Nikon heavily teased its full-frame mirrorless system prior to its launch. The company is starting out with two cameras—the Z 7 ($3,399.95, body only), reviewed here, a 45.7MP powerhouse for photographers who demand the most pixels, and the more affordable Z 6, a 24MP model with a faster burst rate for capturing
Editors’ Note: This review has been updated to reflect the changes made with the Firmware 3.0 release and additions to the lens system.
The Z 7 looks and feels like a Nikon. The handgrip has the classic red stripe, an adornment dating back to the film era, but what’s most impressive is how well it conforms to the hand. The camera feels right and is balanced well, though it’s not that far ahead of what Sony has done with its a7 III family. I do like the way it feels more than Canon’s entry into
Despite sporting an image sensor very similar in design to the D850, the Z 7 is smaller and lighter. It measures 4.0 by 5.3 by 2.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.5 pounds. The D850 is 4.9 by 5.8 by 3.1 inches and a half-pound heavier. The general size and shape of the Z 7 are about what we expect from a mirrorless design—dropping the moving mirror assembly and swapping an optical viewfinder for an EVF
Like the Sony competition, but unlike a Nikon SLR or even the Canon EOS R mirrorless, the Z 7 features in-body image stabilization. The image sensor moves to compensate for camera shake, adding stabilization to lenses that don’t offer it, and working in conjunction with lenses with their own stabilization system. It’s good to see Nikon embrace sensor stabilization, especially given how robust the Z 7’s video capabilities are.
Nikon bills the Z 7 as having weather-sealing, which is an expected feature on a camera that costs this much. But how good is it? Roger
The Z 7 has a very good feel and a good number of physical controls, but it does drop one of the nicer touches found on the D850, backlit control buttons. I definitely miss them. Buttons are laid out a bit differently than the D850, which can exacerbate the problem if you are using both bodies as part of your workflow. But if the Z 7 is your main camera, you’ll learn its button placement and be able to locate the ones that matter by feel.
As for controls, you’ll find the front command dial right where you expect it, toward the top of the handgrip. The unusually large lens mount—big to accommodate f/0.95 lenses—is flanked by two programmable buttons, Fn1 and Fn2. I mapped them to focus settings, using Fn1 to cycle through focus area and mode settings by holding it while turning the front or rear dial. I set Fn2 to magnify the frame, useful for working in manual focus mode. Aside from the Fn controls, the only other front button is the lens release. And yes, the Z system still mounts and unmounts lenses in the opposite direction as most other camera systems. Long-time Nikon devotees will feel right at home.
To its right is the hot shoe, which sits atop the raised area that houses the EVF. There’s a button on its left to toggle EVF only, rear LCD only, or automatic eye-sensor switching, and a locking diopter adjustment dial to tune the focus of the EVF to your eyesight.
The hot shoe can mount a microphone, external flash, wireless flash trigger, or
To the right of the hot shoe, you’ll find a monochrome OLED information display, just as you would with a pro SLR. It’s something we don’t see in every mirrorless camera. The rectangular display shows all of your exposure details, battery life, and estimated shots left on your memory card.
The rear control dial is positioned at the far right corner, while other top controls are further ahead, atop the grip. The On/Off switch surrounds the shutter release, and it’s flanked by Record, ISO, and EV compensation buttons.
The Z 7 isn’t as big as the D850, so there are some understandable changes to its rear control layout. Play and Delete are at the top left, in a corner framed by the LCD and EVF. Running along the same row at the top, but to the right of the eyecup, are the Still/Video toggle switch, with the Display button at its center, the AF-ON button, and the rear control dial.
The position of the AF-ON is just about perfect. My thumb rests on it naturally, and while I’m not a personal fan of splitting the function of autofocus away from the shutter release, photographers who are will appreciate the placement. If you’re like me you’ll be happy with the ability to reconfigure the function of the button. I set it to move the focus point to the center position, but you can also set it to lock in automatic exposure, focus, or both at once.
