Two years after debuting full-frame mirrorless, Nikon is performing an encore. The company is slated to launch the Z 7 II and Z 6 II cameras on October 14, a countdown teaser revealed today.
Both the Z 7 and Z 6 have some excellent features, starting with the sharpness that comes courtesy of Z-mount lenses and in-body stabilization. But, as first-generation models, the cameras have a few shortcomings. Much has happened in the two years since the brand first ventured into pro-level mirrorless cameras, including the debut of the entry-level Z 5, which offers features that even the pricier models do not.
As a Nikon D850 owner — my main camera for my wedding and portrait photography business — here’s what I need to see from the second generation to consider adding them to my bag permanently.
Dual card slots
Nikon originally included only a single XQD card slot on the Z 7 and Z 6 in order to keep the bodies small while still fitting in stabilization. Yet, the new Z 5 manages to fit in two slots, though both are SD instead of the faster XQD.
Dual card slots are considered must-have features by some professionals — particularly in industries where a card error would be devastating and there’s no possibility for a reshoot, such as in wedding and event photography. Now that we know Nikon can fit two card slots in that body, as we saw on the Z 5, many Nikon fans would be sorely disappointed if they didn’t do the same for the Z 7 II and Z 6 II.
While I largely loved the feel of the Z 7 and Z 6, I would accept a slight size and weight increase if it means being able to backup my images to a second SD card in-camera.
Enhanced low-light autofocus
The Z 7 and Z 6 autofocus system is good in most scenarios, but pales in comparison to the D850’s performance in low light. The original Z 7 wouldn’t be able to keep up on a dance floor during a wedding reception, one of the chief reasons I’m one of (what often feels like) the last DSLR holdouts. Unfortunately, the Z 5 is even worse in low light — but I will chalk that up to the lower price point and keep hoping Nikon engineers have found a way to boast that hybrid autofocus system in the most challenging environments.
Nikon has been steadily improving the Z 7 and Z 6 with firmware, including in terms of autofocus. Those updates, including eye autofocus, should ship with the second generation without requiring a firmware update. Out of the box, the cameras absolutely have to work well in all lighting conditions.
While I’d gladly pick up a Z 7 II with the autofocus and dual slots as the only improvements, bumps in processing power would be a nice bonus. The EXPEED 5 came two years before the EXPEED 6 system that launched with the original Z 7 and Z 6 — and it’s been another two years, so an EXPEED 7 isn’t far-fetched.
Enhancing the processor could help boost that autofocus system, but the processor is also responsible for tasks like reducing the noise in high-ISO images. While the earlier versions had pretty good noise reduction at high ISOs — particularly the Z 6 — noise reduction standards get tougher each year as cameras compete to really push those limits. Nikon really needs to be at the cutting edge here.
An even better EVF
Surprisingly, I didn’t miss my optical viewfinder due to the quality of the electronic viewfinders on the Z 7 and Z 6. But while Nikon’s viewfinders have come a long way, they’re not at the top of the game anymore. The Sony A7R IV, for example, uses a 5.76-million-dot EVF compared to the Z 7’s 3.69-million dot option. The A7S III uses a preposterous 9.44-million-dot EVF, the industry’s best. I wouldn’t be surprised to see enhancements to the viewfinder as Nikon tries to keep up with the competition.
Will second-generation improvements be enough?
The original Nikon Z 7 and Z 6 are good cameras. The lenses are much sharper than their DSLR equivalents, in-body stabilization is on point, the mirrorless design still feels comfortable, image quality is excellent, and the company has steadily improved the bodies with firmware updates.
But, if Nikon makes a few key updates, the series could go from good to excellent — and better compete with the latest models that Sony, Canon, and Panasonic have launched since the debut of the Z series and our current picks for the best mirrorless cameras. Time will tell just how well Nikon is listening to users of the first generation and the DSLR holdouts that are waiting for a wish list to be fulfilled. Nikon is slated to announce the Z 6 II and Z 7 II on October 14.