Review Nikon Z7

The Nikon Z7 is Nikon's first mirrorless full-frame camera. Nikon has made every effort to make a success of this first generation. The camera has a 45-megapixel sensor, image stabilization, a tilting touchscreen and Nikon's first new mount for 35mm since the famous Nikon F mount from 1959.

The Nikon Z7 is the first camera of a whole generation of new mirrorless models from Nikon. It is unique that with the Z7, Nikon has created a completely new system camera that does not feel like a "first generation." A lot of things about the camera are very well thought out, well made and well executed. In part, Nikon was naturally able to call on proven qualities of the SLR models. The ergonomics and menus will thus feel instantly familiar for Nikon users. However, Nikon has had to develop many functions completely new for the Z7. Even Nikon's most recent full-frame SLR, the D850, did not have built-in image stabilization or good autofocus in live view. The Z7 does, and it works well. The 45-megapixel BSI sensor is largely similar to that of the D850, but it has phase detection autofocus on the sensor. The Z7 has 493 AF points covering about 90% of the image.

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Nikon Z7 versus Nikon D850

As soon as you pick up the Z7, the advantages of a mirrorless camera become clear. The Z7 weighs almost 30% less than the D850, without compromising on ergonomics. According to Nikon, the autofocus should be about as good and as fast as on the D850, which would be quite an achievement if that's true. Compared to the D850, the Z7 does have many more AF points (493) that also cover a much larger part of the image. This allows you to follow subjects more easily, and you are freer in your composition. Another big advantage of the mirrorless design is the introduction of built-in image stabilization. The Z7 has a five-axis image stabilization with the Z lenses and a three-axis stabilization with lenses that are used via an adapter. Of course, this offers great advantages when working with lenses that previously had no stabilization. Also, the five-axis stabilization is better than the stabilization offered by the F-lenses, because there are simply two additional axes that can be corrected. Nikon claims a profit of 5 stops. This is more or less the same as what similar systems are getting from the competition and is better than what you achieve with an SLR. A possible concern for some photographers may be the lack of a second card slot.

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Nikon z7 versus Sony A7r III

The Nikon Z7 actually has only one direct competitor, and that is the Sony A7R III. Both are mirrorless system cameras with a full-frame sensor with more than 40 megapixels. The Nikon has slightly more pixels than the Sony, but that difference is not perceptible in practice. The Nikon Z7 uses a faster and more modern XQD card but does have only one card slot. The Sony uses SD cards, two of which can be used in the camera. The Nikon has a viewfinder with the same resolution as the Sony, but it is the most beautiful viewfinder we have seen so far, perhaps with the exception of Leica. The Nikon is also slightly better than the Sony ergonomically, especially thanks to the clearly larger hand grip. The Sony has extra capabilities like pixel shift and eye-detection autofocus that works fantastically and is nice for making portraits. If you already have modern Nikon F lenses, then the Z7 is a logical choice, because they work fine with an adapter and the menus are instantly familiar. The Sony has much more choice in lenses specifically designed for the A7 and A9 models. Ultimately, the Sony is a slightly more sophisticated camera, which should not be a surprise, given that it is already the third generation from Sony. What is more striking is how little the Nikon Z7 gives up to the Sony. 

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Nikon z7:
BUILD QUALITY, DESIGN AND ERGONOMICS

The body is more compact and slightly more angular than the design of Nikon's current SLR models, without the camera looking "retro." It is obviously a lot smaller and also thinner than, for example, the Nikon D850, but thanks to the sizeable grip on the front, it sits very comfortably in the hand. Fortunately, it has an on-off switch around the shutter release button, so you can easily operate it with one hand if you want. We like to see that on light mirrorless cameras. The Z7 has, next to the usual dual setting wheels, a screen on top of the camera so you can always check your settings. The selector switch is located on the left side of the top cover. At the front, the first thing that stands out is of course the huge mount, with a diameter of a full 55mm. It is the largest mount of all full-frame cameras. Now that Nikon is finally breaking away from the F-mount, they are doing things right, right from the start. On the back, you will find most of the buttons, and they are all familiar to Nikon users. The camera has a joystick for the autofocus, and that will please many users. The battery is a new type and can also be charged via USB in the camera. The older EN-EL15 batteries of the D850 and D7500 can also be used, but without the option of charging them in the camera. 

