Nikon Announcement : Z6 and Z7 Mirrorless Cameras, 24-70, 35 and 50mm Z S Line Lenses

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We've known for some time that Nikon would announce a new lineup of mirrorless cameras.  The announcement was made today August 23, 2018 by Nikon PR globally.  

There were three announcements today actually.  The first deals with the two new mirrorless bodies, the Z6 and the Z7.  The second deals with three new Z S-Line lenses, the 24-70/4, the 35/1.8 and the 50/1.8 as well as the FTZ mount adapter.  The third deals with the 500/5.6 super telephoto for traditional F mount bodies.  

I have not seen ANY of the new announced products.  That will happen over time as they will be highly constrained initially.  Everything I share here is from the press releases and my own interpretation of what is written and what is not written.   No other interpretation or speculation goes into this article.  As expected the new mirrorless bodies use a brand new lens mount, called the Z mount.  For those outside the US, apparently Nikon is insisting that the Z be pronounced Zee around the world and never Zed.  According to DPReview.

In this article I am going to stick to the mirrorless products.  The new F mount 500/5.6 announcement is already getting buried all over the place.  Bad timing on that announcement if any traction was desired.  I will cover that separately.

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Z6

The Z6 is a mirrorless camera body that brings the functionality of the proven D750 to the mirrorless space and at 24MP is clearly targeted as an alternative to Sony's A7III.  And yes that is what I mean.  Sony owns the roost in full frame mirrorless and everyone else is a potential contender.

Specifications are available at www.nikon.ca but here's the gist of what we are looking at.

  • Expeed 6 CPU
  • 24.5 Megapixel full frame sensor
  • ISO Range 100-51200
  • 3.68M dot Electronic Viewfinder
  • Shutter Speed Range 1/8000 to 30s plus Bulb
  • Flash Sync at 1/200
  • Continuous High Burst Mode up to 12 fps  in Continuous Extended mode
  • Video up to 4K UHD at 30fps, FHD at up to 120fps
  • Phase detect / contrast detect autofocus
  • Shooting modes include Full Auto, PASM
  • EV Meter Range -4 to +17
  • AF Response -1 EV to +19 EV
  • Rear LCD is 3.2" with 1.2M pixels, tilting and touch screen capable
  • MSRP for the Body alone is CAD $2799.95

Z7

The Z7 is a mirrorless camera body that brings the functionality of the proven D850 to the mirrorless space and at 45.7 MP is clearly targeted as an alternative to Sony's A7IIIr.  

Specifications are available at www.nikon.ca but here's the gist of what we are looking at.

  • Expeed 6 CPU
  • 45.7 Megapixel full frame sensor
  • ISO Range 64-25600
  • 3.68M dot Electronic Viewfinder
  • Shutter Speed Range 1/8000 to 30s plus Bulb
  • Flash Sync at 1/200
  • Continuous High Burst Mode up to 9 fps in Continuous Extended mode
  • Video up to 4K UHD at 30fps, FHD at up to 120fps
  • Phase detect / contrast detect autofocus
  • Shooting modes include Full Auto, PASM
  • EV Meter Range -3 to +17
  • AF Response -1 EV to +19 EV
  • Rear LCD is 3.2" with 1.2M pixels, tilting and touch screen capable
  • MSRP for the Body alone is CAD $4699.95

Video Specifications

Nikon has clearly looked at the video market demand, and is delivering full frame 4K UHD at up to 30fps.  They have also provided both Zebras and Focus Peaking functions which are basic requirements.  The video can be pushed out the HDMI port cleanly at 10bits, which is very good.  Bandwidth numbers were not expressed in the initial specifications.  Autofocus fully functions for video, as it must, and sensitivity can be adjusted.  Nikon has also provided a native log format, called unsurprisingly, N-Log.  No word at this point on the availability of LUTs.  Because you can push your video cleanly out the HDMI port, you can record on an external recorder if you wish, and most of these have higher end displays that support LUTs.  They also obviate the stupid 29:59 maximum clip length.

