The One Thing That Could Convince Nikon DSLR Users to Switch to the Upcoming Mirrorless Z 6 II and Z 7 II

The One Thing That Could Convince Nikon DSLR Users to Switch to the Upcoming Mirrorless Z 6 II and Z 7 II

Let’s assume for a moment Nikon was a genie and could grant me one wish. Aside from wishing for 1,000 more wishes, here is what I would ask for.

Recently, there were financial results released that showed Nikon being in a precarious position in the market. True, that statement could have been made about Nikon anytime in the past couple of years. But there was something about this report that was particularly troubling. It’s been no secret that Sony has been dominating the mirrorless market for some time, having entered the game several years earlier than Nikon and Canon. Nor is it surprising to see Canon ahead of Nikon. They have a larger share of the overall camera market, so you’d expect they might also have a larger share of the mirrorless one. What was distressing was that Nikon was not even third, not even fourth, but fifth on the list of mirrorless sales behind Fuji and Olympus.

Again, Fuji has a very particular niche, also has a significant lead time when it comes to mirrorless, and makes a great product. So, maybe we can cut Nikon some slack there. But Olympus? Not to take shots at the quality of Olympus cameras at all. They are a long-standing brand with a great product. But that brand’s sales have been so low for so long that the company recently announced they were exiting the business altogether. If Nikon is shipping fewer units than a company that is going out of business, there’s just no positive way to spin that.

As a career-long Nikon shooter and someone who loves their products, including their mirrorless line, this is a matter of concern. I don’t necessarily think that we Nikon shooters have to worry anytime soon about the company going out of business completely. I think they would be bought by another tech company long before the brand name was allowed to die. And even if it did go under, I expect it would be a slow death with cameras, lenses, repair sites, and the like allowing us to continue to shoot Nikon for at least the next decade. But, again, I don’t expect that future to come to pass.  

I’ve written previously about Nikon’s strengths within the market as well as how their greatest strength might be their largest obstacle. Namely, Nikon makes some of the best, if not the absolute best DSLRs on the market. Professionals the world over have trusted Nikon DSLRs for years and continue to do so today. In fact, while Nikon finds itself in a tenuous position in the mirrorless world, they still maintain a firm position at number two in the DSLR market, behind only Canon. While the majority of internet hype these days centers around the mirrorless world, it’s important to remember that most professional photographers are still relying on traditional DSLRs day in and day out.

Mirrorless cameras have their advantages for sure. The EVF makes manual exposure significantly easier. There are massive improvements when it comes to video in a market increasingly geared towards hybrid shooters. They are physically lighter. The new lenses designed for mirrorless cameras offer significant customization advantages over their DSLR brethren. But, as useful as these things are, it’s important to note that none of them necessarily make you a better photographer, or, more importantly, improve image quality. The sensor inside my D850, for example, continues to put out amazing files. The original Z 7, with a similar megapixel count, produces similar results, but there isn’t a built-in image quality upgrade to entice existing DSLR users like me to make the switch. The advantages of mirrorless are more creature comforts for us photographers as opposed to tangible differences that directly impact the final product being delivered to clients. In other words, if the clients can’t tell the difference, at least not enough to pay more for our services, then investing in a whole new system becomes more of a want than a need for someone who's living depends on using their camera to generate the most income with the lowest expenses.

Currently, despite trying out a number of different mirrorless systems over recent years, the Nikon D850 still remains the queen of my castle. New-fangled mirrorless advancements aside, there is still no machine that allows me to excel in such a variety of shooting circumstances without having to cut corners. I can shoot everything from fast-moving athletes, to still life, to traditional portraits, to birds in flight all with the same camera body. And while video advancements in mirrorless are undeniable, I can even shoot video in a pinch with my D850 just so long as I don’t mind manual focus.

Of course, my experience is not unique. In fact, it is the sheer awesomeness and dependability of Nikon DSLRs that I think explains the poor market share at the moment for Nikon mirrorless. Simply put, if you are an existing Nikon customer, you are also the prime candidate for moving into the Z mount mirrorless system. But if you already have a camera perfect for your needs, why would you go through the annoyance and expense of shifting over to an entirely new system, even if that system does come from a manufacturer you’ve grown to love and trust?

