Z Week: Your Questions Answered

I asked for your questions to answer during Z Week, and you responded with some excellent ones. 

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Friday summation

I hope you enjoyed Z Week. One camera review, three lens reviews, and a lot of your questions answered (see below). It seems appropriate, however, to round out the week with a bit of a summary of where the Z system stands.

The 2.0 firmware update definitely pushed the Z's even closer to the Sony A's (addition of eye detect focus) and a little closer to the Nikon DSLRs as well (the improvement to Wide-area AF now substitutes decently for Group AF). Focus works even better in lower light than before, too. None of these things were what I'd consider broken before, but nor were they perfect. The firmware update pushed them further from broken and more towards perfect.

Some little and nuanced things got addressed in the update, as well, and I'm liking my Z6 and Z7 better now than before, and I liked them quite a bit before. I suspect that more of you would be well served by a Z camera now than before, too. 

Nothing's changed in my overall assessment: the D850 is still the best all-around camera that you can buy today, and arguably Nikon's best ILC effort to date. But the Z7 just nudged closer, and now is very near where I'd put the A7Rm3; both are what I'd call the second best all-around cameras you can buy*. If Nikon continues to roll forward with improvements in the firmware, I think Z owners are going to be very happy with their choice.

*What, not the A7m3 or Z6? No. While they're extremely good cameras and more than most people need, the extra pixels—particularly when considering the crop options—give you a lot more flexibility in the types of photographic subjects you can excel at. Is it worth paying the extra money for the R or the 7? Again, for most people, no. But if you're really trying to get the best all-around ILC you can, right now my assessment goes: #1 D850, #2 A7Rm3, #2 Z7.

Meanwhile, the Z lens parade—as slow as some of you think that rollout is—continues to impress. There's really not a dud in the bunch, and one could argue that at similar specification levels, the Z lenses are arguably better than the equivalent F-mount DSLR ones, with perhaps one caveat (that would be fly-by-wire manual focus, which needs to be improved). 

These things bode well for the future of the Z system. Nikon is putting the A teams on mirrorless now, and it shows. 

As your questions show, mirrorless is enough different and less mature than DSLRs that the one thing you have to prepare for in making the transition is that you'll need to spend time learning those differences, plus you'll need to accept that there may be some things that just aren't fully fleshed out with the system yet.

Nikon really needs to do a better job at the fringes (e.g. accessories, cleaning up some odd omissions and discrepancies, and documenting key differences). The core—camera design and lenses—is strong and getting stronger. 

Finally, remember there is another Q&A article about the Z6 and Z7 on this site.

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Thursday questions

"My 100mm Milvus does not support all of these focusing aids you report. What gives?"

Hmm, curiously, it appears that Nikon made a silent change in the 2.0 firmware when it comes to manual focus. Things that were working with my older, chipped lenses are no longer working.

There was always a small discrepancy between what Nikon's documentation said and what I and others saw in some of our lens use. It appears that the 2.0 firmware now erases that discrepancy. I'm going to have to go back and do more testing and update my advice. 

That said, chipped manual focus lenses on the Z6 and Z7 work just fine. Probably better than on any of the recent DSLRs if you take the time to set focus peaking correctly and learn to use it.

"Could Nikon make an all-in-one teleconverter and F-mount adapter?"

Yes they could. Should they? I'm not sure.

The simplest approach is to just mold a TC-14EIII and an FTZ all into one (e.g. remove the extra mount in between). Congratulations, you've just created a US$550 part. Are there enough users out there that would spring for that over just using the combo and tolerating the extra joint? I don't know, I've never tested that idea in surveys. 

The alternative is to try to design a smaller combo by using a different optical formula in the new adapter. That takes R&D money and time, and I'm not sure this results in enough extra benefit (basically size) to justify. 

I'm not a huge fan of TC's. They add another mount tolerance, they steal light, and the always degrade the optical performance a bit (on lenses I paid good money to get top optical performance on). I'm basically down to one, the TC-14EIII, which I only use in a pinch. 

"A complaint that maybe you could pass to Nikon if that's possible: why isn't the exposure meter always shown? With the D850, I'd use the spot meter mode, and place the spot on areas of interest and read off how much under and over that spot, and it's a very fast and easy way to judge exposure. For example, if I put the clouds at +2, I knew I wouldn't blow them out. With the Z6, I have to use the histogram and guess—it's really not optimal. Yes, I mostly shoot with d8 off."

I wish I had the power to pass suggestions on to Nikon that they'd absolutely react to. My record on this is very hit-and-miss. I can count on my fingers the number of times they've listened to one of my complaints and addressed it. I'd need more digits to count the number of times that ideas/requests have been ignored.

I tend to agree with you on this one, even though it's a subtle thing with unmanual lenses that a lot of people haven't noticed. There are a number of such simplifications where Nikon seems to have just punted on the Z6/Z7. Either they didn't have time to work through all the intricacies of a feature, or they just felt that leaving it out wasn't going to impact the intended audience for the product.

What we got was an amalgamation that's sort of a tweener. There are consumer-type features in the Z's (e.g. the U1-U2-U3 mode dial and more curiously the adjustment of matrix metering to match what's under the focus sensor); there are top-end features that we only saw in the D850 (e.g. focus stacking).

This resulted in bodies that were "in between" the DSLRs. In other words, not as good as a D850, but arguably better than a D610/D750. 

Long term, of course, that can't hold. Nikon needs to flesh out the Z7 and higher cameras to be truly prosumer/pro products, I'd say. Otherwise they have no chance but to continue to contract where it matters the most: serious users.

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Wednesday questions

"How about a Vibration Reduction Auto Off Mode in Z cameras? (Such that if this mode is enabled, the VR function will be automatically OFF at shutter speed, say greater than 1/2X focal length of the lens, or maybe it can be programmed by the user)."

Here's the thing: we can all come up with more features we'd like to see added to the Z bodies, both current ones and upcoming ones. 

What's important, though, is how a potential feature fits into the priorities we'd like to see Nikon doing. I think most of us can agree that the highest priority thing for Nikon to do is to fix bugs and usability issues. In particular, flash isn't as fleshed out as it probably should be, and the few bugs I still see in the firmware tend to happen with flash active.

