Nikon Z6/7 gotchas and fixes

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JimKasson
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Nikon Z6/7 gotchas and fixes
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The Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras are the first MILC experience for many folks, and there has been confusion and consternation about some of their vicissitudes. Those cameras aren’t all that different from MILCs from Sony and Fuji that I’ve used, so I’ve not been often surprised by their behavior. That had led to unwarranted complacency my part, so I am late in creating this post. I think it will be useful to many people coming to the Z cameras from DSLRs.

What I’m going to do here is enumerate some of the unpleasant surprises (aka gotchas) that new Z6 or Z7 users may experience, discuss why they happen, and suggest workarounds. As more of these issues occur to me, I’ll add to this post .

Shutter shock

SLRs have mirror slap. MILCs have shutter shock. Both are caused by vibrations induced by mechanical activity just prior to the exposure. With SLRs, it’s getting that darn mirror out of the way. With MILCs, it’s closing the shutter and tensioning the spring that drives it. The result is fuzzy images, particularly with longer lenses and exposures in the 1/30 to 1/250 second range, although the issue can occur outside that span.

The fix: Invoke the electronic first curtain shutter (EFCS). This is setting d5 in the menu system. This is set off by default, so it is a trap for the unwary. Once EFCS is set to on. The camera will not close the shutter before the exposure, and vibration blur will be reduced. There are some times when EFCS is not a good idea, but they are very rare with the Zx cameras, and most people shouldn’t worry about them.

High shutter speeds missing

Let’s say you read the above, and turned EFCS on. You’re outside with an f/1.4 lens wide open and the camera says it can’t set the shutter speed fast enough.

How come?

When the Zx is in EFCS mode, it won’t let you use a shutter speed faster then 1/2000 second. That’s because there are possible exposure uniformity and Bokeh issues with EFCS at high shutter speeds. Sony lets you use those dangerous speeds. Fuji, in the GFX, switched to all mechanical shutter at 1/640 second and faster.

The fix: Switch to all-mechanical shutter. Put that control in your quick menu to make it easy to find, because you’ll want your default shutter mode to be EFCS.

I can’t see anything when using strobes

There is a control, d8, apply settings to live view. The default is on. When the camera is set thusly, the viewfinder brightness is scaled to match that of the anticipated capture. In the studio, you might set the camera to f/8, 1/200 second, ISO 64, and be framing the scene with just your modeling light for illumination. The camera doesn’t know about the strobe, thinks your image will be greatly underexposed, and shows you what it thinks it will look like: black cat in a coalbin at midnight.

The fix: set d8 to off. Now the brightness of the finder is decoupled from your exposure settings. When some flashes are attached, Nikon helpfully does this for you.

Camera won’t focus using strobes

The Zx cameras autofocusing ability, both speed and accuracy, are affected by finder brightness. If the image in the finder is too dark, the camera’s AF will struggle. This is to some extent true of other MILCs, but not so much as in the Zx cameras.

The fix: as above, set d8 to off.

Camera won’t focus in dim light

Same issue as above if you’re underexposing much at all, which you are likely to do, especially at high ISOs, since the Zx cameras are essentially ISOless there.

The fix: as above, set d8 to off.

Lighting banding

The all-electronic shutter of the Z7 takes about 1/16 second to make it all the way across the sensor. If your lighting source varies during that time you may see stripes or bands across the image, running in the long direction. The Z6 silent shutter is a bit more than twice as fast. But in either case, you are likely to see the bands unless you take some precautions.

The fix: If you’re not doing stage photography, it is likely that the flicker of your lights occurs at twice your mains frequency (60 Hz in the States, 50 Hz in Europe. Elsewhere, consult this table: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mains_electricity_by_country). If you’re in a 60 Hz country, set your camera to 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, or slower, and you’ll probably be OK. If you’re in a 50 Hz country, set your camera to 1/100, 1/50, 1/25 or slower, and things will likely work out well. Test before committing yourself to a shutter speed.

Shadow banding

This is also called banding, but it’s different in cause and in effect. The bands occur in the long direction, but the scale is much smaller than lighting banding, repeating about every 12 rows. The current theory is that it is caused by over exuberant correction of a phenomenon in most MILCs with PDAF abilities called PDAF striping. Large extremes in brightness across the frame seems to trigger it, and it is seen as thin dark stripes in the shadow regions after pushing in postproduction.

The fix: There are many ways to deal with this. Here’s the easiest: don’t push the shadows of your images a lot. That’s probably good enough for 95-99% of the photographers out there. Are you one of the 1-5%? Then download RawTherapee – it’s free. There is a fix there that was originally created to deal with PDAF striping that also works on shadow banding.

If you know of things that should be added to this list, please reply to this post with suggestions.

Thanks,

Jim

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