It’s a sign of shifting sands in the camera market when industry giants such as Nikon and Canon are playing catch up. With no sign of enthusiasm for mirrorless abating and more and more photographers ‘jumping ship’ to a new system however, they have eventually embraced the inevitable.
So after months of rumours and teasers the first full frame mirrorless cameras from Nikon and Canon have arrived. Nikon unveiled not one, but two options, in the shape of the Z6 and Z7, with Canon introducing us to the EOS R. We compare the specs for the flagship Z7 against the EOS R and share some thoughts on the impact these new cameras will have on the mirrorless market.
It’s fantastic Nikon and Canon have belatedly joined the mirrorless race – more competition will only drive innovation and reduce prices. Both the Canon EOS R and Nikon Z7 are great debuts, adding new features for Canon and Nikon shooters.
It’s encouraging to see both brands have steered away from a very small body, designing something more akin to a DSLR. That’ll be appreciated by serious enthusiasts and pros who value handling experience.
The price tags also suggest that’s the target market, so it’s surprising manufacturers with such experience have made the rookie mirrorless mistake of including a single card slot.
That compromises the cameras for many photographers right at the start line. Add to that cropped 4K video on the EOS R and no Eye AF on the Z7 and there’s plenty of ammunition to shoot these cameras down with.
The EOS R seems the more ambitious out of the blocks, with fast native lenses particularly pushing the boundaries of mirrorless and features such as the multi function touchbar and range of lens adapters offering something new.
The Z7 looks and feels like a classic Nikon camera though, which will please the faithful, and adding IBIS and full frame 4K 10-bit 4.2.2 video makes them more relevant for the current market.
Nikon and Canon clearly want to stop Sony having it all their own way in the full frame mirrorless space. Whilst not perfect, the EOS R and Z7 are a good start towards that end.
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There’s a big difference in resolution between the Z7 and EOS R, with the Nikon model packing a super high resolution 45.7Mp sensor, compared to the 30.3Mp chip on the Canon.
The Nikon Z7’s sensor is also backside-illuminated (BSI), which means the photoreceptors (pixels) are positioned nearer the surface. This helps improves the light gathering capabilities of the pixels, so in theory offers a cleaner signal and less noise at high ISOs.
Nikon have also removed the optical low pass filter (OLPF) from the Z7’s sensor, which should translate to sharper and more detailed images compared to the Canon EOS R, which continues use an OLPF.
The EOS R features Canon’s unique Dual Pixel autofocus, with a staggering 5655 manually selectable autofocus points. Dual Pixel AF is sensor-based and designed for smoother focus transitions during video capture and faster focus accusation shooting stills with Live View.
For serious videographers it’s a nice feature, making it easier to create pull-focus effects and helps improve focus tracking. Canon also claim the EOS R offers the fastest autofocus system in the world, reporting focusing speeds of just 0.05 seconds using the new RF 24-105mm f/4 lens, which is pretty fast!
In contrast the Nikon Z7 features 493 selectable autofocus points. That’s still a very respectable number by most standards, but the greater number of the EOS R should give Canon’s device an advantage for subject tracking.
The Z7’s autofocus targets cover 90% of the frame, with the EOS R covering 88% horizontally and 100% vertically. Overall that gives the EOS R slightly better coverage I guess, but not by much.
Eye AF has become a much valued feature on recent Sony mirrorless cameras and there was dismay that Nikon hadn’t included it on the Z7. The Z7 does feature face detect focus, with face tracking visible through the EVF.
Whilst that’s a start, when you’re shooting portraits at really wide apertures you want the eye in focus, not the nose or ear. Canon have introduced Pupil Detect autofocus on the EOS R, which is great, but at this stage it only works in single focus mode (ONESHOT in Canon speak).
So there’s no Eye (or pupil) focus tracking, although Canon have said it will be added in a firmware upgrade at some stage.
