Review: Nikon z7 (A Most Frustrating Camera in the Most Subtle of Ways)

The Nikon z7 (oddly named the Nikon Z 7 by Nikon) isn’t a completely awful camera despite what reviews online have said.

When I first had the chance to play with the Nikon z7, I felt like Nikon had given us a with camera a whole lot of promise despite guaranteeing a groan out of a photographer every time that they try to bring their images onto their computer. But then we found issues with the autofocus, and quite frankly some of those autofocus issues were pretty awful. On paper, the Nikon z7 sounds like it would knock the ball out of the park. In real life practice though, it wasn’t up to par of so many other options out there. But with a BSI 45.7MP full frame sensor that has 493 focusing points, this seems like a camera that is a dream for so many shooters out there. Unfortunately, it’s not pulling me away from Sony any time soon.

Editor’s note: This review is going by an experimental new standard that we’ve outlined. Each section receives its own rating and in this case, the Nikon z7 can win up to 25 stars with each section having a maximum 5 star rating.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Good feeling in the hand
  • Solid weather sealing
  • Lots of focusing points
  • Good high ISO output
  • Lots of resolution
  • A touch screen
  • Image stabilization is very good
  • The viewfinder is beautiful
  • I genuinely appreciate the top LCD screen
  • Outstanding battery life

Cons

  • Little things annoy me, like not being able to push the joystick in to bring the focusing point back to the center
  • Why the hell is there an XQD card slot?
  • I’d really prefer dual card slots
  • Changing the white balance I feel is the slowest thing
  • While I understand Nikon’s philosophy in putting a dedicated ISO button, I’d have preferred a dial of some sort
  • Did we mention the autofocus isn’t up to par?
  • Nikon created a brand new camera system and yet they decided to keep the single most awkward mounting system that, like their DSLRs, requires you to screw the lenses in to the left instead of to the right like LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE DOES!
  • The muscle memory learning curve is steeper than with most other cameras
  • Expensive

Gear Used

We tested the Nikon z7 with the 35mm f1.8 Z and the 24-70mm f4 Z lens.

Tech Specs

  • The high-resolution Nikon Z7 has 45.7 effective megapixels, back side illumination, and supports a standard sensitivity range of ISO 64–25600.
  • No low pass filter
  • The Nikon Z7 has 493 focus points.
  • The new EXPEED six image-processing engine helps to offer a mid-range sharpening feature. Think of this like Adobe’s Clarity engine.
  • Same level of strength and durability, as well as dust- and drip- resistance, as the Nikon D850, offered in a compact body
  • The Z 7 and Z 6 are equipped with in-camera vibration reduction (VR). The VR unit provides compensation for movement along five axes. The effects of vibration reduction are equivalent to a shutter speed up to approximately 5.0 stops6.
  • Both cameras are equipped with an electronic viewfinder for which an approximately 3690k-dot OLED panel has been adopted. The electronic viewfinder has frame coverage and magnification of approximately 100% and 0.8×, respectively, as well as an approximately 37.0° diagonal viewing angle.
  • The Z 7 and Z 6 are equipped with in-camera vibration reduction (VR).The VR unit provides compensation for movement along five axes. The effects of vibration reduction are equivalent to a shutter speed up to approximately 5.0 stops6.
  • 3.2-in., approximately 2100k-dot touch-sensitive LCD monitor, with a tilting mechanism
  • Silent photography function eliminates shake and noise caused by shutter release,
  • Peaking stack image function9 enables confirmation of the area in focus after shooting using focus shift, which is convenient for focus stacking10
  • High-speed continuous shooting (extended)11 at approximately 9 fps (Z 7) and 12 fps (Z 6) captures fast motion
  • Interval timer photography that makes 8K (Z 7) time-lapse movie creation10 possible
  • display panel has been placed on the top plate of the camera, where information about settings can be displayed, similar to high-end digital SLR camera models.
  • An extended low-light metering range12 allows users to easily capture scenes such as the transition from sunset to starry night sky, using aperture-priority auto exposure
  • Built-in Wi-Fi® for direct connection to a smart device using SnapBridge
  • Built-in Wi-Fi® makes the transfer of images and movies to a computer possible
  • Support for existing digital SLR camera accessories such as the EN-EL15/a/b batteries, WT-7/A/B/C Wireless Transmitter (available separately) for transferring images and movies at high speed over a wired or wireless LAN, and radio-controlled/optical controlled Advanced Wireless Lighting, which makes flexible multi-flash photography possible

