From the Vietnam War photographer’s grimy, dented 1959 Nikon F to the 21st-century fashion photographer’s digital descendant, the D5, Nikon’s single-lens reflex cameras have been the gold standard in their class. They may not be as fashionable as Canon or as intellectual as Leica, but they are still an ultra-reliable workhorse.
For its latest trick, Nikon has launched something it’s calling the Z-mount system. The two bodies in this range, the Z6 and Z7, are full-frame, professional-standard digital SLRs, but – and here’s the leap forward – mirrorless. Which is to say, instead of a big mirror reflecting the view from the lens into the viewfinder and then having to retract when the shutter opens, all the viewfinding is done electronically.
Mirrorless digital SLRs designed for the highest end of photography are a new thing, and Nikon’s are destined to be the standard bearers for the new genre. The Z6 and Z7 are not miniature cameras, although they are a size or two smaller than a full-scale conventional DSLR and come with a complete new range of lenses. I was taken by surprise by the smoothness, the unbelievably fast focusing and the terrific picture quality. And the electronic viewfinder is so good, and pixel-free, that the only way you would know it is not a “real” optical view is when you realise it can “see” in near darkness. The glassware of Z series lenses is wider than in existing Nikon optics, which means more light gets to the sensor, with all the benefits this brings to low-light photography. The design of the cameras also ensures that light is bent less, which accounts for the amazing images. Widening the glass has meant Nikon increasing the size of the lens mount for the first time since 1959, a huge step for the manufacturer – but a clever adapter means all 350 Nikon lenses since the 1950s will fit the Z models.
Z6 or Z7, then? They look and feel identical, but the £3,999 Z7 has a 45.7-megapixel sensor, the £2,699 Z6 a 24.5-megapixel. It is unlikely you or I could tell the difference, so I’d probably plump for the Z6. The 4K video from both is extraordinary, I should add.