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Nikon Z7 - My Hands-On Testing       Z7 Arrival-Sept 28     Z7 User Manual Menus
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2018-November-15

The Z7 delivers 45.4 MP at a 8256 x 5504 resolution (Large) on FX format.

There are many Z7 reviews - some just parroting what the Nikon manual is saying without actually testing. I found the links below useful:

Matt Granger : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlRMpqpNKG4

Jared Polin :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6X-K9jju_0

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What is the Big Deal about Mirrorless?

What is a SLR?
To understand the advantage of mirrorless cameras, we must first understand what a SLR camera is. SLR stands for Single-Lens Reflex. DSLR is the digital version of it. What is a SLR camera anyway? There are two parts to it: single-lens & reflex. To allow the viewfinder to see the same image as the film is seeing, we needed to have a single lens-system for the viewfinder and film (instead of having a separate viewfinder optics as in rangefinder cameras. That's the "single-lens" part. To achieve that, we needed to intercept the light in front of the film and route it to the viewfinder. This is where the "reflex" mirror comes in. SLR cameras have been around for the past 60 years.

Now, in the age of digital cameras, all cameras have suddenly become single-lens, or could be. It is because the image received by the sensor (film) is also routed to the rear monitor and/or the viewfinder. So, we no longer need a complex, flipping reflex-mirror mechanism.

Mirrorless vs. DSLR
First of all, both are digital cameras, so they produce the same result - the final image is identical. Then, what is the difference between the two? Well, the major difference -- and probably the only major, critical difference -- is how the viewfinder shows the image when you are shooting (that is, before the shooting). And it is a big deal for many photographers. The optical prism finder of DSLRs will give you a real optical image while in mirrorless cameras you are looking at a tiny TV screen. Many photographers (myself included) prefer a real glass image. That is one (and probably the only) issue that makes people hesitate to abandon their DSLRs. 

Mirorless Viewfinder Advantage
As I said earlier, I prefer a DSLR's real-glass finder over an EVF of mirrorless. But mirrorless is the logical direction of camera technology. We cannot reverse or stop the flow of technology. Though top-of-the-line pro DSLRs from Canon and Nikon fire 12-14 fps, this incredibly complex reflex-mirror mechanism is a dinosaur,  a legacy, or soon to be. Having used Nikon Z7 for a few weeks, I am getting used to its clear finder. During the daytime shooting, there is almost no difference compared with a DSLR finder - thanks to the superb viewfinder optics deployed in the Z7. Now, in evening~night photography, I came to appreciate a bright EVF finder image even more, that depicts what you are going to get in the final shot. In DSLRs, the finder is pitch dark. Remember, the final image we are trying to capture at night is the same for DSLR cameras - a nice, colorful, night image. And an EVF will show it to you before you shoot...

Some Observations

User Interface on Menus
This is my general comment about the user-interface on their menu manipulations... In "My Menu", for instance, all the menu items chosen by the user is shown. But in addition, "Add items", "Remove items", "Rank items" and "Choose tab" are also shown in the same color. These four items are "tools" to manipulate My Menu and should be visually distinct from the items selected. This will make a better and more user-friendly user-interface. The same comment applies to other areas...
Canon EOS R >>> Canon EOS R menu interface is appreciably better compared with Nikon... Canon looks more appealing because of the color they use, but that is not the reason their UI is more intuitive. Canon did a lot of research and testing on the user-friendliness of their interface. One thing I felt is that Nikon's scrolling of menu items up and down when there are more items to fit in the screen is uncomfortable to maneuver - compared with the Canon's scheme where they show page numbers 1,2,3,... to jump to the following page when all items do not fit in a single page.
 

Battery EN-EL15b
New EN-EL15b battery can be charged in-camera via USB using EH-7P charging AC adapter. This also works as an AC adapter for the camera. When the camera is turned off, it works as a battery charger (only charges EN-EL15b battery). You can also use MH-25A battery charger for EN-EL15, EN-EL15a and EN-EL15b.

XQD Memory Card
The Z7 takes one XQD card, offering an extremely high read/write speed of up to 500MB/sec and storing capacity beyond 2TB. Nikon opted to put only one card in the Z7 body. Many professionals are already expressing their concern about not having dual slots, in case one fails. Well, the memory card is a very stable hardware and very unlikely to fail; there is much higher chance your camera will fail. If you are a pro, it is assumed that you carry two extra bodies in your camera bag at all times! My Sony 64GB XQD G series memory card (R:440MB/s, W:400MB/s) cost me $132 from Amazon. You should be grateful each body takes only one XQD!