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SCREEN AND VIEWFINDEr

The viewfinder is of course electronic and has a resolution of 3.6 megapixels and a magnification of no less than 0.8x. That is even more than the 0.75x of the D850. The difference is visible. This is one of the most beautiful electronic viewfinders available today: big, detailed, high-contrast and perfectly free of distortion. With a viewfinder like this, the transition from an SLR to the Z7 becomes a lot easier. It has a high refresh rate of 60 frames per second. The only time the viewfinder drops the ball a bit is when you take pictures in the highest mode with liveview. Then it can't sustain the refresh, and you see an older picture at a given moment, making it difficult to follow moving subjects. The rear screen has a resolution of no less than 2.1 megapixels and is touch-sensitive. You can select both your autofocus point and operate the menus with it. You can also use the touch option to easily browse through your images and zoom in on photos taken. What is missing is that you cannot shift your autofocus points while you have the camera at your eye. You are then dependent on the joystick. That works fine, but you do have to go through all your autofocus points. A touchscreen is often faster. The screen tilts for shots from high or low positions, but only if you hold the camera horizontally. The screen doesn't turn, so you can't use it for vlogging or selfies.

Menu AND special features 

What some photographers will have to get accustomed to is that the Nikon Z7 only uses a single XQD card. This ensures that data transfer within the camera is fast, but you can no longer use CF or SD cards in the Z7. CF Express cards will also be supported in the future. The Z7 is therefore very future-oriented. However, the speed of the XQD card is only partly utilized by the Z7. The highest shooting speed is 9 frames per second, with the exposure locked. If you want a live image between the shots, the highest speed is 5.5 images per second. Not bad, but there are mirrorless cameras that do this better - also with this resolution - and the Z7 is not yet any match for the D850 or D5 in this respect.

A unique feature is that the autofocus ring of the Nikon S lenses is programmable if you don't want to use it for adjusting the autofocus. You can then use it to choose the aperture or to set the exposure compensation. As soon as you switch the lens from AF to MF, this function will lapse, and the focus ring will simply become the focus ring again. This doesn't go as far as the extra programmable ring on the Canon EOS R, but it is a nice option.

IMAGE STABILIZATION

The Nikon Z7, just like the Sony A7 series, has built-in image stabilization, and that distinguishes it from Canon's mirrorless camera. Thanks to this image stabilization, Nikon can afford not to provide the recently announced Nikon S-line lenses with built-in stabilization. And that should make designing them a lot easier. It also means that older Nikon lenses without image stabilization, which are used with an adapter on the Nikon Z7, are also suddenly stabilized. And that is a nice upgrade. The stabilization works over five axes, and that is two more than is possible with image stabilization in a lens. We have been able to test the effectiveness of the system with the Nikon 24-70 f/4 S, and we found a profit of about four to five stops. That is a really good result.

IMAGE QUALITY

The 45-megapixel sensor of the Nikon Z7 is one of the best sensors available at the moment. The sensor has high resolution and - thanks to the extra-low ISO-64 mode - a dynamic range that is slightly larger than that of many other full-frame cameras. If you use the Z7 with good lenses, and the lenses from the S-line are specially designed for this, you will get beautiful files with high sharpness, good details and beautiful rendering of the lights and shadows. With its low weight and compact dimensions, it makes the Z7 an ideal choice for high-end travel photography and landscapes. But street photography and documentary work also benefit from the excellent image quality of the Z7. Of course, those 45 megapixels mean that you get fairly large files. So if you want to use the maximum speed of 9 images per second often, you have to provide a lot of storage space. 

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Nikon Z7

DYNAMIC RANGEk

The sensor of the Nikon Z7 is roughly the same as that of the D850, and that is the camera with - at the time of testing - the highest dynamic range of all full-frame cameras. The dynamic range of the Z7 is almost its match. Some sites have discovered that there may be streaks in the image when you significantly brighten your shots. The pixels that are used for the phase detection are said to be the cause of this. After all, these are not used for registering image information. The examples that are online show that the problem really exists, but you will only see it if you apply extreme image editing. In our practical tests, we have not been able to find any trace of these stripes. It does mean that the usable dynamic range of the Z7 is slightly lower than that of the D850.

