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Before I kick this off, I want to give a disclaimer. I'm a Nikon fan, I shoot with a Nikon, and most of my Lenses are Nikon, but I think i'm pretty objective. You know how those Apple fans go "oh you should get an Apple" and then when you ask them why, the answer is always "Oh cause they're just better". We'll I'm pretty sure I'm not going to do that. I love some of the tech and features built into Nikon bodies, but they're not perfect, and I don’t think any camera is.
Nikon and the legends over at Macarthur Camera House were kind enough to hook me up with the Z7 to use for a week and while they asked me to review it, they did specifically ask me to be as objective as possible, which is what I’m going to do, no bias here!
I also want to keep the review relevant to the kind of shooting I do, i.e. landscape, seascape, street ect as otherwise this review, would stretch out to phonebook length.
To me the body felt very solid. The buttons give good feedback and feel, and the grip on the right hand side is nice and deep. I've heard some reports and feedback from other photographers that it doesn't feel quite as well built as the Canon equivalent. That may be true, the Canon does feel like an absolute tank, but this certainly feels very, very solid in hand. It is slightly lighter than my current camera, weighing in at 675g, but feels well balanced with the lenses I used with it (14-24 f2.8, 24-70 f4, 70-200 f2.8)
The button layout is slightly different to any modern Nikon full frame camera, but it's not too tricky to get your head around. The left hand dial now adjusts the advanced shooting modes (apeture priority, shutter priority, manual ect). By default, the other shooting modes (high speed continuous, low speed continuous, timer ect) are accessed via the touch screen, but many of the buttons and dials are adjustable, so you can customize the layout however you'd like.
I found the EVF (electronic view finder) excellent. Some people hate them, some love them. I'm definately the latter. It has a good amount of detail with 1,228,800 pixels, this matches the Sony, and is significantly more than the canon EOS R.
One of the big advantages of an EVF is the fact that you can see exactly what you're going to shoot (exlcuing any long exposure effect obviously). You can see your exposure and you can see your depth of field without any dimming. Not just that, you can have your histogram displayed in there, along with a virtual horizon. I do a fair bit of real estate photography which requires you to not only bracket shots because of the big variance in exposures required between inside and out, but you also need to make sure you horizon is level. This of course means that you need to be using a tripod, but given the huge dynamic range of the Z7 and the virtual horizon built into the EVF you can actually get away with shooting hand held in some cases. This is a huge, huge advantage for someone like me. You can position your camera in areas you may not have been able to previously, and get workable images.
The EVF does have a few negatives however; firstly there is some lag. It never really bothered me too much, but it is noticeable when you're used to an optical view finder. Secondly, in low light the EVF will crank the iso way up and and also increase the exposure time, this leads to additional lag. Again, for me, it wasn't a huge deal but it could be a pain depending on what you're shooting.
Oh, and the Z7 has lens profiles built into it, and automatically applies lens correction when looking through the EVF, which can be really helpful as well.
One of the features I was really keen to test out was the in-built image stabilization, which Nikon call Vibration Reduction. The vision I had in my mind with VR was to be able to shoot landscapes and water flows with exposures of around 1/4 of a second hand held. Again, this would rid me of the need to use a tripod and and make shooting water flow just so much easier. I wasn't initially aware however that the 5 axis image stabilization is reduced down to 3 axis when using adapted F-Mount lenses, and most of my time spent with the camera I was using the Nikon 14-24 f2.8 (F Mount).
In practice, if you shot ten exposures at 1/4 of a second, you’d probably get one or two sharp ones. If you were using a native Z-Mount lens, It’d be more like nine out of ten If you're using an adapted lens with built in VR however, the effect will compound. I did a bit of filming at 200mm handheld and it's surprisingly smooth. VR is a small advantage if you're going to be using adapted lenses, but it'll be immensely helpful when Nikon releases a full range of Z-Mount lenses.
Image quality is fantastic. 45.7 MP means huge amounts of detail, but also means you need high end lenses, a rock-solid tripod, and a decent PC to take full advantage of it all. You can reduce the resolution, and crop down to APS-C levels in camera if you want however. Like the D810 and D850, the Z7 has a native base ISO of 64, which gives a huge dynamic range, with shadows retaining plenty of detail.
At the other end of the scale, the Z7 handles high noise really well. At 6,400 there is almost no noise and you can push all the way up to 25,600 and have usable images (in a small instagram crop at least).
