Hands-on Nikon Z 7 (updated)

 

Rarely was a hands-on as interesting as with the Nikon Z cameras. The reason for this is simple: everyone wants to know how the handling is compared to DSLR’s.

When you grab the camera, the first impression is that it feels very familiar. Though the body is small, the grip is quite large. The buttons are in the same places as on the Nikon SLR cameras. Just like almost every (semi -) pro Nikon camera, you can hold it very well with one hand. This is also necessary because you need your other hand to support heavy lenses – or to climb, keep people at a distance or whatever you do as a professional photographer. Despite the fact that, in terms of size, it is more similar to cameras like the D3400 and 5600, it feels like a D750 or D500.

If you look at the grip from above, you will see the shutter release button with the on / off button, the movie recording button and the exposure compensation button and the ISO button, just like the D850. Immediately in front of the shutter release button is the sub-command dial, and the primary one is located on the back. Directly below that one is the AF-On button. Also on the right side: the info window/LCD.

Very important, especially when it’s hard to look at the monitor, e.g. when the camera is on a tripod. This window is very easy to read since it uses white characters on a black background and electronic ink.

Joystick

On the left is the program selector wheel with no less than three user settings. On that side, the camera is rather narrow, there is just room for the wheel. As a result, there is no space for the buttons on the left side next to the monitor.

You can find the most important of them now on the right side of the monitor and the rest can be replaced by the info button and/or the Fn buttons. As with the DSLR’s, you have a plethora of options for configuring the buttons. In other aspects, the menus are almost identical.

Also on the right at the back: both the well-known multi-selector and the extra joystick of the D850 / D5. In that respect, the camera is ergonomically even better than the older models like the D800. For some users, a downside: on the right side is a slot for the XQD card reader. As such that’s good because XQD is a very professional and especially fast card format. It is also future proof: next firmware will make it compatible with CFexpress as well. However, there is no room for two slots on the small body. This is not a real disadvantage i.m.o., because hardly anyone uses two cards at the same time. In addition, one XQD card is more secure than two SD cards and the combination of SD and XQD would slow the camera down. In addition, the camera offers a WiFi direct connection to smartphones and PCs and is compatible with the professional WT-7 transmitter. To me that’s a more professional solution than using two cards

Sony A7III

When you turn the camera on, it is almost immediately ready for use and the shutter release button responds quickly. The 3.7 million dot EVF is really excellent, best of its class, only the Leica SL EVF is more or less equal. No trace of nervousness and no CA. It looked like Nikon employed a software CA correction though, because if you pan very quickly you see a very tiny trace of it. Compared to the EVF of the Sony a7III it’s worlds better – I was able to compare both camera’s at the press event, even though Nikon didn’t provide the Sony. If you would be in a shop and somebody handed you both an a7III and a Z6, you would dump the a7III as soon as you compare the viewfinder images.

I also think it’s where the real battle will be: Nikon Z6 + D750 vs. Sony a7III vs. Canon 6D. Most reviewers will concentrate on the Z7 vs. A7RIII vs. Canon 5DS R, if only because the Z7 is the first camera that will be on the market of the two Z’s. Whichever way you look at it, I think Nikon is in a much better position now. Cameras like the D850 are still there and mirrorless is an excellent option

Dancer

Nikon has invited a photo model annex dancer for the occasion and since she is dancing, she makes for a suitable object to test the AF system. With the Z-lenses, the camera is really surprisingly fast. Also striking: with facial recognition, the camera has no trouble keeping up with the model. Even if the AF selection point is at a completely different location than the face of the model, the camera does not have any trouble to follow the face of the model. The light meting also seems to work very well. The camera does not have a separate RGB sensor like a DSLR, but uses the image of the sensor. That seems to works great. Time for the main challenge for this camera: how well does it focus with a G-lens via the adapter?

85mm f/ 1.4G

In my silliness I am first inclined to mount the narrow side of the adapter on the camera. Perhaps counter-intuitive, but the narrow side has to be on the front, the F-mount is, after all, narrower.

