Every time Sony releases a new camera a slew of Internet photography bloggers go on a tear about how Nikon is dead or is a brand for losers who won’t change. So in disagreement, I offer this review of my new Nikon Z7ii. I will also throw in a few shots from a Z6ii I rented last December while I waited for the camera to arrive.
If you want to skip the details, I love the new Z7ii and think both full-frame Z Mark iis are very good cameras. In general, they performed well during my first month of use.
I decided to buy the 46 megapixel Z7ii because of my architecture, landscape, and in-studio work. The prior architecture work demanded a new 14-24 lens, and there was no way I was going to buy the incredible 14-24 2.8 Z lens without maximum resolution.
However, I also shot in studio and on the street with the 24 megapixel Z6ii and thought it performed very well. In fact, I liked the lowlight and sensor color performance a dash more. The Z6ii is the better (and more cost-effective) choice if you don’t care about high-resolution images for professional work.
Why I Made the Choice
I already own a D850 and have a full complement of lenses. The Z7ii permits a gradual migration to full-frame mirrorless.
As noted, there was a need for the new 14-24 (I killed my old one through wear and tear). I also wanted a 50 mm for everyday street photography.
With these two lenses in mind, I purchased my first Z. The lower cost and an almost complimentary $50 FTZ lens converter compared to the pricier 45 megapixel Canon R5 made it a no brainer. I saved $450 on the package and made my old lenses usable on the new body.
I did not consider the 60 megapixel Sony A7RIV due to past issues I’ve had with Sonys when I rented them. My general issue with Sony remains build-quality and low light performance. A recent experience (2019) showed me the image and autofocus quality are very good.
My professional friends say that Sony has increased its build quality with the more professional A9s. However, the A7Riv uses the older body technology, and I wanted a higher resolution camera that didn’t cost $6500. In summary: For the cost, Nikon delivers the best quality high-resolution camera, and given my old F mount lenses, the most obvious value.
To be clear: For the record, I am not above going out of system. I own a Fuji XT-3 for lightweight walkabouts and am looking at Sony Rx1R or Ricoh GRiii for a fixed lens infrared conversion.
Positive Performance Observations
I am not a mathematical photoblogger. I won’t compare the pixel noise and dynamic range of eight cameras side by side. We can save that type of review for professional journals and bloggers that focus on this kind of content. This article just represents my personal experience.
I love photography and am fortunate enough to get paid to do it sometimes. My work is conceived on a conceptual level. I dream of images, not light equations. Figuring out the mechanics is almost always the second or third step for me. I use a camera to achieve my vision, and only care if the camera can do that well and consistently.
With those perspective caveats in mind, here’s what works well on the Z7ii and Z6ii:
- The mirrorless Z body is significantly lighter.
- Less buttons are more in my mind.
- Frames per second, both mechanical and silent, are extremely fast.
- Silent mode is truly silent. Frankly, mechanical is pretty quiet, too.
- The in-body stabilization (IBIS) is outstanding.
- The two Z lenses I purchased, the 14-24/2.8 beauty and the nifty 50/1.8, perform extremely well, tact sharp end to end.
- I almost always shoot with the 50. I love walking around with this camera.
- The LCD panel on the more professional 14-24Z is a Godsend.
- The autofocus is a significant step up from the D850, most of the time (uh oh).
- In particular, the eye focus technology works well during portrait shoots.
- The files are great and the color science has improved with more Fuji-like options.
- SnapBridge mobile connectivity works well for this camera (Thank God you finally fixed it, Nikon. Recent firmware made it better on my D850, too.)
Have I used the Z in any professional situations yet? Yes. Most recently, I put it to the test during inauguration week while I was out shooting images for the last chapter of my book. I have also used both cameras in portrait sessions with the 50 mm lens. The Zs performed very well in all cases.
The IBIS is a huge win here compared to the D850, especially for a high megapixel camera. The IBIS in the Z makes the full-frame 46 MP camera suddenly much more effective for casual street and situational photography. You can shoot from the hip. Combined with the AF technology, panning is better, particularly on human subjects.
