Nikon Z Series Camera Pre-Review

Nikon enters the mirrorless market with their new Z-series, featuring a full-frame sensor, some great specs and a bold lens mount redesign. This pre-review details the implications for underwater photography.
By Bryan Chu

Nikon just announced their first foray into the mirrorless market, with their new Z-series cameras. They are releasing two models, each with the same camera body size and full-frame sensor size, but with different sensor resolutions and other technical specs. The Z7, which Nikon calls "The Perfectionist" is a 45.7 MP beast with a full-frame sensor and "revolutionary autofocus". The Z6, which Nikon calls "The All-Arounder" is a 25.4 MP camera with its own impressive array of specs, and a significantly lower price tag. Both cameras will be available at the end of September.

With Canon nipping at Nikon's heels with its new mirrorless Canon EOS R, and the recent releases of the Sony A7R III and Nikon D850, underwater photographers will have many tough decisions to face in coming months. 

Jump to a Section

New Lens Mount System   |   Lens Options for Underwater Photography

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs  |   Z6 vs High-End Crop Sensor Mirrorless Cameras

Z7 vs Top Full-Frame DSLR/Mirrorless Options  |   Conclusion 

 Underwater Housing Options   |  Where and When Can I Get These?

 

Quick Intro - 4 Amazing Things about the Z6/Z7

There are two things you need to know right off the bat about the Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras:

1) They will work with most exisitng Nikon FX lenses (with an adapter), and the auto-focus will be good. This is huge

2) Built-in 5-axis image stabilizaiton. Now all of your lenses are stabilized, and the ones that already has IS built-in are even better. This is a big differentiator from the Canon EOS R mirrorless camera.

3) The new lens mount supports lenses with an aperture of F 0.95, that's a lot of light!

4) The Z7 has auto-focus capability over 90% of the screen, that is a huge improvement over existing dSLRs.

New Lens Mount System

One of the big advantages being touted for this new system is Nikon's new "Z Mount", which has a 17% higher diameter than Nikon's classic full-frame F Mount (55mm vs 47 mm), as well as a shorter flange focal distance (16mm vs 17.5mm). These will allow for Z-series lenses to be wider, letting in more light and allowing a max aperture size of f/0.95. Other benefits include improved edge-to-edge image sharpness and virtually no distortion, even with the aperture wide open. Additionally, it will allow for the lenses to be smaller and more compact than their standard F Mount full-frame lenses.

Note also that Nikon is releasing an FTZ Adaptor which will allow F Mount lenses to be used on the Z6 and Z7 camera bodies, (though of course when using that you will miss out on the advantages of the Z mount). Nikon has announced that the FTZ Adaptor is fully compatible with 90 lenses, and 360 lenses in total can be used with it. (Full AF/AE supported when using FX or DX AF-S Type G/D/E, AF-P type G/E, AF-I type D and AF-S/AF-I Teleconverters). Of course, it remains to be seen how the FTZ adaptor will work with 3rd party F-mount lenses popular for underwater use (eg Sigma, Tokina).

Lens Options for Underwater Photography

As this is a new lens system, Nikon only has a few lenses available. However, they have mapped out their offerings for the next three years, which is quite informative.

As can be seen here, although there are a lot of exciting lenses for topside use, many are prime lenses in mid focal ranges so not well suited to underwater photography. And although there are some nice wide angle zooms(14-30mm f/4 and 14-24mm f/2.8), there is no fisheye lens and no macro lens planned for at least the next couple of years. Additionally, Nikon has not released their Z mount design to 3rd party lens manufacturers, and it may be some time until Z mount lenses are seen from popular underwater photography lens manufacturers like Tokina and Sigma. So that means that, for the time being, much of the underwater use of these Z series cameras may require use of the FTZ lens mount adaptor.

Z6 and Z7 Key Specs

Here's a quick breakdown of key specs for the Z6 and Z7. 

  

Nikon Z6 

Nikon Z7 

Price 

$1,999.95

$3,399.95

Sensor Size

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

45.7 MP

ISO 

100-51200 (Expands to 50)

64-25600

(Expands to 32)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

5 Axis image sensor shift, up to 5 stops

Autofocus 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 273 pts

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 493 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/200

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

9 fps

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30/25/24 fps. 1080 @ 120/100/60/50/30/25/24 fps

4k @ 30/25/24 fps. 1080 @ 120/100/60/50/30/25/24 fps

LCD Screen 

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

3.2” tilting, 2.1 million dots, touch screen

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)  

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Battery Life (CIPA) 

310

330

Weight (inc batt) 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

 

The most important distinctions between the two cameras are the sensor resolution and autofocus - both are markedly better on the Z7. Additionally, the Z7 has a native ISO of 64, expandable down to 32, which is better than the Z6's native ISO of 100 (expandable down to 50). Other than that, the cameras are almost the same, including the same physical dimensions and weights. 

