The Nikon Mirrorless System: All the Little Things You Need to Know

The Nikon Mirrorless System: All the Little Things You Need to Know

As with any first-generation product, there's good and bad when it comes to Nikon's new mirrorless cameras, lenses, and accessories. Here's a little more information about some of the features of the Z6 and Z7 cameras and the system as a whole so you can decide if it's right for you.

[Update]: This is not necessarily Nikon's answer to a completely pro-line mirrorless body (scroll down for update).

First, let's start with the obvious. In both cases, the Z6 and Z7 image quality will be superb. Nikon has proven itself time and time again when it comes to performing in this space, and, tweaked or not, these sensors are ones Nikon has experience with. You can count on Nikon to deliver excellent imaging performance thanks to this combined with the new EXPEED 6 processor.

Additionally, the reviews from those that have experience with pre-production models, the EVF also seems superb. Nikon put its coating technology into the elements of the EVF that, coupled with the OLED screen inside, many reviewers are applauding for its seamlessness. However, we'll still have to compare against the latest Sony and Leica EVFs, which are considered some of the best.

Ergonomics look great, but in a first-look review for DPReview, Chris Niccolls mentioned he had a tough time utilizing the function buttons on the front of the body around the grip (where most Nikon DSLRs' programmable depth-of-field preview buttons are). So some ergonomics could be imperfect. Additionally, Nikon DSLR users will have to get used to using the touchscreen a lot more, as the Z6 and Z7 feature a much more touch-oriented control system, especially with the lack of the entire left column of buttons for easy two-handed operation. This is both a bummer for those that want to benefit from the speed of two-handed operation, but it should be a good utility for those hoping to employ a bit more single-handed operation of the menu functions. Additionally, reviews of Nikon's touchscreen system tout it as superb as well; so at least they did it right.

That screen, by the way, is articulating, but it does not rotate out. This makes it much more like the screens of the D750 or D850, but you won't be flipping it out for tourist selfies like you might with some consumer DSLRs' screens.

Stabilization

Nikon implemented its first in-body stabilization in the Z bodies. Going all-out with a five-axis, five-stop stabilization system that also fared well in reviews, Nikon did themselves a favor for the future of Z-system lenses since they won't have to include vibration reduction (VR) in any lenses to gain stabilization benefits.

However, when using F-mount lenses via the adapter, that five-axis stabilization drops to three. And it's unclear if the same five-stop level of compensation can be claimed. This is even true for VR lenses, which means it is likely that VR is simply disengaged when using the FTZ adapter. Some other brands enable even improved stabilization when using both in-body lens-based stabilization in concert with one another, so it be seen as a disappointment that Nikon wasn't able to squeeze out even more performance with these lenses, but it also makes sense seeing as there are always drawbacks with adapters.

As far as the FTZ adapter goes, however, at least one reviewer claimed that Nikon F-mount lenses behave exactly as they would on their DSLR counterparts when mounted via the adapter, which would add a bit of relief to those with large Nikon lens collections. Additionally, the lack of any play and general durability of the mount connections were also cited.

Nikon does not include the adapter with the body as suggested by some rumors, but they do apply a $100 discount if purchased in a bundle with any body; so be sure to take advantage of that if you plan on shooting with more than three lenses before the end of the year.

Lenses

This is a good time to talk about the lens situation. There is both some potentially great news as well as some bad news. But none of it should be a surprise. First, Nikon took the opportunity with the Z-system release to introduce a new level of imaging performance in its lenses. This new level is indicated by the S-Line of lenses, which indicated more rigorous quality control measures, higher image quality, and certain coatings such as Nikon's high-end Nano Crystal Coat. So far, all of the lenses announced for the Z mount are S-Line lenses. So this is likely to be the case going forward indefinitely.

Unfortunately, however, there are only three lenses that will come out before the end of the year, and only two of those (the 24-70mm f/4 S and 35mm f/1.8 S) will be out in time for the release of the Z7 (the Z6 will come a bit later in November, at which time the third 50mm f/1.8 S lens will already have been out for a month). Four more autofocus lenses (including f/2.8 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses) are planned for sometime in 2019 alongside the manual focus 58mm f/0.95 S NOCT. And Nikon won't have a lens faster than f/1.8 or the full golden trio of zooms until the single 50mm f/1.2 and 14-24mm f/2.8 lenses come out sometime in 2020.

