Nikon Z 6 & 7, Sony A7R IV and Panasonic S1r Mirrorless Camera field report.

Update Nov, 2019

It has been a busy six months since I began field testing the Nikon mirrorless cameras and now lately the new 61 mp Sony A7r IV and the Panasonic S1R have been entered into the mix. Yes, I admit it I am a pixel pig! I want them all !,, and I will be testing them side by side in the upcomming months so stay tuned if you want actual field reviews.

But more about the Nikon Z camera's  for now.  

Through the summer and fall I have used the Z cameras almost exclusively. At first I packed my D850 as the reliable backup. Then as my time in the field with the Z cameras increased I began leaving the D850 at home. Now, I will be putting the 850 on the market. There I have said it. My DSLR's are on the way out.

Why dump the best camera currently made? You may ask. Well, to me, the advantages of the mirrorless far outweigh the short comings of the Z cameras.

In my world, as probably in yours,  image quality is the most important item in the camera selection process. To me the Z7 produces files every bit as good as the D850 and it is easier to produce those files with the Z7. Features such as a live histogram, focus peaking and image zooming all in the viewfinder allow me to be more critical and selective before I capture the image. No matter whether I am photographing a running wolf, Milky Way night sky or an autumn scenic, these features have become indispensable to my work.

While superior image quality is foremost in my camera selection process there are many other features that are important to me.

Auto Focus: I still read about the Z camera not have great auto focus or at least approaching todays best autofocusing cameras like the D5, A9 or 1DX mk whatever. I am sure these reports are correct. There are functions in the vast world of autofocus features the Z cameras do not support. If you are a sports photographer who shoots demanding events such as hockey, Pro Basketball and such low light erratic motion subjects the Z cameras are not the best selection. at this time As an outdoor photographer the Z cameras with the latest firmware meets my needs.I don't have any more problems with autofocus then I see on other similar high megapixel cameras with fishing Bald Eagles against dark canyon walls and water, or horses in a dimly lit arena and other low contrast situations with fast moving subjects.

Rugged Built: It is a Nikon. Mine have been used in Snow Storms, Desert Heat and fine powder dust. Packed in non padded rucksacks and dumped in the back of float planes with a 180-400 lens attached. Bounced out of the back of my suburban on to the ground from a unzipped roller bag ( I swear I though I had zipped it up but the bear was coming and I was a bit rushed) Left it on top of, rather than inside,  the waterproof pack during a downpour while I caught and released an insane number of fresh Silver Salmon from a Un-named small stream on the Katmai coast. There were a few other mis adventures that could havestopped many cameras but the Z's kept working. I don't baby my equipment. Enough said. 

Battery life: It is a mirrorless with an electronic viewfinder. That fact alone means you will have a shorter battery cycle than in a DSLR. The good new is that Nikon has seemed to manage their circuitry to allow a reasonably long battery. Normally I can get through a full day of shooting on one charge. That said without a proper extended grip that adds a couple of spare batteries I will not be using the Z camera for any 8 hour time-lapse runs. That duty will still be handled by my D810 and extended grip.

Lens Selection: My pet peeve is the lack of native lenses but the reality is, when any compant s produce a completely new and revolutioary lens system there will be a lag in getting every lens you would like. Nikon has done a good job on mitigating this problem by producing a F mount adapter that works. I know for some reason a few people are anti adapter but the fact is this one works and allows me to use all of my lens from the 600 F 4 and 180-400 to my 14 f 1.8. No worries, as they say. The best news is that Nikon is moving relatively quickly in producing Z mount lenses. And many of the lenses that they are producing are better than any other similar lenses on the market.



