Nikon Z7 II Camera Review

bythom z7iiw14-24

The Z7 II with the 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens. Why am I showing the camera with that lens? Because this is a combination that really shows off the high-resolution side of the camera.

nikon z6iiz7ii button(3)

What is It?

This is probably going to be a different sounding review than you expected. I'll get into my normal "full" review style in a bit, but first we have a ginormous elephant in the room to deal with: just how different is a Z7 II from the Z7, and might that actually be important?

The full list of specification differences the Z7 II has:

  • Dual card slots: adds Primary slot selection, Secondary slot function, Video recording destination options
  • MB-N11 grip support: plus CSM #F9 allows customization of the two extra buttons and multi-selector
  • Dual EXPEED processors
  • Buffer capacity increased
  • EN-EL15C battery with slightly more charge
  • USB Power Delivery can be enabled with optional external charge source
  • New capability of no overlays/info on displays (must be assigned to a button, default is movie button), but this removed Split-screen zoom display
  • Extended shutter speeds via CSM #D6 (up to 900 seconds in Manual exposure mode; includes countdown in top LCD)
  • Minimized the Virtual Horizon display so it doesn't occlude the composition view as much
  • Faster autofocus performance in a number of conditions/situations
  • Better acquisition of faces and eyes at distance
  • Slight improvements to low-light autofocus
  • New AF-Area modes: people and animal versions of Auto-area AF and Wide-area AF
  • Interval shooting; adds focus before shot option, exposure bracketing option, time-lapse movie option
  • Time-lapse movie: adds focus before shot option, destination choice
  • Removed Stack peaking image capability from Focus shift shooting
  • Added 4K 50P/60P
  • Removed Face Detect option in CSM A settings
  • Added i menu customization options
  • Added some CSM #F2 customization options
  • Added ability to reverse the lens focus ring direction (now CSM #F8)
  • AF Fine-tuning options now allow tuning for zoom lenses (wide and tele ends can be programmed differently)
  • Focus position can be saved on power down
  • Pixel mapping was added to refresh the image sensor (removes hot pixels)
  • Added a new Energy saving mode for still photography
  • Removed TIFF Image quality
  • Slightly changed the AF-On button and shutter release feel
  • The viewfinder hump is shaped slightly differently
  • The eye detect sensor’s performance is a bit different, particularly with the Rear LCD away from the body

That seems like a long list, right? The question a lot of folk will have is how much does that actually translate to in terms of tangible and meaningful differences? You'll note, for example, Nikon tweaked or removed some options. So if you're one of those folk that are down in the weeds using a very particular aspect/feature of the Z7, you might find that the Z7 II changes that in ways you didn't want. 

I have no idea why Nikon leaves off or changes features—TIFF on the Z7 II for example—but it's annoying, and sometimes breaks people's workflows. I suspect that part of the problem is that Nikon has a fixed space available for firmware, and that as they add new things into firmware, they sometimes need the space, so they take something else out, or they tweak something in ways that use less firmware memory. In the case of the Stack peaking image capability removal, I wonder if it was simply to make the Focus shift shooting menu options no longer a scrolling list.

So right up front, let me state a few things about the Z7 II:

  • In terms of image or video quality, I see no meaningful differences between a Z7 and Z7 II. Nikon's 45mp full frame sensor is still arguably state-of-the-art for high pixel count sensors.
  • Many of the smaller things that were changed should have also been done in a firmware update for the Z7, but weren't, probably to get Z7 users to contemplate upgrading.
  • Yes, the top, most obvious changes "fix" a few things that many Z7 users complained about, but that feels like less of an upgrade on the Z7 II than it did on the Z6 II, partly because people tend to use these cameras for different tasks.

As I write this, the original Z7 is still available, and there's a US$600 price differential between the Z7 and Z7 II. The question that most of you might ask is this: are the changes worth it? 

My answer is no and yes, in that order. I don't find myself particularly appreciating (or using in many cases) many of those changes. They fall into a category I'd call "okay nice, but doesn't change things for me." I could do without those things, so no, those changes aren't worth it. I wrote this same thing in my Z6 II review, but I feel that it's even more so with the Z7 II. If you're using the Z7 II for landscape work, for example, very few of the changes have real meaningful impact on your imagery.

The yes part of my answer primary has to do with only three things, so I'd suggest that if they don't interest you much, just go read my Z7 review and consider that version of the camera. What are those three items?

  1. Buffer performance. If you're running the camera at top frame rates and filling the buffer, the Z7 II is simply better. It's not that the Z7 had an especially restrictive buffer, it's that the Z7 II has a buffer big enough that you can generally ignore buffer constraints. But realistically, how many Z7-type users are pushing against buffer limits? I wasn't. 
  2. Focus performance. Yes, the Z7 II's focus performance is better. A bit faster to find focus, a bit better at tracking focus, a bit better in low light, and the Z7 II clearly detects faces and eyes at longer distances. Faster focus is a tough benefit to quantify, though. That said, it's an observable enough difference that will be meaningful to people who shoot action with the Z7 II. Moreover, the addition of “people/animal” AF Area modes partly fixes a problem in terms of switching the focus system quickly.
  3. USB power. The Z7 II can stay powered from USB or charge the battery in the camera. At different times I find both things useful.

Now it's possible that the dual slots or vertical grip option answers a question for you personally, but the former adds complications to the camera, and the latter adds an additional cost. 

So, I've already probably given the short answer for many of you reading this review. Now let's get to the full review. As before, my review is going to look a lot like previous reviews (but with editing where the new features/handling/performance comes into play). That's because Nikon has produced five cameras (Z5, Z6, Z6 II, Z7, Z7 II) that are all very much alike in much of their abilities. There's more the same about those cameras than there is different. And to be consistent, I try to use the same exact wording and phrases in multiple reviews when the features and performance are the same.

The Z7 II, like the Z7 before it, cribs a great deal from the DSLR lineup, particularly the D850, which seems to have served as the primary base for the Z series. The Z7 II also shares accessories with the DSLR lineup. Unlike the Nikon 1, the Z series is almost fully integrated into Nikon's long SLR/DSLR legacy products. 

Nope, nothing has changed in the back view: same controls, same layout.

Let's start with the Z7 II basics.

The Z7 II is a 45mp full frame (36x24mm) mirrorless camera. The image sensor itself is the same as in the Z7, and appears to be similar to the one used in the Nikon D850. It’s a BSI (backside illumination) Exmor-type design with the addition of phase detect photosite masking embedded in the microlens layer. Base ISO is 64, with the directly selectable range going to 25,600 (extendable with the HI settings to 102,400 equivalent, and with the LO settings down to ISO 32).

The Z7 II sensor measures slightly different than the Z7 sensor in one thing: fixed pattern noise. It appears that Nikon caught their mistake with the focus pixel rows and corrected their math. All other measurements I made between Z7 and Z7 II came up identical within sample error.

