Initially released in the fall of 2020, Nikon’s Z 7II is the updated take on the original Z7. And it comes to market to improve their initial efforts and to refine the platform, now with modestly faster speeds, better AF, dual card slots, 4K 60p, and added versatility. Yet, it does so, boasting a familiar, if not identical, design. As such, it’s an incremental update rather than a complete overhaul.
The original Z7, like the Z6, suffered from harsh criticism. But, Nikon gradually updated the camera, correcting the vast amount of its shortcomings. And it’s now a reliable camera today. But, they couldn’t fix everything via firmware. So this new model comes to resolve all of the issues that plagued the first model.
The Z 7II is aimed at the detail-obsessed photographer, who values pixel peeing. And as a high-performing ultra-high-resolution camera, it’ll do just that. In many respects, it’s a mirrorless D850, which is arguably their best DSLR ever released. And it’s a camera aimed to compete with Sony’s A7R IV, Panasonic’s S1R, and Canon’s EOS R5. Even so, are the changes here enough to justify a new generation model? Or should it merely be an S model? And is it worthwhile enough to sway existing DSLR owners to jump to mirrorless? The first generation wasn’t particularly enticing enough to sway existing D850 users. So how will they do this go-round? Well, let’s find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon Z 7II?
It obtains the same high-resolution 45.7MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor without an optical low-pass filter (OLPF) from the D850 and the original model. However, Nikon’s opted to include dual EXPEED 6 image processors this go-round, making it their second camera to obtain this configuration outside of the Z 6II. Like the Z 6II, this configuration realizes faster image processing, which improves the camera’s imaging performance, responsiveness, and buffer capacity. Combined with the sensor’s back-illuminated design and omitted optical low-pass filter, the 14-bit NEF (RAW) images have staggering detail and sharpness. They also maintain the same pleasing color rendering. Its native ISO of 64 also lets it produce class-leading dynamic range, particularly when recovering shadows. And this remains a key selling feature of this line and the D850, which remains unmatched compared to rivals.
The dual EXPEED processors yield marginally faster continuous shooting speeds, which are now 10 FPS rather than 9 FPS. But, they’ve significantly improved the buffer capacity, which is now 3.3x larger than the original model. Now, the camera can maintain a 10 FPS burst with AE/AF tracking for 50-77 consecutive 12-bit RAW images or 200 JPEGs. Additionally, the processor has substantially reduced the viewfinder blackout times, solving a notable drawback of the original model.
The dual EXPEED processors have also led to improvements in video capabilities. Now the camera shoots 4K UHD 60p and 1080p full HD video up to 120p, moving from its predecessor 4K 30p maximum. But, otherwise, the camera still shoots to the MOV and MP4 formats with H.264 compression and 8-bit 4:2:0 color. And it records with data rates of 144-360 Mb/s for 4K and 28-56 Mb/s for 1080p. But, strangely it also maintains the same 29-minute and 59 second maximum recording time. Thankfully, shooting externally unlocks 12-bit RAW or 10-bit 4:2:2 color.
Overall, while not as sharp as the Z 6II, since it oversamples its video, the video quality here is excellent nonetheless. Videos are plenty sharp with accurate color rendering and ample dynamic range for post-processing.
It has zebras for highlight clipping indication.
It has a built-in Time-Code.
Recording externally via HDMI unlocks 4K UHD 60p with 10-bit 4:2:2 color using either N-Log or HDR (HLG). Recording HLG delivers HDR-suitable videos. But, Nikon’s N-Log gamma is available if you want to grade the footage during post-production and maximize the camera’s dynamic range. Firmware version 1.10 also unlocks 12-bit ProRes RAW recording and the Blackmagic RAW format, which is available as a paid firmware update. And these work with the Atomos NINJA V and Blackmagic Video Assist external recorders.
Low Light Performance
It features a native ISO range from ISO 64 to 25,600, further expandable to ISO 32 and 102,400. And overall, low light performance is excellent for a high-resolution camera. Users can expect usable images and videos up to ISO 6,400 or 12,800 with minor processing. And in this regard, it’s second to only Sony’s A7R IV in high-ISO performance. And images have minimal chroma noise, better contrast, and colors than the D850. So it currently stands as Nikon’s best high-resolution camera to date.
Nikon overhauled the autofocusing system with this new release. Sure, it obtains the same flagship 493-point hybrid phase-detect AF system with 90% sensor coverage on paper. But it obtains much of the same improvements debuted on the Z 6II. And these refinements mostly come in the form of updated tracking, particularly Wide-Area Eye-Detect AF and movie recording. Now Eye AF is available in video recording. Plus, it now offers face and eye-detection for both humans and animals (dogs and cats). Additionally, it also houses improvements to low light performance. Now, the camera can focus at -3.0 EV, half as much light as before. And you can push it further using the Low-Light AF Mode to -4.0 EV. Lastly, it also offers Hybrid AF for video, like the Z 6II. This mode switches from phase and contrast detection for better focusing while recording.
