Nikon Z7 review: A premium mirrorless camera that strives to meet the demands of power-users

Nikon Z7
  • Nikon Z7
  • Nikon Z7
  • Expert Rating

    4.25 / 5

Pros

  • Slick build quality
  • Incredible results

Cons

  • Sometimes unreliable autofocus
  • Only works with QXD storage

Bottom Line

The Nikon Z7 produces results that live up to the hefty price of admission and then some.

Would you buy this?

The Pitch   

When I bought my first proper DSLR camera a few years back, I wasn’t especially fussed about brand but I knew I wanted to go with Nikon.

Being relatively new photography, I didn’t really know what features I wanted and struggled to justify spending more than I needed to. Sure, I was literate enough to know about the long-running rivalry between Nikon and Canon but inexperienced enough to not have much of a stake in either camp.

I ended up settling on the D3400. A few hours of bargain hunting later, I scooped one up for a couple hundred dollars on eGlobal. At the time, the initial wave of mirrorless options were well out of my reach in terms of cost and most of the people I knew who owned DSLRs used Nikon. In some respects, it was the obvious choice.

Still, at the time, the obvious choice was exactly what I was after. For someone still wrapping their mind around the different priority modes and lens configurations out there, Nikon was the sensible option that made the most sense. If you’re someone in that same boat today, it probably still does.

All the same, and only a few years later, I’m eyeing a switch. The grass looks greener elsewhere and, these days, I find myself chafing against the limitations of the my DSLR just as often as I thrive within them. I’ve matured enough as a photographer to want more. And, these days, Sony’s stuff is looking really good - especially that newly-announced Alpha 6400.

So when the chance came up to test drive Nikon’s new Z-series mirrorless camera, I wanted to give them a chance to win me back. Show me what you got.

What are the specs of the Nikon Z7?

The spec sheet for the Nikon Z7 is as follows:

Body type:  Rangefinder-style mirrorless

Max resolution: 8256 x 5504

Effective pixels: 46 megapixels

Sensor size: Full frame (35.9 x 23.9 mm)

Sensor type: CMOS

Autofocus system: Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist   

ISO: 64-25600 (expandable to 32-102400)

Interchangeable lenses: Yes

Lens mount: Nikon Z Focal

Screen: 3.2-inch articulated LCD tilting display

EVF: 0.5-in. 3690k-dot OLED

Batteries: EN-EL15b rechargeable Li-ion battery

Max shutter speed: 1/8000 sec

VIdeo Formats: MPEG-4, H.264

Storage options: XQD card

Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi

Ports: USB Type-A 3.1 Gen 1, Audio output, Microphone input, HDMI Output,

Weight: 675 g

Dimensions: 134 x 101 x 68 mm

Price: $5400

What’s good about the Nikon Z7?

As someone who’s been living in the era of the DSLR for the last few years, it’s always a delight to test-driving the various mirrorless options from Panasonic, Sony and Nikon and see what the higher-end of the market looks like. Partially because mirrorless does feel like the future as a technology and partially because that future looks really, really good.

Obviously, fare like the Z7 is more powerful than my current DSLR is. However, when a you have a camera like the Z7 that can command a price that many times higher than my DSLR, you have to look beyond just the results it produces. And, after some time with it, I honestly was really impressed by just how much sharper the design and the more tactile the form-factor of the Z7 is compared to the D3400. Sure, it’s not a huge redesign - it still looks like a Nikon camera - but it is noticeably nicer where it counts.

The button layout here is a little more ergonomic but Nikon haven’t really tried to reinvent the wheel otherwise. If you’ve used a Nikon camera released in the last couple of years, you’ll probably be able to find your way around the Z7 in no time. Same goes for the software.

That said, there is one big, visible addition here in the form of the monochrome OLED “reader” display on the shoulder of the camera body. Similar to that found on the shoulder of the Panasonic G9, the miniaturized OLED screen allows for at-a-glance viewing of the current shutter, aperture, ISO and battery status, release mode and exposures remaining. It’s not a game-changer but it’s certainly nifty to have. You do have to remember to use it to get any value out of it, for better or worse.

The other major upgrade here, for me at least, came in the form of the crisp and colorful LCD screen on the Nikon Z7. Obviously, this was a huge step up from my regular kit. However, even attempting to parse the quality of the screen on its own merits, it still comes out ahead. The colors on the Z7’s tiltable LCD display were not only vivid but also accurate and the level of detail here is only surpassed by OLED viewfinder, which boasts 3.69-million glorious dots of detail.

