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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Nikon Z rumors
Nikon Z 3
The Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 are relatively high-end cameras designed for experts and pros. We do hear, though, thant Nikon might release an entry-level Z 3 model in 2020. According to rumors from Japan, however, this could be a super-small DX camera using a smaller 24 or 26-megapixel APS-C sensor with no electronic viewfinder, a fixed LCD screen and a single microSD memory card slot.
Nikon Z 5
Nikon has already told us that there will be lower-priced models in the Z system at some point in the future – and that it had deliberately started with high-end models in the Z 6 and Z 7. But if Nikon made this lower-end model (we think it might be called the Nikon Z5) would it use a full-frame sensor. The current rumor is that it will have an APS-C sensor of 30-32MP but – interestingly – dual microSD and XQD memory card slots.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
In-body stabilization for unstabilized lenses
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.
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.
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. We expect this Noct lens to weigh heavily on 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.