Directly below AF-ON, to the left of the rear thumb rest, is a small joystick, used to move the active focus point around the frame. The
Continuing to move down the column, there is a directional control pad with the OK button at its center. Below that are the plus and minus buttons, used to zoom in or out when reviewing photos, along with Menu and Drive Mode/Self-Timer buttons. That’s another departure from the D850, which uses a control dial to cycle through its various Drive settings. I don’t particularly mind the change to a button, but I’m not a fan of how Nikon has implemented it. An on-screen display shows the different Drive modes available right after it’s pressed, but while my instinct is to scroll through the options with the d-pad, that’s not how it works. You’ll need to use the rear command dial to swap through the options.
Conspicuously absent is a lock switch, a staple of Nikon pro cameras. I don’t think I’ll miss it. I use the D850 quite often—it’s our standard test body for Nikkor lenses—and more often than not I find that the Lock has been turned on inadvertently, which means I can’t move the focus point when I first try. But I recognize that many Nikon pros love the ability to quickly lock in the focus point.
Nikkor Z lenses use electronic manual focus rings. Instead of letting them lie fallow when the camera is set to autofocus, the Z 7 allows you to set the ring to adjust EV compensation or the aperture. But there’s a big problem—sensitivity. It’s very difficult to dial in a small adjustment, and on some
Even after two major firmware updates, the control ring is still extremely sensitive—too sensitive for my tastes. I recommend disabling it, it’s just too easy to make unwanted changes to settings when it’s turned on. If you want easy control over EV, you can assign it to a camera dial, just as with the D850 and D500.
One of the benefits of a mirrorless camera is a seamless transition between the rear LCD and EVF—you don’t have to lock the mirror up to switch to Live View. The Z 7’s rear display is 3.2 inches in size and very sharp at 2.1 million dots. It’s bright, with broad viewing angles, so you can use it on bright days. It supports touch input and is mounted on a hinge, so it tilts up and down. It doesn’t swing out to the side or
The EVF is right up there with the best you’ll find on any camera. It’s an OLED panel with stunning (3.69-million-dot) resolution, smooth display of motion, and big, 0.8x magnification. It’s on par in quality, and slightly larger, than the 0.78x OLED EVF that Sony uses in the a7R III.
Using an EVF has some advantages over an optical viewfinder. The size and weight savings gained by omitting a
Connectivity and Power
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are built in. The Z 7 supports Nikon SnapBridge, which uses Bluetooth for automatic, low-resolution image transfer to your phone, but also supports manual full-resolution JPG transfer. Wi-Fi is used for remote control from Android or iOS devices.
Setting up SnapBridge is rather quick and painless. I paired the Z 7 to my iPhone via Bluetooth using the app, a process that takes about a minute. The app can automatically switch your phone’s Wi-Fi from your home network to the one broadcast by the Z 7 for image transfer. You can browse a gallery of thumbnails and pull a 2MP or full resolution JPG to your phone over Wi-Fi. Small files transfer in about a second, but it takes about 15 seconds to copy a 45MP JPG from the Z 7 to my iPhone 8 Plus.
The thumbnail gallery loads quickly. This is an upgrade from how it worked last year when we looked at SnapBridge around the time of the D850’s release. At the time, the app was very slow to render thumbnails, to the point where Wi-Fi transfers were a cumbersome task. I’m happy that Nikon has fixed this issue.
Automatic image transfer is also an option if you’d like, albeit only at 2MP resolution. You can have the Z 7 send every photo you capture to your smartphone, but I don’t suggest doing so. Instead, change the setting to only transfer images you flag—it’ll save your battery on both camera and phone, and won’t clutter your phone’s memory with unwanted images. Press the
Physical ports include 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, a USB-C port, mini HDMI, and an accessory port, all located on the left side of the body. The battery loads in the bottom. It uses an EN-EL15b battery, which is identical to the EN-EL15a used by the D850, D500, and other Nikon SLRs in this size and shape. But the EL15b is a darker shade of gray than the EL15a, and it can be charged in-camera via USB. If you have multiple Nikon cameras, be happy to know the EL15b can be used in other models (though it will only charge in a Z 7, Z 6, or the included external battery compartment.) Likewise, you can power the Z 7 with an EL15a, but you won’t be able to charge the light gray battery in-camera.