While I still use my DSLR for the majority of my professional work, I did purchase a Nikon Z 6 almost a year ago to serve as a dedicated video option. I’ve written about my experience with the original Z 6 previously, so I won’t rehash a complete review. But, I will say that the original Z 6 far exceeded my expectations. Especially at the price point at which I was able to acquire it, the Z 6 has definitely earned its keep, even to the point where the camera, which was bought primarily for its video capabilities, has become my go-to camera for shooting stills for fun and has even been used to shoot entire assignments in both still and video when the 45.7 MP of my D850 wasn’t necessary. I’ve enjoyed it so much, in fact, that were it the higher-megapixel Z 7, I suspect I might use it even more for stills-only projects as well.

For those who don’t know, the Z 6 and Z 7 are basically identical except that they have 24.5 MP and 45.7 MP sensors respectively. As someone who tends to do multiple cropped versions of almost every image I take, the added resolution of the D850/Z 7 seems to be just the right balance for me between file size and resolution. So, you might be asking yourself why I haven’t just made the switch already and helped add to Nikon’s mirrorless sales count. Well really, it’s just one thing.

No, it’s not the one card slot. Despite the ridiculously overblown commentary on how “you can’t be a professional photographer if you don’t have two card slots,” that is not a hurdle for a commercial photographer who is likely shooting tethered in the first place. Not that I don’t understand the appeal for wedding and event shooters, mind you. It’s just that different shooters have different needs, and that’s not one that affects my own purchasing decision.

I’ve already pointed out ways in which the Z 7 actually excels over the D850. The video is a major step forward and does have a tangible impact on my workday. While I still prefer an optical viewfinder to an EVF while shooting stills, the bright and fast viewfinders in the Z cameras are definitely among the best EVFs I’ve ever used. So, despite my professed love for optical viewfinders, even that is not the single most important thing stopping me from making the shift.

Earlier in this essay, I pointed out that the reason my D850 remains top of the heap is the fact that there is almost no shooting situation in which I would have even the slightest fear about its ability to produce. Certainly, if I were a sideline sports shooter, something like the D6 would produce a better frame rate, but the D850 is fast enough for 99% of anything I personally would ever shoot. There are definitely newer and cooler cameras on the market, but the objective of buying a camera is to suit one’s needs, not to look cool. And the D850 scratches my every itch.

The original Z 6 and Z 7, on the other hand, scratch most of my itches. Unfortunately, the one they leave behind has a real-world effect on my ability to do my job. The autofocus is not yet on par with their DSLRs.

As I mentioned in my D6 discussion, I don’t shoot from the sidelines at sporting events. But I do shoot athletes and fast-moving subjects for a living. They may be in the studio or on location, but that doesn’t exactly diminish their foot speed. So, I need an autofocus system that can keep up with them. With 3D tracking and the various area autofocus modes, Nikon DSLRs have always been at the top of the industry when it comes to shooting fast-moving subjects. There’s a reason why you see so many Nikon and Canon DSLRs on sidelines around the world.

That’s not to say the focusing system in the Z 6 and Z 7 is bad. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t purchase my Z 6 until after the camera had already received several rounds of firmware updates, but I’ve found the autofocus to be very good in a majority of situations despite several early detractors. It is not, however, on par with what my D850 can do. I don’t think even Nikon itself would argue with that statement.

With the rumors of the prospective Nikon Z 6 II and Z 7 II to have dual processors, the hope is that this will allow for a faster and more accurate autofocus system. For me, this is the single problem that absolutely has to be solved before I could rightly consider making the full switch from my Nikon DSLRs into their mirrorless system. There are rumors that the new cameras will include other enhancements, like the much-requested two cards slots, but if the pictures aren’t in focus to begin with, then it doesn’t much matter how many cards slots are there to back them up.

Ideally, the new cameras would incorporate some of the old focusing systems. Focusing systems in DSLRs and mirrorless cameras operate in fundamentally different ways. So, I’m not expecting things to be exactly the same as my D850. But in a technology world where the sky's the limit, I don’t see why Nikon would be unable to improve the mirrorless focusing to match their existing DSLR technology.

If they are able to reach a point where an existing Nikon DSLR shooter can easily migrate to the Z system and match the autofocusing speed of their D6, for example, then they will have hit the point where a lot of existing Nikonians would seriously look at making the switch. If they can produce a focusing system that exceeds that of the D6 or even the D850, then it would be a slam dunk.

