days, I won't be able to reply to all of the messages!

Update: 24/08/2018 @ 12:55 - After reading another interesting comment from a friend (thanks Abdul) I decided to do some further research into the XQD format.

I first heard from some professionals who have been using XQD since Nikon first implemented it. None of them have had a single failure, and two of those guys are travel and wildlife photographers who work (full time) in both extreme heat and extreme cold. SD cards have failed them, but not XQD. They are physically robust.

Something I wasn't aware of is that XQD cards are based on PCI-Express. This is a very important point, as PCI-e is an incredibly stable and optimised architecture. All modern computers use it for storage, graphics and any kind of data transfer. It's way beyond SD cards, which is designed solely for small scale temporary storage. PCI-e is a fully mature and reliable architecture in which data integrity and transfer is paramount. I have a Master's Degree in Advanced Computer Science so my excitement about that discovery is based on a technical background.

So where does that leave us? It's the 'what if', and since we're a psychological/emotional lot, that 'if' can easily overrule statistics. Personally, I am happy to use the Z6, the only hindrance being the need to back up to a hard drive rather than having an additional set of cards. Not optimal, but we're professionals, backups are necessary.

My worst fear is losing or damaging a camera during the event. Dual slots or not, you're in trouble. When it comes to damage XQD are more robust. I'll backup to an external drive when traveling so not much will change really. Will I still be nervous using a single card slot for the first few weddings? Yup, but I trust Nikon and I now trust the format a lot more.

I'll be shooting the Z6 alongside a D750 for the next season and will let you know how it goes. l always cover a wedding with both cameras (it's not a good idea to hammer one camera for specific things, it's safer to share the coverage between both for extra security), and that gives me more confidence. Do I still want dual card slots? Yes, of course.

There's a lesson here for Nikon. Never put statistics over emotions. That's how most decisions are made, and that cannot be underestimated. No matter how good statistics are, if there is an element of doubt, it will categorically affect confidence.

Comments

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Dylan

Amazing. As a longtime Canon fan and recent Fuji convert.. Nikon is looking super strong with this release. I’m definitely going to try one out.

erniethemilk

Great review Ross, really enjoy reading your camera reviews.

Shame the new system only has one card slot – got to be a deal breaker for many wedding photographers.

Sergio

Very glad you shared this review Ross, you’re always a reliable source to trust considring your level of quality standards, expertise and focus on what matters the most in practice. Looking forward for a real gig feedback. PS: Not sure anyone has told you but besides the preliminary review being great, the best of all are the photographs themselves, which are always awesome as any of your previous street work. Congrats Ross.

Stefan

Great pictures – no matter what camera!

D

hi,
pictures seems to be more contrast than d850, or too dark ? i don’t know what is exactly !?
what’s result in taking a picture with f lense vs z lense ?
what is extended means (9fps) ?
thanks

Paul Alk

You have such a great talent, thank you for sharing these wonderful images.

Such compositional artistry for street photography is rare.

Susan Parker

Maybe Nikon can put an auto backup system into a version of the optional battery pack, or a second card slot (if they have implemented the PCIe interface on the bottom of the camera)?
Many thanks for the review, awesome images :)

Far

Thank you for the review Ross. I have a question and appreciate your reply. If you were to choose today between Z7 and D850 which one would you go with? (assuming single card slot is not an issue)…if you are mainly considering image quality, dynamic range and auto focus for still photography. I mainly shoot fashion/beauty editorials and commercials and currently debating between the two…I don’t have a huge selection of lenses and a 35, a 50 and a 85mm would be all I need for my work…two of them already introduced…

Gerick

I trust your reviews Ross quite more so than any, and once again, you’ve sold another camera to me just from a single review. Well done!

Scott Spencer-White

Awesome review buddy! Great to see it in the field being put through it’s paces. The one slot thing bothers me so not for me personally, appreciate the camera and what Nikon are doing, great stuff!

Laszlo

Single card slot? So what? This is not SD card technology people, and yes it is not 35mm film technology either. Sony developed it a few years back for their broadcast camcorders (yes, those you see on your local news channel) , and they are not complaining. Everybody please relax, and take more pictures….