December 2, 2018
My Nikon Z7 Makes Me Happy!
After living with the Nikon Z7 for a few months now and having put it through its paces on a few wedding and engagement shoots, I figured it was a good time for a proper review. If you would rather skip the chatter, read the breakdown.
Just a heads up, this post will not be a head to head or a tech-heavy review. I’ll be sharing my personal experience as a full-time professional wedding photographer with over 15 years shooting digital with a Nikon D5 and D850. I don’t do video, so I apologize if you are hoping from insight from that aspect.
So, how good is the Nikon Z7 really?
Right off the bat—Nikon’s Z7 does make me happy! It’s a solid piece of equipment that’s professional and ready to go to work right out of the box.
I have always believed that “gear does not make the photographer, but the photographer can make use of the gear”. Gear for me is just a tool that gets a job done. I don’t believe that any specific brand is better than another or mirrorless is the best revolution in photography. I love that fact that there is healthy competition and we, the users, are the winners. Nikon and Canon having made a move into mirrorless isn’t a game changer for me—It’s an evolution of a tool. Bottom line, picking the right tool for the job is more important than having the latest tool.
What’s impressive about Nikon’s new Z series is that for me, it feels immediately familiar to my Nikon-trained hands. The same can be said for those Canon shooters who look at Canons new EOS R mirrorless. As I sit here writing, the Z7 is right in from of me. Picking up the camera without even looking, I know where to “feel” for my controls like the exposure compensation button or the D-Pad on the back to move my focus points around. All of the symbols are in Nikon, and all make sense to me. Seems like a little thing, but already knowing the camera and menu system means the camera will get out of my way and allow me to just shoot.
Now, if you don’t already know the wonders of a mirrorless camera, let me share. First of all, mirrorless, in general, is just like any other camera. My good friend, Frederick Van Johnson of This Week In Photo likes to say, “Cameras just capture photons”. So basically, all photon capturing boxes are the same and the difference is the features built around the photon trap. Simply put, mirrorless is no better than a DSLR at capturing photons. The most prominent feature of mirrorless for me is the live viewfinder. It’s amazing!!! It would only be fair to mention that Panasonic, Olympus, and Fuji, as well as a few others, have been doing the mirrorless photon capturing for a while now. So it’s not entirely new, it’s just gaining more momentum. I feel that important to mention because I see out in the world that there is a fever for mirrorless. It’s pretty cool for sure, but it’s not a genie bottle and doesn’t grant wishes. It’s a tool.
So why even consider mirrorless you might ask? Size and weight can be an advantage, however, if you add a booster and fast glass, you won’t really save much on weight—It’s a give and take. Image stabilization is another considerable advantage in mirrorless bodies. Having in-body stabilization with up to 5 stops reduction is huge, and with the Z series adapter, that means even your non-stabilized lenses can benefit. Lastly, my favorite mirrorless feature by far is the live viewfinder.
Kudos to Nikon for building the Z Series as a modern revolutionary piece of camera equipment that integrates into the existing Nikon ecosystem. It’s not only that the lenses and gear all work together, it “feels” Nikon. I can’t tell you how much that matters to me and I never really knew it would. The idea that I can grab the D5, D850 or the Z7 and shoot without fumbling is fantastic. I don’t mean the “walk in the backyard and find a pretty flower patiently waiting for me to stroll by kind of shooting”—I mean “grab a camera and start shooting the first dance and shots of dad kissing the bride on the cheek” kind of familiar. I’m pretty confident that if you shoot Nikon, the Z will “just work” for you
FTZ Mount Adapter
This adapter! I did get the new 24-70 lens and use it constantly, but I needed Nikon’s FTZ adapter. Thankfully, it’s reliable and easy to work with, however I do wish the price were more manageable as I would love to have a few floating around. I currently pre-attach it to my Nikon 70-200 f4, so it’s easy to jump between that and the native 24-70
Buttons and menu will be familiar to all Nikon owners
The Z is on and ready in record time. Coming from shooting a Sony that takes forever, it’s a nice feature.