You can also use the first EN-EL15 version, which is identified via its matte black plastic casing. But it’s a lower power capacity, so you won’t get as many shots as you would with an “a” or “b” version. With the latest battery, CIPA rates the Z 7 for 400 shots when using the LCD or 330 with the EVF. The D850 is a lot more efficient—it’s rated for 1,840 shots—while the Sony a7R III sits in between, with 650 shots using the LCD and 530 with the EVF.
An add-on battery grip, the MB-N10 Multi-Power Battery Pack, which holds two EN-EL15b batteries, sells for $199.95, but doesn’t add any sort of veritcal controls. It does not compromise the Z 7’s dust and splash protection when attached.
Nikon has opted to only put one memory card slot in the Z 7. With Firmware 3.0 it supports both CFexpress and XQD media. It’s located on the right side of the camera. The door that covers it is part of the thumb rest, which makes the body look a little odd when it’s opened. There has been a lot of noise made on the internet about the decision to only offer one slot in a camera sold for professional use. Memory card failures are
So if you need two slots, the Z 7 isn’t for you. But I’m happy to see CFexpress and XQD supported. I’ve been using the XQD format in the D850 and D500 and find the cards to be fast, sturdier than SD, and reliable. The physical format is also designed to scale for the future. CFexpress uses the same form factor, but can transfer data much more quickly.
New System, New Challenges
Launching a brand-new camera system is hard. A camera without a lens is a doorstop. Nikon SLR owners are used to having access to decades worth of options, from modern high-resolution lenses to vintage glass that has tons of character.
The Z system launched with three lenses, but Nikon has released a few since we first looked at the camera. At press time, there are two standard zooms, the compact Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S and the pro-grade Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, and the ultra-wide Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S. A 70-200mm f/2.8 telezoom is available for order, but isn’t yet shipping.
There are prime lenses too. We’ve had a chance to review most of them, including the Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S, the 35mm f/1.8 S, the 50mm f/1.8 S, and the 85mm f/1.8 S. The Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 S is set to go on sale soon. So far, every full-frame Nikkor Z lens we’ve tried has delivered complaint-free performance.
Nikon also has a high-end, exotic, manual focus lens for the system. The Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct is an $8,000 behemoth. It’s very safe to say it’s a lens that many will admire from afar.
You can also use F-mount Nikon SLR lenses, but you’ll need to add the $249.95 Mount Adapter FTZ. The adapter offers full autofocus support for Nikkor lenses with internal focus motors—screw-drive lenses can be used with manual focus. Lenses focus just as well on the Z 7 as they do on a D850. The FTZ has its own tripod mount, which is a plus for use with heavier lenses, but it does introduce one issue—if you have a quick-release plate attached to the Z 7, you’ll
The Mount Adapter FTZ is a no-brainer for photographers with a big library of F-mount glass. The caveat is for owners of lenses without internal focus motors. The FTZ adapter doesn’t have a screw-drive to focus older AF and AF-D series lenses.
Third-party lens support was an issue when the Z 7 first went on sale, but has sorted itself out. I’ve used a number of Sigma lenses with both it and the Z 6, and Tamron has tested a number of its lenses with the Z 6 and FTZ.
Nikon has shared its lens development plans for the system via a roadmap. We don’t know in what order they’ll be released, or pricing, but Nikon promises to add a bright 50mm f/1.2 prime, a pair of Micro-Nikkor macro lenses in 60mm and 105mm focal lengths, and two primes billed as compact, at 28mm and 40mm.
For zooms, there’s a 14-24mm f/2.8 wide-angle on the horizon, a longer standard 24-105mm, as well as 100-400mm and 200-600mm telezooms. We’ve not heard anything yet about teleconverters. Nikon has also added some lenses for its DX (APS-C) Z 50 camera, and promises to add a DX 18-140mm, but they are of less interest to full-frame system owners.
Lens roadmaps can change a bit, so don’t take this as gospel, but feel comfortable that the company wants to grow the Z system lens library aggressively.
Aside from lenses, the Z series is compatible with existing flashes and many of the same accessories that work with Nikon SLRs.
