Report: Nikon Z

Hello, everybody! I’m going to share with you my opinions and musing on Nikon’s latest Z cameras. There are literally hundreds of other sites online with the same topic but this will be a little different because it centers around what I (Richard) thinks about these so all of the things that I will say here will only be based around my experience.

The Nikon Z cameras generated a ton of debates online and has been the target of fake or paid trolls and “experts” but that dirty tactic didn’t work because the camera is excellent in most regards. You can check out the specs at Nikon’s site but I am sure that most of you are already familiar with it by now. These cameras mean a lot to Nikon and after having several chances to shoot with it, I can say that they’re totally amazing cameras and Nikon has made a new masterpiece! While the latest Sony is just as feature-packed, it lack in the ergonomics department and Nikon is going to show the up-starts that ergonomics are just as important as specs, if not even more. They also look great and they remind me of Sade because of the curves, sex appeal and potential. There’s simply no equal specially if you saw what Canon has to offer. That was a god joke, Canon. A pre-war Contax 2 made more sense when it came to ergonomics. If you think that was harsh then see it for yourself.

IMG_9399The Nikon Z series is Nikon’s debut to the full-frame mirrorless camera market. Pictured here is the dummy of their future ultra-wide zoom lens. This should be an amazing lens for landscape photography because the shorter flange distance will enable the system to take much better photos (technically). I am excited with this latest development and this just shows that Nikon is serious with the new Nikon Z-mount. I wonder if Nikon will have the resources to further develop the company’s DX line of lenses since they have devoted so much to this. I don’t shoot the DX format but I know some people who loved it.

IMG_9371Sorry for the dark iPhone picture. This photo shows the Z cameras together with some of the F-mount lenses that’s available to them. The new Z cameras have a new lens mount, it is much-bigger then the venerable F-mount so it will be able to mount bigger lenses using more powerful motors (and bigger glass, too). Many people were upset that Nikon made a new mount instead of simply using the existing F-mount but it had to be done in order to make these cameras future-proof.

IMG_9326The Nikon Z6 is the faster version of the Nikon Z7 with a sensor resolution of about 24MP. It is positioned very well and it costs less. This will be the more popular model if you ask me because it’s more affordable. I am in this model myself to be honest. I’ll have to make a caveat, while they’re very responsive when using them, there’s a bit of lag if turning on the camera and while you change from the rear LCD to the EVF. This is probably the EVF powering on. You can simply configure the EVF so that it doesn’t turn off and that’s going to alleviate this and turn the EVF on or off manually.

IMG_9325Here’s a simple display showing the different sensor size formats from Nikon. The new cameras are both FX format (full-frame) and is aimed to compete with Sony’s cameras. It will be interesting if Nikon makes a DX format version in the future along with the lenses for it. The odd CX format is now defunct as Nikon diverted all of their R&D resources for the new Z cameras so it’s now considered “orphaned” technology. The biggest surprise is the addition of IBIS (in-body image stabilization). This will be the most important feature for me, this will allow me to shoot with slower shutter speeds when using my old manual Nikkors. This alone makes the Z cameras some of the most-advanced mirrorless cameras available today. These will stay relevant for some time.

IMG_9393Despite being tiny, the shell of the Z cameras were cast using magnesium alloy, giving it a tough chassis that can handle the much-bigger diameter of the new lens mount. This is pretty standard these days and even cheaper cameras have the same technology used on their chassis, only the cameras that were made for the entry-level segment will have a cheaper material used for their bodies such as high-impact plastics. The casting is really intricate and is beautiful to look at, it used to be difficult to make mold master for these but recent advances in CAD helped make these easier to make but the tools and dies will still be expensive to mill, though. I remember talking to somebody who knew a lot about injection molding and he told me that the dies cost a fortune to make.

IMG_9382The first picture shows a mock-up of the battery pack. It wasn’t designed to be used like a battery grip so we won’t have an extra shutter button with it. It is a shame that Nikon did not incorporate a true vertical grip (with shutter button) into the first Z camera designs. I will imagine that this would be very useful for studio work. Their reasoning for this was the Nikon Z was designed to satisfy the videography market where such a grip would be of little use. I am hoping to see one in the future and I am sure that Nikon will listen.