If all of those come out earlier in each of those years, that would be reasonably impressive given that it's an entirely new lens lineup. And if they all finish coming out by the end of 2020, that would be a rather disappointing two full years before we have a dozen lenses for the system. Either way, this situation is indicative of the challenges facing Nikon when it comes to creating a full set of lenses for a new system. The same will likely happen with Canon when its mirrorless is announced. And Sony and Fujifilm users went through those pains as well, but they've had time to develop their lineups since they've actually been working on mirrorless for years now. When all is said and done, it's not clear if Nikon pushed hard enough to flood the market with a full setup in time to actually be competitive on a professional level with the Sony mirrorless system. No doubt, this is why you've never seen a lens adapter pushed as hard as in this marketing campaign. But to its credit, if we're to trust the early reviews, Nikon does seem to have done a good job with it. Still, it will be hard to compete in the early months with just a couple fast-ish primes and an f/4 kit zoom as native lens options.

Autofocus (and Manual)

As discussed, people seem to be raving about the FTZ adapter's performance with F-mount lenses. And native Z lenses seem to be quick to focus as well. But there are a few things to keep in mind with the Z bodies. First, Nikon has made it clear that the focusing system in the Z bodies is one of its slightly more differentiating factors compared to that in its professional DSLRs. This is only natural. But so far, the subject-tracking focus mode seems outright clunky. What is the star feature in Nikon DSLRs' 3D Tracking autofocus and even in Sony's a9, for starters, requires pressing the "OK" button, selecting a subject in your viewfinder or on the display, and then pressing "OK" again. Then you're good to go and can track a subject... until the next subject you want to focus on comes into frame. This is borderline unacceptable. But it's possible Nikon is expecting most to rely on other focusing modes such as proper face-tracking. Regardless, 3D Tracking as we know it in today's Nikon DSLRs is nowhere to be found on the Z bodies. This is a problem for those shooting anything more than relatively docile subjects.

That said, I may be too harsh. Some of this is just too unknown to judge so early from afar. And even though early reviews acknowledge this limitation, they still rave about the general autofocus performance of the bodies as a whole. Nikon has a new predictive tracking mode that is supposedly even better than the D850's 3D tracking. But who knows? It's something to keep in mind before you sell your D750 (and certainly before you sell your D850) if you're thinking about switching.

Finally, the focus system is a focus-by-wire system, which means the focus ring is not mechanically linked to the lens' elements. This means that when you turn the focus ring, there is likely to be a slight (but noticeable) delay as that signal is sent to the body, which in turn engages the AF motor and makes the focus shift according to how much you turn the lens. Honestly, I never focus manually on digital bodies anyway (it's too difficult to get accurate focus with the standard focusing screens anyway when focusing manually). But for those that do and have not tried a focus-by-wire system before, I'll share that trying one such as that in the Hasselblad X1D turned me off of manual focusing completely. Sometimes I absolutely needed it in rare circumstances, but I never enjoyed it. It's just not the same.

Frame Rate

The Nikon Z6 features 12 fps shooting while the Z7 goes up to 9 fps, but that's without autofocus engaged. While you take a hit of a couple frames per second with autofocus engaged on most of Nikon's professional DSLRs, that rate drops from 12 fps or 9 fps to 5.5 fps on both the Z6 and Z7, which is quite a difference. That's far from a deal-breaker for many, but something to keep in mind.

To put this in perspective, the D850 features a maximum of 7 fps, but maintains that speed with autofocus between frames. However, similarly to the Z bodies, it can maintain 9 fps, too, but that requires adding on the bulk of the MB-D18 battery grip with the proper extra batteries. So it's a bit of a give and take on either end when lining up the bodies side by side. Regardless, it is still impressive that such a light body can shoot at those higher frame rates.

Card Slots

That's right, we know: you need two card slots. Or do you? Regardless, it's apparent Nikon thinks it's time to do away with the dual card slot requirement, as the Z bodies feature just a single XQD card slot, leaving no room for mirroring. While some are not happy with this, XQD cards are currently made by just a few manufacturers, and they're some of the best. The format (and modern memory in general) is incredibly reliable. And come to think of it, I've never personally had an issue or heard of anyone that had an issue with a card that was genuine. Any issues I've heard about have stemmed from murky supply channels (*cough* Amazon *cough*), where the authenticity of the card couldn't be verified.