Other Commonalities

Both cameras have a single memory card slot.  I wish that they had two slots, but I credit Nikon for doing the right thing and going with XQD cards for the new cameras.  SD cards are past their prime.  XQD supports enormous bandwidth, necessary for 10bit 4K and is a physically more reliable format than SD.  Some will whine about this.  When you consider the cost of a new camera, having to buy a new card is a very small investment.  Demanding the ability to use older SD cards, is, in my opinion, very short sighted and I applaud Nikon for looking forward.

Both cameras have five axis in body stabilization of up to five stops with Nikkor Z lenses, and still provide in body stabilization to a selection of Nikkor F lenses.  If a Nikkor F lens is used with the FTZ adapter and the lens has built in stabilization, the two systems work together.

Both cameras incorporate dust and moisture sealing.

Both cameras use the established EN-EL15b battery, so customers who already own spares can use them and perhaps more importantly, this battery is already in the channel at a decent price for an OEM product.  There are vendors who have taken battery prices into the realm of pocket picking.  Glad to see Nikon did not do so.  CIPA ratings for that battery in the new cameras is approximately 310 shots (Z6) and 330 shots (Z7) on a full charge, so a full day of shooting is going to require spares.  The 10-15 minutes of movie recording limit is disappointingly low.

Nikon has announced development of the MB-N10 battery grip that will work on either camera and hold two EN-EL15b batteries.  Use of the grip should provide about 1.8x the usage of a single battery.  No pricing nor availability has been announced as yet.

USB connectivity is Type C so you get the maximum bandwidth on the USB bus, and because the storage channel is built for XQD, performance over USB should be excellent.  The HDMI connector is the Type C connector.  There are both microphone inputs and headphone outputs.

The cameras include numerous Picture Styles.  Since I never shoot JPEG, I never care about that sort of thing, nor do I ever use in camera post processing.  I will leave discussions of such features to someone for whom they matter.

The cameras have built in dual band WiFi and can interact with a Smartphone via the Snapbridge app.  Snapbridge initially sucked and blowed simultaneously, but consistent attention has turned it into a worthwhile tool.  GPS tagging can be driven from Snapbridge as well.

The Z7 is targeted for availability in September 2018, and the Z6 in November 2018.

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FTZ Mount Adapter

While I, like many, would have preferred a native F mount on the new cameras, the flange distance would have made this very difficult if not impossible.  Thus most Nikkor F lenses can be used on the new bodies.  A list that includes any limitations is available here.  The deal is that over 90 Nikkor F lenses interoperate fully and over 360 Nikkor F lenses can be mounted to the new bodies.  

The FTZ incorporate a tripod mount.  It has an MSRP of CAD $349.95 with a $100 credit when purchased at the same time as a Z6 or Z7 body.  There is not yet a lot of technical detail on the FTZ mount adapter.

The Lenses

Nikon announced three lenses and also discussed the development of a fourth lens in their press releases.  I also got a chart from a US site that purports to be the lens development schedule for Z series lenses.  I have not seen any of these lenses, so I am simply pasting what was in the press release here.

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Nikkor Z 24mm-70mm f/4 S

  • Standard focal-length range from wide-angle 24mm to medium-telephoto 70mm can effectively cover a wide variety of scenes and subjects with rendering performance that will change the perception of what is possible with zoom lenses with a maximum aperture of f/4

  • Optical design that suppresses variations in aberrations from shooting distances of close-up to infinity, demonstrating sharp resolution even in the peripheral areas of the frame from the maximum aperture and fine point-image reproduction

  • Achieved a minimum focus distance of just 0.3 m across the zoom range

  • Adoption of an ED glass element, an aspherical ED lens element, and three aspherical lens elements 

