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August 28, 2018

Did Nikon Reinvented Mirrorless?

 

Nikon introduced their brand new full-frame mirrorless system this past week under the slogan “Mirrorless Reinvented”. Since then the Z6 and Z7 have received severe criticism. Because many of you know that I am a big fan of Nikon and used Nikon cameras for 38 years but switched to Sony around 3 years ago I have been asked what I think of the new Nikon mirrorless cameras and about the whole drama that has surrounded the launch.

Here are the short answers in case you do not want to read the rest (you should) Do I think Nikon “reinvented Mirrorless”? Absolutely not. Will the new Z6 and Z7 be good cameras? Absolutely yes. But read on to find out why.

 

A Brief Background and Context

As a Nikon fan, I have been waiting a long time for Nikon to join the mirrorless revolution. Nikon has been one of the world’s leading camera companies for over a 100 years and should have been into mirrorless since the beginning. Sadly, they, as well as Canon, were pretty much absent until now giving Sony and Fuji a big headstart.

At WPPI 2015 I began to hear about these new mirrorless cameras and was impressed with what I was hearing. When I heard that longtime Nikon photographer, Mike Colón, had switched to Sony mirrorless I had to find out why. I spoke to several photographers that I trusted that had also switched to Sony and Fuji.

In summer 2015 I needed to replace my trusty D700 as well as some of Nikon glass. Because an investment in camera and lens system is also an investment in a brand, I could either stay with Nikon and wait for them to introduce a mirrorless camera or just switched to Sony. I chose to switch and got a Sony A7II with some lenses. Since that day I have shot close to 60 weddings and an equal number of engagements sessions as well as done several trips for cityscapes and landscape.

I believe that my decision to switch to Sony was the right one, love the Sony cameras and lenses, and mirrorless cameras are an amazing tool and the future.

 

What Happened just prior to Nikon releasing the Z6 and Z7?

It has been a long time coming. Although Nikon is not really new to mirrorless as they had the Nikon 1 for a few years now, it was never considered a real alternative. We all wanted a professional level full-frame Nikon mirrorless camera. Nikon took its sweet time to finally give us a Nikon mirrorless alternative.

Nikon had announced early in the year that they were working on a mirrorless camera but would not be ready until sometimes 2019. We were surprised when Nikon started releasing teasers about not one but two new mirrorless cameras that would be announced in August 2018, way ahead of the original timetable that Nikon had announced.

What changed? Most industry observers (and me) believe that the moment that the game changed was when Sony introduced the fantastic A7III. That changed everything. A powerful camera that you could buy for under $2,000. It is no surprise to anyone that the A6 targets the A7III and sells under $2,000 and the Z7 target the A7RIII.

In 2017 Sony demonstrated that they were paying attention and that they have been working really hard to move mirrorless technology forward, so when in 2017 they announced the industry-leading full-frame mirrorless A9 and later the A7RIII, true pro mirrorless had arrived. DSLR no longer had any real edge over mirrorless cameras.

Nikon has seen their sales dropped as long-time Nikon users were switching to Sony as well as not attracting new users to their current line up od DSLR.

 

What Started the Drama and Uproar?

To be honest, no one but Nikon is to blame for the drama, poor reception of the camera by the press and their own users and uproar surrounding the A6 and A7 unveiling. Why?

In my opinion, Nikon created a hype their cameras didn’t live up to. The bravely (and arrogantly) announced to the world they were reinventing mirrorless. That raised the expectations for this two cameras really high. And the specs they released for the cameras seemed to support that.

Of course, whenever a camera manufacturer is about to release a new camera creates a great amount of anticipation and hype surrounding the new camera. They all do it. For example, when the Sony got ready to announce the A9 they also created hype around the A9. The difference? The A9 did live up to the expectation Sony hype had created. We were promised a camera that would rival Nikon and Canon flagships and we got it. We were told that all the issues we had with previous cameras would be fixed and they did.

And because Nikon targeted the A7III and A7RIII expectations for the Z6 and Z7 were very high.

So, did Nikon reinvent mirrorless as they promise in their hype with the Z6 and Z7? Absolutely no.

 

So What did Nikon did

If we take the Nikon hype and expectations, Nikon made two really good cameras. They are solid, beautiful and I am sure will produce exceptional images.

So if the made two really good cameras then why the uproar? Because they didn’t reinvent mirrorless and are not at the level of the current mirrorless technology as found mainly in Sony cameras, which were Nikon primary target.

I think it is pretty obvious that Nikon goal was to stop current Nikon camera users, especially pros, from switching to Sony. They needed to get in the game and fast. So they did. But the hype they created need a home run and not just get on base.

 

Why the Z6 and Z7 are not at the level of current Full-Frame Mirrorless Technology?

Like I said, the Z6 and Z7 are definitely well made, solid cameras, a welcome addition to the mirrorless market. By just looking at the Z6 and Z7 specs it would easy to conclude that they are similar to the A7RIII and A7III, but on close inspection, they are not. They really compete with Sony second generation A7II and A7RII. Here is why.

