Nikon Z7 II Review

Half a year ago I replaced my Canon R5 and RF lenses for the Nikon Z7 II and some selected Z mount lenses. Both mirrorless cameras feature a 45 MP sensor, weather sealing, and are in many ways comparable. But a closer look shows substantial differences between both cameras and lenses.

Dome of the Rock with Dome of the Chain, Jerusalem – Nikon Z7 II and Z 14-24 f/2.8 lens (click to enlarge)

This Nikon Z7 II review attempts to not only show the pros and cons of the camera and the lenses I own or used, but I feel also able to compare it with the Canon R5 and some Canon lenses. I will also share some impressions on how the Nikon Z7 II works with the FTZ-II adapter and the Nikon 200-500mm/f5.6 F mount lens.

Sharpness

The Nikon Z7 II sensor is about as sharp as it can get for 45 megapixel. It is similar to the one in the Nikon D850, both do not use an anti-aliasing (AA) filter. The lack of the AA filter produces crisper details at the risk of introducing moiré. In practice moiré can be easily fixed in Adobe Lightroom or other tools. I have also seen moiré in Canon R5 photos, though that is rare.

Moiré appears when you have lots of parallel lines with a width of a few pixel. For example distant shutters, intricate architectural lines at far distance, grilles of air conditioners, rail guards, clothes or fabrics, or even hair (dog, jackal/coyote, etc., less so human), but not fur (cat, etc.). Is it a problem? Likely not, because we are talking about pixel peeping. If it is a problem, fix it locally using the “moiré tool” as a brush in Lightroom or other applications.

Laon-les-Leau, Vosges – Nikon Z7 II and Z 24-120 f/4 lens (click to enlarge)

The biggest revelation is that the Z mount lenses are generally better/sharper than their F mount equivalents. Nikon has managed to create a better ecosystem around the Z lens mount – kudos. I can’t say that about the Canon R5 and RF lenses.

The image quality is comparable to the Nikon D850 DSLR with the sharpest lenses, for example the affordable AF-S 24mm f/1.8G ED lens. But the Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 zoom lens not only offers a wider field of view, if you want, but is also about as sharp as the F-mount 24mm prime mentioned here.

Another benefit of the Z7 II – versus Nikon DSLRs – is in-body image stabilization or IBIS. This greatly improves the keeper rate with handheld shots and long lenses and/or long exposures. However, it’s not unique to Nikon and my Olympus M10 has it too, as well as the Canon R5.

One more reason for sharp photos – inherent to all mirrorless cameras – is better focusing accuracy. Mirrorless cameras do not use a mirror and a separate autofocus sensor like DSLR cameras do. As a result they are not prone to focus inaccuracies as result of a misaligned mirror or AF sensor.

Nikon Z lenses

Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S

I bought the Nikon Z7 II together with the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S wide angle zoom lens. This is an outstanding lens in each and every way. Those of you who read my Canon R5 review will easily guess why I dumped Canon: Their wide angle RF lens designs are a disaster. The Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 is actually quite sharp, except for the “ring of blur” that makes this lens unusable for landscape and architectural photography (perhaps it was sample variation, but I tried 2 different Canon lenses and both had the same issue, and their local service center wasn’t able to fix it – sorry Canon).

Palm Tree House, Tel Aviv – Nikon Z7 II and Z 14-24 f/2.8 lens (click to enlarge)

The Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens is sharp throughout the frame, from corner to corner! It doesn’t matter which focal length. It can easily rival any good prime lens. It’s sharper than any wide angle zoom lens I ever owned or tried, including the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8, any other Nikon wide angle zoom, and anything Canon has to offer in their RF line (I haven’t tried the Canon RF 14-35mm f/4 L IS USM lens, since it wasn’t available when I sold the Canon stuff, but users and reviewers have noticed soft edges/corners). The Nikon Z 14-24 is sharper than most wide angle prime lenses. It’s weakest spot is at 24mm, where it still is about as good as the Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.8G prime lens I own and love.

Train Track Park in Tel Aviv – Nikon Z7 II and Z 14-24 f/2.8 (click to enlarge)

Flare is a non issue with this lens. Sure if I tried hard enough, I could introduce some mild flare. So far I haven’t seen any! The Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 is also well behaved, but does introduce flare in certain situations. (To Canon’s credit I must say that the flare I found with the 15-35mm is rather beautiful and can be used artistically.) The Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 F mount lens is terrible compared to both the Nikon and Canon lenses (I sold it because of the terrible flare it produced).