On top of the Z7 II image sensor we do not have a low pass (AA) filter, which means that moire, and to some degree noise, can produce small detail-level artifacts. On the flip side, the lack of AA also tends to produce what some find to be visually useful faux detail beyond the Nyquist frequency. A high acuity lens such as the 14-24mm f/2.8 S produces incredibly-textured detail in landscape work.

The Z-mount the Z7 II uses for lenses is distinguished by the smallest flange distance to date from the main competitors (16mm compared to a more typical 18-20mm). Coupled with a very wide throat opening of 52mm (compared to Sony's narrow 43.6mm), Nikon can (and sometimes does) put larger lens elements closer to the sensor than anyone else with a full frame camera. Nikon engineers can thus consider new optical designs where the entrance and exit pupils of the optical path have more flexibility. Nowhere do I see this come into play more than with a few of the Z Nikkors mounted on the Z7 II. Indeed, I tend to prefer the results from my Z7 II (at 45mp) to my Sony A7R Mark IV (at 60mp). 

Nikon has kept the lens release button in its usual position found on the DSLRs, and Z-mount lenses twist onto the Z7 II camera body exactly the same way F-mount lenses twist onto Nikon DSLRs. Which is to say, for some, backwards ;~). Still, that's the level of detail and consideration that any Nikon DSLR user would want Nikon to be making for mirrorless cameras that complement the DSLRs. Zoom and focus rings also work the same way in Z-dom as they do in D-dom: zoom in with a twist to the right (across the top of the lens), zoom out to the left. 

So, other than the fact that the mount is bigger and closer to the sensor, the Z7 II lens mount and lens attributes are recognizably Nikon to Nikon users. 

Of course, you can't mount a DSLR lens directly on the mirrorless Z7 II. For that Nikon has made an optional FTZ Adapter (F mount To Z mount, get it?). Another article on this site goes into the details about the FTZ adapter, so I won't elaborate much here. Suffice it to say that pretty much any AI-S or P-type manual focus Nikkor and any AF-S, AF-I, or AF-P autofocus Nikkor works much as you'd expect when mounted on a Z7 II via the FTZ adapter. That's good news, because while the Z-mount lens choices continue to get better, we only have 17 FX Z-mount Nikkor lenses as this review is published, and a number of them overlap in function (four mid-range zooms, or the three 50mm lenses, for example). Even with nine more FX lenses on the Road Map coming soon—Nikon says before April 2022—there's still a paucity of lens choice in the Z-mount versus the F-mount that will take some time to go away. Most of you who pick up a Z7 II after reading this review are going to be using at least some of your existing DSLR lenses via the FTZ for awhile.

The exception with FTZ Adapter is D-type autofocus lenses that use a screw-drive mechanism to move the focus elements. That screw-drive was powered by a motor in the DSLR cameras, which the Z7 II does not have (nor does the FTZ Adapter). It’s unclear why Nikon chose to leave this ability off; perhaps because it would have consumed more power and made the FTZ Adapter more complex. Moreover, screw-drive autofocus lenses were the poorest in terms of focus speed (only the D3, D4, D5, and D6 type bodies had the high-powered motors that could drive them fast, and big batteries to allow that not to draw down power quickly). 

You're probably wondering about the autofocus system at this point, as I just mentioned that most F-mount lenses work as expected on the Z7 II with the FTZ adapter. 

Nikon uses rows of phase detect photosite masking on the Z7 II sensor. The photosites on those rows can provide both focus and exposure information. Basically every twelfth row has this dual-function nature. Nikon claims 493 points for autofocus, but that's user selectable single points using the camera controls. In reality, there are many thousands of autofocus points in the camera, as is true of most mirrorless cameras using phase detect on sensor. One thing, though: none of these autofocus detection sites are cross-type, as you find in the DSLRs. That means that focus is far more responsive to detail on one axis only (the long axis). 

Focus performance with the latest firmware extends to -4EV with an f/2 lens attached. That's with the low light focus function enabled; normally it's -3EV. Those numbers are at least equivalent to the Nikon D750, one of the best low-light focusing DSLRs to date. Indeed, I'd tend to call them state-of-the-art numbers. (Note that some other makers use faster lenses to get higher numbers ;~). That said, if you need fastest-possible focus performance in low light, the Z6 II is the better camera for that (-4EV and -6.5EV, or a stop to two stops better than the Z7 II). 

The thing about phase detect on the image sensor is that the precision with which the current focus position can be calculated is less than that in the DSLRs (at least at the central positions). That mostly has to do with geometry. That's why virtually all of mirrorless camera systems default to a followup contrast detect focus step after performing a phase detect step when they're set to what's known as single servo focus (AF-S in the Nikon cameras; it means that focus is only obtained once, and does not track the subject). The Z7 II does not typically perform contrast detect steps, though (except in Pinpoint AF mode and when set to Low-light AF). Somehow, Nikon has gotten the same level of accuracy without having to perform the extra step in many cases.

In continuous servo (AF-C in Nikon parlance), the Z7 II usually only performs a single phase detect focus operation. Note that whichever AF-area mode you pick in AF-C, far more than one underlying focus sensor (pixel) is being used to determine focus. That both helps and potentially hurts AF-C focus accuracy. I'll get to accuracy in the Performance section, below.

You should also know that the Z7 II respects shooting aperture up to f/5.6. In other words, viewing and focus is performed at f/2.8 if you're set at f/2.8, while viewing and focus is performed at f/5.6 if you're set at f/5.6. When you set apertures of f/6.3 and smaller, the camera views and focuses the scene with the lens set to f/5.6 (or the maximum aperture of the lens if it's physically smaller than f/5.6). The unique aspect of this is that the EVF shows DOF directly up to f/5.6. Beyond that, you need to invoke a programmed button or pull off the trick I note in my book to see exact DOF in the viewfinder.

The main worry of Nikon DSLR users considering a Z7 II has tended to be focus speed. They needn't have worried. Phase detect is essentially instant—okay, there's lag in the electronics stream to account for, but that's quite minimal—so it really depends upon the performance of the focus motor in the lens as to whether the actual focus speed is good or not. The focus motors in the Z-mount lenses tend to be very fast (and generally silent).

The worry among DSLR users was that no other mirrorless camera with adapter managed to achieve reasonable focus speed with existing F-mount Nikkors. So let me just say that focus speed with AF-S lenses mounted on the FTZ adapter on a Z7 II is excellent, too, with perhaps a small caveat I'll get to in a moment.

I see no important difference in how AF-S lenses on the FTZ adapter work (yeah, a confusion of terms, that AF-S is not single servo, but a lens motor designation), though in a few cases I can measure it as slightly slower to initial focus than the same lens on my D6. I actually think AF-P lenses may work a little faster on the Z7 II than they do on the DSLRs, but that "little" is so little that I can't actually measure it accurately, and you have an apples and oranges problem to deal with even trying to do such a test. Suffice it to say that Nikon DSLR AF-I, AF-S, and AF-P autofocus lenses mounted on an FTZ adapter pretty much keep their performance characteristics on the Z7 II. Fast focusing lenses on a DSLR still tend to be fast focusing lenses on the Z7 II.

