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Nikon mirrorless cameras and lenses, the new Nikon Z 50, and where it fits in

Nikon mirrorless cameras
(Image credit: Nikon)

The Nikon mirrorless camera system is a major step for a company previously famous for its more conservative DSLR designs. 2018 will become known as the year of full frame mirrorless camera market, and until then Sony had this whole field to itself with its A7 series and A9 cameras.

But Nikon has decided to join the mirrorless revolution and in the process has produced cameras that rank amongst the best Nikon cameras you can buy right now and even the best mirrorless cameras.

The hottest news right now is that it has released the Nikon Z 50, an APS-C mirrorless camera aimed at hobbyists and influencers, and a whole lot smaller and less expensive than the full frame Nikon Z 6 and Z 7. The Z 50 also comes with two new Nikkor Z DX lenses: the Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR kit lens with a super slim retracting design, and an inexpensive Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR telephoto zoom.

Read more:

Nikon Z 50 hands on review
Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR hands on review
Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR hands on review

Nikon mirrorless cameras don't have a DSLR's mirror and viewfinder system. This means the body is slimmer and lighter and Nikon has been able to design a wider and more versatile 'Z' lens mount and a new range of lenses.

(Image credit: Nikon)

The point about mirrorless cameras is that they’re smaller, lighter and simpler than DSLRs. They do not have a DSLR’s optical through-the-lens viewing system, so they don’t need the mirror between the lens and the sensor that is the characteristic of the DSLR design. 

Instead, mirrorless cameras use the main sensor itself to produce a full time ‘live view’ for either the rear screen or an electronic viewfinder. This constant live view makes them perfect for video capture too, the other key development in digital camera design. New ‘hybrid’ on-sensor autofocus systems now offer similar performance to the separate ‘phase detection’ AF sensors which had previously given DSLRs an advantage in speed and responsiveness.

You can read more about the pros and cons of these different camera types in our DSLR vs mirrorless cameras article.

Designing a new camera system meant that Nikon could also return to the drawing board with its lens designs, developing a new ‘Z-mount’ that’s wider than its DSLRs’ old F-mount and closer to the sensor itself, thanks to the absence of a mirror.

This has given Nikon’s lens designers and opportunity to design new and exotic lens designs with optical specifications and performance that could not be achieved with its older Nikon F mount. This does mean that Nikon has had to start from scratch with a new range of Z-mount lenses for these cameras, but the good news for current Nikon DSLR owners is that there’s a relatively inexpensive Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter, often sold bundled with the new Z series cameras, which lets you use any current Nikon DSLR lens with no exposure or autofocus restrictions.

The best news of all, in the wake of the Nikon Z 50 announcement, is that Nikon's new APS-C format mirrorless camera uses the same Nikon Z lens mount as the full frame models, and can use the same FTZ mount adaptor to fit Nikon DSLR lenses.

Nikon mirrorless cameras and lenses

Nikon's full frame mirrorless cameras have in-body image stabilization, though this has not been included in the smaller Nikon Z 50, which relies instead on stabilized lenses.

(Image credit: Nikon)

If you want to know more about the Nikon Z system, its features and its technologies, take a look at the 99 things you need to know about the Nikon Z.

So let’s take a look at the Nikon mirrorless system, including the cameras you can buy right now, the models we think might be coming next, and all the current and planned Z-mount lenses.

Nikon mirrorless Z cameras

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1. Nikon Z6

It's the cheaper Nikon Z model, but better for video and more affordable!

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 24.5MP | Monitor: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Continuous shooting speed: 12fps | Viewfinder: EVF | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Enthusiast/Professional

Well-designed body and controls 
Superb high-ISO image quality
Full frame 4K video
Weak 310-shot battery life

The Z 6 is the cheaper of Nikon’s two current Z-series cameras, with a 24 megapixel sensor rather than the 45.7 megapixel sensor in the Z 7. It’s not exactly the poor relation, though, because the Z 6 has a lot going for it besides its tag. For a start, it has a faster continuous shooting speed than the Z 7, better image quality at high ISO settings and the ability to capture ‘uncropped’ 4K video – so your angle of view doesn't become narrower when you switch to video mode. You can buy the Nikon Z 6 body on its own, but we’d recommend getting it with the space-saving retracting Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 kit lens – and if you already have a Nikon DSLR camera and lenses, make sure you get the Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter too. 

