Nikon Z7 And Z6 One Step Forward One Step Back…

Now that the Nikon Z7 and Z6 have been announced, let’s talk about them and Nikon’s expected path moving forward based on their live presentation. Will I consider buying a Z6?

Just to give a bit of history on my perspective…
My first DSLR was a Pentax *ist DS that I started using in November 2005. Eventually, I made the switch to Nikon when they released the D600. I had wanted to get into full-frame and that camera hit a viable price-point. Overall, the change was pretty successful. Since then I’ve been limited in lens selection compared to when I was using Pentax. A lot of the value of my Pentax kit went into the cost of the camera bodies rather than lenses. I’ve learned to make effective use of the lens I had on hand at any given point and bought/sold lenses based on how frequently I used them or if they did something particular I needed. I’ve had a lot of success with the D600 and the D750. I’ve also used many Nikon APS-C DSLRS as my second body. The bodies I can remember owning at one point or another were the D7000, D3200, D3400, D5100, and D7100. Lens wise I currently have the 50mm f1.8g and the 20mm f1.8g as well as a Yongnuo 100mm f2 and an older Nikon film era kit lens. I’ve had the 85mm f1.8g, 28mm f1.8g, AF 70-210mm f4, 20mm f2.8d, Sigma 100-300mm f4, and probably a few others that I eventually sold off.

Right now I’m using the Nikon DSLRs and a pair of Canon EOS M50 cameras for a mixture of photo and video work. I always try to look for what works best in my situation regardless of brand. I also keep price in consideration. Both the cost of camera bodies and lenses.

With this new Z mount we see that the diameter is a lot larger than their F-mount and also larger than Sony’s full-frame mirrorless system. This gives the Z mount a lot of potential in regard to lenses and stabilization. It also opens up the possibility of larger sensors eventually. That large diameter mount is a good move on their part.

The overall camera design looks to be pretty solid. The grip looks great. Nikon vastly improved their grips with this last generation or two of cameras. The difference between the D600 and D750 is huge from an ergonomic standpoint even though they have a lot of similarities. I’ve held the D800 series cameras and think they are extremely solid ergonomically as well. I like that they tend to have taller grips than other companies. The Z6/Z7 have a decent number of buttons, but it is somewhat of a step down compared to the D850.

Not everything is great from my standpoint. It’s like they feel the need to start where Sony started with their full-frame mirrorless cameras. Some of their choices seem odd from my perspective. This is basically a continuation from the D7500 where they released it as a kinda-sorta upgrade to the D7200. It doesn’t make sense to me because they took the high route with the D850 feature set, but are seemingly taking a step back while moving forward with these cameras.

Keep in mind that what I point out about the Z6/Z7 is based on personal opinion and really depends on your needs. Obviously, I use the Canon EOS M50 with their single card slots, but they are slightly above entry level in price (thanks to a quick price drop not too long after their release).

What about the Z6/Z7 do I like?

  • The large mount diameter. It’s a smart path to take assuming Nikon will survive long term to utilize it fully. Yep, I went there… With companies like Sony and Fujifilm going from nothing to offering solid tools, we will see if the market can support so many companies. Plus, there is the entire micro 4/3rds group taking a piece of the pie and positioned to fulfill mirrorless needs as more and more people come around to that style of camera. It’s at the point were A-game best effort offerings like the D850 are absolutely necessary.
  • The in-camera stabilizer that should benefit from the large mount and the lenses that (potentially) have a larger sweet spot to give better image quality as the sensor shifts around. Just speculating here, but if the lenses really do cover more than they need to it should help in this regard quite a bit.
  • At least considering previous Nikon cameras, these should be pretty robust.
  • The grip looks nice. I’m all about nice large tall grips.
  • The EVF sounds good from 3rd party reports and the top LCD looks pretty nice.
  • The (likely) great auto-focus performance from 3rd party reports.
  • The 4k video recording capability and 120p at 1920×1080. The 10-bit hdmi output with timecode synchronization. It looks like the Z6 will be the better option for video due to the full sensor readout in 4K.
  • The simple command dial that has PSAM along with U1, U2, and U3 with a single auto mode. Pretty perfect there. Though, I think they could have dropped either the auto mode or program mode and achieved the same thing.
  • The camera should eventually support “CFexpress” cards, though I expect those to be just as expensive as XQD for a long time.
  • When using the new EN-EL15b battery it will able to be charged by way of USB, which is a nice plus.

What about the Z6/Z7 do I dislike?

