Another View of the Z Lineup

One slide in my presentation last week should be of interest to those of you who like to speculate. That slide described which Z System cameras are in the modern era now (EXPEED7), and which aren't (EXPEED6). 

To recap, the EXPEED6 generation of cameras has these attributes to consider:

  • Compromised High Continuous captures — the viewfinder becomes a lagged slide show, not live.
  • 8-bit video compression — pretty much just the aging H.264 options.
  • Nikon 1 autofocus — the original Z6/Z7 system was an update of the Nikon 1 one, with Subject tracking, but not 3D-tracking, for instance.
  • Established Picture Controls — in Nikon terminology, basically a carry on of NP2 first seen in DSLRs.
  • Older card slots — XQD and UHS I were the design targets, though this group later got (slowish) CFexpress support.
  • Tilt-only LCDs — with one exception, this group all had one-axis tilt mechanisms.
  • Limited control customization — very paternalistic "you can only set these few things" customization.
  • Cameras: Z30, Z50, Zfc, Z5, Z7 II.

The EXPEED7 generation kicked off by the Z9 changed the above things (and added more):

  • Live view Continuous, and even pre-capture — the viewfinder is always live and doesn't black out on electronic shutter.
  • 10-bit video compression and more — N-RAW, ProResRAW and 422, H.265, plus HLG all catch Nikon up in the video world.
  • New autofocus — subject detection is the big gain, but other gains include true 3D-tracking, hybrid-button focus, user-defined large areas, and more.
  • New Picture Controls — in NP3 we have three new original Picture Controls, plus now the Flexible Picture Control system.
  • Newer card slots — still not perfect, but CFexpress V2 and UHS II capability is better.
  • Adjustable LCDs — multi-tilt or fully articulating is now the norm.
  • Near limitless customization — the parental controls have been (mostly) lifted, allowing you to customize your camera to your needs much more easily.
  • Cameras: Zf, Z6 III, Z8, Z9.

If you want to speculate about the Z System's future, you have to either (1) tell me how the cameras in red become cameras in green; or (2) invent a new camera to add to the green list.

I've gone on record as saying that I don't believe Nikon will update the Z5 any time soon. This is the D6xx model for mirrorless: supremely competent at a rock bottom FX price. Nikon's going to milk the R&D recapture out of that camera until the cow can take no more. As the D6xx proved, that can be almost a decade.

Which leaves you only two real choices for #1: updating the Z50 or Z7 II. As for #2, the price point for FX that's now weak is US$3000, so be careful about how much you want to stick into an FX model to make it work in the lineup.

Nikon certified two cameras recently for release. One we now know was the Z6 III. The other? Could be a #1 (Z7 III?) or a #2 (Z70?). I don't know. The problem with my remaining contacts within Nikon is that they'll tell me about something they worked on, but they won't tell me what they decided to release. Sometimes they don't even know for sure themselves until upper management has given the final green light. 

I personally feel that whatever comes next has to be a #2. I know that's what I'd do with the product line right now. 

You're probably asking about "but why not a Z7 III?" Well, such a camera is possible, but it's really only possible in these forms: an updated Z7 body with (a) 45mp sensor; (b) 61mp sensor; or (c) 80mp+ sensor. The first (a) is problematic in how it would position against the Z8 (and Z6 III, for that matter). The second (b) means using what is now regarded as a slow sensor, so this would make the camera pretty much only a landscape type camera. The last (c) requires an entirely new image sensor, and I have to wonder whether Nikon had the fab time to pull off two completely new image sensors near simultaneously (remember, both cameras registered with licensing agencies close together). 

You're probably asking at this point "when will we know?" 

No one in their right mind would launch a new camera with the Olympics going on (did you hear that, Canon? ;~). Heck, marketing departments are probably even looking at Taylor Swift concert dates and trying to avoid them, too ;~). As I've written before, it's not good form to launch here in the US before Labor Day, due to people not paying attention due to things like vacations.

Thus my official speculation is a #2 some time after Labor Day. (For those of you overseas, that's September 2nd this year.)

Your speculation may vary.

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