The official announcement from Nikon is only days away regarding their next generation of Z cameras. And soon to follow, we will see a myriad of reviews of the new system outlining all the new tricks it has up its sleeve. But for me, what I really want to hear about is whether or not the autofocus is finally on par with the DSLRs already on the market. If so, that will allow all those other niceties that mirrorless has to offer to take full effect and might even convince a lot of Nikon lifers to make the switch.

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59 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

big file not better picture

Deleted Account's picture

The economy is terminal. Yep, let me spend thousands on a new system.

Chris Rogers's picture

Make sure they have at least one SD card slot please. XQD is too expensive and availability is still pretty low. I can't walk into my local best buy and pick one up if I need to. Auto focus is indeed a big problem though.

Ted Lee's picture

XQD and CFExpress (both can be used in the Z6/Z7) are on par price wise with any UHS-II SD Card that can handle at least 300MB/S. And the CFExpress cards can handle 1700MB/S (440MB/S for XQD), over 5x the speed of a comparably priced UHS-II SD card. And the XQD/CFExpress cards are infinitely more reliable than any SD card.

I'm personally hoping for dual XQD/CFE slots. They are better cards for the same money.

Sam Sims's picture

UHS-I cards are cheap in comparison to UHS-II and XQD/CFE and I’m including cards like Sandisk Extreme Pro. The option to grab a few UHS-I cards for times when they are more than fast enough, like photo taking is very handy for those of us without deep pockets. I can get away with UHS-I U3 for 4K with my camera if I need 4K. Handy with my SD to lightning adapter for my iPad too (wireless transfer is a very bad experience).

jim hughes's picture

XQD is a ripoff. I wish my Z6 had SD.

Jim Cutler's picture

Auto focus quite excellent. Unless you're shooting sports which this isn't made for. XQD has proven extremely reliable. 120g XQD $199. vs Sandisk 128g Extreme Pro II $382.

Sam Sims's picture

128G Sandisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 U3 $36.99. I’ve never needed faster cards.

Jason Lorette's picture

1000%...I've been waiting for Nikon to have a mirrorless body that at least is on the level of Sony, that gets people as excited as when literally every new Sony body comes out...is it, my hopes are not high, but I am hopeful. My current DSLR is getting very long in the tooth and I have been doing way more video (with my phone because my camera is terrible at it, sad that my iPhone is better at video than an actual camera)...if the A7SIII had a higher stills MP I may have jumped ship after being a long time Nikon shooter.

Scott Wardwell's picture

The only thing that would entice me to leave my D850 is if Nikon acknowledges that the ultimate goal of the Z-mount was to form the backbone of their medium format line. Then that would be worth consideration and not just for an EVF.

Deleted Account's picture

Wouldn't the Z-mount be a bit small for a medium format line?

Scott Wardwell's picture

No, I think the tolerances are there to support the smaller medium format sensor. It would be interesting see someone to do the math about the circle-of-projection from the Z-lens as well. This was a tremendously risky roll of the dice to develop a lateral move to essentially bring just another full-frame body onto the market. The Z has to have something greater in it's future than just being FF mirrorless. I think that Nikon has developed something here that has a sweet-spot no one else sees.
Understand that the Z or some derivation of it, has to have a life span at least that of the F-mount and can take Nikon a 100 years into the future and build a universe of gear to support it for the company to celebrate it's Bicentennial.

Deleted Account's picture

The Z-mount seems to be 10mm narrower than the Fuji G-mount so I'm a bit skeptical about its application for medium format application—at least not without increasing the flange focal distance which would probably ruin compatibility with current lenses. Even if the image circle does technically cover the sensor area, the extremely short flange focal distance of Z-mount lenses might cause all sorts of issues in the corners because of the angle of the light coming in. I do agree that it would be interesting if someone did the calculations, though.

As for switching mount, I don't think they had much of a choice unless they wanted to develop a whole bunch of mirrorless cameras with needless empty space where the mirror box used to reside because it's not like you're going to be able to use that space since it's in the optical path. Making a new mount with a good first party adapter was realistically their best option. I do think that the FTZ could have been better, though. An AI tab (that could still allow for mounting non-AI lenses) and a mechanism to drive screwdriver-type AF would have been nice and I would have certainly paid more for it.

Scott Wardwell's picture

A fun thought experiment. It will be interesting to see if Nikon has something up their sleeve to do this.

Jason Frels's picture

A really good 70-200mm f/4 and maybe a fast prime around 16mm added to the lens line-up and I might make a plan to go for a Z6.