Weight-wise, the Z7 is far from lightweight. However, Lugging the Z7 around with me during CES wasn’t too much of a hassle. The choice in material design here means that it felt familiar, rugged and never too premium that I was worried about scuffing it wear damage.

I don’t recommend dropping it, but it feels like the Z7 is built to take a hit or two. I’m sure that with enough use, those would become factors but, based on my time with the device - it was held up remarkable well.

The stabilization built-into the body of the camera was also a massive boon to me during my time with the Z7. The Nikon Z7 boasts 5-axis optical image stabilization and my experience was it never really miss a beat, even in the hectic run-and-shoot realities of CES. This feature isn’t terrible different to the multi-axis stabilization found in comparable mirrorless cameras - but it’s by no means a worthless inclusion.

What’s not so good about the Nikon Z7?

The autofocus on the Nikon Z7 often proved really finicky and troublesome, even if it did feel more advanced and powerful than that of my usual D3400. Likewise, when I was forced to touchscreen to find the right focal point, it proved hard to rely on. Low-light didn’t prove to be an issue but I’d often have to resort to the touchscreen or manual focus to get things just the way I wanted them to be.

More than once during CES, I missed a shot because I pointed the Z7 at an object, zoomed and expected it to catch on - only for it to focus too slowly or get distracted by some insignificant background element. This issue wasn’t by any means frequent but it was persistent enough that I remember being vexed by it.

For this reason, the Z7 was much better suited for situations where speed wasn’t a priority. If you’re shooting a subject that you can take your time to set up, it’s not going to be an issue.

The other thing that irked me was the absence of SD slots. Instead of SD slots, the Z7 uses a single XQD card slot.

Now - this heavy duty specification betrays the fact that I am probably not quite the target user for this product. For my needs, the Z7 is a little overkill. XQD cards allow for substantially faster read/write speeds compared to SD cards. This is super-cool but, as someone who doesn’t shoot 4K video, it’s not a massive priority. 

If you’re already that high-end photographers who’s committed to this particular high-speed capture standard, you’re gonna dig it. If not, it’s a bit of an adjustment. Having to restructure my usual photography habits around not being able to hot swap SD cards and rely on connecting the Z7 to my laptop via a USB to USB Type-C cable wasn’t ideal.

Lastly, I also encountered a few software-related quirks when it came to the Z7. The menus on the camera were responsive but I’d often open up the menu, set the Z7 to capture in RAW, only for it to bizarrely reset to JPEG later down the line. Other times, I’d get a weird flickering effect that temporarily made the OLED viewfinder difficult to rely on. It’s not like the software in the Z7 ever broke or anything, but there were definitely some hiccups here that hurt my workflow and overall experience with the thing.

Who is the Nikon Z7 for? Should you buy the Nikon Z7?

If you’re a Nikon diehard and have yet to stray from the path, I’d still recommend the Nikon Z7 in spite of its occasional quirks. If you’re the power user this thing has clearly been designed for, the leap forward to mirrorless is one well worth the price of admission - especially if you’re already locked into the various ecosystems around Nikon’s vision of what modern photography should look like.

That said, if you have dabbled with other brands, that proposition maybe doesn’t sound quite as nice. The same could be said of almost all mirrorless flagships like the Z7 but it should be said all the same. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the quality and fidelity that I was getting out of the Nikon Z7 on regularity was genuinely stunning. But where the picture quality looks like a leap forward, the software and design here feel like they been left behind a little. By comparison, they sometimes seem flat at best and outdated at worst.

If you’re after Nikon’s best mirrorless camera, the Z7 is the easy answer - but that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, it’s their first flagship mirrorless camera. However, if you’re after the best mirrorless camera out there and are keen to go lower or game to go higher on price, there are other options out there.

When it comes down to it, my experiences with the Nikon Z7 left me feeling like it’s an incredibly powerful tool. But, all the same, I’d be hard pressed to call it the best option out there -  or even the one I’m personally leaning towards when it comes to my next camera purchase. If you’re someone like me, you might feel the same way.

Like Sony’s a9, the Nikon Z7 produces results that live up to the hefty price of admission and then some - but I can’t help shake the sense it might be a little overkill. If you don’t think such a thing exists, then I think you already know whether you want to buy this camera.

Is the Nikon Z7 a good camera? Yes. Should you buy it? Go with your gut.

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