Real-World Review

Gaelic Memories Photography

Introduction

I was recently loaned the Nikon Z7, Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 and Z mount adapter by the great people at Nikon UK. I've been intrigued for some time by the launch of Nikon's first full-frame mirrorless camera. Having previously had the opportunity to handle the camera at Whelan’s Cameras in Limerick, I was keen to see how the camera performs in the field. I currently shoot with the Nikon D850 DSLR. This is simply the best digital camera I have ever owned, the images I capture are breathtaking. With that said I have decided to create a real-world test for the Nikon Z7 and compare with my Nikon D850. This is not a technical review, both the Nikon D850 and Nikon Z7 have been intensely reviewed online and specification comparisons are readily available. I’m a landscape photographer and as such will be testing the cameras in that particular discipline. 

Z7 First Impressions

The Z7 is small and dwarfed by its older DSLR sibling, especially evident when placed side by side. Build quality is impressive and feels extremely solid and durable in the hand. The Z7 is significantly lighter than the D850 a welcome relief on a trek or when travelling long distances. The front of the camera is home to the new Z mount and it's huge, taking up most of the front of the camera’s real estate. Removing the body cap exposes the wonderful 45.7 Mp sensor in all its glory. The sensor is extremely close to the body opening and potential contamination may be an issue unless the user is careful when changing lenses. I attached the supplied Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 lens and switched on the Z7 and experience the electronic viewfinder. To be perfectly honest I’ve not been a tremendous fan of previous electronic viewfinders in the past, I've found them laggy and artificial-looking. To my surprise, the viewfinder is big, bright and beautiful. The majority of controls follow the typical Nikon layout (not a bad thing). Nikon users will have very few issues using the Z7 for the first time. There are some changes due to the reduction in size most notably on the rear of the camera.

Nikon Z7 Back Controls

The row of buttons on the left of the rear screen on the Nikon D850 have been relocated to the right of the rear screen on the Nikon Z7, minus the Fn2 button which is now located on the front of the camera. The review button, trash button, Af-On button, mini-joystick and scroll wheel are all in very familiar places. The video/camera switch has been relocated to the right of the viewfinder. 

Nikon Z7 Top Controls

On the right-hand side, the controls are very much business as usual. The display screen is smaller but is still very clear and easy to read. The control wheel on the left side of the Z7 is more reminiscent of the Nikon D750 with the inclusion of U1 - U3 programme shooting modes. The dial is rotated by depressing the central button. I personally prefer the layout on the D850 with quick access buttons and shutter control wheel that feels more substantial.

Nikon Z7 Front Controls

The front controls on the Z7 include the lens release button, front scroll wheel and two function buttons that can be preset for custom settings. The Z7 is missing the flash sync terminal along with the 10 pins remote terminal and focus mode button/switch when compared to the D850. Nikon Z7 Card Slot The Z7 includes one XQD slot a contentious omission, especially for wedding and event photographers. I’m a landscape photographer primarily, the one card for me is not significant, I’ve never had a landscape sue me. That being said, I’ve never had an XQD card fail but that’s no guarantee that it couldn’t fail. In comparison, the D850 has two card slots an XQD and SD.

Z7 EVF Viewfinder

The viewfinder is the best EVF (electronic viewfinder) I’ve tested to date. The viewfinder is big, bright and clear. I had no difficulty changing between the Z7 EFV and the D850’s optical viewfinder. The doppler adjustment works well, I had no difficulty adjusting for my vision. I was very impressed that you can magnify the image in the viewfinder to check sharpness, on the D850 this has to be done on the rear LCD screen. The live histogram was extremely helpful, the light was changing rapidly at the coast, I was able to change the settings on the fly to ensure I had no excessive clipping.

Z7 Rear Mounted 3.1” Touchscreen LCD

The touch screen worked great and responded quickly to touch, it is bright and the colours appeared neutral. Images were sharp and well defined with no apparent colour cast. The LCD is visible even in bright sunshine, I had no difficulties reviewing my images. The screen articulates up and down (vertically) but has no horizontal rotation. The mechanism is solid and should endure during the camera’s use.

Z Mount Adaptor

The Z mount adaptor is a substantial unit and appears well built. There is no glass in the adaptor, impeding light transmission. The unit is weather-sealed to prevent dust and moisture getting in. Check out lens compatibility here. https://www.nikon.co.uk

In-body 5 Axis Stabilisation

Nikon included 5 axis in-body stabilisation for the first time, although as a landscape photographer camera shake is not a big issue for me. The claimed 5 stops by Nikon appear to be accurate and should greatly assist in low light situations when the camera is handheld.

Battery

Unfortunately battery life on all mirrorless cameras fall short of their DSLR siblings and the Nikon Z7 is no different in that respect. The Z7 utilisers Nikon’s new EN-EL15b Battery that has a higher capacity and as such benefits from increased longevity.

