Let me say upfront that we are having a lot of fun with the Nikon Z7. But initially it was a real struggle. Something felt wrong.
Once we understood that this is a reliable camera and played to its strengths.. we began to enjoy it. It’s never going to be the sort of camera we would use at weddings where speed is required.
We have high standards and we want cameras to perform as reliable tools and not have to try to work around them. Let me explain what happened and how we got some amazing results in the end so that now it’s just a breeze.
Let me explain what happened and how we got some amazing results in the end so that now it’s just a breeze.
Why did this question come up? Why would anyone hesitate to pack this camera? Especially as this particular camera is considered to be the latest and certainly a significant investment in camera technology.
We were heading to the south coast of Western Australia and I had decided to shoot primarily with cameras equipped with EVF. Electronic viewfinders are something that I immediately fell in love with following using the Sony A99. Camera technology has come a long way over the last few years and I had to select cameras for shooting in areas where I had taken photographs before to try to fill in some of the gaps that I always seem to come away with. Electronic viewfinders can play a role in helping you to see beyond what you can imagine when working with a standard optical viewfinder. We’ve done a number of shoots using just electronic viewfinder equipped cameras and had simply amazing results in terms of creativity because we been able to instantly see where we were heading with the picture and determine whether our methodology was good. It’s not all about doing stuff using programs in raw conversion and development stages. I know some people like to spend hours and hours working on various aspects of the images but I’m a photographer and I want to get their a lot faster than that. Not that I won’t spend time when I see something really special.
The landscape around Albany on the south coast is spectacular. So I was thinking of using a 24 to 70 mm lens and the obvious choice as the front runner in this field is the new Nikon S series that fits on the Z7. I could of course have used the standard Nikon 24 to 70 on the D850. But the Z7 was sitting there and the lens is beautiful.
Obvious choices had been made and then it came down to the choice between using the Nikon D850 or taking the new Z7 with me. And it wasn’t an easy choice.
Why the question arose
I absolutely love the layout and body on the Nikon Z7. The placement of buttons and just the whole feel of the camera is superb. The viewfinder is something else. It just gives you that big clear view of what you are looking at and for me is right up there in giving you a great experience when using a camera. I cannot stress how highly the viewfinder on this camera is special. It really gives you an excellent view and given that you’re working with a high megapixel camera I feel that this is the appropriate viewfinder and for me an ideal viewfinder for landscape photography where there is so much going on and so many aspects of the image that need to be weighed up. There are too many good things about the camera body to list here. Battery life is good and can easily give you well over a thousand images which is significantly higher than the rating might indicate. As a matter of record to substantiate that we did shooting over two days without recharging the battery and took nearly 1200 shots. At that point the battery was not completely flat but I did feel that I should recharge.
In fact, in almost every respect I regard the Z7 is one of the nicest cameras that I have used as far as full frame is concerned. It’s a slow and steady tool.
But that leaves the critical question. Focus. The camera hunts for focus. And it does it more than I find reasonable. Almost nailing critical focus isn’t an option. Critical focus has to be achieved and it has to be exactly where you as the photographer want it to be. The critical focus point is the area of the image that you personally select as the important point from which anything that is out of focus is out of focus by your choice and not the choice of the camera.
I even debated whether or not I would take one of the large Canon bodies with its superb optical viewfinder but decided that that would just be silly- surely we could get better focus from the Z7
The Z7 focus was simply off
So what did we do? What I did was to take a day to spend time doing maintenance and taking a series of shoots using the Z7 and trying to get the focus doing what I wanted it to do. Initially I took a series of photographs in the garden trying to capture water droplets on the petals of flowers. What a frustrating experience that was initially. When you’re trying to do this critical focus is absolutely vital. Looking at the screen at the back of the camera I concluded that the images were good but when I looked at them on the large computer monitor they were out of focus. I’m talking about 90% of them.
I used the Olympus M1 mark 2 as the benchmark because it is easily the best focusing camera and the sharpest image producing camera that I have ever used. It had absolutely no difficulty in nailing the focus. The glare was really high and I know that that can cause problems. But when I realised how many of the images were out of focus with the Z7 I decided to go into the Z7 menu and adjust the micro-adjustment to see whether the lens was focusing properly. Now that was interesting. Taking larger images had resulted in hit and miss focusing but I had not really pushed the Z7 as acutely as I needed to in close focusing. This was revealing.
Thankfully Nikon have made the process of micro adjustment simple
Thankfully Nikon have made this very simple. I set up a measure with marks on it and opened the lens up to its base aperture of F4 and tried adjusting the focus. It was out considerably. I don’t know if you ever use this feature but I have done it previously on Canon cameras and it has made a lot of difference. I’ve tended to find in more recent times when you would think that the reverse would be the case was considerably improved technology, that micro-adjustment has become more and more necessary. I’ve noted for example that Sigma provide an actual tool to help you with the process but if the technology is built into the camera body it’s really beneficial.