I feel like the wifi is a missed opportunity. You connect your phone to the camera using Nikon's app, Snapbridge, which lets you download pictures, and remotely control the camera. Using the app you can switch through aperture priority, shutter priority, manual ect and you can adjust all settings on the exposure triangle, as well as exposure compensation and white balance, which is all good. The problem is that the camera takes ages to connect, and it disconnects every time you go back to the app's main menu. Also, it's a pain to use for really long exposures greater than 30 seconds. You can't select bulb mode from the app, so you need to go into the camera, select manual, then bulb mode, then go back to the app. Not a huge deal in itself, but the app doesn't let you set a timer or an exposure time, so you need to hit the shutter button and hit it again when you think you've nailed the exposure. No timer appears on the screen, and you can't exit out of the app to open a timer app because this will disconnect you. I do alot of long exposure photography and I really found this one annoying. Also, for some strange reason, you can't use ISO 64 with bulb mode on snapbridge, which for me makes it useless. If i'm shooting a long exposure landscape image, I’d want the lowest possible ISO.
I did like how I could preview the images on my phone however. One afternoon I was shooting down at Kirribili and a few of my friends were shooting at different vantage points around the Sydney Harbor. I could quickly share with them images straight out of camera without taking a photo of the back screen.
Despite what Nikon have said, I didn't find the focusing to be as good as the D850, and in some cases even my D800. In good light it is very quick, but in reduced light with low contrast it would often hunt. You would need to position the focus point over an area of significant contrast and hope that it nails it.
You can select a small, medium or large focus point (as well as area focus ect) but I found the medium focus point to be the quickest. The native lens i tested (24-70 f4) was slightly better than adapted lenses, but neither were amazing.
For me, these are the main points. Yes it only has the one card slot, and battery life is a little less than a DSLR, but it's not too bad. Is it worth buying? I think it depends on what you're shooting with at the moment and also how rich you are. It's currently sitting at $5,500 with the adapter, which is unbelievably expensive, almost $1,000 more than the D850. If you shoot weddings, portraits, sports ect i'd probably go for the D850, but if you're almost exclusively landscape like me then it's an absolute cracker, and will only get better when new native lenses become available.
First off, a big thanks to the legends at Macarthur Camera House for supporting us and arranging a spot for us at Canon’s #rethinkmirrorless event on the NSW South Coast. Macarthur Camera House has shown us so much love ever since we first discussed the idea of putting this group together, and they share our vision of uniting Australia’s landscape, seascape, cityscape and aerial photography community. Their staff and very helpful and friendly, so do yourself a favor and head in there if you’re in the market for anything photography related.
The idea behind the event was to give us the opportunity to test the camera under a range of shooting conditions; with not only the new RF lenses, but a range of L Lenses from Canon’s EF full frame DSLR mount.
To be clear, Canon has said to everyone who attended to go all out with reviews, specs, opinions and posting images. Even though they put on an absolutely epic event, we intend to offer an objective run down of the camera.
So first up, the feel of the camera. The grip on it is great. It’s nice and deep, meaning you can comfortably hold it in your hand for hours with no dramas. I shoot with a Nikon D800, and the grip on the EOS R is significantly better. Just by increasing the depth on the grip a few millimeters makes a huge difference to comfort levels. The build quality also feels top-notch. The rubbers offer good grip, the buttons have solid feedback, and the camera has a nice, weighty feel to it overall. As both Nikon and Canon have stated in the past, the move to mirrorless isn’t so much to allow for a more compact design, it’s to allow the sensor to sit that much closer to the lens mount, allowing scope for previously impossible lens designs.
When I was first handed the camera, I initially found the controls a bit confusing. I’ve shot with Canons before, and I used to own a 7D, however this was a bit different, and a number of Canon shooters felt the same way. The menu system and the quick menu system were all familiar, but making quick adjustments to shutter speed, ISO and aperture was different from what I remembered. I shoot almost exclusively in aperture-priority mode, so while its an automatic mode, I often move through aperture, ISO and exposure compensation while keeping the camera at eye level: this is what I was hoping for with the EOS R. One of the biggest pluses of an EVF (electronic view finder), is that you can accurately see what your exposure and depth of field will be before you shoot, whereas with an optical view finder on a DSLR you often need to check your image on the back screen after you’ve shot to make sure you’ve nailed it.
