Reaction to Nikon Full Frame Mirrorless

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Jeff Harmon is joined by Nick Page at the round table to talk about his conversion from Canon to Sony and our combined reaction to the official announcement of Nikon’s first full frame mirrorless camera bodies.

Nick Converted to Mirrorless

Jeff: We are going to get into the recent official announcement from Nikon on their two new full frame mirrorless bodies, but first I want to talk about your recent conversion to mirrorless yourself Nick.  You were a long-time and fairly devoted Canon shooter, so tell me about what went into your decision to switch and what you have switched to.

Nick: The benefits of mirrorless are great, but I would say image quality is the biggest difference when coming from the canon system.  EVF’s are amazing, the video capabilities were important to me, smaller size is a bonus and does add up but image quality was the biggest bonus for sure.  The number 1 question I got when I switched… why not wait to see what Canon and Nikon release this year. My answer to that was, I was skeptical that it would be a mature system that could compete with Sony… lets see.

Jeff: So it seems like the sensor is the biggest difference.  Wouldn’t a Nikon D850 have given you that bump up in image quality too?  Why did you choose Sony over the D850?

Nick: To some degree it was just how fun it is to shoot Sony and the lead they have in the industry.  All of the incredible mirrorless features and really fun to shoot.

Nikon Mirrorless

Jeff: Nick, let me walk through the basic specs that are now official and then let’s go over our reaction to those specs.

Nikon Z6

Here are the official specs from Nikon on the Z6:

  • 24 megapixel back side illuminated (BSI) full frame sensor
  • New Z mount (widest mount for a full frame camera today)
  • A single XQD memory card slot
  • 1.27-cm/0.5-in 3690k-dot (Quad VGA) OLED viewfinder
  • 5.5 frames per second continuous and 12 frames per second continuous extended (meaning 12 bit RAW, JPEG, or TIFF and not 14 bit RAW)
  • ISO 100-51,200
  • 4K UDH 3840×2160 30fps video
  • 3.2” tiltable and touch sensitive rear LCD
  • Uses a new EN-EL15b battery rated to get 310 shots or about 85 mins of video recording
  • Flash sync speed 1/200
  • 273 single-point focus points
  • 5-axis in-body image stabilization
  • Compatible with all Nikon peripherals
  • $2,000 for just the body
Nikon Z7

The official specs from Nikon on the Z7 are the same as the Z6 with these differences:

  • 46 megapixel back side illuminated (BSI) full frame sensor
  • 5.5 frames per second continuous, 9 continuous extended
  • ISO 64-25,600
  • 493 focus points
  • 330 shots from the battery, an extra 20 shots.
  • $3,400 for just the body

Reaction

Jeff: Before we go into our reactions, just to try and keep the torches and pitchforks to a minimum, I want to be absolutely clear that Nikon has an excellent product here.  I have zero doubt that stunning photos can be created with either of these bodies. I have no doubt the sensor performance is incredible because that is what Nikon has excelled at for quite some time now.  Nikon has already said that pre-order demand is so great if you order now, about a week after the official announcement they won’t be able to fill that order in the initial wave of shipments. Already back ordered.  I would absolutely love to get my hands one either of these cameras and give them a whirl.

No need to email or Facebook me and say I am a Nikon hater or even a mirrorless hater.  I currently shoot Canon based on factors that aren’t at all relevant, but I don’t hate Nikon or mirrorless.  But you aren’t listening to this podcast to get our reactions to the announcement and talk about the things we like and dislike about the cameras.

So Nick, I am so glad you could join me at the round table today to talk about this as a recent convert to mirrorless.  I have some thoughts on these specs and have waded through so many camera blogs and YouTube reviews out there who have had hands-on with pre-release versions of these new cameras, but I want to get your initial reaction to Nikon’s play here with their first full frame mirrorless cameras.

Nick:  A pro price… but who is this camera aimed at?  