The Nikon lens was considerably out of focus and needed a lot of adjustment
The Nikon lens was considerably out of focus and needed a lot of adjustment. I did two more photo shoots and adjusted slightly before I was satisfied. This time for reference I shot some images using the Nikon Z7 and then with the D850 and got similar results. The Z7 was starting to nail the focus nicely. It was still behind the focusing ability of the larger Nikon sibling but I decided that as far as the Z7 is concerned I had taken it to where it needs to be. I’ve yet to think of any way to get it to be more accurate.
I was still hesitant but committed to using the Z7
So we went on a trip and we were in the town of Albany on the south coast of Western Australia. I had the Olympus M1 mark 2 and a Sony A9 equipped with the 50 mm Mikaton speedmaster lens. The Nikon was bringing up the rear but it was the only camera equipped with the 24 to 70 mm lens and therefore the only camera that had the wide-angle capability. It was really difficult to overcome my distrust of the Nikon focus. But I put myself in a position where if I wanted to capture wide-angle shots with large skies and so forth I really had to pull it out. Actually I did bring an option for wide-angle but I felt that I really wanted to give the Nikon a run and prove to myself what it was or was not capable of.
Every time I pulled out the Nikon Z7 and the S 24-70mm lens it impressed me again with its amazing viewfinder and the comfort that has gone into its design. It may be a tortoise but it’s a friendly design. It really is a lovely camera. It just focuses slowly.
Every time I pulled out the Nikon it impressed me again with its amazing viewfinder and the comfort that has gone into its design. The placement of the buttons and the layout of the camera and really everything about the way the body is built just feels right. It really is a superb camera. But the proof of the pudding was going to be in the photographs. I shot in evening conditions with a sunset, in stormy conditions with miserable light but glare in the clouds and then on blue sky days where the combination of sea, cloud and blue sky makes Albany beautiful.
The Nikon hunted for focus so I slowed down and treated it like I was using a slower focusing medium format machine. And that is the right approach. There’s great image quality available but you work harder for it than with the D850..
Well actually Albany is a very beautiful spot. taking a drive around the coast from Middleton Beach to the city of Albany itself is one of the highlights as you look out over the bay is with islands dotted in your view running out into the distance. It is rather special and obviously attracts a lot of people who like to use yachts and boats as well as the whale watching trips that have made the area famous. It is also famous for being one of the last sights that many of the soldiers who fought in the First World War saw as they were shipped from this area. There are some interesting features of the city which give you an opportunity to connect with this part of Albany’s history.
Albany is a very beautiful spot
Albany is a coastal city on the south coast of Western Australia. It has marvelous bays with islands, a working port and a great tourist focus.
The Brig Amity is a replica of the original vessel which brought the first white settlers to Albany.
The more I used it the more I liked it. I took around 20% of the photographs on this trip using the Z7. My hesitance to use the camera gradually began to fade as I adjusted to a working pattern which worked with the strengths of the camera while being cognizant of its weaknesses. Overall, it’s something we do with every camera that we work with because they all have strengths and weaknesses. And it was an enjoyable experience. Slow and steady can win the race.
We were getting great images but we still felt that it could be better. This is a remarkable tool and it gives you just what you need right where you need it to be. We began to realise that the pairing of lenses was going to be critical to really maximise the strengths of this camera.
It did hunt at times and I did lose some images because they were out of focus. A quick analysis shows that a little over 4% of the images were out of focus. On occasion the images looked to be reasonably well in focus in the viewfinder but they simply weren’t. But I did find that the adjustment in focus using the micro adjustment made a lot of difference and that taking an extra second to compose the image and just to make sure that everything was okay was worth the effort. The image quality is obviously in the league with the Nikon D850 but you are carrying a smaller camera and that can be beneficial in terms of weight.
I don’t know that weight is really such an important issue and it’s obviously not the real issue as far as photographers are concerned because when you look at the weight of the lenses that people are equipping some of their mirror less cameras with they are so heavily overbalanced at the front and so completely out of balance as units that it makes the whole argument a nonsense.
I’m pleased with the images that I brought back from this photo shoot because they help me to see the way forward as far as image quality is concerned. I believe the Z7 is a beautiful camera. in addition to good camera technique though I believe that pairing this camera with the right lenses is one of the keys to really benefit from what it can do. I don’t know if anyone else has commented on this in any other blog because I prefer to gain experience hands-on but it really is important.
There’s a saying you horses for courses. I wouldn’t use it where speed was important or where moments count. But landscapes are a sure thing. The Z7 is a beautiful camera and gave me some excellent images on this trip which I’m including with this blog.
So I decided that I would try something. I decided to pair the camera with a Nikon lens that I find gives excellent contrast in its character.
I was beginning to believe that I’d possibly taken the Z7 as far as I could go and that the hunting was just something to live with. However I noted that in conditions of good contrast the camera performed better. So I decided that I would try something. I decided to pair the camera with a Nikon lens that I find gives excellent contrast in its character. The 28 to 300 mm zoom. And suddenly the hunting issue was seriously reduced. When you pair the camera with lenses that provide that extra degree of contrast it changes the character and removes the concern. I was shocked but I was very happy that I had done this exercise. It’s not something that is altogether unique as I have noticed it with other cameras. For example the Canon 24 to 105 series lens provides excellent contrast and on Canon bodies nails the focus noticeably better in comparison to a number of their range. But this was a really important exercise and I would recommend pairing the Z7 with lenses that really provide a higher degree of contrast.