A good example of this is when we were shooting a couple against a white background. You’d usually find that with a neutral exposure compensation your camera would underexpose the couple as it would try to correctly expose the bright, white backdrop. Lifting the exposure compensation a stop or more would fix this. I never found this very easy to adjust. To keep the design as compact as possible, Canon have placed a touch bar just to the right of the EVF. You can customize this to whatever you want (white balance, ISO, aperture shutter speed ect), so I was using it for ISO adjustment. The problem I had was that I use my left eye through the viewfinder, which means that I need to try and squeeze my fingers up in between my right eye and the camera to reach it. It might not sound like a big deal, but in practice, and in a real world shooting scenario, you need to be able to move through these functions quickly, and this felt like a bit of a hindrance. The idea behind it is a solid one, but in the time I had the camera it always felt a little awkward to use.
Another new feature Canon has introduced with it’s new lenses is the control ring. This is a customizable, rotating ring sitting at the end of the lens. Like the touch bar, this can be set to adjust whatever you like. I initially thought this would be cumbersome to use, as you would have to run your hand from the zoom ring, to the focus ring, to the control ring, but in practice it worked okay. Again, I’m used to having all controls available at my right hand, eye looking through the viewfinder, and left hand on the zoom ring, but I think using this method is just something you’d get used to, if you chose to use it. At the end of the day, if you shoot like me, in AV mode, or even in full manual, you’ve still got the two customizable wheels and the control bar within reach of your right hand, so you don’t have to use it.
The focus system was extremely quick. Once you had your focus point set (I’ll cover that in a minute) the lens would lock on lightning fast, even in low light. There were only a couple of instances in very, very low light where the lens would hunt back and forth for a few seconds trying to find a subject. One of the other big pluses of the EVF is having focus peaking available in the viewfinder. Focus peaking will show a colored outline (color can be changed) around whatever is sharp so you can easily see if you’re nailing your focus if shooting in manual focus mode. The camera offers a face detect AF mode which works perfectly well if the subject is looking at you, however if they turn away or even side on, it’ll usually miss it. I generally found it more accurate to manually select a focus point and aim that over the subject. This brings me to my biggest issue with the camera, which was the focus point selection system. There’s no thumbstick for focus point adjustment, so you need to use the touchscreen instead. Canon have implemented a system where you drag your finger or thumb around a nominated section of the screen to move the focus point. To be fair, it works fine when you’re shooting in landscape format, however when I flip the camera over to shoot in a portrait crop, my nose would be hitting the screen and kept moving the focus point. It may not sound like a big deal, and during the event it wasn’t a huge drama, but if I was shooting a wedding or an event this could be a real nightmare. You could very easily miss key moments and shots because the focus point just keeps moving. Yes, you can keep your face further away from the EVF, but then you won’t be able to see fine details quite as well behind the screen. I get that Canon wanted to keep the body as compact as possible, but having a thumbstick to me seems like a must.
Again, this was probably my main issue with the camera. Feel is great, build quality is very solid, focus speed is lightning fast. and the lens that i used almost exclusively, the kit 24-105 F4, was very sharp, even at F4. I was very surprised when I loaded the raw images into Lightroom. I could see on the back screen they were sharp, but I didn’t know they were this good. It’s a very solid lens.
Dynamic range is also very good. I was able to pull a huge amount of detail out of shadows with hardly any noise. This is at ISO 100 however, and as with any camera, the higher you lift the ISO, the more the dynamic range starts to decrease. Speaking of ISO, all the way up to 6400 is very useable. Some noise will appear at 100% but if you’re just uploading your images to facebook or instagram, you’ll almost never see it. Above ISO 6400 you will, but it isn’t terrible.
This was my experience with the camera, and I’ve written this I picked up the camera knowing full well that it was 30.3 megapixels, knowing that it didn’t have in body stabilization, full frame 4k video, or dual car slots, however I think for the price, it’s good value. It is higher specced overall than the 5D Mark IV, for around $1,200 less including the lens adapter. At the end of the day it really does depend on what you’re shooting. If you’re a professional shooter, you might hold off due to the dual card slots and focus system issues. If you’re a casual photographer who takes photos of their kids, sports or landscapes ect and you want extremely high quality images, then I think you’ll probably find it hard to go past something like this.