If you notice that, everything goes well, both bayonets click in very smoothly. The 85mm also seems to focus well, but still slightly less fast than the Z-lenses. It seems as if the lens just has a little more trouble with tracking the focus. Yet it still works very well. If I have to judge based on this brief close encounter, the Z7 with a G-lens is as fast as or faster than competing mirrorless cameras with adapters. With a Z-lens it seems a lot faster than the competition, with the possible exception of the Sony a9/a7III. But focus speed and accuracy are very difficult to measure and quantify, since there are so many variables involved. This is clearly something for a real test. Nevertheless, the camera also follows the dancer well with the G-lens, especially when you hold down the AF-ON button. And if we solely look at the specs: the Nikon Z 7 focuses at EV -4 at f/2 whereas as the best competitor (Sony A9/A7iii) can only focus at EV -3. In the past this has been quite a reliable indicator and Nikon has always been rather conservative with specs. When comparing to a D850 though, this means that with a slow lens, the D850 will do better (since the AF-sensors of the D850 work at an effective aperture of f/5.6). Another caveat: the Z’s seems to have an extra low light AF function, so maybe they apply some kind of boost there.

More on AF

The implementation of the AF system differs from the DSLRs though. Even though DPR says AF is excellent, they also complain that there is only a dynamic D 9 compatible setting and no D 25/ D 72/ D 153 etcetera. Question is, whether the camera needs all the AF settings the Nikon DSLR’s have, since subject tracking will likely be improved. After all, the DSLRs relied on a separate RGB-sensor with a relative low resolution whereas the Z’s have at least 1000x more resolution available for image recognition and tracking. I only had 20 minutes with the camera, but my impression was, that it tracked very well but I’ll have to verify this in a test. Another observation: although Nikon doesn’t claim to have eye AF, the camera manages to focus on the closest eye each time when using face priority. This is also something I’ll have to dive into in a real test.

We shouldn’t forget though that the cameras used non final firmware and that neither the Z 7 nor the Z 6 is a mirrorless D5. And the AF systems work differently, so you can’t compare the D5 or D850 AF with the Z 6 or 7 AF on equal grounds. To get D850 performance, one might have to use native Z lenses, that’s my impression for now.

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(picture: Nikon)

We shouldn’t forget though that the cameras used non final firmware and that neither the Z 7 nor the Z 6 is a mirrorless D5. And the AF systems work differently, so you can’t compare the D850 AF with the Z 6 or 7 AF on equal grounds. To get D850 performance, one might have to use native Z lenses, that’s my impression, but who knows what happens once there is a Z 9.

Z mount lenses (S-Nikkors)

At the press event in the Netherlands there was only a 24-70/4 and a 35mm f/1.8 Z. Both lenses made a great impression. Thanks to the wide mount, bokeh at the corners of the 35mm was very nice, not the tiniest trace of cat-eyes or swirl. But bokeh in general was really beautiful, it was the first thing that struck me while looking through the EVF. And yes, somehow you get a much better impression of the bokeh than with a DSLR. A ground glass can’t be compared to an EVF in that aspect. The lenses also seemed to be optimized for fast focusing. Resolution and contrast also looked excellent, but as always I won’t say anything more before I tested them with my own testing method for resolution, contrast en bokeh. When looking at the images www.dpreview provided, you can also see that the 35mm f/1.8 Z is sharper than the 35mm f/1.8G, which is a very well-reviewed lens in its own right. The 24-70/4 seems to be a great lens if you buy at in combination with a Z body. Then the price is a lot lower and you get a lot of value for your money. Sharpness seems to be excellent even wide open. Bokeh is not as beautiful as with the 35mmn, and I think that bokeh lovers should choose the 2.8 version that will be introduced next year. I saw tiny traces of what looks like onion bokeh but also this lens is pre-production, so we’ll have to postpone our judgement a few weeks.

Sensor and high ISO

Both from the samples DPR posted as from my observations at the hands-on, high ISO seems to be excellent. Contrast and colors look great too. But also here it’s too early to tell, since we don’t even have RAW’s to judge. It looks like the AF sensors didn’t influence the noise and it also looks like they don’t cause any reflections or other unwanted effects – something we can’t say of all competitors.

Conclusion

A hands-on is always a frustrating experience because you want to test a camera much more thoroughly and longer. In this case, however, it is less frustrating than normal, because in a short encounter the camera reveals already so many secrets and makes such a good impression. The encounter with the Nikon Z is a déjà-vu: from everything you get the impression that you already know this camera. Despite the small size, the camera is particularly harmonious. I have two problems with the camera: the first is that I want to test it immediately (that is not possible, but maybe later this week) and the second problem is that I want to buy it immediately. That is not possible either, but maybe that’s better too – at least for my bank account.

 

Later: a general article on the Nikon Z cameras. Then, in a couple of days, a first test.

On the first picture you see one of the Nikon employees. I thank him for his patience!

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