Still, there are some extreme cases where your career would take a major hit if you lost your files from a shoot. And that risk alone will never be worth it to those who need to ensure their data will be there no matter what. This would have been a superb time for Nikon to do something a bit different and include a solid chunk of 64 to 512 GB of internal memory that could be used as backup, primary, or secondary recording media. This would have had the added benefit of ensuring your camera is always ready to go, no matter what. But alas, one slot is what we've got.

Finally, it's worth noting Nikon promised a firmware update to enable compatibility with CFexpress cards, which are coming soon. While XQD cards are almost exclusively used in Nikon bodies and made by just a couple companies, CFexpress cards could see much broader market adoption and will bring a number of benefits including faster speeds. Whether or not these speed changes will change any features of the Z bodies is impossible to say at the moment.

Batteries

Battery life for the Z6 and Z7 is rated at 310 and 330 shots, respectively. This is quite a bit lower than DSLR battery life. The Nikon D750, for example, is rated at 1,250 shots. However, anyone that knows anything about battery life estimates also knows that these tend to be the only certified tests in the world that seem to under-promise when it comes to performance. Cameras such as the D750 often get many, many more shots than 1,250. I can often easily fill a card with over 2,000 shots on my D750. And early reviews state the battery performance seems more than adequate.

Thankfully, Nikon opted to stick with the familiar EN-EL15b battery. While the charger that comes with this battery cannot charge the older EN-EL15a variant, you can use the older version and the newer version interchangeably in the Z6 and Z7 bodies, although you may experience slightly less battery life.

What About the D850?

New features in the Z bodies bring out a lot of hope for similar features to be retrofitted to the D850 via firmware update. However, don't hold out too long for this. The Z bodies also feature the newer, more powerful EXPEED 6 processor, which is likely where a lot of the power that it does have is coming from. Comparatively, the previous-generation EXPEED 5 drives the D850. D850S anyone?

On that note, another lacking announcement was any kind of stronger commitment to support these cameras heavily through additional firmware updates the way some other companies such as Fujifilm and Sony have done. To this day, Nikon is certainly not known for any above-and-beyond efforts to bring new features to its cameras with improved software. Most updates introduce only minor bug fixes (or major bug fixes). Personally, I had held a little extra hope that Nikon might take the opportunity to do more with this system and really put the full weight of the company behind it in every way. They might still do this. But they didn't announce any intentions to do so — at least not yet.

Video

There's not much to say here aside from the fact that this won't steal the show. Nikon is certainly getting a bit more serious with video, but complaints about topping out at 10-bit, requiring external recorders, and no 4K at 60p still run around on the Internet and keep Panasonic GH-series fans going strong. But for those looking for a superb stills camera that can still shoot some great video with an ultra-flat profile such as N-LOG, it'll do the trick.

[Update]: Nikon's Target Market

Summarized by NikonRumors, an interview on the Japanese website, Mynavi.jp, with Nikon Imaging Business Development Department Director Mr. Hiroyuki Ikegami led to an interesting bit of information that suggested the Z6 and Z7 are not necessarily meant to be Nikon's main professional camera. Ikegami's "Count on it" reply about a question of whether or Nikon will release a D5-esque professional body corroborates earlier suggestions that Nikon's newest mirrorless cameras are aimed at high-end enthusiasts as opposed to outright professional users. However, it would not be wise to assume such a camera would come anytime before or even possibly as soon as a D6 announcement, let alone during this current time of the D5.

Final Thoughts

I have mixed feelings on the mirrorless announcement. No matter what, it's incredibly exciting. Nikon is finally in the game. It's hard to join the game a few years late and win your first time. And that's where we are now. There's no doubt that these cameras are incredibly capable and will produce great images. And they are, in fact, lighter and smaller than their DSLR counterparts. But is that enough to take away some of the other features and switch to an entirely new, far-from-matured lens system? I'm not sure. A lot will of my final judgment simply has to be reserved for the full review, as a lot depends on how well that FTZ adapter and the new autofocus system really work.

This article will still be updated as more details become more clear. But given what we have had the chance to digest at this point, how do you feel about Nikon's first professional, full-frame, mirrorless camera?

All kinds of combinations of the new Z6 and Z7 bodies and lenses can be pre-ordered right now. Check out our pre-order post to find them all.

