Last year, camera heavyweights Nikon and Canon entered the full-frame mirrorless camera race in a bid to topple Sony's dominance in this growing market. We've already tested Canon's debut offering, the Canon EOS R and now it's time to check out Nikon's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera — the Nikon Z7.
This is Nikon's top-end full-frame mirrorless camera, and it's designed mainly for professional photographers who need a high-resolution sensor for shooting landscapes or large-scale prints. It also packs in plenty of features for video buffs, as it supports 4K video recording at 30fps and also has in-body image stabilisation. With a sticker price of Rs. 2,30,450 for just the body, this camera goes up against the likes of the Sony A7R III, which is another full-frame mirrorless camera targeted at pro photographers.
Is Nikon's debut attempt worth your money? It's time to find out.
Nikon says it has modelled the Z7 around the design of its flagship DSLR, the D850. This is somewhat apparent when you first hold the Nikon Z7, because it has the look of a DSLR but obviously with a much slimmer body since there's no physical mirror.
The Nikon Z7 has a deep grip which feels very comfortable. You also get plenty of rubber cladding all around the body, so even with greasy fingers, you shouldn't have any trouble holding on to this camera. The body is claimed to be quite durable too, thanks to the magnesium alloy frame.
The Z7 debuts Nikon's new Z-mount, which has a wider diameter than the current F-mount of Nikon's DSLRs. The new mount offers a shorter flange distance (the distance between the rear of the lens and the sensor) which, in theory, should result in less image distortion. A new mount means a new set of lenses. Currently, Nikon offers six NIKKOR Z lenses, with more on the way.
Nikon sent us the 24-70 f/4 S lens, which offers a modest level of zoom, a quiet autofocus motor, and a customisable ring that can be programmed to set the aperture, exposure, etc. Of course, you can use most of your existing Nikon F-series lenses too with the optional FTZ adapter.
The Nikon Z7 has a good selection of ports. On the left, we have individual sockets for a microphone and headphones, a Mini-HDMI port, USB Type-C port, and accessory terminal which are all covered by two chunky rubber flaps. There are two customisable function buttons on the front of the body, right next to the lens. If you have long fingers, the Fn 1 and Fn 2 buttons will be easy to get to, but those with smaller hands will find them to be a bit out of reach.
The rest of the buttons and dials should be instantly familiar to any Nikon user. The mode dial locks in place so you don't accidentally change it when shooting. There's a top-mounted secondary display for quickly checking your exposure settings. The buttons are big and chunky, with good travel. You also get a handy toggle that lets you easily switch between video and still shooting modes, and a joystick for menu navigation or changing the focus point.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is bright and crisp thanks to its 3.69 million dot resolution, and there's an eye sensor for automatically switching between the EVF and the LCD. You can also use the 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD for framing your shots, adjusting focus, changing settings, etc. Touch input also works in the menus, which is good. The LCD panel has good sunlight legibility too and can be tilted up or down, but can't flip up or sideways 180 degrees.
Finally, we come to the camera's storage. The Nikon Z7 has only a single slot on the right for an XQD card. This flash storage format was announced by SanDisk, Sony and Nikon back in 2010. Thanks to the PCIe interface, XQD cards boast of read/write speeds of up to 1GBps and are generally supposed to be more durable than SD cards. On the other hand, they are also quite expensive and not easy to find.
We found a Sony G-series 64GB XQD card for sale on Amazon for around Rs. 10,000. You'll also need a card reader to get files off the card, since regular laptop card readers don't support it. Nikon India's website does state that the Z7 units sold here will ship with a 64GB XQD card, we would have liked two card slots or at least a slot that supports both XQD and SD cards, like Nikon did with the D500.
In terms of hardware, the Nikon Z7 is pretty well equipped. It has a 45.7-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and Nikon's EXPEED 6 image processor. You get 493 autofocus points that cover 90 percent of the frame, an ISO range of 64-25,600 (expandable to 1,02,400), up to 9fps burst shooting, 4K video recording at 30fps or 1080p at up to 120fps, timelapse video, support for N-Log recording, and 10-bit capture over HDMI to an external recorder. There's also the 5-axis in-body stabilisation that we talked about earlier, and in addition to this, you can enable electronic stabilisation for even smoother video, although this results in a slight crop.
The Nikon Z7 allows silent shooting, and a toggle for this can be assigned to any of the custom function buttons. This works when shooting in burst mode too. There's one big feature that's currently missing in the Nikon Z7, and that's Eye autofocus or Eye AF, but Nikon says that this is coming in a future update.
Eye AF is useful feature that sharpens the focus of shots of people on their eyes. This is handy when you're shooting portraits and have a wide-aperture lens. The upcoming firmware will include this along with improved low-light AF performance, AE (Auto Exposure) tracking while shooting bursts, RAW video output support, and compatibility with CFexpress memory cards.
The Nikon Z7 also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for syncing photos you shoot to your phone. The Nikon SnapBridge app is available for both Android and iOS and lets you automatically transfer images from the camera to your phone as they are shot. You can also use your phone as a viewfinder for remote shooting. The interface is very good, and setting it up doesn't require too much effort. Rread more about it in our review of the Nikon D500
The Nikon Z7 doesn't have a very high native ISO range, as it tops out at ISO 25,600. However, its performance at that level is good, which means you can actually consider using the full range when shooting. There's virtually no perceptible drop in quality right from ISO 64 to ISO 1,600. Details are excellent, edges are sharp, and colours really pop. At ISO 6,400, we begin to notice a slight drop in sharpness, but overall, the image still looks very pleasing.