IMG_9401This picture shows Nikon’s initial lens offerings for the Nikon Z cameras. I tried 2 of these and I was impressed by the performance. The Nikkor-Z 24-70mm f/4S may sound boring because it only has a maximum aperture of f/4 but the pictures that I took with it looked more like that from a faster lens. The character of the bokeh felt more like that of an f/2.8 lens. I cannot show the picture here because I the person on the picture is one of Nikon’s staff that I am in good terms with and she wasn’t too keen on the public seeing her face. I swear that the pictures look really good and the good thing is the price of the lens is low compared to the faster f/2.8 professional varieties still in production. It also has weather seals so you can use this lens in demanding environments. I had less time with their new Nikkor-Z 35mm f/1.8S so I cannot comment much with that lens except that it’s sharp. The Nikkor-Z 50mm f/1.8S is also part of their initial line-up but I wasn’t interested with it and I skipped the chance to test it. Some people will wonder why would Nikon introduce the new lenses with a maximum aperture of “just f/1.8” when they could have made what the consumers wanted – fast f/1.4 primes. I was thinking the same as well but I soon saw why this had to be done. These newer lenses were big for their class and making them faster will make these even bigger and more expensive. This will also mean that they will need to incorporate faster motors or else these lenses won’t be fast-enough to acquire focus. It is important that a system that was designed for video needs to have fast autofocus. This decision may not be popular to photographers but it was done out of necessity. Needless to say, these lenses perform great judging from what I’ve seen so far and it also benefits from the shorter flange distance of the new mount so just like the Nikkor-Z 24-70mm f/4S these lenses are “punching above their weight” so to speak and the performance is closer to that of f/1.4 primes for the Nikon F-mount in terms of character of the bokeh. These are also marketed under the “S line” line of lenses, it’s just Nikon’s new marketing gimmick to differentiate it from “pedestrian” Nikkors. If this sounds familiar then your guess is right because it’s similar to how Canon markets their L-line of premium lenses – weather seals, better build, better optics and all that. Having said this, we are going to see cheaper ones in the future for sure. If there’s a premium line of lenses then there should be a cheaper one to compliment it, too. Before I forget, the rings on these lenses can be programmed to your preference. If you want the focusing ring to change the aperture size instead then it can be easily done with-in the camera via settings. I think this is smart because you can customize these lenses to suit your muscle-memory. Videographers will like this a lot, I’m sure that they can think of creative combinations here. If I were a director, I would want to have the “focusing ring” change the iris size and the “aperture ring” to control the ISO. This will allow the videographer to change the iris size and control the ISO with the rig, I can then trust the camera to focus on a subject and track it. When I want the scene bright or dark depending on my creative call, I can just tell the videographer to turn the ring so the ISO changes and turn another ring if I wanted the DOF to change in order to control the “mood” of the shot or get more things into focus in the frame. I hope that I’m making sense because I was trying to explain something abstract. By the way, While the broader ring that’s supposed to be the focusing ring felt reasonably-damp it still felt different to a lens with real helicoids. It doesn’t feel as tactile as a true focusing ring because these are all focus-by-wire just like most, if not all mirrorless camera lenses. I am sure that this will not be too much of a problem but it’s something that you need to put into consideration.

IMG_9396These are the lenses that Nikon has in the pipe that will appear in the near-future. Looks like Nikon is really getting serious with “going mirrorless”. I’m sure that Nikon won’t do a complete shift but maintain 2 separate systems side-by-side. At the moment, the DSLR is still the better option for professional photography due to responsiveness of having the mirror to view-the-world through and the power saving that comes along with it. I don’t see this changing anytime soon. While mirrorless cameras had improved a lot in recent years it’s still “not there” in some respects and most of it has to do with the issues I said. I know that there will people who won’t agree and it’s fine.

