Traveling to Spain with the Nikon Z8 or Nikon Z7 II?

In June this year I embarked on a 6-week photography trip to Spain and other places in Europe. A few days before the departure I received the brand new Nikon Z8. I wanted to travel light, only a small camera backpack and a boarding trolley. But which camera should I pack – the Nikon Z8 or Nikon Z7 II?

The dome in front of the mihrab of the Great Mosque of Cordoba

Reasons for taking the Nikon Z8

Aside from being the latest and greatest camera from Nikon, second only to the Z9, I wanted to see which features the Nikon Z8 offered that would be of benefit to me. Here my shortlist:

  • 2-axis tilt screen for both landscape and portrait shots
  • Great grip
  • More buttons and controls
  • Layout similar to Nikon D850
  • No viewfinder blackout
  • Silent photography
  • Sensor shield
  • Fast start-up
  • Better focus
  • Better eye/people detection
Cordoba: Roman bridge leading across the Rio Guadalquivir to the Mezquita-Catedral

Reasons for packing the Nikon Z7 II

With all those YouTube reviews praising the advantages of the Nikon Z8, like the one by Nigel Danson, here are my reasons for taking the Nikon Z7 II on the photography trip:

  • Light weight (675g versus 910g)
  • Dedicated U1-U3 user settings
  • Compact size / less obtrusive
  • Familiarity with the camera
  • My confidence in the camera
  • Minimally better sensor
  • Better battery life
  • Less expensive if damaged or stolen

More on the Nikon Z7 II in my review.

Real Alcázar – Sala de los Infantes

Objectives

Without being clear about the objectives, it’s impossible to choose the proper tools (i.e. camera, lenses, etc.). These were my objectives:

  • Architectural photography, both exterior and interior – Spain has a wealth of architecture, in particular the palaces and mosques from the Islamic period
  • Landscape photography – I wanted to see and photograph the las Médulas Roman period gold mines, as well as the Atlantic coast
  • Travel photography – (historic) cities and towns
  • Scouting for future trips – I hope this wasn’t my last visit to Spain
Las Medulas is an ancient Roman gold mine from the time of Augustus

I took a tripod on the trip but I knew that I could not use it in places like the Alhambra, the Mezquita, or the Real Alcázar. It was also impractical for longer hikes since temperatures during my trip often exceeded 100F (38C). The tripod did afford me some nice sunset and nighttime photos, though.

Alhambra gardens in Granada

As you may have noticed, I did not mention video. So the clear advantages of the Nikon Z8 in the video department don’t matter here.

And the winner is…

the Nikon Z7 II. While the Nikon Z8 offers some useful features, its main strengths lie with focus, silent shutter, and eye/people detection – not my top priorities here. The Nikon Z7 II was perfectly adequate for the few portraits I took on my trip.

Portrait of a young lady in the Albaicin neighborhood of Granada
Amalia, Granada

Of course some inner voice tried to convince me to try out the Nikon Z8. But two reasons weighed in heavy against the Z8: it’s weight and the fact that the Nikon Z8 felt yet unfamiliar to me.

Alhambra palace and the Alcazaba fortress in Granada

Were I confident with the Nikon Z8, I would have probably been willing to carry its extra weight. But I wasn’t confident for two reasons: I received the camera 4 days before my departure; and the camera is new on the market.

Seville: Real Alcázar – Patio de las Doncellas

I had enough other things to do and 4 days isn’t much time to make yourself comfortable with a camera, especially when you consider that you have to process the photos. Yes the Z8 shares many of the controls of the D850 and I feel confident with that camera. But the focus system is different, not only from the D850, but also from the Z7 II.

Seville: Real Alcázar – Salón de Embajadores

Ultimately the balance tipped towards the Nikon Z7 II. I’ve been using it for most of my photography over the past year. The U1-U3 are preprogrammed to general photography, tripod, and action. I can switch between these settings within a second or two, with good starting points that don’t change (unless I decide). The Nikon Z8 doesn’t offer these user settings, but Photo Shooting and Custom Settings banks which store the last settings.

Statue of the Virgen de los Dolores, the Lady of Cordoba

Moreover, I know that I can rely on the Nikon Z7 II. Why? Experience! I’ve used it in the hot desert climate, in winter during rain, and many situations in between. I know how long the battery lasts, how bright the LCD is, and so on.

Caceres, Spain
Caceres: View from the Estrella Arch (Nueva Gate) to the Plaza Mayor at sunset

Sure enough, while I was traveling and taking photos, Nikon issued not one but two recalls for the Z8.

Why then did I get the Nikon Z8?

A year ago I took a customer to shoot birds. I was with the Nikon D850 and the customer with a Sony A1. While I was rattling some photos, the customer quietly took fifty or more shots. The D850 is just too loud.

Interior view of the Great Mosque of Cordoba

I tried my 200-500 F-mount lens on the Nikon Z7 II with the FTZ-II adapter, but the focus speed was significantly slower and the keeper rate dropped accordingly.

So this is where the Nikon Z8 comes in. It will also be useful for occasional portraits as well as for street photography and events where the silent shutter is a blessing. A couple of weeks ago I took the Z8 on a tour with a customer through Jerusalem and looking at the first results it really shines with people / portrait style photography. I also found some opportunities to use the tilting LCD screen in portrait mode.

As I start to get the hang of it, I will definitely use the Nikon Z8 more now. Perhaps on my next trip to Spain?

Addendum

The camera doesn’t do anything without the lenses. For my trip to Spain and Europe I packed the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens and the NIKKOR Z 24-120mm f/4 S lens. Both lenses are absolutely incredible. They just about cover the range I need, though a little more on the long end would be good. Perhaps next time I will add a fast prime lens somewhere in the 40-55mm range for indoor/low light and street photography, as well as the 70-200mm f/4 lens.

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