Image stabilization is outstanding
I could not believe how well the IS worked with the native 24-70. I shot images at 1/6 sec no problem. Amazing. Image stabilization was not as stellar with Nikon’s 105mm macro, though, and I’m not sure why. I need to play more. The 105mm macro lens is internally stabilized and worked well, just not like the native lens.
Fantastic dynamic range and overall image quality every bit as good or better than the D850
Lightweight but not “tiny.”
If you are used to handling a D850 or D5, the Z7 will be comfortable but not feel small.
Native 24-70 is top notch
Right out of the box I was impressed. I have no intention to shoot resolution charts. With some hands-on experience and a few weddings in the can, I’m confident that the 24-70 is one of the sharpest lenses I have shot.
The active viewfinder is incredibly sharp and vibrant
Doesn’t feel like I’m looking at a screen at all. Nikon definitely got the viewfinder right.
The touchscreen is fantastic
I have the D850 with a touchscreen, but it’s not as fully functional. I use it more than I thought I would.
Focus tracking is fantastic
I was already used to facial lock focus tracking with the Sony and super glad to see it in the Z series.
Focus peaking—My favorite feature!
Again, used this in the Sony but it is fracking amazing.
Built-in focus stacking
Macro photographers rejoice LOL. The D850 has this feature, but the Z seems to handle it better.
Configurable lens ring
Although I don’t see a use for me, it’s cool that I can configure it.
Although super fast, did we really need that? XQD cards are expensive and currently hard to find.
Single card slot
For me and probably many pros, this kills the Z as a primary camera for once in a lifetime kind of photography moments. I won’t trust my weddings to the Z as a primary camera. Families and engagements I will use the Z for sure, though.
Poor focus acquisition in soft low light
It makes me sad, but the Z will not acquire focus in extreme conditions like the D5 or D850. To be fair, if you don’t already rely on the extremely fast low light focus ability of the D5 or D850, you will be very impressed with the Z.
Wireless strobe control is LAME LAME LAME
Sorry, just had to get that out. To use the amazing SB-5000 strobes as a WiFi off-camera strobe, you have to plug this small module into the side of the camera. WTH? It’s in your way, nothing in place to make sure it doesn’t come out, and oh did I mention—It’s in the way!
Crippled button customization
Small thing to nitpick, but some custom options are not available to all customizable buttons, which feels to me like an oversight. Let the user decide what the buttons do, no ned to limit the options.
Not a huge issue to be honest, but thought I’d mention it. The battery lasts about as long as the D850 but not nearly as long as the D5, so not a massive change for me. I have regularly gotten 500+ images out of my Z7 at a wedding.
Let’s talk image quality
I’ve been shooting a long time, way too long in fact, and when you have been shooting daily for over 25 years, you get a sense of what an image should look like. It’s not scientific by any means, but when you view a lot of images and primarily the same subject matter, you get a good sense of what a camera is giving you.
For example, the first time I shot with the Sony a7R II I was blown away by the exposure latitude over the Nikon D4 and D4s I had at the time. Then came the Nikon D850 which was also very impressive. Highlights in a bride’s dress or an overexposed sky are much more easily recovered in the D850 and the Sony a7R II than any other camera I have shot. Now enter the Z7. The Z7 is every bit the D850 and a little more, more specifically a little thicker on highlight and shadow detail. Again, this is not a head to head and not scientific, just my opinion with a lot of hands-on time. Having shot and edited as much as I have, I can tell what file I’m editing by how it behaves to the exposure slider or recovering highlights or shadows and the Z7 does not disappoint. What I think is most important is that the Z7 did not lack in image quality in any way. It held its own in a mix of D5, D850 and Sony a7R II files from several wedding shoots. For me, that says more than a pixel dive to compare images at monster magnification.
The take away for me is that the Nikon Z7 is a performer. No camera will ever be perfect, but for the moment the Z7 is pretty close. There will always be features or design elements we wish we had, but we need to be practical. Chasing gear doesn’t make me money or impress my brides—Getting the shot is what matters, and the Z7 can do that for me. Performance and the ability to make the necessary image for delivery is what matters most. If that gear can be a little lighter, faster, or sexier while doing its job, then all the better.
This post contains affiliate links. If you’d like to learn more, see my affiliate disclaimer here.