Nikon Z7II first impressions Review

Nikon Z7II review
Review
Website: Nikon

Price when reviewed

£2999

€3442

Our Verdict

By adding a second card slot, the Nikon Z7II 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 solid update, although it would've been nice to see a crowd-pleasing hike in the viewfinder's resolution and a vari-angle screen instead of a tilting one. I guess that's in line for the Z7III.

For

  • High-quality sensor
  • Excellent user interface and control layout
  • Weatherproof build

Against

  • A vari-angle screen is of more use than a tilting screen for portrait orientation images
  • The viewfinder resolution is no longer class-leading
What is the Nikon Z7II?

Announced at the same time as the Nikon Z6II, the Nikon Z7II (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 some 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 Z7II has 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 or video recording.

Specification

  • Camera type: Full-frame mirrorless camera
  • Announced: 14th October 2020
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z
  • Sensor: Full-frame (FX 35.9 x 23.9mm) 45.7MP backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Processing engine: Dual Expeed 6
  • Stabilisation: 5-axis in-body VR
  • Sensitivity: ISO 64-25,600, expandable to ISO 32-102,400
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps for up to 200Jpegs or 77 12-bit uncompressed raw files, 9fps with 14-bit raw files
  • Autofocus system: Hybrid with phase and contrast detection
  • Phase detection points: 493
  • Video resolution: 4K (3840 x 2160) 60/50/30/25/24p, Full-HD (1920 x 1080) 120/100/60/50/30/25/24p, Slow-motion mode 1920 x 1080 30p x4/25p x4/24p
  • Viewfinder: 0.5-inch 3.69-million-dot electronic viewfinder
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot tilting touch-screen
  • 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
Nikon Z7II review
Features

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.

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.

Stabilisation

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.

Video

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.

Focus peaking and zebra display are also available to help with nailing the focus and exposure.

The Z7II can also shoot timelapse movies.

Storage

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 o 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.

Either card can be used for storage with one working as an overflow or back-up. It’s also possible to direct different file types to different cards and to copy images from one card to another.

Nikon SnapBridge

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.

Nikon Z7II review

Battery

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.

 

Nikon Z6II review
Build and Handling

Nikon has again 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. I strongly suspect that this small increase isn’t noticeable, but if it is, it’s likely to be appreciated by some photographers as the grip will be a fraction bigger.

In other respects, the Z7II looks and feels the same as the Z7. The Z7 feels very comfortable in my hands and I’m confident that the Z7II will as well.

I find that the textured thumb-ridge on the back of the camera 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.

Control arrangement

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.

To the left of the top-plate, the Nikon Z7II has an exposure mode dial with the usual PASM options along with an Auto setting and three user-specific modes.

Next to the shutter release, there are buttons to access the 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 to enable you to quickly activate the Eye detection and switch between human and animal Eye detection without going into the menu.

A switch on the back of the camera around the Display button allows you to switch between stills and video mode.

User Interface

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. Most significantly, there are front and rear/top dials for selecting the exposure settings.

Nikon Z6II review

Screens

On the back of the Z7II there’s a tillable 3.2-inch screen with 2.1million dots. This is the same unit as is used on the Z7 and Z6, on which it provides a clear view that’s a good match for the captured image. This screen 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’s screen is very good (and therefore it should work well on the Z7II), I can’t help but wish that Nikon had gone for a variable screen It’s just that little bit more useful.

Viewfinder

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 should more than suffice.

Nikon Z7II review
Performance

Although I’ve yet to shoot with the Nikon Z7II, its image quality is largely a known entity because it uses the same sensor as the original Z7. The processor plays a significant part in determining the image quality from a camera but although Nikon has doubled the Z7II’s processing power, the company isn’t making any claims about improvements in image quality.

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. Thankfully, the Z7’s perform well in this respect and I anticipate the same of the Z7II.

Dynamic Range

The Nikon Z7 has a very 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’s raw files withstand substantial brightening well. In fact, ISO 400 images can cope with being brightened by 4 or 5EV with only a slight increase in the noise level.

As the Nikon Z7II has the same sensor as the Z7, we can anticipate the same will be true of the new camera, but we’ll subject it to our full range of tests when we get a review sample to be sure.

Nikon Z7II Sample Images

These images were provided by Nikon. Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images.

Nikon Z7II Images From Nikon

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Early verdict

The Nikon Z7 is an excellent camera, one of my favourites in recent times, and it produces high-quality images. However, its single memory card slot is a concern for many.  Expectations for an autofocus system have moved on since the Z7 was announced in August 2018. Nikon has done a good job with firmware updates, but the Z7II’s extra processing power should take things a significant step further.

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.

The Nikon Z7II looks set to entice more DSLR photographers to mirrorless full-frame photography.

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