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Native lens line-up great so far
XQD card is expensive and overkill
Not many native lenses released yet
FTZ adapter adds a lot of bulk
Middling autofocus performance
The Nikon Z7 is class-leading mirrorless camera with a growing suite of equally impressive native lenses, but the body, lenses, and memory aren’t going to be particularly kind to your wallet.
The last decade has been an interesting one in the world of still photography, with traditionally dominant DSLR manufacturers like Nikon and Canon getting staggered and losing some of their footing to the rapidly developing world of mirrorless cameras. Pair this with the even more dramatic rise in smartphone photography performance, and you get the current, and somewhat challenging landscape, for those that fail to innovate.
Nikon certainly took their time before making their first debut in the mirrorless photography arena, but that day is finally here. The Nikon Z7, and it’s more affordable cousin the Z6, represent a clear path forward and a largely no-compromise starting point for Nikon in this space.
The Z7 is an extremely well-rounded camera that takes beautiful, 45.7-megapixel, full-frame photos. It provides some of the best color rendition we’ve ever seen in a mirrorless camera. Not to mention the new native lenses developed for the lens system are every bit as good as any high-end modern lens we’ve tested.
With all that having been said, we do still have some reservations and questions about the maturity of this platform that might scare away a few potential buyers, but we’ll make sure to lay out all the facts and let you decide for yourselves.
Nikon takes advantage of the inherent space savings afforded by mirrorless cameras in their Z7 design, but still manages to make it feel like a serious camera. Some DSLR photographers lament the loss of a more substantial feel when moving to mirrorless cameras, and we feel that this will be less of an issue for most photographers that get their hands on the Z7. Pair this with the very solid build quality, and this definitely feels like a camera worthy of its price tag.
Nikon accomplishes this in part by employing a marginally larger than average grip, at least compared to many other mirrorless cameras in its class. The body measures 5.3 x 4.0 x 2.7 inches (HWD), certainly smaller than the Nikon D850 (5.75 x 4.88 x 3.11), but not outrageously so. Nikon doesn’t seem to have been too concerned with size, however, instead focusing on getting the details they thought would matter most to their audience right.
On the body itself, starting from the front, the Z7 features two function buttons immediately to the left of the lens mount, most accessible using the middle and ring fingers when the index finger rests near the shutter button. By default, these buttons are assigned to white balance and focus area mode control, but they can be customized in the menus. Also contained on the front of the device at the top of the grip is a sub-command dial that controls shutter speed or aperture depending on the mode.
The Z7 is an extremely well-rounded camera that takes beautiful, 45.7-megapixel, full-frame photos.
The top of the camera has a mode dial with lock release, video record button, power switch, shutter, ISO, exposure buttons, and a command dial. Also noteworthy is the control panel screen, which displays shutter speed, aperture, photos remaining, ISO sensitivity, release mode, and a battery indicator. This isn’t something we see on every mirrorless camera so it’s definitely a handy feature to have. The shutter release takes a little getting used to since it has very little tactile difference between half and full presses.
The rear of the camera contains playback, trash, display AF-ON, Info, ok, menu, zoom, and release mode buttons, as well as sub-selector and multi-selector directional pads, and a movie/photo toggle switch. The LCD itself is 3.2 inches diagonally, and pivots outward from the body. Also found on the back/side of the device is the XQD memory card slot, housed behind an almost comically large spring-loaded door. This part of the body contains an ergonomic protrusion that gives the thumb a natural place to rest, and provides added grip when handling the camera with one hand.
Setting up the Nikon Z7 itself is very straightforward. You can use the provided external battery charger to charge the included battery, or even simply charge the battery using the USB-C port and the included USB-C wall charger. Turn on the camera, go through the necessary date, time, and location setup prompts, and you’ll be more or less ready to start shooting.
