How to Get Around Nikon's Nanny-ing

I keep seeing (and getting in emails) a variety of complaints about the Z cameras. Many of those are simply fixed by learning your camera.

For example: "I won't buy the Z6 II because it doesn't have zebras for stills." Zebras are a crosshatch pattern that appears on values higher than a pixel limit you set (on a Z you can set eight values from 180 to 255). Well, you can get to zebras quickly to evaluate exposure on all the Z's:

  • Set CSM #G6 to On and set a limit value.
  • Whenever you want to see the zebras, flip into video mode, evaluate your exposure, and flip back to stills to shoot. It's a switch right where you right thumb naturally will be, so quick and easy. I shoot a lot in 16:9 on the Z7, so I just leave my camera set to video ;~). Just make sure your video settings are the same as your still settings. 

Or: "I'm mad we don't get DOF preview beyond f/5.6." The Z's use the shooting aperture in stills up to f/5.6, so you'll see the DOF from f/0.95 to f/5.6 if you've set those apertures. Well, you have two ways of seeing the correct DOF in the viewfinder and rear LCD: 

  • Assign a button to DOF Preview using CSM #F2. The most natural ones to use would be the thumb stick press or Fn1. 
  • Yep, you guessed it: flip into video mode. Apertures are respected in video mode. There's one little detail to remember: video mode remembers apertures differently than stills mode (so you can have the camera set up differently for stills or video shooting). Thus, if you're going to use this method and are often using a particular aperture (e.g. landscapes at f/11), just make sure that the video mode is already set to that aperture so all you have to do is flip a switch back and forth.

I detail this type of thing in my books (usually under notes called "Tip"). 

Yes, Nikon could pay more attention to what users are asking for or complaining about. Some of these things are clearly possible within the design of the cameras, they just haven't been implemented in the way the customer wants them to be.

Moreover, Nikon seems to have missed one thing that changed between their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. The DSLRs were originally configured to be left button-plus-right-dial systems. By that I mean that your left hand pressed a button while your right hand used the front and rear Command Dials to make settings. That also meant that your right index finger could stay poised over the shutter release for instant response to what was happening in front of you, even while making settings. 

The Focus Mode button is a good example of this. If you're correctly holding a Nikon DSLR, the Focus Mode button falls under your left thumb pretty naturally. You can switch Focus Area modes quickly without a hand position change on the right. 

Note that the Z cameras are all right-hand button cameras: all the buttons you'd use for settings are on the right side of the camera. That means that you often have to break from the normal Nikon hand position to set something. Yes, I can leave Focus Mode programmed to the Fn2 button and still manage to not take my finger away from the shutter release, but it's not comfortable, and people with large or small hands might have trouble doing that. The buttons you can assign things to that are the most natural to the old Nikon hand position are the Fn1, Fn2, and Movie record button, and that's it. The AF-ON, AE/AF-L, and thumb stick buttons require the right thumb and then you're not able to spin the right Command Dial ;~). So a lot of the customization becomes "two-handed," which means you're not holding the camera with your left hand any more and you've probably taken your eye from the viewfinder to see what you're doing.

This is one reason why the missing AF-ON+AF Area Mode settings are such a glaring omission on Nikon's part. True, most camera buyers these days only want all-automatic systems and never want to control things like autofocus; they just want autofocus to "do the right thing." They leave the camera set to Auto Area and then complain when the camera doesn't focus on something they wanted it to. Those of us who are more practiced and more nuanced and trying to coax everything out of our camera's focusing that it can do are not served by the current button positions and customization omissions, however. I know customers who won't buy a Z for this single omission on Nikon's part. 

So what's the best way around the focus control problem? As far as I'm concerned for stills, it's the Movie button. Configure it to Focus mode/AF-Area mode. This means your index finger will move off the shutter release slightly, but to me this is fastest method of making focus settings on the Z's right now. 

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