What's missing on the Z7 II autofocus are some of the traditional Nikon DSLR autofocus area modes in AF-C, plus the ability to switch AF-area mode quickly. You can't assign AF-ON+AF-area mode to anything, as you can on the D850 and other D5-generation DSLRs. There's no Group AF mode, nor any size variations for the Dynamic-area AF mode. We do now have a Wide-area AF (L-people) and Wide-area AF (L-animals) mode, though (yes, those names are clunky). 

Meanwhile, manual focus lenses on the Z7 II shine. That's because we have a plethora of "helpers" to help you nail focus. The full list—which requires a chipped lens that reports focal length and aperture to the camera—includes rangefinder focus distance display, the usual Nikon >o< focus indicator, the focus sensor indicator being used turning from red to green, the ability to magnify the display in the viewfinder, and focus peaking overlays. (Non-chipped lenses will lose the rangefinder and perhaps more depending upon how you've set the camera, but are still quite usable on the Z7 II.)

Even though I'm just outlining features, I'll say this right up front: if you're deep into using manual focus Nikkors that are chipped (basically AI-P and some third party lenses), the Z7 II is the best camera you can use them on. No doubts about it. The chipped Voigtlander and Zeiss (ZF.2 and later) primes fit into this category, as well. You're simply going to get to correct focus visually faster and more accurately with your lens on the Z7 II via FTZ adapter than you will with any other camera mounting those lenses. I'd even include the Fujifilm X and Sony A7 series in that statement. 

For a company that caters to legacy users, all those AI and AI-S manual focus Nikkor owners can relax: Nikon designed the Z7 II+FTZ adapter so that it can work with those lenses, though you'll probably need to set focus peaking to use them well and you'll need to set Non-CPU lens data for sensor-based VR and exposure controls for them to work properly. And, of course, all the owners of autofocus lenses with built-in focus motors (AF-I, AF-S, AF-P) can relax, too. I'm surprised and thrilled at how much compatibility Nikon has managed to retain while moving over into the mirrorless realm from DSLR. 

Unfortunately, if you have a screw-drive autofocus Nikkor—lenses that require a motor in the camera body to move the focus elements in the lens—you will lose autofocus if you mount it on the FTZ Adapter. It's entirely possible that someone, including Nikon, might eventually build an adapter that works for all those older screw-mount autofocus lenses, but I wouldn't hold my breath. That has power implications, among other things.

Since I just mentioned power, the Z7 II uses the same basic battery as Nikon has used for the advanced small body DSLRs for some time: the EN-EL15, though this time it's a slightly more beefier version, the EN-EL15C. Yes, you can use your older EN-EL15 in the Z7 II. You can use your EN-EL15a or EN-EL15b, too. But the Z7 II comes with the new variation of that battery, the EN-EL15c, which stores a bit more power (2280 mAh instead of 1900 mAh).

Both the EN-EL15b and EN-EL15C can be charged in the camera via USB (Nikon originally supplied the EH-7P charger and cable to do this with the Z7 and Z7 II, but parts shortages may mean you don't get one today). The older batteries can't be charged this way, only the EN-EL15b and EN-EL15c (I have gotten a third party EN-EL15c to work, as well). One new thing with the Z7 II is when you've got an AC power source that supports USB Power Delivery plugged into the camera, you can operate the camera from that source (a battery with some charge still needs to be in the camera, though). I use my Z6 II as a continuously on Webcam using this facility, and you can use a Z7 II this way, as well (a bit of overkill; you don't need 45mp sensors for great Webcam video).

bythom nikon mbn11

Related to this, Nikon now makes an MB-N11 Battery grip (above) that features two battery slots and a full set of vertical-oriented camera controls (shutter release, front/rear dials, AF-On button, programmable button, thumb stick). This new accessory only works with both the Z6 II and Z7 II; it can't be used with the older cameras. 

I glossed over a feature in the sensor description, above: on-sensor VR. The Z7 II has on-sensor stabilization. The implementation is robust, though Nikon's sensor-VR has a bit less physical movement capability than Sony’s. Nikon’s version powers down into a locked state rather than let the sensor platform dangle in space when in your bag. Nikon claims 5-stops CIPA from the on-sensor VR. Yes, the on-sensor VR works with manual focus lenses, too (including unshipped lenses if you set Non-CPU lens data for them). As I wrote above, the Z7 II is a Nikkor manual focus user's dream. 

Not all is perfect with that on-sensor VR, though. First, with video Nikon is claiming only a 2-stop improvement at the sensor, which can be improved to 5-stops via turning on an additional feature, Electronic VR (only works with video, as it moves the scan area). 

The other thing you need to be aware of is that if a Nikkor lens has VR and a switch to control that, that switch controls all VR, in the lens or on the sensor. If the lens doesn't have VR or no VR switch, then only the camera menu system controls VR operation. Third party lenses with stabilization, especially older ones, may not correctly interface with the camera's VR, though. I've seen several where the lens switch doesn't seem to be recognized by the camera, and others that stay powered even when the viewfinder is off.

It doesn't end there. In one of the biggest design dissonances in the DSLR to mirrorless transition, the type of VR is controlled by the lens, unless it isn't. If the lens has Off, On, and Sports modes in its switch, great, everything matches, and that lens switch does indeed sets Off, On, and Sports modes. But if the lens has Off, On, and Active modes on its switch, oops. The switch only controls On and Off: Active mode will be the same as On.

Some simplifications abound in the Z7 II design when compared to the higher-end DSLRs. First up is the removal of the Mode button and the inclusion of a locking Mode dial. This also removes the Bank settings from the menu and provides the U1, U2, and U3 user settings of the consumer Nikon DSLRs. One problem with that is that not all functions are actually saved in U1, U2, and U3. One primary one that isn't remembered: the drive function (self-timer, single shot, continuous shot, etc.). Meanwhile, while you can save your camera configuration to your memory card, you can only do that once on a card; Nikon still doesn't support multiple, named settings files as does Sony. Worse, the camera configuration saved to card doesn't include the U1/U2/U3 settings.

Another issue with the U1, U2, and U3 design is that you can't switch exposure modes ;~). This was one of the things that Nikon eventually addressed with extended banks in the pro cameras (having a user-defined exposure mode associated with a bank that can be overridden while shooting). Sony also found a way around this issue. While most photographers won't be upset by the simplifications inherent in the Nikon U-type settings over banks, we do lose flexibility in the camera with this design, and I can no longer say that Nikon's are the best cameras in terms of control customization and recall. 

Since the Z7 II is slotted in the same basic position as the D850, which uses banks, a number of D850 users are balking at switching over to Nikon's mirrorless system. Coupled with other D850-things that didn't make it to the Z7 II, I can't blame them. I believe Nikon has to fix this problem with the eventual Z7 III. 

