If Usain Bolt can go from running pro to footballer, it stands to reason that Nikon should have absolutely no problem taking a whack at another high intensity sport too.
And if we’re putting money on who’s going to reach success first? We’re putting all our chips on Nikon.
With a if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em mentality, Nikon is taking the leap from DSLR to enter the full-frame mirrorless world by launching two new cameras: The Z6 and the Z7.
Just like the Queen’s hairstyle, Nikon hasn’t changed its mount for 100 years.
Finally roused from DSLR stubbornness, it’s the company’s largest and most exciting mount yet, the Z-mount, with a diameter of 55mm - which is hay-uge. Sony’s E-mount is 46.7mm and the Nikon F-mount is 47mm for comparison.
We were lucky enough to be at the launch in Tokyo to get our eager hands on the Z7 (₹2,69,950) which is high speed beast with 45.7MP full-frame CMOS sensor, built-in 5 axis stabilisation, an ISO range of 64-25600. It’s weather and dust resistance, with a tilt LCD touch-screen.
The likes of Sony haven’t had any real competition, until now. It's a competitor to the Sony's high-res star - the Alpha 7rIII.
Inside, it rocks the same trusty battery as the Nikon D850, and also has USB charging. Yep, Nikon are making a come-back bigger than ABBA’s and we’ve spent a day getting behind the Z7 to see if it really is a super trouper.
There are three Nikkor S lenses for the Z-mount right now: a 50mm F1.8, 35mm F1.8 and a 24-70mm F4. I was given the latter, which will be the kit lens once it's available towards the end of September. Here’s how I got on…
Design and build: Grip-ity doo dah
It’s not the most photogenic of cameras, but then Nikon was never known for making products that you see perched on an Eames storage unit in a fancy interior design magazine.
Nikon is pre-occupied on a more noble pursuit: How to substantially increase the size of its mount, whilst keeping the body as small and light as possible and yet retaining that super ergonomic Nikon legacy. And it really hits the spot with the Nikon Z7.
It weighs a couple of grams more than the Sony Alpha rIII, and is slightly bulkier too. It promises the same waterproofing and sealing as the D850. Walking through the incredible teamLab exhibition in Tokyo with it dangling around my neck, it definitely took a few splashes and knocks from the interactive art, yet didn’t show any signs of weakness. So I can only imagine it’ll be safe against the elements on top of Scafell pike in mid December.
In the hand it feels sturdy and I’m really pleased it's double down on size but retain a deep grip.
Design-wise, Nikon sticks to a very similar setup as their DSLR lineup with the standard mode dial - as to not totally alienate its existing loyal shutterbugs and so the transition for a Nikon DSLR user should be quite natural.
The top right has the shutter release button (as expected) along with the on and off switch and around it are three controls: ISO, exposure control and movie recording.
It’s the same story with the menu screen and interface. There are well-sealed ports for headphone, microphone, USB-C, HDMI and remote ports, both the Z6 and Z7 take an XQD memory card. Nikon told us that the unreliability and flimsiness of an SD card, meant there was an executive decision to transition to a tougher XQD card.
There is only one card slot, though. I don’t see that as much of an issue, but some might.
Features: Focus Pocus
The 3.2inch 2100K dot tilting touch-screen is great, but it would’ve be brilliant to see the fully flexi-twisty-yoga-guru of a screen like the D850 and other pro-level DSLRs. Eye-detection, face tracking, 0.80x magnification and dioptre correction are all covered here too.
The tap screen and capture option is really sensitive and sometimes you can accidentally take a shot via this method if you’re not paying attention.
As well as the 3.2in LCD screen, the Z7 features a small display on the top plate. This shows aperture, shutter speed, ISO and battery at a glance. This isn’t something that Sony offer, so it’s a nice addition and I found it to be quite handy, especially at night or when I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself.
The thing I found most handy was the ‘i’ button. It allows you to access all the setting options and you can even use the touch-screen too. Maybe for those who are used to using Nikon cameras full time wouldn’t need to rely on this, but for those who are less familiar with the layout - it’s a huge plus.
If you’re the type of snapper who likes to set up and save your custom menus, then I commend you and wish I was a more dedicated amateur photographer. You’ll also be delighted to know there are two function buttons next to the lens base, so you can shortcut to your favourite set ups for whatever kind of scenes you keep coming back to.
There’s built-in WiFi and Bluetooth and it works a treat too. When I connected to Nikon’s SnapBridge app, it paired seamlessly, and I was able to see the shots I’d just taken in an instant and share them, save them, or simply savour over the incredible amount of detail evident.
I didn’t use the the F to Z adapter but other photographers who tried it out with their existing Nikkor lenses had no complaints and Nikon would've been incredible short-sighted to have not made one. And it's compatible with over 350 Nikkor lenses.
The Z7 uses a new hybrid autofocus system with 493 phase detection AF points, meaning it has 90% of the frame covered. There’s a choice of: auto-area, wide-area and single-point modes, and even a pin-point one which I found to be my favourite when I want to focus on a on tiny something or other. The focusing was always swift and accurate.
Image Quality: Magic show
With a new 45.7MP sensor and the fact that Nikon consider itself professionals in optic design physics, it comes as no surprise that the image quality is superb. There also a new processing engine involved - Expeed 6. This allows the Z7 to shoot up to 9fps.
Despite having a slightly different sensor, the quality is believed to match the Nikon D850, which is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to top-notch photography.
Stills look incredibly detailed, even at night shooting hand-held. I was able to read the text on brightly-lit shop fronts a whole 50 metres away set against a jet-black sky.
Colours on Jpegs were bright and crisp, yet realistic. We’ll do more pixel gazing when we get or hands on a review sample. But for now, here are some sample shots:
Video: Great visions
You get the same features for video as you get for stills, including 5-axis IS and the hybrid AF system. The Z7 goes even further and supports focus peaking, zebra patterns, time code and 10-bit Log output over HDMI. The camera can record 8-bit video internally and externally at the same time.
There’s a whole host of options in the menu to adjust video settings and the connection options for mics and headphones mean that, should you wish, you can shoot an entire film on this.
We didn’t test this out yet, but when we get our hands on a review sample, we’ll be testing it Spielberg style.
Nikon Z7 early verdict
There’s no denying that the Nikon high-end Z7 is capable of incredible image quality.
I used it relentlessly for a whole day out and it was a trouper in the battery department too. The new mount is an exciting prospect for a slew of new lenses and Nikon have already announced it's working on a 58mm f/0.95 which is lump-in-throat level of exciting.
At ₹2,69,950 (body only), it’s an investment for sure, but the image quality from the 45.7MP sensor, 493-point and super speedy AF system, we reckon the Z7 won’t disappoint. On top of that, you get 9fps burst shooting, an awesomely high-resolution 3.6-million dot display EVF and fast 60p refresh rates.
And the only negative I can see at this stage is perhaps only having one card slot, but again that won't be a problem for a lot of users. The chunkier-handed might struggle a tad with the tightly compact nature of the camera, specifically when reaching the function buttons at the front.
But what’s really important? The fact that the Z7 is an all-round fantastic camera to use. That reassuring and comfortable grip means the Nikon Z7 fits in the hand like it belongs there.
For photographers after a high resolution shooter, we’re almost certain that the Z7 would be a solid decision. But we won’t be able to confirm this until we get our hands on a review sample in the next few weeks….