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The lens to the left is the Nikkor-Z 24-70mm f/2.8S. A decent camera system should always have a good 24-70/2.8 lens (and 70-200/2.8 lens) in my opinion. It is obviously bigger than the Nikkor-Z 24-70mm f/4S since you’ll need bigger lens elements to achieve greater light-gathering abilities and with that, you’ll also need bigger motors to move these elements. I am excited to see how this lens performs if it debuts some time around 2019. The big lens to the right is the NOCT-NIKKOR-Z 58mm f/0.95S and it’s going to be the fastest Nikkor in the universe! It’s an homage to the legendary Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 Ai-S lens but I don’t know if this lens will be a true “spiritual successor” to that legendary optic. This lens will never have autofocus because the lens elements are too big for any step-motor to move. I wasn’t too excited at all when I learned that this will be a manual focus lens but we’ll see how things pan-out when it gets introduced within a year. Notice that the focusing ring is broad and it looks like it has almost a 360° range. While it has a rather short throw when you consider that the last number is just 5m, it has a minimum focusing distance of only 0.5m at the other end! I would prefer something that has a slightly longer throw because it’s easy to focus-pass your subjects at this aperture but I guess this cannot be helped, its minimum focusing distance is very short and so a compromise has to be made. Both the lenses shown above have LCD screens where the old analog scale used to be and that can theoretically be programmable so you’ll see it display other relevant information aside from the usual focusing-related stuff. If I’m not mistaken, another company did the same thing a few years back and I think it’s Sony.

 

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Here are 2 pictures showing the internals of 2 different systems, a DSLR and a mirrorless one. I guess this was shown to illustrate the differences between the 2 systems for people who aren’t technically-inclined. I fiddle with cameras so this didn’t interest me much and I prefer older mechanical ones anyway so electronics don’t excite me as much. The Nikon Z cameras have an intricate electronic viewfinder assembly because it incorporates glass elements, other companies did this with their cameras, too. The electronic viewfinder on the Z cameras felt natural to view and there’s definitely no lag or black-out as what other people claimed. It did felt “choppy” when I was viewing it in magnified mode and that’s the only time I felt that I was viewing-through an electronic viewfinder. I also didn’t see any flickering with artificial lights just like what I experienced with Fuji’s cameras. Don’t know if they fixed that with their newest model but they should.

 

(Click to enlarge)

It’s great how Nikon packed so many things in such a small body. It’s a bit bigger than the Sony cameras but not by much. The controversy caused by the single XQD card slot got a bit intense but you will understand why that had to be done when you realize that there is hardly any room to fit another one even if it’s the smaller SD card. I did understand the reason behind this, the read-write speed will limited to the slowest card in the system. If the SD card is preventing the camera to write or read data faster to the XQD card then it’s better not to have that SD card and maximize the benefits of the XQD card’s speed. Some people will always prefer a system with 2 cards so this is not the camera for them. Maybe we will see a model with 2 SD card slots in the future? I hope so, I do see the merits of the 2nd card slot especially for people shooting weddings and events. Like I said, this camera was obviously designed to cater more to the videographer because Nikon’s DSLR’s do not have decent capabilities for videography (except for the Nikon D850, perhaps).

Here’s a video that I made about using the Z cameras with manual focus Nikkors. This is my take on what they have to offer when it comes to adapted manual lenses. I am using manual lenses almost exclusively these days so I have very strong opinions in this video so I hope I won’t offend anybody. People who use manual focus lenses will understand it more than people who have no experience shooting with older equipment. I spent some time with a Nikon staff playing around with the settings but this is all we end up with so if you know something that we don’t please do everyone a favor and tell us what’s going on and what we missed. Please watch the whole video and tell me what you think in the comment section. Troll comments (paid or not) will be deleted.

