Last year saw the last two giants of Digital Single Lens Reflex photography take giant steps into the mirrorless age. Here I’m looking at the premium mirrorless offering from one of those companies. The Nikon Z7 clearly demonstrates that whether it be with or without mirrors, Nikon knows how to create exciting cameras.
Mirrorless vs DSLR
I’m inclined to think that mirrorless is how things are going. The obvious difference from DSLR is that the latter uses an optical viewfinder. A mirror in front of the sensor bounces light from the lens into the viewfinder. When you press the shutter release, the mirror flips up out of the way, and then the shutter opens. In theory, you see what you’re going to get.
But it’s not perfect. For one thing, the coverage is incomplete. For another, its complicated. And for yet another, the movement of the mirror adds to camera shake. It’s inevitably chunkier than having a mechanical shutter alone. And, of course, it’s bulky.
Mirrorless cameras use the sensor itself as a source to feed the image to a tiny display inside the viewfinder (and also to the rear monitor). They provide close to 100% coverage. They are also more compact.
The Nikon Z7 is a full frame camera – the sensor is the same size as a 35mm film negative – but it is noticeably more compact than the company’s DSLR offerings. With the elimination of the mirror, the lens structures can be closer to the sensor, and that requires a larger hole in the body for the light to enter. Consequently, a new lens mount was required. It’s called the Nikon Z-mount. As well as releasing a range of Z-Mount lenses, Nikon sells the FTZ mount adaptor, which allows existing Nikon AF-S lenses to be used with this camera. This adds about 32mm of space, along with carrying the electrical signals between lens and camera body.
Positioning and XQD
I asked Kylie Dredge, National Professional Markets Manager, ANZ for Nikon, about the Nikon Z7 camera. I was interested in whether Nikon sees mirrorless as supplanting DSLR over time. She says that Nikon is committed to both formats. My guess is that time will tell, but if mirrorless does come to dominate, Nikon will still be servicing the DSLR market for its enthusiasts for many years to come.
The use of XQD as the removable storage card (see below) also had me wondering about the positioning of this camera. Ms Dredge says it’s suitable for both the pro-sumer and the professional. Indeed, she says that it was developed with both in mind.
Nikon Z7 Features
So, a full frame camera this is, as is appropriate for a professional or well-heeled enthusiast. The sensor in the Nikon Z7 packs 45.7 megapixels, which is right at the top end of full frame resolution. That works out at 8,256 by 5,504 pixels. An ISO range from 64 to 25,600 is supported, while shutter speeds from 30 seconds to 1/8,000 are available. (Plus “Bulb” of course). Plus, there’s exposure compensation of up to five stops. Nikon says that with the Z series of cameras it has incorporated in-camera optical image stabilisation for the first time. It works in five axes and offers up to five stops of stability.
Look, just about all the cool stuff is in the Nikon Z7. It supports video taking, of course. It works at up to 2160p (UHD) at 24, 25 or 30 frames per second. At full HD you can also choose 50p, 60p, 100p or 120p. Those aren’t slow motion speeds. They’re high frame rate speeds. There are separate slow motion settings for 4x at 25p or 30p and 5x at 24p. There’s also a 8K time lapse mode. Remember, this sensor in this camera is wide enough (in terms of pixels) to support real 8K (8,192 pixels) and the possible alternative of 7,680 pixels.
Remember, 8K TVs are just starting to appear on a nearish horizon.
DX vs FX
You can choose whether you want to use an FX or a DX frame for video shooting. The FX frame more or less uses the full width of the sensor, which is then scaled down to the selected video resolution. The DX frame uses the middle part of the frame, equivalent to an APS-C sized sensor. On some of the HFR modes only the DX mode was available.
In general, you’d think that FX would be better if it’s available. But DX mode lens itself to improved brightness and general picture uniformity across the frame, particularly when using one of Nikon’s F-Mount lenses and an adaptor. Remember, for some time to come there will be more lens choices from Nikon’s existing range than the new Z-Mount range.
I’m told that a firmware upgrade is coming which will allow RAW video output to external recording devices.
Back to still photography: JPEG and Nikon’s version of RAW – in 12 or 14 bits – is available for the format. The media is not SD. It’s XQD. These are cards with significantly more capacity and speed than available from SD, at the cost of a larger body. They are just under 40mm by 30mm by 4mm thick. The format is designed to support capacities of well over 2TB. The card supplied with the camera (for review purposes – you’ll have to buy your own) was 32GB in size.
The Nikon Z7 has a still photo mode dial at top left, with three user-configurable positions. Choosing between still and movie modes is on a separate switch to the top rear. Choosing between timed shots, single and burst modes is under another button at bottom right. You perform manual setting of shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation with dials on the right front and right back of the body. There’s a mini-joystick of doing things like adjusting the point of focus. But you can also tap on the touch-sensitive monitor to position that point.