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Hands on: Nikon Z7 review

Hands on: Nikon Z7 review

OUR EARLY VERDICT

It may not be the prettiest camera out there, but there’s so much to like about the Nikon Z7. The decision to opt for a new lens mount is a bold one, and opens up new possibilities for Nikon’s lens designers, and with the Z7 offering a host of advanced features and polished handling it looks like Nikon’s hard work has paid off.

FOR

  • 45.7MP full-frame sensor
  • High-resolution EVF
  • 9fps burst shooting
  • 493-point AF system
  • Familiar and refined handling
  • Touchscreen interface
  • 4K video capture
  • 5-axis IS system

AGAINST

  • XQD card format has limited support
  • Limited dedicated lens range (for now)
  • Battery life is disappointing

he Nikon Z7 is finally here. Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless camera has been rumored and speculated about for the last couple of years, and now it’s a reality.

With Sony eating into Nikon’s full-frame market share with the likes of the Alpha A7R III and A7 III, the Z7 needs to deliver the goods – no wonder, then, that Nikon says the Z7 is its most important camera since 1959.

However, Nikon hasn’t just launched one new camera, it’s launched two. Arriving alongside the high-resolution 45.7MP Z7 is the 24.5MP Nikon Z6, which while identical in design is marketed as more of an all-rounder, and will be that bit more affordable. Interestingly both cameras aren’t aimed specifically for pros, with a Nikon marketing manger hinting during a pre-launch briefing that “you’ve got to leave something for the future”.

Getting back to the Z7, and Nikon is hoping its new camera will not only attract new users, but satisfy the demand from existing Nikon DSLR users as well. So has the wait be worth it?

Nikon Z7: features

  • 45.7MP full-frame CMOS sensor
  • All-new lens mount
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization

As the Z7 is Nikon’s high-resolution mirrorless offering, it’s no surprise to see that it features a back-illuminated 45.7MP full-frame sensor with a native ISO range running from ISO64 to 25,600. The Nikon Z7 also features an extended ISO range running from 32-102,400.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s the same resolution and native ISO range as the sensor in Nikon’s D850 full-frame DSLR. It’s not the same sensor though, as this new chip also has the Z7’s 493-point phase-detect AF system hardwired onto it – we’ll look at this in more detail in a bit. Nikon also gets to boast of having the highest pixel count for a full-frame mirrorless camera, eclipsing Sony’s 42.2MP Alpha A7R III in the resolution stakes. Let’s be honest though – what’s 3.5MP between friends?

Nikon’s famous F mount has been around since 1959, which means there’s a huge range of options when it comes to lenses, both new and old (although to get the best out of the latest sensors you’ll want to be using modern glass).

However, Nikon has made the bold decision to drop the F mount for its new full-frame mirrorless cameras, opting instead for a completely new lens mount design that will be known as the Z mount.

The shift to a new mount is no surprise, as the new mirrorless system gives Nikon’s engineers a blank canvas to work with, allowing them to design lenses that not only surpass F mount lenses for image quality, but which also make the most of the high-resolution sensor in the new Nikon Z7.

With a diameter of 55mm (the F mount has a diameter of 44mm), Nikon believes the new mount provides the best balance between mount diameter, sensor size, and flange focal distance (16mm since you ask).

he new mount diameter allows for lenses with maximum apertures as fast as f/0.95, which means we have the mouth-watering prospect of some ultra-fast (and ultra-pricey) optics coming our way in the future, including a manual-focus only 58mm f/0.95 standard prime on the horizon.

For now though, three new lenses have been announced at lunch, under the S-Line banner: there’s a 24-70mm f/4 standard zoom, a 35mm f/1.8 wide-angle prime and a 50mm f/1.8 standard prime.

If you’re an existing Nikon user with a bag full of F-mount lenses and are tempted by the new Z7, the good news is that Nikon is launching a new mount adapter alongside the Z7. Called the FTZ Mount Adapter, it will be compatible with approximately 360 Nikon lenses, and will support the Z7’s full AF speed with more than 90 AF-S and AF-P lenses.