Autofocus Shows Room for Growth
The Z 7 starts, focuses, and fires off a shot in just about 1.1-second, a fine mark for a mirrorless camera. Autofocus speed is a quick 0.05-second in bright
The Z 7 doesn’t benefit from the infrared focus assist projected by an external Speedlight either. Its focus system isn’t sensitive to IR light. DPReview has called out this deficiency, which isn’t exclusive to the Z 7. Other mirrorless camera systems, including models from Fujifilm and Sony, also don’t work with IR focus assist. There is some speculation that a flash projecting a green grid, like the color of the Z 7’s assist beam, would speed up autofocus in very dim light, and be less distracting than a bright assist beam.
In terms of burst shooting, the Z 7 is rated to fire at up to 9fps in Hi+ mode. But it falls slightly short in our tests. In Raw or Raw+JPG mode it actually nets about 8fps, with 9fps available when shooting JPGs. At top
Size and weight aren’t the only advantages to mirrorless—even though mirrorless camera bodies tend to run smaller, in reality, with a full-frame sensor, lenses are going to be similar in size to those you use with an SLR system, with some exceptions here and there. A mirrorless camera also shifts the autofocus system from a dedicated phase detection module to the sensor. Because of this, a wider area of autofocus coverage is available, and you’ll never have to dial in autofocus adjustments for individual lenses. And while calibrating focus on a D850 or D5 is a simple, automized affair, it’s something that you don’t want to have to do in the midst of a paid gig.
The Z 7’s on-sensor autofocus system is modern, with a mix of phase and contrast detection points—493 in total—covering 90 percent of the sensor’s surface area. That’s a much larger portion than you get with any full-frame SLR, so you have the freedom to track subjects that stray away from the central area of the image. But it also means that photographers who know how the focus system works on a Nikon SLR will have to make some adjustments.
The camera has two main autofocus modes, AF-S (Single) and AF-C (Continuous)—this isn’t anything new. AF-S locks focus once it’s acquired, while AF-C keeps
See How We Test Digital Cameras
You can let the Z 7 choose the focus point automatically. Its selects the area of interest
The Firmware 3.0 update adds support for pets. I was able to test it with a pair of cats and found that it worked very well for head-on acquisition, and was able to hang on as they played and moved about. It struggled a bit to pick up focus starting in profile. It also netted some interesting false positives, including picking up the holes in a pair of tan Crocs as eyes. You do have to turn the function on specifically in the menu, so leave it turned off when you’re not having a portrait session with your favorite canine or feline companion.
The update also improves the interface for subject tracking. The function is available in AF-C in the wide area only. To start tracking you’ll press OK, which puts a white box at the center of the display. Put it over your subject, engage autofocus, and it will turn yellow and follow your subject as it moves about, even as you make exposures. If you let up on focus, the system resets, and you can start to find a subject again immediately. This cuts out a couple of button presses that used to be required to switch subjects, a good thing. A press of the Minus button backs out and returns you to the wide focus area.
Tracking works fairly well, though it’s not perfect. If you lose track of your subject the Z 7 may or may not reacquire it properly if you are able to put it back into the frame. I had good luck keeping the tracking going as long as I didn’t let the subject leave the frame. It’s as close as you’ll get to the 3D Tracking function of Nikon SLRs with the Z 7, but since the tracking area is larger, it’s not quite as precise.
The system isn’t as slick as what we’ve seen with Sony’s latest cameras, which do a better job combining eye detection and subject tracking, but it’s very functional, and it works in both continuous and single focus modes.
For precise focus on anything, not just an eye, the Z 7 does have a Pinpoint function, which lets you focus using a single point. You’ll need to manually place it on your subject’s eye using the rear joystick, however, and it only works in AF-S mode.
Pinpoint focus is also a little slower, requiring about a third of a second to acquire focus. If you’re working with a model or other cooperative subject you’ll be able to live with the delay, but it kills the feature if you’re interested in capturing candid images. Because the point of focus itself is so small, it also takes a bit longer to move it from one part of the frame to another. The Z 7’s
The other focus modes are simply larger flexible spots. The standard version isn’t quite as tiny as the Pinpoint, but locks on
The Z 7’s focus system did falter in one area—keeping up with a target moving toward or away from the frame. I performed our standard test with the 24-70mm zoom, photographing a target while moving the camera in and out. The D850 and a7R IV both ace the test at their respective top shooting speeds, but the Z 7 netted more blurry images than sharp. There’s a slight, but definitely noticeable, hesitation with its focus system.
