Saturday, August 25, 2018

Quick Thoughts about the Nikon Z System

Some quick thoughts about the Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras, in no particular order:

  • As usual, the internet chatter about the single card slot if overblown. Dual slots is preferable for serious work, but almost all of the main competition the secondary card slot is slower than the primary one. The most demanding will need the second slot, but if you look at the grand aggregate of users and typical usage, the majority of people function out of one card slot. 
  • That said, Nikon could have paid attention to past discussion and avoided the whole thing by spending a few more dollars into the build and adding the second card slot.
  • Neither of the Z 6 or Z 7 could be said to be "pretty" cameras. Part of that is because of the size of the mount in relation to the rest of the body, but the cameras do not automatically convey a sophisticated design language that the past Giorgetto Giugiaro designed Nikons have.
  • In particular, the familiar red "swoosh" under the shutter button is now just a shadow of its familiar incarnation.
  • Of course serious photographers don't care how a camera looks, but from a product design standpoint, Nikon tended to not make owners  of older cameras feel left behind. If you still have a D200 from days gone by, it still looks like it belongs to the family of cameras today. Not sure if the designs of the Z 6 or Z 7 will age that well.
  • Really surprised that the Z 7 does not have the familiar "pro" control layout of the D850 and D500. In this day and age, even users at the D7200/D7500 level tend to prefer the layout without the mode dial (once they try it). You can operate the QUAL/WB/Metering/Mode control pod by touch without looking at it
  • The naming scheme is horrendous; the problem is the space between the "Z" and the number; this looks ugly in print and tends to make it more troublesome for some search algorithms. 
  • The battery life is a letdown, but is in line with what Sony had to go through
    • Sony NP-FW50 (A7 I/II generation) - 1020mAh at 7.4V. Holdover from the NEX days, woefully inadequate for the Sony full frame cameras. CIPA rating for A7r II is 340 shots per charge, real world usage varies but tends to be less.
    • Sony NP-FZ100 (A7r III and A7 III) - 2280mAh at 7.2V. CIPA rated at 530 shots per charge. Camera seems to perform to expectations, users aren't spending hundreds of dollars on multiple batteries.
    • Nikon EN-El5a/b  - 1900mAh at 7V- CIPA rated at 330 shots per charge. Early usage suggests that real world performance may be longer.
  • In other worlds Nikon couldn't abandon the EN-EL15 series for the same reason that Sony couldn't let go of the W series battery; it's a bridge for existing users to step into the new system. Either way, they will need to address this point sometime in the (near) future.
  • Not having the focus mode selector button on the left side of the camera is a letdown. One of the most ergonomic controls in all modern camera focus systems.
  • Traditional Nikon control scheme is "press and twirl". Usually it's press a button on the left side of the camera and twirl a dial on the right side. With the smaller mirror-less body this presents some challenges, but the tactile logic of the Nikon control scheme was one of the most consistent things since turn of the century.
  • Video had to be competitive and it for the most part is. People aren't going to immediately switch away from the ingrained Canon/Sony or Panasonic GH systems that are commonly out there, but it's a little more possible to think of setting up a stills/video system in the future that is all Nikon. Think of all wedding shooters that were long-time Canon-based but then moved to Sony or Panasonic for video production and you'll see the challenge.
  • Nikon users are going to ignore the 24-70mm F4 kit lens, and it will be mostly due to old habits. They've never had one before, and never quite had the middle ground between variable lens and f2.8. 
  • If you have either a D750 or a D850, there isn't a rational financial reason to switch, other than video; both are very good cameras, even if the D750 is getting on in years. By this late date, most loyal Nikon users are in the system for specific reasons, which tend to be the core strengths of good data output, good exposure control and class-leading auto-focus. The last is key, Nikon has for the most part had consistently good autofocus tracking, and even when users had not been happy (as with the D4), the complaints were so esoteric that they were above the pay scale of most typical shooters. 
  • Like any political fight, the first group of customers to pay attention to is the base; if the existing pool of Nikon users gets excited and jumps in, then the Z-series would have achieved an important primary goal. It won't convince existing Sony users as their system is fairly mature at this point with much more lens options, both native, adapted and third party.