Vertical Grip
Nikon Z7 does not seem to support a vertical grip that also serves as an extra battery storage. The camera bottom of the Z7 does not have any electrical contact points, hidden or exposed. Even just for extra batteries, how do they connect the battery pack? Unless they insert a connection into the camera battery cavity, just like the Canon cameras do (by removing the battery cover). Well, I am not a vertical grip user anyway, so I do not care if they do not offer one.

In-Camera Image Stabilization
Nikon Z7's 5-axis in-camera VR (vibration reduction) is a huge deal. Canon EOS R did not add the image stabilizer in-camera. You have to rely on lenses to do the job.

Memory Card Door Security

Nikon Z7 has a sliding door for its XQD memory card. There is no lock provided to prevent an accidental opening of the door. Nikon used to have a solid locking mechanism for the door as in D300 and others. It was abandoned, since the general trend of the industry is to just provide a sliding door for the memory card without wasting a precious space for the unlocking lever. I think it has been well tested in many professional shooting situations without any accidental opening. So, this simple sliding door for the Nikon Z7 memory card is OK.... My real concern is the fact that this "plastic" door is used as the thumb-hold for the Z7 body. This is where the heaviest stress is placed constantly while the photographer is holding the camera. In this Z7 design, this small door is constantly pressed by the thumb to hold the entire weight of the camera. I just have to assume Nikon engineers hold an unwavering confidence in the strength of this plastic door. I hope they are right!

Hands-On Testing

EVF (Electronic View Finder)
Nikon Z7's EVF is the best in the industry. So clear and almost indistinguishable from a real prism finder. This is a convincing reason to consider moving to mirrorless. But there is a slight delay in refreshing the image in continuous shooting. It does not refresh as fast as Sony A9 (the best in the industry), which refreshes without any delay at whopping 20 fps (frames per second). I tried Canon EOS R too. Their EVF is as good as Nikon Z7, but it has a refresh delay like the Z7. Sony A9 has no delay, no blackout, at all, and shoots 20 fps with the continuous AF enabled - it is simply amazing. The Z7's AF-C barely catches up with the speed of 2-3 fps. Having said that, I like the clarity of the Nikon Z7's finder over Sony's.

Continuous Auto-Focus (AF-C)
AF-S (single auto-focus) is pretty fast. As for the continuous AF (AF-C), you cannot use the highest fps setting (H+). You must use H or slower... Also, AF-C priority must be set to "Focus" not "Release". This way, the continuous AF will work, but it poses until the focus is done, so the shooting speed may slow down. But even with this setting described above, AF-C (H-mode) sometimes continues shooting without focusing....

The original meaning of AF-C (continuous AF) is NOT to shoot continuously but rather this way: With the AF-C mode on, you hold the release button half-way, and the camera keeps focusing even if the subject moves, moving away from you or coming closer, possibly using a "predictive" focusing algorithm, and then you shoot - bang!     

Seems like the D850 (similar price range) performs better than the Z7 in AF-C. The D5, of course, will never miss the focus, but it is a $6500 camera. The Z7 only goes 2-3 fps when the AF-C mode is activated. In Sony cameras, a fair comparison is against A7R III (42 MP). There, the A7R III wins with 10 fps with AF-C activated.

Auto-focus is a complex area. In the Z7, Nikon removed 3D dynamic area mode. The algorithm is pretty complex. Even the software designer cannot predict how system behaves. You just have to experiment using different settings offered to see which one or some combination of modes to see which works best for a given situation....  AF-C seems to work better in D850 ...  we may have to wait for firmware update... I found the current Z7's Wide-area AF(S) mode more suitable for AF-C shooting.

FTZ Adapter
New AF-S lenses work well on the Z7 using the FTZ adapter. My DX lenses (like AF-S18-200mm DX) works perfectly. DX lenses automatically sets the camera to DX mode, but the DX image fills the entire viewfinder which is very nice. (Even in the DX mode, I am shooting with more than 20M compared with my old D300.) The FTZ works just as well with older manual-focus Nikkor lenses, but you must use M (manual) or A (aperture-priority) mode. With these MF lenses, I could not enable the exposure +|- indicator display in the viewfinder somehow, nor could I use any focus aid < > indicator.

Rear LCD Monitor Tilting
Nikon Z7 has a tiltable rear LCD monitor. Only tilts in horizontal direction, like many other high-end DSLRs. I much prefer the tilting rear monitor of, say, Nikon D5600. A new mirrorless from Canon, EOS R, uses that mechanism for their rear LCD.
Canon EOS R >>> Canon EOS R provides a rear LCD tilting echanism similar to the one provided in the lower-ranking cameras. I like this much better.... it is cleaner and more flexible. No metals being exposed in the rear of the LCD. I wish all high-end cameras will use the same mechanism.

