The pursuit of optical performance of lenses and shooting features of cameras - this aspiration is embodied in the name "Z", as told by the developers. In this article, the developers of the Nikon Z series discuss how they placed importance on the autofocus capabilities to overcome the shortcomings of conventional mirrorless cameras, how to choose between the Z 7 and the Z 6, and the secret behind the unparalleled natural view of the EVF. Be sure to check out the interview before your purchase. (Interviewer: Kazunori Kawada/ Photo: Takehiro Kato)
A: We have developed the optical viewfinder (henceforth “OVF”) for DSLR cameras as well as the electronic viewfinder (henceforth “EVF”) for the Z 7 and Z 6 in a way such that they deliver almost the same feel when using the cameras. However, for users who prefer to see the actual unprocessed view through the lens, a DSLR camera would be the choice. Meanwhile, users who want to have a body and lens that is as compact as possible or who wish to preview the final image through the viewfinder before the shoot should go for the Z 7 or Z 6.
The Z 7 and Z 6 come with an EVF which allows users to preview the final image through the viewfinder during the shoot.
A: We chose the last letter “Z” of the alphabet to symbolise Nikon’s stance toward pursuing the optical performance of lenses and shooting features of cameras.
A: For the shape, we arrived at the final design after repeated modifications with special emphasis on the ergonomic and operability, which are the well-received aspects of our DSLR models. Also, we adopted a compact design without compromising the reliability of the camera, such as the dust and water-drop resistance as well as robustness. It has the same level of dust and water-drop resistance as the D850.
The highly compact and robust body also offers an easy-to-hold grip. It has the same level of dust and water-drop resistance as the D850.
A: Yes, they are. We minimised the size of the controls and carefully selected what to include so that users can operate all of them while using the viewfinder. It is a design that best suits the shooting styles of both Z 7 and Z 6 users.
A: The pixel count of the Z 7 is 45.7 megapixels, which is the same as that of the D850, but we did not match the resolution on purpose. We wanted to produce images with a good balance between a high level of apparent resolution and a wide dynamic range throughout the ISO sensitivity range from ISO 64 to 25600, and 45.7 megapixels was the best choice, which coincides with the pixel count of the D850 as a result.
An image sensor with the same pixel count as that of the D850 was adopted after considering the actual shooting performance of the camera.
A: The Z 7 does not come with a low pass filter, but the Z 6 has one. We arrived at this decision after considering the balance between the occurrence of false colour and the apparent resolution.
A: Having an information display helps to offer a sense of reassurance to users who have always been using Nikon cameras. Also, we adopted OLED instead of liquid crystal for this panel so that we can include a large amount of information within the limited space.
The information display at the top of the camera body makes use of an OLED display that delivers high definition and excellent visibility.
A: For normal high-speed continuous shooting, the frame advance rate is approximately 5.5 fps for both the Z 7 and Z 6 with autofocus (AF) and auto-exposure (AE) tracking. AF tracking tracks the subject movement closely, whereas AE tracking automatically adjusts the exposure throughout the burst. The latter is especially beneficial when taking burst shots of a subject moving quickly through variable lighting as it reduces the chances of shots in the series being under- or overexposed. One characteristic of this mode is that the movement of the subject is displayed in the EVF almost at real time during continuous shooting, thus making it easy to track the subject through the viewfinder.
In contrast, the extended mode places emphasis on the continuous shooting speed with the captured image displayed in the viewfinder during the shooting process. With firmware version 2.0 and above, it offers a maximum frame advance rate of about 9 fps on the Z 7 and about 12 fps on the Z 6 with AF tracking and the addition of AE tracking, endowing it with same tracking capabilities at a faster maximum burst shooting speed compared to the normal high-speed continuous shooting mode. The mode does not support features such as flicker reduction and TTL flash control.
So, for users who place importance on certainty and visibility during continuous shooting, we would recommend the normal continuous shooting mode, while users who want to give priority to the continuous shooting speed should opt for the extended mode.
High-speed continuous: 5.5 fps
High-speed continuous (extended): 9 fps
High-speed continuous: 5.5 fps
High-speed continuous (extended): 12 fps
With an update to firmware version 2.0 and above, the extended mode of the continuous shooting feature on the Nikon Z 7 and Z 6 supports auto-exposure (AE) tracking in addition to autofocus (AF) tracking.
A: Nikon has longstanding expertise in the subject tracking performance of SLR cameras. We combined it with image plane phase detection AF to achieve a high level of subject tracking performance that is unique to Nikon.
A: First of all, it would be the EVF, I guess. As a manufacturer who has long been making SLR cameras, we are extremely particular about the viewability. It is important that the image displayed looks beautiful and natural.
The optical system of the EVF on the Z 7 and Z 6 is a product of the technology that we have developed from years of manufacturing SLR cameras, and we are certain that it makes a clear distinction compared with conventional EVF. When we look through the viewfinder, flare may seem to occur if the panel is very bright, but with the EVF of the Z 7 and Z 6, the image looks natural.