Ergonomics

Taken from our first impressions post

As you look at the Nikon Z7, you can see that the company really wasn’t playing around with the size of that mount. With the contacts see in the image above, one can liken it to the mouth of a hungry shark waiting to devour a lens. Nom nom nom.

And on the sides of the mouth are custom buttons, some branding, the most stick lens release mount on a pre-production unit ever, and a big grip. The grip has an exposure dial too.

Look at the top of the Nikon Z7 and what you’ll spot is a number of controls. The mode dial has an automatic mode. I’ll let that sink in as you and I both question why.

You’ll find the hot shoe, the fantastic top LCD dial, on/off switch, video record button, ISO button, and the exposure dials there too. Oh yeah, and there is the big viewfinder too. One of the engineers said that he was most proud of this, and I have to take my hat off to him. Nikon did a truly fantastic job here.

Here on the side, you’ll find the XQD slot. To be clear, it’s a single XQD slot. I’m not sure why Nikon did this; but they did it!

On the other side, the ports include a headphone jack, microphone jack, HDMI, USB, etc. You’re all set here for most photojournalistic video applications.

When you look at the back of the Nikon Z7, you’ll see a number of buttons. There is the big display button that changes how the back LCD renders information. Then there is the joystick, info button, D pad, magnify, drive button, viewfinder, LCD screen, playback, etc. Again, it mostly feels very Nikon. However, this time around, the LCD is taking up more real estate.

Oh yeah, the Nikon Z7’s LCD screen tilts up.

In Comparison

Ergonomically speaking, the Nikon z7 has to be the best of the bunch. The Sony a7r III and the Canon EOS R all feel good in the hand, but both should take cues from Nikon. Again though, this rating is really just in terms of how the cameras feel in the hand. When it comes to actual ease of use, Canon and Sony are both doing a better job.

Ergonomically speaking, the Nikon z7 is winning 5 out of five stars.

 

Build Quality

The Nikon z7 is said to be dust and drip resistant; specifically it is rated to be on par with the Nikon D850. In our tests, the camera survived a number of tussles when it came to commuting with it in a camera bag and being bumped by a number of other NYC commuters. But to be fair, most cameras can do that these days and the Nikon z7 isn’t meant to be treated like an egg at all.

Our real test came when we put it into the heavy rain here in NYC. We used the Nikon z 7 with the 35mm f1.8 lens and both of them stood up to the rain really well. Not only did we use the camera in the rain, but we also placed it down on a surface that was wet. The camera continued to function flawlessly. As far as I go, the Nikon couldn’t even tell that it was raining. For photojournalists, street photographers who like to do the photo wait, portrait shooters, landscape, or cityscape shooters that love the rain, the Nikon z 7 can very much hold its own.

In Comparison

Even though the Nikon z7 is very well weather sealed, I need to fully admit that the Canon EOS R is too. We can see that in the image above. The Sony a9, which you see below, is weather sealed too–and pretty well.

In comparison, the Nikon z 7 does a fine job in the rain. And we have to award it five out of five stars for build quality.

