By adding a second card slot, the Nikon Z7 II corrects the main concern that photographers have about the original Z7. Adding a second Expeed 6 processing engine also boosts the continuous shooting rate, takes 4K shooting to 60P, deepens the burst depth and enhances the low-light capability of the autofocus system. It’s a nice update, although it would’ve been good to see a crowd-pleasing hike in the viewfinder’s resolution and a vari-angle screen instead of a tilting one. The Eye-detection system also lags behind the best that’s out there at the moment, but the Z7 II’s build, handling and image quality are superb, making it an excellent camera.
Excellent user interface and control layout
A vari-angle screen is of more use than a tilting screen for portrait orientation images
The viewfinder resolution is no longer class-leading
The Eye-detection AF isn't a match for Sony's or Canon's most recent systems
What is the Nikon Z7 II?
Announced at the same time as the Nikon Z6 II, the Nikon Z7 II (more correctly written Nikon Z 7II) is a full-frame mirrorless camera and an update to the original Nikon Z7.
Although the Z6 and Z7 were Nikon’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras, and many might argue the company’s first serious mirrorless cameras, they avoided that ‘first generation’ feel. They are both excellent cameras. However, there’s one aspect that many photographers feel is a mistake for a high-end digital camera, they each only have one card slot. Happily, the mark II cameras correct this and the Nikon Z7 II and Z6II have two memory card slots, one that can accept CFexpress or XQD cards and the other that’s designed for SD-type UHS-II media.
The original Z6 and Z7 got Eye-detection AF with Firmware V2.0. This was followed in February 2020 with a firmware update (V3.0) that extended the Eye detection to animals. However, this focusing only works with stills photography. The Nikon Z7 II and Z6II both have animal and human Eye-detection AF that functions in stills and video recording.
Storage: Dual slot 1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC
Dimensions (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.8-inches
Weight: 705g with battery and memory card but without body cap, 615g body only
Inside the Nikon Z7II is the same full-frame 45.7MP backside-illuminated (BSI) sensor as is in the original Z7. This is a similar, but not identical sensor to the one that’s in the Nikon D850.
Nikon has paired the Z7II’s sensor with two Expeed 6 processing engines. That’s a first for Nikon, even its flagship DSLR, the Nikon D6, has a single Expeed 6 engine. However, the extra processing power is required to drive the Eye Detection and focusing in video mode. It also boosts the Z7II’s maximum continuous shooting rate from 9fps with the original camera to 10fps.
Further good news is that the Z7II can be used with external flashguns when shooting at the fastest frame rates. There’s also a new Wireless Remote WR-R11b to control a wireless flash set-up.
Hybrid Autofocus System
Like the Nikon Z7, and unlike the D850, the Z7II has a hybrid autofocus system that uses both contrast and phase detection. This has 493 AF points which cover approximately 90% of the image sensor, enabling subjects to be tracked close to the edge of the frame.
It’s the same autofocus system as is in the Mark I camera and there are five AF point selection modes in both Single (AF-S) or Continuous (AF-C). In AF-S mode, there’s a choice of Pinpoint AF, Single-point AF, Wide-area AF (Small), Wide-area AF (Large) and Auto-area AF. However, in AF-C mode, this changes to Single-point AF, Dynamic-area AF, Wide-area AF (Small), Wide-area AF (Large) and Auto-area AF.
By default, in Auto-area AF, the Z7 II detects the subject automatically. However, a press of the OK button activates a tracking point. Position this over the subject and half-pressing the shutter release triggers the camera to track the subject. In AF-C (continuous autofocus mode), it adjusts the focus if subject distance changes.
Thanks to the Dual processors, Nikon claims that the Z7II can focus in lower light than the Z7 and it’s now sensitive down to -4EV in Low light AF mode.
Viewfinder and screen
Nikon has stuck with the same QVGA 0.5-inch 3.69-million-dot electronic viewfinder for the Z7II as is in the Z7. This shows 100% of the image that will be captured and has 0.8x magnification.
There’s also the same 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot tilting touch-screen on the back of the Z7II as is on the Z7. That’s good from a quality point of view, but it would’ve been nice to see a vari-angle screen that is of use when shooting portrait-format images.
As it’s a touchscreen, it can be used to set the AF point with a tap and zoom into images or swipe between shots. The main and Info menus are also navigable by touch.
Nikon’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras introduced a new in-camera stabilisation system for the company. This corrects for accidental movement around 5 axis and offers up to 5EV of shutter speed compensation. It also works with VR (vibration reduction) systems in Nikon F-mount lenses mounted via an adapter.
Nikon isn’t making any claims about any improvement to this system.