Z6 vs High End Crop-Sensor Mirrorless Options

The Nikon Z6 has very similar specs to the top crop-sensor mirrorless options for underwater shooting, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the Panasonic GH5. (Check out our detailed UWPG reviews of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II and Panasonic GH5 for more info). Perhaps the most important distinction is that the Z6 has a full-frame sensor, which makes its price point quite compelling.

  

Nikon Z6

Panasonic GH5 

Olympus E-M1 Mark II 

Price 

$1,999.95

$1,999

$1,699

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

17.3 mm x 13 mm

17.4 mm  x 13 mm

Effective Pixels 

24.5 MP

20 MP

20 MP

Max Resolution 

6048 x 4024

5184 x 3888

5184 x 3888

ISO 

Auto, 100-51200 (Expands to 50)

Auto, 200-25600 (Expands to 100)

Auto, 200-25600

(Expands to 64)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5 stops with compatible lenses

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops; 6.5 with compatible lenses

Autofocus 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 273 pts

Contrast Detection, 225 pts

Contrast & Phase Detection, 121 pts

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

12 fps

12 fps

60 fps electronic / 15 fps mechanical

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps. 1080 @ 120 fps

Cinema 4K @ 24 fps, 4K @ 60 fps, 1080 @ 60 fps

Cinema 4K @ 24 fps, 4K @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 60 fps

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

3.2” fully articulated

3” fully articulated

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

1,620,000

1,037,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) Coverage 

100% coverage, 0.80x magnification, 3.69 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.76x magnification, 3.68 mln dots

100% coverage, 0.74x magnification, 2.36 mln dots

Storage Types 

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

310

410

440

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

725 g (1.60 lb / 25.57 oz)

574 g (1.27 lb / 20.25 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

139 x 98 x 87 mm (5.47 x 3.86 x 3.43″)

134 x 91 x 67 mm (5.28 x 3.58 x 2.64″)

Advantages

The main advantages of the Z6 are a much larger sensor size, higher resolution, and faster autofocus.

Although the resolution of the Z6 is somewhat better than that of the GH5 and E-M1 Mark II, the full-frame Z6 sensor is significantly larger. This means it has much larger pixels than either of these competitors, giving it significant advantages in dynamic range and low light performance. The larger sensor also means that for a given f-stop value, the depth of field on the Z6 will be shallower than the GH5 or E-M1 Mark II. This can make shooting macro, where a large depth of field is often desired, more difficult. In order to compensate, the Z6 will have to use a higher aperture to get the same depth of field, making lighting more challenging.

The autofocus will also make the Z6 significantly better at getting action shots and finding focus in low light conditions. The use of an XQD card, instead of an SD card, provides advantages in processing speed and storage size, though some may find it a disadvantage that they can't use their existing SD cards. 

The camera body is almost identical in weight and dimensions to that of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, coming in a bit heavier and a bit thicker, but not by much. 

Limitations

The major downsides to the Nikon Z6 are the relatively poor battery life and the limited lens selection (unless using the FTZ converter). With 310 shots per charge, it has less than 75% of the battery life of the E-M1 Mark II, meaning lots of battery swaps between dives. Although the flash sync speed is slower, the lower minimum ISO makes up for this when wanting to stop down for bright sunball shots. Only having one card slot will be seen by some as a an additional disadvantage. 

Although the Z mount will allow Z series lenses to be smaller than equivalent DSLR lenses, the lenses still have to be made for a full-frame sensor. This means that they will, for the most part, be larger than their mirrorless micro-four-thirds equivalents. For example, the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 is a bit larger and heavier than the Olympus Pro 12-40 (24-80mm full frame equivalent) f/2.8 lens, meaning the upcoming Nikkor Z 24-70 f/2.8 lens should be significantly bulkier than its Olympus "equivalent."

 

Z7 vs Top Full Frame Mirrorless/DSLR Options

The Z7 has similar specs to the Nikon D850 and Sony A7RIII, the leading full-frame options for underwater photography. (Check out the UWPG reviews for the Nikon D850 and Sony A7RIII, as well as a head-to-head comparison of the D850 vs the A7RIII). 

  

Nikon Z7

Sony A7RIII 

Nikon D850 

Price 

$3,399.95

$2,999

$3,299.95

Sensor Size 

35.9 mm  x 23.9 mm

35.9 mm x 24 mm

35.9 mm x 23.9 mm

Effective Pixels 

45.7 MP

42.4 MP

45.7 MP

Max Resolution 

8256 x 5504

7952 x 5304

8256 x 5504

ISO 

Auto, 64-25600 (Expands to 32-102400)

Auto, 100-32000 (Expands to 50-102400)

Auto, 64-25600 (Expands to 32-102400)

Image Stabilization 

5 Axis, up to 5 stops shake reduction

5 Axis, up to 5.5 stops shake reduction

No in-body stabilization

Autofocus System 

Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF with AF assist, 493 pts

399 phase detection /425 contrast detection pts*

153 AF pts (99 of which are cross-type)

Autofocus Working Range

-4EV

-3EV

-4EV

Flash Sync Speed 

1/200

1/250

1/250

Burst Shooting 

9 fps

10 fps

7 fps (9 with battery grip and D5 battery)

