Nikon Z7 Review
Ergonomics - How easy is it to handle?
Nikon started designing their first Full-Frame Mirrorless Digital Camera from a clean slate. Looking at it, the Z7 body is an unmistakable mix of new and classic Nikon design. The lines are more angular than on Nikon DSLRs yet the grip is similarly wide and deep, while many controls are placed and labeled just as they are on numerous professional Nikon camera. This review page analyzes all the ergonomic of the Z7.
The Nikon Z7 has a distinct professional look. The squarish body, which is much smaller than that of the Full-Frame DSLR, is covered with mechanical controls and dials, leaving little extra room. The new wide and shallow Z lens mount reveals the sensor and makes it look quite large due to its proximity, although it is exactly the same size as a 35mm film negative frame. There is a lens release latch on the right side of the mount and two completely customizable buttons along the left edge.
As already mentioned, the grip is wide and tall. It actually reaches a little higher than the top plate to accommodate the whole hand and hold the sizable battery needed to power this digital camera. The grip has a decent indentation to help support the body. At the upper-front of the grip, one can see the main control-dial. It has nice detents and a good texture to provide good purchase while preventing accidental changes.
At the top of the grip, there is now a classic set of controls. Foremost is a two-way rotating power-switch that surrounds a standard two-stage shutter-release. It a short travel and a relatively soft halfway point. This increases the chances of accidental shots while reducing shake introduced while pressing the shutter. Three buttons follow an arc behind the shutter-release, from left to right: Video Record, ISO and EC. Seriously, this order should be reversed for an optimal experience.
Video Record can thankfully be reassigned as it is completely useless since the Z7 has a dedicated video mode and starting to record without switching modes first makes it impossible to preview video framing, ISO selects the current ISO or default ISO, if Auto ISO is enabled in the menu system. This is the same behavior as on Nikon professional DSLRs which is really outdated. One should have an Auto ISO option directly. Exposure steps are configurable in ½ or 1/3 EV, ISO automatically uses the selected steps, so there is no way to select between full stops only. EC dials compensation +/-5 EVs according to the selected increments. Reaching this button is not entirely comfortable, given that it is on the outer edge of the grip.
The top plate of the Nikon Z7 is quite busy. Starting on the left, there is a self-locking Mode-Dial. One must press its central button to change between its 8 positions. Half of those are the traditional PASM modes, with Program Shift available in P mode and Bulb exposure in M mode. Note that the ECFS, which is enabled by default, restricts the selection of shutter-speeds faster than 1/2000s. The remaining modes are Auto and 3 User modes. Those work by storing configuration the same way as on the D850.
Directly inline with the optical center of the lens mount, there is a large viewfinder hump with a standard hot-shoe on top. The stereo microphone is mounted on the sides of the viewfinder housing. On the right side of it, there is a small OLED status display. This one is completely off when the camera is powered down. While on though, it shows exposure parameters, the exposure mode, flash status, frames left and remaining battery-life in 4 levels. The rear control-dial is full with the top plate. It is textured and has good detents too.
Dual control-dials are a requirement for any advanced digital camera to allow efficient operation. Some modern digital cameras eve have triple-dials, yet Nikon left it at two. The front one is used to select either aperture or shutter-speed, depending on the mode. In M mode, front selects aperture, rear takes care of shutter-speed. This leaves ISO without a dial and the rear control-dial unused in all but fully manual mode. Nikon abandoned their Easy ISO option a few cameras ago and so the Z7 does not offer this feature either. Luckily, ISO got a dedicated button on prime real-estate.
On the left side of the camera body, there are two rubber flaps. The one towards the front covers two stereo mini-jacks, one for input and one for output during video capture. The rear flap covers USB, HDMI and the Wired Remote connector. The USB is a type C connection meaning that new cables are needed and, of course, a device supporting USB-C on the other hand. This includes chargers and batteries. Even with a USB-A to USB-C adapter, the Z7 does not communicate or charge. HDMI can output a 4K signal at 10 bits per pixel.
The right side of the Z7 features a sturdy and weather-sealed door to cover the single XQD memory card slot. Nikon claims that a second slot would have made the camera unnecessarily large. This means the Z7 is missing redundancy offered by high-end DSLRs. The rate of failure of XQD cards is exceptionally low though but beware of using very large cards to avoid losing equally large numbers of frame in the event of failure.
All the remaining action happens on the back of the camera which is truly packed with virtually no room to spare. Taking the most space is a rather large 3.2” LCD with 2.1 megapixels. The screen is very sharp and offers good visibility in low-light. It is a touchscreen as well, which can thankfully be disabled as it often results in accidental changes and refocusing. Those who do mind mind getting the screen sticky can enable touchscreen functionality only in Playback mode. This makes it easy to browse and zoom images. The LCD is mounted on an extremely sturdy and weatherproof double hinge. It is in fact so strong that it can support the weight of the camera and Z 24-70mm F/4 lens without breaking.
Above the left corner of the display, a the Nikon-classic Playback and Delete button pair appears. Playback works as it always does and so does Delete. Images can be deleted immediately after capture by pressing the Delete button twice. Skipping over the viewfinder for a moment, there is a Disp button surrounded by a rotating mode switch. This one selects between Stills and Video mode, while the former cycles over display modes. All, except the Status Display mode, applies to either EVF or LCD, whichever one is active at the time. Further left, there is a customizable AF-On button which can also perform AE-L, AF-L in several combinations and variations. There are 8 behaviors to choose from.