  • Great to see better weather sealing
  • Great to see the large mount and an adapter that works well
  • Great to see more of a focus on the video aspect
  • But why would you have a 3400 camera with one card slot
  • Early reports done bode well for the focusing system
  • Its going to take at least an another generational release to “catch up” to Sony

Going to share my reaction to these two new bodies, but first we need to thank our sponsors of this episode.

Jeff: My thoughts

  • Pro: Z Mount  
    • I can’t say enough about how excited I am at the new of this new Z mount from Nikon.  It is 52mm wide, which for full frame is second only to Canon EF mount that is 54mm wide but it has a flange distance of only 16mm compared to Canon’s flange of 44mm.  It beats Sony’s E mount that is 46mm with an 18mm flange. This new Z mount is almost as wide as Fuji’s G mount for a medium format sensor. So all the tech stuff aside, this will be a massive funnel that can direct more light toward the sensor than any other full frame camera on the market today!  Seriously cool.
    • The mount also has 11 contacts instead of 8 so that lenses can better communicate with the body and 4 metal ridges vs. 2 in the F mount to keep those lenses better secured to the body.
    • This kind of mount change was needed to bring in-body image stabilization (IBIS) to the camera and opens up the opportunity to do pixel shifting and star tracking like is done on a few micro four thirds mirrorless cameras.
    • Finally, it will allow for simpler and smaller lenses to be manufactured at less cost.
  • Pro: In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS).  A staple in most mirrorless cameras, the ability to do image stabilization in the camera body is just plain awesome.  Unfortunately this may at least initially end up being a con too because the first reviews back from hands-on testers report that it doesn’t work nearly as well as Nikon said it would in their real world testing.  In some cases it made focus worse instead of better.
  • Pro: Back Side Illuminated (BSI) Sensor.  Instead of the standard CMOS sensor in other Nikon cameras, these have BSI technology that improves the ability of each photo-diode in the sensor to record light.  This tech isn’t entirely new, but until recently it was cost prohibitive to put BSI in a sensor this size and was reserved for much smaller sensors like those in security cameras.  Nikon isn’t alone here, Should mean seriously good low-light performance from a sensor perspective, especially in that Z6 model where the photo-diodes in the sensor are bigger. Nikon cameras have been notorious for insanely good sensors and I expect these to not disappoint.
  • Pro: 12 frames per second with the Z6.  There is that little thing there about not doing 14 bit raw to get that rate, but that is not a huge deal to me.  The practical difference between 12 and 14 bit raw files is not all that big, so 12fps is awesome. I get 10fps with my Canon 7DM2 and I love it for shooting sports.  Wouldn’t mind an extra 2 frames per second at all.
  • Pro: Tiltable touch rear LCD.  I like that they made it tiltable, but I wish they had made it fully articulating where you can swivel it around like 180 degrees.  I don’t understand why camera makers think that a fully articulating screen is a “consumer” feature and don’t put it on the pro cameras.  Early reviews were that the touch screen was pretty responsive, so that is good, but I wish they all the way to an articulating screen. Also wish that you could use the touch screen to position the AF points when the camera is held to your eye.  You have to use the joystick for that, so thank goodness there is a joystick on the camera, but it would be nice if you could move which focus points are going to be used via touch.
  • Pro: OLED viewfinder.  After four years of using it, I finally upgraded my iPhone 6 to an iPhone X, and it has an OLED screen.  It is an incredible screen technology that allows for brighter displays that use less energy with wider color gamut, higher contrast blacks and higher refresh rates than LCD.  Sony has been using OLED viewfinders too, so I am glad Nikon went there as well.
  • Pro: Size, weather sealing and build quality of the body.  It looks to me like the bodies are more ergonomic than other mirrorless bodies, at least will fit my big hands better.  Earlier reviewers agreed with that saying it felt good in their hands compared with it feeling a little awkward with other mirrorless brands when compared with the DSLR they are used to.  The weather sealing, including limiting dust on the sensor, looks better than many mirrorless offerings where that has been an issue. Time will tell as people take them out into the weather to really test them more thoroughly, but for now we trust Nikon is doing the same thing here they did with their great full frame DLSR bodies and count this as a pro.
  • Con: Single XQD card slot.  The XQD card format is not new here.  It has been in Nikon DSLR bodies for a while.  Other cameras use them.
    • They are theoretically much faster than SD cards, like 400% faster than most SD card slots and about 50% faster than some of the latest SD card slots.  Though in real-world testing by my friend Jeff Steinwand over at cameramemoryspeed.com they aren’t getting any faster speeds out of that card slot in the D500 or the D5 than you can get out of SD card slots.  
    • They are supposed to be more durable, though I don’t think they have been around long enough to really know how that compares.  
    • There aren’t many manufacturers producing XQD cards today with Sony and Lexar (who really isn’t Lexar anymore) producing them but not SanDisk so they are about 30% more expensive.  
    • All of that I could be fine with, in fact I think they needed to choose a card format that is faster than SD to future proof the camera.  What I am not excited at all about, and why this is a significant con to me is only one card slot! What! Seriously?!? I don’t understand how Nikon missed this.  I have been told that the engineers at Nikon were asked to make the body as small as possible and so they chose to have only one slot to make the bodies smaller. That is simply crazy to me.  I don’t even think most pro photographers are looking for a dramatically smaller body, especially not at the cost of a second card slot. Even with the XQD format supposedly being more reliable, there is no way I want to risk being hired to shoot something that can never be re-created to a single card slot.  Even as a hobbyist who follows good SD card hygiene and have never had an SD card fail, I would NEVER consider doing a family portrait shoot (which can be re-shot) with only one card slot.