  • Nano Crystal Coat adopted to suppress ghosting and flare

  • Has the size needed to deliver an extremely high standard of optical performance, yet provides outstanding portability; employs a retracting mechanism that can be set on/off without pressing a button and reduces total length for a compact lens that can easily be taken anywhere

  • In consideration of dust- and drip-resistance, the entire lens, including moving parts, has been sealed

  • Fluorine coat applied to front lens surface

  • MSRP CAD $ 1399.95

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Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8

  • Rendering performance that redefines perceptions of what a 35 mm f/1.8 lens can do

  • Sharp resolution even in the peripheral areas of the frame from the maximum aperture, effective suppression of sagittal coma flare that enables superb point-image reproduction when capturing point light sources in night landscapes, and the soft and natural bokeh characteristics expected of a fast (bright) lens

  • Adoption of a new multi-focusing system featuring two AF drive units providing driving power at high speed and with high accuracy that achieves quiet, fast, and accurate AF control, as well as high image-forming performance at any focus distance

  • Adoption of two ED glass elements, and three aspherical lens elements

  • Nano Crystal Coat adopted to suppress ghosting and flare

  • In consideration of dust- and drip-resistance, the entire lens, including moving parts, has been sealed

  • MSRP CAD $ 1179.95

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Nikkor Z 50mm f/1.8

  • Superior rendering ignites creativity, and redefines perceptions of what a 50mm f/1.8 lens can do

  • Thorough suppression of axial chromatic aberration ensures superior resolution with faithful reproduction of the fine textures in subjects, even from maximum aperture

  • Sharp and clear rendering of details from the centre of the frame to the peripheral edges, regardless of the shooting distance

  • The soft and beautiful bokeh characteristics at any shooting distance possible only with a fast (bright) lens

  • Adoption of two ED glass, and two aspherical lens elements

  • Nano Crystal Coat adopted to suppress ghosting and flare

  • Adoption of a new, powerful stepping motor (STM) enables quiet and accurate AF control during both still-image capture and video recording

  • In consideration of dust- and drip-resistance, the entire lens, including moving parts, has been sealed

  • MSRP CAD $ 849.95

 Lens Roadmap

Lens Roadmap

Lens Roadmap

Nikon has learned from folks like Fujifilm of the importance of sharing a roadmap for lenses.  The already pre-announced 58/0.95 NOCT is slated for sometime in 2019.  The pre-announcement says that it will be a manual focus lens.  No additional releases of any kind were provided on the other lenses in the roadmap.  The roadmap looks pretty good, but as we saw with Sony, there are no serious sports or wildlife lenses in the chart.  Sony has delivered their 400/2.8 which is stunning, both in optics and a $16K price tag.  Wherever these folks are getting their drugs, the supply is clearly very strong.

My Initial Impressions

Obviously I am looking at the same press releases and spec sheets as most every other reviewer.  Most retailers have pre-order links already posted.

I think that this is a good move for Nikon.  They build very solid products, with the D850 being an example of what they can do when they put their minds to things.  I expect the Nikkor Z lenses to be excellent optically and placing the announced lenses in the new S Line (the top of the Z range apparently) may mean something but only time will tell.  

The cameras shown for size comparison are smaller than their DSLR counterparts although they bring the DSLR look forward.  I saw images of them beside Sony A7 family products and they looked very comparable.  I am not surprised at this at all.

To me, they look vaguely like Fujifilm's excellent X-H1 with the small LCD panel on top and the very clean layout, not cluttered with micro buttons.  I have seen videos of a prototype showing the back panel and it also looks clean although the press images released today only show the front and ¾ views presented here.

I like that the front grip is very pronounced.  I still expect that I would want a battery grip both for the more complete handhold and definitely for improved shot count before a battery change is required.  

I also saw a rear view of the eyepiece and it looks terrific.  Shooting from the LCD is something that I rarely do, and I am very excited about being able to do proper video from the viewfinder.