Like the Z7, the Nikon Z7II can record 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) video. However, the maximum frame rate is boosted from 30P to 60P, which is great news for slow-motion fans.
As before, it’s also possible to shoot Full HD video at up to 120p.
If you record to a memory card in the Z7II, the video is 8-Bit, but connecting an external storage device via the HDMI port enables the video quality to be increased to 10-bit 4:2:2 with (or without) N-Log.
N-Log is useful if you want to grade your footage post-capture, or if you need to match the footage to that from another camera. Handily, timecode is available to help with editing video from multiple cameras.
With a compatible Atomos recorder connected, the Z7II can record video as Apple ProRes Raw which means you get the full benefit of the camera’s data gathering potential. However, this feature needs to be unlocked by a Nikon service centre at a cost of £179/$199.
Focus peaking and zebra display are also available to help with nailing the focus and exposure.
The Z7II can also shoot timelapse movies.
One of the surprises with the Z7 was that it only has one memory card slot, and what’s more, it accepts XQD cards which aren’t in wide use. A firmware upgrade made it compatible with CFexpress cards as well.
Nikon went for an XQD/CFexpress slot to enable fast writing times and keep the camera’s size down, but a lot of photographers weren’t happy. The biggest concern was that having just one card port means that there’s no easy solution to back-up images. That’s a particular issue for wedding photographers.
Happily, Nikon has decided to address this issue with the Z7 II and the new camera has two card slots. One slot accepts XQD or CFexpress cards while the other accepts SD-type cards and is UHS-II compliant.
The introduction of an SD card slot is good news from anyone upgrading from a Nikon DSLR that accepts the same media.
In the Z7 II, either card can be used for storage with one working as an overflow or back-up. It’s also possible to direct Jpeg and raw files to different cards and to copy images from one card to another.
I’ll make no bones about it, I’m a fan of Nikon’s SnapBridge system. It uses Bluetooth to form a permanent connection between a paired camera and smartphone running the free app. It enables the Wi-Fi system to fire-up quickly when you want to take remote control over the camera, but the most useful aspect for me is its ability to transfer images to a paired smartphone or tablet automatically.
SnapBridge has had mixed reviews since it was first introduced but the most recent incarnations work well, albeit with the need to remind the camera and phone that they are paired if they have been apart for a while or the camera’s battery has been removed and replaced.
As a keen social media user, I find it incredibly convenient to have 2MP versions of my images sent to my phone. And while there are other systems that are supposed to do the same thing, Nikon’s SnapBridge does the best job by far.
Helpfully, Nikon has extended SnapBridge’s functionality to enable the firmware of the Z7II and Z76II to be updated via a paired smartphone.
The Nikon Z7II is compatible with Nikon’s EN-EL15C battery. This is a higher capacity rechargeable battery than previous incarnations but it is backwards compatible in cameras that accept the EN-L15, EN-L15a and EN-L15b battery.
Build and Handling
Like the Z7, Nikon has made the Z7II from magnesium alloy and there are dust and weather-proof seals around all the joints and controls.
Because of the additional memory card slot and processing engine, the Z7II is 2mm / 0.1-inch deeper than the original camera. When you’re shooting, this small increase isn’t really noticeable.
In other respects, the Z7II looks and feels the same as the Z7. Both cameras feel very comfortable in my hands.
I find that the textured thumb-ridge on the back of the Z7 II gives excellent hold and my thumb fits neatly between the rear grip and AF-On and joystick controls just to its left.
That puts the mini-joystick control within convenient reach to shift the AF point and navigate around the menus – although the easiest way to move around the menu and make setting selections is to tap on the screen.
Nikon’s experience in camera design really shines with the Z6 and Z7, in my opinion, they have the best handling of any Nikon interchangeable-lens camera. Nothing has changed with the Nikon Z7 II.
To the left of the top-plate, the Z7 II has an exposure mode dial with the usual PASM options along with an Auto setting and three user-specific modes.
There are front and rear/top command dials for selecting the exposure settings.
Next to the shutter release, there are buttons to access the sensitivity (ISO) and exposure compensation controls, which means it’s easy to adjust these parameters when you’re looking in the viewfinder. However, I like to use the Custom menu on Nikon Z-series camera to set the manual focus ring on the lens (or the control ring if there is one) to adjust exposure compensation. I find it more intuitive and quicker to use.
Near the lens mount, between it and the grip, there are a couple of function (Fn) buttons, I find the Fn1 button useful for accessing the white balance options quickly. With the Z7II, Nikon sets the Fn2 button to access the AF options by default. With the Fn2 button pressed, rotating the rear command dial takes you through the focusing modes (Single (AF-S), Continuous (AF-C) and manual (MF)) while the front dial is used to select the AF point selection mode (Pinpoint AF, Single-point AF, Wide-area AF (Small), Wide-area AF (Large) and Auto-area AF etc). This enables you to activate the Eye detection and switch between human and animal Eye detection without going into the Info menu.