Focus Aid
With my MF Nikkor 20mm f/3.5 lens via the FTZ converter, Nikon Z7's focus aid did not work at all. That is, the red green focus area did not change to green when focused, nor did I get the focus-aid indicator < > arrows.

Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S Zoom
This "S-line" lens is amazing. All S lenses have nano-crystal coating. The Z 24-70mm performs well from wide-open.

Focal-Plane Shutter
The Z7 has a metallic, vertical focal-plane shutter and electronic silent shutter. 1/8000~30 seconds. When you remove the lens, you can see the sensor exposed and visible - that is scary to say the least. Also, the flange-sensor distance of this Nikon's new Z mount is only 16mm! which Nikon proudly says contributes tremendously to the better and more flexible design of the lens. Sony's cameras also keeps the sensor exposed when the lens is removed. Canon EOS R has its mechanical shutter closed when the lens is detached. This prevents the dust problem.

Focal-plane shutter in mirrorless: In mirrorless cameras, the user is looking through the EVF, so the sensor has to be exposed to the incoming light at all times. That is, the sensor cannot be covered by the shutter. The focal-plane shutter is made of a lower (front) curtain and a upper (rear) curtain. When the sensor is exposed (or when the shutter is open), the upper and lower curtains are pushed to the upper and lower sides of the shutter box respectively. When the shutter button is clicked, the lower curtain swings up to cover the sensor. Once covered up, the sensor will begin sending signal to the memory buffer (the shutter is about to open and the sensor is ready). Now the lower curtain will swing down (the opening of the shutter) to expose the sensor to the light. After a duration (depending on the shutter speed used), the upper curtain will swing down to close the shutter. The exposure is done. The sensor will then stop sending the signal to the memory buffer, and the upper curtain will swing up to expose the sensor to the light (so the EVF is visible again). Note that the swinging-down of either curtain is for the actual exposure. The lower-curtain swing-down will open the shutter and the upper-curtain swing-down will close the shutter. On the other hand, the lower-curtain swing-up will cover the sensor in preparation of shutter release and the upper-curtain swing-up will uncover the sensor for the EVF. 

Exposure delay mode: Based on my focal-plane shutter description above, the Z7's exposure delay works this way: The moment the shutter is clicked, the lower curtain swings up to cover the sensor (the EVF turns black). After some "delay" period specified (0.2s / 0.5s / 1s / 2s / 3s), the focal-plane shutter is released in a normal way, that is, opening the shutter for 1/30 sec, say, and closing it. Then immediately the upper curtain swings up to uncover the sensor again. So the only vibration-reduction benefit here is the swinging-up movement of the upper curtain in preparation for the shutter release.
 
Electronic front-curtain shutter: If enabled, the opening of the shutter is done electronically, but the closing is done by the mechanical shutter. That is, the moment the shutter is released, the memory buffer starts to read signal from the sensor. The EVF becomes black during the exposure (even if the shutter is open). When the shutter exposure is done, say, after 1/30 sec, the focal-plane shutter closes (by swinging down the upper curtain). Then the upper curtain swings up immediately to make the EVF visible again.

One question I have is that the electronic shutter opening and the mechanical closing have different traversal speeds and how do they reconcile this difference? Maybe software will rectify the difference... else an uneven exposure will result. It is probably because of this reason that the Z7 restricts the maximum shutter speed to 1/2000 second when the EFCS mode is selected.

Silent shutter: This means no mechanical shutter is involved. The moment the shutter is clicked, the switch is turned on to send signal to the memory buffer, and after some duration, say, 1/30 sec, the switch is turned off.

Two kinds of sensors: The CMOS and CDC sensors. Most of the digital cameras nowadays use the CMOS sensor. The CMOS sensor reads the light from the upper-left corner of the sensor going down row-wise all the way to the lower-right corner of the sensor --  the reading is not instantaneous. For this reason, if you use the electronics shutter (by turning the sensor on and off), you get what is called a "jello" effect of a horizontally moving object when a high-speed shutter is used. That's why the CMOS is called a "rolling" shutter. The CCD sensor does not suffer from this effect and it is called a "global" shutter. The focal-plane shutter also creates a jello effect, so both mechanical and electronic shutters are rolling shutters. The mechanical focal-plane shutter scans from top to bottom in about 1/200-1/250 seconds (which is the flash sync speed, by the way). The electronic-shutter scan is appreciably slower (probably 2-3 times slower), hence a jello effect is more pronounced. Well, the sensor technology is improving all the time, so when this speed is increased to the level of the current mechanical shutter (or even more), there is no reason to use a focal-plane shutter anymore (which is largely a legacy of an old technology...). Just like we are throwing away the old, bulky reflex mirror box, we can get rid of another piece of mechanical junk from our modern camera body!
--- I wonder what the flash sync speed is for the silent shutter...
 