  • Con: Autofocus.  
    • Didn’t work very well at the hands-on event.  Multiple reviewers have said the autofocus is reminiscent of Sony cameras of several years ago.  Missing focus on every type of subject they tested very frequently.
    • There isn’t any auto eye-focus.  Like e-y-e. Something Sony has been working on for a while now and by all accounts has completely NAILED.  Nikon comes to market here in 2018 with what I am being told by those with hands-on experience is significantly inferior autofocus.  
    • Nikon changed the organization of focus points.  There isn’t a dedicated hardware button to changing your focus points mode, but you can assign a button to that if you want it and can give up the function of that button.  Also, no group mode tracking at all and only the d-9 equivalent tracking mode without d21 or d25.
    • These bodies stop down the lens to your shooting aperture (or F5.6 – whichever is wider) all the time. You get an accurate preview of depth of field during shooting (at least down to F5.6) but it means there is less light for the autofocus to use, maybe explaining a little bit why it struggled in much of the pre-release testing.  Not sure this can be changed. Sony’s a7-series and a9 cameras do the same. They really need to do this for the EVF to show the depth of field in the shot.
    • Now some of this might be things that can be fixed in firmware updates.  This was all done on pre-release versions of the cameras. It might be something that will even be improved as the bodies are actually released in the next month or two.  Hopefully that is true, but for now this goes firmly under the con list.
  • Con: Battery life.  Not a con specific to Sony here, the battery life of mirrorless cameras is not as good as I am used to with my DSLR.  Nikon has a new, higher capacity battery they put out with these cameras and it still only rates it for a little over 300 shots per charge.  Sure, that is a conservative number and reviewers have said they got well over that number as the used the pre-release version of the bodies, but the D850 has the same conservative type rating of 1,840 shots, that is 200% more shots.  Yes, if you used Live View on the D850 or any DSLR all the time they wouldn’t get that kind of shot count either, but that isn’t how I use my DSLR. I rarely shoot using Live View. Yes, that means mirrorless has a built-in disadvantage when it comes to battery life because they have to power that electronic view finder – a sacrifice I would totally make and completely disregard the battery life difference.  The EVF is that big a deal to me. I would LOOOOOVE to get an EVF and wouldn’t care a bit about battery life being significantly shorter. But for completeness, and because I said the PERFECT mirrorless camera would have closer to DSLR battery life I needed to include it as a con here. I want the best of both worlds. I want and EVF and battery life that lasts like DSLR. Plus you can add a grip and get more battery life and the ergonomics would improve for me, so that is a great way to deal with this little con.
  • Con: Native lenses are going to be a long time coming.  Sure, you can adapt F mount glass to the new Z mount, and the early reviews are that doing so seems to work pretty well, but they won’t take advantage of the massive new mount and it is hard to tell how well focus works because the focus didn’t review well.  They launch the cameras with 3 lenses. 35mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, and 24-70 f/4. No trinity lineup options until sometime in 2019 when they said a 24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200 f/2.8 will be released along with an 85mm 1.8 and a 14-30mm f/4. I am sure those lenses combined with the sensor and the Z mount that can funnel in so much light are going to eventually produce phenomenal results.  Until they release them, the native lens lineup is a con. It almost turns into a pro with the FTZ (F to Z) adapter so that you can put any F mount glass on there. If the autofocus improves and F adapted to Z doesn’t make autofocus worse, then that can be a very good answer and give Nikon some good time to produce native glass that no doubt will be better for the camera and the image quality.  Until then, a slight con here just because Sony and other mirrorless cameras have so much to offer with native glass.
  • Con: Frames per second and buffer.  Another little con here, but I would have failed at my job here on the podcast if it didn’t bring it up.  You can get 12fps on the Z6 and 9fps on the Z7 at full resolution as long as you shot 12 bit and not 14 bit raw or JPEG.  Very good frame rates, not a con there. Not even with the restriction to 12 bit raw files, that is very acceptable. In fact, I did a Photo Taco podcast on the topic and if you are interested in what you give up in 12 bit vs. 14 bit raw check it out (https://phototacopodcast.com/raw-bit-depth/).  The real con part of this comes with two other things related.  First, the buffer fills up at 36 shots on the Z6 and only 23 shots on the Z7.  That is almost 400% less buffer than the D850. Again, kind of a little con here as that really gives you 3 full seconds of 12fps on the Z6 before you fill the buffer.  That is plenty even for sports. I never hold my shutter down for 3 full seconds. What I don’t have are numbers on just how fast the buffer gets emptied, so that could become an issue.  The real challenge that may be there for some outdoor sports shooters is when shooting faster than 5.5fps the exposure locks down for all of the shots. If you shoot in aperture priority and you are at 12fps, the camera will use the light meter to determine exposure settings on the first shot and it will hold there for all you take at that speed.  Still a little con to me, it is going to be so rare that the lighting will change for that to be an issue frame to frame in 3 seconds.