That doesn’t mean you can’t use the Z 7 to photograph moving targets. I paired it with a long lens for some wildlife photography and was very happy to see it was able to keep up with terns as they splashed into the water to find a meal. But I also noticed the camera struggled as I tried to capture an image of a slow-swimming swan that was heavily backlit by the sun. I got the shot, but probably wouldn’t if the subject was moving quickly.
I call out wildlife here because the Z 7 is certainly going to appeal to the discipline. You can carry it instead of a D850, and use all of your current F-mount lenses via the FTZ adapter. You’ll shave a half-pound off of your kit—a concern if you’re hiking to a location—and get the benefits of the EVF. I’d say you should still take a D850 if you’re photographing big cats running toward the frame or owls diving for prey, but for subjects that aren’t quite as active, the Z 7 makes sense.
Nikon has made cameras with on-sensor phase detection before, in the form of its discontinued Nikon 1 mirrorless camera series. Still, even with some experience, the Z 7’s autofocus system isn’t the best we’ve seen—but that’s OK. It’s by no means bad or deficient. It’s simply a little behind what Sony is doing with the a7R III, or what Nikon offers with the D850. To me, it’s somewhere in between the a7R II and III in overall performance.
The mechanical focal plane shutter fires from 30 seconds through 1/8,000-second in all modes. If you switch to Manual you also have the option of Bulb, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down, and Time, which opens with a click and closes with a second press of the shutter release.
A Sensor Second to None
The image sensor is very similar to the one used by the D850, the only difference of note being the addition of masked phase detection pixels for autofocus on the Z 7. The D850’s sensor is the best we’ve seen in a full-frame camera, and you’re getting the same level of image quality with the Z 7, with a tiny caveat.
Because some of the pixels are dedicated to autofocus, instead of imaging, there is a possibility of a striping effect showing up in images. It’s been observed when heavily adjusting exposure—say, pushing a photo to be five stops brighter. I don’t think it’s anything to fret about, but if you disagree, the Z 7 is not the camera for you.
Unlike the D850, the Z 7’s sensor is coupled with a stabilization system. It corrects for motion along five axes, so you’ll get steadier images and video with any lens. This includes non-native and adapted lenses, although you have to input the focal length in the camera menu (similar to what Nikon SLR owners are used to doing for non-CPU SLR lenses), and you only get three axes of correction with manual focus glass. There’s a technical limitation for that—to benefit from all five axes you need to know the distance between camera and focus point, and that’s not something the camera can figure out with a manual focus lens attached.
As for image quality, our tests show that it’s just as good as the D850. The JPG output looks just about identical, with superb detail through ISO 800, very strong results all the way up to ISO 6400, and usable photos up to ISO 25600. You can push the camera higher—the top setting is ISO 102400—but expect blurred detail.
I’d expect more Z 7 owners to shoot in Raw format than in JPG. As with the D850, image quality is excellent all the way through ISO 6400 when shooting in Raw. We use Adobe Lightroom Classic Classic CC as our standard Raw developer, and always leave settings untouched from defaults in order to minimize variations in testing from camera to camera. But the Z 7 does something a little different—it has its own set of defaults, baking lens corrections and other changes into the Raw file.
Lightroom recognizes these settings and applies them. Because of this, you’re going to see some extra color noise in high-ISO images from the Z 7 versus the D850 if you don’t make any changes to settings in Lightroom. I’ve included two versions of crops for ISO 51200 and 102400 in the accompanying slideshow, as those are the only two sensitivities where Nikon’s suggested Raw settings show color noise.
The corrections also apply to lenses, removing distortion and vignetting automatically. It’s like an Adobe lens profile, but one you can’t turn off. Some pundits are outspoken against the baked-in corrections. I’m not as bothered, but that’s just me. I see software-based lens corrections as a good thing in general. It’s something that helps to improve images with minimal effort on your part. There’s also some cost-saving involved—a perfectly corrected lens is typically larger, heavier, and more expensive than one that may require some help from software.