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54 Comments

Previous comments
Anthony Cayetano's picture

My XQD (Lexar 64GB) failed on a wedding shoot with a D500. Almost made a Flame Vlog about it but fortunately, I had an SD backup (even though they were just for storing JPEGs). Yes, SDs are not as physically durable, but having dual slots still is relevant. I use RAID for my backups because even though I use WDs Server-class hard drives, they still DO fail. Full stop.

Michael Deslippe's picture

We'll, I'm thrilled to read a review where the author isn't drilling and tripping over himself talking about the new cameras. Thank you for an insight review. I'm a Canon shooter and the 850 has made me take stock and continue switching. I am curious about two things: will the Z series stand up to a? I have no Simon lenses and so don't mind the new system since a switch would require a complete restocking in any event. I also love the engineering of the new less mount, it has huge potential, imagine 4mm and 6mm lenses with no bringing. Second question, do they also plan a lens adapter for Canon (or non-Nikon lenses) or will they wait on metabones to invent something?

Adam Ottke's picture

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure I can make out your first question with the apparent typo. But as for developing adapters for other lenses, I highly doubt Nikon would ever make an adapter for third-party or non-Nikon lenses. That would go against creating sales for themselves. Likewise, Canon wouldn't product a lens converter for a Nikon camera, either. You can expect third-party manufacturers to come out with their own solutions, though. And perhaps some companies that are mostly known for lenses such as Sigma will also come out with adapters to mount their own lenses to systems such as the new Nikon mirrorless cameras.

Francisco Hernandez's picture

Its AF will only do -1EV unless the lens paired is f2 or faster. You read that right. So your $2500 70-200 and 24-70 2.8 lenses will only work down to -1EV. In 2018...

It’ll do -4EV with f/2 or faster lenses.

Read: it will only do better than -1EV with some primes.

So much for low light shooting."

Confirmed with Nikon engineers yesterday. Info provided by Kishore Sawh.

Adam Ottke's picture

This is depressing. I will verify and update the article as well in a bit. -4EV sounded reasonable. -1EV with every zoom lens...that's something else.

Eric Salas's picture

Thanks for that and telling where you got the info from.

user-156929's picture

It's odd to me, a Sony Artisan (whatever that is) would care about such things unless you're more of a salesman than a photographer, but I just checked with Nikon USA and they said 'not true' and added something unflattering about your sister.
Just kidding!

He is not a Sony Artisan but a member of the Sony Alpha Collective which does not say they are Ambassadors even though they all put SonyAlpha Ambassador in their Instagram profiles.

user-156929's picture

I seem to recall him telling me he was a Sony Artisan, or something like that, some time ago.

Chad D's picture

link to where its confirmed ?

Mike Gillin's picture

One thought that I have had repeatedly with Mirrorless cameras, is why it always the drive to make it smaller? I understand that mirrorless makes it possible to have a shallower depth, but why not stick to the same size as the D850 and utilize that extra space for features, larger battery, etc? This seems like it could then provide the best of both worlds.

Adam Ottke's picture

I think this is because at the end of the day, the D850 is actually a pretty chunky camera. While it might be more than fine for some (myself included) there's no denying it would be nicer to travel with/hold a slightly smaller camera. The difference between the D850 and D750 is already big. And the Nikon Z bodies take that a step further. Certainly, a bit more could be included. And maybe there will be "full-size" pro bodies in the future with added benefits. But I do understand trying to make lighter, more compact bodies with 99% of the functions as something larger. Who wants to carry all that around if they don't have to? The only problem is, we're not quite getting 99% of those functions...

to be honest I tolerate my DLSR with small lenses. When I mount an f2.8 zoom, it is absolutely irrelevant how light the camera may be. It cross the threshold of "too big" long ago at that point.

Yes, weight is the main reason people want mirrorless. I travel to Iceland a few years ago and carried 40 pounds, if I can find a system where it is lighter, then I would switch. But you cannot beat the battery advantage of a DSLR. Brendan von Son went to a Greek island and forgot his extra batteries and charger. The fact that he had a DSLR saved his picture taking ability for the three or four days he was there.

Francisco Eduardo de Camargo's picture

Adam Ottke his comengtários were surgical. I liked your settings ...

