Nikon Z7 Conclusion

The Z7 is a very important model for Nikon as it is the company's first-ever full-frame mirrorless camera. The camera includes many new features and technologies, such as the all-new Z mount, which is larger in diameter and has a much shorter flange back distance than found in the company's SLR cameras, allowing Nikon to leave behind the limitations of the 60-year-old F mount. The Z7 also features in-body image stabilization, a first for Nikon, as well as a new hybrid-AF system, which none of their DSLRs have. The pressure on Nikon from competing mirrorless camera manufacturers has been growing in recent years, so Nikon had to pull out all the stops and get their new mirrorless system started off on the right foot.

When you look at the Nikon Z7, there are some common Nikon design elements, but what stands out the most is the new massive lens mount.

The end result of extended research, development and engineering at Nikon headquarters is a full-frame mirrorless camera with a very impressive list of features and excellent overall performance, both in our lab and in the field. However, while the Z7 is no doubt a very impressive first step for Nikon, like every camera and especially the first of its kind from a manufacturer, it's not without its flaws.

Image Quality: Very good performance from the 45.7MP full-frame sensor

The Z7's sensor is brand new, but has pretty similar image quality to the D850, including dynamic range (see Photos to Photons' tests). That said, the Z7 does improve on some things like better sharpening control, brighter colors and higher contrast than the hugely popular D850. High ISO performance is also similar to the D850's, which is to say very good. The Z7's images print extremely well, producing good-looking 30 x 40 inch prints all the way to ISO 1600. Even more impressive, it can produce a nice 24 x 36 inch print at ISO 3200, and a nice 8 x 10 at ISO 25,600. That's very, very good.

As mentioned, JPEG image quality is very similar to the D850, but not identical. In addition to the aforementioned processing tweaks, we noted the Z7 struggled a bit with certain image quality issues not seen on the D850, such as custom white balance under incandescent lighting. Also, the on-chip PDAF pixels can cause banding. And, being a mirrorless camera, the Z7 can exhibit some blurring due to shutter shock with the mechanical shutter. See our analysis for all the details.

Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at 24mm, f/8, 30s, ISO 160.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Autofocus and Performance: 493 AF points and new processor deliver impressive speed

The Nikon Z7 has a brand-new hybrid autofocus system. The camera offers 493 autofocus points which cover around 90 percent of the horizontal and vertical area of the frame. This is a dramatic improvement both in terms of points and coverage when compared to the Nikon D850's dedicated phase-detect AF system.

With respect to speed, we found that the Z7 was fairly quick to focus and generally did a good job in difficult lighting situations, although its low-light autofocus performance varied quite a bit depending upon the subject you are photographing and what settings you use. (A dedicated Low-light AF mode is required to focus in very low-light, and the Z7's exposure simulation needs to be turned off if you don't want the camera to use the selected aperture when focusing unless shooting wide open.) Continuous autofocus performance was quite good, although the Z7 did not appear quite as adept in real-world testing as the D850 with respect to subject tracking.

Adapted Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E at 440mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 72.
Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Powered by a new image processor, the EXPEED 6, the Nikon Z7 delivers good performance for its class. The camera powers up a bit slower than most DSLR cameras, taking around 1.5 seconds, but this is about an average time for a mirrorless camera. Likewise, full AF shutter lag is good for a full-frame mirrorless, but slower than most high-end DSLRs like the D850. The 5-axis in-body image stabilization works great for stills and video as well as with adapted F-mount lenses.

When looking at continuous shooting performance, the Z7 proved to be quite good, with up to 9fps shooting (with C-AF) with 12-bit raw files. Burst rates do, however, slow down depending on file quality settings, whether you want continues auto-exposure between frames or if you use the mechanical or electronic shutter. Buffer depths were nothing to write home about, ranging from 19 to 23 frames at different raw file quality settings in our tests, and buffer clearing times ranged from around 4 to just under 8 seconds with a fast XQD card.