In the Field

I packed my D850, Tamron G2 70-200mm f/2.8, Z mount adaptor, Z7 and Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 wide-angle zoom (Z mount) and headed for Dunmoran Strand in Co. Sligo, Ireland. The weather was typically overcast with the occasional rain (heavy at times) I was conscious the Z7 was on loan and attempted to prevent excessive exposure to rain and seawater. I took several shots with the Z7 and 14-30mm lens (I’d forgotten just how spectacular the beach can look at 14 mm). The camera sat nicely in my hand and felt well weighted with the Nikkor 14-30 mm lens attached. The viewfinder was bright and clear with no visible signs of lag. The controls fell nicely to hand. I did have the odd search for the menu button which is now located on the right, but other than that things were good. The flexible rear monitor was perfect for low handheld shots in landscape mode, however, this was not possible in portrait mode due to the lack of horizontal rotation on the LCD monitor. I had no trouble seeing the rear LCD monitor even in bright sunshine. It is exceptionally clear, more so than the LCD monitor on the D850.

The photo below was taken with the Z7 + Nikkor 14-30mm f/4, the RAW file on the left and on the right, the post developed shot in Photoshop CC.

The amount of image recovery within shadows is excellent and to my eye on par with the D850, as for noise, I could not differentiate between the Z7 and D850 despite the Z7 having the upgraded EXPEED 6 processor. Time to check out the Z7 Mount Adaptor with the Tamron G2 70-200 mm f/2.8. The adaptor was quite a tight fit on the Z7 body but clicked reassuringly into place. The Tamron is a big and heavy lens so I was especially careful attaching when attaching to the front of the Z Mount Adaptor. With the Z7 being so small I held the camera and lens combo with the tripod foot attached to the lens, surprisingly the balance was excellent. The Z7 had no issues grabbing focus quickly with the Tamron lens, almost as fast as the D850 with no adaptor. Unfortunately, the rain decided to lash down and I had to make a hasty retreat to the car. I looked to protect the Z7 and lens from the downpour, rather than unzip my camera bag the entire camera and lens fit inside my jacket pocket, something that is not possible with the D850 unless you have massive pockets.

Below are a few of handheld photos with the Z7 and Nikkor 14-30 mm f/4.

Conclusions

The Z7 appears well made its magnesium alloy body is very stiff and fully weather-sealed the EVF is a joy to use, being able to see a live histogram in the viewfinder is amazing. The body is compact and light when compared to the D850. The layout of the controls will be extremely familiar to Nikon photographers, button location compromises have been made due to the size of the Z7 but these would become familiar very quickly. The ability to review a magnified image in the viewfinder is a super tool to ensure focus accuracy. Buttons feel very tactile and operate smoothly, both thumbwheels rotate with a definite click. The in-body stabilisation worked really well in the low light situations, being able to handhold the camera steady even at 1/5s.

Image Quality

Image quality is outstanding, texture, tone, colour, noise control and dynamic range really impress. I was able to lift details out of the shadow areas even at -5 stops. Highlights are more difficult to recover and above +2 stops details are generally unrecoverable. In comparison to the D850, the Z7 is very close, however, I would still give a slight edge to the D850, I feel the D850 renders the image a little better overall. To my knowledge, the sensor in the Z7 is an adapted version of the backlit sensor in the D850 and that being the case I would have to expect the digital output to be a close match and I wasn't disappointed. The dynamic range of the D850 has always blown me away with the ability to recover details in shadows, the Z7 matched the D850 in this respect.

Final Thoughts

The Nikon Z7 is a stunning camera and a credit to Nikon. This is the first full-frame mirrorless camera by Nikon and for the most part, they have nailed the design and implementation. There are a few things that could have been done better (one card slot, no grip, battery life), but that being said it is still a spectacular effort on Nikon’s part. The next generation of mirrorless cameras from Nikon will no doubt address the small number of issues raised with the Z7 and Z6. If you’re in the market for a small, powerful and capable mirrorless camera with renowned pedigree then the Nikon Z7 or Z6 would be excellent choices and I can recommend both 100%. Would I change my Nikon D850 for the Z7? The answer would be no, I would, however, complement my D850 with the Z7 to afford me flexibility in my photography. I hope you found this comparison useful. If you have any questions on this post or photography, in general, please feel free to contact me at stephen@gaelicmemoriesphotography.ie

Stephen ?

gaelicmemoriesphotography.ie

https://www.nikon.co.uk/en_GB/product/digital-cameras/mirrorless/professional/z-7-camera-body

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Purchase

Nikon Z7

Nikon D850 

Nikkor 14-30mm f/4 Lens