Second, Nikon needs to get performance-related issues completely fleshed out, as they've tried to do with the focus system in the 2.0 firmware update. Areas where performance still lags on the Z's are in communication speed (USB and Wi-Fi), focus snap-back when subjects go out and into frame, and sensor cleaning. I'm sure a few of you have a couple of other ideas there.

My third highest priority level would to fix cumbersome or broken UX. For example the 3D Tracking mode is unusable and we have no ability to switch Autofocus Area modes quickly. 

At the fourth priority I'd put missing features the DSLRs have. We don't absolutely need a user-definable Dynamic-area AF size, but it would be very helpful. Most tend to be minor irritants that just make the DSLR-to-mirrorless switch pop up cognitive dissonance for users, but I'd still like to see that addressed.

And then we have your kind of suggestion: a new feature that would be useful. Yes, I'd like to see such a feature, particularly as the VR enabling is buried in the menus for native Z and non-VR F-mount lenses. 

But again, the question is where do we want Nikon to prioritize? Personally, I want them to concentrate on those first three priorities (bugs, performance, and broken UX) immediately, and roll the other priorities over time. Indeed, a 4.0 firmware update that addressed those last two priorities well would go a long way to extending the life of the Z6 and Z7 so that Nikon could concentrate more on the other Z models they need to get out the door.

"Suppose you have two reasonably contemporary F-mount FX cameras (in my case D800 + D850) and are pondering exchanging the older one for a Z camera. Also suppose you have a fairly extensive range of F-mount optics, both zooms and primes, out of your recommended set. I could of course list what lenses I have, but I'm trying to generalize this. Furthermore, suppose you can't really afford to keep double lens sets. For example, if you are to buy the Z 24-70/2.8, the F-mount 24-70/2.8E has to go. Where would you start your lens transitioning? Which is more or less the same question as: for which, if any, lenses which have equivalent(-ish) versions for both mounts would you feel that you can make do without the DSLR version?"

I get variations of this question all the time now from Nikon owners (I've been getting them for other mounts for awhile). Transitions are always tough.

But there's an easy answer the way you've worded your question: every Z-mount lens so far is better than the equivalent F-mount lens. To wit: the 35mm f/1.8 S and 50mm f/1.8 S are better than the F-mount equivalents, and the 50mm is better than the f/1.4 F-mount lenses, too. The 24-70mm f/4 S is better than the 24-120mm f/4G in the equivalent focal lengths. And as you'll find out later this week, the 24-70mm f/2.8 S is better than the 24-70mm f/2.8E. 

Of course, the next question I tend to get is "how much better?" 

A little (35mm f/1.8 S) to a lot (50mm f/1.8 S). In major ways (24-70mm f/4 S) and in some very technical, more nuanced ways (24-70mm f/2.8 S). 

You might want to go back and read my Consolidators article. That's because you're being aggressive in your approach to your transition, and you're not far off from just being a consolidator.

"I am contemplating the Z6 and Z7. I have researched the cameras and have read your online reviews in detail. I will also be able to test both for a few days next week. Still, I would like to hear your thoughts on the two options. I am drawn to the Z7 as it gives me more resolution for those few times that I do print big for a large print to hang up or allows more room to crop should it be necessary. Additionally, as Nikon might improve some shortcomings regarding AF especially with the next generation, I'd rather have the high-res camera body have the slower AF and then buy a second (or third) generation camera as event/action camera. Then again, the Z6 probably is more than enough resolution for 95% of the usage."

While not technically a question, you did wake up the troll asking for advice ;~).

This is another question I get lots of variations on. So let me try to break things down a bit. But first, a strawman proposal: most people should buy the Z6. They don't need the resolution, they get better focus in low light, and at the current prices the money they save on the body would allow them to buy another of the excellent Z lenses (and an XQD card ;~). 

The problem is that people think they're missing out on something by not buying "the best." The pricing suggests that the Z7 is the best. Well, it is in the sense that it's got more resolution capability, and those Z lenses can deliver plenty of detail to that 45mp sensor. If you're printing large (>20") and/or cropping significantly (>10% of the frame) all the time, there may be a good reason to go with the Z7. 

But the Z6 has a less constrained buffer, shoots to 12 fps (which puts it in the pro DSLR level), focuses better and more consistently in low light, and at ISO values higher than 800 has a slight advantage over the Z7 (at base ISO, the Z7 has the advantage). 

While the performance differences aren't as dramatic as they were between, say the D2h and D2x or the D3 and D3x, Nikon has once again put together a pairing of cameras that are essentially feature identical, but tailored to appeal to different types of shooters. It took me a bit longer than it should have to realize that the Z6/Z7 were essentially just another h/x pairing, something Nikon has done throughout the digital age. 

Note that this is different than the D750 versus D850 question. Those DSLRs are very different cameras, not different tunings of the same camera. 

So the simple answer is this: would you have bought the D3 or the D3x for US$1300 more? If you can answer that question, I think you know the answer.

"I am a longtime user of a Nikon cropped sensor DSLR looking for an prosumer upgrade.  Even though I don't have a stock of FX lenses I am leaning toward Nikon not only because of the good price on body+kit lens, but also because I'm assuming I can spend relatively less while getting good value from a Nikon lenses (possibly used) like the 70-300 or the 50mm prime (perhaps 2-3 lenses, each well under 1k).  Curious to get your thoughts as to whether my assumption that given my plan I'd be better served going with Nikon vs. Sony. I'm also assuming that for my particular type of usage I won't be much affected by the AF gremlins you have described so well (and more accurately than many other people on the internet).  Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated."

I think I've been consistent answering this type of question over time: as long as the maker doesn't make a huge shift in UX (I'm looking at you Canon R), stick with your brand. While it seems to many at first glance that there aren't a lot of differences, the problem is cognitive dissonance.

What do I mean by that? 

Photographs are moments in time. You are reacting to something (or controlling something) and need to do so quickly and precisely. Anything, and I mean anything, that makes you have to think about how to set or change something may very well make you miss the moment. 

