Long-rumoured, and much anticipated, Nikon’s new full-frame mirrorless Z system is finally with us.
Nikon say that the new models are the most important cameras the company has launched since 1959, the year the F-mount system was born. The arrival brings Nikon, more or less, in line with its mirrorless competitors, whose own mirrorless systems are now fairly established. While the range begins with two camera bodies, namely theZ7and the Z6, and three lenses, much more is promised over the next few years.
So why exactly are there two models? And what are the benefits of this new system? Nikon’s 1-system mirrorless cameras brought a number of advantages over DSLRs, but what Nikon presents with the fresh line is something different entirely.
We went to Japan to see where the Z system cameras and lenses are made to bring you exclusive behind-the-scenes imagery and factoids about the new full-frame mirrorless system. So, here is a complete guide to everything we know about the Nikon Z6, Z7 and the Z system as a whole…
1. Why mirrorless?
While the two new cameras pack a wealth of pro-DSLR-level technology into their bodies, they have the advantage of being smaller and much lighter than a similarly priced DSLR. Their electronic viewfinders arguably makes them more suitable for use in low light, while the electronic shutter allows for silent shooting – something that isn’t possible on the vast majority of current DSLRs.
2. Nikon’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras
Unlike the Nikon 1 system mirrorless models that used a smaller 1in-type sensor, the new Z-system cameras each use a significantly larger full-frame sensor. This is the same size as those found inside FX-format DSLRs, and it makes Nikon only the third manufacturer to offer this on mirrorless cameras after Sony and Leica.
3. New sensors
Although the sensors inside the new Z6 and Z7 cameras share a similar pixel count to the ones inside the company’s D750 and D850 respectively, they are not the same. Both sensors boast special phase-detect AF pixels that enable the same kind of autofocus as DSLRs, and both are designed with a back-illuminated construction for more efficient light capture.
4. New EXPEED 6 processor
These two new models are also the first recipients of the company’s latest EXPEED 6 processing engines. This promises better sharpness and noise reduction than before, and also brings with a new mid-level sharpening option to the Picture Control menu.
5. Brand new lens mount
The new system arrives with a new mount, dubbed the Z mount. Measuring 55mm in diameter, its 17% larger than the F-mount, and works with a new series of lenses.
6. 16mm flange focal distance
The short flange focal distance, which is the distance between the sensor and lens mount, allows for a more compact body design than would otherwise be the case. Together with the large diameter of the lens mount, this allows for easier illumination at the peripheries of the frame and a wider range of possibilities with lens design.
Feature: How did the Z6 & Z7 evolve?
7. Wide-apertures are easier to achieve
The large diameter of the new lens mount will allow Nikon to more easily create wide-aperture lenses. Nikon has stated that it’s difficult to design lenses with an aperture wider than f/1.2 while keeping image quality high on its current FX-format DSLRs, but this new mount gives the company more freedom when desiging these.
8. Aim is to get back to number 1 position
As well as its long-standing rival Canon, Nikon has lost some ground to other manufacturers who have worked hard to develop their own mirrorless systems. With these latest cameras, and the system as a whole, Nikon has made it clear that its aim is to get back to the number 1 spot for full-frame cameras.
9. Assembled in the Sendai plant
The Z7 is assembled in the Sendai plant, which lies just over 200 miles north of Tokyo. The plant was badly damaged in the Great Tōhoku Earthquake in 2011 although it managed to get back on its feet just three weeks later. This is also where the D5, Df and F6 film cameras are manufactured, and it’s where the Z6 will also be assembled.
10. Same level of weather sealing as D850
Various seals around the bodies provide the new cameras with the same level of weather sealing as the company’s D850 DSLR, and dust- and drip protection extends to the three new lenses that have been announced at the same time.
11. Fn1 and Fn2 buttons
The front plate offers three buttons: one to release the lens from the body and two Fn buttons: Fn1 and Fn2. Much like on the DSLRs that have the same setup, these two buttons can be programmed to access a setting of the user’s choosing, such as white balance, Picture Control and Image Size.
12. Mode dial
The cameras’ mode dials have the standard Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual exposure options, alongside Auto and customisable U1, U2, and U3 settings. They also follow certain Nikon DSLRs in having a locking button in their centre, which keeps them in place.
13 Twin command dials
With one command dial embedded into the new cameras‘ grip and another on the top plate for the thumb to access, the new bodies provide the same kind of control as enthusiast- and professional-level DSLR with regards to adjusting camera settings.
14. Sensor-based Vibration Reduction
Vibration Reduction is something we normally get in Nikon’s lenses, but here we get it at the sensor. This system works over five directions – yaw, pitch, roll, X and Y – and is said to deliver up to 5 stops of correction. The system is offered in Normal and Sport modes, the latter for moving subjects.
15. VR system works with VR lenses
Not only does the VR system bring stabilisation to a number of older, unstabilised lenses that are mounted with the FTZ adapter, but it will also work with lenses that are designed with the equivalent technology, with the two systems working together.
16. Magnesium alloy panels
The top, front and back plates of the new cameras are built from magnesium alloy for rigidity and light weight, the same material used in many of the company’s DSLRs.
17. Shutter rated to 200K actuations
The mechanical shutters inside the two cameras have been rated to 200k actuations, which is a measure of how long Nikon’s shutter expected it to last. This is the same as the company’s D810 DSLR.
18. Speedlights through hot shoe
Flash user? Good news. The hot shoe allows you to mount the same Speedlight flash units that are compatible with the company’s DSLRs, so there’s no need to wait for these to be developed specifically for the system.
19. Lighter than a DSLR
At a weight of 585g for the body, and 675g with a battery and memory card loaded, each camera weighs significantly less than the equivalent DSLR, the Nikon D850, which comes in at 1,005g with its card and battery in place.
20 Substantial grip
Although Nikon has sought to make the bodies compact, their grips are somewhat substantial and have been designed to offer as secure and comfortable a hold as possible. Those coming from DSLRs should find this to be particularly welcome, especially if they use long or weighty lenses.
21. Three new Z lenses at launch
Nikon has announced a new S range of lenses to accompany the Z7 and Z6, and three lenses will be made available this year. These are the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S, NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S and NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S. The 24-70mm will go on sale with the Z7 in September, and the 50mm will appear with the Z6 before Christmas.
22. NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct
Nikon has also announced the development of NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, a manual-focus lens with a particularly wide aperture. Set to head up the S line of optics, the lens inherits the design concept behind the original AI Noct-Nikkor 58mm f/1.2 that was released in the 70s, and is said to “symbolise the Nikon Z mount system's new dimension in optical performance.”
23. FTZ adapter
The FTZ adapter allows for hundreds of F-mount lenses to be used on the two new bodies, with support for auto-exposure. Around 93 lenses will have additional support for autofocus, meaning that they should behave just as they would if mounted on a DSLR.
24. Four clips - not three
Unlike the F-mount that holds lenses in place by three clips, the Z mount makes use of four. Nikon states that if the Z mount were to also use three clips, they would need to be longer and thicker because of the difference in inner diameter size. By using four short clips, the strength of the mount is improved, and these allow for a shorter angle of rotation when removing and attaching lenses.
25. Easier to develop video and super telephoto lenses
One of the benefits of the new mount is that Nikon can develop the kinds of lenses that are more difficult to develop for the F mount – and not just in terms of maximum aperture. Nikon cites lenses intended for video recording and super-telephoto types as two such examples.
26. Better communication than F mount
This large-diameter mount, which works with a fresh line of lenses, has 11 contacts, which are said to increase both speed and volume of data communication between the camera and lens for greater AF accuracy and image quality.
27. Stainless steel and brass mounts
While the cameras’ bayonet Z mount is crafted from stainless steel, the fitting at the back of S-series lenses is crafted from brass.
28. Nano Crystal Coating on every lens
Nano Crystal coating is currently only used in selected F-mount lenses, typically those aimed at enthusiasts and professionals. Here, Nikon has chosen to use it in every S-series lens, which bodes very well for image quality.
29. New ARNEO coating
In addition to the Nano Crystal Coat, there’s also a new ARNEO anti-reflective coating that’s said to offer almost the same level of anti-reflective performance.
30. Sealed with a silver ring
In contrast to the gold rings used around many modern F-mount lenses, all S-line lenses are to be designed with a silver ring around their barrel. This is said to shine when the light catches it at certain angles.
31. Hybrid AF setup
The new cameras combine phase-detect AF pixels on the sensor with contrast-detect focusing, with automatic switching between the two to suit the conditions at hand.
32. Wide coverage
One of the advantages of the new focusing system is that it can cover 90% of the horizontal and vertical stretch of the frame. By comparison, the flagship D5 DSLR only offers 55% coverage across its horizontal dimension, which makes it more difficult to focus on peripheral subjects.