Let's deal with card slots next. The Z7 II gets one CFexpress slot (which can also use the older XQD cards, as well), and one SD slot (which is UHS II enabled). I'm not a fan of mismatched slots. I would have preferred two CFexpress slots. The Z7 II isn't a speed camera, so even two matched SD UHS II slots would have been fine (ala the Z5). 

But it is what it is, and so we have the two mixed card slots. I know some of you will be disappointed that you need an XQD or CFExpress card to use both slots in the Z7 II, but I'm not disappointed by that. The Type B CFExpress cards are an appropriate state-of-the-art card for a product such as the Z7 II. This has increased the buffer size over the Z7 by more than 50%, and with my fastest CFexpress card in the camera I found that you can actually shoot continuously at about 2 fps in many cases, even with the buffer full!

Two slots means that the full set of Nikon second slot card use options are available, including a new playback option. For some reason, Nikon took out the ability to save TIFFs, though.

Shutter lag is technically about 65ms (the D850, for example, maxes out at 45ms). That's not bad at all: we used to have professional DSLRs that were worse. The problem, however, is that the EVF view has a lag of about 1/60 all on its own. Thus, you may see people reporting much longer shutter lag numbers, as they're adding in both lags together. Put a different way, a DSLR user doesn't have to adjust what they're seeing to reality: when they see that they should press the shutter release, they get a very brief delay before the shutter opens (again 45ms on the D850 in best case). 

The mirrorless user has to better anticipate the moment, as if they go solely by what they see in the viewfinder, by the time they press the shutter release another 20ms or more may have passed. I don't see this as an issue on the Z7 II as the "bundled lag" is still less than many consumer DSLRs. I'm just telling you that DSLR and mirrorless users that are trying to capture the same moment with a single press need to adjust when they do that to the circumstances slightly differently. Inherently, the shutter lag on the Z7 II is in what I would call the pro realm, and not meaningfully different than many of the higher-end DSLRs.

The bigger problem with lag in the Z7 II viewfinder comes when you set Continuous H (extended). Instead of a continuous live view (again 60 fps), you get a further lagged slide-show type view of 10 fps. It's impossible to keep your framing correct when you set that option, especially with moving subjects. Stick to 5.5 fps and Continuous H and you'll be fine, though. I don't see this as much of a drawback, as I don't use the Z7 II as a speed camera. To me, this particular aspect of the Z system cameras is much more of a problem on the Z6 II, where I really would at times like to be photographing at 14 fps instead of 5.5.

You're probably wondering other things about the viewfinder, though. Nikon made big promises about the original Z7 having the "best" EVF on any camera, and the Z7 II uses the same one. The 3.69m dot half-inch LCD is basically a quad VGA monitor (1280 x 960) sitting behind some impressive Nikon glass that make for a very excellent eyepiece. That nets a 0.8x magnification with a 21mm eyepoint. With my rather thin glasses I have to strain to see all of the image area that magnification is so big. If you'd rather shoot without glasses, Nikon's provided a larger than usual -4 to +2 diopter adjustment, as well.

Is it the "best" EVF still? No, I've seen a couple of better ones on higher-priced cameras now. Still, the Z7 II EVF is one of the most natural looking I've encountered (particularly if you use the Neutral Picture Control), and quite nice to work with. Nikon has graded the view well, and doesn't degrade to a lower resolution view as easily as some EVFs do in certain situations, such as low light. But it's still an EVF. That means that you'll sometimes see exposure or focus "pumping" that you wouldn't see in an optical viewfinder. In bright (but not extreme contrast) daylight scenes I would tend to agree with Nikon that this is the best EVF so far; I often forget I am using a mirrorless camera. Given that we can now turn off all the overlaying exposure and settings information, that means that you can get an excellent, clear view for composing without feeling like you're staring at a television set.

Indoors and particularly in very low light, the EVF starts to show that's it an EVF. In particular, noise can start to show up when light is in short supply. Still, it's not the terrible contrast-crushed view that we had in many earlier mirrorless cameras.

bythom z6ii lcdout

Out back we get the excellent 3.2" 2.1m dot touchscreen Nikon has been using lately. It's on a platform that allows tilting up a bit more than 90° and tilting down about 45°. The basic touchscreen interface is the same as the D850, which is to say, quite good, about as good as we've gotten from anyone. Navigating playback or menus is fast, and touch-to-focus-and-shoot works quite rapidly compared to some other implementations I've seen (starts with an S... ;~). 

What else should you know about the camera itself? Well, a lot. I'll try to stay as brief as I can be here, as I really want you to read the handling and performance sections of the review. (I've probably already lost the TL;DR folk ;~).

The Z7 II does not have a built-in flash. It does have the regular Nikon hot shoe up top, and is compatible with all the recent CLS (i-TTL) Speedlights. One thing to note: flash sync speed is 1/200, not 1/250, and you can't shoot flash with the silent shutter (you can use electronic first curtain electronic shutter, though). If you want to go radio wireless with flash, you'll need an SB-5000 and the WR-R11b transmitter, which plugs into the rectangular 10-pin slot at the bottom of the connector area and is pretty much out of your way. That same connector is used for wired remotes like the MC-DC2, and for other accessories such as the GP-1A GPS unit. Optical wireless remains the same as with the DSLRs. 

GPS data can also be obtained via SnapBridge from your smartphone, which these days is up to version 2.8.x and now quite useful, though not without some lingering faults. One interesting change is that SnapBridge now allows you to shoot raw files and still push over 2mp JPEGs to your smartphone (I requested that four years before it finally appeared). You can even update the camera firmware via SnapBridge now, which is very handy and works well. Nikon also added one somewhat useful thing to the Wi-Fi capabilities of the Z7 II beyond SnapBridge: the ability to speak both AdHoc and Infrastructure modes, which gives you access to your computer via your router. The problem with this implementation is that it is slow and requires a Nikon software utility on your computer. When I say slow, I mean slower than your Wi-Fi is capable of, and almost slow enough not to be useful. Almost. 

Likewise, the USB 3.0 (SuperSpeed) connector on the camera doesn't seem to really move data at 5MBs. That's probably not the fault of the electronics, but more the fault of the camera OS driving the electronics. Fortunately, it is more than fast enough for studio-type tethered shooting.

There's been some confusion about frame rates with the Z7 II. You top out at 5.5 fps with a Live View update. To get the 10 fps you need to select Continuous H (Extended), but again, that puts the camera into that slide show type of viewfinder update. Autofocus and exposure work as normal at the top frame rate. 

I've already noted that the shutter has a flash sync of 1/200, but otherwise it is the usual 30 second to 1/8000 vertical-travel focal-plane shutter type. You can set a mode where Manual exposure can set up to 900 second (15 minute) exposures in the Z7 II (this was not in the Z7). Because mirrorless cameras by default "double-clutch" the shutter—first they close while the sensor resets, then they open to start exposure, close to end exposure, and finally open again to restore live view—Nikon has also added an electronic front curtain shutter (EFCS) mode, which you'll pretty much want to use all the time for shutter speeds lower than 1/250 (otherwise too much shutter slap can impact the image). The Custom Settings include an automated function—the default—that will do just that: shoot EFCS up to 1/250, and mechanical shutter above that.