At ISO 12,800, the finer wooden texture on the pencils is less visible, but again, there's very little noise. Finally, at ISO 25,600 detail is noticeably weaker and the image appears a little soft. Noise is visible too, but overall, the image is still very usable. You can bump the ISO up further, but after this, each stop increases the noise drastically, so it's not really recommended.
When it comes to pure image quality, the Nikon Z7 was a real pleasure to use. In daylight, the large sensor and high resolution resulted in excellent detail in landscapes and macros. Close-ups had a velvety texture, which looks very engaging. Colours were rich, with good contrast and saturation, and in macros, subjects had very well defined edges.
The 24-70mm lens offers a smooth bokeh when shooting portraits, which is something we really liked. Skin tones generally had good warmth and detail was very good. The camera's face tracking is on by default and will lock on to a person's face automatically when shooting stills or video. You can enable subject tracking by simply tapping on your subject in the LCD viewfinder.
The Nikon Z7 did a decent job with burst shooting. With ‘High-speed', you can shoot continuously at about 5.5fps, with a live view of your subject on the viewfinder. With ‘High-speed (extended)', you can shoot at 9fps but without a live feed. The latter will work better if your subject is moving within a confined space and you don't have to pan around too much.
We managed to capture some good action shots and the good news is that thanks to the fast memory card, there was very little wait time before all the photos were saved and we were ready to go again. We also didn't feel the camera getting too hot when shooting in burst mode repeatedly for a good 10 minutes outdoors, even though the camera did get a little warm.
We do have a few quibbles about the Nikon Z7's burst shooting. Dynamic-area AF was very unreliable in keeping our moving subjects in focus when shooting in bursts. In fact, the camera almost always lost track of our subjects after the first few frames.
Subject tracking, on the other hand, was a lot more reliable. With our subject running towards us in a zig-zag manner, the Nikon Z7 was able to lock focus correctly in nearly all the frames we captured. We just wish that this camera had a bigger buffer. After capturing 23-24 frames, it starts losing steam and drops to 2-3fps.
In low light, the Nikon Z7 continued to impress us by delivering good dynamic range, strong colours, and sharp focus. At high ISO levels, the default noise reduction setting can be a little aggressive when shooting landscapes. It tends to introduce mild artefacts, though this is only really noticeable at a 100 percent crop.
Close-ups fared a lot better, and even under dim, artificial lighting, the Nikon Z7 was able to deliver vivid colours and good detail. Autofocus was generally quick too, although in very low light, the f/4 aperture on the 24-70mm lens showed its limitations and we did observe a bit of focus hunting.
The Nikon Z7 can shoot 4K video at 30fps without any cropping, and in daylight, we found the quality to be very good. Face tracking kicks in by default as soon as the camera detects a person in the frame. It did a good job locking on, even when we or our subject moved about. Objects in focus were very sharp and the lens produced a very pleasing bokeh too. The built-in microphones captured good stereo audio. You can adjust the tracking and autofocus sensitivity for video, depending on the type of results you want to achieve.
The 5-axis stabilisation did a decent enough job at compensating for jarring shakes in video when we moved about. You can increase the effect of stabilisation by changing to ‘Sport' mode. You can have in-body and electronic stabilisation working together, but enabling the latter introduced a weird jelly effect to video when we were walking.
You can use the touchscreen to shift focus from one subject to another, and the transition effect is smooth. The Nikon Z7 doesn't let you use the LCD display as a touchpad to manipulate the focus point when using the EVF, which is something we missed. You'll have to use the joystick for this.
Video quality is very good in low light too and the Nikon Z7 gives you full manual control to set up your shot. We didn't face any rolling shutter issue when shooting at 1080p resolution. There's a bit at 4K, but it's not immediately noticeable.
The Nikon Z7 is rated to deliver 330 shots per charge, which is a little weak, but this depends a lot on how you'll be using the camera. For instance, when we were not saving RAW files all the time and using the LCD display for framing, we easily managed to go a little beyond the rated battery life. On the other hand, with lots of burst shooting and the camera tethered to our phone, we fell a bit short.
You get an external battery charger in the box, but the battery can't be charged while in the camera using a power bank.
Nikon seems to have rushed the Z7 out just so it could launch a full-frame offering before Canon. There's room for improvement in terms of features such as Eye AF and autofocus performance when tracking subjects, but at least the company has stated that these features will arrive with a firmware update, which is slated to arrive on May 16.
With that said, the Nikon Z7 has a solid foundation and that's a good place to start. The high-resolution sensor offers good dynamic range, sharpness, and colour reproduction for still images. You also get in-body stabilisation, good high-ISO performance, fast burst shooting and good quality 4K video recording, all in a body that's comfortable to use with controls that are easy to master.
One area in which the Nikon Z7 could have done better is battery life. While you can squeeze out a bit more than the rated shots per charge, you might have to adjust your shooting habits to achieve this. We would have liked to have a secondary SD card slot too, as users are limited to just XQD cards which are not easy to find right now. We also found the frame buffer to be slightly limited for burst shooting.
If you're platform agnostic then it's really hard to ignore the Sony A7R III, because it offers a much more robust set of features at a comparable price. The Nikon Z7 makes more sense for existing Nikon users, as they'll be able to use their current F series lenses with the adapter. Plus, there's the familiarity aspect too, as there won't be much of a learning curve.
Ratings (out of 5)