Taken together, it has substantial improvements over the original model here. The system is far more accurate, consistent, and reliable. The original model tended to front focus on the eyelashes or miss the eyes altogether. But Nikon’s corrected that issue. And this new model focuses perfectly on the iris, even in low light, with a high hit rate. Overall, it confidently tracks subjects further away and on the outskirts of the frame. And focusing is far more responsive and tenacious.
It obtains the Wide-Area AF (L) Mode, where you can set boundaries to concentrate the eye-detection to track a subject in a specific area. It’s a great option when filming tricky scenes that would otherwise cause misfocus.
It also offers focus peaking and focus magnification if you prefer manually focusing.
It uses the new EN-EL15c battery, the same as the Z 6II. And battery life is substantially improved over the original model. The camera now offers 420 shots per charge, a 21% improvement, and 105 minutes of video.
Nikon’s also created a new optional vertical grip, the MB-N11, which ups the battery performance by using two batteries and makes vertical shooting more comfortable.
Display & Viewfinder
It maintains the same large rear 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 2.1M dots from the original model. While unchanged, it’s quite sharp, accurate, and matches rivals in this regard. And the tilting articulating is versatile for high and low angle shooting. Plus, it’s bright enough to use outdoors. As a touchscreen, it also supports various touch gestures ranging from pinch to zoom, flicking in playback, touch shutter, and full menu navigation.
It also maintains the same high-resolution 3.69M dot QVGA EVF as the original model. This viewfinder has a high 0.8x magnification and a fluorine coating for easy cleaning.
It also has a top status LCD panel with a low-energy dot-matrix. This display provides quick access to important camera settings such as aperture, battery, ISO, and shutter speed.
It houses an essentially unchanged interface and menu design as the original model. And while untouched, it’s still excellent, well-designed and perfect for touch input. But navigating the menu with the joystick is also quick and easy. The menus do have many settings though. But, they’re not unnecessarily complicated. So new users shouldn’t find this camera challenging to master.
It obtains the i-Menu, which gives you quick access to 12 frequently-used settings. And you can customize this list as needed.
The camera keeps the two function buttons recessed inside the grip, Fn1, and Fn2, giving you immediate access to recall their assigned settings. But in total, nine buttons are customizable.
It offers three User setting modes, U1-U3. These are custom shooting settings that let you recall full shooting setups.
It has in-camera rating.
It has a custom My Menu, in which you can customize all your favorite menu items.
It has in-camera retouching, letting you trim movies, resize or straighten photos, and do much more.
It offers the (?) button, which provides a brief explanation of what a setting does. It’s a helpful feature for newcomers, and it acts as a quick reference guide of sorts when you’re not sure what a setting does.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Physically, it maintains the design, layout, and handling as its predecessor. Other than the logo change and the larger card slot door, the two cameras are identical. The only real difference is a 5% increase in size now to 615 g body alone, which is unnoticeable in hand. But the lack of changes here is not a bad thing as it remains among the best handling full-frame mirrorless cameras to date. It also means existing Z7 owners will find the camera immediately familiar. And it also keeps that large comfortable grip, superb balancing, and a robust, truly professional-feeling body of the Z7. Additionally, it also sports a robust magnesium alloy chassis, affording it dust and weather resistance too. And we still have that strategic button placement Nikon is known for, so good to see this continue and everything remain accessible within fingers’ reach.
It has an AF-ON button for back-button focusing.
It has an AF joystick, known as the Sub-Selector, for easy menu navigation and quick focus point selection.
It has dual command dials to control shutter speed, aperture, or any function assigned to them. And combined with its dedicated ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons, it delivers exceptional manual control.
There’s a lock on the Mode Dial to prevent accidental changes.
It has a dedicated video record button for quick start/stops.
It has 5-axis in-body Vibration Reduction to help reduce camera shake with any mounted lens. And this system compensates for up to 5 stops, letting you shoot handheld exposures at 1-second. It also has an optional Electronic VR mode for movies, further improving the stabilization. But this mode doesn’t work with 4K 60p, 1080p 120p, or 10-bit HDMI.
It has a microphone input.
It has a headphone output.
It offers an HDMI Type-C (Mini) port to connect external recorders or monitors.
It has a USB-C port, which now supports in-camera charging and continuous power for extended use. You can also stream with Nikon’s Webcam Utility and transfer files from this port. And it’s great to see this support come, rather than only offering charging when powered off.
It features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) connectivity. With these you can wirelessly control the camera, initiate over the air firmware updates and share images to a mobile device with SnapBridge. You can also wirelessly transfer photos to a PC or Mac too.
It now offers dual card slots, where one is a CFexpress Type B or XQD card and the other a UHS-II SD slot. This finally gives users the option of redundancy while shooting. And it’s a must for professionals and a welcomed addition.
Like the Z 6II, it offers longer maximum in-camera shutter speeds, which is now 900 seconds or 15 minutes. And it’s an excellent option for astrophotographers wanting to capture long exposures without using an external remote. And it now marks the second camera outside of the D810A with this exclusive feature.
It has a fully silent electronic shutter.
It has in-camera time-lapse recording and you can either generate a 4K time-lapse movie or capture the full-resolution still images.
It has Multiple Exposures.
It has Flicker Reduction to reduce the white balance and exposure shifts caused by artificial lighting.
It has the Focus Shift shooting Mode for in-camera focus bracketing of up to 300 sequential frames.
It has several lens compensation tools, including vignette control, diffraction compensation and distortion control.
Moving over to tracking autofocus reduces the camera’s continuous burst rate, nearly dropping the performance in half to 5.5 FPS. Thus it’s only a good option for slow-moving action rather than sports. So instead, use the single point continuous AF.
Also, shooting continuous bursts at 10 FPS drops from 14-bit RAW to 12-bit, reducing the camera’s color accuracy. Instead, shoot at 9 FPS to maintain the higher 14-bit NEF files. It’s not worth it to get the extra 1 FPS.
It lacks 10-bit internal recording and 4:2:2 subsampling. For these features, you’ll have to record to an external monitor.
Strangely, Nikon continues limiting the video recording to 29-minutes and 59 seconds. This was previously the industry standard due to tax regulations. But this is long gone. It’s strange and confusing to see them be one of the few remaining manufacturers with this unnecessary limitation on a professional camera. It simply doesn’t make any sense. And they did this with the Z 6II as well. Very odd.
While the autofocus is generally improved, the tracking autofocus still occasionally loses focus of the subject and drifts elsewhere. It’s good, but it just isn’t as tenacious as other systems on the market, making it slightly unreliable for sports, wildlife, and some journalistic applications.
While the EVF on this camera is good, it’s far behind rivals at this price point. At 3.69M dots, the resolution is currently the lowest in its competing class. All its competitors have 5.76M dot viewfinders, which is more in line with the sensor’s resolution. It’s strange to see Nikon maintain the same EVF with this particular release. It makes sense on the Z 6II. But not here. But, more frustratingly, this viewfinder lacks any higher refresh rates too. Instead, you’re stuck at 60 Hz, which isn’t helpful when tracking fast-moving subjects.
It lacks a built-in flash.
While the dual card slots are a welcomed addition, the SD card slot will slow the camera’s performance down significantly when recording redundant backups. Having dual XQD or CFexpress cards would be the better option, despite the added cost, since both cards could maintain similar read/write speeds. So for sports, wildlife, and journalism, it may be better to shoot strictly to the CFepxress card to maintain faster buffer clearing speeds. Otherwise, get ready to tackle slow buffering. This particular configuration isn’t problematic on the Z 6II, as it offers a smaller resolution sensor. But, here, with 45MP, it causes a noticeable slowdown. Even so, the extra redundancy is worth it.
Is this a good beginner camera?
It’s a camera aimed at enthusiasts, semi-professionals, and professional photographers. You can get similar features with Nikon’s APS-C Z50 or even higher-end Z5 without the hefty price.
Is this a good camera for you?
This camera is currently unrivaled in its dynamic range and shadow recovery. And it’s currently the best option for landscape, cityscape, and night photographers who shoot in contrasting scenes. If you shoot these mediums or in difficult lighting, this is the camera to get.
Videographers should consider the Z 6II instead. It offers almost identical capabilities. But the oversampled 4K video makes it the better option, and it isn’t as expensive.
Current Z7 owners should update if they want the dual card slots, updated shutter speeds, time-lapse, the vertical grip, and updated AF. Otherwise, don’t upgrade considering the enormous price difference.
Current DSLR shooters should consider the upgrade, particularly if you have a D810 or D750. It’s also a worthy update over the D850, given it has in-body stabilization and better low light performance.
In the end, Nikon’s Z 7II improves upon its initial efforts with the original Z7 platform. It refines the original Z7 with more speed, better processing, and more versatility. But, it does so without sacrificing any of the already successful elements. Sure, it’s not a complete overhaul here. And it only ends up fixing its main gripes. But, it does close the gap quite noticeably between their high-end D850 and their mirrorless line. And it stands as an excellent option for studio, portrait, product, and landscape photographers wanting utmost image quality.
Nikon’s Z 7II proves their commitment to the Z system camera lineup. But, it does come as strictly a refinement to the line, rather than something new altogether. Even so, it’s a powerful camera indeed that’s mostly lacking in flaws. It doesn’t necessarily wow, but it’s a solid option in the high-resolution segment nonetheless.