Read more: Nikon Z6 review

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2. Nikon Z7

Huge resolution, high-speed shooting, 4K video... what's not to like?

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.7MP | Monitor: EVF, 3,690k dots, 100% coverage | Continuous shooting speed: 9fps | Viewfinder: EVF | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Professional

Great handling
Superb electronic viewfinder
Not many Z-mount lenses yet
Single XQD card slot

The Z 7 was the first of Nikon's Z-series cameras to hit the market, and it made an instant impression. Even though it was the first model, Nikon seemed to have made a near-perfect camera right at the start. The Z 7 combines an ultra-high-resolution 45.7-megapixel sensor with a 493-point hybrid autofocus system and the ability to capture images at up to 9 frames per second and without needing an add-on battery grip. There has been some controversy. Both the Z 6 and Z 7 use a single XQD memory card slot – it is not a common format, so most users would need to invest in some new memory cards. We really rate the Nikon Z 6 for affordability, video and all-round performance, but it's a close-run thing, and if ultimate resolution is high on your list of priorities, then the Z 7 is the obvious choice.

Read more: Nikon Z7 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

3. Nikon Z 50

We haven't tested Nikon's new APS-C camera yet, but it looks amazing

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 20.9MP | Monitor: 3.2-inch, 180-degree tilting touchscreen, 1.040k dots | Continuous shooting speed: 11fps | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36m dots | Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30p | User level: Intermediate

4K uncropped video
11fps continuous shooting
Small size
16-50mm retracting 'pancake' zoom
No in-body stabilization
UHS I card slot (not UHS II)
Only two DX-native lenses so far

So far we've only seen pre-production samples of the new Nikon Z 50, but we've picked it up and tried it out and we're impressed. It's a very small camera that gives a surprisingly good grip, and the amazing 16-50mm pancake kit lens hardly extends further than the front grip when it's retracted. Nikon is pitching the Z 50 at the same level as the Nikon D7500 DSLR, but it's smaller, lighter and cheaper and offers a faster frame rate. The sensor resolution is the same as the D7500 at 20.9 megapixels, but the Z 50 sensor is new, with the addition of 209 phase detection AF points covering 90% of its width and height. The Z 50's pricing is very competitive and it's aimed at hobbyists, content creators and Nikon DSLR upgraders.

Read more: Nikon Z 50 hands on review

Nikon Z rumors

Nikon Z 5

Nikon told us that there would be lower-priced models in the Z system at some point in the future – and that was proved to be correct with the launch of the APS-C format Nikon Z 20. But we think Nikon might also maker a lower-end full frame model (we think it might be called the Nikon Z5) below the Nikon Z 6. Let's see!

Nikon Z 8

When the Nikon Z 7 came out it set new standards for resolution (megapixels). But now Sony has dropped a bombshell by announcing its 61MP Sony A7R IV. It’s widely known that Sony makes sensors for many other camera makers, and we’re expecting a Nikon Z 8 with that same 61MP sensor. This is more than just guesswork. Nikon has apparently signed up to purchase the 61MP Sony Exmor R sensor, which we hear will power a Z8 featuring dual CF Express memory card slots, improved image stabilization, a new resolution shift mode to capture 240MP images, and an ISO range of 64 to 25,600 (expandable to 32-102,400). 

Nikon Z 9

Professional cameras split into two groups: those designed for resolution, and those designed for speed. Cameras for sports, press and wildlife photography swap resolution for better low-light performance and faster continuous shooting – and we think there may be a Nikon Z 9 body to meet these needs. This could be a mirrorless version of the mighty Nikon D5 or the imminent D6, with a big battery built-in, a high-speed shooting capacity of perhaps 20fps and dual memory card slots. Nikon would surely love to have camera that would challenge the Sony A9, now that it has models to rival the Sony A7 series. 

Nikon mirrorless Z Lenses

NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

1. NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S

This is the ideal ‘kit lens’ for the Nikon Z system; compact, and very good

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 14/11 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.3m | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 77.5x88.5mm | Weight: 500g

Compact, retracting design
Light weight and portability
The f/2.8 ‘pro’ lens is faster
Not exactly cheap

On paper, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 looks unambitious, but its small size, light weight and great optical performance make it an exceptional companion for the Nikon Z-series cameras. It’s the closest thing these cameras have to a ‘kit lens’, and we’d certainly recommend buying either camera with the lens, as it is cheaper than buying them separately. While it’s easy to see this as a ‘kit lens’, its optical performance (and, alas, its price) are on a different level. Optically, it’s very, very good. Physically, it’s about the only standard zoom lens we’ve used that feels the right size for a compact mirrorless body. 

Read more: Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 S review

NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

2. NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S

A modest-sounding but optically superb prime lens for the Z system

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 12/9 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.4m | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 76x86.5mm | Weight: 415g

Incredibly sharp
Beautiful bokeh
Quite long for a 50mm f/1.8
No distance scale

Nikon’s new Z-mount has paved the way for lenses that set new benchmarks for optical quality. In focal length terms the Z 50mm f/1.8 S prime may be ‘standard’, however in every other respect this lens is anything but. Its resolution and all-round optical performance is outstanding, and while the f/1.8 maximum aperture might seem relatively modest compared to some of the f/1.4 and even f/1.2 lenses we see right now, it can still produce quite superb background blur and bokeh. This was one of two prime lenses (the other was the 35mm f/1.8) designed to showcase the optical potential of the new Z-mount system, and it certainly does that.

Read more: Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8 S review

NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

3. NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S

The perfect prime lens for street photography and great in low light too

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 11/9 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.25m | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 73x86mm | Weight: 370g

Light, compact and unassuming
Superb optical performance
Expensive for a 35mm f/1.8
No focus distance scale

This is the second of two f/1.8 prime lenses Nikon launched alongside its Z-mount cameras. Like the 50mm f/1.8, it’s not remotely flashy, either in its design or its optical specifications (there are plenty of faster f/1.4 lenses around). Instead, it’s a simple, elegant and relatively lightweight lens that showcases the optical possibilities of the Z-mount and Nikon’s determination to produce lenses with a whole new level of performance. In the old days you wouldn’t really have attempted to use an f/1.8 lens wide open and expect much sharpness or contrast; with this one you can shoot at f/1.8 without a second thought and still get excellent definition and clarity.

Read more: Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S review

NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

4. NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S

This ultra-wide lens doesn’t just give a wider angle, it’s compact too

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 14/12 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.28m | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x85mm | Weight: 485g

Compact, retracting design
Excellent optical quality
Costs as much as some f/2.8 lens
No focus distance scale

Every lens range needs an ultra-wideangle zoom, and this one is a little beauty. Like the 24-70mm f/4 ‘kit’ lens for the Nikon Z series cameras, it has a lightweight, retracting design, so although its maximum aperture is quite modest at a constant f/4, this lens makes up for it with its small size and portability. At some point, Nikon may introduce a faster f/2.8 pro ultra-wide lens (it’s not on the roadmap just yet), but until then the NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S will do the job very well, and is likely to appeal not just to travel photographers but to landscapge photographers too, because unlike many ultra-wideangle zooms, this one lets you fit filters to the front.

Read more: Nikkor Z 14-30mm f/4 S review

NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S

This is the ‘pro’ standard zoom lens for the Nikon Z system

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 17/15 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.38m | Filter thread: 82mm | Dimensions (WxL): 89x126mm | Weight: 805g

Excellent optical performance
Constant f/2.8 maximum aperture
Size, weight and cost
Doesn’t focus as close as the 24-70mm f/4

We’d still recommend the cheaper Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 as a kit lens for enthusiasts and travel photographers, purely for its size and affordability, but for professionals and experts the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is a clear winner. It’s a top quality professional lens at the leading edge of optical performance, and pretty much a default lens specification for pros. It offers excellent resolution and general optical performance, customisable controls and even a data display panel. The only things against it (apart from its higher cost) are its size and weight – and it doesn’t focus quite as close as the 24-70mm f/4 lens, either.

Read more: Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S review

NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

6. NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S

A new fast prime ‘portrait’ lens for the Nikon Z cameras

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 12/8 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.8m | Filter thread: 67mm | Dimensions (WxL): 75x99mm | Weight: 470g

Compact size, light weight
Relatively affordable
F/1.8 rather than f/1.4
No distance scale on the lens

The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.8 S is very new and we haven’t had time to review it yet, but if it lives up the to performance of the existing 35mm f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.8 lenses, we’re not likely to be disappointed. Like the other Nikkor Z prime lenses, this one is slim, elegant and light, and while it doesn’t match the f/1.4 maximum aperture of other classic ‘portrait’ lenses on the market, f/1.8 is not very much different – and it should make this lens much easier to handle. With a weight of just 470g, it’s going to be a lot less tiring to use, and it has an equally modest 67mm filter thread, so you won’t have to invest in any outlandish filter sizes.

NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8 S

(Image credit: Nikon)

7. NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8 S

This is a brand new prime lens for the Nikon Z system that we’ve yet to try

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 12/10 | Diaphragm blades: 9 | Minimum focus distance: 0.25m | Filter thread: 72mm | Dimensions (WxL): 78x96.5mm | Weight: 450g

Neat, uncluttered design
f/1.8 maximum aperture
Not cheap for a lens of this type
No focus distance scale

This is the fourth f/1.8 prime lens for the Nikon Z system and is scheduled to go on sale in October 2019. It bears a strong family resemblance to all the others, with a clean, cylindrical shape and fuss-free design – though this does means there’s no focus distance scale, which is a little disappointing in a prime lens and means there are no traditional depth of field markings either. Tis does promise to be a very useful lens for interiors and environmental portraits, and it matches the optical performance of Nikon’s other f/1.8 Z-mount prime lenses, it’ll be a lens you can use wide open with confidence, to give a degree of background blur and spatial depth despite the wide angle of view.

FTZ Mount Adapter

(Image credit: Nikon)

8. FTZ Mount Adapter

An essential accessory for anyone migrating from a Nikon DSLR system

Mount: Nikon Z/F | Elements/groups: None | Diaphragm blades: None | Minimum focus distance: N/A (depends on lens) | Filter thread: N/A (depends on lens | Dimensions (WxL): Not quoted | Weight: Not quoted

Use Nikon DSLR lenses with your Nikon Z
In-body stabilization for unstabilized lenses
Lengthens the camera-lens combo
A stopgap solution ultimately

If you’re buying a Nikon Z camera as your first full frame camera system then you won’t really need this lens adaptor because you’ll be buying new Z-mount lenses anyway. But if you already have a Nikon DSLR system, this is a brilliant way to ‘migrate’ to your new mirrorless setup, or even use your existing DSLR kit alongside your new camera. There are some restrictions with older lenses – the adaptor doesn’t have mechanical linkages for old-school aperture control for example – but it works brilliantly with new and current Nikon DSLR lenses. It’s cheaper to get this adaptor with the camera when you buy it than it is to buy it separately.

Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR

(Image credit: Nikon)

9. NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR

This is the kit lens for the new Nikon Z 50, and it's so SMALL!

