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I bought a Nikon Z5

Since starting my photography Youtube channel in January 2011, I have used various brands of equipment. The main camera kits were Pentax, Nikon F, and Canon EF-M. I have tried various other brands of gear along the way as well.

Hindsight is 20/20, but had Nikon released the Z5 in the first round of their Z cameras at a decent price, I think the current mirrorless full-frame camera market share situation could have turned out differently for them. Not to date this article too much moving forward, but the current body-only price of the Z5 is $1000. With the 24-50mm kit lens it’s $1300. “Prices subject to change” and such…

This is a lot of camera for the dollar. I remember going from Pentax APS-C to the full-frame Nikon D600 when that camera was $2000 just for the body. Looking at initial MSRP it was $2099 for the D600 vs. $1399 for the Z5, so not quite as impressive at first but still an uptick in functionality per dollar. Especially true considering one was released in 2012 and the other in 2020 where each dollar isn’t worth as much.

My first video on the Nikon Z5.

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I’m not attached to a specific brand and I enjoy trying unique gear out. I swap out equipment more than a normal person probably should. What I do here isn’t a suggestion that you should do the same.

I like having a camera for on-screen use. It’s the camera that should have a lot of photography focused features. For a while I had only the two Canon EOS M50 bodies. While the M50 is certainly sufficient, the body design lacks a number of photographer focused features like custom modes and a wired cable release port.

In addition to the M50 bodies, I eventually had a Canon EOS M100 that I ended up selling so that I could buy a used Canon EOS M5. While the M5 definitely has photography benefits over the Canon EOS M50 such as custom modes and a wired cable release port, some aspects like the electronic viewfinder are the same, or worse in the case of the autofocus. The M5 is older than the M50 (and now M50 Mark II). Canon basically stripped down the M5 while using some of their current technology they had at the time.

Now that the Canon RF mount exists, Canon hasn’t put much into EF-M. The M50 Mark II appears to be mostly a firmware update to the original M50. So far they’ve held onto the idea of merging the original M5 and M6 top-end bodies into the M6 Mark II with its removable viewfinder. It’s another way to put less manufacturing resources into EF-M I assume.

I ended up consigning the Canon EOS M5 along with the Fujifilm X-A7 and a few other pieces of equipment so that I could ultimately lower the cost of purchasing a Nikon Z5 24-50mm kit.

What were the main reasons for the change?

  • Priority #1 was a physically larger viewfinder that’s easier for me to see into with glasses. Higher resolution is also a big benefit. The EF-M viewfinders don’t have a true to life look and they are physically small.
  • Something with a decent amount of physical controls. In the case of the Z5 I’m actually losing a dial compared to the M5, but the Nikon control scheme has its own benefits. The rear control dial on the M5 can sometimes be fiddly and easy to change on accident (I had it assigned to shutter speed when doing full manual).
  • Something full-frame and mirrorless short flange mount so that I can adapt old film era lenses to it as easily as possible. Z is the ultimate mount design for that. It needed some type of manual focus assist such as focus peaking, which the Z5 has. Using a 0.71x speed booster with a APS-C cameras is cool, but having a full-frame sensor is better in this regard.
  • Uses SD cards, preferably two slots. This is the format I use and prefer. I don’t want an expensive high speed difficult to buy format for the type of photography I currently do.

Why the Nikon Z5?

  • Price was a large factor. I probably would have gone with something like the Canon EOS R6 if money wasn’t a large consideration. The potential issues with the Z5 such as slow autofocus are currently not something I need to care about. Though, there was a recent firmware that is said to help focus speed. I’ll find out eventually how it is.
  • At the time of purchase the Z5 is the same price as the Canon EOS RP. It offers a lot more for the dollar such as in-body stabilizer, a better electronic viewfinder, dual SD card slots, 1/8000th max mechanical shutter speed, and better battery life. A used Z6 or Canon EOS R are an option, but I don’t like the single card slots when I can get something with dual slots cheaper. I also don’t want to get into XQD/CF-Express until it’s cheaper and easier to manage.