A switch on the back of the camera around the Display button allows you to switch between stills and video mode.
One of the reasons why I like the Nikon Z-series interface so much is because they don’t have an Info AND an ‘I’ button on their back like the D850 and other DSLRs. Instead, they just have an ‘I’ button and the options accessed via it by default are useful.
Those options are also interactive and customisable so you can use it the ‘I’ screen to access the key features that you need and change settings. Furthermore, there are different options available for the ‘I’ menu in stills and video mode – that’s something that other manufacturers are only just waking up to.
Nikon knows its audience and in addition to the touch-control capability, there are plenty of physical controls.
On the back of the Nikon Z7 II there’s a tiltable 3.2-inch screen with 2.1million dots. This is the same unit as is used on the Z7 and Z6.
As before, this screen provides a clear view that’s a good match for the captured image. It also adjusts automatically to the ambient light conditions, making it easy to see a variety of situations.
The Z7II also has a small monochrome screen on its top-plate that shows key settings such as the battery status and exposure settings. That’s handy and something that many people appreciate, but I find it less of an issue in the era of tilting main screens.
While the Z7 II’s screen is very good, I can’t help but wish that Nikon had gone for a variable screen as it’s that little bit more useful.
While Panasonic, Canon and Sony now have viewfinders with higher resolutions, a 3.6million-dot electronic viewfinder is still very good. A higher resolution would be nice for playing Top Trumps but the Z7II’s more than suffices.
Although the processor plays a significant part in determining the image quality from a camera and Nikon has doubled the Z7II’s processing power, the company isn’t making any claims about improvements in image quality. Consequently, as the Nikon Z7 II uses the same sensor as the original Z7, its image quality doesn’t come as a surprise. The 45.7Mp full-frame sensor captures a high-level fo detail while Nikon’s understanding of image-handling ensures that noise is controlled well.
Nikon Z7 II Image Quality
Nikon has given the Z7 II the same native sensitivity range as the original Z7, ISO 64-25,600. Although I’d try to stick to ISO 6,400 or lower, I’d happily use the Z7 II at any of the native settings if the conditions demand it. However, it’s worth shooting raw images as well as or instead of Jpegs when the sensitivity rises to ISO 16,000 or more because the finer details and shadows generally look a little better.
As usual, you need to apply a little sharpening to raw files in post-capture processing, but generally, you’ll achieve a more natural-looking result than from the Jpegs.
For my first few shots on the Nikon Z7 II, I headed into a local woodland to photograph some fungi. Although most of the leaves have fallen, I was shooting at around 9am on an overcast December day in the UK, so the light was pretty low. It was immediately apparent that the Z7 II’s autofocus system is more responsive than the Z7’s.
I was shooting with the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S and the camera picked out the low-contrast subject with ease.
Turning to a moving subject, my dog Otto, I set the Z7 II to Continuous AF, Auto-are AF (animals) and Continuous H (this sets the camera to shoot at around 5.5 frames per second). As with the Z6 II, I noticed that the Z7 II has a habit of sometimes putting a fairy large square just above his eyes, but it still get his eyes sharp.
When Otto is sitting still or dosing, the Eye-detection AF works well most of the time, especially when he’s looking directly towards the camera. It even managed to focus on his eyes on a few occasions when they were closed, but generally, Single-point AF works better with a sleeping dog.
To give the camera a challenge, I started throwing a ball over a log so that I could photograph Otto as he leapt back towards me with the ball. On most occasions, the Z7 II did a good job of spotting his eyes in the frame, however, there’s a fairly small size window within which it recognises them, by which I mean they have to be reasonably big. I framed the shot so that I could see him approach the log, but so that best composition would be as he went over the log. It was only as he mounted the log that the yellow squares appeared over his eyes. In some cases, it managed to get his eyes sharp, but there are more images where further down his body is sharp.
Moving away from the log, I threw the ball and photographed Otto as he ran back towards me. Without the log, he’s a faster-moving target and I switch to shooting in Continuous H+ (or Continuous High Extended), which pushed to frame rate to 10fps. Again, the yellow squares appeared over Otto’s when he was quite close to me, but the camera’s hit rate is lower. I have a few sharp images from this test, but not as many as when I was shooting at 5.5fps.
Shooting a moving subject using Single-point AF and Dynamic-area AF delivered a higher hit rate as long as I kept the active area over the subject.
Which Eye-detection mode?
There are two Eye-detection modes for use with people and animals, Auto-area AF (people/animals) and Wide-area AF (people/animals). In Auto-area AF the Z7 II looks across the whole focusing area for eyes but in Wide-area AF it searches within a comparatively small rectangle.
