Your Thoughts on Nikon Z

Earlier this week I published a short "Another Way of Thinking" article about how I felt the Nikon Z system is doing and asked for your thoughts. You didn't disappoint. It was kind of like an online focus group that wouldn't stop ;~).

So let’s look at what things you thought were head scratchers, as expected, or exceeding your expectations about the Z system.

Head Scratchers

The overwhelming response about head-scratching decisions seems to center around lenses. Here’s a large sample of all the head-scratching Z users are doing (hopefully Nikon is reading this):

“It’s absolutely criminal that there isn’t a Z-mount [10-20mm for the Z50].” Well, maybe not criminal, but sure is disappointing that there’s nothing on the road map other than that superzoom for DX users. Nikon knows better than this: every—and I mean every—mirrorless mount has a wide angle zoom (even the now disappeared Samsung had one). 

“I wanted to see those compact primes faster.” or “Where are the smaller lenses?” The thing about putting them without aperture designation on the Road Map is that no one knows exactly where Nikon is going here. Are these f/2 or f/2.8? And why the strange between DX and FX focal lengths? Putting out at least one of the compacts early would give people a better idea of Nikon’s intentions here. Right now we’re all guessing.

“Why isn’t the 24-70mm f/4 offered in a Z5 kit?” Good point. The implied US$300 discount in the Z6 bundle with the lens is one of the large temptations of the Z6, and makes the lens a real bargain. It would be with the Z5, too. But as I’ve pointed out before, Nikon micromanages pricing in ways that are just mind-blowing as to the degree of precision they use. There’s obviously a spreadsheet somewhere in Tokyo that says that allowing an f/4 kit lens with the Z5 would reduce net sales dollars taken in by a few yen, so they won’t do it. There’s also the stocking unit (SKU) issue. Frankly, Nikon already has too many stocking units. Personally, I wouldn’t put two things in the same box and create so many SKUs in the first place, though I know dealers would try to scam the camera maker if I created sales bundles with multiple individual boxes (dealers would combine a camera-only sale with a lens-only sale wherever they could to pick up some dollars). 

“Where is the 70-200mm f/4?” [multiple] Nikon has been prioritized lenses that are going to be different in some key way in the Z mount version compared to the F mount. But this is exactly where I would have loved to see the Canon retracting approach used to create a small telephoto for Z.

“Why haven’t the 300mm and 500mm PF lenses been adapted to the Z mount yet?” Okay, I can partly answer that: demand for these lenses is still very high and the number of PF elements Nikon can produce in a month is limited. Rather than split the limited production between the two mounts, it’s better to just continue making F mount lenses that work perfectly fine on the FTZ Adapter.

“Enormous lenses [some just said ‘larger’].” I’m not so sure about this one. Most of this complaint stems from the size differential between the f/1.8 primes (G versus S). My problem with this type of assessment is this: these f/1.8 S’s are optically better than the f/1.4G’s. You don’t get something for nothing. Meanwhile, the zooms—other than the 70-200mm f/2.8 S—are doing better: they’re coming out smaller and better than the F-mount versions. I think lens size is an area where we have to give Nikon a little time to show their full hand.

“NOCT, NOCT. Who’s there and why?” There’s no love for the NOCT, apparently. I think that’s solely because people think that the lens of their choice should have been made first. Remember, Nikon is primarily an optics company, so I have no problems with Nikon making a “halo” product that shows some of the unique abilities the mount enables. There simply isn’t an f/1 or faster lens that comes close to challenging what the NOCT does (review coming). (It's going to be really hard to keep me from doing NOCT, NOCT jokes now: NOCT, NOCT. Dare ga arimasu? Renzu. Renzu nanimono? Renzu dare nozonde imasen. [hope I got that right])

"...not able to produce a 16-35mm f/2.8" Ah, I see we have a Sony fan in our midst. Moreover, no one is ever going to win the game of calling for a very specific focal length range (e.g. 14-24mm versus 14-30mm versus 16-35mm, etc.). Best result is that we eventually get overlapping lenses to account for differences in preference.

