Nikon Z7 Review

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Pros

  • Superb, DSLR-like handling
  • One of the best electronic viewfinders around
  • Extremely detailed, sharp images
  • In-body image stabilisation for handheld shots
  • Intuitive touchscreen interface

Cons

  • Only one XQD card slot
  • Screen doesn't fully articulate
  • Average battery life
  • Limited range of native lenses at launch

Key Features

  • Review Price: £3,399 (body only)
  • 45.7-megapixel Full-frame CMOS sensor
  • 493-point hybrid AF system
  • 64–25600 ISO range
  • 9fps continuous shooting
  • 3.2-inch, 2,100k-dot touchscreen

What is the Nikon Z7?

After an agonisingly long wait, Nikon finally announced its eagerly awaited full-frame mirrorless model in August 2018.

In fact, it announced two – the Z7 and the Z6. The Z7 is the pro-friendly, high-resolution model, sporting a 45.7-megapixel sensor along with a 493-point AF system and ISO sensitivity that ranges from 64-25,600.

Resolution isn’t the only high thing about the Z7 – its price is also steeper than the Z6, with the latter expected to find more favour with amateur enthusiasts, rather than professionals.

In terms of body design and usability, both models share the same chassis, with the key differences found under the hood. The Z7 is very much built for sharpness and resolution, which makes it a direct rival for the Sony A7R III.

Impressively for a first-gen camera, the Nikon Z7 manages to compete with its more seasoned mirrorless rival. In fact, it’s one of the best cameras Nikon’s ever made.

Related: Best mirrorless cameras

Nikon Z7 – Design and handling

First, the big question – will you be happy moving to the Z7 from a DSLR? For most people, the answer is yes – Nikon has basically designed a slightly miniaturised DSLR. In fact, it might not even be considered that miniature if you’re used to using one of Nikon’s smaller, entry-level type bodies.

Making the decision to keep the Z7 nice and chunky means that it feels both reassuringly weighty and well built in the hand. We’re told it’s constructed to the same tough standard as the D850, so it should withstand a shower or two, as well as the odd knock or scrape.

Nikon Z7

The Z7 is also a little larger than its closest rival, the Sony A7R III. The upshot of that is that the buttons feel much better spaced and are individually larger than on the Sony, resulting in a much less cramped feeling that you often get when shooting with an A7 series camera.

There’s a deep grip, while the array of buttons surrounding will again be familiar to anybody who has used a Nikon DSLR. There’s the familiar feel of a dual control dial at the front and rear of the grip to adjust shutter speed and manual, while a joystick at the back can be used to shift the focus point around the frame, or move through menus.

To take a shortcut to certain features, you hit the “i” button and either use the physical buttons or tap the screen to make changes. Rounding off the button set is a navipad, menu button, drive mode button, magnification buttons, an AF-On button (useful for back-button-focusing), and a display button. All but the playback and delete buttons are grouped on the right hand side of the body.

Move back to the camera’s top-plate and you’ll see a mode dial, which is relatively simple to use. You’ve got all your semi-automatic and manual modes, as well as a fully-automatic mode and room for custom groups of settings. Whether the pros that this is aimed at will want to use a fully automatic mode is questionable, but at least it means that anybody can pick it up and start shooting straightaway.

Nikon Z7

Additionally, there’s a top-plate LCD where you can view all the main settings, such as shutter speed, ISO, remaining space on the memory card, and so on.

Speaking of memory cards – now for the controversy. The Z7 is packing just one memory card slot, and it’s XQD. Not only is that bad news for anybody who wants to use a second slot for backup or overflow, XQDs are also not the cheapest to buy, especially considering you’ll probably want to buy a reader too.

For now at least, anybody buying a Z7 will be furnished with a free XQD card. There is good reason for choosing this format – it’s faster than SD, and some would say, it’s more robust too. When you’re talking about shooting quickly at super high resolutions, speed is most definitely what you need. Expect to see lots of complaints from naysayers, though.

It seems fairly obvious that another Z body will be announced in the future that’s aimed more squarely at the serious pro market, replete with two card slots.

Related: Best cameras 2018

Nikon Z7 – Screen and Viewfinder

This being a mirrorless camera, the Z7 has a 3.6-million dot viewfinder, with 0.8x magnification. It’s quite simply one of the best electronic ones on the market, and should even be enough to convince the most fervent optical die-hard that electronic is the way forward.

The ‘finder is joined by a 2.1-million dot, tilting touchscreen. The tilting mechanism is handy for composing from awkward angles, and comes into play when shooting discreet, street-type shots.

Nikon Z7

The screen’s touch-sensitivity has clearly been very well thought through too, unlike Sony’s A7 offering. Not only can you set the focus point and fire off the trigger via a tap of the screen, you can also use it to navigate around the quick and full menus, as well as swiping through images in playback and tapping to display an enlarged view of the scene.