Note that if you set EFCS directly—instead of the auto switchover—that puts some limitations on the camera (1/2000 maximum shutter speed, and ISO 25,600 maximum). 

Nikon has thrown in a few tidbits that require a lot more evaluation to fully understand, including automatic diffraction compensation. Coupled with a new Mid-range sharpening control in the Picture Controls, Nikon is touting that they're now doing different three types of sharpening to create the final image—JPEGs only— and which deal with differences in the way our eyes respond to contrast in different areas. I can say that, after using the Z7 II, I am finding that the four controls that you can impact acuity with (Sharpening, Mid-range sharpening, Clarity, and Diffraction compensation) now allow me to dial in my JPEGs a little better than I had been able to do on earlier DSLRs. But you need to be careful: these controls interact, and you can get very "crunchy" results if you're not careful. I suggest you start with slightly higher Sharpening, no Clarity addition, a slight boost to Mid-range sharpening, plus Diffraction compensation turned On. Season from there.

Overall size and weight of the Z7 II is a bit like the D7500, a DSLR camera a whole class level down (in sensor size and more). To those that wonder: yes, there is an immediate and tangible difference in feel when moving from the D850 to the Z7 II: the Z7 II feels lighter and nimbler. If you’re moving from a D500 or D750 to the Z7 II, the difference is more minimal. By keeping the deep hand grip and traditional Nikon controls coupled with the usual Nikon high-end build quality, the Z7 II still feels like a Nikon. 

One thing many DSLR users don't appreciate until it actually comes to packing time is just how the overall volume difference due to the missing mirror box really starts to add up with equivalent camera/lens sets. I have a number of small bags now that I can fit a basic Nikon Z kit into (body plus a couple of lenses and batteries), that would never accept an equivalent DSLR kit.

That many early adapters of mirrorless cameras have been using them for travel is the result of this downsizing. Amazingly, I can fit my small basic Z7 II bag into my favorite laptop briefcase (the expensive but packed with excellence Waterfield Air Porter) and still have room for my laptop, tablet, headphones, chargers, accessories, and other travel gear. 

The Z7 II body is said to have the same dust and drip resistance as the D850 (Nikon's words, not mine). My friend Roger Cicala has torn a Z7 down (the Z7 II is nearly identical in construction, though there are some internal differences), and his observations mostly match mine: Nikon has put seals everywhere on the Z series. Moreover, even just doing a partial disassembly I noted the same thing as Roger: Nikon is using overlap as well as sealing in many areas. 

Now many are interpreting that to mean that you can get the Z7 II really wet and not have issues. First, the camera will not survive submersion. There's also one very vulnerable ingress point: the card slots. As long as the card slot door is closed, yes, the rubber gaskets and overlap will probably work fine. But note that the card slots are soldered directly to the main PC board. So if the door is open and water gets in, it can get right into the one place you absolutely don't want it. 

While I don't panic if my D850 gets wet and won't panic if my Z7 II gets similarly wet, if you're going to be in inclement conditions use prophylactic practices, as I do. Be very careful when the card slot door is open or there is no lens/cap on the mount. 

Likewise, while those seals should lesson the chance of dust getting into the body, changing lenses and any air pumping action of zoom lenses will have a tendency to get dust onto the sensor. The in-camera sensor cleaning capability is weaker than we're used to on the DSLRs, too. It works, but only if used with regularity and only on modest dust. Z7 II users should own a browser bulb (and one that is known not to have rubber preservatives it can blow out) and keep it with them. 

Video capabilities of the Z7 II are extensive, and while they won't excite videographers quite as much as the Z6 II capabilities, the Z7 II is still a very reasonable video camera. 

The primary difference to note with video between the Z6 II and Z7 II is how the data is obtained off the sensor. The Z6 II does a full frame grab of all pixels and downsizes to 4K output. The Z7 II does a sub-sampled grab of about 93% of the frame (1.1x crop) or a sub-sampled grab of the DX frame. This means that the Z7 II is slightly prone to producing visible artifacts on pans and motion. Still, it's quite good output for the most part.

While no longer alone with this feature after similar launches from others, Nikon was the first to introduce a true full frame 4K with 10-bit uncompressed 4:2:2 off the HDMI port. Nikon even went so far as to work with Atomos to let the US$700 Ninja V external recorder [advertiser link] control the camera. That 10-bit data on the HDMI port can be saved in what Nikon calls N-Log, their version of the ubiquitous log-format videographers prefer for post-shoot color grading. With the Atomos Ninja V you also can see a view assist grading so you're looking at something more approaching what your graded footage will look like. 

Using the Atomos and N-Log you need to be a little careful not to overheat the camera, and autofocus performance for some reason suffers slightly. Still, for shorter takes using the kind of lens you'd normally use for video (e.g. manual focus), the results can be spectacular. 

But wait, there's more. With a trip to Nikon service stations and a small payment, the Z7 II can now produce 12-bit ProRes RAW footage coupled with the Atomos Ninja, or 12-bit Blackmagic RAW coupled with the Blackmagic Design Video Assist monitors. I wish I could say that this was a great addition, but Nikon has chosen an odd method with which to form the raw data, which compromises the pixel integrity a bit compared to regular 10-bit. So there's the potential for gain (bit depth) coupled with the potential for loss (artifacts from the sizing method used).

No one expected Nikon to up their video game, but with a little help from Atomos and Blackmagic Design the Z7 II has indeed done just that. Note that Nikon is the only company so far to support both ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW.

At 4K, the Z7 II shoots using 93% of the full frame (1.1x crop) and does so at 30/25/24P. If you want 60/50P you have to set DX as the Image area (1.5x crop). Actually, that's not quite right: DX will be automatically set as the Image area if you select 60/50P.

1080P users can shoot at 24/25/30/50/60/100 and even 120 fps, again using the sub-sampled full frame width (up to 60 fps; at higher rates the 1.1x crop becomes DX 1.5x crop). If that weren't enough, there's internal timecode capability, focus peaking, on-screen zebras, and a bunch more assorted video-oriented goodies. The MOVIE SHOOTING menu has 27 options in it, and the Live View selector switch invokes those when set to video, so it's quite easy to set the Z7 II up one way for still photography, another for video recording. 

Bit rates are probably the weakest point on the Z7 II video, as internally you max out at 144Mbps in 4K. That's a decent bit rate, and higher than on the Sony A7R Mark IV, but not spectacular (the GH5 does 400Mbps in 4K). For 1080P, the bit rates max out at 56Mbps (and require 50 or 60 fps to do so; 24 fps drops to 28Mbps). 1080P slow motion tops out at 36Mbps. Generally, broadcast television wants at least 50Mbps for source material, preferably higher, as the signal you see on your screen will have multiple downstream compressions that are added.

