I’m primarily a still photographer, but I occasionally shoot video with my D850 if that’s what my clients want. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, and now that new Z cameras are here, I’m not sure what to do. I’m wondering what your opinion is, now that you’ve shot with the Z7 and Z6 for a few months. Should I stick with my trusty DSLR or do I make the switch and go mirrorless with the Z7 or Z6?
—Ben, Rhode Island
Hey, Ben in Rhode Island (BTW, my mother is from Rhode Island)! Thanks for the question. It’s one that I’ve been getting all the time since the Nikon Z cameras dropped. I’m not going to bury the lead here, and I’ll just be upfront with my answer.
I’m still torn. That said, I’ve got good news and even better news for you.
The good news for you is that your D850 is still an absolutely amazing, brilliant piece of equipment—it continues to have a place in my kit as well. The even better news is that you don’t have to “switch,” per se. This is a situation in which you can have your cake and eat it too. All of your existing Nikkor lenses will work perfectly with the Z cameras fitted with an adaptor. This means that there’s less of a commitment for you in terms of checking out a Z camera and seeing if going mirrorless is right for you.
Although most of my work now involves directing films, I still consider myself to wear both hats: I’m a filmmaker and a still photographer.
I own both the Nikon Z7 and Z6, and I’ve found that these mirrorless cameras have some real advantages—and a few disadvantages—for shooting both still and video.
For stills, I love the ability to utilize the silent shooting mode of these mirrorless cameras. The opportunity to make pictures without anyone hearing that distracting shutter click is huuuuuuuuge. Silent shooting just creates the opportunity to capture more authentic and natural moments, whether you’re shooting wildlife you don’t want to disturb, a climber who is trying her hardest to send a route, or if you’re just trying to capture candid moments of family and friends. The ability to really become that “fly on the wall” has helped me create more compelling work.
Another advantage of the Z cameras is how sharp they are. There’s something about the shorter flange distance between the rear element of the lens and the camera’s sensor that has allowed me to produce, no joke, the sharpest still photographs I’ve ever seen. I’m getting this sharpness even with an adaptor and an older Nikkor lens, but it’s even more noticeable with one of the new Z lenses specifically designed for the Z7 and Z6. I’ve been utterly blown away by the edge to edge sharpness of these cameras.
Now for the limitations: I think a Nikon D5, for example, still has a major advantage over the Z cameras in terms of its speed, power, autofocus accuracy, and ability to focus in low light. This really makes a difference depending on what you’re shooting. If you’re shooting action sports—in which you may need the ability to fire off motor-driven bursts—the D5 remains in a class of its own.
On the video side, I have a hard time seeing myself ever going back to a DSLR for video. (But, hey, never say never.) The Z cameras have a huge advantage due to the super-sharp electronic viewfinder, which allows you easily find critical focus even in mid-day light. For video, mirrorless cameras just make much more sense.
This is the first generation of full-frame mirrorless cameras from Nikon. I’m not typically an early adopter of technology, so I won’t be that guy telling you to sell your DSLR right away and run out and buy a Z camera. It just comes down to your needs, because both tools have advantages.
However, I will say this. Ever since I got my Z7 and Z6, I’ve found myself using them almost exclusively. In fact, I have to admit that my D850 hasn’t come off the shelf since the day these cameras arrived. I suspect that if you add a Z camera into your kit, the same would quickly become true for you, too.