Overall, the Z7 offers generally good performance, but it's not as high-performing as the D850. In real-world experience, the Z7 proved to be quick and agile in many situations. However, for a photographer shooting sports or other extended action, its somewhat small buffer could pose a problem at times.

Adapted Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/400s, ISO 4000.
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image. Click here for RAW image.

Video: One of Nikon's best video performers to date

The Nikon D850 made many important strides forward for video users, but the Z7 takes things even further. Like the D850, the Z7 can record 4K UHD video at up to 30 frames per second and Full HD video at up to 120 fps, but the Z7's new hybrid AF improves both single-shot and continuous autofocus during video recording. However, autofocus can still struggle with overcorrection and mis-focus at times, especially in low light.

The Z7's built-in image stabilization not only works well and stabilizes all lenses, but it can correct for roll, something optical image stabilization can't do. Being able to use the gorgeous EVF while recording video is also a bonus compared to DSLRs.

Nikon Z7 4K Video #1
3840 x 2160 video at 30fps. Shot with Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S lens at f/1.8.
Download Original (419.8 MB .MP4 File)

Regarding video quality itself, 4K video can be recorded using the full width of the sensor like on the D850, which is great (no crop!), though it's not full-pixel readout like the Z6 so the quality isn't as good. Still, the video is sharp and contains good detail across a wide range of ISO settings (but stay tuned for a full Video page!). Dynamic range appears to be good too, although it can be made better by recording in the new N-Log format.

Overall, the Z7 is one of Nikon's best cameras for video alongside the new Z6, and is a notable step-up in many ways from the company's most recent DSLR cameras.

Body and Handling: A familiar feeling

Upon first glance, there are obvious similarities between the Nikon Z7 and recent Nikon DSLR cameras, such as the Nikon D850. This was, of course, by design. Nikon's design and engineering teams wanted the Z7 to feel like a Nikon camera, which means that buttons are in familiar locations, the shutter release has a similar feel and the grip has a similar surface and shape.

While similar, the Z7 is certainly smaller and lighter than Nikon's full-frame DSLR cameras. Some of the buttons are smaller and the grip is smaller. For some users, the Z7 may feel a bit small. For us, it felt like a very good balance of size and usability.

From left to right: Nikon D850, Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R III. As we can see, the Z7 is quite a bit smaller than the Nikon D850, although still a little bit bigger than its fellow mirrorless camera, the Sony A7R III.

Over the years, EVFs have evolved dramatically and the Z7's electronic viewfinder is one of the best we have ever used. It is a 0.5-inch OLED EVF with 0.8x magnification and 3,690k dots. This is a lot of resolution and magnification and the end result is a natural-feeling shooting experience. EVFs may have been frowned upon in the past, but there's a lot to like about shooting with the EVF on the Z7.

The camera has other nice features, including a very good rear LCD. The 3.2-inch screen is quite large for the compact camera body and has a high resolution of 2,100k dots. The display is crisp, has an impressive viewing angle and can tilt up and down. It's a touchscreen to boot, although Nikon could still improve its touch-based user interface in a few areas. The camera offers touch AF and touch shutter, which works well, but you are unable to use the rear display as an AF touchpad, meaning you can't be using the EVF to shoot while simultaneously moving the AF point with the rear display. You can, however, use the dedicated AF joystick to move the point, which works really well.

The Z7's rear touchscreen not only can tilt up and down, but it delivers excellent sharpness and overall quality.

That's the general theme of the Z7's camera body and design, it "works really well." This is a new chapter for Nikon that builds upon the company's extensive legacy of great design, and the Z7 feels immediately familiar despite being quite different technically. The new features are excellent and the most important aspects of prior advancements are retained.

Summary

In nearly every way in both lab and real-world testing, the Nikon Z7 was competent or excelled, performing incredibly well in a wide variety of situations. The camera's body and design are familiar yet improved in meaningful ways, while offering a much lighter and more compact body than Nikon's full-frame DSLR cameras. The image quality is excellent, the new hybrid autofocus system is generally quick and accurate, and it's about time IBIS was offered in a Nikon. For users demanding high-quality video, the Z7 offers that as well, plus many videographer-friendly features. However, for those wanting better video features, as well as a bit more oomph in the performance department, the Nikon Z6 is perhaps a better choice if you're willing to drop down to 24MP stills.

