You Got A Nikon Z for XMAS. Now What?

You got a Nikon Z6, Z7, or Z50 as a Christmas present (probably to yourself, but I’m not going to judge you ;~). This is your first Nikon mirrorless camera, so now you’re thinking: what do I do next?

  1. Learn your new camera. This is always going to be my first piece of advice, no matter what new gear you get. Yes, I can point you to my books here, but just carefully reading through the manual that came with the camera and stepping through all the menu options one by one will get you a long way. At least if you’re paying attention. If you’re a former Nikon DSLR user, you’re going to find lots of things the same or similar, but there will be lots of little things that change. Your goal is to notice all those little things and figure out what to do about them. 
  2. Set up your camera. Things like Copyright Information should be filled in, you’ll want to set your PHOTO SHOOTING menu items to your defaults, not Nikon’s (Nikon defaults to JPEG NORMAL for instance, when you should be using RAW(NEF) or JPEG FINE). So while in Step 1 you learned about all the things the camera could do, in this step you’re navigating the PHOTO SHOOTING, CUSTOM SETTING, and SETUP menus making sure each menu item is as you want it normally set. 
  3. Save your settings. You can’t do that on a Z50—come on Nikon, that was a stupid feature removal—but on a Z6 and Z7 you’re going to want to use Save/Load Settings on the SETUP menu to save a copy of what you did in Step 2 to a card. And then you’re going to want to move the file that’s created from the card to your computer (because the minute you format that card in the camera, it’ll remove your settings file!). 
  4. Accessorize. Here’s where you can start to go wrong. For instance, too many people “cheap out” because of the perceived cost of XQD cards (or CFexpress now). Don’t let that be you. Apple put Thunderbolt 3 ports in their computers—which everyone once complained about—and the fastest way to get your images from your camera into your Apple computer is going to be a Thunderbolt 3 card reader (not USB 3.1!). And I mean fast. With the latest CFexpress cards and the Atech reader, I’ve seeing really, really fast ingests compared to where we were. Don’t buy the MB-N10, just buy an additional battery or two and a third-party dual battery charger. I’ll get around to a Z accessories guide soon.
  5. Check your F-mount lenses. If you bought a Z6 or Z7 you almost certainly got an FTZ adapter with it, and if you bought a Z50, you acquired one in Step 4 ;~). Most of your F-mount lenses are going to work just fine. Indeed, you’re probably going to rediscover and enjoy your manual focus Nikkors, particularly if you found Focus Peaking and the other helpers in Step 2. You’re also going to discover that your older autofocus lenses that require camera body screw drive are no longer all that interesting. Time to retire them.
  6. Figure out your lens kit. Here’s the smallest and simplest one for full frame: 14-30mm f/4 S, 24-70mm f/4 S, and 70-300mm f/4-5.6P AF-P on the FTZ adapter. That’s a highly capable 14-300mm range that’s size/weight appropriate for the Z6 and Z7. It packs small and tight, yet doesn’t really give up much optically over really expensive lenses. Z50 users have it easy: buy the two DX lenses (either you got them in the discounted two-lens kit, or you’re now kicking yourself and deciding that you need to pick up the 50-300mm separately). The other thing Z50 users need to know: FTZ Adapter with the Nikon 10-20mm AF-P is the most appropriate wide angle solution for the time being.
  7. Master focus. I’m pretty sure this will be the only thing that some of you might struggle a bit with. It’s not because the Nikon Z autofocus is poor. It’s because the focus system is somewhat different than a Nikon DSLR user is used to. Single Point still works the same, but you’re going to have to learn how Dynamic Area changed, that Wide Area is the new Group (but performs a bit differently), and just how much you can trust Auto Area (which is where Face and Eye detection live). That will take some actual testing time on your part to get fully comfortable with. I still say that the biggest issue is that Nikon took away the dedicated focus control button, not the performance of the system itself. If anything, the Z’s are more precise than the DSLRs with focus once you understand how to use them. Don’t shortcut this step. Plan to spend plenty of time with this step.

That’s it; there are no more steps, you’re done. You’re now a Z-mount user and probably very happy that you are. Yes, you might drop back to Step 4 and Step 6 from time to time as new goodies become available or you discover something you’re missing in your kit, but at this point in the process you should just be enjoying your camera and shooting with it regularly.

 Bonus Section!

If you’re employed by Nikon and reading this, you have a different set of steps you need to perform now that so many actually bought your Z cameras over the holidays:

  1. Keep updating the firmware. You simplified a lot of things. Some of those simplifications should be rethought and some of the removed options added back in. 3D Tracking AF UX is still the big gripe, though, so just fix it. The whole Save/Load mechanism needs more work, as I’ve outlined elsewhere. There’s a nice, solid list of things you can put in a firmware update or two to keep all those new users happy with their purchase while attracting new ones.
  2. Accessorize properly. Some of this will have to wait for Mark II models, as the hardware simplifications preclude a lot of things that the user base is (or will be) asking for. The vertical grip situation needs a complete rethink. USB should power the camera, not just charge batteries. There’s no Z flash, just older DSLR flashes that have lots of small issues when used on the Z’s. If a screwdrive FTZ could be made, you should make it. There’s plenty to be done, it seems.
  3. Figure out your lens kit. I’ve been giving you high marks so far, but we’re now getting to the difficult part of the Z mount: extending the basic lens set. Full frame is missing long lens options, and of course I’m going to say buzz buzz again if all we get is three consumer DX lenses. But you’re a pre-eminent lens company—or at least you say you are—so this shouldn’t be all that difficult for you. You control every bit of the process from making glass to the mount the finished lens sits in. It’s important that you get the lens set right, and it’s going to be doubly important that you get the DX lens set right, as you can’t live off of full frame alone.

Just three simple (!) things on your list, Nikon. Get those right and you’ll have more Z users than you thought you would. Get those wrong, and Sony will benefit. 

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