Directly below AF-On, there is an 8-way joystick. This control moves the focus-point or area around, depending on the focus-point selection mode. This makes it relatively quick to move the focus-point around but keep in mind that there are a lot of points, 493 to be exact. One can select by area instead which makes targeting less precise but much quicker to select the area where the camera should focus. When focusing manually, the 8-way joystick moves the MF-Assist region. This joystick is also clickable with its action customizable. Oddly, and this is the case of Nikon DSLRs too, none of the options allow resetting the focus area.
A small round button labeled i provides slightly functionality. It brings up a completely customizable two-row menu where one can choose frequently changed settings. The intuitive and more comfortable thing would be to allow the 8-way joystick above to move around the options. Instead this inexplicably causes the menu to immediately exit! What is expected is to select the function with the 8-way controller and use any control-dial to change its value. Speaking of the 8-way controller, it is pretty much redundant with the joystick. The only added feature is that the central OK button can reset the focus-point. Otherwise, it simply moves the focus-point or area.
There is a tight cluster of 4 buttons along the lower right side of the LCD. These are located low on the body and none of these can be reached comfortably. The left two buttons are Zoom-In and Zoom-Out. In Playback mode, these respectively zoom in and out, quite obviously, Zooming out past the full-image view immediately goes to a 4-way thumbnail view, then 9-way, then 81-way. In Capture mode, the Zoom-In button electronically magnifies the view to assist with Manual Focus. The Zoom-Out button doubles as Help button when navigating the menu system. The information is not so detailed yet is helpful in many cases.
The right pair of buttons are Menu and Drive Mode. The former invokes and exists the menu system, just as always. The latter brings up a horizontal iconic menu to select the Drive Mode. The rear control-dial is then used to select the major mode, while the front control-dial selects the minor mode, if applicable. The following modes are available:
- Single-Shot. Fires a single frame on each full press of the shutter-release. There are no minor modes for this.
- Continuous Low: Continuous drive with minor modes for 1 to 5 FPS.
- Continuous High: Shoots at 5.5 FPS. Supports AF-C and AE between frames.
- Continuous Extended: Continuously captures images at 9 FPS with AF and AE locked.
- Self-Timer: Activates the self-timer with minor modes for 2, 5, 10 and 20s delay.
While one would expect to be able to use the conveniently located 8-way joystick to select and pan, touching it immediately returns the camera to Capture mode. Instead, panning must be done with the 4-way controller or, if enabled, touch playback controls. The rear control-dial can be used to change images but only if already zoomed in, unless this feature is enabled in the Setup menu. Otherwise, it exists Playback mode.
Now back to the EVF which is above the LCD, centered with the optical axis of the lens mount. The EVF housing protrudes nicely to minimize pressing the nose into the display. There is an essential Eye-Start Sensor located above the viewfinder, while normally these below. The difference is that it is easier to accidentally trigger when it is above. During shooting on a rainy day, a drop of water fell into the sensor and causes the camera to permanently select the EVF, until the water was removed. The sensitivity of the Eye-Start Sensor is generally good though and quickly switches between the EVF and LCD. There is also a EVF Priority mode which automatically switches between the EVF and nothing. This can save battery life, depending on how you carry the camera. With the neck-strap, it makes no difference as the sensor is always triggered.
The Nikon Z7 viewfinder shows one of the best views of any EVF. The 0.5” EVF unit shows 0.8X magnification, which is nearly the largest of any digital camera. Its 3.6 megapixels of resolution give an ultra-sharp life-like view of the world. It is uncanny how natural the view looks, particularly with a focal-length of 60mm which gives it virtually the same field-of-view a human eye. Color and contrast shown in the EVF are remarkably natural. This viewfinder seems to have a very good dynamic-range.
Nikon worked on making the EVF preview an important part of the experience. Indeed, the sharpness is unprecedented and the preview shows natural looking tones. Fine-tuning is available, if needed. Coverage is at 100% as one expects from any professional camera. Exposure preview, the most crucial advantage of EVFs over OVFs, is good yet not completely accurate. Changes to exposure parameters and compensation are shown onscreen in nearly all modes. Fully manual exposure shows an accurate preview. Automatic exposure though, tends to show a mostly accurate though, except when outside the exposure range of the camera. This is unfortunately when an Exposure-Priority view would be most advantageous but luckily an uncommon occurrence with the Z7. White-balance is usually previewed correctly but it happens to be often incorrect too, misleading for photographer into changing wrongly WB.
Low-light visibility of the EVF is top-notch. Even when very high sensitivities are needed to make a proper exposure, the Nikon Z7 viewfinder shows a clear and bright preview. The gain applied is very impressive and does not easily become grainy. Even in the dark with a ND16 filter mounted, the preview maintained the same brightness as without the ND filter mounted. This is by all means a superb performance!
The bottom of this camera features a metal tripod mount, properly aligned with the center of the sensor and sufficiently far from the battery-compartment door not to block it when mounted on a tripod. The battery door itself is solid with a spring-loaded release-latch. Actually, the camera feels quite sturdy and is well sealed against rain, snow and moisture. With the Z 24-70mm F/4 lens mounted, we did get an intrusion of sensor dust. It is unclear if the issue with the mount or lens and we cannot verify since only a single sample of each was available for review.
Nikon Z7 Highlights
Sensor-Size: 36 x 24mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|46 Megapixels Mirrorless||ISO 32-102400|
|Nikon Z Mount|
|5-Axis Built-in Stabilization, 5-Stop Improvement||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.50" Built-in EVF 3.7 Megapixels (0.80X)||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Spot-Metering|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Hot-Shoe|
|Weatherproof||Stereo audio input|
|Built-in Dust Reduction||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|9 FPS Drive, 25 Images||XQD|
|3840x2160 @ 30 FPS Video Recording|
|3.2" LCD 2.1 Megapixels|
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