Nikon Takes Giant Leap Forward with Z Mirrorless Camera System

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Nikon’s biggest announcement in years has just been made. The century-old optics company has developed a full-frame mirrorless camera system titled the Z Series. Named Z for its revolutionary mount, the opening is 55mm in diameter with a back flange distance of just 16mm. What does this mean? It means the camera can be a lot smaller and that completely new lens designs are now available, opening the door for more advanced optics, including ultra-fast f/0.95 glass. Today, Nikon is premiering the system with the Z7 and Z6 cameras, along with the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S, 35mm f/1.8 S, and 50mm f/1.8 S lenses and an FTZ Adapter.

It will be easy to see why the Z7 is called “The Perfectionist” by Nikon when you see its specs. Featuring a high-resolution 45.7MP BSI CMOS FX-format sensor in combination with the EXPEED 6 Image Processing Engine, the Z7 delivers astounding image quality that is on par with, if not better than, that of the D850. On the sensor you will find 493 phase-detection autofocus points, which cover 90% of the sensor area, both horizontally and vertically. This setup delivers accurate and fast subject tracking, face detection, and predictive autofocus technology. This sensor/processor team offers a wide native sensitivity range from ISO 64-25600 and can support continuous shooting at up to 9 fps. The biggest surprise, however, is the introduction of in-body five-axis Vibration Reduction for five stops of stabilization.

The camera sounds great with the specs, putting it right up there with the D850. So what makes it different from their professional DSLR? The size. The camera is 26% lighter than the D850 and substantially smaller, though it promises comfortable ergonomics with its large, rubberized grip and advanced weather sealing. Besides these differences, Nikon’s mirrorless cameras feature something completely different from their DSLR counterparts: an EVF. Nikon boasts custom optics, including aspherical lenses and a fluorine coating, that will ensure a sharp and clear viewing experience. The electronic finder also features 3.6m-dot resolution, 100% frame coverage, and 0.80x magnification.

Made from a strong-but-lightweight magnesium alloy, the body has quite a few other features to improve user experience. This includes a dot-matrix OLED on top for quickly checking and changing settings and a large 3.2” 2.1m-dot tilting touchscreen at the rear. The shutter can be set to be completely silent/electronic, though the mechanical shutter is quiet itself and durable, with a rated life of 200,000 actuations. Also, the camera has a single XQD card slot that can support the CFexpress standard in the future via a firmware update. Battery life promises to be excellent too, as it uses the same EN-EL15-type battery found in plenty of existing Nikon DSLRs.

A big push Nikon has made over the past few years has been in their video department. The Z7 continues this drive with UHD 4K video and 8K time-lapse capabilities. Also, new to Nikon is the introduction of N-Log with View Assist Function for wide dynamic range capture and 10-bit output over HDMI. Full HD 1080p is now possible at up to 120 fps for slow motion recording, and an Electronic Vibration Reduction function is available for smoother video. Other nice-to-haves for video are timecode, down-sampling, and focus peaking, and the camera is also equipped with a mini-HDMI port, a mic input, and a headphone out.

Proving that this will be a system, Nikon has a second camera coming out as well: the Z6. Called “The All-Arounder,” this model sports an FX-format 24.5MP BSI CMOS sensor with 273 phase-detect AF points that will offer a high native sensitivity of ISO 100-51200 as well as 12 fps continuous shooting. Its UHD 4K video function also gets a boost as it has full-pixel readout of the 6K image area with proper down-sampling for sharper footage. Besides these differences, it will be hard to tell the Z7 and Z6 apart, as they use the exact same body design. 

So we talked about the cameras and their new mount. Now it’s time to get into the lenses! The king of versatility, which many will spring for right away, is the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S. Compact and lightweight, it is a perfect companion to the smaller form factor for the mirrorless system. It also features a button-less retractable design for storage. The lens uses aspherical and aspherical/ED glass elements to combat aberrations while a Nano Crystal Coat will minimize flare and ghosting. It will be able to focus as close as 11.8” and has reduced breathing and silent operation to benefit video shooters. Additionally, there is a control ring that can have a custom function assigned to it. If you are looking to dive right into the system, Nikon is releasing both a Z7 Kit and a Z6 Kit that come bundled with the 24-70mm lens.

A couple primes are making their way out with the cameras, too: the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S and the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S. Both primes are relatively compact and, through the use of multiple extra-low dispersion and aspherical elements, they effectively eliminate aberrations for sharp, clear image quality. Nikon claims that this 50mm is not just any old 50mm f/1.8, and states it is among the highest performing 50s on the market. Each prime can deliver maximum sharpness wide open with excellent aberration and distortion correction. They are also weather resistant, use stepping motor AF systems, and have programmable control rings.

Nikon opened the discussion of the mount by mentioning super-fast glass. Coming soon to the Z system is the return of the Noct. Specifically, it is the NIKKOR Z Noct 58mm f/0.95 manual focus lens. This is a serious f/0.95 lens in development and is a stunning revival of the legendary Noct name. Nikon hasn’t revealed too much about this lens just yet, but we can expect it to be top notch once it is officially released.

This is a great start to a new system, but true Nikon fanatics may be wondering “what about all that F-mount glass I have sitting at home?” Nikon is prepared for that with the FTZ Mount Adapter. This electronic adapter promises to have no effect on image quality and can even improve performance by offering 3-axis VR via the Z series built-in stabilization. As of release, over 90 lenses will be fully supported with AF/AE functionality, silent shutter, focus peaking, and more. This includes AF-S Type G/D/E, AF-P Type G/E, AF-I Type D, and AF-S/AF-I Teleconverters. For other lenses, a total of over 360, the adapter will serve various functions, though mainly as a physical adapter between legacy F-mount glass and the new Z-mount cameras. You can also pick up a Z7 with FTZ Adapter Kit, Z7 with 24-70mm and FTZ Adapter Kit, Z6 with FTZ Adapter Kit, and Z6 with 24-70mm and FTZ Adapter Kit.

Since we are talking about F-mount lenses, there is one more thing— Nikon is announcing the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Lens. Characterized by its Phase Fresnel optic, this super telephoto gives users awesome range in a compact package. Today seems to be all about big quality in small sizes. In addition to the PF element, the lens features three extra-low dispersion elements and a Nano Crystal Coat. Also, it measures 4.2 x 9.3” and weighs just 3.2 lb– impressive for a lens of this focal length.

The release of the 500mm makes it clear that Nikon is still fully backing their legendary F-mount system of lenses and DSLRs. The Z mirrorless system is meant to be complementary, and should be at home in a bag right next to a D850. By taking this stance, Nikon aims to provide photographers with the tools they need and want, giving choice between pro DSLR and pro mirrorless.

Nikon has taken a huge leap forward today with the launch of the Z Series mirrorless and done something astounding with the 500mm PF lens. Are you excited to pick up one of Nikon’s Z series cameras? How about the 500mm? Let us know all your thoughts and feel free to ask any questions in the comments below!

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Hi Shawn,

Do they have a price on the 500 yet?

Thanks

I have been waiting for a full frame mirrorless from Nikon for a bit. I am interested in the Z6. I hope there will be a vertical grip too. 

Hi Warren,

Nikon does have a vertical grip in development. Expect an official announcement sometime after the cameras are shipping.

As of the date of this response, the listing of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Lens, B&H # NI50056E, on our website is currently priced at $3,596.95.

I formerly used Nikon film camera 24 mm for interior architectural photos and found when I went to DSLR the 24 mm was often not wide enough. What is the field of view of a 24 mm focal length for this DSLR?

Hi Vincent,

These are full-frame cameras with sensors equivalent in size to that of 35mm film. Therefore a 24mm lens on your Nikon film camera will offer the same field of view on the Z Series.

For the majority of photographers who have never used a professional mirrorless camera system, you left out two very important pieces of information:  Why would I want a mirrorless camera system in the first place and what advantages does a mirrorless system offer over conventional DSLR's?  The hype is great, but you needed to balance that out with some basic education.

 I was thinking the same thing.

Quoting the article: "So what makes it different from their professional DSLR? The size. The camera is 26% lighter than the D850 and substantially smaller, though it promises comfortable ergonomics with its large, rubberized grip and advanced weather sealing. Besides these differences, Nikon’s mirrorless cameras feature something completely different from their DSLR counterparts: an EVF. Nikon boasts custom optics, including aspherical lenses and a fluorine coating, that will ensure a sharp and clear viewing experience. The electronic finder also features 3.6m-dot resolution, 100% frame coverage, and 0.80x magnification."

Oh, and you get to buy all new lenses if you want. ;-)   I've found that EVF's work just fine (using Olympus EM system) and I really appreciate systems that are lighter to pack, carry and use.  No mirror slap means that situations with vibration issues are reduced.

Thank you Paul, I felt I did spend enough time covering the differences between DSLR options and the new mirrorless in this paragraph, especially since Nikon doesn't see it as an alternative to options like the D850 and D750, more as another option for photographers.

In the Nikon "infomercial", they made it sound like you can get rid of your SLRs. Just remember not all of us are professional, and we aren't all ready to jump in every time a new technology comes along. I own a D810. I also have something like 11 or 12 lenses, including 4 lenses from 1969. Whenever I use these I realize how terrific they still are.

Furthermore, what about all the 3000 & 5000 series APCs?? They made it sound like they can't be bothered. Expect that to change. 

What I really feel is the strong move into video. That is where I feel this will excel.

about VIDEO: do Z series cameras use the full frame for HD/4K?

Hi Marco,

The Z Series will use the full-frame image for video recording.

Cecil,  I appreciate your comment for amateur photographers.  Professionals are very familiar with the comparison of SLR and mirrorless and will use the photographic tool that best meets the needs of the current assignment.  Amateurs usually will choose a system that they use for all shooting situations.  Most of us don't have unlimited budgets.  Having said that, I can't agree with your statement.  After viewing Nikon's promotional materials, their special podcasts with professional photographers, and the information issued by vendors such as B&H (my preferred vendor), I think they went to extreme lengths to cover not only the comparison of mirrorless to SLR, but also the corporate "DNA" and thought process that went into the years of development of this new line of cameras.  Comparison of SLR and mirrorless, especially with Sony's sales figures, is everywhere all the time.   Far more relevant to this Nikon product is information on how it will satisfy the Nikon shooter and integrate into his or her current and future photography equipment needs.  I think they have done a good job of covering those topics.

One important difference, perhaps even the most important one, is that mirrorless cameras do not suffer from vibration due to mirror jumping up and down which then blurs the image in camera. This is the main reason mirrorless Leicas were so popular - they had an inherently sharper image, which was especially pronounced at average shutter speeds (speeds below 1/15 sec and above 1/250 were either too slow or too fast to exhibit much of a difference). This is why standard TTL finder cameras have mirror lock-up button (at least most of them do): to prevent the mirror from jumping up and down and therefore bluring the image. Even if a camera had a counter-weight built-in, it was still a victim of mirror vibration; the best solution was therefore to never use that mirror, which in most situations was not possible. Some people have used separate finder which they would put in the hot-shoe for the flash, and lock up the mirror and shoot like that. Others, simply bought mirrorless cameras.

What's the smallest aperture that can auto-focus? F11?

This we aren't quite sure about as we only had a limited time with a pre-production model. Assuming you mean stopped down focusing (as opposed to the common method of focusing wide open and then stopping down solely for the exposure), the phase-detect system will likely start slowing around f/5.6-11, but if there is enough light the contrast-detect system should function past that.

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