Movie Modes 

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

4k @ 30 fps, 1080 @ 120 fps

LCD Screen Size 

3.2” tilting

2.95” tilting

3.2” tilting

Screen Dots 

2,100,000

2,100,000

2,359,000

Touch Screen 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Viewfinder 

Electronic, 100% coverage, 0.80x mag, 3.69 mln dots

Electronic, 100% coverage, 0.78x mag, 3.69 mln dots

SLR, 100% coverage, 0.75x magnification

Storage Types 

Single XQD

Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC (1x UHS-II/I and 1x UHS-I)

Dual (1x SD, 1x XQD) SD/SDHC/SDXC/XQD

Environmentally Sealed 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Battery Life 

330

530 (VF)/650 (LCD)

1840

Weight 

675 g (1.49 lb / 23.9 oz)

657 g (1.45 lb / 23.2 oz)

1005 g (2.22 lb / 35.45 oz)

Dimensions 

134 x 100.5 x 67.5 mm (5.3 x 4 x 2.7″)

126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7 mm (5 x 3.88 x 3”)

146 x 124 x 78.5 mm (5.8 x 4.9 x 3.1”)

 

*Although the specs for the A7RIII look strongest on paper, in testing we found the Nikon D850 autofocus out-performed it.

Advantages

The main advantage of the Nikon Z7 is getting D850 level performance, especially for autofocus, with the smaller size and weight of the A7RIII and smaller lenses than would be found on a DSLR. Additionally, the in-body 5-axis image stabilization will be very useful for shooting video, as compared to the D850's lack of in-body stabilization.

Using the FTZ adaptor gives the Z7 access to most of the great wide angle and macro lenses the D850 can use. Though also note that the A7RIII can use the metabones adaptor to get access to Canon lenses; this means the wide angle lens options should be roughly equivalent between the Z7 and the A7RIII, but the macro options may be better for the Z7.

The use of an XQD card instead of an SD card provides benefits in processing speed and storage size, though some may find it a disadvantage that they can't use their existing SD cards.

Having lenses with wider maximum aperture, that have improved edge-to-edge sharpness even when shooting wide open will be quite useful for underwater photographers shooting in low light conditions, using ambient light shots, or wanting really shallow depth of field. 

Limitations

The battery life of the Z7 is severely lacking when compared to the A7RIII, and especially the D850. It may mean changing the battery out after every dive, which is a pain. Additionally, it will need to be seen if the autofocus system can live up to the specs and outperform the phenomenal AF system of the D850. And the camera having only one card slot, even if it is XQD instead of SD, will be a concern for people who are used to using two cards.

 

Conclusion

The Z series cameras are an exciting development in the world of photography, both for mirrorless and DSLR shooters. Although they don't blow the competition away, they are clearly well placed to be very competitive in the high end crop-sensor mirrorless world and the full frame DSLR/mirrorless world. It will be interesting to see future developments in this space, as the Z mount promises to make better and better full frame image quality available in smaller and smaller mirrorless packages. 

Underwater Housing Options

Housings are currently being released, including the Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing and the Ikelite Nikon Z7 Underwater Housing. Sea & Sea has also expressed that they will develop a housing. These housings will also work for the Nikon Z6. Ports will be the same ports used for dSLRs, and will support using standard Nikon lenses with the adapter.

 

Nauticam Z7 Underwater Housing

Ikelite Z7 Underwater Housing

Aquatica Z7 Underwater Housing

Sea & Sea Z7 Underwater Housing

 

When and Where Can I Get These?

Check out our sister company Bluewater Photo Store's announcement here. The cameras themselves will be available at the end of September, but stay tuned for what underwater products will be offered on Bluewater Photo. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryan is an associate editor for the Underwater Photography Guide. He loves any activity that takes him out into nature, and is especially fond of multi-day hiking trips, road trips to National Parks, and diving. Any kind of diving. He discovered the joy of underwater photography on a Bluewater trip to the Sea of Cortez, and after "trial and erroring" his way to some level of proficiency, has been hooked ever since. He has not done nearly as much diving as he would like, but has so far taken underwater photos in a diverse range of places, including BC, the Sea of Cortez, Greenland/Iceland, Northern Norway, the Galapagos and French Polynesia.

After working as a chemical engineer at a major oil & gas corporation for 9 years, Bryan finally had enough (and it didn't help that he was living in landlocked Edmonton, Canada with frigid winter temperatures and no real diving to speak of). He and his girlfriend decided to pack up their things and travel the world; they started their journey mid-2018 and will visit a number of great dive locations along the way. He is very excited to expand his underwater photography experience and skills while experiencing new cultures and exciting parts of the world. Though he is also a bit worried about the following equation that has so far defined his dive travels: Corporate job ($$) = Dive travel ($) + Underwater Photography ($). Taking away the left side of that equation seems like it might put things a bit out of balance. But as he reasons, what's the point in life if you can't take some big risks and have some fun along the way?

You can find more of his photos on Instagram at @bryandchu and check out his travel and relationship blog at www.bryanandlisa.ca

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