Cutting some slack: DPR isn’t the problem with Nikon Z7 comparisons…

by Dave Etchells

posted Sunday, September 2, 2018 at 5:30 PM EST




We recently published an article decrying the number of "comparisons" being made between the just-announced Nikon Z7 and other cameras, given that all anyone has seen of the Z7 yet has been prototype versions with non-final firmware.

This happened to touch off a firestorm of criticism for DP Review, who published comparison pieces between the Z7 and Sony A7R III and Z6 and Sony A7 III.

I personally know and respect pretty much all of the editorial staff of DP Review, and our remarks were not directed toward them, despite many of our mutual readers assuming so. They're not remotely the problem here...

I think people who have been so harshly critical of DPR's articles should read them again more carefully, to see just what it is that they're comparing on the cameras, and whether those things are likely to change in any significant way between the current prototypes we've both seen and final production models. I wouldn't have used a "which is better" title myself, but I've read both of their articles carefully (more carefully a second time, just now), and other than a couple of minor quibbles on their Z7-vs-A7RIII piece, I find nothing unfounded, unfair or inaccurate in either.

Let's take a quick look at their Z7-vs-A7RIII comparison, panel by panel, and see if you don't agree with me:

  • Panel 1 - Mirrorless compared
    Nothing remotely controversial here; they just mention resolution and MSRP pricing.
  • Panel 2 - Body and design
    Nothing controversial here, either; their comment about the Z7's weather sealing feeling more substantial points to the presence of seals around the battery door.
  • Panel 3 - User interface
    I don't see anything at all invalid about this. There's a minor chance that some aspects of the Z7's UI might change prior to launch (conceivably, they could add touch selection for AF points when using the viewfinder, pretty much DPR's only negative observation, but they point out that that feature on the A7R III is "unresponsive and unintuitive at best", so no points deducted).
  • Panel 4 - Image quality
    This could well change with the Z7's final firmware, but it's extremely unlikely it will become worse. The only complaint voiced is that Nikon's high-ISO noise tends to have more of a 'rice grain' pattern to it, but I don't think that remark is directed solely at the Z7. Even if it is, the conclusion is that users can produce "beautiful, high resolution photos from either of these cameras" - so once again, no points deducted.
  • Panel 5 - Autofocus
    While some others have commented (prematurely, IMHO) on the Z7's AF performance, what DPR talks about on this page is the basic functionality and UI for the AF systems. Again, it's possible that Nikon could change some aspects of the AF UI design on the Z7 before release, but I'd be very, very surprised to see them do so. (Improve performance yes, change the whole UI, no.)
  • Panel 6 - Video
    The sole criticism of the Z7 here is that it has more rolling shutter than the A7R III when shooting in 4K mode. To the best of my knowledge, rolling shutter is a fundamental characteristic of a camera's system design, and so extremely unlikely to change as a result of a firmware upgrade. In any case, DPR says video is a draw overall, but that the Z7 wins hands-down when it comes to ease of use. (And they do mention that the Z7 also offers a 10-bit log mode in 4:2:2, via its HDMI port. The A7R III does give you log recording internally, but with only 8-bit tonal recording and 4:2:0 encoding.)
  • Panel 7 - EVF and LCD
    Objective facts, Nikon wins this round.
  • Panel 8 - Card slots and media
    No secret, the Z7 has a single card slot, a fact many users have bemoaned. My one quibble here, though is that DPR comments on the write speed of the Z7, saying it isn't as fast as that of the D5. I don't know the likelihood of this changing as a result of a firmware update, but we deliberately refrained from any mention of performance, waiting to see a production sample before doing so. This is a small issue in DPR's coverage, though; they don't make any comment one way or the other relative to A7R III write speeds. (I honestly didn't even check how fast the Z7 was clearing its buffer, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't quicker than the A7R III in that regard, even if it's slower than the D5.)
  • Panel 9 - Lenses
    Absolutely nothing on this page is subject to prototype vs production changes.
  • Panel 10 - Extra features
    Once again, nothing here will change between prototype and production.
  • Panel 11 - Performance
    Not much to complain about here, but I do have two very minor quibbles: DPR very factually notes the difference in buffer size between the two cameras, and also notes that the Z7 clears its buffer "fairly quickly", though rightfully noting that you'll nonetheless notice it when you hit the end of the buffer on the Z7. My minor complaint with that is that I think a fair comparison needs to really include some figure for total shots over time between the two cameras - but I've of course noted already that the Z7's writing speed might increase as a result of the final firmware update. It's a pretty minor quibble, but I'd have given some indication of just how the buffer clearing time differed, with the note that the Z7's might change. As I said, a minor complaint. My other concern is that the Z7's CIPA battery life rating is wildly unrepresentative of what most users will experience in real-world shooting. A rating of 330 shots is pretty poor by current standards, but I got over 500 shots with an unknown but significant amount of capacity remaining, and another photographer on the Tokyo excursion got 660, with 40% capacity still remaining. The A7R III also typically delivers more than its rated 650 shots per charge, but I think some note should have been made that 330 shots is very significantly less than most photographers will find. Nonetheless, there's nothing unfair in the comparison of 330 to 650 CIPA shots; that's what the ratings are, and I suspect that comparing real-world numbers will still favor the Sony by a good margin. Mainly, I'd just like people to be aware that the 330-shot rating of the Z7 is grossly low.
  • Panel 12 - Conclusion
    Just a recap of the preceding pages, and even reading it standalone, I find nothing at all controversial here.

