Video

At first glance, the Z7 doesn't seem to offer much more than the D850 did for video shooters, but the addition of highly usable on-sensor autofocus in video is likely to have a big impact for casual users. The D850 was arguably Nikon's first DSLR worth shooting video with, thanks to the addition of features such as full width 4K and adjustable highlight warnings. The Z7 doesn't have a much longer feature list, but there are some significant changes, nonetheless.

As with the D850, the Z7 remembers a distinct set of settings for stills and video shooting. This extends from different Picture Control mode and Active D-Lighting settings through to separate AF modes as well as being able to define a different array of custom button functions and a movie-specific 'i' menu. As with the D850, the camera has both headphone and mic sockets.

Key takeaways:

  • 4K capture with phase detection AF from full width or 35mm crop
  • Camera retains different settings for stills and movie shooting but behavior is more consistent
  • 10-bit log available over HDMI (with corrected preview)
  • Experienced videographers unlikely to enjoy manual focus experience

Video options

The Z7 can shoot 4K UHD video from the full width of its sensor but this appears to line skip, only using certain rows of pixels. This is likely to mean an increased risk of moiré and a drop in low light performance, relative to stills capture. The Super 35/DX crop region uses all the pixels to give what we'd consider oversampled video.

On our pre-production Z7, rolling shutter performance in the Super 35/DX crop region looks identical to what we saw on the D850 in both its full-frame and crop modes, which is impressive considering the Z7 is oversampling. We generally find this level of rolling shutter isn't too bothersome, mainly posing problems in fast pans and the like. Once you switch the Z7 into full-frame 4K mode, the rolling shutter effect is unfortunately magnified, and is more noticeable in casual shooting.

The camera can now also shoot 1080p footage at up to 120 frames per second, allowing 1/5th speed slow-motion footage if played back at 24p.

Additional features

10-bit N-Log over HDMI

The biggest headline feature to be added to the Z7 is the ability to output Log footage over HDMI. Better still, it joins the select group of cameras we're encountered that outputs 10-bit Log footage.

Log gamma attempts to capture as much of the original scene's dynamic range as possible while retaining enough information to be able to then process and adjust the file (essentially trying to make a JPEG that can be edited more like a Raw file). Moving to 10 bits of data means you can retain more tonal information about each stop of DR: giving you more flexible footage.

A move to 10-bit gives much greater flexibility for color grading, particularly with very flat Log footage shown above. Because there are 1024 values available with the 10-bit footage, rather than 256, the footage is much more tolerant of grading before you start seeing artifacts.

Nikon has also added a 'View Assist' function to let you shoot with a 'corrected' preview while outputting the flat, washed-out Log feed.

The camera can't capture 10-bit footage internally, so N-Log can only be sent to an external recorder. There'll be some people who want 8-bit internal Log capture, but you can at least see why Nikon might decide not to offer this much less powerful option.

The internal capture is 8-bit at up to 100Mbps.

Focus peaking in 4K

The D850 offered focus peaking but it wasn't available in 4K mode or with a long list of other features. Nikon has corrected this with the Z7: peaking is now available in 4K shooting. Though we're not yet sure whether this can be used at the same time as highlight warnings.

Timecode

The Z7 also gains the ability to record timecode. This can be set to On, On when HDMI out is in use or Off. There are the usual drop-frame, rec run and free run options, along with the ability to set the camera's clock. Like most consumer cameras, there's no means of accepting a sync signal.

Better video processing

The 'mid-range sharpening' option added to the Picture Control image parameters remains available in video mode (and, like the D850, can be set to different values for stills and video shooting modes). The Z7 also gets the ability to apply vignetting correction, diffraction compensation and auto distortion control to its video footage, too.

Focus in video

In addition to 10-bit Log output, the biggest change between the D850 and the Z7 is one that you may not notice in the specs: usable autofocus in video. The move to on-sensor phase detection means the camera is now aware of subject distance, while shooting video, which increases both speed and dependability. And we can confidently say: autofocus in video is up there with the best. Tracking and refocusing on subjectives is intuitive and reliable. That's an enormous step forward for Nikon, matching or besting what Canon and Sony offer.