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NOISE

The Nikon Z7 has an extra low ISO value of 64, which also offers real benefits for the dynamic range. At the same time, it is also very good at high ISO values. The time when high pixel numbers seemed incompatible with good performance at high sensitivities is clearly behind us. The camera scores excellent at high ISO values, and the image quality is comparable to that of the best models of the competition, including the Sony A7R III. The shots are also well detailed at higher sensitivities, and the noise of course increases but remains well under control. For the best result, you do well to work in RAW, because the noise reduction at higher ISO values in jpeg is quite enthusiastic, and that is at the expense of the finest details, which can, however, be found in RAW.

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Video

The Nikon Z7 can film in full HD up to 120 frames per second and 4K up to 30 frames per second. In the DX mode, the Z7 fully uses the pixels for 4K, without pixel binning or line skipping, which results in good quality. In full frame, the Z7 uses the entire image, and you do not have any crop. This allows optimal use of the limited depth of field of bright lenses. The image quality is also very good in full frame. The Z7 also has both focus peaking and a warning for overexposure. Unfortunately, you can only use one of the two at a time. The fact that this Z7 is a serious hybrid camera is shown by the fact that you can film in 10-bit 4:2:2 in N-log and that you can send that via the HDMI output. You can also use the N-log profile for the most flexible post-processing. Even registration of Time Code is possible, which is useful when you are filming with multiple cameras. Slow motion is also possible, by recording at 120 frames per second in full HD (1080x 1920). Naturally, the Z7 also has an input for headphones and a microphone. If you want to film with a Nikon, this is the camera to have. 

Autofocus

The Nikon Z7 has 493 phase-detection autofocus points. Finally, Nikon also has phase detection on the sensor. It goes without saying that this is a different system than that of the NIkon D850, and you notice that when you try to follow moving subjects. Most shots will be sharp, but the Z7 is just a bit less good than its SLR counterpart. The autofocus in S-AF is very precise and fast and, because the sharpness is measured on the sensor, you do not have to calibrate your lenses on the Z7, and you will not suffer from front or back focus. The autofocus system can use facial recognition and generally works well, although it is not as sophisticated as the eye detection of, for example, the Sony A7R III. Because the Nikon Z7 focuses with the aperture closed to the set value, the camera may have trouble focusing in low light. Opening the aperture manually can help, but that is not always what you want. A point where the Nikon devotes a lot of attention on the D850 is autofocus with video. The D850 uses a contrast detection system that now feels very dated. The phase detection autofocus on the sensor of the Z7 works in video just as well as for photography, and that makes a huge difference if you want to film with autofocus. 

A NEW MOUNT AND LENSES

The Z7 represents a break with the past in more than one respect. Besides the mirror, the camera also says goodbye to the famous Nikon F mount that has been in service since 1959. The new mount is completely electronic and much larger than the old one. This should clear the way for extra bright lenses such as a 50mm or 58mm f/0.95. Those are not available for the time being. However, three new lenses have already been announced: a 24-70 mm f/4, a 35 mm f/1.8 and a 50 mm f/1.8. There is also an adapter available with which Nikon F lenses can be used on the Z-mount.

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ConclusiON: REVIEW Nikon Z7 

 

 

PROS

  • Excellent sensor with high dynamic range
  • Great built-in image stabilization
  • Compact and lightweight body
  • Largely good autofocus in AF-S
  • Fine controls and good ergonomics
  • Good video in 4K
  • Very good viewfinder
  • Weather resistant
  • Joystick for AF point selection

CONS

  • Autofocus not as good with moving subjects (as the D850)
  • Autofocus not as good in low light
  • AF selection via touchscreen not possible with the camera at your eye
  • Screen doesn't turn

The Nikon Z7 is a very nice camera to work with. It sits nicely in your hand, and all the buttons are where they should be. The menu system is also familiar to every Nikon user. If we compare the Z7 with the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R III, then here and there it falls a bit short, but it also wins on other points. And that in itself is a huge achievement, because we are comparing the Z7 with two of the very best cameras ever. That it comes so close is impressive. What you get with the Z7 is 95% of the quality and usability of the D850 in a much smaller, lighter and more portable package. The camera has an excellent electronic viewfinder that should convince almost every DSLR user, and the image quality you can achieve with this camera is fantastic. It is not perfect, but almost no camera is. If you do a lot of sports photography, the D850 will still be the better choice. But if you are on the road a lot with your camera, or if you just want something smaller, then the Z7 might be your ideal camera.

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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