The Post Z Discussion Begins

Now that Nikon has officially introduced the Z system, the emails and Internet discussion has taken off. There are highs, there are lows. There is ecstasy, there is dismay. Reactions are all over the board, and probably overshoot reality. 

So what are the big points that keep getting raised?

Let's start with some (apparent) negatives:

  • One card slot. Ironically, the Sony fans are trumpeting this, despite the fact that I'd say that their cameras have a somewhat broken two-slot system. I keep reading "pros require two slots." I'm a pro, I don't require it. Do I prefer two slots? Absolutely. But I don't see one slot as a huge drawback, particularly for an XQD camera, where card failures are extremely rare (no cheap body to break, no sloppy protect pin, no pins to bend). It's a combination of marketing/engineering decision on Nikon's part. If you look closely, you'll see that the D850 has benefits the Z7 doesn't (and vice versa). Nikon didn't want to replace the D850 with the Z7, they wanted to supplement it. I'll have more to say about positioning later. But one card slot seems to already be #1 in the "they got it wrong" category.
  • Only 330 shots CIPA? This seems like a low number for such a large battery, implying that the Z cameras are power hogs. This probably the number two complaint I'm seeing, but it's one that really requires testing to see what reality is.
  • Only 30P in 4K. Sure, 60P would have been nice. But having 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompressed output is a BIG thing for videographers. Moreover, you can select full frame 4K with downsampling or cropped 4K with real pixels (ala the D850). I prefer data integrity to speed, and so would most pro videographers. It looks like Nikon went with data integrity (again).
  • It's too big. Nope. Save your complaints about this until after you've handled one. The size seems to be just about right to me. Not so small that handling becomes an issue, not so large that its cumbersome to carry/pack. 
  • No lens partners. Nikon has indicated that they are not sharing mount information with anyone (unlike Sony and m4/3). Did we expect anything else? That's Nikon's long-established way, and it means that the third parties will now have to reverse engineer the Z mount. Unfortunately, that means native lenses will be few and far between for awhile (again, see the Z lens road map). This puts strong scrutiny on how the FTZ adapter works with F-mount lenses.
  • Missing Two-Button Commands. The two-button to Format, or two-button to Reset the camera options are gone. 
  • Missing Focus Control Buttons. You can control overall focus setting (autofocus or manual focus) on the lenses. You must configure a button to set focus mode or focus area mode, or else you have to use the menu system. This probably is the most glaring issue I find with the ergonomics. We don't have a lot of configurable buttons, so some people are going to have issues with this. A lot of us will be reconfiguring the red movie record button to focus area mode, I think.
  • Focus Area Modes. They're different! This is going to cause all the DSLR users to learn new behavior. In particular, most people seem to be worried about how tracking is handled. It's not as sophisticated and has fewer options than the DSLRs, it seems. Overall, it feels like the focus system came over more from Live View than the phase detect aspect of the DSLRs. Performance is fast, but people are already complaining about limitations of the new system. Sadly missing is Group. 
  • No XLR. Given all the emphasis on getting back on top of the video game, I'm really surprised that Nikon didn't put a mini-XLR connector in the camera, or come up with a way to add an external two-mic pre-amp. Without extensive testing, it's unknown whether Nikon has improved their noisy in-camera amps, and continuing to use mini connector mics does not match the quality level of the video itself.
  • What, No Grip? It's apparently coming, along with a special battery pack. Personally, I see this as a faux complaint. Nikon downsized their full frame cameras considerably with the Z series. Why exactly are you trying to make them bigger again? Just use the DSLR!

Now to some (apparent) positives:

  • Adaptive sharpening. The presentation didn't do a good job of telling us much about the sharpening changes, but what I've found out is that the sharpening is now diffraction-aware. The in-camera processing looks at the aperture being used and adjusts sharpening methodology appropriately. 
  • OLED top LCD. Nikon finally seems to have moved to the future. The 58mm NOCT lens also has an electronic LCD to display focus distance and DOF (ala Leica). No more dim, low contrast, cheap LCD.
  • D850 level weatherproofing. Nikon recently demonstrated how they tested the D850 for dust and water resistance, and that was fairly impressive. Well, the Z series has the same level of weatherproofing.
  • Lenses Gone Wild. Many people didn't catch this, but the upcoming NOCT lens really starts to show what Nikon is up to with Z lenses: configurable buttons on the lens and an extra ring (defaults to exposure control). But the focus rings on all Z lenses can all be reconfigured to do something else (typically to set aperture or set exposure compensation). In video, the focus ring can do powered exposure moves if you set it for that.
  • USB Battery Charge. People asked me why the change to EN-EL15b. It has to do with charging the battery via USB. You can charge the EN-EL15b battery in camera via the camera's USB port.
  • Quasi-LUT. If you record video with N-Log feed, you can have a new View Assist feature do a regrading of it for the camera's displays so that it doesn't look washed out. I use the term quasi here because I can't seem to get an answer as to whether this is a real LUT, whether it re-graded to Rec703, or exactly what View Assist is doing. That's usually an indication that Nikon has done something proprietary again.
  • Timecode. Surprise, there's a reasonably full timecode implementation with the HDMI output. 
  • Far better video autofocus. Yep, Nikon's finally nailed it. At least as well as any of the mirrorless cameras have. You even have focus speed controls so that you can choose how the focus performance responds to moving subjects.
  • Stills while videoing. You can take 8mp stills while continuing to record 4K video (you'll have to configure the camera properly for this, as the shutter release can also be used to trigger video). 

Finally, some poor reporting:

  • Frames per second. Everywhere I see the cameras listed as 9 fps and 12 fps, and even Nikon Rumors is listing the D850 as 7 fps. Well, all those things have footnotes. The D850 can do 9 fps with the grip and the larger battery. The Z's can't do 9 fps and 12 fps without sacrificing exposure control and live view updates. Stated properly, the D850 is a 7 fps camera, the Z6 is a 9 fps camera, the Z7 is a 5.5 fps camera.
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