The Z7 will focus down to -4Ev using f/2 or ‘faster’ lenses, but the EOS R claims up to -6 Ev focusing. That’s incredible and suggest the EOS R will focus in darker conditions than the Z7, but -6Ev is only possible on the EOS R using the new 50mm f/1.2L lens, so you can’t focus in such low light with any lens.
Both systems introduce a new lens mount and dedicated lenses. Canon have unveiled four RF mount lenses, including the RF 35mm f/1.8 IS and RF 50mm f/1.2L primes, as well as the RF 24-105mm f/4L IS and RF 28-70mm f/2L zooms.
So from the get-go Canon have two very fast aperture lenses that mount natively to the EOS R. Priced at £2,349 for the RF 50mm f/1.2L and £3,049 for the RF 28-70mm f/2L they’re very expensive, so unrealistic for many enthusiasts, but it pushes the boundaries of what’s possible.
In contrast Nikon made a big deal about the light gathering capabilities of their new Z lens mount, but haven’t immediately launched any very wide aperture lenses for it. They did announce development of a 58mm f/0.95 prime, which sounds interesting, but that’s not due until 2019 and is rumoured to be manual focus.
So three, rather conventional, Nikon ‘S line’ lenses including the Z 35mm f/1.8 S, Z 50mm f/1.8 S and 24-70mm f/4 S will be immediately available for the Z7. Nikon did unveil a ‘Z lens road map’ however, which promises 20mm f/1.8 S, 85mm f/1.8 S, 24-70mm f/2.8 S, 70-200mm f/2.8 S and 14-30mm f/2.8 S lenses in 2019. But Nikon shooters will have to wait until 2020 for a 50mm f/1.2 S however, which Canon will have on the shelves in a few week’s time.
Both manufacturers also introduced a 3rd ring on their new mirrorless lenses, which allows you to adjust shooting settings, such as aperture, shutter or ISO.
The control ring is only going to be available on the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S however, whereas Canon have included it on all four RF lenses, and on one of their EOS RF lens adapters, which makes the feature available on the EOS R regardless of the lens.
Despite being 5 years behind Sony in full frame mirrorless development, a big advantage Canon and Nikon have is the vast number of lenses people already own. To capitalize on this both manufacturers are making lens adapters immediately available, which is a smart move to discourage photographers from switching brands.
The Nikon FTZ adapter costs £199 separately, but only £100 as part of a Z7 ‘kit’, and will adapt 90 Nikkor AF-S lenses with full AF & AE compatibility and a total of 350 lenses with some compatibility.
Nikon claim the FTZ adapter offers no compromise for lens performance or image quality, and non stabilized Nikon lenses will produce sharper images thanks to the Z7’s in-body image stabilization system (IBIS). That remains to be seen, but if true, it’s a great selling point for the Z7.
Canon have gone slightly further launching no fewer than three lens adapters for the EOS R. The basic £99 EF-EOS R adapts 70 EF and EF-S lenses and the £199 version adds that customizable control ring we discussed earlier.
There’s also a drop-in filter version, which allows you to use either a circular polarizing filter or a variable ND filter, which is particularly useful for videographers. The drop-in circular polarizing filter adapter costs £299, with the variable ND filter version setting you back a lumpy £399.
Canon really kick started the DSLR video revolution way back with the EOS 5D Mark II. Since then Sony and Panasonic have really taken a lead with better video features making their cameras popular with the growing number of bloggers and YouTubers.
Historically Nikon haven’t been great with video, but they’ve up their game considerably with the Z7, which offers 4K/30p and 1080/120p output, as well as an 8K time-lapse feature. There’s also a new Nikon N-log 10-bit 4.2.2 file format to capture a flatter video picture with 12-stops of dynamic range.
N-log can only be captured via HDMI output to an external recording device, but it’ll be appreciated by serious videographers interested in improved colour grading in post production.
The Z7 also offers full frame 4K video capture, which is a big deal as cropped 4K has implications for framing and lens choice, so complicates things. The Z7 also offers full pixel read-out for sharper, more detailed video, but this is only available in the Z7 DX crop mode.
In contrast there’s been a bit of disappointment around the EOS R video features. It does offer 4K/30p and 1080/60p resolutions, but only 720/120p, which means you can’t do super slow motion effects in full HD. To rub salt in the wounds, it’ll only capture cropped 4K too, so it doesn’t use the whole full frame sensor.
That’s a big issue for bloggers, or anyone who wants to shoot wide angle video, as the effective focal length of any EF or RF lenses is multiplied by a 1.7x. Canon have included the C-Log picture profile with the EOS R however (it was only available at extra cost of the 5D Mark IV DSLR) and again clean 10-bit 4K footage can be captured via HDMI output to an external device.
Both the Z7 and EOS R feature a 3.5mm jack input for an external mic and better sound recording and a 3.5mm output jack to attach headphones and monitor your sound levels.
With no optical viewfinder to look ‘through the lens’, the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is an important feature in mirrorless cameras. Historically EVFs haven’t been great, but have improved drastically in recent years. Both the EOS R and Z7 feature a 3.6m-dot EVF and such a high resolution display significantly reduces the possibility of lag and ghosting.
An EVF also brings a number of tech advantages, such as previewing your exposure before capture – so what you see is what you get – as well as being able to overlay shooting info, histograms, zebras and focus peaking, for an improved shooting experience.
Both the EOS R and Z7 feature a 3.2-inch, 2.1m-dot, touch-screen LCD, but there are some key differences. The EOS R LCD is fully articulating, so it can be flipped out and rotated 180-degrees, which is useful for framing at awkward angles and for shooting video. The Z7’s screen is vari-angle, so it’s not fixed, but isn’t fully articulating either.
Both LCDs are touch screen for navigating menus, as well as swiping and pinching images in playback mode. The Z7 offers tap-to-focus control, and it’ll remember that focus point if you switch back to using the EVF for composition. The EOS R goes a step further however and allows you to tap-to-focus with your thumb on the LCD screen, whilst simultaneously looking through the EVF, which is much more useful.
Media & Connectivity
Both the EOS R and Z7 only offer a single memory card slot, which is a major complaint as you can’t instantly back-up images. So both are a bit risky for pro work and although some argue cards are more reliable nowadays and with image recovery software the chances of a total loss of images is small, it’s a risk many might not be prepared to take. The EOS R takes a UHS II SD card, whereas Nikon have opted for XQD cards on the Z7.
Both cameras feature built-in wifi and Bluetooth for transferring images to a smartphone or using your phone as a remote control. The EOS R features a USB 3.1 port for connecting directly to a computer, but USB charging is only supported with the optional PD-E1 adapter.
Nikon have included the newer USB-C port however, which as well as enabling computer connection allows the Z7’s battery to be charged internally, which might come in useful if you need to charge on location and haven’t packed the charger.
Whilst the general trend for mirrorless cameras is smaller and more compact, the handling demands of serious enthusiasts and pros may see that starting to change.
The EOS R and Z7 both feature a slightly larger body and a deeper handgrip, compared to many Sony or Fuji mirrorless cameras. So they’re a bit more DSLR style and include a decent thumb rest, but remain fairly small in comparison.
Both offer a robust build around a magnesium alloy shell and weather sealing that’ll keep out the elements to some degree. Both also feature a top plate LCD screen, which is handy for checking key shooting settings.
The EOS R has a couple of interesting and unique features as well. In a first for mirrorless cameras the EOS R shutter drops down to protect the sensor when you change lens, which is a nice touch and should help reduce the dust and spots reaching the sensor.
There’s also a multi-function touchpad on the back of the camera, which can be customized to change a shooting setting, such as ISO or white balance, and is positioned conveniently so you can use it with your thumb whilst looking through the viewfinder.
Add to that a multi-function button, the customizable lens ring, as well as a finger and thumb dial and you’ll have quick access to most shooting options.
The EOS R also includes a dedicated on/off dial on the top plate, which seems a bit of a waste of space, but I guess they had to put it somewhere.
There’s a few more controls overall on the Z7, including a typical Mode dial, as well as ISO, Drive Mode, AF-ON buttons and a joy stick for selecting an autofocus target. There’s no multi-function touchpad, but Nikon have added two customizable function buttons in the handgrip recess.
Headline burst shooting specs for the EOS R and Z7 are initially quite promising, with the Nikon device offering 9fps and 8fps for the Canon.
There’s a few important caveats though, as neither camera can shoot those frame rates with full autofocus. In the case of the Z7, the frame rate drops to 5.5fps with AF and AE tracking and only 5fps when capturing 14-bit lossless RAW files.
The EOS R also shoots 5fps in AF-C ‘shooting priority mode’, but if you want full AF tracking the frame rate is a rather sluggish 3fps in Canon’s AF-C ‘tracking priority’ mode.
The buffer is a bit beefier on the EOS R however, so whilst the Z7 will only shoot 18 14-bit RAW files before it needs to cleanse its palette, the EOS R is good for 47 standard RAWs or 78 compressed C-RAWs.
The combination of a smaller battery to fit the more compact design and the extra power consumption of an EVF means mirrorless cameras tend to eat through batteries quicker.
The Z7 is CIPA rated for just 330 and 350 for the EOS R, which isn’t much, although in real world use you may get more. Even so a couple of spare batteries will be prudent for a long shoot, especially if capturing 4K video and with own brand batteries costing around £70 each it’s something else to budget for.
A battery pack for the EOS R that doubles the battery life and includes a second shutter release button for improved ergonomics when shooting vertically will be available at launch, which is good news.
A battery grip for the Z7 is still under development however, which is disappointing, and even more frustrating that it’s rumored not to include a second shutter release button.
A first for Nikon, the Z7 features ‘In Body Image stabilization’ (IBIS), with it’s 5-axis sensor-shift system offering up to 5 stops of stabilization. It’s an important development, as historically Nikon’s image stabilization system has been their lens based vibration reduction (VR) technology.
The Z7 now promises image stabilization with any lens however, including F mount lenses used with the FTZ adapter.
The EOS R doesn’t feature IBIS, so Canon shooters will need to use Image Stabilised (IS) lenses to benefit from this technology and two of the new RF lenses feature IS.
An IBIS system is useful though as removing the technology from the lens makes them smaller and lighter, which probably why it’s not available on the new RF 50mm f/1.2L and RF 28-70mm f/2L lenses.
Arguably you don’t need IS on such fast aperture lenses, but it’s still nice to have and often comes in useful for shooting slower shutter speeds and simply getting sharper shots.
Sony has been ‘eating the lunch’ of Canon and Nikon, with a torrent of serious amateurs and pros who want to shoot full frame mirrorless switching brand. What the EOS R and Z7 represent is the respective manufacturers saying to the faithful – ‘don’t worry, we got this, you don’t need to switch to go mirrorless’.
So if you’re a Nikon or Canon shooter thinking of going mirrorless are these cameras enough? Do you feel happier with your team right now? I think the answer is broadly yes. Excitingly the EOS R and Z7 give us an insight into the manufacturers’ thinking, technology and what might be to come.
The larger lens mount, fast f/0.95 primes or f/2 zooms, ‘no-compromise’ adapters for legacy lenses, extra controls on native lenses and DSLR style bodies with EVF advantages are all very encouraging.
They’re not perfect of course. Specifically, the single card slot is a problem for pros, with the EOS R’s cropped 4K video and Z7’s lack of Eye Autofocus key mirrorless features that need addressing. It’s a great start though.
With early adopters predominantly being brand loyal photographers picking up their first mirrorless that’ll work with most of their existing gear Canon and Nikon will have at least stemmed the flow.