The Nikon Z 14-24mm lens is light, it weighs just 650 grams (1.4 lb). This is 2/3 of the weight of the Nikon F mount 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. The Tamron lens mentioned above weighs in at 1100g (2.42 lb), and the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 at 850g (1.85 lb). Despite being one of the most lightweight wide angle zooms of all (next to Sony), the Nikon Z 14-24 feels sturdy and well made.

Dallal restaurant, Tel Aviv – Nikon Z7 II and Z 14-24 f/2.8 lens (click to enlarge)

Chromatic aberration is next to non-existent, but I do use the Lightroom CA correction feature. The Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 also has very little CA, the Tamron 15-30 f/2.8 F mount is a lot more prone to CA.

Distortion is well controlled. It does have a little barrel distortion on the wide end, but nothing that can’t be fixed in Lightroom. In fact, the “digital lens corrections” in Lightroom are minimal, a sign of a good optical design. The Canon RF 15-35 also shows relatively little distortion. (To see the other extreme – some hefty distortions – try the Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 prime lens.)

Unlike the Nikon F mount 14-24mm lens, the Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens allows you to add filters. The filters are mounted on the lens hood. The Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 ships with two lens hoods, one for regular use, the other for mounting screw in filters. Unfortunately you need to buy the expensive 112mm filters. I got myself the NiSi 112 True Color Pro Nano Circular Polarizing Filter specifically for that lens, but have had little opportunity to test it. The Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 allows you to mount filters straight onto the lens, and the filter size is only 82mm.

Dizengoff square and Hotel Cinema Esther, Tel Aviv – Nikon Z7 II and Z 14-24 f/2.8 lens (click to enlarge)

The handling of the lens is great. A programmable function button lets you assign a function out of various options. There is also a programmable control ring that I use for exposure compensation, but you can use it for other purposes too (ISO, aperture, etc.). Note that the control ring can easily be turned, which is both a benefit when used for video (Canon has clickety click control rings and you pay money to make them turn smoothly) or a disadvantage when used for stills. The zoom and focus rings turn smoothly without any stickiness. The lens doesn’t extend. Focusing is very fast, too.

Conclusion: The Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens is one of the best lenses I ever tried and owned. Except for perhaps the average bokeh it offers, there is no weak spot I can find. This is a top lens by all means.

My use for this lens: Landscape, cityscape, architectural, interiors.

Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S

Soon after purchasing the Nikon Z7 II I was able to obtain the Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S zoom. This lens has been in high demand ever since it was released. The Nikon Z 24-120mm is an almost perfect travel zoom. (“Almost” because a travel zoom obviously must make some compromises.) At 630 gram (1.4 lb) this lens is not too heavy (Canon’s RF 24-105 L lens is 700 gram). It extends quite a bit when zooming, but focus is entirely internal.

Lac De Longemer, Vosges, France – Nikon Z7 II with Z 24-120 f/4 S (click to enlarge)

It has a similar function button and control ring design as the Z 14-24 lens described above, but doesn’t have an LCD display. I haven’t tried it yet on my DJI RSC-2 gimbal for video, but I imagine that it would work well.

The sharpness of the lens is good to excellent, especially on the wider end. In fact it’s sharper than any travel zoom I ever tried. Chromatic aberration is also well controlled. On the Canon side, the most direct competitor would be the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 zoom lens which I owned. The Nikon Z 24-120mm beats the Canon hands down in sharpness and overall picture quality, except perhaps bokeh. A travel zoom is not a headshot lens, in my humble opinion. Good bokeh requires an aperture of 2.8 or faster. Get an f1.8 or faster lens if you are serious.

Lucy at the dog park – Nikon Z7 II and Z 24-120 f/4 lens (click to enlarge)

Focusing of the Nikon Z 24-120mm is fast, too. But here I also see the limits of the Nikon Z7 II focusing system. Let’s be honest: the Canon R5 has better human and animal tracking (including eye tracking) than the Nikon. I did some casual shots of dogs playing and running using the Nikon Z7 II and the 24-120mm, as well as with the Canon R5 and the RF 24-105mm: The Nikon got about 60-65% of the shots in focus, the Canon about 80%, perhaps more. It wasn’t the fault of the lens, though.

Adobe Lightroom readily identifies this lens, but you can’t manually adjust vignetting or distortion correction like with the Z 14-24mm lens mentioned above.

If you are looking for a good quality, relatively compact and lightweight all-in-one travel zoom, this is it. It’s way better than Nikon’s cheap Z 24-200mm lens. If $1100 is not a game stopper, go for it.

