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Nikon strikes back at Sony with first full-frame mirrorless cameras

A new mount, a big sensor, and a more modern camera

After weeks of teases, Nikon has just unveiled its brand new full-frame mirrorless cameras. The Z7 ($3,399.95) and the Z6 ($1,995.95) represent the company’s most serious effort yet to branch out from its tried and true DSLR business and challenge Sony in the mirrorless market. The two cameras share an identical design but differ in megapixel count and other areas like number of focus points and ISO range. They’re basically a tit-for-tat response to Sony’s A7III and A7RIII, and Nikon is aggressively going several steps beyond what Canon has attempted with mirrorless cameras. The Z7 is a pro-level camera to the point that some people will inevitably face a tough decision between it and Nikon’s still-hard-to-find D850. They took a long time to get here — probably too long — but Nikon seems to be bringing the goods.

The Z7, coming on September 27th, has a 45.7-megapixel sensor, 493 focus points, and 64-25600 ISO. The Z6 will follow in “late November” with a 24.5-megapixel sensor, 273 focus points, and 100-51200 ISO. The cameras bring with them an all-new Z mount system that will debut with a 24-70mm f/4 “kit” lens. With the lens bundled, the Z7 will run $3,999.95, with the Z6 at $2,599.95. The lens runs $999.95 on its own and has a minimum focus distance of under 12 inches across its zoom range.

A 35mm f/1.8 prime ($845.95) will be available at launch as well. There’s also a 50mm f/1.8 prime ($599.95) coming in October that Nikon tells me has astounded some of its engineers with sharpness and edge-to-edge clarity.

Still, that’s really not much to kick off a lens system. But thankfully Nikon has every intention of embracing its massive lineup of F-mount lenses. Alongside the Z cameras, the company is releasing a $250 FTZ adapter that offers “full compatibility” (meaning it’ll support autofocus and auto exposure where available) with over 90 lenses. Nikon is promising basic compatibility with approximately 360 existing F lenses for those that don’t mind handling focus and exposure.

The FTZ mount adapter will ensure compatibility with Nikon’s vast selection of F-mount lenses.

Why mirrorless? It allows Nikon to built a more modern, smaller, quieter camera that’s not beholden to old mount designs or lenses. Each Z lens will have a control ring that controls focus, but can be reassigned to adjust aperture, shutter speed, or exposure compensation. These cameras can shoot in complete silence and maintain that whisper-quiet performance when recording video. Don’t get fooled into thinking these cameras are small, though. Think slightly chunkier than a Sony A7RIII. They’re certainly not as hefty as a D850, but not exactly svelte. Both cameras weigh around 1.5 pounds with a battery and memory card inserted.

I’ll get to the differences shortly. But there’s a lot the Z6 and Z7 have in common as their foundation.

The Z7 and Z6 share:

  • 35.9×23.9mm backside illuminated CMOS sensor (Nikon FX format)
  • Z mount with 55-millimeter mount width and 16mm flange distance
    Nikon says these dimensions are the best in the industry and will allow the company to create a wide range of lenses ranging from wide-angle to telephoto to extremely fast. (An f/0.95 Z lens is in development.)
  • Hybrid AF system that automatically switches between focal-plane phase-detection AF and contrast-detect AF. Subject tracking and predictive AF.
  • Low-light focusing down to -4 EV.
  • Completely silent shooting modes
  • 5-axis in-camera stabilization
    This is a huge plus for both the Z7 and Z6, bringing Nikon’s vibration reduction (VR) to lenses that never originally had it thanks to the in-body stabilization in both cameras.
  • 3.69 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 100 percent frame coverage and 0.8x magnification
  • 3.2-inch 2.1 million-dot tilting touchscreen LCD with 170° viewing angle
Nikon
  • A display on the top plate near the grip for easily checking your settings
  • 4K video recording up to 30p frame rate
  • 1080p video recording up to 120p frame rate
  • Active D-Lighting, electronic vibration reduction, and focus peaking for 4K UHD and 1080p movie recording. N-Log color profile can also be used with 10-bit HDMI output. Timecode support for easy video/audio sync.
  • Weather-sealed body with “same level of strength and durability” as the D850
  • Same software UX as Nikon’s DSLRs
  • Single memory slot: XQD
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for direct transfer
  • USB Type C
  • EN-EL15 batteries

The Z7 | $3,399.95 body only | $3,999.95 with 24-70mm lens

Nikon is positioning the Z7 as the high-megapixel, huge-resolution beast of the pair. Its 493 focus points cover 90 percent of the image area (both vertical and horizontal). Continuous shooting tops out at 9fps. If sharpness and image size are your main concerns, this will likely be your choice from the two. The base ISO is 64 versus the Z6’s 100.

View the Nikon Z7’s full specs.

The Z6 | $1,995.95 body only | $2,599.95 with 24-70mm lens

Full-frame 4K video recording (at full pixel readout) and extended low-light shooting capabilities (thanks to its higher max ISO) are the advantages of going with the Z6. It’s also quicker, with the continuous mode running up to 12fps. You do have fewer focus points to choose from — 273 — but like the Z7, Nikon says they cover 90 percent of the image area. The Z6 can focus in dim lighting conditions down to -4EV.

View the Nikon Z6’s full specs.

The lens roadmap

It’s starting out with just three lenses this year, but Nikon plans to add six additional Z-mount lenses to the lineup in 2019. Those will include 20mm, 85mm, a faster 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and 14-30mm lenses. Another six (three of which remain unspecified) will follow in 2020, according to Nikon’s current projections.

Nikon

I mentioned that the new Z system will allow Nikon to get bold and radical with lens design, and the company is sharing a preview of that today. It has officially announced the development of a manual-focus 58mm f/0.95 S Noct Lens, which will be the fastest glass in Nikon’s history. The lens is a callback to one released way back in 1977, the AI Noct-NIKKOR 58mm f/1.2. This one is even faster.

Nikon

Any autofocus system is going to struggle mightily with a focal plane that tiny, so the S Noct will be manual focus-only when it’s eventually released. Nikon isn’t saying how much it will cost, but you can count on it being pricier than any of the lenses announced today. For now, the company is just saying it’s working on it and is aiming to maintain that f/0.95 aperture for the shipping version. The company notes that the roadmap is subject to change.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge.

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