“Why didn’t Nikon license the Z mount to others?” [multiples] The answer is probably “because that’s the way we’ve always done this.” I don’t think that’s an appropriate answer when you’re coming into a market late and with a minimum of product. Of course, the product evangelist in me says it’s never the right answer ;~). In the 80’s and 90’s, having a proprietary approach to a market space was defacto. But tech’s relentless march has made that a relic that should be abandoned. You need others to help you fill out your product line quickly and close gaps, because you can’t do it yourself fast enough. Moreover, it’s the sensor and ISP chain where you can make the most difference, so that’s where most of your engineering should go; use outside help to do the things everyone has to do. Same is true for lenses. Do those top end optics, but help others build out the full line. The Sigma DC primes on the Z50 would have filled a real need. 

“The viewfinder is not refreshing fast enough [for continuous shooting].” This is a yes/no situation. As long as you stay with the mechanical shutter limit, I’d say things are pretty darned close to the DSLR experience. But yes, if you’re trying to reach that 12 fps mark, the slide show style of Continuous (H) Extended does become a real issue when following moving subjects. 

“No battery/vertical grip.” Given that Nikon used to do this for every camera except the lowest consumer one, the fact that the recent Z6, Z7, Z50 (and D780) don’t have this option would indicate something changed in Nikon’s engineering thinking. Well, that needs to change back. Period. End of story.

“The Z50 shoots too low. Should have been a Z70.” That’s an individual assessment, not a market assessment. I get that. But Nikon can’t launch every possible camera simultaneously. Another area where I think we need to give Nikon a little time to show their full hand.

“Where’s the A9 competitor?” At the moment, it’s called a D6, coupled with some fantastic lenses that aren’t available to Sony users (e.g. 120-300mm f/2.8, 500mm PF, etc.). The A9 doesn’t match the Nikon D6 autofocus performance as far as I can tell (it comes close to the D5). But I hear you (and Nikon needs to hear you): sooner is better than later here. The AP deal with Sony has to have Nikon corporate shaking. They won’t get another chance at AP for four years or so, given past cycles. 

“Still no clean display.” [multiple] Yeah, we can do image-only in playback, but why can’t we do it in the EVF or Rear LCD (particularly on the Z50)? 

“The tripod mount on the FTZ Adapter is not compatible with most Arca-Swiss plates for the camera.” Yeah, this one had a lot of folk mentioning it. Of course, Nikon doesn’t make an Arca-Swiss plate for the cameras (yet), so you’re really complaining about the plate makers ;~). I get it, many of you didn’t want a tripod attachment on the FTZ. But frankly, I do, because I’m going to move the mounting point to the FTZ any time I can. The reason has to do with mount stress. I want to minimize that whenever possible. Weight on one mount at a time is better than two. Could the FTZ’s mount have been done better? Absolutely. But I’d still want a socket to connect to on it. 

“U1/U2/U3 on the same dial as P/A/S/M. If you change your mind about an exposure mode, you'll have to start setting up all over again.” Well, Nikon’s just repeating what they’ve been doing on consumer cameras. The lowest end customers never noticed the problem. But now that Nikon’s targeting more sophisticated users with this UI, they’re starting to complain. I’ve been harping on the user settings (both U# and Banks) for years now. It’s time for a rethink.

“Loss of the two-button shortcuts [format and reset].” This one seems like a silly mistake, to me. I suppose sloppy handling could trigger a camera reset on the Z6/Z7 if Nikon used the same two buttons (exposure compensation, delete), but they wouldn’t have to use the same two buttons. 

"Why does the Z50 have a different battery?" Yeah, that's a bit of a head-scratcher, though expected. One problem Nikon has long had is the compartmentalization of different market targets. The Coolpix group made decisions different from the DSLR D3xxx to D5xxx group made different decisions from the DSLR group above that. At one point, I could count five different decision making loci within Nikon's camera group. At the height of the digital era, you could get away with this. With minimal volume in the future, you won't be able to. The good news is that the EN-EL15 is getting incremental changes, not being replaced.

