Some Common DSLR/Z Questions I Get

Clearly, the Z-mount is what Nikon now concentrates on, just as Canon is doing with the RF mount. The F-mount and EF-mount are now frozen in time and no longer extended. This has made a lot of Canon and Nikon users ask questions concerned with transition issues. Here are some of the most common ones, and my answers:

"Is the move worth it?"

Yes, that's the most important question, isn't it? For people who are mostly comfortable with their current DSLR and lens set and just hoping for some more pixels, faster AF, some additional features, etc., the answer is probably no. If you're photographing with a D3, D4, or even a D5, the current Nikon D6 is probably the right camera for you. If you're working with a D700 or D750, the D780 is the right camera for you. If you're taking photos with a D800 or D810, the D850 is the right camera for you.

The problem is this: a lot of folk aren't happy with that answer. The most common complaints are size/weight, focus consistency, and acuity. Here, the Z's start to shine. The Z5 with the 24-200mm lens is probably the “best basic kit" for a huge number of (former) DSLR users. The Z5 is a really solid still photography camera with a superzoom that outperforms many older DSLR lenses that aren’t superzooms. That Z5 kit would be smaller and lighter than what those DSLR folk are currently using, the focus would be more consistent (and probably easier to achieve if they are currently using an older generation DSLR), and the edge-to-edge acuity would be really good.

But I can't answer this question for you. I get a number of versions of this question via email, and I always end up having to ask for more specifics, and in those specifics we usually find the answer for that particular person. That answer varies a lot. This not only makes it tricky for the customer to figure, but also for Nikon to deal with in their product availability.

"Is focus better on the Z's?"

Yes and no. The three yes parts of the answer are: 

  1. The Z cameras are much more consistent and accurate when they achieve focus than the DSLRs. I'd say that if you're into landscape discipline and 45mp, the Z7 is the better choice than the D850 for consistent and precise autofocus controlled correctly. This has transitioned my landscape work to the Z7 from the D850. Moreover, it's easier to confirm that focus and depth of field are where you think they are via the viewfinder on the Z’s, so even manual focus can be better achieved. 
  2. If you're into "let the camera do everything", the Auto-area AF mode with face and eye detection turned on is likely to get the casual user more keepers. That comes from several things, but one is that the Z's look at the entire frame for focusing, so you can compose without having to worry about what the focus system can actually see. Focus-and-recompose (a common DSLR technique) loses as many images at it gets. Moreover, there's more horizontal discretion in the Z's than the DSLRs, so it has an easier time detecting the edges of most things. 
  3. If you want intelligent subject detection, particularly one that goes beyond face/eye detection. In this case, the Z9 is the camera that beckons, as it has the most sophisticated subject detection Nikon has made. This will trickle down to other Z models soon.

The two no answers have to do with continuous autofocus while tracking moving objects. There are two advantages the DSLRs have over most of the Z's: 

  1. Group AF mode on the DSLRs guarantees closest subject priority, and Dynamic-area AF can be changed in size. Both those attributes give the knowledgeable user a bit more choice and control on the DSLR. I use both those abilities all the time in sports photography, so the Z6 and Z7 haven't really replaced my D6 for that type of imagery. Of course, the Z9 has a host of additions that make up for those missing DSLR capabilities. My top two focusing cameras are the D6 DSLR and the Z9 mirrorless (the Sony A1 was basically as good as the Z9, but the Z9 firmware updates have moved it ahead). My D6 can do a couple things the Z9 can’t. My Z9 can do a few things my D6 can’t. My D6 does one particular important thing my Z9 can’t (see next).
  2. The Z's are highly sensitive to horizontal detail, but much less sensitive to vertical detail. This is one reason why the D6 can do things the Z9 can’t: the D6 has nearly universal horizontal/vertical focus detection abilities. The good news is that gravity has pretty much dictated that being sensitive to horizontal detail isn't a particularly bad thing. Until, of course, you turn the camera into the vertical grip position ;~). 

So my usual answer is this: the Z's are different than the DSLRs, which means that you have to pay attention to the details and nuance if you want to master either. As I've shown before, I have no trouble getting high keeper rates photographing wildlife and sports with all the Z’s (or the DSLRs). But I also spent a great deal of time studying the focus system and understanding what each camera can and can't do, and just adapt to that. My only real complaint about the Z focusing isn't really about the focusing system. It's the fact that Nikon took away control opportunities on all the cameras except the Z9 (e.g. AF-ON+AF Area change assigned to a button). We need a dedicated focus mode button and we need the function key assignments back and I'd be happy (which is what we got with the Z9, and guess what? I’m happy ;~).

“What will happen to my flash?"

SB-300, SB-500, SB-700, SB-5000, R1C1: nothing, they’ll work as advertised (though the SB-700 will gray out the Flash control menu and you have to set those things on the flash). The SU-800, and SB-800 through SB-910 will also work fine (again the Flash control menu will gray out and you have to set flash controls on the Speedlight itself).

Third party flashes? They may or may not work, depending upon whether they’ve had firmware updates to support the Z System. I’ve seen incompatible, somewhat compatible, mostly compatible, and compatible with the third party systems. 

PocketWizards? You’ll need to buy a new Fusion Raven controller and pay for firmware updates for the FlexTT5 receivers (new FlexTT5’s come with the E release firmware necessary). 

If you’re deep into studio flash use, I’m not sure the Z System cameras actually provide a true benefit over the current DSLRs. You’re going to find the mirrorless cameras more fiddly and troublesome in the studio than the last DSLRs are. You might find you need some new accessories, such as with the PocketWizard. You’ll likely find that you have to work through a number of new issues. 

Note: I’ve updated my flash accessories page.

Looking for other photographic information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: | mirrorless: | general/technique: | film SLR:

text and images © 2023 Thom Hogan — All Rights Reserved