Since this is Santa’s week of choice, I thought it might be a good time to put out a wishlist of my own.
As many regular readers might know, I’ve been on a bit of a gear journey over the last year or so. Some of it has been by necessity, like the increased demand of my clients for motion content requiring me to invest more in video capable devices. Some of it has been through artistic craving, like my choice to shoot a good deal of personal work over the last few months with Fuji cameras as opposed to my traditional Nikons. There’s something about changing up your camera system that can help you view the world and your work in a different way. Some of the motivation for my camera journey has just been the result of old age. Not the old age of my cameras, but the old age of my own body. I doubt my Nikon DSLRs are actually much heavier than they were 15 years ago, but they sure do feel heavier in hands with a slight touch of arthritis. With weight in mind, I’ve searched often over the last couple of years to find a mirrorless camera that can perform as well as my DSLRs with varying levels of success.
At the moment, my starting lineup includes a Nikon D850 as team captain and a Nikon D750 coming off the bench as a backup. My journey into mirrorless began in the Fuji world, which accounts for the ever-present appearance of my Fuji X-T3. My love for that camera led me to purchase a medium format GFX 100 with the aim of making it my star player. But, like many high draft picks, the system hasn’t completely fulfilled its promise. It’s a strong performer to be sure, it’s just that the stodgy veteran, the D850, was even more resilient than I had imagined and has instead maintained its place on the throne.
To solve my video needs, I invested in a Canon EOS C200 system. It really is the ultimate video camera for me. It’s got all the connections and ability to scale up when working with a larger crew, but is easy enough to maneuver and operate when shooting as a one man band. My X-T3 has excellent video capabilities as well and serves as a second camera on video shoots, or as a primary camera when bringing a large cinema camera to a location isn’t practical.
Now, many people reading that may think it’s great to have such a diverse set of cameras to comprise my Fab Five starting lineup. I agree. It would be the height of stupidity to claim a grievance for having too much good fortune in the world. I will say, however, that for all the potency of my lineup, it sure is heavy. While each camera excels in it’s category, if I were to bring all of them to set simultaneously, they would represent three different camera brands, four different lens mounts, and each requires its own separate set of lenses and accessories. Good fortune or not, I long for days when I could leave the house with just one camera and three lenses slung over my shoulder in a cheap camera bag and come back home with great images and without a back problem.
As I’ve related some of my gear experiences over the last year, many readers have posed the logical question of why I didn’t just buy one of the Nikon mirrorless systems like the Z 6 or the Z 7. In many ways I wish I did. However, that is only hindsight, first through practicality and second by choice. At the time I was looking for a video solution, an area where the Z 6 truly excels, the Z 6 and Z 7 had not yet been introduced. At the time, I was fully in the Nikon camp and would have loved nothing more than to have been able to stay there. I even upgraded my D800 to the D850 primarily due to the arrival of 4K. It’s video features pale in comparison to the new systems, but at the time, it was a step forward.
When the Z 6 and Z7 were finally released, I could have opted for them instead of my GFX 100. But, I was in the throes of a love affair with Fuji at the time, and fully intended to take advantage of the mirrorless revolution to explore new possibilities.
But, as I mentioned earlier, as extensive, and expensive, as this journey has been, like most journeys it has simply led me back to where I started. My D850 is still the most effective tool in my bag. Like Ross and Rachel after having gone on a break, my bond with my Nikons is as strong as ever. I’ve even begun exploring the idea of selling it all and switching back to a fully Nikon bag. I would take a hit on my investments into the other systems, but in 2020 terms, I would have more money in the bank while still being able to address my client’s needs while carrying far less weight on my back.
To that end, I’ve spent the last several weeks renting a Nikon Z 6 and putting it through its paces. To be fair, because of what I shoot, I would probably opt for the higher resolution Z 7 if I were to go Nikon mirrorless, but since the two cameras are identical other than the megapixels, and my main concern was accessing ergonomics and functionality, the Z 6 was more than adequate.
Short review: The image quality was fantastic, it integrated well with the other cameras I currently own, and the video features really pushed the limits and caused me to seriously consider if I could use it as my primary video camera.
While I won’t be selling off my current gear yet, I did learn what I liked about the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7, and also a few things I was less keen about. So what about a hypothetical Z 8 or Z 9? What would those cameras need to have in order to get me to make the switch and for Nikon to bring me completely home? Well, here are just a handful of things on my wishlist. Hopefully Santa will bring these in 2020.
Two Card Slots
Okay, to be fair, this one doesn’t affect me at all. I shoot tethered, so the images never make it to my memory card most of the time to begin with. I don’t shoot events or weddings where I might be worried about losing a file of the bride and groom’s first kiss. And when I do have two cards slots, I’ve always simply used the second for overflow as opposed to a backup. But I understand why it's an issue for other shooters, and it seems like an easy fix. In fact, given all the online blowback for the single card slot in the Z 6 and Z 7, I’d be pretty surprised if this wasn't the first issue Nikon would fix with the new bodies.
I love the ubiquity of SD cards and their easy availability when you need one in a pinch. But, I could see it having dual XQD slots with the option for CFexpress cards to take advantage of the Raw video recording capabilities.
Raw Video Included
Picking up on that last point, the Z 6’s ability to record Raw video should be a game changer for the company. At least temporarily until Sony and Fuji catch up. Being able to record Raw video with my C200 is a major plus. Like stills, the idea is to get everything right on set. But, also like stills, sometimes you just have to grab the camera and start recording. I’ve made a number of documentaries this year and when things are happening too fast for you to have time to adequately dial in your settings, being able to make adjustments to the Raw data after the fact is a big advantage. Being able to do that in a small mirrorless body that can double as a still camera would give a new Nikon system major appeal and make me seriously consider if it might actually be a more cost efficient solution than my Canon.
Right now, the Raw firmware for the Z 6 and Z 7 costs an additional $199. I think that’s well worth the investment. But, if they were to include it for free with the Z 8 and Z 9, that would make the choice all the more tantalizing.
This might sound counterintuitive. The promise of mirrorless is that it can provide image quality equal to a DSLR but at a much lighter weight. So, the idea of adding additional weight doesn’t seem to make sense. Especially considering that the Z 6 battery life has been quite sufficient so far in my tests. But, I actually would like a battery grip option for a less obvious reason. Length.
I remember the very first time I picked up a full frame mirrorless camera, the Sony a7R III, I was shocked by how light it was. I knew it would be lighter than my Nikon D800. I just didn’t know it would be that much lighter. When I rented the Z 6, I was expecting to have the same reaction. But, perhaps due to the fact that I’ve held a great many mirrorless camera in the interim, while it was lighter than my DSLR, it wasn’t shockingly so. Oddly enough, despite the objectively lighter weight, my fingers were actually cramping up more when shooting with the Z 6 than with the D850 or D750.
It took me a while to figure out why that was, but I realized it was not a matter of the weight of the camera, but the height. Of course this is entirely dependent on the size of one’s hands, but what I discovered was that when holding the Z 6, there was really only room on the grip for my middle and ring finger, while my pinky finger would float or land underneath the camera for support. With the slightly taller D750, there was just enough height that all three fingers would have a place to wrap around the grip itself. So, while the Z 6 was lighter, I was only able to support it with two fingers, whereas the marginally heavier D750 was being supported by three fingers making it feel lighter.
I realize that would only apply to people with large hands, but the difference, to me, negated the advantage of the slightly lighter camera size. If there were a grip available, it might add to the weight, but it would also make it even more comfortable to hold for people with larger hands.
I shoot fitness and activewear advertising campaigns. So I shoot a lot of fast moving people. Getting a chance to test out the system while shooting with a model on the beach, I was especially interested in how the Z 6 focus system would hold up.
Coming from a DSLR, I am used to using either a single point focus and recompose method or the excellent Nikon 3D tracking focus to keep moving subjects in focus. The Nikon mirrorless systems add face and eye detection to the mix and these features worked great. At least they performed well up close, but the eye detection seemed to be less effective the further the subject was from the camera. That may just be me though. So, those who have owned the system longer have probably found a workaround.
The mirrorless cameras also have a nice tracking system where you can select your subject and tag them with a tracking box and it will follow them through the frame. The process of choosing the tracking point itself is unnecessarily complicated and could be worth rethinking, but I found it to be effective. Yet still, it wasn’t quite as effective as the 3D tracking available on my DSLRs. Don’t know if there’s a way to include both options in a future model, but that would be great.
Optical Viewfinder Option
Speaking of impossible requests, this is also the one that would make my money jump out of my pocket on its own. One of the big advantages of mirrorless cameras is the electronic viewfinder. It allows you to see the end result of what your shooting and afford the ability to layer more and more information right there in the viewfinder.
There is no question that, objectively speaking, this is an advancement. But, as I’ve talked about in the past, I still prefer an optical viewfinder. I’ve been shooting long enough to know what my image will look like without the preview. And I am easily confused by too much information. So, for me, the cleaner the viewfinder the better.
It’s subjective and I realize this isn’t a viewpoint shared by all. But, for still work especially, I really prefer looking through the glass rather than seeing a computer rendering. That’s no knock on the Z 6 EVF which is spectacular. And I’m happy to say that blackout is not a significant problem (as it was the fatal flaw of my GFX 100). But, I still prefer an optical viewfinder. It’s one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, I still prefer shooting stills with my DSLRs instead of mirrorless.
I understand that people buy mirrorless cameras for the EVF, so I don’t expect Nikon to eliminate it just for me. But, is there a way to do both?
One of the most beloved aspects of the Fuji X100 system is the hybrid viewfinder. You can choose to either look at the EVF or look through an OVF with the flip of a switch. I don’t know exactly how that works; I’m a photographer, not an engineer. But it is a prime advantage. That may only be possible because the X100F and it’s sibling X Pro bodies are rangefinder style cameras. But, if there were a way to build a Z 8 or Z 9 where you could toggle the EVF on or off, that would take away the primary advantage of a DSLR and motivate more people like me to buy into the mirrorless system.
Remember when we all thought the megapixel wars had come to an end? Boy, were we wrong about that. The race to increase megapixel count has renewed with the mirrorless wars with Sony currently being the champ in the full frame space with 61MP in their a7R IV. I’ve heard rumors of 75MP in a future Canon. And I, of course, own a 102MP Fuji GFX 100 medium format system.
Owning that system has taught me two things. One, high megapixel count really does make a difference. And two, a lower megapixel count can sometimes be an advantage too. Like I said, I rented the Z 6 instead of the Z 7 because I could save money, rent it for longer, and I knew I wouldn’t be using it to shoot a major global campaign. In fact, the benefits of smaller file size often outweigh the benefits of higher megapixel count if you are doing anything that doesn’t require making very large prints.
So, if a hypothetical Z 8 were to stick in the 24MP range, I think that would make a lot of sense. The Z 9, however, even if only for the sake of marketing, needs to come in around 75-80MP. I think that, by the time it would be released, that will be seen as the high megapixel standard for full frame, and Nikon will need to hit that mark to be competitive.
I heard someone reviewing the Z 6 and Z 7 in comparison to the D850 the other day and they made a really good point. I haven’t switched from the D850 to the Z 7 simply because, at the moment, I still feel as though the D850 is the better camera for what I do. That’s not a critique of the Z 7, but rather a testament to how good the D850 is. But the review pointed out that the Z 6 and Z 7 are only Nikon’s first forays into the mirrorless full frame market (we will ignore the Nikon 1 for the moment). The D850, on the other hand, is the pinnacle of decades worth of camera improvements in the DSLR space. So, it shouldn't be surprising that the D850 has mastered it’s craft.
With that in mind, I think Nikon did an admirable job with it’s first round of mirrorless cameras. And while I don’t expect to make the change over with this generation, I am anxiously awaiting the release of the next generation to see how they develop. They have the opportunity not only to attract new customers, but also to retain long time customers like myself. They just have to take the next forward and bring a few advancements, while not completely losing sight of what made the brand great to begin with, as they continue their own journey to building the best system possible.
So what would you like to see in a future Nikon mirrorless release?