33. Focus peaking
Focus peaking, which allows you to assess the areas of highest contrast when manual focusing a lens by way of a highlight, is offered on the new models. This can have both its threshold and colour adjusted, the latter being useful when it comes to photographing a subject that would ordinarily be the same colour as the highlight. Red, yellow, blue and white options are available.
The camera’s AF point can be quickly and conveniently adjusted using a joystick-style control – or ‘sub-selector’ in Nikon parlance – on the back of the camera. This feature has previously graced a number of the company’s DSLRs, such as the D500 and D850.
35. AF-ON button*
A staple of higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the AF-ON button allows you to focus separately from the shutter-release button. This is great in situations where the autofocusing system may be thrown, or when shooting with obstacles constantly passing in the way of the main subject.
36. Focus Shift Shooting*
The Focus Shift Shooting mode allows you to capture a series of images with different depths of field, which can then be subsequently merged together into a single composite file using third-party software. A new feature here is monochrome preview of the focused areas, which helps you to work out whether your stacking will be successful.
37. Auto AF keeps track of faces*
When set to the Auto Area AF mode, the cameras are able to keep a lock on subject’s faces as they move around the scene. This is particularly useful for video recording, where subject or camera movement may encourage the camera to lose focus on the main subject.
38. Lenses designed with video in mind
Nikon states that it’s designed the new lenses to minimise focus breathing, which is where the angle of view slightly changes as focus is adjusted. With this, Nikon claims, it can achieve “supremely natural movie expression with a minimized sense of incongruity.”
39. You can adjust AF speed…*
When shooting videos, sometimes you don’t want autofocus to be too fast as it can appear unprofessional. Fortunately, the cameras’ response can be adjusted over 11 steps through the Custom Menu for smoother transitions.
40. And also tracking sensitivity
Likewise, the sensitivity of the tracking system can also be adjusted, so that the cameras know whether to move quickly from one subject to the next or whether to focus on adhering to a single subject.
41. Highest resolution EVF on a Nikon body yet*
Most mirrorless cameras with electronic viewfinders have 1.44million dots or 2.4million-dot panels, but these new models are two of the very few to have 3.6million-dot panels. This gives them a wonderful crispness, and a performance much closer to an optical viewfinder than we’d normally expect.
42. High magnification and 37-degree viewing angle
The viewfinders inside the new models have a 0.80x magnification, which is particularly generous. Not only does this eclipse the 0.72x magnification on Nikon’s D5 DSLR, but it’s even higher than the 0.78x offered by the camera’s closest mirrorless rival, the Sony A7R III.
43. 60fps refresh rate
Nikon knows that the electronic viewfinder is one of the main features that DSLR users will need to adapt to, should they switch to one of the new cameras. So, in order to make it as lifelike as possible, it has given the viewfinders on these two models a refresh rate of 60fps, which should help to prevent tearing and unnatural effects, particularly when moving the camera around.
44. Nikon optics and engineering*
It’s not just the high-resolution panel and high magnification that make these viewfinders special. They’re also said to benefit from Nikon’s optics, with an aspherical lens, high-refractive index resin and an anti-reflective coating for a clear view, together with a fluorine coating on each eyepiece lens that repels dirt and reduces ghosting and flare.
45. Dioptre control and view options
There’s a control on either side of the viewfinder chamber. On one side there’s a simple knob to control the dioptre, so that you can adjust the finder to your eyesight. On the other side there’s a View button, which lets you alternate between the viewfinder being on, off, and automatically adjusting as you move towards the sensor.
46. New 3.2in LCD screen*
The 3.2in LCD screen on these two models takes up much of the space on the rear, measuring 3.2 inches in size – just like on DSLRs like the D7500 and D850. This also has a 2.1million-dot resolution, which is very respectable on such cameras.
The LCD screens on the new models also respond to touch. With this the user can set the focus point, focus and expose in one action, navigate menus, pinch to check for details upon playback and more.
48. Tilting screen
Not only do the screens on the new models have a wide 170-degree viewing angle, but they can also tilt both upwards and downwards – great when framing images or videos from awkward angles.
49. Top plate display
A small, square display on the top of each camera displays key exposure and camera information, such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation.
50. Colour and brightest adjustment of both
It’s possible to adjust the colour balance and brightness of both the LCD screen and viewfinder on these cameras, which you may find useful if you tend to work in very bright conditions or somewhere where there may be atypical lighting that makes accurate image assessment problematic.