James Michael's picture

Maybe it could but, in my case, it can't. ;-)

Jim Tincher's picture

The reality though is that Nikon is still the #2 camera mfr behind Canon… which puts Nikon ahead of Sony in camera sales (lagging in mirrorless sales). I have two Z6’s that I’m quite happy with though in reality it would have been nicer had they shipped it at introduction with the current firmware for eye detect focusing. Aside from the hype from many sensationalist youtubers want you to believe, in use the Nikon Z’s aren’t nearly as bad as the hype would lead you to believe. In real world shooting the focusing performs extremely well and it doesn’t miss focus. As for the XQD’s, they are quite fast and robust but Nikon is the only mfr (I know of) that is using that format, thus the cards are annoyingly too expensive. I’ve been extremely pleased with the images I get with the Z6 and generally prefer it over my D850 because of the focusing is so much better. For most portraits I don’t need the detail of the D850. I’m really looking forward to see what the Z6/7 II’s actually bring to the table….

Ryan Cooper's picture

According to most reports I have seen. Sony has surpassed Nikon. According to Statista, as of Sep 16 the market share breakdown (top 5) is as follows:

Canon: 45.4%
Sony: 20.2%
Nikon: 18.6%
FUJI: 4.7%
Panasonic: 4.7%

I'd also point out that Sony's market share is growing while Nikon's is shrinking. Nikon needs to adapt and innovate to draw people back.

As it stands the Nikon Z line is great in many ways but it lacks any special sauce that will draw new users to the platform other than a manual 50mm that is obscenely expensive.

I will probably move to Z because I have invested my whole career so far in Nikon, but if I was starting over today from nothing, Nikon wouldn't even be in the running. Both Canon and Sony have objective advantages over Nikon at this time and to date, Nikon hasn't done much to close the gap.

Look at the lens offerings alone. Canon R is been hitting it out of the park with some of the best professional-grade lenses ever created. What has Nikon done? They have released the aforementioned expensive 50 and mostly a bunch of mid-ranged, premium-priced, mediocre lenses more suited for enthusiasts.

But even that aside, Nikon can't just play catch-up, they need to slingshot past in order to stem the market share bleeding. Nikon has the largest mount which has tons of unrealized potential yet Nikon has made very little effort to realize that potential.

Jason Lorette's picture

I love my Nikon's, have always shot Nikon...but I agree, starting out today with no history...Sony would probably get my dollar.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I only have 2 lenses for my Z7, but the 14-30 is sharp, compact, and takes filters. I would have preferred the 24-105 but bought the 24-200 until the 24-105 is available. It's a very good travel lens. I don't plan on buying any of the so called "professional' Z-mount lenses but the lenses mentioned are as sharp or sharper than any of the dozen or so professional F-mount lens that I currently own.

Lawrence S's picture

You lost me at "mediocre lenses". Every single Z lens is exceptionally better than the F version before it. It seems like you confuse image quality with maximum aperture.
A bigger mount does not mean automatically that Nikon will or should only launch a bunch of F1.2 lenses. That would be idiotic. It did however have a significant impact on image quality from corner to corner. Affordable F1.8 primes lenses that are steps ahead in sharpness than any previous Nikon bigger and/or more expensive F1.4 lens. Sure, it's not as sexy as a 85 F1.2 and you can't really impress your friends by telling them you bought a 50mm F1.8, but they offer incredible value for image quality and are a lot more practical for a broader audience.

Ryan Cooper's picture

When your competitors are putting out faster lenses that are just as sharp and have just as good, if not better image quality then yes, the lenses are mediocre. Maybe that new 50 1.2 will begin closing the gap, but unfortunately the best Nikon can do right now is play catch-up. I really hope the 2.0 version of the Z6 and Z7 change my mind and introduce something revolutionary.

My point remains though. Nikon Z has done NOTHING whatsoever to make itself special. There is no argument of: "You should choose Nikon Z over X because Y". It does nothing better than its competitors. Most things it does equally well for sure but it has no competitive advantage. Sony has a mature platform and its legendary eye autofocus. Canon has a rock-solid grip on professional video production and the best autofocus fast primes ever created. Nikon has ??? (In theory they have the huge mount, but they haven't done much to capitalize on that design as mentioned above)

Deleted Account's picture

I don't really understand this. In what universe are Nikon's Z-mount lenses "affordable"? They're premium lenses and they're priced according to their quality, but to call a bunch of $600+ f/1.8 primes (the only zoom I use these days is the 14-30mm f/4 which there is no SLR analog for due to the filter thread) "affordable" options is a it of a stretch. They're certainly light and compact options for the quality they provide, but if you want to talk "affordable" these days, you're talking third party.

