I’ve waited to talk about the Nikon mirrorless cameras because I really wanted to try them out, and wait for firmware updates. We have both the Z6 and Z7, and have used them across the globe over the last four months. We photographed at 10 below zero in winter Alaska and in the giant rainy fern forests of Tasmania using the Z cameras. There are numerous detailed reviews about these cameras online. I will talk more in-depth about each camera in later posts, but I wanted to share with you my thoughts on this system, and do some comparisons to the current Nikon king of DSLRs, the D850. Most importantly I wanted to relate real experiences in the field, things you notice after using the cameras for months in diverse shooting situations.
First, let me just say this. With my photography, the Z6/7 mirrorless system is a compliment to the DSLR D850s, neither one replaces the other. Both systems do certain things better than the other, and offer specific advantages. I find myself using both camera systems on shoots.
Why I like the Z6/Z7. I have to admit, when I first started using the EVF (electronic viewfinder) it took some getting used to. But a few things were really nice about the EVF. First, seeing the histogram in the viewfinder was really nice. And then I learned I could set the back adjustment ring on my 24-70mm 2.8 S lens to adjust exposure compensation. Now this was really eye opening. When I wanted to adjust exposure while looking at the histogram in the viewfinder, I simply rotated the ring and watched the histogram change. Very cool! And guess what? When I put on a 10 stop ND filter, the EVF brightened so I could still compose and focus. A DSLR viewfinder would go black and autofocus wouldn’t work. Another noteworthy aspect of the Z system is the in-camera body stabilization. The new S lenses don’t have VR since it is in the body. And when using the adapter, any existing non-VR Nikon lens will now have stabilization. Very nice.
Similar to the D850, I love all the touch screen controls including focus and shoot modes using the LCD.
The ergonomics of the camera are excellent. And if you are a Nikon user, the controls are very intuitive and similar to other Nikon cameras.
The camera is well sealed against the elements, and did fine in cold temperatures and rainy weather.
The adapter works great allowing you to use your DSLR lenses with the Z system.
What about size? Many photographers became interested in mirrorless because of the smaller size. For me this is both an advantage and disadvantage. With international travel, or hiking into the backcountry, the lighter weight/small size of the Z6/7 is really nice. The camera is small and easier to carry all day. But for extensive shooting, and using larger telephotos, I prefer the balance and larger grip of my D850. When you are using 2.8 lenses with a full frame camera (mirrorless or DSLR), the weight difference gets smaller. There is about a pound difference when using the Z7 w/24-70mm F2.8 compared the D850 with 24-70mm F2.8.
Why I like the D850? This is the best DSLR I’ve ever used because it does everything really, really well. And I am not alone…this camera has been heralded as the best DSLR on the market by other reviewers as well. When it comes to lightning fast, accurate autofocus, the D850 is what I use. I love the group-area autofocus pattern (Z system doesn’t have this) for tracking moving subjects…think wildlife and action sports…which I shoot a lot. Also, I like using all my dedicated F mount lenses without having to use an adapter. The D850 also incorporates some ‘mirrorless’ features like silent shooting and touch and shoot modes on the LCD. I use a vertical grip on one of my D850s, which I find great for balancing large lenses and more comfortable in my hand after a long day of shooting sports or wildlife.
What about file quality? All these cameras produce incredible images! I think the Z7 and D850 are very similar in 45MP image quality, they both are stunning. The Z6 is 24MP, a little smaller file, but excellent image quality. Some folks reported banding when opening up deep shadows using the Z. I haven’t seen this in the thousands of images I have taken using the Z system. The new S mirrorless lenses are simply incredible in their resolution, even outperforming their DSLR counterparts. One lens in particular I like is the 14-30mm F4 lens for the Z system. This lens is very small and compact compared to the 14-24mm F2.8, and has a flat front element so I can screw on a ND filter for those slow shutter speed waterfall shots.
Battery Life. I was pleasantly surprised that the battery lasted longer than I thought using the Z system. I’d say it is about 60 percent of what I get using my D850.
Card slot. The Z system uses XQD cards, which are expensive but reliable. The Z cameras only have one card slot, which isn’t an issue for me. I only use one card in my D850, and I haven’t had a card fail.
The future. As you can see, both camera systems do well. The recent Z camera firmware update made a significant jump in autofocus performance, and the eye-tracking autofocus will attract many photographers. As the S line of lenses for the Z system expands, I will be using this system more. But it terms of an all-round camera, the D850 does everything great and has an extensive line of beautiful lenses ready to go.
I just returned from a recent workshop in Yellowstone, and this trip highlights how I am using both systems. I loved using my Z6 with 24-70mm F2.8 roaming through the geyser basins. This setup was perfect for landscape shooting, and lightweight to carry on the miles of walking we did. But then we would come around the corner and see a grizzly bear and cubs. Out came my D850 w/vertical grip and 600mm F4. This is my go-to wildlife and sports setup…with the grip I can shoot at 9FPS, and the camera balances nicely on the large lens.
You want to know what I am really excited about? The D6! I can only imagine what new technology Nikon will introduce into their flagship camera, and I know this camera will rule the autofocus realm.