Nikon Z7 Review
Body and Handling
|The Nikon Z7 is quite a bit smaller than the Nikon D850.|
The Z7 body is significantly smaller than the likes of the D850, or even a D7500 but, as you might expect, Nikon has done a lot to make it feel and handle like its existing high-end cameras. It's not quite as substantial feeling as the D850 but part of that is down to the camera's much lighter body, but it still feels solid and secure.
The company says the Z7 is weather-sealed to the same degree as the D850: something confirmed by Roger Cicala's recent teardown.
- Small yet comfortable to hold
- Sturdy construction with weather-sealing
- Dial and button behavior (especially buttons reached with the right hand) highly consistent with existing DSLR models
- Viewfinder remains highly detailed in all shooting modes
- Compatible with existing batteries but only updated EN-EL15b version can charge over USB
|The Z7 has a fairly deep grip, which helps it fit comfortably in the hand. The camera feels solid, despite its lighter weight.|
Nikon has said that concerns about viewfinder quality on competitors' mirrorless models were one of the things they heard most often from its DSLR users. The company has clearly worked hard on this.
The viewfinder panel is a 3.69M-dot display (giving 1280 x 960 pixel resolution), much like the ones we've seen in Panasonic, Sony and Fujifilm's highest-end models. The difference, though, is that the Nikon appears to use the full resolution for its preview image, rather than dropping to a less detailed view when focusing, or never making full use of the display in the first place.
The camera offers a number of viewfinder/rear screen modes, including the ability to just use the finder and not the rear screen. You can choose in the menu which of these modes are offered, and cycle through your chosen options using a button on the side of the finder.
Viewfinder experience in burst modes:
In single frame mode, the Z7's EVF gives one of the best electronic viewfinder experiences around thanks to the full-res preview and reasonably-fast 60Hz refresh rate. But in 'Continuous High' (5.5fps) - what should be the fastest burst rate with a 'live feed' - that refresh rate plummets so badly, the EVF frequently holds one continuous frame in between shots. This can make shooting moving subjects a challenge.
|The dials and button layout on the top right of the camera will be immediately familiar to existing Nikon shooters.|
The dials, their position and functions are designed to be as consistent as possible with Nikon's existing DSLRs. They're placed exactly where you'd expect, relative to the hand grip. All the familiar options such as 'Easy Exposure Compensation,' which makes the unused dial in A, S and P modes control exposure comp, are all present.
The segmented circle of Mode, Quality, White Balance and Metering buttons on the top-left shoulder that's been a feature for generations of high-end Nikons finally gives way to a more conventional mode dial. It features a central button that needs to be held down to prevent accidental rotation.
The smaller body size of the Z7 means a button layout that owes almost as much to the D5600 as it does to the substantially larger D850. There's no array of buttons down the left-hand side of the screen, which is likely to be the first ergonomic surprise of using the camera. The dials, AF-On button, joystick and trio of buttons on the top plate are all in their familiar locations, though. Essentially all the controls for your right forefinger and thumb are consistent with the D850.
Again, Nikon has clearly put a lot of effort into making sure that the buttons, their behavior and customization options all broadly match its existing cameras. One thing that's gone missing, though, is the two-button Quick Format or settings reset combination that Nikon shooters will be used to.
Like previous Nikons, the AF joystick can either select the AF point or can mimic the function of the four-way controller (Multi selector in Nikon-speak). Pressing in the nub of the joystick is still customizable as a Fn button.
The control point most Nikon users will immediately miss is the combined AF/MF switch with its integral AF-mode button. There are AF/MF switches on the native lenses but this is no longer duplicated on the camera body. The AF drive and area modes need to be set in the camera's user interface or by customizing a button to act as 'Focus mode/AF-area mode,' since there's no longer a default button for it.
Lens Ring Function
In a move we've not seen since Samsung's NX cameras, the Z7 lets you re-purpose the lens focus ring. Since it's focus-by-wire, with no mechanical connection to the lens elements, there's no reason it has to act as a redundant focus ring if you're relying solely on autofocus.
The default is that it's used to control manual focus (and provide AF override). The alternatives are that it can be used to set aperture or control exposure compensation. There's also the option to assign no function to it, to prevent accidental operation. If you switch the lens to manual focus mode, this option is overridden and the dial reverts to manual focus.
We'd like to see even more customization options for the lens ring - Canon offers an additional custom ring on EOS R lenses, and it looks like some forthcoming Nikon S-series lenses might do, too. For video shooters in particular, the options to reverse the rotation direction and enable linear focus response (as opposed to speed-sensitive) would be useful.
Single XQD card
Despite the SD Association promising faster cards at some point in the future, Nikon has decided to commit to the XQD format, with support for the faster CFExpress format coming via a firmware update, in the future. Sadly, a second card slot is not something that can be added by firmware.
The Z7 uses a new variant of the familiar EN-EL15 battery used in the D7500 and upwards. The new EN-EL15b version is capable of being charged over USB. The camera will work with existing EN-EL15a batteries but just won't offer that feature. Earlier-generation EN-EL15 series batteries may offer the reduced battery life that D500 and D850 owners already experience.
As always with CIPA figures, you'll often get more shots than the rated battery life suggests
The cost of maintaining this compatibility is that rated battery life is disappointing. The move to a mirrorless design with constant live view sees the rated lifespan drop to 400 shots per charge (330 if using the viewfinder exclusively). As always with CIPA test figures, you'll often get more than this. For instance, we've taken almost 2000 images on a single charge of the Z7's battery during busy shooting days and recently shot 1000+ images during a wrestling match (using the EVF) and still had about half a charge left on the battery.
An accessory battery grip will be available at an unspecified point in the future.
The Z7 continues Nikon's existing and excellent Auto ISO implementation. This lets you specify an upper limit and a shutter speed threshold at which the camera will increase the ISO setting. This threshold can be set to relate to the current focal length, with options to lean towards shutter speeds faster or slower than 1/focal length. As usual for Nikon, if you specify an ISO setting while in Auto mode, this becomes the minimum setting that the camera will use.
Auto ISO can be used in manual exposure mode and retains exposure compensation to let you specify the target lightness that the camera will try to maintain.
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