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In 2018 Nikon introduced its first prosumer mirrorless cameras, the Z6 with a 24 mp sensor and the Z7 with 45 mp sensor. From the first press reports and having used a couple of other popular mirrorless cameras I was underwhelmed. Still I watched and waited to see the actual field results from working photographers rather than the professional camera reviewers. In March with the night sky in its glory with both the Milky way and aurora visible depending on your location I began to see reports of the excellent high ISO results of the 24 mp Z6. With an article on night sky photography deadline rapidly approaching I contacted my Nikon representative to see if I could borrow a Z6 for testing. After a week or so I found where the UPS driver had skillfully hidden the box from Nikon by dropping it over a five foot fence behind a bush 3 days prior in the rain. At least the box and packing passed the drop and moisture test.

In the time since I received the Z6 and it's lenses I have had many requests for my opinion on the Z cameras so here it goes. I will not go into details or the technical descriptions of the lenses and cameras but I will cover my opinion of it's usability and functions in a number of field situations. I have used the cameras in many situations including photographing the Milky Way, Wildlife, Landscapes, Portrait's Fast Action, Night Rodeo, Snow Storms, Desert Heat and fine powder dust just as I would with my D850's.

Here is my first impression of the short comings per the web reviewers.

A Single Memory Card Slot .... 

Like most photographers, I have become accustomed to having two card slots and like many of you I have used the second card for overflow. So in my case the second card is very rarely used and not really missed. I shoot with 128 (now 120) gb cards so I can easily get through a days shooting before I backup to a second memory device. That said, if you regularly store your images on both cards as you shoot you may feel you no longer have the security of everything being written to 2 cards, you are right but it is worth noting that the XQD has been the most reliable camera storage device produced to date. Still I would like to have a second card slot because more is better.

Poor Autofocus ....

If you are comparing the Z machines to the D5 you are correct. The Z6 (better of the two) and the Z7 do not live up to that standards nor does any another camera made today. Of course that is no excuse for a new camera not being the best even if the processor is handling twice the data of the D5. So how does the autofocus work compared to the D500/D850 ?  Too close for me to call. Have I had the autofocus hunt excessively? Yes. Geyser steam in the snow does give the Z7 all or more than it can handle. I recently photographed a night rodeo with a group attending my Wyoming Cowboy and Wild Horse Workshop while using my Z7, and the FTZ adapter with a 70-200 f 2.8 GII lens, with what I consider very good results. I was using single point continuous focusing and when I missed a barrel racer coming out if the shoot or had the sensor off of the subject for more than a split second the images were soft. When I put the sensor where it should be the AFC lock on again.  When I turn on A10 Dynamic-area AF assist and A11 low light AF assist it seemed to stop the loss of focus. Truth is, it only happed once during the rodeo. So my vertic is: Yes, it should be improved but it is better than the second best general purpose DSLR camera ever made the D810 and on par with the D850 after firmware version 2. 

 

Z7 iso 5000 Cody night rodeoCody Night Rodeo

Nikon Z7 ISO 5000, 70-200 F 2.8, 1/400 raw direct from camera.

Aprox 400% crop ISO 5000 raw out of the Camera Z7

Approx 4:1 crop or 400% raw out of camera un edited except cropping.

 
 
 400% raw un edited400% 4:1 Crop Raw un-edited
 
Of course there are other minor issues but they are minor like any other new camera. A couple of the things I really like: 
The general layout of the buttons and there size. With the exception of image review and delete all of the back of the camera buttons are on the right side an can be reached with my thumb while shooting. The ISO button is in the same location as the D500/D850 which make for quick adjustments.
EVE information. Live histogram to compensate for changing light as you shoot. Focus peaking to confirm DOF while shooting.. During back button focusing you can touch the manual focus ring on the lens and focus peaking is actuated in the view finder defining what is in focus.

So that is my short overview of the Nikon Z machines.

Full disclosure : Nikon did loan me the Z6, FTZ Adapter , 24-70 f4, 35 f1.8,50 f 1.8. After 5 weeks of shooting with the Z6 I purchased the Z7. Not because there is any real differences in the cameras, but I am addicted to high megapixel cameras even though I often shoot in very low light where the higher ISO capabilities of the Z6 shine. I will be adding a Z6 of my own soon. 

More to come.............
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