What I don’t like about the baked-in corrections—which affect Raw files even if you turn off in-camera corrections for JPGs—is that you can’t turn them off. This is what Adobe has been doing with compact cameras for years, and it’s not something I’ve ever thought twice about. But it seems different when it’s an interchangeable lens camera. If you use a different Raw developer this may not be a concern, but Lightroom users should taken
Sharp, Stable, 4K Video
Adding on-sensor focus means that the Z 7 focuses as quickly and effectively when recording video as it does with stills. The slower, contrast-based focus when recording video with the D850 and other Nikon SLRs has long been a weak point, so it’s good to see the Z7 address that directly.
In terms of video quality, the camera records at 4K at 24, 25, or 30fps, and can utilize the full width of the frame if you’d like. Autofocus is available, and in an upgrade from the D850, you can use a peaking focus aid when working manually at 4K—the D850 only supports that function at 1080p.
The autofocus system offers adjustable speed. If you’re recording sports or other action, you can set it to react very quickly to changes in focus, or you can tune it to perform slow, cinematic racks when adjusting.
Internal recording to XQD is available with H.264 compression. Uncompressed output is available via the mini HDMI port. The uncompressed output is 10-bit quality, and a flat N-Log profile is available when using an external recorder. It’s also possible to record to the card and external recorder simultaneously, but doing so cuts the HDMI output to 8-bit.
A DX crop for video is available. When using it the Z 7 downsamples native 5K footage to 4K, which will give you the best video quality, but will sacrifice some wide-angle coverage. There’s also slow-motion, but only at 1080p. You can push the frame rate to 120fps when recording in HD, and still capture audio. There is a crop applied at 120fps, though, cutting active sensor area to roughly a Super 35 (DX/APS-C) size.
There’s also time-lapse. The Z 7 can record 4K time-lapse internally as a video file, or you can shoot stills and drop them into a video editor to take advantage of the sensor’s high pixel count and Raw capture. Your self-made time-lapses can be exported at
A Solid Debut
It’s no secret that I adore the D850—it received a five-star review, and continues to deliver superlative results when I use it for reviewing lenses and other accessories. Its image sensor never disappoints, and its autofocus system betters almost every other camera out there. The Sony a7R IV, the Z 7’s other close competition, is right up there with the D850.
The Z 7 doesn’t quite clear the bar set by two of the best cameras you can buy today, but it isn’t a bad debut by any means, and Nikon continues to improve it via firmware updates. It has the best full-frame image sensor on the market, and the sensor is stabilized along five axes, just like the one in the a7R IV, and unlike the D850, which relies exclusively on lens-based stabilization. And its autofocus system has much wider coverage than you get with any full-frame SLR, even though it doesn’t track quite as effectively.
So who is the camera for? I see it as the right choice for existing Nikon system owners seeking both high-resolution imaging and 4K video capture. The stabilization system and sensor-based autofocus are both benefits for video work, and the image sensor is the best you can get. Weather sealing is as good as the D850, in a smaller, lighter form factor (a plus if you enjoy travel and outdoor photography). Unlike other systems, you can use the Nikon F SLR lenses with the Z 7 with full functionality, assuming you invest in the FTZ adapter.
And there are the folks for whom the Z 7 is definitely not. I’d still reach for a D850 or a D5 for event or sports photography, as speedy autofocus in difficult light is an absolute requirement for a wedding reception. And if you aren’t heavily invested in the Nikon system, the a7R IV is a better starting point, though over the long run Nikon has promised to grow the Z lens library aggressively.
The closest competition from Canon, the 30MP EOS R, is in a different resolution and price class, coming in at $1,100 less than the Z 7. It’s something we compare more heavily with the Nikon Z 6 and Sony a7 III, both of which sport 24MP sensors and $2,000 prices.
The Z 7 is a first-generation product, and it has some of the expected first-gen problems. The lens library is better a couple of years in than at launch, but it still has some gaps, and the camera’s autofocus isn’t quite as good as the Sony a7R IV. On the plus side, the Z 7’s image sensor is superb, autofocus during video is much better than the D850, and it’s one of the few mirrorless cameras that