This is Nikon’s biggest paradigm shift since the Nikon F was introduced and we are lucky enough to witness it! I believe in these new cameras and what they’re able to bring to the table. They represent a different way to enjoy photography and videography and Nikon’s showing the other companies how it’s supposed to be done. The ergonomics is superb, its form feels so natural to hold and the button placement just makes sense unlike the latest offering from Canon. It has plenty of sex appeal like most Nikons have. I’m not sure if the company of Giorgetto Giugiaro (Italdesign) was involved in this but it sure looks like it. If these cameras were people they can be likened to Adonis or Venus, beautiful beings with no equal. Their specs surpassed the expectation of many and the addition of IBIS is great. There are more things to talk about but I don’t have the time to mention them all. Here is what I assume to be the biggest question that you’re all asking – is Richard going to get it? Well, the simple answer is NO. My daughter needs to go to school and it costs as much as her $2,000 “processing fee” that I have to fork-out and I won’t see that money again. Her education is more important than the Z cameras and I am sure every father will know it. So, what if I have the money? Yes, I will definitely but the Nikon Z6! It’s an amazing new camera and the IBIS is going to be really helpful for me. I cannot wait to adapt all my old Nikon S-mount lenses and take beautiful pictures with them. The Nikon Z7’s files are too big for me so I won’t buy that. The Nikon Z6 is a more practical camera for most people, it hits most things right – price, specs and file size. These 2 cameras are too feature-packed for what I need to be honest. All of the bells-and-whistles won’t mean anything much to me because I shoot with manual lenses almost exclusively these days and I have simpler requirements that are more down-to-earth. Maybe we will see a camera that will satisfy me in the future in the form of a mirrorless Nikon Df2. That’s not a remote possibility and I am looking forward to that camera so until it appears, my money goes to the little one’s school fees. I pay so much to the government here but I don’t get much in return but that is a totally different story. Thanks for reading this article and see you guys again, Ric.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Eduardo Klein Fichtner
    Sep 24, 2018 @ 10:34:57

    Hello. Good morning from Porto Alegre, Brazil. Do you believe that Nikon is going to medium format sensor with this camera? Thank you very much. Best regards.

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Sep 25, 2018 @ 00:52:37

      Hello!
      In an interview, Nikon was considering using a larger sensor because the possibility is there but decided to use 135 instead. It would be interesting if they did. Ric.

      Reply

  2. Armando Morales
    Sep 25, 2018 @ 13:00:20

    Very good write up, thank you! In the video you mention the camera tries to adjust the ISO automatically when moving the aperture, but I see the camera in ISO 100, so i’m not sure what did you mean. Also the aperture is being controlled on the lens, correct ?
    Thanks again
    Armando
    México

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Oct 09, 2018 @ 00:48:44

      Hello, Armando!
      Sorry for the late reply. I suspect that the ISO is being “boosted” in the viewfinder or LCD for preview just so you can see your “exposure preview”. very similar with other mirrorless cameras. I dont think ill get used to EVF…

      Reply

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  4. Hugh
    Oct 02, 2018 @ 08:01:44

    Hi Richard, thanks for experimenting with AI lenses. I’ve struggled to find any information on this from other sources.

    I was really hoping the Nikon mirrorless cameras would offer greater backwards compatibility with AI glass. It’s unfortunate that the lenses will only behave as pre-set lenses and focus only at the taking aperture.

    The little tab to detect when the lens is set to minimum aperture I believe is for chipped lenses (AI-P, AF, AF-D) which still have an aperture ring, and that these lenses must be locked to their minimum aperture for use. They can then be used in all exposure modes (PSAM) unlike unchipped lenses, which can only be used in A and M.

    How comfortable is it to set aperture and focus with the FTZ adapter? Does the tripod mount get in the way at all?

    At this point, I can’t see any advantage to the Nikon mirrorless bodies for manual glass over the other mirrorless offerings from Sony, Canon and others, and I may now have to rethink my intention to by a Z6 to go with my 50mm 1.2.

    May have to wait for a mirrorless DF2 or more advanced FTZ adapter to get what I really want.

    Reply

    • richardhaw
      Oct 09, 2018 @ 00:54:15

      Hello, Hugh! Nice seeing you here again.
      Yes, that little tab is there for AF lenses. I was hoping that Nikon can capitalize on that thing, make it sense that a manual lens has been set to minimum aperture. You then input the aperture range of your lens in the camera like f/1.4-f/22 and then the camera computes the settings automatically and actuates the stop-down lever incrementally depending on the value you dial-in to the camera via the wheel. this would have made it smart but I don’t know why Nikon didn’t do this. I understand that this will only work with Ai-S primes reliably but its still better than nothing and they should provide a caveat. I dislike using my lenses in preset mode, i hated it. it makes focusing less-precise even with the peaking feature.

      It felt “OK” to be frank, I just hated the foot because it’s too long.

      I will skip this time not only because I cannot afford one but it’s too much for what I do. I am happy with film. Ric.

      Reply

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