I received my new Nikon Z7ii in late December. Since then, I have used it in a variety of situations, from professional jobs to personal projects to simple walk-abouts. Throughout the article you will see random shots from some of those situations, as well as a couple from a Z6ii I rented while I waited for the camera.
The Cliff Notes version of this review: The camera performed well in almost every situation, and I am very happy. I generally feel it is a significant step-up from my D850.
A few caveats before diving in: I read this blog every week and know many of you are excellent technical professionals. I am not a mathematical photoblogger, and this review will not compare the pixel noise and dynamic range of eight cameras side by side. That type of review belongs to professional journals and video bloggers.
This article simply represents my personal experience with the camera. 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 equipment can do that well and consistently.
Why the Z7ii
I bought the 46 megapixel Z7ii because of my architecture, landscape, and in-studio work. I already own a D850, an infrared converted D810, a Fuji XT-3 and have a full complement of Nikon and third-party F Mount lenses.
However, I needed a new 14-24 lens (I killed my old one through wear and tear) for architecture work. I also wanted a 50 mm for everyday street photography. The prior architecture work demanded a new 14-24 lens. If I was going to buy the incredible 14-24 2.8 Z lens, then I wanted more resolution. However, in hindsight I was very impressed with the Z6ii during my one-week rental.
Buying a Z permitted a gradual migration to full-frame mirrorless without causing me to throw out the proverbial F Mount babies with the bath water. The lower cost and an almost complimentary $50 FTZ lens converter package 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 experienced with rentals. My general issue with Sony remains build-quality and low light performance though my friends say newer models have resolved those issues over the past 18 months. I did not consider the Panasonic Lumix full frame mirrorless cameras as I have heard almost nothing about their performance.
In summary, at this price point, I felt Nikon delivered the best quality high-resolution camera, and given my old F mount lenses, the most obvious value.
Positive Performance Observations
I put the camera to the test during inauguration week while I was out shooting images for the last chapter of a book I was working on. Then I shot several professional and personal project photos with it, as well as a corporate video shoot. The Z performed very well in all cases.
In addition, the camera is quite handy as a walkabout camera. While I normally carry a Fuji for casual walkabouts, I find myself grabbing the Z almost every time now. It’s that good and tons of fun. I can’t always say that about the equally good but much heavier D850.
Here are some specific positives about the Z7ii:
- The mirrorless Z body is significantly lighter.
- Frames per second, both mechanical and silent, are extremely fast compared to the D850.
- 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 love shooting with the 50! It is great for walking around.
- 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.
- In the few cases I used the FTZ to date, it offered a seamless experience between old lenses and the new camera.
- Focus-breathing for video was a non-issue.
- The video files are sick, just incredibly sharp and with that excellent Nikon color science.
- The image files are fantastic, and the color science has improved with more Fuji-like options.
- Less buttons are better.
- SnapBridge mobile connectivity works well for this camera (Thank God you finally fixed it, Nikon. Recent firmware made it better on my D850, too.)
The 2020 Nikon Z autofocus system is actually quite good. While I have some critiques on it in my negative observations section, in many instances it offers a step up over the D850. It is also a major step up from my Fuji XT-3 AF, particularly for face detection. Much of the frustration is because I have become accustomed to it working so well that when it doesn’t, it really pisses me off! LOL!
The IBIS is a huge win here compared to the D850, especially for a high megapixel camera. IBIS in the Z makes the full-frame 46 MP camera suddenly much more effective for casual street and event photography. You can shoot from the hip with this camera. 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. Given I have big hands and am not the most nimble person, fewer buttons to accidentally bump is a plus.
I just care about the basics in the field, ISO, manual or aperture, shutter, f-stop, white balance, continuous shooting, timer, and bracketing. The custom button and dial options are just enough for my needs. Diving into the menus is fine for more specific functions. If the situation demands more finesse than that, I stop shooting to adjust.
Negative Performance Observations
No camera system is perfect and to present it as such would be wrong. Let’s not kid ourselves with a utopian gloss over. Here are my negative perceptions of the Z7ii:
- When the autofocus locks onto the wrong subject, it’s a battle to correct it (Jared Polin breaks down that issue well here).
- Sometimes the AF struggles to detect short-range subjects, stubbornly defaulting to the farthest item in the frame.
- The AF has difficulty locking on the subject in some low-light situations.
- The joystick fails in comparison with the camera’s touch screen focus capability.
- Intuitive AF? Not so much. You need to read the Z7ii reference manual to understand 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, hopefully to be resolved soon.
- No third-party lenses of note to fill in the gaps.
- Image rendering looks, well, mirrorless at times.
If you are knowledgeable about the historic Z series flaws, then many of 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 a single card slot crippled sales and hurt Nikon’s entry into the mirrorless world. I committed to buying the first Z6, but canceled my order after reading initial reviews from photographers in the field.
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, when I hear an event photographer say they chose to buy Canon or Sony because of this matter, I get it.
The rest of the autofocus issues are nit-picks. Nikon is probably only one or two updates away from being on par with Canon and Sony. In the interim, I can live with the challenges.
About the mirrorless camera image quality comment: 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 light beam. 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.
My camera purchase decisions come down to features, economics, how real photographers (and not video bloggers) review them, and/or they perform on a trial run. The price point matched the technology needs for me. Plus, I have had good experiences with Nikon so I trusted the brand. That trust was rewarded with this camera.
A word about the Z6ii. My experiences in the studio and on the street with the 24 megapixel Z6ii were very good. 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.
If you are on the fence about the Z mark ii cameras, I hope this review was useful to you. Cheers.
This review was based on an earlier review I wrote on my site, geofflivingston.com. You can also find me on Instagram at geoffliving and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/geofflivingstonphoto. If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.
My Experience Shooting with the Z7ii by Geoff Livingston (website, Instagram, Facebook, see also his previous guest posts): I received my new Nikon Z7ii in late December. Since then, I have used it in a variety of situations, from professional jobs to personal projects to simple walk-abouts. Throughout the article you will see random shots from
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