Potential issues moving forward…

  • I’m going to be looking for a grip extender. The Z5 (and every other current Z camera) is decent for my hand, but I’d like more vertical hand grip room. There is the Z-GR1 but it appears to be impossible to get in the USA and expensive. I see at least a few third party options.
  • From what I’ve seen, autofocus isn’t the best on this camera. I’m not sure why considering it has on-sensor phase detect. I’ll have to find this out for myself in time. All I’ve got right now is the small aperture 24-50mm kit lens so this is probably as bad as it can get.
  • Video features are not as advanced as some other mirrorless options. Cropped 4k is nothing new to me with the Canon EOS M50…
  • I don’t like the strap lug design. It’s the same on the M5 and many high-end cameras. I can’t get a Peak Design connector directly through the hole on either side, so the clank-y metal triangles are needed. I prefer cameras with a simple strap shaped metal loop as long as it is wide enough (some are designed with a hole too thin like the X-A7).

Future ideas related to the camera…

  • I don’t foresee buying autofocus F mount glass. The FTZ adapter isn’t that cheap and it doesn’t support older lenses that don’t have AF motors inside anyways. I never liked that most F-mount glass has a mechanical aperture lever setup. I found that aperture lever setup to create small inconsistencies between exposures, especially on 3rd party lenses. Moving to Z was good for Nikon to finally be done with that aperture design. Yeah, I know a few F mount lenses had electronic aperture control.
  • Canon EF to Z adapters that support autofocus and aperture control exist. I might explore those as an alternative to the FTZ because I have a few EF lenses. I think that EF will be the film and DSLR era lens format to be relevant the longest.
  • I might explore native Z mount lenses eventually. Although even their 50mm f1.8 isn’t cheap. The 20mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 24-70mm f/4, 14-30mm f/4, and a few others are interesting to me.

The APS-C Nikon Z50 was a strange release. Mostly because they didn’t include sensor stabilization and it has a flip-down plus forward screen which is the most awkward to use selfie screen design. It was basically a strange rehash of the Canon EOS M5 in design with the gigantic Z mount attached. I have tried the camera and it is nice to use, but I’m not sure what Nikon was thinking. They should have gone with the super cheap route with a D3000 series styled camera or had a fully articulating screen like the D5000 series to focus more on video along with sensor stabilization. I think there is some potential for a video focused D5000 series styled APS-C camera in the Z mount.

The Z5, on the other hand, is a mirrorless version of cameras like the D600, D750, and D780 that are a nice combination of photographer features and value in-line with the Canon EOS RP. The D750 is my favorite DSLR along with the Pentax K-7. The Canon EOS RP is very lacking in comparison to the Z5, though it has been a bit cheaper when on sale.

In some ways I like the direction Canon has appeared to take with a complete separation of APS-C and full-frame sensor based cameras. Since the introduction of dual pixel AF into EF-M, that format has been a compelling combination of features and functionality. The problem is that EF-M is starting to be neglected even more than it has been in the past.

Maybe I’ll discuss EF-M again in a future article with more detail, but the gist of it is that I haven’t considered buying a M6 Mark II because it wouldn’t check all of the boxes I want in video or photography. Like all Canon EF-M cameras, it has a 30 minute per video clip limiter. If Canon removed that artificial limitation from the M6 Mark II or future EF-M cameras I’d definitely consider changing my M50 bodies. Sony doesn’t have the video clip limit anymore (I can’t remember exactly but PotatoJet tested the Sony cameras to be between 10 and 20 hours max per clip), so I think camera companies need to follow their lead. EF-M is also lacking sensor stabilization at the moment, but even so, I’d still consider the M6 Mark II if it didn’t have the 30 minute clip length limit. Even a few hours max would be better.

On the photography side, the M6 Mark II appears to be a quick and functional camera, but the physically small add-on viewfinder isn’t appealing to me. The camera is also small which is good in some situations, but not great in others. I’ve learned through trying to use the M50 as my primary camera that I want the option of something larger when I feel like it.

I still currently have all of my EF-M lenses and the two M50 bodies. I’ll still be using them for photography and video. The Z5 is now going to be another photography tool for a while to see how that works out.