I would recommend pairing the Z7 with lenses that really provide a higher degree of contrast
To illustrate the point I shot in morning light conditions back in my garden where I like to set up lenses and cameras according to the light conditions and test them out. Here are four images taken with the Z7 and paired with the 20 to 300 mm lens. There is absolutely no problem with detail and focus and they nailed the focus perfectly. What I wanted in focus was in focus on what I didn’t want in focus is nicely out of focus. No hunting and no problems. As long as the flowers aren’t blowing in a breeze it’s easy.
No hunting and no problems. The Z7 was a breeze to use.
Suddenly the camera is easier to use.
This is genuinely a transformational experience for me. Suddenly the camera is easier to use in every sense where speed isn’t an issue. It’s just slow. Because of the higher contrast in this lens it doesn’t hunt the way that the camera does with brighter lenses. It goes from being a good tool but one that you tend to be a little slower when using because you want to be a little more careful about focus to a tool that you just have fun with. And interestingly the combination of in body stabilisation and the stabilisation in the lens as well works well. It’s something I’ve noticed in Olympus cameras that can give you an edge.
When you pair the camera with lenses that provide that extra degree of contrast it changes the character and removes the concern re nailing the focus. It gets there slowly.
Some learning curves in photography are longer than others. Sometimes you wonder whether they will be worth it in the end. I believe in this case that this learning curve has been well worth the effort and I’m happy to pass on our comments. The S series lenses are exceptional. But some of the older Nikon lenses are amazing. I’ve seen some very good images on Instagram taken with Z7 paired with some of the classic Nikon lenses. It will be interesting to see the results as other photographers try different pairings.
I have written elsewhere that 20 megapixels is enough for everybody and I still have that view. But there are times when cropping out from a large image and come in handy which is why I’ve always had a larger mega pixel camera in the armoury.
There are a lot of good things with the Z series cameras and I’m sure that down the track we will have a lot of fun. As already stated I think that electronic viewfinders are the future. I love working with them. There are a lot of good things coming from Nikon and there is no doubt that they are setting themselves apart from some of their competitors with their willingness to innovate and develop with a lot of thought to what photographers need.
I’m also incredibly impressed with the S series lenses that Nikon are releasing with this camera. The Nikon 24 to 70 S series F4 is beautiful and perfect for photography wide-open. Yes, I did have to go a little more slowly but we’re not talking about being really slow, rather just a little more cautious. Okay, I’m not backing this up with graphs and tests but I am backing it up with real-life experience and real-life results.
I’m having a blast with the Z7 equipped with the 28 to 300 mm lens. Simply easy and awesome. Just slow.
However, pairing the camera with different glass and finding combinations that really rock is well worth the effort. I’m having a blast with this camera equipped with the 28 to 300 mm lens. Simply easy and awesome. Interestingly I’ve seen a few photographers now that have tried this pairing with excellent results. Well worth trying if you are having similar questions with the focus hunting. Having said the above I’m pretty certain that Nikon will be working on a firmware update that will address the aforementioned concerns because we are never alone when we discover things like this. And I know that some websites have commented on this at length.
My next pairing is with the Sigma 50mm 1.4 which is incredibly sharp. I’ve set up the focus so we will see how it fairs.
Critical focus is an essential part of photography and it would be nice to think that we could achieve it more consistently in the future as a result of firmware updates when using lenses that are brighter but don’t have the same degree of contrast.
In the meantime this is certainly not an Achilles heel that would stop me from using the camera professionally. I can think of similar challenges using the Canon 50 mm 1.2 on a Canon camera and using the 85 mm 1.2. You get amazing results but have to work a little bit more slowly and thoughtfully. But as I said when paired with the 20 to 300 mm lens I have absolutely no issue and it’s the same with the Sigma 50 mm 1.4 which has a high degree of contrast. It focuses quickly and accurately. In the real world hard-working photographers are very concerned about getting the result. We love talking about equipment and comparing equipment but at the end of the day we want results. The Z7 is getting us closer to the end result in camera. If you are prepared to work with it’s slow and steady approach..
Well worth the learning curve. And we are so happy that we packed the Z7!
Slow and steady can be a good thing. And who knows what might improve as firmware updates come through.
A few comments re Lenscraft Photography. When we comment on equipment in these pages the comments are based on use in the field. They are never based on a single use or just a couple of days using the equipment. We try the equipment with at least two disciplines in photography and determine how it performs from there. Lenscraft Photography is a website devoted to photography and sharing experiences with equipment. We are not affiliated with any manufacturer. We have used equipment professionally from Canon, Nikon, Ricoh, Minolta, Sony, Leica, Olympus, Hasselblad, Zeiss, Sigma, Pentax, Zenit, Bronica, Rollei & Kodak.
Some of these companies have been absorbed into others. Currently we regularly use equipment from Olympus, Nikon, Sony, Canon & Hasselblad. [Plus lenses from Zeiss and Sigma]