Nikon Z 14-30mm f/4 S

I briefly owned this lens and a Z6 II body. On the 24 MP sensor it was sharp, but it doesn’t reach the quality of the Z 14-24 f/2.8 S lens. The Nikon Z 14-30 f/4 S first has to be extended to make it operable. This makes the lens very compact. For a 14-30mm zoom range and a f/4 aperture this lens is diminutive. At 485 gram it’s significantly smaller and lighter than the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 F-mount lens I owned which weighs 638 gram. At the same time it’s sharper than the Nikon 16-35 f/4 F-mount lens.

Ancient oil press at Beit Loya – Nikon Z6 II with Z 14-30 f/4 lens (click to enlarge)

The Nikon Z 14-30 f/4 S lens has a zoom ring and a control ring which by default is used for “manual focus”. The Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 S lens has a separate zoom and manual focus ring, and a control ring. The Z 14-30 f/4 also doesn’t have a function button. But it’s advertised as weather sealed, and I did try it in rain.

There is a good comparison of the Nikon Z 14-30 f/4 S versus the Z 14-24 f/2.8 S lens on DPreview. See the first answer to the post.

While the Z 14-30 f/4 wide angle zoom is not in the same league with the Z 14-24 f/2.8 S zoom, it is a capable lens and should not be disregarded. Especially given its more affordable price.

FTZ-II and Nikon F-mount lenses

Generally Nikon F-mount lenses work well with the Nikon Z system, using the FTZ-II adapter. However, don’t expect the focusing speed of native Z-mount lenses!

Common moorhen – Nikon Z7 II, FTZ-II and Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E VR (click to enlarge)

I tried my Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR F-mount lens on the Nikon Z7 II using the FTZ-II adapter. Focusing was a lot slower than the same lens on the Nikon D850. It also seemed less accurate. There was a lot more focus hunting than with the D850.

I also tried my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AIS manual focus lens on the Z7 II with the adapter. It works quite well. But let’s face it – the old AIS lenses cannot deliver the sharpness of modern lenses, at least not the Nikon Z lenses. That said, I won’t sell my 50mm f/1.4 AIS as it has its own magic of rendering images.

Note: I am a little puzzled about the 200-500mm lens focusing issue. Mirrorless systems use the sensor to determine the focus. The Nikon Z-mount lenses I own/owned have never shown any focusing accuracy issues.

Video

I haven’t managed to use it for video yet, but I’ve spoken to professionals who use the Nikon Z system for video (mostly the Nikon Z6 II). The times where Nikon couldn’t be considered for video are gone.

Dynamic range

The Nikon Z7 II has a good dynamic range, more or less on par with the D850. I have been able to recover amazing details from shadow areas without introducing a lot of noise. I use the Nikon camera profiles, usually “Standard” or “Neutral”. Try different camera profiles to learn how to better process the files. They hold incredible detail.

White balance

I generally like the Nikon colors, but sometimes they need a little tuning. Nikon tends to err with the color temperature, usually towards the blue end. You can fix that easily by increasing the color temperature.

My Canon R5 required to tune down magenta in the “tint” slider in Lightroom. Using good profiles, both Nikon and Canon produce great colors.

The most pleasing out-of-the-camera white balance I got is from my cheap Olympus OM-D E-M10.

Focus

Let’s get it off my chest: The Canon R5 has the better focusing system, period! It’s not that the Nikon Z7 II is bad, it’s just not up to the Canon R5. That said I’ve managed to get some nice fast action shots of my dog. But the Canon does this with a higher keeper rate.

The Nikon Z7 review at photographylife.com describes the focusing pros and cons of this camera very well. For wildlife or sports photography, get the Z9. The Z7 II will allow you to get some good shots too, but it’s not in the same league with the Sony A1 or Canon R5. Mind you, I’m talking about focusing only! The Nikon Z-mount lenses I own deliver far better quality than their equivalent Canon lenses (except the RF 35mm). They are better than the many Nikon F-mount lenses I own.

The Nikon Z7 II focusing system is very accurate, but not as smart or reliable as the Canon R5 in identifying animals and animal eyes. In other areas like street or architectural photography it’s great.

I’ve used Nikon cameras for many years and am pretty familiar with their layout and ergonomics. I mostly like it. But the Canon R5 is just better in many (but not all) ways relating to focus. Canon has this great touch screen focus that you can limit to some part of the LCD screen and use while holding up the viewfinder to your eye. Nikon can use the LCD screen for focusing too, but it’s not as configurable as the Canon R5 one.

The Nikon Z7 II offers a tilting touch screen, which I personally prefer from the swivel type. It’s inconspicuous and easier to use in situations where you quickly need to raise or lower your camera to get the shot. The Nikon touch screen allows easy and fast focus point selection and/or shutter release.

