Nikon Z7 II - Hands-on Review by Mark Bauer
Posted on 10th February, 2021
Those of you who know me well need to prepare yourselves for what I’m about to tell you. You may even want to make sure you’re sitting down. OK, ready? Then here goes.
I recently acquired a Nikon Z7 II.
If you need to take a short break and get yourself a hot beverage, or even something stronger please do, and when you come back, I’ll explain why.
Getting a high res full-frame body to complement my medium format system was something I’d been thinking about for a while. Having found myself unable to defy the laws of physics by stopping time moving forward and myself getting older, a smaller and lighter kit to use on workshops and when travelling was an increasingly attractive proposition. I tried using my Fuji X-T2 for this purpose and it’s a great camera, but 24 megapixels just doesn’t seem enough these days. For example, it means that for panoramics, I’d need to stitch images rather than simply crop a single frame and I’m really not a fan of stitching. So full frame mirrorless seemed the way to go.
I considered the Sony A7r III or IV. These fit the bill in many ways, but I knew I’d just never get on with the Sony ergonomics and user interface. The Canon R5 was a contender, but is significantly more expensive than its competitors. So that left the Nikon Z7 II. From reviewing many cameras over the years I knew that I’d get on with the handling, and the image quality was a known quantity. I bit the bullet and placed my order for the body along with the 14-30mm f/4 and 24-200mm f/f4-6.3.
So now that we’ve got the background out of the way, what do I think of the camera?
First things first, this is Nikon’s second version of its high res full-frame mirrorless camera. As the name suggests, it’s a tweak rather than a complete overhaul, offering a few refinements such as dual processors, two card slots and improved focusing. I’ve not shot with the original Z7, so I’m not going to draw too many comparisons between the two cameras but just look at the Z7 II in its own right.
This is the easy bit. The Z7 II uses the same 46 megapixel sensor as the original Z7 and the D850, so there are no surprises here. In short, image quality is excellent. Images are very, very sharp, have excellent detail and impressive dynamic range. Coming from the Fuji GFX 50S and 50R, I can see slight differences - the Fuji picks up more surface detail and its larger sensor just edges it with dynamic range, but I’m more than happy with the output from the Nikon. Colour is very pleasing, too - the best I’ve seen from a Nikon. I find it takes a little while to understand how to get the best out of files from new cameras, but now that I’ve got to grips with the Z7 II files, I’m impressed.
With modern cameras, you can almost take image quality for granted, so handling and ergonomics are much more important. How well balanced is the camera? Is it comfortable to hold? Are the buttons easy to locate and operate? Are they laid out sensibly, so that you don’t have to keep checking which one does what? Can you operate it with gloves? How customisable is it? Are the menus easy to navigate?
The Nikon Z7 II scores at least pretty well on all of these points, and very well on some of them. The body is small and reasonably light but feels very solid, inspiring confidence from the moment you pick it up. Cameras have shrunk in the last few years and there’s a danger of taking this too far, so that handling is compromised but the Nikon just about gets away with this. Photographers with larger hands may find their little finger doesn’t fit on the grip, so could consider the optional vertical grip or (as I’ve done) use an L-bracket such as the SmallRig one, which adds about a centimetre of height to the body.
Buttons are sensibly placed and have good ‘travel’ - you know when you’ve pressed them and you’re unlikely to change a setting by accident. The smaller body means that there are fewer direct controls than on Nikon’s DSLRs but the customisable ‘i’ (quick) menu helps to offset this. There are basically four custom buttons - the two Fn buttons by the lens mount, the joystick and the movie record button, which can be assigned various functions when in stills mode. I’d like to see more custom options and I think Nikon missed a trick with the exposure compensation button, which becomes redundant if you choose ‘Easy Exposure Compensation’ in the menu (i.e. the rear dial becomes a full time exposure compensation dial). With this option selected, being able to customise the +/- button would increase the camera’s flexibility.