That said, I'd say that the video from the Z7 II looks good, and recorded on an Atomos Ninja or Blackmagic Design Video Assist, the Z7 II can clearly compete with some pro video cameras, though you have to watch out for artifacts on motion due to the sub-sampling.

Video uses the same autofocus system as stills, and if you've complained about Live View, and thus video, autofocus performance on Nikon DSLRs, you're in for a big, important, and useful change shooting video with the Z7 II. Nikon now has probably the best follow focus I've seen out of any ILC camera doing video. Not that I tend to use that, but for casual use, it's very effective with minimal annoying hunts and misses. Do note that the autofocus performance does tend to get impacted if you are shooting N-Log to the external HDMI; apparently there's just too much processing going on for Nikon to keep the focus system running at the same refresh rate.

The Nikon Z7 II is made in Thailand, with about three-quarters of the assembly done by automation according to Nikon. The camera lists for US$2999. 

Source of the review camera: purchased from stock

Nikon's page for the Z7 II

Thom’s Book for the Z7 II

How's it Handle?
While the general consensus has been good about how the Z7 II handles—many people write "it handles like a Nikon DSLR"—don't get too caught up in those easy assessments. They're somewhat wrong. I can find plenty of places where the Z7 II does not handle like a Nikon DSLR. Whether those are important to you or not will depend a lot on how you shoot and what features you use. 

Gone, for instance, are the double-button shortcuts (Reset and Format). While I don't miss the former, the latter was a handy shortcut. Everyone's now going to want to consider setting up a customizable button to MyMenu and putting Format memory card as the first thing on that menu. Otherwise you'll get into menu diving pretty quickly every time you want to reformat a card. Frankly, that was a mistake by Nikon. They could have used the ISO/Delete buttons the same as on the D850 as a short cut. I see no good reason why they took this feature out.

Other annoying "moved to menu" things abound, as well. 

Take bracketing, for instance. It's the 29th thing on the PHOTO SHOOTING menu (I kid you not). Nikon's going to say "just add bracketing to your i (quick) menu," but which of the other deeply buried menu items that also reside in the i menu are you going to give up? Metering? Picture Control? Image Quality? VR? Focus settings? WB?

Which brings me to the one semi-critical handling issue with the Z7 II: it just doesn't have enough customizable buttons for the sophisticated shooter. We've got Fn1 (default is WB) and Fn2 (default is Focus mode and AF-area mode), AF-On (which you'll probably want to leave set to AF-On), the thumb stick button, and the red Record Movie button. That's not enough buttons (nor are there enough i menu positions) for all the things you're going to want to promote up to a higher level than a full menu dive. 

Which makes the Z7 II a bit of a "slow" camera to work with compared to the best Nikon DSLRs. Yes, you can use MyMenu and the U1/U2/U3 settings to try to flesh things out, but you still have a finite number of slots for what seems like an infinite number of settings to control. You really need to think things through very carefully to maximize the customization of the camera, and I'll bet that even if you do that, you'll still wish you had more things you could assign. 

Tip: The camera does have a Drive button (frame rate, self timer), and that's duplicated up in the i menu defaults. So there's one thing you can consider replacing on the i menu.)

VR is something you'll need to come to grips with. Yes, the Z7 II has on-sensor VR. But you can also mount lenses (currently via the FTZ adapter) that have VR. If the lens has the same VR controls as the camera (Off, Normal, Sport), then the VR setting is always controlled by the switch on the lens. If not, well, things get a bit more problematic. And if there's no VR on the lens, then the only way you can control the sensor VR is via the menu system. The good news is that all your non-VR lenses now have VR (on sensor). The bad news is that you have to pay attention to where you're controlling when VR is active or not. It's easy to turn off the VR in the camera, then mount a VR lens and control VR from there, then forget that you've left VR off in the camera when you mount another non-VR lens. 

Tip: VR can be assigned to a space on the i menu.

A somewhat bigger issue with the Z7 II handling is the startup delay. It’s a bit faster than the Z7, but still not instantaneous, particularly if you've set Save focus position to On. Using any mirrorless camera is not as instantaneous as with a DSLR. That means you really don't want to have the camera off if you're doing anything that approaches spontaneous photography. The good news is that the delay coming out of standby mode is short. Still not quite as quick as the DSLRs, and just long enough that you could miss a image if you're quick on the draw. 

Something that I don’t believe was implemented correctly is focus peaking and zebras. Unlike Sony, where you can pretty much select those things to appear in the EVF all the time, Nikon has put limits on both. Zebras are only available when you're set to video, for some reason. Focus Peaking only works when you're manually focusing. That normally includes being in an autofocus mode and manually overriding the focus, but there's a bit of a gotcha if you're a back button focusing addict: you have to hold that button down while manually focusing, which seems counterintuitive.

The arrival of the 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens produced another strange handling issue: how the focus and third ring are configured. There's a hidden Custom Setting #A12 that pops up when you mount a three-ring lens. But the wording and the interaction with the Custom Setting #F2 ring configuration is clumsy, confusing, and not well thought out. There shouldn't be an #A12, there should be a better handled #F2. 

Something that some might find a handling issue is the charging of the battery via USB-C. The bad news here is that charging works only with the EN-EL15b and EN-EL15c batteries, and only with the camera turned off. In other words, you can't charge your older batteries this way, nor can you do anything with the camera while the battery is charging. The MB-N11 doesn’t completely solve this, moreover, you have to plug your USB cable directly into the MB-N11 to charge batteries in it.

You'll note that I've identified quite a few minor handling issues. Virtually all of these are "down in the weeds" issues, though. For many of the more casual shooters, they're not going to be limitations. It's when you compare the Z7 II against the D850 that the Z7 II starts coming up a bit short in a few handling areas.

What I wrote at the start of this section—that many think the Z7 II handles like a Nikon—is basically true. You see the Nikon DNA in almost all the handling decisions, and it's relatively easy for a dedicated Nikon DSLR user to adjust to the Z7 II quickly. But over time, that same user is likely to be asking Nikon for some changes. For example, Sony's focus peaking and zebras are more flexible and usable than Nikon's. Long term, we shouldn't be tolerating lower level of capabilities in a US$3000 camera, IMHO. 

Finally, it seems ironic that Nikon removed the DOF button on a camera (D7500) because Live View provides a perfectly acceptable rendering of what is and isn't out of focus (on the Rear LCD), but then they make cameras that are basically always in Live View that require a DOF button to see what is and isn't out of focus (at least beyond f/5.6). 

The Z7 II normally uses the user-specified aperture for viewing up through f/5.6. So as long as you're shooting at f/0.95 to f/5.6, you're seeing the correct focus point and DOF in the viewfinder (and on the Rear LCD). But the minute you go beyond that, say f/8 or f/11, you now need to have a customizable button to force the camera to stop down to show you DOF, and any lens focus shift—several Z lenses have some—is not addressed. (There's a trick I describe in my Complete Guide to the Z6 II and Z7 II that also gets you a quick DOF assessment. Indeed, there are a lot of small tricks available that address small shortcomings in the handling.)