It is a bit misleading to say Nikon/Canon are in the same boat sony and Fuji were. Sony and Fuji are still in the same problem: they need to adapt canon glass to really have anything of relevance. So the solution to sony's lack of anything but basic glass is: adapt canon.

well, if I'm going to be adapting canon, I'll keep buy canon. ditto for Nikon. So there is really no equivalence: canon/Nikon HAVE stablished lens lineups that kick the living lights out of anything sony/Fuji have or will have right now. You will stay in brand. with sony, you have to go buy somebody else's system because yours is lacking, and just confirms the notion you made a wrong choice: sony. With canon/Nikon, you buy canon Nikon. adapter or not. you're still betting on your system, not somebody else's.

That's why canon/Nikon are in much better shape than sony. Literally every sony fan adapting canon glass is admitting they will just ditch sony the moment canon ships a mirrorless camera and go for a native adapter that will work much better.

Also the lens lineup has a bunch of bottom slots not yet filled in for 2020 and so on. Nikon is NOT telling us all the story. And why would they? they have to keep surprises for competitive purposes.

Adam Ottke's picture

Unfortunately, but understandably, I highly doubt Nikon will release a lens not on this list (at least on the earlier end of the schedule) or will even release others early. Roadmaps are ways to set expectations and to help professionals plan their entries into a new system. It doesn't help them at all to hold back on sharing information about what's around the corner. Because in the meantime, X number of photographers will go get invested in some other system when MAYBE they would have stuck with Nikon if they new that one lens was coming out in a month.

Finally, yes, Nikon and Canon have much more matured lens lineups. But the questions remains, how useful is that or will that be to a Nikon or Canon mirrorless user? If that adapter works wonders and really is that good, then we have something to consider. But if not — if that adapter isn't absolutely perfect — then we really have no choice but to only consider the lens lineup to consist of only Z-mount lenses. And in that regard, Sony and Fujifilm (although APS-C only for that one) are absolutely way ahead.

We already know of one drawback: F-mount lenses will only benefit from three-axis stabilization with the mount adapter. So already, there you have a more mature lens system for Sony that can take advantage of full five-axis stabilization. Now, I think I can get over that. There's still SOME stabilization. But we'll have to see if the rest holds up when using adapters...and we just don't really know for sure yet.

Simon Patterson's picture

My thanks in advance to the early adopters who will buy these and assist Nikon to make something more well rounded in future.

version 1. never buy version 1. they build a version 1 and now the public can act as test bunnies. biggest problem i see is the 1 card slot, second, it only does 16 shots before the buffer fills up, third battery life is worse then sony, fourth no eye AF or something similar like sony. so im buying a D850 for photography and a A7(r)-3 for video and portrait work. this Z7 i find a disappointment. if it had two card slots i could have accepted the rest.

Ted McDonald's picture

I saved for years to get a great full frame camera and pre-ordered and purchased a D850, Nikon 24-70 2.8, and Nikon 70-200 2.8, dropping a lot of money to get what I subjectively consider two of the top camera and pro lenses on the market. I'm very disappointed right now at the thought of needing to buy new lenses.

I would rather have had a "bulky" lightweight mirrorless camera (same form factor as D850, D750, or D600 form factor) with tons of features that fit my larger hands that fit the $4500 worth of F mount lenses I just purchase less than a year ago.

I said it before and I'll say it again... If I have to buy an adaptor and new lenses, I'm going to seriously consider Sony now.

Thank you Nikon for the new mirrorless non-F mount camera. Nice job.

just use the D850 for next 3 years and see where you stand. for me i am in the market for a video focussed camera and im not considering Nikon in this. should be small, flat profile and up to 120fps. i guess i might as well pick a cheap and small sony A7-3 with 16-35mmf4. for future. i like the nikon lenses and the upcoming 500mm but the Z line felt like a punch to the face. they made mistakes sony made years ago. and im not interested in a camera that has as USP that its small. thought i would never say this but the Sony has better battery life and dual card slots,. LOL.

Nikon claims the new Z mount enables them to make F/.95 but how can that be true if Leica was able to do the same with a much larger FFD and smaller diameter?

Adam Ottke's picture

They’re probably not comparing to or discussing Leica mounts, but instead are simply referring to supposed limitations of the F-Mount design compared to the new Z mount.

Photo Kaz's picture

I posted my settings for the Nikon Z7 along with a BIN file you can download to try in your own camera. You can use the file as a starting point for your own settings (back up your own settings first), or try out the settings as they are. Open to suggestions as well.

https://photokaz.com/Nikon_Z7_Setup