For example, the position of the command dials (and what each controls) may seem like a "little thing" but if you use any brand for any significant period of time you're going to develop a motor memory that's tough to break out of without a lot of practice. That's one reason why I try not to mix and match systems when I've reviewing them. For my Z reviews, I've been concentrating on just using the Z's in my work. At the end of this week, I'll mostly stop using them for the time being and start using only Fujifilm bodies, because that's what's up next in my review queue. If I were to intermix the two, my motor memories would absolutely make me dislike the Fujifilm UX. It may take me a month to develop full Fujifilm awareness. To be honest, most non-pros don't have enough time to dedicate to getting comfortable with new controls (again, Canon, what were you thinking with the R?).

However, the big shock to Nikon users switching to Sony actually doesn't tend to be in controls (other than the fact that they're so small and less tactile on the Sonys). It tends to be in menu structures, meanings, and jargon. It's a bit like learning a new language. And that language is as silly and mixed up in some places as the English language is. One reason why I wrote the Configuring the Sony A7 Mark II cameras book was to come fully to grips with that new language, myself.

That said, when you look at things a different way—starting completely from scratch as a new user—you often come up with a different answer. For example, you're talking about acquiring a number of lenses with your new Z (or Sony). The Sony has an advantage there, with Samyang, Tamron, and Zeiss all contributing some really good lenses that we don't have equivalents for in the Z scene. And the Samyang and Tamron optics are not at all pricey (fitting your "well under 1K each" parameter). 

So, final answer: I don't think you'd go wrong with either a Nikon Z or a Sony A7, but I think you'd enjoy the Nikon more.

"Re: your recommended F mount lenses for D8xx & D750, could one switch the bodies out for Z7 & Z6 (respectively, with adapters) and the same still hold true, or are there nuances that make the answer more complex than that?"

If we're talking optically, then yes, what you see on a Z7 and D850 with the same lens is (mostly) the same. Ditto the Z6 and D750. 

The (mostly) is high nuance: the over-the-sensor filtering is just a bit different. And if you're shooting JPEG, we're talking about some additional slight differences in what the EXPEED engine is doing. But overall, in the context of your question I think we can say equivalent enough for any difference to not be meaningful.

But—there's always a but, isn't there?—I'm slightly leery of really big and heavy lenses on the Z's with the adapter. And for the same reasons I'm slightly leery of TC's on the DSLRs: we've added a mount connection, and all that implies. I think you have to be more careful of how you handle the big lenses on the FTZ, and putting your support under the lens, not the camera body.

"For manual focus lenses (AI, AI-S, series E, AI-P including the others where chipped), can the Z bodies really ‘breathe new life’ into these lenses via (3-axis) VR & focus peaking, or are the sensors so high resolution that they just show up lens design constraints (depending upon photographic need/use)?"

A trickier question than it at first seems. My basic answer is "yes." 

The tricky part is the last clause ("...so high resolution that..."). Actually, that's a good and a bad thing ;~). Nikon—and others—clearly designed lenses to a different "look" in the film era when most of those manual focus lenses were made. In particular, the transitions are different. 

Transitions occur from the center of the frame to the edges and corners, and they occur in the focus plane to the out-of-focus realm. Older lenses tend to concentrate their best rendering in the central focus plane and then taper gradually outwards. Many people like that look, and certainly for most of those lenses the central area holds up with the high megapixel counts. Thus my basic answer.

If you're shooting landscapes you're going to blow up big with an older lens like Galen's infamous Nikkor 20mm f/4, I think you'd probably find the outer areas aren't looking so great. If I'm going to go Galen with a small, light MF lens these days, it would be with a slightly more modern one, like the Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5.

"You haven’t said much about the roadmap for the Z6x or Z7x or Zx full frame upgrades. So why is now the time to move to mirrorless instead of waiting for the next iteration that may do substantially better with the weaknesses you mentioned, such as in motion object tracking. Your comments on the focus deficiencies in the Z6 and Z7 actually pushed me away from them."

A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. 

One problem I have in reviewing gear is this: it's all good (well, almost all). It can all do the photographic job you want done, though you might want a higher megapixel count camera if you're printing large, a high frame rate camera if you're shooting action, and so on. 

In my reviews of the Z6 and Z7 I've had a line that says something along the lines of "obviously I'm able to shoot sports and wildlife" with them. Yes, the autofocus system has some deficiencies. All autofocus systems do. You have to learn their tendencies and nuances, and control them to get the best possible results. The Z's are no different than the Sony A7's in that respect, quite frankly. Just different deficiencies. 

I haven't said much recently about future Z's because, well, things changed. Back in 2017 the silence out of Nikon was deafening when it came to mirrorless. That simply left all of us to speculate and try determining what the rumor mill was saying. 

Now that we have cameras to look at, I think things ought to be obvious. The numbers 6 and 7 were used because we'll have higher-end Z models, and lower-end Z models. Exactly what those will be we can speculate about. It seems obvious that the D1/D2/D3/D4/D5 line eventually moves to Z9. It seems obvious that there can't be five full frame models below the Z6 ;~). 

But frankly, I'm pragmatic. We have Z cameras out now that are excellent, and I'm trying to fully flesh out everything I know about them to help people decide if they're for them or not. 

So to get back to your question, there will always be "better cameras" around the corner. If you wait for them, you're missing photo opportunities or dealing with them with your current gear. 

The real buried question here is whether or not the Z6 and Z7 are going to deal with your current and near-future photography better than what you have. The answer is easy for some: if you're shooting with any D1, D2, D100, D200, D300, or consumer DX DSLR: absolutely. If you're shooting with a D3, D4, D700, we're headed into a gray area that only you can answer. If you're shooting with a current D500, D850, or D5, then maybe not.

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Tuesday questions

"Why did Nikon put a tripod mount on the FTZ Adapter? If you use Arca-Swiss plates you can't change lenses!"

Sure you can. You're just using the wrong plates.

The reason why there's a tripod adapter on the FTZ Adapter is that there are some pretty hefty F-mount Nikkors people might be trying to mount, and the Z bodies are pretty small and light. With the extra mount connections due to the adapter, you're putting a lot of stress on the mount when you start getting into the bigger and heavier F-mount Nikkors. Even the 105mm f/1.4E is a lot of stress to put on the double mount of an adapter, and it doesn't have a tripod mount. 