The reason why it is not dead simple to start using the Nikon is that, for one, the Z7 uses a new lens mount that it only recently created for this very line of mirrorless cameras. This means that you must choose between the limited (but growing) lineup of native lenses, or use an adapter, such as the FTZ mount adapter. This adapter works perfectly with F-mount Nikon lenses, both DX and FX, but it does add a considerable amount of bulk. This is likely fine for studio photographers, but perhaps a bit of a hassle for off-site photographers. Lastly, beyond practical significance, there is something a bit sad about departing from a lens mount that has existed since 1959.
The Z7 uses a new lens mount that it only recently created for this very line of mirrorless cameras.
The next area that could slow you down a bit is the decision to use XQD memory instead of the widely popular SD format. XQD is bigger, has a significantly higher price floor, and is a good deal faster than SD cards (although perhaps not for long). We dislike this decision for many reasons. The first is that SD is just a far more democratic choice. You can find SD cards in all different kinds of speeds and for all different kinds of budgets. But most of all, the Nikon Z7 just really doesn’t make use of the 440MB/s read and 400 MB/s write performance offered by current-gen XQD cards.
The XQD format was invented by Sony for use in next-generation video camcorders, whose high resolutions and long recording durations are suited to actually make use of such recording capacities. To put it in perspective, not even high-end video camera manufacturer RED’s amusingly expensive MINI-MAG media format can match the read/write performance of an XQD card, and they designed them to be able to record obscenely large 8K video files at high frame rates.
There are some advantages of course—like being able to shoot at 4fps (down from the maximum of 9fps) even when the buffer becomes full.
The Nikon Z7 takes exceptional photos, with some of the best color we’ve seen from a camera, mirrorless or not. We tested the Z7 primarily using the roughly $600 Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S, one of only five available at the time of testing. It’s the most affordable of the bunch, but this 12-element, nine-bladed aperture lens packs a serious punch. Images taken with this lens were quite sharp, certainly enough to give more expensive equivalents from other manufacturers a run for their money.
The Z7 doesn’t slouch when it comes to detail capture or ISO performance either, offering performance at least on par with the already impressive Nikon D850. The Z7 arguably falls slightly behind its sincerest present-day rival, the Sony A7R III, in detail and ISO performance, if only by a hair, but the noticeably better color rendition makes for photos that most people will find more appealing. Coupled with the generous 45.7 MP sensor, and you’re getting a lot of photo to work with.
Color is really where the Nikon Z7 shines, and it’s one of the main reasons to buy this camera. Nikon has a long history of handling color well, and the Z7 is certainly no exception. Where this becomes particularly evident is when capturing skin tones—an area that is quite frustrating for your camera to come up short.
Color is really where the Nikon Z7 shines, and it’s one of the main reasons to buy this camera, in our minds.
Capturing a little too much green or pink in a subject’s skin might seem like a subtle thing, but people are really good at picking up on it even if we don’t consciously register exactly what is wrong. Color is also one of the more difficult things to brag about, because there aren’t any quick metrics like megapixels that manufacturers can throw around to impress buyers.
One of the only areas that we can’t really sing the Z7’s praises is when it comes to autofocus performance. Even under ideal circumstances, the Z7 lagged behind the competition, struggling to nail focus in a lot of pretty reasonable, well-lit scenarios. This deficiency was particularly pronounced in low-light settings, where we observed the camera hunting for focus but never really finding it on several occasions. This resulted in a lot of manual focusing in scenarios you wouldn’t really want to, which is disappointing you buy a premium-tier camera in the present day.
The Nikon Z7 is capable of capturing 4K at 30/25/24 fps, and 1080p footage at 60/30/25/24 fps. In-body, the camera records 8-bit color, but using an HDMI cable you are capable of recording out to 10-bit Log. Additionally, the Z7 also offers microphone and headphone jacks. Nikon has developed an in-body image stabilization system that provides a good deal of support for hand-held shooting in stationary settings.
There aren’t any features that will make video-focused buyers change camera platforms, but it at least means that photo-first owners will certainly be able to capture great footage if the occasion calls for it.
