For years, as the only real maker of full-frame mirrorless cameras Sony has basically run away with the entire segment, which often made people wonder when the big DSLR giants would hit back with their own high-end mirrorless shooters. Well today, we’re finally getting a look at Nikon’s long-awaited response in the form of the brand new Nikon Z7 and Z6 cameras.
For Nikon, its Z cameras couldn’t come at a more critical juncture, as earlier this month, Sony passed both Nikon and Canon to become the top-selling full-frame camera brand in the world. “Full-frame” mirrorless cameras are something of an obsession for camera nerds because their big image sensors -- which are roughly the same size as 35mm analogue film — help deliver higher quality pictures than cams with smaller APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensors.
Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras started cropping up about a decade ago with much smaller sensors, and targeted at amateurs and wannabees who wanted to swap lenses but didn’t want huge cameras. But even when mirrorless technology started getting really good, Nikon (and Canon) refused to evolve from their full-frame DSLRs — with their old-school flapping mirrorboxes — for a variety of reasons, and they are now coming out with their own answers to the trend at the last possible second.
And with just a casual glance at Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras, it’s clear Nikon is looking to snatch its crown back by going right after Sony’s £3,200 A7R III and £2,000 A7III, without abandoning many of the important perks and features Nikon has developed along the way. (We’ll just pretend Nikon’s middling 1 series mirrorless cameras never happened, ok?)
That’s because Nikon is actually releasing two cameras, not one. There’s the £3,399 Nikon Z7 (body only) and the slightly less expensive £2,099 Nikon Z6 (body only). And while the two cameras share many of the same features, there are a few notable differences between the two.
Here’s the full Nikon Z lineup: the Nikon Z7, the FTZ mount and all three of Nikon’s upcoming Z-mount lenses.
With a definite photo-first mindset, the Nikon Z7 features a 45.7-MP sensor — basically the same one as in the D850 — except this time it’s powered by Nikon’s new Expeed 6 image processor. Nikon says that compared to the D850, the Z7 offers even better predictive autofocus using 493 focus points that cover about 90 per cent of the sensor. The Z7's ISO range goes from 64 to 25,600, with extended range going all the way up to equivalent of ISO 102,400. So as you’d expect from a top-flight Nikon camera, it should be able to handle challenging lighting situations without flinching.
Continuous shooting speeds on the Z7 top out at 9 fps for full 14-bit RAWs, while video recording caps out at 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) at 30 fps, which is a bit sad because it would have been nice to see support for full 4K 60 fps shooting.
Old-school photos may be annoyed that the new Z7 and Z6 only have one SD card slot.
Meanwhile, the cheaper Z6 is being positioned as a more capable all-around shooter for both stills and video, because in exchange for having a lower-resolution 24.5-MP sensor, the Z6 has a faster 12 fps continuous shooting rate, a low-pass filter (the Z7 doesn’t have one), a slightly higher ISO range from (from 100 to 51,200), and support for 4K UHD video recording using a full pixel readout. Physically, everything else about the Z6 including the body, controls, and even its weight should be the same as the Z7.
And as you’d expect from cameras in this price range, both the Z7 and Z6 feature weather-sealed magnesium bodies, a full complement of ports including mic in and out jacks, HDMI (with clean HDMI out), USB-C for charging and data transfer, and a miniDisplay Port to boot. Though one thing pros might find frustrating is that both the Z7 and Z6 only have one card slot (with support for high-speed XQD SD cards).
Here’s the obligatory shot of the Z7's sensor and mount.
But what may be the most important aspect of Nikon’s new mirrorless camera is its mount. Instead of going with the F-mount Nikon has been using on DSLRs since it was introduced in 1959, Nikon took the development of its new mirrorless cameras as an opportunity to improve its camera attachment system: enter the new Z-mount.