The new Z-mount lenses released so far are also quite impressive, especially the 35mm f/1.8 S and 50mm f/1.8 S primes which are both very sharp lenses. The small 24-70mm f/4 S zoom lens is a great travel lens that's sharp and lightweight, however the lens relies a bit heavily on software corrections (likely a compromise to get size and weight down). And the just-announced 14-30mm f/4 S lens look to be an excellent optic for landscape and architectural photographers. Overall, the Z Mount has a lot of potential, and we're excited to see what the future holds.

Is the Z7 perfect? Of course not, no camera is, especially not one which is the first of a brand-new system. There are still a few kinks to be ironed out and some areas to be refined, and you can tell that some of the other players have been making mirrorless cameras longer than Nikon. Hopefully most of the foibles will be addressed with firmware updates. In fact, at this year's CES, Nikon announced firmware updates that will add new features, such as Eye AF, to both the Z7 and Z6 cameras, so there are already updates in the works.

Overall though, when taking image quality, performance, features, build quality, ergonomics and size all into account, it's clear the Nikon Z7 is one heck of a camera, so much so that we've awarded it Best Pro Camera of 2018, and it's absolutely a Dave's Pick.

Pros & Cons

  • Superb still image quality
  • Very good high ISO performance
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Sharp, very high resolution stills
  • Vibrant default colors
  • Autofocus points cover nearly all of the image area
  • Good AF-S speeds
  • Able to focus in extremely low light (but requires dedicated Low-Light AF mode)
  • Fast cycle times
  • 8-9 fps burst speeds with C-AF
  • Swift buffer clearing (thanks to fast XQD cards)
  • In-body image stabilization (a first for a Nikon)
  • Silent shutter mode
  • Good 4K/30p video
  • Headphone and microphone jacks
  • 4:2:2 10-bit 4K via HDMI out
  • 4K focus peaking
  • Separate settings menus for stills and video
  • Rugged build quality
  • Excellent weather resistance
  • Familiar control layout for existing Nikon users
  • Well-organized menus
  • Gorgeous, high-res 0.8x OLED EVF with 100% coverage
  • Smooth viewfinder performance, even when shooting continuously
  • EVF works well in low light
  • Top deck status display
  • Tilting high-res 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD
  • USB 3.1 Type-C port
  • Built-in SnapBridge Bluetooth/Wi-Fi communications
  • Type-C Mini HDMI
  • New native lenses are sharp
  • 24-70mm f/4 S kit lens is surprisingly compact
  • Adapted F-mount lenses generally work well
  • Single card slot
  • While touchscreen is responsive, touchscreen is underutilized (no AF touchpad function)
  • Rear display does not offer swivel functionality
  • Limited buffer depths
  • Below average CIPA-rated battery life (though real-world battery endurance is far better)
  • Tricky to get good white balance in incandescent lighting
  • Slightly below average mean hue accuracy at default settings
  • Faint banding in very deep shadows due to on-sensor PDAF pixels
  • Limited native lens selection (as expected for a new lens mount)
  • No battery grip (yet)
  • Top burst speeds slow down slightly when shooting 14-bit raw files
  • Continuous AE adjustments not supported at top burst speed (but continuous AF is)
  • Continuous AF performance not quite as good as D5/D500/D850 DSLR cameras
  • Occasional focus accuracy oddities with FTZ adapter
  • Electronic Front Curtain Shutter mode limits top shutter speed to 1/2000 and top ISO to 25600
  • Shutter shock can be an issue with mechanical shutter
  • Needs an Auto shutter mode to switch between EFCS and m-shutter automatically
  • 1/200s x-sync speed
  • Continuous autofocus in video is improved over prior Nikon cameras, but still underwhelming
  • Low-light autofocus during video recording is not good




Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate