This has been the year of mirrorless! There have never been so many attractive options for DSLR shooters to make the transition as there are now. But should we?
Okay, despite the hopefully catchy opening lines, I’ll bury the lead and give you the short answer. Maybe. How’s that for taking a definitive stand?
But before I am accused of dodging the question, I think I should also mention that for me personally, the answer is more like “probably not.” Let me explain.
Like many of you, I have watched the seemingly endless stream of new mirrorless camera announcements from Nikon and Canon with high levels of anticipation. I am a longtime Nikonian. I cherish my beloved D850 enough that I wrote an essay about it. And the only real negative I’ve ever found to be consistent with my current setup is that paired with my preferred 24-70mm f/2.8, carrying the combination around can offer as much of a workout for my bicep as for my creativity.
So, for me, the real appeal to the new mirrorless systems would be the decrease in weight. Notice I said “weight” as opposed to sheer “size.” I’ve had the good fortune of shooting with the excellent Sony a7R III and loved the image quality. I also loved the lighter weight. But for my own personal taste, the body of the Sonys were almost too small. Perhaps it is just because I’ve been shooting Nikon for the better part of the last two decades, but the ergonomics of the Sony just didn’t work for me personally. I stress again that I am making a subjective judgment based on my taste, and that is not intended as a knock of any kind on the camera itself.
So, when Nikon announced that it would be making a mirrorless camera, I was super excited. Perhaps I could finally get the best of both worlds. The ergonomics of a Nikon with a weight closer to that of the Sony or my beloved Fuji X-T2. I love that camera. And, looking over the specs, Nikon pretty much nailed it.
The two cameras have identical 45.7MP sensors. Identical ISO sensitivity. The two are basically comparable in almost every way. The Z7 has a slightly better burst rate. The D850 has the advantage in much talked about number of card slots. And, as it was my main motivator, I definitely took notice that the Z7 body comes in at 585 grams versus the 915 grams of weight provided by my D850. When you consider that my current 24-70mm f/2.8 comes in at 1,070 grams as opposed to the new Z-mount 24-70mm f/4 at 500 grams, the difference in overall weight would be significant (acknowledging the loss of one stop). Even as I write this now, I’m tempted to switch from “probably not” to “maybe.”
But still, even despite definite advantages, I am choosing for the moment to stick with what I’ve got. But why?
Well, let's start with a couple of simple facts. Whether it will be five years from now or fifteen, mirrorless is the future of the camera market. Just like you can buy many types of legacy cameras and lenses to this day, DSLRs won’t completely disappear anytime soon. But, you’d expect that the majority of manufacturers' R&D budgets will go towards the mirrorless market for the foreseeable future. So, it’s highly likely that I will also make the switch to mirrorless at some point.
It is also a fact that for NIkon and Canon, these new cameras are their initial entry into the mirrorless market (at this level at least). Just like comparing the first iPhone to the just-released iPhone XS, companies tend to have a kink or two with their initial product launches, which they refine and improve as time goes along. So, as cool as the Nikon Z7 may be on paper, I’m pretty sure the Z7B or Z7 II or whatever they will call it will be that much better.
Also, since Nikon and Canon are just entering this market segment, it’s fair to acknowledge that Sony has a leg up in mirrorless, at least for now. However one may feel about their cameras, they have already had time to work through a number of early issues and refine their product while defining what consumers expect in the mirrorless market niche. Again, regardless of how you or I may feel about the current result, it’s clear that they have the most experience. And experience counts. Given my experience with both Nikon and Canon through the years, I don’t doubt they will produce quality products. But it is a consideration.
But, all those things aside, before deciding to invest in the Z7 system, I would first have to answer a series of questions. First, is it appreciably a better camera than my current D850 DSLR?I would say no. It’s lighter, for sure. Otherwise, they are very similar. Had Nikon not done such a good job of getting my money just about a year ago for the D850, this may be a different decision. If I was instead trying to decide between my older D800 body and upgrading to either the D850 or the Z7, it might require more consideration.
Likewise, if I were just entering the full frame market or buying my first camera, this may also change the calculus. I still think the D850 is currently the better camera. But if I wasn’t already heavily invested in F mount lenses and other support gear and were more free to chose without financial concerns, then the Z7 could be more appealing. As we said, the mirrorless wave is coming. So, if investing from scratch, it may make more sense to start with mirrorless to give you a cleaner growth path in the future. Then again, in that scenario, you would also have more options to consider like Sony or Canon or even Fuji if you don’t need full frame.
As I’ve stated many times before, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. There is only the perfect camera for you. So, I can only base my decision on my own particular needs. And while I expect many of you may be in a similar boat, it is also clear that many of you will be in completely different situations.
You notice, for instance, that I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about the dreaded single card slot on the Z7. And while I can definitely see the point of wanting two card slots, it simply doesn’t make much of a difference to my own workflow, as I shoot mostly tethered now anyway. The files go straight from the camera to the computer, bypassing card slots completely. I don’t shoot weddings where a redundant card slot would be a major advantage. So, for me, that’s not a deciding factor.
The other advantage of mirrorless is that it can give you a preview of your settings when you look through the electronic viewfinder. It’s very close to being WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). But, as I am using strobes a large part of the time, which only go off for a split second and wouldn’t be visible before I click the shutter, the live preview is not as useful to me. Again, if I were a shooting more natural light or continuous sources, that would be a big upgrade. But in my situation, this would fall into the nice to have category as opposed to a necessity.
As I said, I am fully aware that mirrorless is the future. And hopefully, this article can’t be read as a condemnation of one particular camera model or brand. Within 3-5 years, I expect that I will have at least one full frame mirrorless camera in my bag. If history is a guide, it will likely be a Nikon. Although, since regardless of brand, entering full frame mirrorless would likely lead to me re-buying a number of lens ranges, the fiscal need for brand loyalty is somewhat less decisive.
But, whatever is the right choice in the future, I can sleep soundly knowing that I still have the right camera for the my own peculiar process. And I am more than happy sticking with what I’ve got. For now.