And then there are the weird, self goals: Multiple exposure (ME) shooting doesn't result in an in-camera raw (as it does in the D850). Most everything else is the same with ME, but not this one small aspect. (Nikon does add one nice thing and display the previous frame as overlay in the viewfinder as you compose the additional shot, though.) Meanwhile, the U1/U2/U3 settings don't actually remember all camera set parameters (for instance, they don't remember Release Mode). 

Another simplification that didn't belong in this class of camera: removal of the channel highlights abilities. We only get the blinkies now for the luminance channel; there’s no way to see which channel is blowing out short of going to the RGB Histogram page, and the small channel histograms will have you looking closely to see what’s going on.

These smaller things are a problem, in my mind, as they weren’t “fixed” from the Z7 to the Z7 II update, meaning Nikon either didn’t notice them, or they don’t think these are issues. 

The reason that the Z7 worked as a first generation mirrorless platform is because so much was brought over fairly directly from the DSLRs, particularly the D850. But it wasn't a complete transplant, and there are abundant small, rough edges because of that. The Z7 II doesn't fix enough of those rough edges, in my opinion.

I'm being very picky and detailed here, because these are the things Nikon has to correct to make a best-in-class camera that will drive the competition nuts and put customers into a nirvana state. Hopefully Nikon corporate sees and understands all that I've written in this section. Yes, the Z7 II handles quite well and competently. It just isn't a home run. Maybe a triple off the wall. The camera business is now getting small and competitive enough that the home runs are what will still be around five years from now. 

That said, the Z7 II does handle enough like a Nikon DSLR that it is an easy transition for any Nikon DSLR user. The primary differences are dictated by the mirrorless nature of the Z7 II, not random design choices. 

So, Nikon mostly nailed handling, but still has some issues that need addressing.

How's it Perform?

Buffer: Frankly, one of the clear difference I see between the original Z7 and this new Z7 II model is in buffer capability. The Z7 tended to max out at about 20 images for the NEF settings I typically use (with the best XQD card; CFexpress cards tended to steal just a bit from that number). My Z7 II is getting about 60 frames at the same settings (with a CFexpress card). So basically a 3x increase, which is impressive given that the frame rate on the Z7 II also increased slightly (10 fps versus 9 fps). 

Some of the buffer difference is due to the two EXPEED6 processors, as now one of them is more dedicated to the image processing while photographing (the other is doing mostly real-time camera settings work, like exposure and focus). But some of the difference appears also due to Nikon having moved to a slightly faster card slot mechanism that's tuned to CFexpress rather than XQD.

We're now somewhat better than the D850 range with the frame rate and with plenty of buffer. Do you really hold down the shutter release for more than six seconds? Doubtful. I rarely do that even for the most intense sports coverage.

I'd say that the Z7 II buffer is mostly ignorable for most uses. Yes, I suppose a few of you will manage to trigger a full buffer and a reduced frame rate, but if you really are hitting the buffer limit shooting raw files, just dial in 12-bit and you'll get about another second's worth. JPEG shooters shouldn't have any real issues (110 shot buffer in worst case I've tested).

Compared to a Sony A7R Mark IV, the Z7 II is better at JPEG buffering, about the same with compressed raw buffering, and better with uncompressed raw buffering in my testing. But neither are slouches. I'd judge the buffer to be fine for both cameras.

Battery: Yes, the CIPA rating has some people worried (420 shots/charge). In practice, I've been averaging 600-800 images a charge, depending a bit upon what I'm doing. If you're going to take a couple images a day and park the camera for long periods, no, you won't get that. But if you go out for an intense photographic session, you'll probably be surprised that the battery holds up just fine. I tend to measure the battery now more in terms of hours of performance, not images. An intense four-hour session is about what I expect the battery to last for. Sometimes it does better (perhaps because I wasn't photographing as intensely as I thought ;~). So two fully charged EN-EL15c's tend to last me all day even in the worst case use.

Autofocus: A difference in performance on the Z7 II versus the original Z7 that's noticeable is the focus speed and accuracy. I'm going to caution that it's impossible to quantify that difference, but there seems to be a noticeable difference in several areas. 

First, I do think the Z7 II is a tiny bit faster to initial focus acquisition than the Z7 with Z Nikkors, though this is tough to notice because the focus sensor boxes in the EVF still have significant lag in them as to where the camera is actually focusing in the automatic modes. I can, during fast panning, for example, see that the focus box sometimes doesn't catch up to the subject in the viewfinder, but focus was actually achieved by the camera. To me, the focus sensor indicator lag is the worst performance aspect of the Z cameras to date, and has not been improved significantly with updates, though it is somewhat better on the Z7 II than it is on the Z7. Sony does focus sensor reporting far better, and Canon's not far behind Sony.

Thus, if you just go by what the focus indicators are saying, you might not even notice that the Z7 II is a bit faster than the Z7 in acquiring focus. Or in following focus.

As most of you know, I never thought that the original Z6 and Z7 were "slow" or "unreliable" at following focus. Much of the early Internet nonsense about the Nikon's not being as good as the Sony's (or Fill-in-Your-Brand-Here) was just that: nonsense. Most of those opinions were driven by not understanding how the focus system actually worked and by Nikon's bull-headed stubbornness in not bringing over all the DSLR instant focus controls so that you could use previously-acquired skills (still true on the Z7 II). 

So let me start by restating a couple of conclusions I came to in my three years of testing the Nikon Z's and the Sony A's side by side: (1) if you want "complete idiot mode" autofocus, yes, the Sony cameras still tend to do this slightly better, and do a slightly more consistent job of getting something that looks decent in focus (though often the focus plane is not exactly where you think it is); and (2) the Sony cameras acquire faces and eyes better from a long distance and more reliably (though not nearly as much as before with the Z7 II changes).

I might add that Sony seems a bit more consistent on closest subject priority, but the notion that Sony Alpha cameras don't sometimes latch onto bright backgrounds and refuse to let go was clearly shown by Fox Sports in their use of A7R Mark IV and A1 cameras this past NFL and other sports season. I saw multiple instances on live television where the Sonys did exactly what fan boys claim only the Nikons do: focus on the background despite a clear human subject in the foreground. I don't see any of those Sony fans talking about that ;-).

Since we should really compare as close to apples to apples as possible, you need to evaluate the Sony A7R Mark IV against the Nikon Z7 II. In that comparison, I'm not sure that there's a solid difference between those two that can be pointed to. Perhaps—and that's a perhaps, not a certainty—the A7R Mark IV on all automatic does a slightly better job of figuring out what the subject might be. Perhaps. (No, I'm not going to compare a US$3000 camera against a US$6500 camera, as a lot of Sony fans try to in order to make a point.)