Lawrence S's picture

What part do you don't understand? The Z lenses are the sharpest lenses wide open that Nikon currently makes and they don't sell for 2000+ dollars. They are literally as sharp at F1.8 as old Nikon F mount F1.4 lenses are at F2.8.
I still use my Sigma Art 35 F1.4 on my Z6 - which was the best 35mm when it came out - but I have compared images with the Z 35 F1.8 and the level of detail and lack of optical aberrations wide open is extreme. I was blown away. Yes, they don't offer F1.4, but the raw sharpness is right there at F1.8. No need to stop down. The Sigma was more expensive than the current Z 35 F1.8.

Nikon's strategy was just different. Instead of offering one o two F1.2 lenses that almost nobody can afford or really needs, they chose to have a relatively wide range of F1.8 and F4 lenses. Not as fast, but very sharp. Marketing wise, maybe not the smartest move - you just won't get the viral exposure with a couple of F1.8 lenses, as you do with a new F1.2 lens - but they did provide new users who jumped onto the Z system a complete kit, without breaking the bank.

Deleted Account's picture

"Affordable" has nothing to do with value. It's a function of price alone. So it doesn't actually matter how sharp they are or how low the distortion or aberrations are are if people can't you know.... AFFORD them. The old 50mm f/1.8G wasn't affordable because it was an amazing value. It was affordable because you could pick one up for $200. Don't confuse value with affordability. Taking some of the most expensive f/1.8 lenses on the market and calling them "affordable" is just silly. Argue about the value proposition all you want, but please don't pretend that these lenses are cheap.

Lawrence S's picture

If you can't afford a 500-800 dollar lens, obviously don't get into a new gen system, stay with your perfectly fine Nikon DSLR or use the FTZ adapter with AF-S and compatible third party lenses. That's perfectly fine. I use the FTZ and will upgrade gradually. But don't expect new generation lenses to have the same price as lenses based on decade old technology.

I'm a photographer, so I am not looking at "the cheapest lens I can get" nor am I being romantic about older AF-D or AI-S lenses. I look at what I need and want, price is only secondary. Sometimes a lens has both features, as was the case with the Sigma 35 F1.4 Art: it is sharper and cheaper than the Nikon F mount version. Until the Z F1.8 version came and destroyed both.
The fact remains that the current F1.8 line up offers you image quality that is superior to nearly all F mount F1.4 lenses - most of them being more expensive. My point was that this kind of image quality - let's call it pro-grade for the sake of argument - is now more affordable and you can switch from Nikon F mount F1.4's to F1.8 Z mount without loosing image quality - only gaining. Of course, if you believe a F1.8 lens can never be used professionally or that the 2/3 stop difference between F1.4 and F1.8 is too significant for you, I can't help you either.

Deleted Account's picture

So they're not affordable. Got it.

Lawrence S's picture

Don't be a smart ass. Affordability is purely subjective. It's not some magical price range that is determined by an official committee, or even worse, by one person. If you can't or don't want to pay that price, they are indeed not affordable... for you. However, you are obviously not everyone. Nikon doesn't produce lenses specially for you. And neither do they establish a pricing based on your personal budget.

Deleted Account's picture

OK, then Canon's f/1.2 primes are affordable too, right? Seems like everyone's releasing affordable lenses. LOL

Rich Poinvil's picture

Lawrence and Salty. You are both kind of right but making different points. Salty is correct about the literal definition of the work affordable. Lawrence, you are making a point about affordability and that doesn’t apply across all shooters.

I have the Nikkor AF 200-400 and the newest AF 105 as well as a 3rd party 300mm F/2.8. If someone asked me about affordable lenses of different types (zoom, tele, wide), I wouldn’t mention the lenses above first. They would probably be mentioned last, especially if I don’t know the person. I also have the Nikkor s 50mm and I probably would mention that first. Mind you that this averages out to about $8k in glass when purchased new and I have to save for a while or wait till bonus season to “afford” most of these lenses. But I wouldn’t call them affordable.

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