  • One memory card slot. There really isn’t any excuse here. Especially considering their “estimated” retail price. The camera is expected to be released at a higher price point than what Sony is selling the A7 III and A7R III at, yet lacks comparative features such as dual card slots. If they absolutely felt the need for XQD, then they should have had two of those or paired it with a SD card slot as they did on the D850 and D500 (a step back as they did with the D7200 >> D7500). If Sony can fit two SD card slots in their smaller cameras, then Nikon should have been able to fit two in. If the Z cameras did have two XQD slots I’d have been like… Alright, I get the future-proofing. Take the financial hit and buy two 128GB cards that should be enough for most photo outings (the mirrored backup will run you ~$500). Documentary and wedding will be dropping a lot more money on cards, likely in the $1000 extra range, but I see the backup as an acceptable expense in that case. I’m seeing 240GB cards from Delkin. At that point I’d say leave the cards in the camera 24/7.
  • XQD is an odd choice that’s exasperated by the single card slot. Look at prices of 64GB and 128GB XQD cards. The prices are outlandish compared to decently fast SD cards. The price would make me rely on one or two cards heavily making failure more likely. Is the performance difference that noticeable from high-end SD cards? I don’t have the answer, but I would have much rather seen dual SD UHS-I, UHS-II, or even UHS-III slots. It’s what I’d call the logical choice given what these cameras appear to target from a marketing standpoint. This reminds me of Fujifilm trying to use the xD card format. I remember paying a premium for a 1GB xD card to use with my Fujifilm S5100. XQD is going to add ~$300 to the cost of the camera for a decent number of people that want in.
  • The screen is not fully articulating. The screen mechanism has so much wasted horizontal space that a hinge could have easily fit on the left side of the camera.
  • Is that speaker port on the top of the camera fully weather sealed? How well? The placement of that is extremely odd. A few other design aspects such as the large back dial don’t appear to be the best design in regard to making it easy to water-proof. Obviously, this would require testing to verify.
  • The battery is rated for 330 shots, but one 3rd party report mentioned being able to get significantly more frames out of a single charge. I don’t quite understand the use of the same physical battery format. Old type-0/A would get something like 125 shots per charge? I guess it’s better than a complete switch. Maybe the new battery would give old cameras a huge battery life boost! Assuming they will work in old cameras… After looking into it more the ‘B’ version doesn’t have any more power storage (1900 mAh) than older versions, so I’d expect it to be a wash. The only big change is USB charging which is very nice, but I think in this case getting more power storage into the battery would have been a better idea. The revision is probably meant to add another roadblock to 3rd party battery makers as they did with their ‘A’ revision.

Estimated Pricing?

  • Z6 = $2000 or $2600 with the kit lens
  • Z7 = $3400 or $4000 with the kit lens
  • 50mm f1.8 S = $600. The 50mm f1.8g is around $220.
  • 35mm f1.8 S = $850. The 35mm f1.8g is around $530.
  • 24-70mm f4 S = $1000 or $600 with a camera. The 24-120mm f4g is $1100.
  • Adapter = $100 or $150 with a camera.

My favorite thing about Nikon is their set of full-frame f1.8g prime lenses. I’ve had great success with the 50mm and 20mm especially. They represent a great value given their performance. The entry price of the 50mm S and 35mm S confuse me. Let’s speculate for a moment that these S lenses have glass the diameter of traditionally larger aperture lenses, but meant to give the sensor a sweet-spot effect instead. Given how the live presentation went, this could be the case. The main issue is the cost and perceived value based on the rated aperture. Looking at the 50mm S, it has a cost premium of $400 over the f1.8g and $100 over the f1.4g. The 35mm S is a mixed bag with a premium of $300 over the f1.8g and cheaper than the f1.4g by at least half. I generally like the idea that they started with f1.8 lenses and the potential of high quality output even from maximum aperture with the sensor shaking around, but they are certainly not value lenses as f1.8 have traditionally been. The f4 kit lens seems like a pretty solid offering overall, though it doesn’t have VR which should have presumably made it cheaper to produce. Not especially expensive given what it does, though there is a bit of a premium over their more versatile f-mount 24-120mm lens. All that said, I’d expect the Z system to have a few hundred price drop pretty quickly to match Sony in price or eventually drop below them in price. Given that these cameras are not completely feature competitive to the Sony offerings it will be a tough sale to many people expecting things like dual card slots. Many people also factor in added costs like memory cards and in this case the Nikon fails hard on the cost of XQD cards.

In conclusion, I really like the idea of the larger mount diameter and the potential of lenses that offer a larger sweet-spot, but I see drawbacks and a pretty large premium starting cost to this system. They went with D7500 thinking instead of the D850 mindset. Given the lack of features I prefer to have such a fully articulating screen and dual cards slots, I don’t see myself trading in my current Nikon gear to pick up a single Z-mount camera and lens. I certainly wouldn’t want to put any money into the XQD card format as well. I generally see memory cards as expendables and their premium cost makes that memory card format extremely unappealing. That might change if the format becomes more popular, but we will see. For people heavily entrenched into Nikon’s f-mount glass, I see this as a viable yet somewhat quirky option for you moving forward. Though, I expect the Z-whatever-is-next camera to be much more viable to professionals that need true redundancy and whatever else.

Eventually, I’ll be considering some type of larger sensor mirrorless with my Nikon equipment as trade-in simply for the size reduction. It won’t be this first offering from Nikon basically due to the card slot, screen, and price. Sony’s A7 III is pretty appealing, but their entry-level 50mm lens is exceptionally lackluster and the next option jumps up to $900 in the form of the 55mm f1.8za. I’ll be curious to see what Canon comes up with in regard to full-frame mirrorless, but they haven’t exactly done much to fulfill the wants of their DSLR customers. They have also been weak in the EF-M lens offering department. I understand my usage patterns must not be the norm as a “Youtuber” that does a 50/50 mix of photo and a lot of solo video work (I need great video AF like Canon has), but eventually someone might make it happen. Who will it be?

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Who might these cameras be for?

  • Landscape photographers will potentially have a better workflow with mirrorless than the D850. A single memory card slot isn’t a big deal for them most likely. The Z7 should end up being a great option for them.
  • Action nature photographers, but not ones that depend on large photo buffers. I don’t have specific numbers on the buffer, but 3rd parties seem to think it’s pretty lackluster. In this case either camera might work for them depending on their workflow (maybe use the Z7 in crop RAW mode, if it has that feature, or use full resolution under certain situations).
  • Professional level videographers that are between extremely expensive gear and these hybrid cameras. This camera is positioned to fulfill their needs when they use an external recorder due to the hdmi output and timecode feature. They would want the Z6 for faster read-out and full sensor 4K.
  • Hobbyists heavily entrenched in Nikon glass that want a smaller full-frame camera. They can adapt g-type and later lenses without issue. Though, d-type lenses won’t auto-focus.

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