But let's get to the differences between the Z7 and Z7 II. I see three small, but useful, benefits:

  1. The new AF-Area modes (Wide-area AF (L-people) and Wide-area AF (L-animals)) indeed do address an issue that comes up, especially in event and street photography. That being that if you have people scattered all over the frame, the Z7 will likely pick the face/eye that's nearest, even though that might not be where you want it to go. The Z7 II with these new modes can be more controlled as to where it looks for focus, and that's really handy in crowded scenes, and even useful in less crowded situations when there is more than one person in the frame. Nikon giveth and taketh: while the new modes are nice, you can't program them into a button where you can instantly override the AF-area mode.
  2. Face and eye detection now happens at greater distances, and with more certainty. Not that the Z7 was bad, but the improvement in the Z7 II helps give you clarity that the camera is doing the right thing (or rather, the thing you requested). Nikon giveth and taketh: again, the focus indicator lag continues to be a problem. If you wait for the indicator to catch up, you may miss moments when the camera would have taken an in-focus photograph.
  3. Tracking seems more secure. Nikon improved Subject tracking with firmware updates on the Z7 (including the ability to assign it to a button), but it wasn't as rock solid as the DSLR 3D-tracking mode. The Z7 II seems a little better and more like the DSLRs now. Still not perfect, but note that the Z7 II can track over a far wider area than can the D850.

Note that I wrote that these were three small improvements. The adjective is important. These aren't "OMG, wow wow wow" type changes. They're subtle but real improvements over what was already a very good system. Still, I have to say this: it wasn't the focus performance per se that was the Achilles heel of the Z7, it was the ability to do instant switchover to a different focus technique that made the Z7 less capable than the D500/D5/D850. Nikon hasn't addressed that with the Z7 II, and I see that as one of the things that they could have (should have) done that would have set the Z7 II clearly apart from the Z7. As it stands, we got a nice handful of performance improvements, but not the big one that Nikon's marketing seems to be trying to say happened.

Image quality: I can be brief here: there's only one image quality difference in the Z7 II that I can detect from the Z7. That would be that the ability to raise the PD striping into visibility by bringing shadows up 4 or more stops now seems to be gone. That's not surprising, as I believe the problem on the Z7 was really a small math issue that was below the level that Nikon had tested for. Nikon seems to have figured this out and addressed it. That doesn't mean that there still isn't a difference between the PD rows and the non-PD ones, only that in reasonable post processing you're never going to see it.

In terms of dynamic range, pixel quality, and all the other image quality aspects that we might talk about, I see no difference in my Z7 II from my Z7 that couldn't be ascribed to sample variation. Indeed, in so many ways the actual details were so spot on between my Z7 and Z7 II I didn't bother to change out some of the illustrations in my Z6 II/Z7 II book. No need to do all the work to replace Example A with Example B when they were to all intents and purposes the same.

So go back and read my Z7 review if you want more information on how the image quality of the Z7 II is: it's identical except for the removal of PD striping visibility in deep shadow recovery. And the Z7 II image quality is as good as a 45mp full frame sensor gets. Indeed, I still like the NEF files from my Z7 II better than I do the 60mp raw files from my Sony A7R Mark IV: while the Sony has more pixels, there's just a teeny bit more crud in the files I find myself having to deal with. Yeah, that's a technical word: crud ;~). I'm struggling to define exactly what it is I'm seeing. But let's just say that I find it easier to post process a Z7 II raw file exactly to the way I want it than I do a Sony A7R Mark IV raw file.

Final Words

Does the Z7 II "fix" the "sins" of the Z7? 

Sure. Somewhat. From a practical aspect that really boils down to USB Power Delivery, dual card slots, slightly better autofocus performance, bigger buffer, and available vertical grip with controls. If you really need those things, then the Z7 II is the camera for you, not the original Z7. 

The autofocus improvements are more subtle and nuanced than Nikon tends to trumpet. We get two new AF-Area modes that do Eye/Face detect (now in bounded regions rather than full frame), faces and eyes are detected at longer distances, and yes, there are some clear but difficult-to-measure focus speed/tracking benefits to the Z7 II over the Z7, but I'm not sure that everyone needs those things. If you were looking for dramatic autofocus differences, you probably won't find them. 

Personally, I'm disappointed at the things that Nikon didn't get around to fixing or improving after two years. My personal wish list for the Z7 II is basically as long as it was for the Z7, minus perhaps one item (USB power). 

That doesn't make the Z7 II a bad camera. Not at all. Like the Z7 before it, the Z7 II is an excellent camera, and as I write this, I find it to be a better overall camera than the Sony A7R Mark IV it competes against with one exception: the Sony can pixel shift (though it can't focus shift). But the problem is this: Nikon's left the Z7 on the market. As I write this, the Z7 is US$600 less expensive than the Z7 II and US$1000 less expensive than a Sony A7R IV. Thus, there's the clear issue of whether or not you want to pay US$600 for the short list of things that make the Z7 II better than the Z7, plus the issue of whether you want to pay US$400 or US$1000 more for Sony's extra pixels and pixel shift. 

I don't think the Z7 is going to stay on the market for long, but if it remains priced well below the Z7 II, many potential buyers in this category of camera should probably consider picking up the cheaper, older model. In terms of image quality (and even video quality out to 4K 30P), the two cameras are near identical, and state-of-the-art good.

Then there's the D850. In terms of image quality, the Z7 II and D850 are essentially identical, as is the current pricing. One's a DSLR, one's a mirrorless camera, and most of the differences between the two are the result of that. It's tough to denote a clear winner between the two because your personal bias may also get in the way. A landscape photographer, for example, would likely slightly prefer the Z7 II, particularly if they opt for the exceptionally good 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens with it. On the other hand, if you're into wildlife or action photography even part time, one could make the case that the D850's proven focus system and its additional controls for that might be a tad better. 

I wouldn't fault you for picking a Z7 II or a D850. That the DSLR camera is three years older than the mirrorless one shows you just how good the D850 really was when it was introduced. As I've written recently, the D850 is still the second best all-around camera you can buy today (I'd put the Z7 II down around fourth place, but that's still a good place to be). 

Finally, I mentioned lenses, and I think that is absolutely applicable to your decision making vis-a-vis trying to decide between cameras at this level. The Z7 II is absolutely going to show off the S lenses. Yikes the 50mm f/1.8 can be sharp, even wide open. Sharpness we're just not used to seeing in the 50mm F-mount lenses on the D850. A Z7 II with the f/2.8 zoom trio is tough to beat in terms of pixel-level optical results with any other similar camera/lens combo. 

Sure, you can put the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 lens on the Z7 II and have a 45mp walk-around camera. I think that's a bit of a travesty, though. The Z7 II has one of best high pixel-count sensors made, and it seems a shame to not try to take advantage of that. My personal Z7 II "kit" these days is the 19mm f/4 PC-E, 14-24mm f/2.8 S, 24-70mm f/2.8 S, 70-200mm f/2.8S, and 400mm f/2.8G on the FTZ adapter. I'm very happy with the results of carrying that kit. Very.

Recommended (2021 to present) (But consider the Z7 if the price is right)

Update: corrected crop information for video at high frame rates.

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