Ease of Use

When it comes to the straightforward act of simply taking photos, you’re not going to have a problem with the Nikon z7 at all. If you’re a tried and true Nikon user, things will be very familiar to you with some exception being given for where the ISO button is placed. That specifically will make more sense to Nikon D850 users. But when you turn to the back of the camera you’ll see how things are sort of a mess when it comes to the design. Part of this is because they’re struggling to just put everything on the right side. The “i” button is in a weird spot, the display button is all the way up on the top, and then when scrolling through your images it isn’t very intuitive for you to be able to figure out what the EXIF data was, see the histogram, etc. The joystick feels good, but perhaps that’s one of the Nikon z7’s saving graces.

The weirdest thing though is, well, the way the lenses go in. They go in just like Nikon has set them up with their DSLR system for years. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why they didn’t choose to set it up the way that literally every other camera system does and screw the lenses into the other direction. As a reviewer, every time that I use a Nikon camera I need to rewire my brain around it.

Then there are just other small, awful things:

  • An XQD slot
  • You need to use an XQD reader
  • If you don’t have said reader you need to use a USB cord
  • Who the hell, in 2018, uses a USB cord connected to their camera anymore?
  • Changing the drive mode vs what I’ve been used to with Nikon for years with a switch
  • Why put the playback button so far up top left and not on the right side where the user’s thumb will be? Their other hand will hold the lens.
  • With the implementation of the touch screen, does Nikon really need the magnifying glass buttons anymore?

Despite all these problems, I need to state that the battery life is positively fantastic. In addition to that, this is one of the best EVFs that we’ve ever seen. In fact, we did a video with Nikon all about this EVF.

In Comparison

Canon and Sony both generally have easier cameras to operate. This is being stated from the viewpoint of a photographer considering switching. If you’re a dedicated Nikon user though, then this camera will probably be right up your alley. Still though, I know Nikon users who believe this camera to be weird and odd at times.

In complete honesty, I have to give the Nikon z7 two out of five stars here when it comes to usability.

Autofocus

Just the other night, I mounted my Canon 50mm f1.2 RF to the Canon EOS R and was astounded at how quickly it focused. Then after updating the firmware for the Nikon z7, I found it to still be a bit better. It isn’t the Canon EOS R still; nor is it Fujifilm, Olympus or Sony. However, it isn’t completely unusable except for when it comes to tracking moving subjects. Before the firmware update, we gave the Nikon z7 a major torture test and shot with it in very low light at a concert. Against the Fujifilm XT2, the Fujifilm ran circles around the Nikon and had a significantly higher hit rate. Even so, I’m not fully confident in how the Nikon z7 would perform in low light.

At one point we tried tracking a moving dog during twilight, and the Nikon z7 couldn’t really keep up.

In Comparison

As of my publishing this story, the Nikon z7 has the worst autofocus of any modern day mirrorless camera with autofocus. Is it completely unusable? Heck no. Is it anywhere up to par? Hell no.

Two stars out of five stars, again, is pretty generous here.

Image Quality

If you’re used to Nikon’s image quality, then you’ll be pleased to know that it holds up in pretty much every way here. Photographers who purchase the Nikon z7 won’t at all have an issue with the image quality. In fact, if you’re using it with something like a manual focus lens or for anything that doesn’t require very good autofocus, you’ll most likely end up keeping the camera instead of returning it simply because the image quality is really that great–and if you have a plethora or Nikkor glass there is even more reason like this camera.

RAW File Versatility

Original

The Nikon z7’s RAW files are very, very versatile. This edit was created in Adobe Lightroom using mostly just the HSL sliders because as of this publishing, the Nikon z7 isn’t supported in Capture One. However, when that changes, we will do a re-test.

Edited

Of course, you can see how a bland image can be made into something much more painterly and gorgeous.

Editing in Capture One 12

Original

Edit

Where I find that Adobe will work hard to super saturate the color channels, in the latest Capture One 12 update it seems like that isn’t the case. In fact, it even seems like not a whole lot of information can be brought out of the highlights. This is because of the way that Capture One edits–the scene overall is made to look more realistic and rewards minimal editing to a point. This is evident in what you see with the small mausoleums in the scene. When you compare this to what Adobe does, they’re tinged to be purple and ultra saturated. But the image above renders something that is more life-life and less wet, saturated, painting look.