With lenses starting about the size/weight of the 105mm f/1.4E I'm carrying the camera via Blackrapid straps attached to the FTZ Mount Adapter. And I use Arca-style plates on both my strap and adapter. The little plate I'm using on the FTZ is labeled FP-25, and if you search eBay for "FP-25 plate" you'll find one for US$9. On the camera body itself I'm using the SmallRig L-plate. The two don't interfere. I can change lenses just fine, and I can clip my Blackrapid strap into either plate.

Those aren't the only solutions that work. You just have to look around a bit more.

"Reading between the lines it almost seems you expect Nikon might fix the tracking focus issues in firmware and need a rev3. Inside information? Historically, they never did that but only carried changes to the next model. Shame. That is one reason I like Olympus: they seem committed to making the best products for their customers and following through with updates."

I don't think Nikon has any choice but to continue to improve the Z's via firmware. They can't be replacing models quickly at this price level, and there are still odds and ends that need addressing.

The 2.0 firmware seems to have mostly addressed the Wide-area AF mode liabilities (as well as adding Eye detect to Auto-area AF). So, yes, I think it very possible that we'd get 3D Tracking addressed at some point in future firmware. I don't have any inside information about this, though I continue to press Nikon to make changes I feel still need to be done. I'm not the only one doing that.

Moreover, the industry has changed. You can't throw indiscriminate R&D funds at new incremental models the way you used to. You're better off throwing less funding into incremental firmware changes for existing models to extend their life when possible. The smaller non-duopoly players such as Fujifilm and Olympus discovered this first (and Fujifilm, in particular, had some feature catch-up they needed to do), because they don't have the sales numbers to justify 18-month model increments. Canon and Nikon (and Sony) are entering a similar situation as sales continue to contract.

The next logical step in this is "paid firmware updates." We've already seen a bit of that from companies like Panasonic, who have offered some high-end video capabilities for a fee a couple of times now (most recently on the brand new S1). I suspect we'll see more of this, and I'm all for it, because to get us to pay money, the camera companies will have to add meaningful performance or features.

"What's the point of turning off and on the low light function control?"

The display rate is reduced (sensor may be looking at light longer), the ISO may be temporarily boosted, and a contrast detect focus step may be enabled. 

Just to be clear, Custom Setting #A11, to which you refer, is only active in AF-S (single servo) focus. 

But the point is simple: obtain a single focus positioning under any circumstances in very low light, at the expense of some minor consequences (it can be slower to achieve focus). 

Why would you turn it Off? Because you don't want a potential performance hit and you're not seeing the focus system struggle (e.g. you're not in low enough light nor is the focus system struggling). 

"What macro lens should I buy for the Z6 (or Z7)?"

The one that hasn't been announced ;~). 

Technically, the only macro lens that currently makes any sense is the 105mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor. My favorite macro lenses—the 200mm f/4D and the 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D—are both screw-drive lenses and won't autofocus. The 60mm is too short to be really useful. Most of the third-party lenses don't work with the focus stacking option. Thus, my answer.

"Are the older AF-I and AF-S exotics without VR now a bargain for Z shooters?"

Technically, they've always been a bargain. I've been recommending to most people that they should be buying a generation or two behind for years. 

When you're shooting at 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4, or 600mm f/4, you're probably shooting sports or wildlife. In both cases, you typically want your shutter speed high enough (e.g. >1/1000) to stop motion. As most of you know, I recommend that you turn VR off above a certain shutter speed as it tends to pull a little edge acuity off your images. You bought a lens that has superb edge acuity, so why would you want to strip that away?

But what you're referring to probably is that the Z bodies have sensor-based VR. Would that help some when you absolutely needed VR? Yes. Would it help a lot? No. 

Once you get into the >100mm focal range—particularly with traditional telephoto lens designs—you really want stability corrections to be done near the optical center, which is far forward of the sensor in those lenses. The sensor can't be moved enough to fully compensate for the type of rotation you'd tend to be making with, say, a 300mm f/2.8. That's why Olympus, for example, which originally didn't have any in-lens IS for their m4/3 lenses and relied on sensor stabilization, started adding in-lens IS as they added longer and more exotic telephoto options.

Sensor-based stabilization works great in the wide angle to normal focal lengths, but only modestly as you get into the long focal lengths. 

"Are there product quality issues with the Z series products I should be aware of?"

In terms of the Z6 and Z7, no. I've seen hardly any complaints about product quality for the bodies. Nikon themselves seems to have caught a part or manufacturing issue on a few early Z6/Z7 models' sensor-based VR, and have a program in place to fix those. 

I have seen a low level of issues that some people have had with the 24-70mm f/4 S or the FTZ Adapter. 

In the case of the 24-70mm f/4 S, I'm aware of several cases where people have gotten lenses that just don't seem to focus correctly out of the box. NikonUSA has replaced that with a good copy in the case I've followed up on (the others got replacement through their dealer). 

The FTZ Adapter issue tends to be one of two things. First, a few folk are finding that they've gotten adapters that are "tight" or "loose." In the instances where that has happened, NikonUSA seems to come back with a "within specification" response. I'm not aware of any that NikonUSA has said were "bad". 

If I were Nikon, I'd be paying more attention to that situation, and I'd be considering changing my manufacturing tolerance specification. In one case I personally examined, that FTZ Adapter was indeed very, very tight on a lens that fit my FTZ Adapter just fine. Tight enough to be worrisome.

The second thing that seems to happen is that a few FTZ Adapters are just failing. While they're relatively simple devices, the adapters are still passing and responding (via the aperture activation arm) to information going through small connectors that need perfect alignment. 

In all the cases above, the numbers of units involved seems to be very low, probably in the single digit percentages, which is not indicative of a QA/QC failure. I'd say that Nikon needs to figure out how a few clearly non-focusing lenses got out of the plant, and they need to take another look at how tight their manufacturing tolerances are on the FTZ Adapter. But neither of these things rise to any level of worry. Given the volume of Z gear already out there, if there were real, tangible issues, we'd have gotten far more reports of them by now.

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Older questions

"Is Nikon likely to introduce a Z-mount equivalent to the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P lens?"

I'll start with an easy question: yes they will. Ah, but there's a catch to my answer: we have no idea when. 

