A System Guide to Nikon Z

bythom nikon z

Items on same line indicate model updates. Different lines indicate varying model levels.

Nikon re-entered the mirrorless camera market (with the Z System) a few months after the exited it (with the Nikon 1). Instead of going for very small cameras with a very small crop sensor (1"), this time Nikon started with a pair of full frame models, which differ primarily only in the sensor used.

Since that re-introduction, we've gotten both original models updated, as well as two new models.

The Z5, Z6, and Z6 II use a full frame (FX) 24mp sensor, the Z7 and Z7 II use a 45mp full frame (FX) sensor, while the Z50 uses a 20mp APS-C (DX) sensor. In many ways the Z6/Z7 combo slots almost exactly between the Nikon D750 and D850 DSLRs, with the original Z6 being very D750 like, the Z7 being very D850 like. Indeed, the Z7 and D850 share the same basic sensor design, while the Z6 has a completely updated version of the sensor used in the far older D750 (and now used in the D780). The Z5 uses the old D750 sensor and is really something akin to a D610 in mirrorless form.

Choosing between the Z6 and Z7 level is relatively easy. The only differences between the cameras (originals or II models) are:

  • Resolution / Size: 24MP (Z6) vs. 46.5MP (Z7). The Z6 models will have less resolution, but smaller files. 
  • AA Filter vs. None: The Z6 models will have micro-blur for less moire due its AA filter.
  • Speed: 12 FPS vs. 9 FPS (now 14 FPS versus 10 FPS in the IIs). The Z6 models will shoot faster.
  • 12-bit raw buffer: 36 vs. 24 (higher in the II models). The Z6 models can take more continuous shots without stopping.
  • Video: Oversampled 4K vs. Sub-sampled. The Z6 models will have better video.
  • Price: $2000 vs. $3400. The Z6 models are less expensive.
  • AF Points: 273 vs 493. The Z6 models have larger AF points.
  • Base ISO: 100 vs. 64. The Z7 models will be better at low ISO.
  • ISO at Dual Gain point: 800 vs 400. The Z6 models tend to be better at higher ISO values.
  • 14-bit raw sensor readout: 1/22 vs. 1/16. The Z6 models will exhibit less rolling shutter.

The Z5 versus Z6 or Z6 II produces a different set:

  • Sensor: the Z5 is the older D750 sensor updated for mirrorless, while the Z6 models are a newer generation sensor. The Z6 models have dual gain technology, the Z5 doesn't.
  • Speed: the Z5 maxes out at 5 fps, while the Z6 models have faster options.
  • Cards: the Z5 uses SD cards, while the Z6 uses XQD/CFe and the Z6 II uses both XQD/CFe and SD.
  • Video: the Z5 uses crop for 4K video.

That focus performance of the full frame Z cameras is not quite D6-generation DSLR in level, but higher than many older Nikon DSLRs, particularly with the II models. It takes some adjustment for a Nikon DSLR user to get the full performance that the Z5/Z6/Z6 II/Z7 II is capable of, which led to a lot of focus complaints in early hands-on testing. 

All the FX bodies are feature rich, including advanced features such as focus stacking, multiple exposure, time-lapse, and more (indeed, it takes me over a 1000 pages to fully do justice to these cameras in my Z5, Z6/Z7, and Z6 II/Z7 II books).

Meanwhile, the Z50 uses the 20mp D7500 sensor (DX) with mirrorless updates, and slots somewhere between the D5600 and D7500 DSLR models. 

In terms of lenses, we have sixteen lenses at the moment (with eight more due by the end of 2021):

  • Primes — f/1.8 lenses at 20mm 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. These lenses are better than any other prime at that focal length Nikon has produced in the past. These are very high quality lenses. f/1.2 lenses at 50mm and 85mm focal lengths.
  • Zooms — Two basic sets are now available: the f/2.8 set at 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm, and the partial set of 14-30mm f/4 and 24-70mm f/4. I'm going to sound like a broken record: these zooms are at least as good, if not better, than any equivalent Nikon has produced in the past. The 24-70mm f/4 may be the best kit lens you can buy at the moment for a full frame camera. 
  • DX — Both the current DX lenses (for the Z50) have lens-based VR and are compact. Both are quite good, better than the DX DSLR equivalents.

Nikon wasn't kidding when they said that the mount changes freed up their optical designers to create better lenses. 

Unlike Canon RF, the Nikkor Z lenses did match up very well with the bodies from day one. The Z6 and Z7 are high consumer, prosumer cameras, and the Z lenses tended to be priced and perform at an even slightly higher level.

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

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