I Do Not Understand...

User-Setting : U1, U2, U3
I set the U1 and saved it. It happened to be A (Aperture-priority) when I set it. Now, I go to U1 (by dial) and all my settings are restored from U1. But I have to keep the dial to U1. Now, how do I change to S (Shutter-priority) mode without affecting all the other settings? If I dial to A, it is no longer the U1 settings...
I can change other settings under U1, like VR on/off, for instance. I can restore all U1 settings by dialing to something else and come back to U1...

Wait, if I change, say, VR on/off under U1, it stays that way even after I turned off the camera and turn it back on. Even if I move to another U2, or U3 and come back to U1, the original U1 setting of this VR is lost, changed to the new setting, not the original one I saved! This is BAD. The U1 setting should not be changed unless the user specifically reset it by Setup menu > Save settings.


AF-C / Dynamic Area Indicator
I was having a hard time setting my Z7 to AF-C (continuous auto-focus) and Dynamic area mode. I set it alright, but my screen focus box (red) did not change to a square box with eight surrounding dots outside. (The four dots were missing.) I called NIKON SUPPORT 800-645-6687. The technician who answered the phone tried their Z7 and same thing happened. After some asking around she got a solution to my question. Go to SETUP Menu > Reset all settings. I tried and it worked - the dynamic area mode display of a red box and eight red dots surrounding it has been restored... But I lost all the settings I spent the last few days setting, including all of my U1, U2, U3 settings! I am certain this is a software bug on their part.      

 

Samples


2018-Oct-18  Nikon Z7, FTZ Adapter, Ai Fisheye Nikkor 16mm f/3.5, at f/11, 1/10 sec, hand-held, Auto ISO 5600, direct from JPEG, file size 27MB


2018-Oct-21  Nikon Z7, Z Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 S, at 24mm, at f/8, at 1/13 sec, hand-held, Auto ISO 2800, direct from JPEG, file size 26MB


2018-Nov-11  Nikon Z7, Z Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 S, at 24mm, at f/4, at 1/6 second, hand-held, ISO 64, direct from JPEG, file size 21MB

 

Suggestions to Nikon

Menu Item Differentiation
In "My Menu", change the visual appearance of the "tool" items -- "Add items", "Remove items", "Rank items" and "Choose tab" -- to distinguish them from the menu items selected for My Menu. This can be done by color, font size/style, or whatever.

Menu Category Color
There are a total of seven menu categories (Playback, Photo Shooting, Movie Shooting, Custom Setting, Setup, Retouch, My Menu). Each category is associated with a unique color. The currently selected category is shown at the top of the right pane. My suggestion: The background color of it should be the color of that category. Also, the left-pane icons of these seven categories should be colored with its own color, with the current selection indicated by the yellow frame around the icon. 

Menu Item Current Value
In some menus the current selection is not shown. For instance, in Peaking Highlights, the current setting at the right of this item is just "--". I know there is not enough space to say everything including the "color" but at least it should say "On" or "Off", or maybe "On1", "On2", "On3"... Minimally I like to know if it's On or Off. The same suggestion applies to many other menu items too.   

Menu Item Page Scroll by (+) (-) Buttons
In menu manipulation, when the focus is on the right pane, and when there are more menu items to fit in one page, we should be able to use (+) (-) zoom buttons to go to the previous or next page. (Yes, we can use the touch screen, but these buttons are not used in that instance, so why not use them.) I just realized that the "-" button is already spoken for for "?", so we cannot use it for Page-down... OK, just use the "+" button only for page scroll. 

i-Menu Title Missing
Go into i-menu. Select (highlight) Vibration reduction, for instance. Click OK. Now, you can choose Off, Normal, or Sport. In this screen, the current item title "Vibration reduction" should be displayed. This suggestion applies to all i-menu items.  

Menu Selection/Navigation Paradigm
Nikon should change the menu navigation as follows (similar to Canon EOS R and other Canon DSLRs): Change the main menu categories from "vertical" to "Horizontal". This change has a significant implication such that the menu categories can be selected by Left< >Right buttons while menu items on the right pane can be selected by Up ^ v Down buttons at any given time. The current Nikon scheme uses Up & Down for both menu categories and menu items therefore the user, after selecting the menu category, must change the focus to the right pane by the Right button before being able to select a menu item by the same Up/Down button.  The Canon's scheme allows the selection of both menu categories and menu items anytime since they use different sets (vertical or horizontal) of buttons.

   
          Z7 Menu                                                                                My recommendation
 

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