The Nikon Z7 sports a large 0.5-inch 3.6-million dot Quad-VGA electronic viewfinder (EVF) with an impressive magnification of 0.80x. Nikon is keen to stress that the EVF uses its own optics for even greater clarity, while it has a fast display rate of up to 60p. Supporting the EVF is a large 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen with a 2,100,000-dot resolution, while there’s also a neat little top-plate LCD to display key shooting information.

To help you capture sharp images under a range of shooting scenarios, the Nikon Z7 features a built-in five-axis image stabilization system that offers up to five stops of compensation. If you’re planning to use your existing VR (Vibration Reduction) F-mount lenses on the Nikon Z7 via the mount adapter, the camera’s built-in VR will adjust itself to support that system.

It’s no surprise to see the Nikon Z7 feature 4K UHD video recording with no sensor cropping at up to 30p, while there’s also the option to shoot Full HD video in 60p, and 120p slow-motion footage in HD format. As well as this, the Z7 offers clean 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI out (8-bit internal) and a new N Log format (external recording only) that’s designed to preserve the wide color gamut and dynamic range recorded by the sensor.

There’s also an electronic Vibration Reduction system (known as E-VR) to reduce the impact of camera shake when shooting movies handheld, and there are ports for an external microphone and audio monitoring. The Z7 is also compatible with Timecode In/out, making it easy to synchronize multiple compatible devices when filming, for pain-free post-production editing later on.

The Nikon Z7 sports its own dedicated CPU for the camera’s connectivity options. As we’ve seen with other recent Nikon cameras, this sees the company’s little-loved SnapBridge image transfer feature. This sees the Z7 establish a low-energy Bluetooth connection between the camera and your smart device, with images transferred from camera to device as you shoot at 2MP, or individually if you select images on the camera if you want the hi-res files (a Wi-Fi connection will be made if you opt for this method). If you prefer to keep things simple and sidestep SnapBridge, the Z7 will also offer an open Wi-Fi connection.

Nikon has taken another bold decision in giving the Nikon Z7 a single XQD card slot – there’s no SD support here. While the XQD format offers distinct performance advantages over SD media, we can imagine that this will be quite controversial feature of the Z7, as currently only Sony makes compatible (and pricey) XQD cards. Nikon’s argument, though, is that using XQD will enable users to leverage the huge performance advantages of future CFExpress cards (essentially an update to the XQD format, and with wider manufacturer support).

The Nikon Z7 gets a new rechargeable Li-ion battery, the EN-EL15b, but the camera is also compatible with the EN-EL15a battery used in the likes of the D850; however unlike the older unit the EN-EL15b supports USB charging. Disappointingly though,  Nikon only quotes a 330-shot battery life for the Z7 – some way off the D850’s mega 1,840-shot battery life; apparently in real-world use you’re more likely to get around 600 shots, but we’ll have to put that to the test ourselves.

Nikon Z7: build and handling

  • Same level of weather sealing as the D850
  • Large and comfy handgrip
  • Familiar control layout

If we’re honest, the Nikon Z7 isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing mirrorless camera we’ve seen, with a very much functional design, and looking a little like a Nikon 1 V2 on steroids from some angles.

Any concerns that this might impact on the handling are dispelled as soon as you pick it up, however. With its large and comfy handgrip, it’ll feel instantly familiar to existing Nikon DSLR users.

It’s certainly smaller and lighter than a similarly high-end Nikon full-frame DSLR, but Nikon has been clever and kept a familiar control layout for the Z7, meaning existing Nikon DSLR users should feel right at home as soon as they get the camera out of the box.

This philosophy is carried over to the Z7’s user interface, which has a similar design to those of current Nikon DSLRs, with its various sub-menus running along the left-hand side of the display.