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 9/7 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.2m | Filter thread: 46mm | Dimensions (WxL): 70 x 32mm | Weight: 135g

'Pancake' design
Handy 24-75mm equivalent range
VR built in
Plastic construction and rear mount
Only f/6.3 at full zoom

The NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR is the standard kit lens for the new Nikon Z 50 mirrorless camera. It's designed specifically for the smaller APS-C, or 'DX', sensor size in this camera, which explains the 'DX' in the name. It covers an equivalent focal range of 24-75mm, so it's a little 'wider' than the typical kit lens, but probably more useful as a result. This lens's big feature, though, is its retracting mechanism, which shrinks it down to the size of a 'pancake' lens when it's not in use. Better still, it's a purely mechanical mechanism with no awkward locking buttons or slow and wearisome electrical 'power zoom' mechanisms. We haven't had the chance to run this lens through our usual lab tests yet, but a full review will be coming soon!

Read more: NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR hands on review

NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR

(Image credit: Nikon)

10. NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR

It's a low cost, lightweight telephoto zoom perfect for the Nikon Z 50

Mount: Nikon Z | Elements/groups: 16/12 | Diaphragm blades: 7 | Minimum focus distance: 0.5m | Filter thread: 62mm | Dimensions (WxL): 74 x 110mm | Weight: 405g

Light and compact
75-375mm equivalent zoom range
Only f/6.3 at longest zoom setting
Plastic construction

The NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is a low cost, lightweight telephoto zoom lens launched alongside the Nikon Z 50. It's designed for the smaller ASP-C sensor in this camera, hence the 'DX' in the lens name – this also means it can be made lighter and cheaper than a full frame Nikon Z lens. The construction is plastic and the cost is low as this is a lens aimed at hobbyists rather than professional photographers. Nevertheless, Nikon has great confidence in its new mirrorless Z mount, claiming it offers the opportunity to create better optical quality in a way that wasn't possible before, so although the NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR is quite cheap to buy, it might yet surprise us with its performance, and we look forward to testing it properly when production samples become available!

Read more: NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR hands on review

Nikon mirrorless lens roadmap

We have a whole article devoted to the Nikon Z lens roadmap, but here's a summary of what we know of Nikon's plans so far, the lenses it intends to release, and when.

Nikon Z cameras and lenses

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct S (2019): Probably the most anticipated lens on the Nikon Z lens roadmap, this monster prime lens has a phenomenal f/0.95 maximum aperture. This Noct lens weighs heavily on both the arms and the pocket and, to be honest, it's more of a showcase for Nikon's new Z-mount lens technology than the kind of lens you'd use every day.

Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S (2019): A 70-200mm f/2.8 is a must-have lens for any professional photographer – fast aperture telephoto zoom is an essential workhorse for weddings, news, and sports. When this lens arrives it will suddenly make Nikon's Z system a whole lot more appealing to pro photographers.

Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.2 S (2020): This will be a much faster 50mm prime lens than the current 50mm f/1.8, and should prove popular with documentary and street photographers – though that f/1.2 maximum aperture is likely to mean that this lens will be both heavy and expensive.

Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S (2020): This will be the fifth f/1.8 prime lens in the range and a very interesting addition. Even wider than the 24mm f/1.8 it should prove popular with landscape, travel and architectural photographers.

Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S (2020): This will complete the holy trinity of f/2.8 pro zooms for the Z system. Every professional lens system a has constant-aperture f/2.8 super-wide zoom like this one. The existing 14-40mm f/4 lens is compact and effective, but this new lens will be the one that really makes professionals sit up and take notice.

Other lenses scheduled for release in 2020-21, for which only basic details have so far been released are:

24-200mm full-frame superzoom
200-600mm full-frame supertelephoto zoom
28mm compact prime
40mm compact prime
60mm Micro macro lens
105mm S Micro macro lens
24-105mm S  standard lens
100-400mm S  telephoto zoom
18-140mm DX  zoom for the Z50

Read more:

• These are the best Nikon cameras right now
• Which are the best mirrorless cameras to get
DSLR vs mirrorless cameras: we explain the differences