Some may complain that the screen doesn’t fully articulate – or use a clever pivot design like the Fuji X-T series, as a tilting screen is redundant if you want to shoot portrait format. But tilting is better than nothing and in some situations is quicker and less awkward to use. Which you prefer is likely to be down to your individual preference, but it’s unlikely to be a deal-breaker either way.

Related: Best photo editing apps

Nikon Z7 – Image quality and performance

With a setup that is very similar to the Nikon D850, we were hoping to be met with superb images and excellent focusing from the Z7.

Happily, on the whole we have not been disappointed. Images are extremely detailed, show great colours and, especially when using the new S series lenses, very sharp indeed.

Nikon Z7

In our lab tests, the image detail naturally lowers as the ISO is raised, but it remains higher than most other cameras on the market. Even at ISO 12,800, resolution is at the highest you’ll get from a 24-megapixel camera. The Z7 performed admirably in our noise tests too, with its ISO 1600 images almost as good as its incredible, noise-free shots at the base ISO 64 setting.

Most of the time focusing is quick and accurate, but when using the tracking autofocus option (found in the Auto-area AF option), it struggles ever so slightly to keep up with erratic and fast-moving subjects. Needless to say, the Z7 won’t be causing the Sony A9 any sleepless nights, but then again, the Z7 is not really designed as a sports and action camera.

Instead, you tend to get better results from using continuous focus with either Single Point or Wide-area AF selected, something which is easier to do with relatively predictable sports or action.

Nikon Z7

Leaving the Z7 in matrix metering mode results in well-balanced exposures in all but the most challenging of high-contrast scenarios. Automatic white balance does well when shooting under artificial light, but it can be a little on the cool side in daylight or overcast conditions – switching to a white balance preset of your choice is a good way to get around that.

One of the most important advantages the Z7 brings over something like the D850 is the addition of in-body image stabilisation. This works very well with the native lenses, as well as F-mount lenses via the adapter, to help you shoot handheld and still be left with sharp shots – a real bonus for low-light and telephoto work.

Battery life is a bit more standard – the Z7’s CIPA rating is 330 shots from charge, though it’s fair to say that’s a little conservative. During my testing I filled a 32GB card and it only went down to 71%. For most enthusiast users it should last a day, but pros should definitely invest in at least one spare battery.

Handily, the battery can be charged in the camera via a USB-C charger, though this won’t work if you’re using an old EN-EL15a battery from an existing camera.

Related: Best of Photokina 2018

Why buy the Nikon Z7?

The Z7 is one of the best cameras you can buy right now. Rather than attempting to protect its DSLRs, Nikon has gone all-out to make a high-end mirrorless camera that feels like a traditional Nikon – and it most ways, it’s succeeded.

If you’re an existing Nikon DSLR owner – especially one who owns a higher-end model like the D850 – you’ll be able to pick up the Z7 and use it in almost exactly the same way that you’re used to. That makes it extremely appealing for those who are keen to pick up all the advantages of a mirrorless model, but are a little cautious about making the transition.

Nikon Z7

There will be many working pros who are so put off by the lack of a second card slot that they’ll be playing the waiting game a little longer for a ‘Z1’ or ‘Z3’ to come along. It’s also true that for amateur improvers, the Z6 will likely be a far more suitable Nikon mirrorless option.

Still, one card slot aside, this is close to being the perfect first step in what almost certainly looks like the future for Nikon, and its rivals.

Verdict

One of the finest cameras Nikon has ever made and a genuine alternative to Sony’s A7R III, the Z7 has more than exceeded our expectations of its first full-frame mirrorless camera.

Related: Nikon Z6 vs Nikon Z7: what’s the difference?  

Nikon Z7 – The Rivals

Sony A7R III

Perhaps the Z7’s biggest, and closest rival, is the Sony A7R III. If you’re so frustrated by the single card slot, then Sony is a good choice, and also gives you some advantages when it comes to tracking and autofocus speeds.

Still, the Z7 is a much nicer camera to hold and use, thanks to a slightly larger body, nicer spacing of buttons and a much better touchscreen interface.

Nikon D850

Nikon D850

In some respects, the Z7 is like a miniature Nikon D850. It’s got the same tough construction, a similar high-resolution sensor, and comparable frame rates. You also get a much better battery life, an optical viewfinder and traditional handling.

But the price you pay is a heavier and larger body and no silent shutter option. There’s not necessarily a clear winner here per se, but if you’re considering upgrading, you now have an extra round of thinking to do.

Canon EOS R

Canon launched its own full-frame mirrorless just a couple of weeks after the Nikon Z7 was debuted. So far we haven’t been able to try a full-production sample of the Canon EOS R, though we’ve heard lots of complaints so far.

There’s just a single SD card slot, no in-body image stabilisation and a slower frame rate. But on the plus side, it has a fully articulating screen, a small advantage in battery life (official rating) and a focusing system that can cope with -6EV light conditions. We’ll be getting it in our test lab very soon.

Score


Features

Camera type Mirrorless Camera
Megapixels (Megapixel) 45.7-megapixel
Image Sensor Full-frame CMOS sensor
LCD Monitor 3.2-inch, 2,100k-dot touchscreen