Featuring an inner diameter of 55m, the new Z-mount is much larger than Nikon’s F-mount, which Nikon says helps its Z-cameras gather more light, while also giving the company more control over things like smoother auto-focus and focus breathing. And when you put all this together, Nikon says the Z-mount has made it possible to create some of the sharpest and fastest lenses the company has ever made.
The FTZ adapter really couldn’t be simpler. Its main job is just to serve as an offset for where the mirror box would be on a traditional Nikon DSLR.
At launch, Nikon will offer a Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 prime lens and a 24-70mm f/4 zoom lens, with a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens about a month after the Z7 and Z6's debut. And after that, while there’s no official time frame for its release, Nikon says it’s also reviving its line of Noct lenses with a super fast Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 prime manual focus lens.
But what about all the hundreds of other lenses Nikon has made over the years? Well after talking to the company, it seems that concern was one of the main things Nikon wanted to address properly before releasing the Z7 and Z6. A new mount is great, but not if it forces the Nikon faithful to throw out all of their existing glass.
And here’s what a Z7 when equipped with the FTZ mount and a legacy F-mount lens looks like.
That’s why Nikon created the new aptly named FTZ adapter, which provides full compatibility for more than 90 Nikkor lenses, and support for another 360 or so older lenses that were been created before modern autofocusing standards and whatnot. In practice, using the FTZ mount is as simple as it gets. You just just attach it to the camera like you would normally, and then connect whatever F-mount lens suits your fancy, with Nikon claiming the mount will have zero impact image degradation.
And in a first for Nikon, the two cameras feature 5-axis vibration reduction, which the company claims is good for five stops of shutter speed compensation. In fact, thanks to their new in body VR, the cams could potentially improve some of Nikon’s older F-mount glass that were made before in-lens VR was a thing.
OK, so now that we have all the basics covered, what’s Nikon’s new mirrorless camera actually like to use? Honestly, not that different from Nikon’s existing DSLRs, which to some extent is kind of the point. Nikon went out of its way to make things look and feel similar to its previous cameras, right down to the Z7's various menus on the the camera’s 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen. That means that for any long-time Nikon shooter, switching to the Z7 or Z6 should feel very natural.
While the Z7's top LCD display isn’t very high-res, at least it has one unlike a Sony A-series camera. And as long as it clearly shows shutter speed, ISO, aperture, battery life, and shot count clearly, that’s totally fine.
And while the 7.9 ounce Z7 I played with certainly felt smaller and lighter than a D850, it’s still not quite as petite as a Sony A7R III (7.2 ounces) due to the Z7's more substantial grip and shoulder-mounted display. I also want to spend more time looking through the Z7's EVF, because while it features the same 3.6 million dot resolution as what you’d get in a A7R III, it looked a little sharper and featured more vibrant colours.
Mic in and out jacks, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, and USB-C.
I think the thing people will need to adjust to the most is the Z7's shutter sound. Unlike the mechanical clack you get from a traditional Nikon DSLR, the Z7 almost sounds like it buzzes every time you snap a pic. The Z7's shutter simply doesn’t sound like anything else out right now, though of course, one of benefits of mirrorless is that if you want, you can turn on its fully silent shooting mode.
So how ‘bout the Z7's image quality? Well that’s the one thing I can’t speak to yet, because while I was able to handle a near-final Z7 and check out its chassis and dimensions, I wasn’t able to actually take any pictures with it. Thankfully, we should have some sample photos to show off shortly, so check back for more.
And for all those DSLR die-hards out there, don’t worry. Because while Nikon is investing heavily in its new mirrorless line, the company says its still very much committed to DSLRs as well.
The Nikon Z7 will be available starting on September 27th body only (£3,399) and as £3,999 kit paired with the 24-70mm f/4 Nikkor lens, with the FTZ mount also arriving on the 27th for the same day for £269 (cheaper when purchased with a Z7 or Z6). The Z6 will be available sometime in late November, with the body only package going for £2,099 , or £2,699 as a kit with the 24-70mm lens.
All photos: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)