Doris Hiffawi / Jaffa Stories and Coffee, Jaffa, Israel – Nikon Z7 II and Z 24-120 f/4 lens (click to enlarge)

I recently did some portrait photography with the Nikon Z7 II and both the Z 14-24 and the Z 24-120 lenses. Part of it was an indoor photoshoot with the Z 14-24 to get the entire scene in focus. The outdoor shoot was with the Z 24-120. An aperture of f/4 is not producing the magic shallow depth of view. I used eye-detect and focusing accuracy was good, but not as good as the Canon R5.

Stabilization

The IBIS or “in body image stabilizer” does its job. Both my Nikon Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S and Nikon Z 24-120mm f/4 S lenses do not have a built-in stabilizer. For comparison, the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8, the RF 24-105 f/4 and the RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro lenses I owned have internal stabilizers.

Isenheim altarpiece at Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France – Nikon Z7 II and Z 24-120 f/4 lens (click to enlarge)

I haven’t noticed any camera shake issues with neither Nikon Z nor Canon RF lenses. However, the above mentioned Nikon Z zoom lenses are lighter, smaller, and produce better results than their Canon RF equivalents. I say kudos to Nikon.

With regard to video and stabilization, I haven’t tried it yet. The Canon R5 had serious issues with panning.

Handling

This is a mixed bag. There are many things to like about the ergonomics of the Nikon Z7 II and lenses. The camera and lenses are well balanced, where the Canon R5 and its L line zoom lenses feel a little front heavy.

With Nikon it’s easy to find the right button simply by touch. On the Canon R5 I could accidentally press the * button or even the AF Point Selection button instead of the AF-ON button or vice versa. The Nikon Z7 II provides tactile help to distinguish between the controls, like different sized or shaped buttons, or raised plastic between buttons. Once memorized, this is very helpful.

But in many ways I found that the Canon R5 handling was more intuitive. I’m saying that as a long-time Nikon shooter who came to Canon only recently. Somehow the Nikon Z7 II feels a little odd compared to, say, the Nikon D850 or other Nikon DSLRs.

On the positive side, the Nikon Z-mount lenses have easy to use lens caps that you just pop on and twist. The Canon RF lens caps must be aligned with the lens mount mark, a real nuisance. The Nikon lens hoods are also better, in my opinion. With Canon, you may accidentally engage the release button of the lens hood while walking.

The Nikon Z lenses, at least those marked “S”, are absolutely gorgeous in the way they handle. Both zoom and focus rings work smooth, so does the control ring. Canon uses a clicked-stop ring on the RF lenses. For video, the Nikon control ring is better. However, you need to be more careful to not accidentally turn the Nikon Z-mount control ring.

In the end what counts are the results. For landscape and street photography the Nikon Z7 II is great. For fast paced action and wildlife perhaps less so. However, to proof myself wrong, here a link to the amazing landscape and wildlife photographer Mark Dumbleton.

Low light performance

It works well with low light, focusing is good and accurate. High ISO performance is perhaps comparable with the Nikon D850. It can definitely be compared with the Canon R5.

Batteries and power on time

None of the mirrorless cameras I own or owned gave me as many shots as a DSLR. Battery life is as good or better as the Canon R5. During a portrait session I took a few hundred photos, sometimes using the LCD screen, sometimes the EVF. After reviewing and culling the photos using the LCD screen (zooming in to 100% to check focus/sharpness), the battery level was at 3/4. Not bad. You will still need to carry one or two spare batteries with you, just in case.

The Nikon Z7 II uses the same EN-EL15c batteries the Nikon Z6 II uses. It can also use the Nikon D850 batteries, but will probably deliver less shots. The Nikon Z7 II/Z6 II use the same charger as the Nikon D850. Kudos to Nikon for keeping charger and batteries compatible.

Power on takes a second or two, it’s not instant as with the Nikon D850. Again no worse than the Canon R5. The Nikon Z7 II powers off within less than a second. Compared to the Canon R5, the process of powering off the camera, changing the lens, and powering on again is faster with the Nikon Z7 II.

All in all the Nikon Z7 II wins against the Canon R5 in the battery life and power on/off time department.

Weight

The Nikon Z7 II weighs 615 gram net. The Canon R5 weighs 738 grams. But that’s only part of the story. The Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 lens weighs 840 gram, the Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 S lens weighs only 650 gram. The Canon RF 24-105 f/4 L lens weighs 700 gram, the Nikon Z 24-120 f/4 S lens weighs 630 gram.

While the difference may not sound much, if you’re on a hiking trip, every gram counts. The Nikon Z7 II camera plus Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 plus Nikon Z 24-120 f/4 lenses weigh in at 1,895 gram. With the Canon R5 camera plus Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 plus Canon RF 24-105 f/4 L lenses you log around more than 2.2 kg.