I have seen a few photographers complain about the simplified Z body interface. I just care about the basics in the field, ISO, Manual or Aperture, Shutter, f stop, white balance, and to bracket or not to bracket. The custom button options are just enough for my needs.
If the situation demands more finesse than that, I stop shooting to adjust the camera. Diving into the menus is fine for more specific functions. Given I have big hands and am not the most nimble person, fewer buttons to accidentally bump is a plus.
Negative Performace Thoughts
No camera system is perfect and to present it as such would be wrong. Here are my negative perceptions of the Ziis:
- When the autofocus locks onto the wrong subject, it’s a battle (Jared Polin breaks down that issue well here).
- Sometimes the AF struggles to detect short-range subjects, defaulting to the farthest item in the frame.
- The joystick doesn’t work in all AF modes.
- Intuitive AF? Not so much. You need to read the Z7ii reference manual to begin understanding the AF. The reference manual is only available online.
- If you have big hands, you will need a grip extender.
- Lack of portrait lens choices in the Z lens line-up (current the only prime offering is the 85/1.8, which is reviewed well but will not be the premier lens in the lineup).
- Overall lack of telephoto depth in the Z lens line-up.
- Image rendering looks, well, mirrorless at times.
If you are knowledgeable about the historic Z series flaws, then the autofocus complaints are true. However, they are more of a nuisance than anything, and certainly nowhere nearly as bad as reports about the first Z6 and Z7 series.
Those original 2018 autofocus issues coupled with the lack of dual card slots crippled sales and hurt Nikon’s entry into the mirrorless world. I committed to buying the first Z6, and then canceled my order last minute upon reading initial reviews from real photographers (e.g. not YouTube influencers).
The 2020 Nikon Z autofocus system is actually really quite good. I do think in many instances it offers a step up over the D850. The wrong subject locking drives me crazy in some street/photojournalism scenarios. Sometimes you just need to shoot manual.
While it happened only a small fraction of the time while shooting inauguration scenes, the AF gave me pause. I do think the current Z autofocus is more sophisticated than the D850 system, but the D850 system offers more control. Photographing events requires absolute control. When I hear event photographers choose Canon or Sony because of this matter, I get it.
The rest of the autofocus issues are nitpicks. I do think Nikon is one or two updates away from being on par with Canon and Sony, and see the challenge as one I can live with comfortably.
The lens issues will all be addressed in due time, based on the latest Nikon Z lens roadmap. This simply requires patience.
About my critique of mirrorless camera image quality… My primary resistance against mirrorless has been a missing quality to the light. There is an intangible ethereal value that a DSLR seems to capture, perhaps best seen in the slight dust haze of a sunbeam.
It’s time to accept that DSLR images have a unique look, just like film images have a unique look. However, DSLR is a mature technology that for the most part will not evolve anymore. The future is mirrorless.
In summary, while the camera has foibles, they are all addressable or are not unique to the system. Based on performance to date, I will be happy with my Z7ii. I anticipate that happiness will only increase as the system evolves.
Thoughts on Brand Warfare
Just a few thoughts on this antagonistic Sony superiority thing that seems to occur every time the brand releases a new camera. I certainly understand brand loyalty, but the total poo-pooing of another brand based on cool factor is, um, juvenile, and a symptom of the need to say outrageous things on the Internet to garner attention.
If someone says something on a blog, YouTube, or Twitter, it doesn’t make it true. It’s unfortunate that we need to keep re-learning this lesson, whether it is about cameras or national politics and everything in between.
For me, camera buying comes down to features, economics, how real photographers review them, and/or they perform on a trial run. The price point matched technology needs for me. Plus I have had good experiences with Nikons so I trust them.
I won’t lie: My past experiences using Sonys left a bad taste in my mouth. Still, I understand recent releases have better weather sealing and menus. They and the new Canons are probably worth a try for photographers who are just moving into the full-frame world, or who can afford to switch systems with ease. Buyers who can afford higher-end stills systems may want to consider the Fuji GFX or Leica SL systems.
That being said, the whole Nikon is dead meme caused by the online influencer community is total bullshit. If anyone thinks Nikon is going the way of Kodak, then they simply aren’t paying attention to what the company is doing with its research and development initiatives.