Things That Were as Expected

Quality gets a nod here from many, as do ergonomics, but there were other opinions, as well:

“Z6 and Z7 combo.” Yes, agreed. Nikon started this whole two-cameras-using-one-body thing with the D1h/D1x nearing twenty years ago. It was successful then, and we’ve seen variations of it throughout the digital era, including Sony and Panasonic picking up the same basic scenario (faster all around camera coupled with high pixel count camera). But beware, we’re going to get more combos moving forward (witness Sony’s current four model lineup).

“Compact body sizes.” To me this is one of Nikon’s biggest wins: they managed to take the Nikon DSLR experience and considerably downsize it without really impacting the handling (well, your little finger feels neglected, since it falls off the grip ;~). My hope is that Nikon can extend this trait throughout the eventual full lineup, from whatever replaces a D3xxx to whatever replaces the D6. 

“Image quality.” [many multiple] It’s a Nikon. The images look like Nikon images (which is to say quite good, given two decades of refinement). 

“Support for F mount lenses.” [multiple] Yeah, it would have been a very serious issue if this hadn’t been the case.

“Lack of Z DX lenses for the Z50.” Yikes. A negative that was expected. Way to go Nikon, people are expecting you not to do something right. Way to set expectations low.

Better Than Expected

Generally, both the optical quality of the lenses and the design of the bodies got kudos from most. But there were other comments, as well:

“All Z lenses’ performance [is great]. This will make me switch to Z faster.” I’m sure Nikon will be glad to hear that, and I’d guess that this was a goal they set. It’s certainly clear that the Z mount has re-invigorated Nikon’s lens designers (though the recent telephoto F-mounts have been also seeing a similar renaissance recently). Something changed in the Nikkor group, and it changed for the good. 

“The 24-70mm f/2.8 [or 50mm f/1.8 or 85mm f/1.8, they all got votes] is phenomenal.” In all three cases, these clearly are the best lenses at those focal lengths Nikon has ever produced. And not by a small margin. I like this Nikkor trend and want to see it continue.

“The 24-200mm surprised [me] by the image quality it delivers; it surpassed every expectation.” I’ll have a review soon. The lens is better than expected, for sure, but it still is a superzoom, and that still means some compromises. That said, this lens almost makes me rethink superzoom usage.

“Manual focus; better than I was expecting.” [multiple] Yes, I agree. Focus peaking and exposure preview (CSM #D8) got mentions, too.

“We have firmware 3.1 now. DSLRs only got to 1.06.” [multiple] Good point, though I think at least one got to 2.1. This shows that something changed within Nikon engineering. It may just be that that the fast schedule has kept them from getting everything into the first release, a trait that’s going around. But nevertheless, Nikon is entering new territory here and upping customer expectations in doing so. Note: some people put the firmware updates in the “as expected” category. But more of you put it in the better-than-expected category.

“I couldn’t live without the Z6. I think it’s a delight of a camera.” I’d tend to agree. I’ve taken more to the Z6 than I thought I would. I thought I was going to be a Z7 guy, but I’ve noticed that I pick up the Z6 a bit more often. This particular user also felt that the Z6 nicely complemented his D500. Indeed, I find that to be a bit true, too. Though shooting with a Z7 gives you a DX crop that’s close to the D500’s 20mp, for some really complex and erratic movement, the D500 is a better camera for three reasons: (1) more short axis detail discrimination, (2) guaranteed close-subject priority capability, and (3) the ability to program AF-ON+Area Mode.

"For me you could add IBIS to this category." A tricky point. Yes, it was better than expected that Nikon has embraced sensor-based VR, as it wasn't a given. Heck, Nikon invented lens VR and then didn't deploy it for years, letting others exploit the idea, much to their chagrin. But I think we're in an era where stabilization is necessary to sell the product. So you either have to have every lens have VR (a design and production issue) or you have to put it on the sensor and some lenses (the choice that seems to now be standard).

Finally, one thing that came up:

"Autofocus performance was better/worse than expected." You can't seem to agree on which is true (I'd say better), which tells me that you're coming at this with different expectations in the first place. 

So, there you go Nikon. One quality focus group report to read and dispatch into engineering. Hope someone in Tokyo is reading this...

Leie, itsudemo koe kakete

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