Original

Edit

Original

As you can also see in this portrait photo sample, we were able to really fix skin tone. To do this, we locked the white balance to 3200K and worked with the color channel according to the channel associated with his skin color. In addition to that, The Nikon z7 has a tonal curve for Portrait in Capture One 12. When you edit using this, you can get more from the skin in addition to easier separation.

Edit

In this situation, I’m not going to say that one is better than the other. But instead I’m going to say the Capture One 12 can help Nikon z7 users create an image that looks more like a photo whole Adobe Lightroom is more prone to allowing users to simply just mix all the things together. So what sort of editor are you?

High ISO Output

ISO 6400

These two scenes aren’t the exact same image but we purposely changed the colors/white balance to show you what the Nikon z7 is capable of doing at high ISOs. In terms of output, we’ve found it to be very good for most uses on the web. In fact, these images were exported to 3000 pixels on the long side and they still look good. We have no doubt that the Nikon z7 can deliver great image quality at high ISO and when the final result is for deliverance on the web.

ISI 6400

In our printing tests, we made a large print at 17×22 inches and found that on Canon’s Plus Semi-Gloss paper the Nikon z7 produces some surprisingly good results. When you view the 17×22 inch paper from a distance that it is really meant to be viewed at and combine this with proper lighting for a semi-gloss paper, you get a very pleasing result that shows off the sharpness of the Nikon z7’s sensor and their 35mm f1.8 lens. However, when you come in close it’s evident that there is color noise–though it isn’t that awful and it’s only really in certain areas. We chose this paper because it will show the results of high ISO output much better than a matte paper would. In fact, matte paper would hide and embrace the results. But straight out of the camera except with a bit of color adjustment, we began to see some image noise even on the screen of the iMac that this was all being tested on. That noisy photo, when put onto the web, is more than good enough. But for a print? I think that the Nikon z7 is good enough for printing large at ISO 6400.

Extra Image Samples

In Comparison

In comparison to the Sony a7r III and the Canon EOS R, the Nikon z7 is in the middle ground–especially when it comes to high ISO output like we tested. Generally speaking, I like Canon’s color the most the three. Sony’s clinical approach to image quality makes it better when it comes to lab results. With that said, I have to say that the Nikon is a jack of all trades but really a master of none. Sony, with their fantastic lens line up, can still outresolve what Nikon is capable of. In addition to that, the dynamic range and RAW file versatility on a Sony camera is just so stupidly good. Nikon perhaps has a slight edge, but I’m not quite sure it matters if you just learn how to meter correctly in the first place.

Here’s where I’ll give the Nikon z7 the five stars that it deserves.

Conclusions

Likes

  • Ergonomics
  • Image quality

Dislikes

  • Did you see that massive list I pretty much put twice in the Pros and Cons and Ease of Use? Good lord man…
  • The autofocus

The Nikon z7 is a camera that I feel could have been so much better. Nikon could have found a way to blow Sony out of the water in all areas, but they just didn’t. I feel like they pulled a Canon here and purposely crippled their own cameras. Why? I don’t know. The Nikon z7 will undoubtedly get better with firmware updates, but that can only change so much. The autofocus is bound to improve over time, but I think that the biggest issue is the single XQD card slot. Every time you want to connect to your computer you’ll need to bring yet another cable with you. That’s annoying let alone really stressful at times if you travel a lot. If this were SD slots, I think it would have been more acceptable.

When it comes to image quality though, the Nikon z7 is pretty awesome. It’s difficult to beat for sure. SOOC images will look bland as ever even with good white balancing techniques. But massage them in post-production and you’ll get very pleasing photos.

All in all, the Nikon z 7 isn’t a bad camera. It really isn’t. It’s just a camera that should have been released a few years ago. When you average all our stars out, the Nikon z7’s rating leans towards four out of five stars.