Nikon Mirrorless Final Thoughts

Jeff: My thoughts here are if these were released about 4 years ago this would have been an unbelievable start into mirrorless.  Nikon’s product would have been right there with all of the other mirrorless offerings and the advantage of F mount glass over competitors.  Again, no doubt these bodies are excellent cameras and I would love to get my hands on one to play with it because I expect the image quality to be astounding.  But it is 2018 and these bodies are not catching them up to Sony here. At least not on paper and based on the hands-on reviews of a pre-release version of the body.  If you are looking to get into full frame mirrorless right now Sony is the better choice unless you have a significant investment in F mount glass.

I just don’t understand why it happened this way.  Nikon had the benefit of seeing everything Sony has done over the past few years and avoid the problems those bodies have gone through.  Sony has fixed a lot of things that were pretty big challenges a few years ago and have created very compelling equipment today – enough Nick was convinced to switch because he gave it a try.  Nikon didn’t meet the mark. I expected it to meet Sony and I just don’t think they have here. A good option for Nikon users if they REALLY want to get into mirrorless, but I don’t understand why a D850, D810, or D750 owner would switch.  EVF is a game changer, but not at the expense of autofocus for sure.

Doodads:

Jeff: Totally free thing today.  A resource all photographers should use and support.  https://cameramemoryspeed.com.  Jeff Steinward and I did a Photo Taco episode called Memory Cards Explained back in April 2017 that you should check out, but really I want you to go over to his site and take a look at the real-world testing he has done with memory cards in the camera slots.  Not all camera slots are created equal and he has done some seriously good testing to show you which card you should buy for the card slot in your camera.

Nick:  Really Right Stuff tripod foot and Lbrackets.

Reminders:

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