Should I Pack the Nikon Z7? How we worked with this camera and got some good results.

Z SERIES. Nikon are really serious

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.

At last Nikon are really serious about this area

Love the size and design

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.

Z7

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

The Z7 just couldn’t achieve critical focus. So we fine tuned the focus.

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.

After some significant adjustments we now had the Z7 focusing accurately.

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..

At times this sunset seemed to be over there while we were over here
The flyer was a bonus. S Series 24-70 Z7 6400 ISO
Albany Waterfront

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.

Albany harbor. Nikon Z7 with 24-70
Albany harbor. Nikon Z7 with 24-70
Albany harbor. Nikon Z7 with 24-70
Albany. Nikon Z7 with 24-70
Albany has a rugged coastal entry
Night View of Brig Amity Nikon Z7 with 24-70 S lens

The Brig Amity is a replica of the original vessel which brought the first white settlers to Albany.

Albany Harbor Nikon Z7
Nikon Z7 Albany 24-70 S series
Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park
Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park
Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park

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.

Z7 Nikon 24-70 Z Series Lens ISO 200 F11 Focus Clear and Sharp
Z7 Nikon 24-70 Z Series Lens ISO 200 F11 Focus Clear and Sharp

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.

Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park
Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park The Bridge
Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park The Bridge
Nikon Z7 Albany Torndirrup National Park The Bridge

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.

Looking Out To Sea

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.

Z7 28-300mm Lens ISO 1000 F5.6
Z7 28-300mm Lens ISO 1000 F5.6
Z7 28-300mm Lens ISO 1000 F8
Z7 28-300mm Lens ISO 640 F5.6. If these flowers were moving however it is hard work.. it shouldn’t be so hard. The D850 is quite different.

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.

Z7 Evening Light 24-70 ISO 3200

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!

Incidentally I think the XQD cards are awesome.

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]


Advertisements

Why Nikon are spot on with the Z range. And where it misses.

Z7 STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA JACARANDA S LENS 24-70
Z7 STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA JACARANDA S LENS 24-70

The Nikon Z7 has been worth waiting for

People waited with growing impatience. What for? For Nikon to come up with a genuine contender in the mirror-less race. And then they did it. They announced the Z range. And suddenly they hit a goal. And apart from the fact that the learning curve has stymied some people the fact is that this is about as good as it gets in full frame high megapixel 35mm Photography. Not that any of the contenders has struck an outright killer blow on the competition as all the current pro cameras are pretty awesome. And all have things that people would change. But you can’t get past the results. They are  good.

Nikon have won a lot of friends with the cameras that they have released recently.

Personally I am one of those people that feel that Nikon have really hit the ground running remarkably well. In recent years they brought the Nikon D850 to the market and frankly it is head and shoulders the best DSLR camera that we have ever used. I agree with those reviewers that say that at present it is easily the best camera in that format available and in many ways in the 35mm field if you want to use a DSLR and your pockets are deep enough it would be the ideal choice. Having said that, size is a factor which is why people are looking at mirrorless.

Z7 Nikon Our Go To Full Frame Mirrorless Camera
Z7  Mirrorless That is Simply amazing

Its about making better lenses.

It’s not the format and size that has got our attention. We don’t mind using DSLR at all. In fact for some applications a DSLR is obviously needed. But mirrorless cameras have their advantages and it’s not simply size.

Both Canon and Nikon appear to see the value of making good lenses even better

What both Nikon and Canon have realized is that better lenses are possible. They chose to attack the problem of mirrorless from two sides. They looked at form and lenses. And that’s brilliant. Digital sensors have the ability to record remarkably fine detail. Sometimes the lenses are the limiting factor though not to the degree that might be argued… Changing the way that lenses are made so that they can be optically better and positioned in a better form on the camera body is a stroke of genius. It really shows that someone has been thinking about this issue carefully. Other companies have approached the issue of better lenses by using smaller sensors and they have achieved remarkable clarity from small sensors using the Micro 4/3 system which, you discount at your peril. It is actually quite amazing and people should stop and look at it. MFT or micro four thirds is a lot better than those that have a fixation on full frame might have you think. We’ll talk about that elsewhere.

NIKON-Z7-ISO-640-S-LENS-LENSCRAFT-MFT
S SERIES 24-70 LENSCRAFT MFT PHOTOGRAPHY

For now though, taking it from the Nikon Z series camera and using a remarkable full frame sensor, then the approach has been to design a completely different mount and make lenses that are remarkably good optically and provide an excellent basis for both still images and video.