Wide-area AF (people/animals) is useful for flexibility of composition and with a moving subject, but Wide-area AF is a bit more reliable with a moving subject. When photographing my dog, for example, it kept his head or body shape even if his eyes weren’t detected, and it was less prone to focusing on the background.
If the animal or person is stationary or only moving slowly, then the Nikon Z7 II is pretty dependable in Auto-area or Wide-area, however, with a fast-moving subject, Dynamic-area AF, Wide-Area AF (S) or Tracking AF mode make a better choice. Tracking AF does a good job of following the subject around the frame while Dynamic-area AF and Wide-Area AF (S) rely on the photographer keeping the active area over the subject.
Colour and Exposure
Getting the exposure, white balance and colour as you want them is far easier with a mirrorless camera than it is with a DSLR because you can see the impact of the camera settings before you take the shot. Of course, that relies upon the viewfinder and/or screen giving an accurate preview of the image.
It’s worth noting that even in Matrix metering mode, the position of the active AF point can have an impact upon the exposure of the overall scene. Position it over a deep shadow, for example, and the rest of the image may be overexposed. However, as I’ve already mentioned, you’ll see this in the viewfinder and you can adjust accordingly.
Nikon has given the Z7 II a collection of Auto white balance options and it’s worth experimenting to see which works best for the conditions you’re shooting in. A0 ‘Keep white’ is handy in artificial lighting conditions, but in natural light you’re more likely to want to use A1 ‘Keep over atmosphere’ or (my preference) Natural Light Auto.
Nikon has offered an extensive collection of Picture Control modes for a while now and I increasingly stray beyond the usual Auto, Standard and Natural to shoot with settings such as Bleached and Dramatic. I find these are especially useful when the scene is interesting but the light isn’t.
The Nikon Z7 II has a high dynamic range which means it can capture a wide range of tones in a single image. That’s good news for images straight from the camera, but it also translates into greater scope for adjusting images post-capture. On those occasions when you might need to reduce the exposure to preserve the brightest highlights, you can do so in the knowledge that the shadows and mid-tones can be brightened in processing.
The Z7 II’s raw files withstand substantial brightening well. In fact, low-ISO images can cope with being brightened by 4 or even 5EV with only a slight increase in the noise level.
The images below were all created from the same raw file. The image on the left shows the original exposure while the one in the centre has been brightened by +5EV in Adobe Camera Raw. This has brightened the foreground more than is required, but there’s only a slight increase in the level of noise visible in the misty mid-ground.
The image on the right has received an overall brightening of +3.55EV and then a graduated filter was applied to the sky in Adobe Camera Raw to bring out the detail and colour. I also applied a few tweaks to the shadows and blacks to enhance the undulations in the foreground.
+3.55EV balanced exposure
Nikon Z7 II Stabilisation
Like the Z7, the Z7 II has 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS). Shooting with it set to ‘Normal’ rather than ‘Sport’, with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S mounted, I was able to capture sharp hand-held images at shutter speeds around 5EV slower than normal with a hit rate of about 50%. That’s a significant bonus to anyone looking to shoot landscape or low-light images without carrying a tripod.
This video was shot on the Nikon Z7 II set to 4K (3840 x 2160) 60P with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S, mounted on the Zhiyun Weebill-S. The Picture Control was set to Standard, white balance to Auto 0 (Keep white), the sensitivity (ISO) to auto and Full-time AF with the AF area varying depending upon the main subject.
The Nikon Z7 II is an excellent camera that produces high-quality images. It also resolves one of the main concerns of the Z7 – its single memory card slot.
Expectations for an autofocus system have moved on since the Z7 was announced in August 2018 and Nikon has done a good job with firmware updates, but the Z7II’s extra processing power takes things a step further.
Consequently, the Z7 II’s AF system is more responsive, especially in low light. Its Eye-detection is also helpful, but it lags behind the performance of some fo the competition including the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6 which have astonishingly good Eye AF for humans and animals.
Given the processing power of the Z7 II, it wouldn’t surprise me if we see some firmware upgrades that improve its Eye-detection capability over the coming months.
I’m impressed that Nikon hasn’t ploughed ahead with a single card slot, but instead changed the shape and size of the Z7II – albeit slightly. That would’ve been a costly affair, but it’s the right move.
In my opinion, the Nikon Z7 II doesn’t offer enough to entice existing Z7 users to upgrade (next-generation camera rarely do), but it’s a very attractive camera for any Nikon DSLR-shooters looking to swap to a mirrorless model. Its control arrangement and handling are refined but still familiar, it’s well-built and weatherproof, and its menu system is logical.
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