The image appears as bright as the surrounding environment when we are viewing through an OVF, so what we see through the EVF should also look natural in terms of contrast and brightness compared to the surroundings. We make an effort to adjust the brightness so that the image does not turn out unnatural.
The image displayed is amazingly beautiful when viewed through the EVF – one of the special features of Nikon Z series cameras.
A: Yes. In addition to placing emphasis on the parts such as the optical lens elements, what is also important is how we evaluate them. For us, we conduct stringent checks with the clarity of the OVF as a benchmark.
Another point which we are particular about is viewfinder magnification, which is about 0.8x on the Z 7 and Z 6. As the panel is smaller in size compared to the viewfinder screen of DSLR cameras, the magnification ratio itself is higher than that of the DSLR counterparts. Such a design has drawbacks in the correction of aberration, and the eyepoint also tends to become shorter. To address these issues, we adopted a design that comprises of four optical elements.
The EVF of Nikon Z cameras is densely packed with optical lens elements and a protective glass element. The excellent viewability is made possible thanks to the technology and expertise that Nikon has incorporated.
A: We have added a new “Mid-range sharpening” parameter to Picture Control.
Existing parameters such as “Sharpening” is used to adjust the sharpness of the details of structures inside the image, while “Clarity” is used to adjust the sharpness of the thicker outlines of the structures. Meanwhile, the newly-added “Mid-range sharpening” can be used to tweak the sharpness of structures with an outline thickness that is between that of “Sharpening” and “Clarity”. Having this addition helps to enhance the dimensionality of the both still and video images.
Other additions include the introduction of “Creative Picture Control” to help produce creative images as well as support for “diffraction compensation”.
Nikon Z cameras produce images with enhanced dimensionality. With the latest EXPEED 6 employed as the image processor, a new Picture Control parameter “Mid-range sharpening” has also been introduced.
A: If you hold the camera in your hands, you can tell that the grip design has been enhanced. With the use of a large-diameter lens in mind, it is possible to hold the camera firmly with the right hand while supporting the camera at the centre with the left hand. This allows users to perform the series of operations from setting to shooting and playback with only the right hand while looking through the viewfinder.
The user-friendly Nikon Z cameras allow users to operate most of the camera controls with only the right hand while maintaining a firm grip.
A: Yes. For this reason, we were also very particular about the button layout, especially the i button. This is the most important button in shooting settings, so we placed it at a position that can be operated while the eye is in contact with the eyepiece.
Pressing the i button displays an i menu. Settings can be adjusted quickly simply by aligning the cursor with the desired item and turning the main command dial or sub-command dial. This can be done while the eye is looking through the viewfinder, so users can start shooting immediately.
Also, a new control ring is added to the lens to enable adjustment of focus, aperture and exposure compensation with the left hand. This feature comes in handy especially for movie shooting, which is easily affected by operation sounds and where smooth changes in settings are desirable.
A: Yes. First of all, a key difference between the conventional in-lens VR and this in-camera VR feature is that the image sensor can be moved with the new system. That means we must enhance the precision of the parts to ensure the accuracy of the flange focus. Also, we added a lock mechanism in order to help maintain the “Nikon quality”. This time around, we encountered challenges during the development of these systems.
The mechanism of the in-camera VR feature on the Z 7 and Z 6 reduces camera shake by shifting the image sensor. It also comes with a lock mechanism to lock the image sensor in place when the image sensor shift system is not used.
A: The lock mechanism is used to lock the VR unit mechanically. Its role is to protect the image sensor from inadvertent impact when the power switch of the camera is turned off. Also, it is capable of preventing any slight disruption in the composition during interval timer shooting and time-lapse recording, and helps to reduce power consumption.
A: You can leave the VR feature on, but we recommend that it be turned off for those who want to reduce power consumption or prevent disruption in the composition. Another advantage is that it makes cleaning of the image sensor easier.
A: Yes. The lock mechanism locks or unlocks the image sensor mechanically.
A: For F mount lenses equipped with the VR feature, correction of the three axes (yaw, pitch and roll) is performed by combining the effect of both the in-lens and in-camera VR mechanisms. For lenses that do not support the VR feature, correction of the yaw, pitch and roll axes is performed by the in-camera VR mechanism.
When attached with a VR lens, the Z 7 and Z 6 combine the effect of both the in-camera and in-lens VR mechanisms to correct shake along the three axes. When a non-VR lens is mounted, shake correction along the three axes is performed by the in-camera VR mechanism.
A: Yes. XQD offers fast writing and reading speeds, and we chose it based on our belief of its future potential.
A: Yes, that is also one of the factors. In terms of reliability, the quality of XQD memory cards is indisputable indeed.
Boasting excellent extensibility, the XQD memory card format adopted on the Z 7 and Z 6 offers writing and reading speeds that are fast enough to support movie recording in 4K or higher resolutions as well as a high level of reliability.