It may be more compact than a Nikon DSLR, but this doesn’t mean that Nikon has skimped on the build quality of the Z7, with the company claiming the new camera has the same level of weather sealing as the D850.

Nikon Z7: autofocus

  • 493-point AF system
  • 90% image coverage
  • Focusing is fast with FTZ Mount Adapter

The Nikon Z7 uses an all-new hybrid autofocus system, with 493 phase-detect AF points supported by a contrast-detect system. This sees the Z7 boast a focus area coverage of 90% of the frame.

In Single AF mode you have the choice of Auto-area, Wide-area (with either small or large focusing areas) and Single-point modes, or, if you need to be really precise, Pin-point. Swap to the Z7’s Continuous AF mode and along with these modes you get Dynamic AF, which will be primarily used for focus tracking. As with other high-end Nikon focusing systems, you can tailor the tracking sensitivity and other parameters depending on how erratically your subject is moving.

During our short hands-on time with the camera we weren’t able to fully test focusing speeds, so we’ll have to wait until we can properly test the camera out in the field before making a final judgement. However, initial impressions were very good, with focusing swift when using all three of the new Z-mount lenses. We also tested the FTZ Mount Adapter, and the way in which F-mount lenses seemed to work seamlessly with the Z7 should make it a very tempting proposition for existing Nikon users.

Nikon Z7: performance

  • 9fps burst shooting speed
  • EVF is large and bright
  • Touchscreen works well

Thanks in part to a new EXPEED 6 image processing engine the Z7 can shoot at a fast 9fps, edging out the D850’s 7fps, but just behind the Sony Alpha A7R III’s 10fps. You also have the option to shoot silently, with the Z7 swapping over to its electronic shutter to achieve this.

Lift the camera up to your eye and you’re greeted by a remarkably large and bright display. It really is excellent, with a decent dusting of shooting information round the parameter of the screen, while the fast refresh rate means its has a very organic feel.

Moving round to the back of the Z7, the touchscreen is nicely integrated into the functionality of the camera. While Sony’s latest range of full-frame mirrorless cameras has tentatively introduced touchscreen operation, limiting your options primarily to tap-focus and tap-shutter (as well as reviewing images), the system in the Nikon Z7 enables you to tap settings in the menu as well. Despite the camera having a lower-resolution screen than the D850’s, the clarity of the display is also very good, with text within the menus rendered very crisply.

Nikon Z7: image quality

  • Expect similar image quality to D850
  • Potential for class-leading image quality
  • New sensor design

We haven’t been able to shoot with a final production sample of the Nikon Z7, but we’re not expecting image quality from the back-illuminated 45.7MP sensor to be a million miles away from the results produced by Nikon’s 45.7MP D850.

And we’ll be very happy if that’s the case, as files from the D850 are some of the best, if not the best, you’ll get from a camera unless you make the jump to medium format. Image quality could actually be better than from the D850 thanks to the new EXPEED 6 image processing engine, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Nikon Z7: early verdict

It may not be the prettiest camera out there, but there’s so much to like about the Nikon Z7.

The decision to opt for a new lens mount is a bold move, and it opens up new possibilities for Nikon’s lens designers. If you’ve got a selection of F-mount lenses, then provided they’re the latest AF-S or AF-P designated designs you’re not missing out, as it appears the optional FTZ Mount Adapter does an excellent job with these optics.

The single XQD card slot is the biggest sticking point. There’s no question that this is a better format than SD media, but with only Sony currently producing these cards it doesn’t offer users a great deal of choice, to say nothing of the higher cost.

Otherwise though, it’s all good. If the image quality from the 45.7MP sensor is anything like the results from the D850, this camera won’t disappoint, while the new 493-point system also offers bags of promise. Add in 9fps burst shooting, a razor-sharp EVF and polished handling, and it looks like Nikon’s hard work in developing the Z7 has paid off. We can’t wait to get our hands on a final production sample, and spend some quality time with this camera.

Source : TechRadar

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