So what does all that mean? It means that Nikon has done a great deal to catch up to the rest of the field in video performance, an area that the manufacturer has been noticeably absent. We wouldn’t put any of these features in the class-leading category though—all of these things should be table stakes for a mirrorless camera manufactured today. There aren’t any features that will make video-focused buyers change camera platforms, but it at least means that photo-first owners will certainly be able to capture great footage if the occasion calls for it.
There is one trick Nikon has up its sleeve that was a delightful surprise, and that’s the continuous autofocus performance while recording video. The Z7 actually did a pretty admirable job keeping moving subjects in focus, so long as we selected a subject (works by tapping on the screen) in advance. This is an area that most digital cameras are famously bad, and it’s particularly beneficial for non-professional videographers.
Nikon offers a wealth of connectivity options to allow you to offload photos, control the camera using a smartphone, and more. When you’re on your smartphone, the application you want to familiarize yourself with is SnapBridge. While it might not be the most elegant app we’ve ever used, it’s still one of the better apps offered by camera manufacturers due to the wealth of pairing and transferring options.
When using the app to shoot remotely, you can control shooting mode, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance. You get a live preview of what you’re shooting on your smartphone’s display, and you can even tap on the subject to select and adjust focus. Finally, you can use both Bluetooth Low Energy and Wi-Fi to transfer photos on the app. Via Bluetooth, you can choose to have the camera automatically transfer 2MB versions of your photos as you take them, and using Wi-Fi you can transfer images at up to 25MB.
There is one trick Nikon has up its sleeve that was a delightful surprise, and that’s the continuous autofocus performance while recording video.
On a laptop or desktop, you will have the option to download a suite of three apps that all perform different but useful functions. We’re happy to have the functionality, but perhaps these could be rolled up into one application to save us all the headache. The first of the trio is ViewNX-i, which is used for browsing, searching, and ultimately transferring images to your computer. Next is Nikon Transfer 2, which is, you guessed it, also meant for transferring images to your computer. ViewNX-i also lets you create movies using Movie Editor, make adjustments to white balance and exposure, and convert images to different file types.
Lastly, Picture Control Utility 2 lets you create custom picture profiles for your camera, name them, and save them for use when taking photos. By default, this and many other cameras come with default picture profiles like “Standard”, “Neutral”, “Vivid”, and many also include additional custom profiles that you can control. This is just a step further.
At $3,000, the Z7 is costly, and it’s definitely a lot of money to spend on a camera body. It’s not an unfair or unreasonable price for the feature set, and where this camera is currently positioned in the photography landscape, but we’re not going to pretend that it’s a small sum.
That said, there are a few things we would have liked to have not been issues at this price point, and top on our list is autofocus performance. This deficiency is particularly upsetting because Nikon has often been best-in-class in the autofocus department. It’s not an immediate disqualifier, but it does complicate the purchase a little bit.
The only other reason the price seems a little high is just because this new Nikon Z lens ecosystem is very new, and there isn’t a wealth of options available yet. If there was a more mature suite of native lens options available it would be a little bit easier to be able to commit to the platform, knowing that you’ll be able to cover any shooting scenarios you need.
Nikon D850 owners will likely be either pleasantly surprised or somewhat disappointed that the Nikon Z7 offers very similar performance to its DSLR cousin. Disappointed because it’s not necessarily a clear upgrade path, but pleasantly surprised that Nikon managed to make such a solid mirrorless camera on their first attempt, and one so comparable to an already very mature offering.
The Z7 is definitely smaller and more modern feeling, but also doesn’t match the D850’s autofocus performance. Either way, it’s not the simplest decision for shoppers to make.
A rising tide in mirrorless photography
Ultimately, the Nikon Z7 is a fantastic camera that takes beautiful photos, and in many ways is a great new benchmark for the mirrorless genre as a whole. We’re impressed that Nikon managed to get so many things right in their first mirrorless effort, and beyond being a great product in its own right, it should also force other manufacturers to become more competitive.