Using the Nikon Z7 II plus the Z 24-120 f/4 S travel zoom will weigh you down by 1,245 gram. The Canon R5 with the RF 24-105 f/4 weighs 1,438 gram. In most cases, the Nikon will deliver better results because of their superior lenses.

If you want to travel light, get a cheap Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV with a 14-42mm kit lens, or better the Olympus M.Zuiko 12-40 f/2.8 PRO or 12-100 f/4 PRO lens. Under decent light, the Olympus produces fantastic photos.

Sensor dust

Hasn’t been an issue with the Nikon Z7 II. So far I had to clean the sensor only once. The Canon R5 closes the shutter when off, which is better by design.

Lens selection

Sony has the widest selection of mirrorless lenses. But Nikon definitely has a good selection too. What made me switch to the Nikon Z7 II is less the camera – though it sports a great sensor – but rather the quality of the Nikon Z lenses.

The Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 S is simply superb, the best wide angle zoom I ever used. The Nikon Z 24-120 f/4 S is a great travel zoom with hardly any fault, despite the wide zoom range. It beats the Canon RF 24-105 f/4 L in each and every way.

I also used the Nikon Z 24-200 f/4-6.3 VR and the Nikon Z 14-30 f/4 S lenses. The first is a good lightweight ultra-zoom for travel, but the 24-120 f/4 S is better.

For landscape photographers, the Nikon Z 14-30 f/4 S may be the only wide angle (zoom) lens you ever need and a real bargain. The Nikon Z 14-24 f/2.8 is simply the best there is.

Nikon has introduced a line of very good tele lenses such as the still affordable Z 800 f/6.3 VR S lens, as well as some top of the line tele lenses. What’s missing is an affordable tele zoom such as the Sony 200-600 lens. You can mount the Nikon F 200-500 f/5.6 on the Nikon Z7 II with the FTZ-II adapter, but the focus speed suffers a lot. Maybe the Nikon Z9 is better, but better try it yourself.

All in all I think Nikon is on the right track with regard to lenses. There is already a line of third party lenses available that might fit budget conscious buyers. There is even a 15mm shift lens available from Venus.

The FTZ or FTZ-II adapter lets you use your old F-mount lenses. But believe me, the new Z lenses are so good you most likely want to switch. Unless you have an F-mount lens with a great bokeh that you want to use on the Z7 II.

Summary

The Nikon Z7 II may not be the best mirrorless camera in all aspects, but it beats most of the competition thanks to Nikon’s great sensor combined with the quality of lenses. The Z7 II is on par or superior in the following categories:

  • Sensor quality – dynamic range, sharpness, decent high ISO performance
  • Lens quality, especially wide angle zooms and general zooms, but also long tele lenses – this includes sharpness, lack of CA and flare, fast & quiet focus
  • Color rendition and white balance (the Canon R5 is good too)
  • Low weight of camera and lenses
  • Handling – button layout, menus, functions
  • Focus speed and accuracy
  • Weather resistance – rain, heat, etc.
  • Smooth manual focus and zoom
  • Smooth operation of control ring on lenses

However, the Nikon Z7 II needs improvement in the following departments:

  • Continuous focus with face/eye detection: It works, but the Canon R5 is better
  • Animal eye detection: Again it works, but the Canon R5 is better
  • Shutter blackout – this is annoying
  • Frames per second – the Nikon Z7 II is slow
  • Touch pad functionality for focusing when using the EVF can be improved, good example is the Canon R5
  • EVF is rather basic
  • Rolling shutter is bad

The Nikon Z7 II is an excellent camera for landscape, travel, architecture, portrait (studio and outdoor), and wedding photographers. It is less suited to fast-paced sports and wildlife photography, though some people get amazing results with it.

Image quality is top, superior to anything I’ve seen from other full format cameras, except perhaps the Nikon D850. Pictures show vivid colors, a great dynamic range, little noise, and exceptional sharpness when using the right lenses (the Nikon Z lenses I tried were all sharp).

If bokeh is important to you, better rent the lens and try it out before purchase. I have not done any bokeh tests with my lenses. An extreme wide angle zoom is not meant to produce pleasing bokeh. Nor does a travel zoom with f/4 aperture.

For my type of landscape, street, architectural, and travel photography, the purchase of the Z7 II was the best choice. If you are into sports or wildlife photography, you may want to get the Nikon Z9 or wait for the anticipated (but not yet announced) Nikon Z8.

Author: Heiko Sieger

The day has 24 hours. If that isn't enough, I also use the night.

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