I understand, but may be incorrect, that for the 10bit N-Log, you have to use an external recorder.  I expect some folks will grump at that since you can record Log internally on Sonys, but serious videographers are going to want an external display / recorder most of the time.

Back when the Sony 85/1.4 G-Master was released, Sony did all the focusing with the lenses stopped down to the shooting aperture.  This made the camera autofocus unusable in a dark studio.  Sony updated the firmware to allow focusing wide open.  Nikon has picked a middle ground where the lens does stop down to the selected aperture for focusing, but never further than f/5.6  I cannot comment on how this will work until I shoot one in production.

There's no built in flash and I think that's just fine for cameras in this price point.  Remote optical flash control is over, and the elimination of the silly popup makes for a more durable body, and also clearly shows that Nikon's attention is on their radio controlled speed lights.  

It's critical that the FTZ Mount Adapter is shipping with the camera.  This is going to be a go / no-go function for working professionals.  I am not surprised at all that Nikon has placed the cameras in the serious intermediate, entry professional target market.  That's where the money is, and Sony has already proven it.  Whether Nikon ends up bringing their mirrorless bodies down to the entry level space currently occupied by the D3XXX and D5XXX families will remain to be seen, but unless the lens prices drop enormously, I do not see a play for Nikon mirrorless here.

Pricing the bodies higher than the current market leaders smacks of arrogance, particularly since there are already Sony promos that would allow one to get the A7R iii for nearly $1000 less than the Z7.  I truly hope that Nikon rethinks this.   You can get a Sony A7 iii with a 28-70 zoom for the same price as a Z6 body only, so again, for folks being fiscally cognizant, there's really not a lot of contest here.  

The new Z lenses look decent to be sure, but I wonder who is going to be happy spending $850 list for a 50/1.8.  You can get an excellent brand new Nikon 50/1.8 for about $250, so I need help understanding why anyone would pay so much more for a pretty generic lens.  Sorry folks, the lens pricing is out to lunch and if not addressed quickly, will keep buyers away and will piss off early adopters who buy now only to watch prices fall later on.  

Viewers of the supplied images will note that the primes look particularly huge.  The remind me of the Sigma primes just released for Sony FE mount where there is a longer barrel to allow for the shallower flange.  i understand the rationale, but why not just build them from the ground up as appears was done with the 24-70?  This also waves the price question flag on the primes again if they are ports of existing designs.  

I have heard that the lenses have adjustment rings that offer click less control of aperture or exposure compensation.  If accurate, this will be stupendous for video, and in my opinion, superb in the semi-auto modes.  

There are plenty of release images shown on Nikon's sites.  Guess what?  They all look great.  No surprises there because Nikon would not post questionable images on the pages for their newest products.

I will get my first hands-on at a media event in early September.  I do not know if we will be able to shoot with the cameras, but I will pack an XQD card just in case.  At this point, the specs look just fine, but I cannot really tell you much more until I get to shoot the cameras.  I do wish Nikon had chosen to be a lot more aggressive in their pricing considering they are running a distant last in mirrorless at this point, and I have no expectation that Sony, Olympus, Panasonic/Lumix or even Canon are going to sit back and watch.  When the Nikon products do ship, it will bring the number of full frame mirrorless makers to two, and I, like most every other analyst, expect Canon to follow up with a brand new full frame mirrorless lineup to replace the poorly adopted, overpriced and underperforming M series.

As I end this first article, I will share that over the last couple of months, I have had topics running on various sites about who was really excited about the coming mirrorless cameras from Nikon.  Not a single person said that they would be ordering on announcement, and the vast majority said that they had no compelling reason to dump their DSLRs.  Some responded that they would have jumped even a year ago, but had already moved to Sony and see no reason to go back to Nikon and what they expect will be a generation one mirrorless when Sony is already at generation three.  I confess I was very surprised at the enormous lack of interest.  For Nikon's sake, I hope that preorders prove this data inaccurate.

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