DPR's comparison of the Z6 with the Sony A7 III should be even less controversial, since the title clearly states that it's a comparison of "Specs and key features". They do speculate some on how the Z6 might perform in various areas, but criticisms like the Nikon model not having Eye-AF which the Sony camera does are pretty well-founded. We'll see how well Nikon's face-detect AF does with keeping catchlights in the subjects' eyes crisp (if it does so with high reliability, then Eye-AF would be less of a differentiator), but I think it's pretty fair to give Sony the nod on that point. As to the rest, it's all about features and specs, not issues of performance that will depend on getting hands-on a Z6 production sample. 

So that's my take on DPR's "comparison" coverage. After a careful reading of both articles, I find nothing wrong, incorrect, or unfair (apart from the very minor quibbles mentioned above). I encourage people critical of DPR's coverage to re-read them as carefully as I did, and see if they don't come to a similar conclusion.

OK, if not DPR, who is the problem?

Well, as with DPR, I count some of them as friends, so I'll decline to call them out by name. Regardless of who they are, though, my big problem is with people commenting on performance, or telling people what to buy or not, based on a couple of hours of experience with prototype cameras having non-final firmware. (In all fairness, it seems some people weren't told that the firmware wasn't final, but OTOH, everyone was told that we had to label our photos and video as having come from "preproduction beta samples", which should have been a strong clue that the bodies weren't in their final state.)

Some of what's out there is simply people being straightforward about their thoughts and experiences (albeit that I consider them premature), but other material is nothing but inflammatory click-bait that's unfortunately getting a lot of attention.

(Interestingly, one article that particularly set me off showed up near the top of a Google search on the Z7, and was published by a major tech site. Unfortunately, I didn't bookmark the URL or note which site it was, and now I can't remember which site it was. The interesting part is that I've just spent the better part of 15 minutes Googling and can find no trace of the article anymore. I'm 100% certain I saw it, though, noticing it in particular because it was from a fairly big site. It was in the general form of "Nikon's Z7, should you stay or switch?" - Not those specific words, but that was the general sense of it. It makes me wonder if the editors there decided to pull it after seeing our article and people's reaction to it...)

Whatever the case, despite their "Which is better" headline, I really don't find any fault with DPR's coverage. It's others out there who are either basing honest judgements on non-final products, or hyping the "stay or switch" meme for all it's worth that I take issue with. Perhaps I'm just envious of the hundreds of thousands of clicks the click-baiters get, but regardless of that, IR will never play that game. I don't think DPR is, either.

As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments below, but please maintain the civility and respectful tone the IR community is known for (trolls and ad-hom comments will be mercilessly deleted :-)