 

Battery Life.
The Z6 and Z7 have a CIPA battery life rate around what the A7II were. We still have to see what’s the real life of the Z6 and Z7 battery but judging from the use of my A7II it should require around 5 batteries per wedding.

Battery life is a measurement of the number of images a digital still camera can take on a single battery charge. The procedure for determining this rating comes from the Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA) in Japan, and the camera vendor is responsible for the fairness of the reported results.

 

Dual Card Slot.
This has definitively the focus of most anger toward Nikon. Why in the world they made such a decision when they knew the heat that Sony took for only having one card slot on version 1 and 2 of their A7 cameras is beyond me.

Should this be a deal breaker for pro-photographers? That is for you, and only you, to decide. I do believe that Nikon Z6 and Z7 should have had two cards slots. But for me to say that just because it only has one card slot is a bad camera or that it could not be used for pro work is pure silliness. For me to say that a Pro should not or could not use the Z6 or the Z7 for pro work would make me a hypocrite as I used the A7II for 3 years with just one card, and before that the D800 spite of having two cards.

But knowing how much grief Sony got for not having two card slots, especially that it was one of the biggest reason Nikon users quoted as to why Sony cameras should not be used for weddings, and that about every camera that Nikon makes today has two cards I think it was a very, very bad decision not to have two card slots on the Z6 and Z7. I think Nikon now knows.

 

Z6 and Z7 AF System in Low Light.
I am waiting to see how good is the Z6 and Z7 AF really is in real working conditions. Looking at the specs, what concerns me is that the A6 is rated to focus down to -2 EV and the Z7 down to -1EV. I think that is too low for the state of the current industry.

My A7II focus in low light down to -1EV so I know from experience that the Z6 and Z7 should have a bit of trouble in low light conditions. Will see, but it is something to really check. Will that disqualifies the Z6 and Z7 for wedding work? That is something each photographer will have to judge and decide for themselves. All I can say is that if the performance of the AF system in low light is similar to my A7II then you will be occasionally frustrated while shooting in Low Light. I got used to.

The question I am asked is that why then I used the A7II for weddings if the AF in low light wasn’t as good as my D800? Simply put, for me, it was good enough, a trade-off I could live with for the benefits of mirrorless. I was glad when Sony released the A7III with its amazing AF system.

 

Eye AF
This is an amazing feature of every Sony camera. While my A7II had it, it is not nearly as good as with the A7III, A7RIII, and A9. It is a feature I use constantly. It is too bad the Nikon did not include this feature in their Z6 and Z7.

 

5-Axis IBIS
While the Z6 and Z7 have IBIS, from what I have read from those who have used the camera is not as good as the A7III or A7RIII.

 

Lens Selection.
This is my biggest disappointment with the Nikon Mirrorless system. I look at the lens roadmap and I don’t see any f1.4 lens. If one of the biggest benefits of the Nikon Mirrorless system is the bigger mount I would have expected to see faster zooms and lens. What this means is that I would have to wait over 3 years to see any exciting glass.

But wait, you may say, I can use Nikon current glass with the Z6 and Z7. And while is that true and great, still not glass optimized for those cameras that take advantage of the larger mount.

 

Those are the things you need to look at and consider when deciding if the Z6 or the Z7 (or any cameras) are for you. Nobody better than you know your needs and what will work best for you. After all, a camera is a tool that should empower you to be your creative best.

 

Conclusion.

As you can see from my discussion, I truly believe that the Nikon Z6 and Z7 are good cameras, a welcome addition to the Nikon line up of cameras. I am glad Nikon finally took mirrorless seriously and are in the game. Competition benefits all.

Will they keep Nikon users from jumping to Sony? I don’t think so, but it will make some Nikon fans happy. To be honest, personally, I am a bit disappointed in the Z6 and Z7. I expected more from Nikon. I am glad I didn’t wait for them and decided to switch to Sony when I did.

For those Nikon users that choose to jump to the new Z6 and Z7 will not be disappointed with the image quality but they will have to compromise like I did three years ago when I switched. The reason why is that the Z6 and Z7 really compete with Sony second generation A7II and A7RII and not with the current crop of Sony cameras.

Can the Z6 and Z7 be used for pro work? Of course, you can. We shot with one card slots for years. The Af system wasn’t always as good as they are today and still, we used those cameras for pro work. If you don’t mind not having the cutting edge mirrorless technology currently available and have to use a Nikon, then those your choice. But I believe that those who are looking for the current best and the more mature mirrorless systems will look to Sony and Fuji for their camera, as I did.

It is going to take Nikon a long while to get where I am with my Sony cameras today. Would I buy a Z6 or a Z7 today if I hadn’t switched to Sony 3 years ago? No. I would switch to Sony. The A7III, A7RIII, and A9 are the best mirrorless in the market and their lens are amazing. There is nothing that Nikon currently offer that would have kept me in the fold. I am glad I didn’t wait and switched when I did.

But this I would say, Welcome Nikon o the mirrorless revolution and that those who choose to use the Z6 or the Z7 will experience the joy and benefits of using a mirrorless camera that I have been experiencing 3 years now.

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