Z7 STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA S LENS 24-70
Z7 STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA S LENS 24-70

Image stabilisation built into the camera is always preferable

Then too we are so impressed about the fact that Nikon decided to build the image stabilisation technology into the camera body which we always regard as the very best place to put it. There is no doubt that it is essential in photography and most photographers will tell you that they tend to shoot images at the lowest ISO rating that they can. So for example if you go through a professional catalogue you will probably find that most of the photographs are taken around 200 ISO or less where possible. That is certainly true of our catalogue. Image stabilisation often allows you to get a shot using a lower ISO rating and is therefore essential. However when stabilisation is built into a lens it increases its weight and makes it more complicated. When it is built into the camera body it means that every lens that you fit to that camera is automatically able to take advantage of the stabilisation. It is just fantastic. So for the first time we have a pairing of a high megapixel sensor with inbuilt stabilisation and now we are seeing some amazing lenses of a quality that we haven’t seen in this form before. For me it’s like carrying round a medium format camera that is remarkably small and has all the advantages of the 35mm format. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration but that’s what it feels like and it certainly gives results that are in that ilk. We’ve used a number of medium format cameras and we’ve never been able to achieve the sort of results using any of those cameras up to 50 megapixel that we can get from the Z7 when paired with their new S series lenses when we nail the shot. Rich full images with lots of room to work to bring out the shadows if needed.

Z7 STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA MARINA S LENS 24-70
Z7 STRAIGHT OUT OF CAMERA MARINA S LENS 24-70

So after trying the Z7 for while how do we feel? The converter for fitting Nikon lenses is good. A great idea well implemented. Adds size but we can understand the thinking behind it. If you have lots of native Nikon glass then the adapter provides an option. For me I’ll just use existing Nikon glass on the DSLR. Coming back to what’s really exciting though. It’s the NEW glass. The lenses are what it’s about. It’s always been important to use good lenses. And this is where Nikon have made amazing advances because the S series lenses are something else. The S series 24-70 is one of the best lenses of that focal range we have ever used. And we’ve used them all. From simple to esoteric. This one is so even and sharp that it takes the camera’s potential to a new level. I like the Z7 generally but I wasn’t feeling all that enamored with it when using the adapter. Don’t know why really but I didn’t feel that the focus when using the adapter with third party glass was exceptional and looking online there appears to be a few that had that experience.. however forget that.. now the S lenses give us something to get our teeth into. And I’m shocked at the improvements.

The quality of image is very good when the focus finds its point. Sadly it misses more times than I am comfortable with.  On a recent evening shoot we shot with two mirror-less cameras The Sony A9 and the Nikon Z7 and the results when compared were startling. In 309 images taken the Z7 focus missed almost 60 times whereas the Sony A9 missed focus just once in over 400 shots. In a further trial against the D850 we got similar results though the D850 missed none. In sunny conditions with glare it gets a lot better but it is a niggling worry. I guess it hunts more than i would like.

The Z7 is frankly close to being the most well-rounded mirror-less camera that I have used in full frame format. But it isn’t.  Its a great overall design and size. But until the focus is better it isn’t up to being in my kit unless shooting in bright conditions or shooting manually. I wish the focus were better but at the moment I am hoping for a firmware improvement. 

Hats off to Nikon for a job well on the way but not yet ready for 5 stars.

Other good things

The grip is superb

The metering is excellent

The weight is great

The EVF is clear and bright

The menu system is simple. [Why do people complain about these things…? Its not rocket science and easy to navigate.]

The ISO rating is great

The images are usable up to 6400 ISO for our purposes [We could easily go higher and get prints up to A3] but as noted we would always shoot below 1000 and mostly our average is 200 so its there but for most photographers it won’t matter that much.

Speaking to other photographers about full frame and the general opinion is that Nikon have really got it right. They were talking about the bodies. But when you add in the S lenses which are priced competitively then you have a system with legs that is already delivering excellent results.

We will add some images here soon.

Nikon S 24-70
Nikon 20-70 F4 S Lens. The best 24-70 mm lens we have ever used to date

Just one caveat with these comments. We have yet to try the Z6 but we understand that it is the same camera with a different 24.5 megapixel sensor. I’m firmly of the opinion that 20 megapixel or there about is plenty for any application up to poster size and beyond. Exposure technique remains much more important than the megapixel count of a sensor. Speed is also important and that is achievable with full frame with a lower megapixel sensor much more easily than with higher megapixels.

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, & Hasselblad. [Plus lenses from Zeiss and Sigma]