Autofocus in video is up there with the best. Tracking and refocusing on subjectives is intuitive and reliable... besting what Canon and Sony offer

With the exception of Pinpoint and Dynamic Area modes, the AF options for video shooting match those for stills shooting and behave in a similar way. In fact most of the AF system works fairly consistently in video mode, to the extent that AF-C only refocuses while you're pressing the shutter or AF-On button: if you want the camera to refocus all the time you're recording, it's AF-F (Fulltime AF) you need.

Autofocus in video is smooth, decisive, and fast. It's intuitive to select a subject by tapping on it in Auto Area AF mode, and the performance - based on our initial impressions - matches the performance of the best video autofocus systems we've ever tested. This is a huge step forward for Nikon in the video arena.

This quirk presents an interesting way to shoot, especially for those who aren't overly familiar with manual focus pulling using peaking, or just haven't got the time to do so. AF-C essentially lets you engage autofocus only when you want it, then halt it when you don't, giving you absolute certainty that it won't wobble or discover a new subject.

The main difference between stills and video AF is that you have two different parameters to fine-tune the AF behavior. In movie mode there's a 5 position 'AF Speed' control, depending, for instance, on whether you want the camera to slowly drift between different subjects or rapidly follow a single subject. There's also an 'AF Tracking Sensitivity' option to give the camera an indication of whether it should expect to make significant changes to focus distance, if another object obscures your initial subject, for instance.

More experienced videographers are likely to be disappointed that the system has moved to focus-by-wire lens designs

More experienced videographers are likely to be disappointed that the system has moved to focus-by-wire lens designs but has not included an option to give a linear focus response, meaning you can't plan a focus pull and be sure that the same movement of the focus ring will give the same degree of focus change. Some people may also be put off by the fact that Nikon focus rings rotate backwards, compared with all other brands and again, Nikon has decided not to let you change this.

The Z-mount's short flange-back distance should provide plenty of room to add adaptors for videographers wishing to use other lenses. It'll be interesting to see whether Nikon's decision not to share the mount specifications inhibits the introduction of third-party offerings, beyond the official FTZ adapter.

Video customization

The camera's buttons and 'i' Menu can be configured separately for video shooting

The camera's buttons can be configured separately for video shooting mode, with the camera offering a much wider array of options than the D850 did. It's also possible to configure the 'i' menu to offer access to a different set of features for video capture than the ones you've chosen for stills shooting.

In video mode, the Fn1, Fn2, Joystick Press and AF-On buttons can be customized. The power aperture and exposure compensation options are designed to be assigned in pairs, such that Fn1 and Fn2 offer opposing functions.

Single-press options (Fn 1, Fn2)
  • Power aperture (Fn1: Open / Fn2: Close)
  • Exposure compensation (Fn1: + / Fn2; –)
  • Framing grid display
  • Protect
Button + Dial turn options (Fn1, Fn2)
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)
  • White Balance
  • Set Picture Control
  • Active D-Lighting
  • Metering
  • Focus mode/AF-area mode
  • Microphone sensitivity
  • Peaking highlights
  • Rating
  • None

One absence to note is the 'Access top item in MY Menu' option. This is a great shame, since it can be a really useful way to gain access to a feature you want to access but that Nikon has not made available.

AF-On and Joystick press

The AF-On button can only be used for a limited number of AF and AE-related functions. Note the option to initiate video recording using the AF-On button.

AF-On button and *Joystick press options
  • Select center focus point*
  • AF-On
  • AF lock only*
  • AE lock (Hold)*
  • AE lock only*
  • AE/AF lock
  • Zoom on/off
  • Record movies
  • Framing grid display (Joystick press only)
  • None
Joystick press + Dial turn options
  • Choose image area (FX / Crop)*
  • None*

Other customization options:

The camera lets you choose whether to use the shutter button to take photos (which it can do at 8MP without interrupting 4K capture), or to initiate video recording.

As in stills mode, the lens ring can be re-purposed. Again, by default it's used for manual focus or correcting autofocus but it can also be assigned to power aperture, exposure compensation or to have no function, in order to prevent accidental operation.

Finally, you can reconfigure the role of the 'OK' button at the center of the four-way controller. This can be set to 'Select center focus point,' 'Zoom on/off,' to 'Record movies' or to have no function. This means, in all, you can start movie shooting either with the dedicated button, with the shutter button, with AF-On, with a press of the joystick nub or using the 'OK' button.