Nikon could also have done away with the top LCD and added another dial or a button or two. Top LCDs are really legacies from the film days, when cameras didn’t have rear screens. Theses days, with all the shooting information displayed clearly on the rear LCD and in the EVF, my opinion is that there is no need for a top LCD - I can’t remember the last time I checked one.
These are fairly minor quibbles, however. Once you’ve experimented with the custom options and got the camera set up in a way that suits you, you can get on and shoot without the camera getting in the way.
Overall, the Z7 II offers a very positive shooting experience. Autofocus is quick and accurate, metering is accurate, changing settings can be done without having to think about it, and cycling through different viewfinder / LCD displays is straightforward. One criticism I’d heard of the camera is that you can’t completely clear the rear LCD of shooting information, but this isn’t actually true. You can assign a custom button to do precisely this and in stills mode, the movie record button is set to this function by default; press it and all the shooting info disappears from the LCD and EVF, leaving a completely clear view for framing your shot. Press it again to recall the info.
The EVF has also caused a bit of debate, as Nikon stuck with the same 3.69 million dot viewfinder as was in the Z7. Many people were hoping for an upgrade to a 5 million dot finder, such as the one in the Sony A7r IV and Canon R5. It’s worth remembering though that the Nikon does actually drive the EVF at full resolution when shooting - some other cameras only use the full resolution for playback. The EVF optics are also excellent, and the viewfinder offers a magnification level of 0.8 - better than all of its competitors. When using the camera, I certainly haven’t felt short-changed by the choice of EVF and it’s actually nicer to look through than than those on my Fujis.
There is a choice of aspect ratios; the native 3:2, 5:4, 1:1, 16:9 and a ‘DX’ crop ratio. This is a feature I use a lot, as not all scenes naturally suit a 3:2 ratio and it’s nice to actually frame them up in different ratios rather than trying to visualise it. I’d like to see a few more options, though, having been spoilt by the choices available in my Fuji GFX - 4:3 and a true panoramic such as 16:7 would be good additions.
In-body stabilisation has also proved handy, even when shooting on a tripod, enabling me to capture sharp images with long focal lengths in some pretty windy conditions. Battery life has also proved to be reasonable. The Z7 II does lose out slightly here compared to its obvious competitors but you’re unlikely to need to change batteries more than once during a day’s shooting and often you’ll get through the day on a single battery.
Another function which I really appreciate is the extended shutter speeds. With this camera, you can manually set shutter speeds of up to 15 minutes, so there’s no need to faff around with Bulb mode for long exposures. The only other cameras I’ve used which allow this are Fujis, and I’ve never understood why other manufacturers top out at 30 seconds. So kudos to Nikon. Just to round things off, Nikon has also finally added a timer, so you know how long the shutter has been open for during these long exposures. Unfortunately, they’ve put it on the top LCD where it’s not as easy to see and read as the rear one, but I guess you have to start somewhere.
I’ve used two lenses with the camera: the 14-30mm f/4 and 24-200mm f/4-6.3. The wide zoom was a no-brainer as it had been around long enough to have established an excellent reputation, which it has more than lived up to. The 24-200mm was a bit of a punt. I’ve always shied away from superzooms in the past as what you gain in convenience tends to be offset by mediocre optical quality. Not so with this lens, however, which has been a bit of a revelation. If you can live without a fast maximum aperture (and most landscape photographers can) you get a lens that’s more than worth the money. Once stopped down a little, it’s sharp throughout the zoom range, performance only dropping off slightly at the very long end. It’s compact and light and makes an excellent option for travel photography.
So you’ve probably gathered that I’m very impressed with the Z7 II. So much so that I’ve shot with it almost exclusively since December. Given how wedded I am to the Fuji GFX system, that should tell you that it’s an extremely good option for landscape photographers. It has excellent handling, a comprehensive feature set and delivers high quality results all at a very competitive price. Highly recommended.