I'd say that there's very little pressure on them to do so soon, as the current F-mount version on the FTZ adapter is still relatively compact, and works exceedingly well. I've gone on record that the basic Z travel kit is the 24-70mm f/4 and the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E on the FTZ adapter. That's a very compact kit for what it can do, and quite capable. 

And since some of you will ask: yes, same answer for the Z7 as for the Z6: the 70-300mm is surprisingly good on the high megapixel count sensors, including the D850 DSLR.

"What are the Z series capabilities in action scenarios like birds in flight (BIF), sports, and wildlife after the firmware update?"

Another easy answer: the same, basically. Perhaps some slight improvements in Wide-area AF modes.

Did Nikon do something specifically to improve shooting under those scenarios? Not that I can measure, though Wide-area AF does seem a bit better than before, and tends to more often use Closest Subject Priority (though it can still pop to bright, contrasty backgrounds at times). There may be some other very low level changes that aren't easily measurable, but I'm not seeing anything that would really change my mind about the applicability of the Z6/Z7 to those types of photography.

One reason for that is that the real issue isn't speed or accuracy, it's UX, and to a lesser degree, predictability. We don't have a fast way of switching between autofocus area modes as we do on the DSLRs. We don't have a 3D Tracking system that is easy to use and which we can reset instantly. We don't have the ability to change the Dynamic Area size. We don't have any focus ability that absolutely guarantees closest subject priority. 

To do those types of photography better than the original firmware, we'd need all—or at least many of—those things I just mentioned. We got none of them in Firmware 2.0 other than an apparent slightly higher preference for Closest Subject Priority in Wide-area AF.  

I can't overemphasize how much I think this is Nikon's most significant miss on the Z series. While obviously I've adapted to the Z6 and Z7 and am doing sports and wildlife photography with them, it's a step backwards from the state-of-the-art DSLRs. Had Nikon gotten the UX part of the autofocus system right, there'd be little talk about Sony's advantages. 

What the firmware update did improve significantly—and so it's a good step in the right direction, just not the step you may want—was candid, street, and event photography. The face detect was already good, but the addition of eye detect makes it better, and arguably within the realm of state-of-the-art. (Before the Sony Internet Enforcement Squad gets their guns out, let me state this: the Sony eye detect is a little more reliable on targeting the eye than Nikon's, but it has the same problem as virtually all the eye detect systems do: it catches eyebrows and eyelashes if the subject isn't really tight in the frame.)

"You state in your Z7 review that AF-S is better than on the D7500, which implies it is not as good as the D500. Is that true? Also in your D850 review you state that D500 IQ is 1/3 stop better than the D850 in crop mode. Is that also true of the Z7 in crop mode?"

Statements like that are easy to write, but they also tend to cause difficulty in parsing by the reader ;~).

Let's see if I can address both.

First, AF-S is fast on pretty much all of Nikon's cameras. So I'm not talking about speed, here. Where the Z cameras are surprising people is in that their Single Servo (AF-S) focus is more consistent and more accurate than the DSLRs. That's particularly true with Z mount and AF-P lenses, but true of AF-S lenses used on the FTZ adapter, too. 

I've got an article I've been working on about the things that most impact how much acuity you get in an image. Getting the focus point right is the third thing on that list (yes, there are more important things). But if you're getting all the other things right, then having an accurate and consistent focus point is going to be the thing you most have to do, and it's just better done on a mirrorless camera than it is on a DSLR. For Single Servo focus. 

Not that DSLRs are terrible. But as others have shown, in repeated focus attempts on a fixed target, the DSLR sometimes weaves just a wee bit fore and aft of where you thought focus should be going. Not enough to make the images unusable—especially considering that you usually have plenty of depth of field to mask this issue—but just enough to take the punch off of edges.

One of the things I consistently hear from those that switch from DSLR to mirrorless and who shoot either relatively static scenes or slower moving subjects is that "focus is better." Better means more consistent and more accurate than they were getting with their DSLR. (But let me point out, the Sony A9 notwithstanding, if you're shooting fast moving and erratic subjects, the DSLR has the advantage.)

So, yes, the same would be true of the Z over the D500 (and D850) as it is over the D7500. 

As for any IQ advantage of a D500 over the 45mp cameras in DX crop, yes, that's somewhat consistent in what I've seen so far. At the same time, one third of a stop isn't much, and it may only be a sixth of a stop. I'm not sure I'd make that a primary consideration. 

"What should we consider when using EFCS/Mirror Up/ Mechanical shutter?"

Well, the 2.0 firmware makes this pretty simple: Set Custom Setting #D5 to Auto. The Z6 and Z7 will use Electronic first-curtain shutter up to 1/250 shutter speeds, mechanical shutter beyond that. 

There is no "mirror up" because they is no mirror ;~). 

You didn't ask, but you use Silent photography set to On if you're not using flash and aren't shooting fast motion and need the camera to be silent.

"I recently upgraded my D800 to a Z6. Sony announced the new backwards compatible CFexpress cards (with firmware) and reader (which reads current XQD cards too). They are reportedly to be released early summer this year (isn't it early summer now?). I need a reader to flash my new camera with the Nikon 2.0 firmware. Do you have any info on when the new reader might actually be released? And if it's worth waiting for?"

Ah, the CFExpress paranoia. Get over it ;~).

The dirty little secret is that the CFExpress compatibility we're getting is basically XQD. Same PCIe stack, same number of lanes, and since the camera's electronics were designed back in the XQD era, I don't believe that there's anything in the Z6 or Z7 that's going to suddenly take on new abilities or performance when the higher level CFExpress stuff starts coming down the pike. 

Thus, I'd just pick up a low cost XQD card reader. I was surprised recently when I did an eBay search and came up with one that works directly with my MacBook Pro (e.g. USB 3 ports). All for the princely sum of US$20. And yes, it works fine. Should work fine with the CFExpress cards we can use in the Z cameras, too.

"Autofocus is on the Z6/Z7 sensor so I expect no front or back focus. Why is Autofocus Fine Tuning still in the SETUP menu?"

Moving the focus detector from the bottom of the body via a mirror system to the sensor doesn't take out all the possible reasons why phase detect may give you the wrong answer.

First, we have the FTZ adapter and the F-mount AF-S lenses. The adapter adds another mount tolerance, and one that can change slightly with temperature, as we're talking about metal here. The AF-S lenses had a tendency over time for their motors to change their accuracy slightly. I absolutely want to be able to adjust for those things if I encounter them.

Finally, any lens with focus shift is a candidate for AF Fine Tuning if you're using it in a consistent manner in which it produces shift.

"What does Nikon still need to fix in firmware?"

Can of worms: opened. 

First and foremost: continuous autofocus needs a lot of attention. I outlined a lot of that up above, but to repeat:

  • Instant override of Autofocus Area mode ala the D5 generation cameras.
  • A guaranteed Closest Subject Priority mode (e.g. Group).
  • Some choice of the size of the Dynamic-area AF sensing.
  • A complete rethink of 3D tracking. The DSLR version is fine. The mirrorless version is garbage.
  • Would be nice to be able to use thumb on rear LCD to position focus cursor.

Just do those things in a firmware update and Nikon would be caught up to Sony. Right now I call the Z System cameras Mark 2.5 or Mark 2.6. Getting to Mark 3 as soon as possible should be Nikon's highest priority. The above would do that.

But, there's more:

  • Fix the U1, U2, U3 system. They don't remember everything, but they absolutely do remember the Exposure mode and won't let you change it.
  • Fix the Save Settings to card system. What Super Junior Intern Level engineer came up with this? (For those of you who don't know, every camera can only save one file to card, that file is named with a letter or number that indicates the camera but you won't remember so you can't keep track of which settings file is for which camera, and no camera can read the file of another camera model, even when the settings are basically the same (e.g. Z6 can't read Z7 file and vice versa; didn't that Super Junior Intern Level engineer ever hear of "ignore what you don't understand, but do the rest?"). Ultimately, I want to be able to save multiple settings files to my card, and name them in a way that I understand (e.g. Landscape, Action, BIF, etc.). 
  • Why is the Direction pad or Rear Command wheel ignored at times? Example, press the i button, pick a setting to change (click into it); the Direction pad works to change things, but the Command dial doesn't (the Command dial worked to change things before you clicked into the setting!). There are other instances of this on the camera that I don't fully understand why they're done that way.
  • Zebras and Focus Peaking at same time please. For stills or video. 
  • Group the Lens Corrections in a sub-menu. The PHOTO SHOOTING menu is getting too long to scroll through now. Many items could be in sub-groups that are meaningful (lens corrections, noise handling, flash, etc.). As hierarchies get broader, they also need to be readjusted and made deeper sometimes, too.
  • The same problem happens on the SETUP menu. We have six "display" brightness/color/setting items as separate menu items. Group the logical things so the menu doesn't scroll so easily.
  • Flash is broken in so many ways I don't know where to start. The SU-800 doesn't work correctly. Only a few flashes can be controlled by the menu system. Flash-produced Autofocus Assist light no longer works (we need new flashes with green lights, Nikon). 
  • Using the WR-10 on the camera tends to preclude use of the HDMI connector. 
  • Cleaning the image sensor is still obscured by Nikon produced fog, but it's an important thing we need to understand and do. The shake it off routine seems like it thinks it should be paid more and thus refuses to do a good job. And someone in Product Management needs to grow a pair and go into the Nikon lawyers' office and demand that they be able to give users a better answer than "never touch the sensor [sic]; send the camera to Nikon for sensor cleaning."
  • The camera forgets. Turn the camera off and it reverts to saved user settings, not the last thing the user was doing. Moreover, the Z lenses forget where they were focused, which is going to frustrate the astrophotography folks no end.

"What are the limits on the things firmware upgrades can improve, versus needing new hardware?"

Good question. 

Firmware can improve UX, for sure. Most of the things I mention in the list in the last question are UX. So there's a lot Nikon can do to improve the Z6 and Z7 with firmware. 

Where things get dicey is with anything that touches the electronics of the camera. If something requires a function in EXPEED, for example, it can't be done unless the EXPEED engineers anticipated that and the function just wasn't fleshed out in firmware yet. 

Can the Z's focus faster? Probably not. There's a limit to the data offload from the sensor and the processing of that. But note that I don't fault the Z's for the speed of their focus. There's a lot Nikon can do about focus—and already has—that doesn't require a faster download from the sensor or additional data. Can the XQD slot go faster? Probably not. It seems maxed out just under 250MBps. Can the EVF update faster? Probably not, though as we've seen with the 2.0 firmware, there can be modest adjustments to the view experience (blackout for image review was diminished at the expense of taking slightly longer to get to the review image).

There's one curiosity in the hardware that I'm wondering about, though: the video capabilities, particularly in the Z6. The Sony IMX410 sensor used in the Z6 has 22 different readout modes, and it's clear that Nikon isn't using many of those. The Panasonic S1H seems to be doing something different. So the question is whether or not Nikon built in EXPEED capabilities to use some of those other modes.

"Have you seen much shadow banding with the Z7?"

No, and probably for two reasons. The first is that most of the time it takes a fairly specific pattern of light along the long axis in order to trigger it (very high brightness and very low darkness on the same line, and with a high contrast edge in the pixel row is what seems to provoke it). I don't tend to shoot such scenes at low ISOs, such as ISO 64. The second is this: it isn't produced in 12-bit, and I switch to 12-bit at the gain bump (ISO 400 on the Z7, 800 on the Z6) because there's nothing to be gained by shooting 14-bit at the higher ISO values.  

"It seems like many settings, including color and NR/sharpening are carried over to Lightroom. How should those settings be configured in camera to best preserve raw data? I'd rather make those edits after the fact than be locked in."

This question is a misunderstanding. Nikon (and Adobe) are just doing what you asked them to do for years. 

So let's go back in the Wayback Machine a bit. 

Previous to the Z's, when you shot raw (NEF), your camera would embed a JPEG based upon your camera settings (Picture Control, White Balance, NR settings, etc.). The only one of those settings that the raw converters understood was White Balance, and there was even a fight over that back in the D2x era. That embedded JPEG is used for all previews. 

Thus, you'd look at the image on your camera's rear LCD or even in your file browser on your computer and you'd see one thing, but when you brought that image into your raw converter you saw an entirely different rendering. That's because the camera and your file browser were looking at the embedded JPEG with all its settings, but the raw converter wasn't paying any attention to those. 

What happens now is that the Adobe converters—Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw—attempt to show the image much as you'd see it on the camera's rear LCD. Not a perfect simulation, but close. 

Where your question gets into misunderstanding is this: nothing precludes you from having Lightroom do something else. Nothing has changed in the raw data underneath. If you want your images to look a particular way, set up a Preset and use that as the default on import. If you want to adjust your image, go ahead and do so, the raw data is still there as it always was. And Lightroom and Adobe Raw Converter never change the original NEF file; they store their changes in a sidecar file.

In other words, you're not "locked in." And again, Nikon user after Nikon user asked the companies to do this. Now you don't like it when they do? ;~)

"With the Z series cameras, common or popular knowledge points to an earlier diffraction of f/8 or f/9. I used to shoot nature and landscape with a default f/8 as the starting point. Would it be better to start at f/6.1 or f/7 to accommodate for an earlier diffraction of the Z series?"

No. Diffraction on the D8xx DSLRs clearly shows up above f/5.6. "Common or popular knowledge" is thus wrong ;~). 

Here's the thing: with low megapixel count sensors, the Airy disc typically fell within a single pixel, so diffraction wasn't really recorded. It's nearly impossible to get a 4mp D2h to diffract visibly, for instance. Once the pixel density started to get to the point where it was 1/2 the Airy disc or less (think green photosites in the Bayer pattern), diffraction begins to get recorded well and begins showing up. So it has nothing to do with DSLR versus mirrorless and everything to do with how much pixel density you have. 

The Z6 and Z7 render diffraction differently, and they both have a built in Diffraction Compensation ability (turned on by default). I go into great detail about diffraction in my camera-specific books. It's not an easy subject to cover for all possibilities in a Web article. 

Finally, there's the issue of focus versus acuity. The reason why you're stopping down is to get more depth of field (focus). The reason you want to avoid diffraction is because it robs you of a bit of acuity. Those are not the same things. There are often times when you'd ignore depth of field to get more acuity on a subject, there are times when you want more depth of field and will tolerate diffraction.

"Have you been using the FX Nikkor 19mm PC-E much on the Z series? Any issues? Pros/Cons vs DSLR use?"

Yes, I have, though not as much as I want to. No issues so far that I've encountered. Turn on and set Focus Peaking right and you have a viewfinder that can really help you get the tilt right for changing the focus plane (it's tougher to do in bright light on the rear LCD, which is what you have to do on the D850). 

"Where is the leaked info—any info, for that matter—about the 85mm f/1.8 S lens? If it's really going to be released in 2019, there have to be some out there undergoing previews/trials. The silence is deafening."

Nikon has only chosen to share one bit of information about the 85mm f/1.8 S: it will be released in 2019. I have no problem with that. Indeed, this is a new Nikon: they've never given us a Road Map before. Given that they've released two lenses in 2019 they said they'd release in 2019, I think we just need to trust that they're trying to meet their stated intentions.

As for someone leaking information: that would be the end of their relationship as a Nikon Ambassador. You might not have noticed, but the camera market is getting smaller, and it's harder to sell images these days. What pro in their right mind would jeopardize their paid relationship with a camera manufacturer by leaking something? As it is, I've heard from a sampling of Canon, Nikon, and Sony ambassadors that they're all worried about whether their brand will carry as many of them under contract in 2020 as they have in 2019. 

"In bright sunlight/ high contrast scenes, do you prefer using an OVF to an EVF? I find the image via the EVF to be too contrasty and with limited dynamic range in high contrast scenes, even when I set the picture profile to 'flat.' I have the EVF set to 'auto' for brightness."

Personally? I have no problems with a good EVF like on the Z6/Z7 in bright light. I often just stop noticing that I'm looking at video. To some degree, though, it will depend upon how you've got the camera set. You can definitely make Picture Control adjustments that make the EVF more noticeable, and ironically, trying to make it look more flat doesn't tend to work. 

Where I start to notice the EVF is in low light. Indeed, one of my issues with mirrorless cameras is that they tend to hurt night vision adjustment. So much so that for astrophotography I'm tending towards using the rear LCD only, but adjusted way down in brightness. What I'd really like is a monochrome mode that's red light only in the EVF for night.

"The histogram previewed in the viewfinder is shown for the [embedded] JPEG and includes the Picture Control setting. My question is: does the NEF histogram have more dynamic range than the JPEG histogram viewed in the viewfinder?"

It very well might. Okay, it often does. 

I've harped on this for quite some time. Ironically, Nikon was the only maker that at one point gave us a way to create and use UniWB, which would tell us exactly what was happening in each channel. Unfortunately, they took that ability away and never gave it back, and they've been reluctant to even talk about the accuracy of the exposure feedback they do give you. 

I suspect that's because they think of users monolithically (e.g. all the same). If they think it's because of some proprietary juice under the covers that their competitors don't know about, then they're wrong. What really should happen is that product information and features should be tiered (novice user, intermediate user, advanced user). The original UniWB ability was indeed tiered: you needed to be a sophisticated Capture user to know how to build it and use it. Basically, the ability was hidden from everyone else.

Unfortunately, this is not a simple subject, and thus not going to be fully answered in a Web post. I spend a lot of time on this in my books, and probably need to expand that even more.

"Thinking of using the 300mm AF-S with a 1.4 TCII on the FTZ Adapter on a Z6. Seems like there are one too many connections. How heavy a lens can you attach onto the FTZ?"

A good question to which we don't have a firm answer (pardon the pun).

But I don't think anything's really changed from the DSLR days: the minute you put a big heavy lens on any adapter, you need to start considering how you're handling your gear. One reason why many of us use monopods on the sidelines of games with our big heavy lenses isn't just to stabilize things: if we attach the lens to the monopod, it also means that we take stress off the lens mount.

You don't pick up heavy/adapted combos by the camera body if you can avoid it. You pick them up (and support them) via the lens near the center of gravity. 

That said, I haven't actually tried a TC14E-III with my 400mm f/2.8 on the Z cameras. I just use that lens directly on the FTZ Adapter, and it seems to work just fine. Adding the TC14E-III would definitely make me more careful about how I handled the combination, though.

"I have the 24mm 1.4G, and Sigma 35mm 1.4 ART, any point in still buying primes like 85mm 1.4G or 105mm 1.4G?"

It's a little premature to go down this line of thinking. We've only got the 35mm and 50mm Z primes to go by so far, though both are superb. But in the road map for lenses we have a 20mm f/1.8, 24mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.2, and 85mm f/1.8 for the Z cameras coming in the next 18 months. Given how good the 35mm and 50mm were, I'd have to guess that all of these new Z prime lenses are going to be excellent performers, too. 

So, I'd tend to say that no, I wouldn't buy the 85mm f/1.4G right now if I had or were thinking of moving to the Z bodies. On the other hand, I'm not expecting Nikon to get around to duplicating the 105mm f/1.4G any time soon. It's proven to be a heavy, but very good performer on the Z bodies so far.

"I have no intention of getting the 58mm f/0.95 NOCT lens, but wasn't that expected by now?"

Yes, I'm sure that most were expecting it to be available by now, even though they weren't going to buy it. (Did the tree make a noise in the forest when it fell?) 

If you recall, I actually dinged Nikon for putting so much emphasis on what would be a lens that very few bought, let alone used. It seems that Nikon themselves figured that out, too. As we'd probably want them to, Nikon has been prioritizing getting other needed and wanted lenses out the door. 

Nikon doesn't always get that sort of thing right. The engineers want to show off what they can do. Product management wants to make sure that they have things that sell. Those aren't the same! ;~) I'd give Nikon highish marks for not pushing the NOCT out fast. If it's going to show off what can be done in the mount, it better be near perfect when it arrives. 

The only thing I can fault Nikon for is that the marketing messages on the NOCT (and lens mount) have been a bit muddled and not as good at explaining the potential of the new mount as well as they could. I'm hoping that the time being taken to get the NOCT to market is also being used to build the marketing messages that totally clarify why the new short and wide Z mount is important.

"We're nearly half way through 2019, but where are the lenses from the roadmap?"

Implicit in your question is that since Nikon promised six lenses in 2019 and has delivered only two so far, that we're missing a lens ;~).

As I've written for years, there are strong tendencies for new production introductions at certain times of the year. In particular: start of the year (Jan/Feb), Spring (Mar-May), and late Summer (Aug/Sept). A lot of factors go into that, including trade shows, holidays, financial planning, buying tendencies, etc. 

If you have an issue come up in transitioning from R&D to manufacturing that takes some time to address, it can push dates back. Then you have to consider the new time frame and what that does to your overall marketing and messaging. 

Right now we're at the height of father's day, graduation, and vacation buying. You really want to sell what you've got during this period. Most of your staff is busy trying to do just that (look at all the Nikon promotions going on). 

"Is there a QC problem with the manufacturing of the FTZ adapters?"

There might be. I've heard a few complaints about tight FTZ adapters, and a few other instances where camera/lens communication seems to not be working correctly. I know of several FTZ adapters that were replaced and the issues went away. 

Would I be worried about this? No. The level of complaints is low. Low enough to be typical of first production runs of a high demand part. 

"If Thom had compiled the Z6 filmmaker's kit, what would he have done differently?"

Oh dear. Don't feed the troll! 

The Atomos Ninja recorder is a perfect choice, the Moza Air gimbal an arguably good one. The real issues are two: audio and optics. 

I probably would have gone to a wireless mic package, and one that plugs directly into the Ninja (you can plug the Rode VideMic Pro into the Ninja, but it's really designed to be mounted on the camera). A Rode RODELink or Go makes more sense to me.

It's really the lens that's the big issue. Manual focus on Nikon's fly-by-wire system is terrible for video users. Small focus pulls are impossible to do well and repeatedly. So you lean on the autofocus system, and of course, most serious video shooters try not to use autofocus, because when it does a hunt or a miss or a slow-to-react move, it is so obvious in your footage and there's nothing you can do about it.

My final issue is another Z design issue: I can't power the camera from the USB port. 

So, realistically, my solution would have been to allow USB power, have a video-oriented lens, and to go wireless with the mic.

"What is Nikon USA still getting wrong in their Z-series marketing efforts?"

I said stop feeding the troll!

Well, it's actually what they're getting wrong with their DSLR marketing efforts that's the biggest issue ;~). Nikon's in a dangerous place. If they did get the mirrorless marketing perfect, it might hasten the demise of their DSLR sales. Nikon's not quite yet in a position where they would really want that to happen.

But let's turn this around for a moment: what are Nikon's mirrorless marketing efforts? They're basically "look at the new low price." What's the user benefit to that? Oh, your credit card balance doesn't quite go up so much ;~). 

I think I've been fairly clear in my "marketing." The D850 DSLR is the best all-around camera you can buy right now. It truly does everything competently, and often spectacularly. The D500 DSLR is the best choice for those shooting action on a budget, especially when you pair it up with such great optics as the 300mm f/4E PF, or even the 200-500mm f/5.6E. The D5 can't be beat for sports, and it's still a really strong choice for wildlife and events.

So the question is how you weave the Z marketing into those. It seems to me that the Z6 is the solid all-arounder that the D750 folk all migrate to. That, of course, puts the D750 in jeopardy if Nikon were marketing well. The Z7 is a little easier to describe how it matches up to the D850: I'd tend to recommend the Z7 to landscape and travel oriented photographers, but the D850 the more you shoot any kind of action.

In other words, what's missing from Nikon is a well-stated product matrix. If you want to do X, get Y. 

But this is a long-time problem with Nikon marketing: they tend to emphasize—like Sony—technology and engineering and sometimes specific performance, but not use. 

I get asked questions every day by people about what to buy. I generally don't answer that question unless I already know their use pattern, or until I first query them about that. A good camera store salesperson would do the same thing, too. So another thing that's no longer done well is that the camera companies—all of them—are not providing enough training to dealers when new products come out. 

It took Sony a bit to figure out "just market the mirrorless, let the DSLRs do what they will." I'm not sure Sony is all that much better at clearly differentiating use cases and marketing them, but at least they've pretty much moved all the marketing bodies over to mirrorless. Canon and Nikon are a bit reluctant to do that, but they'll get around to it. 


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