Death of the DSLR

For me, the timing of the Nikon Z 7 and Z 6 release could not have been better. The manuscript for my new book, Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras: Getting the most from your MILC, was in the early stages of production when I learned of the release planned for August 23, 2018.

The premise of my book, stated in the introduction, is that the MILC as a style of camera will obsolesce the DSLR. There is virtually nothing the DSLR can do that the MILC can’t do, and do better.

In my extensive research and testing for the book I did not find a single MILC that was not worthy - from Fujifilm to Panasonic Lumix, each has its virtues. Nonetheless, as the top-of-the-line full-frame MILC, the Sony a7R III has until now been King of the Hill.

While I have not had hands-on experience with the Z 7 I know enough about cameras, and MILC in particular, to be able to interpret the specs. On the assumption that the camera works as stated, in other words, the AF is fast and accurate, the buffer writes as fast as claimed, and the camera doesn’t catch on fire easily, then the Z 7 is the new King. Which is not to say that the a7R III isn’t still a great camera, it is. What Nikon has done is raise the bar ever so slightly on almost every specification. For all practical purposes, the Z 7 could almost be a Sony a7R IV. 

One example would be raising the effective pixels from 42 mpx (a7R III) to 46 mpx. This is not enough to make any substantial difference, but just enough to claim the Z 7 is the better camera.

A second example is adding two additional white balance presets. Who cares and who needs two more? Somebody, maybe. But still, Nikon has added two more so the Z 7 is the better camera.

A third is an increase in focusing points from 399 to 493, just shy of 100 more points. So the Nikon is ... the better camera.

A fourth is increasing the size of the LCD from 3-inches (a7R III) to 3.2-inches along with an increase in screen dots from 1.4 million to 2.1 million. More important than the LCD screen is the electronic viewfinder. Nikon has increased the EVF resolution from 3,686,400 to 3,690,000. A mere 3,600 dots. Neither you or I will see a discernible difference, but hey ... which is the better camera?

Along with the minor upgrade in specs, Nikon has included several features not found on any other MILC currently in production. These include:

  • Wi-Fi that can communicate with a computer

  • Stack Shot exposure mode for infinite depth-of-field (the final image can be previewed in-camera but must be combined using third-party software)

  • Timelapse recording (available only as a download option on the a7R III)

The single most important feature of the Z-series camera is the introduction of the Z-mount lens. Since the 1950s Nikon has resisted enlarging the F-mount lens mount throat. As long as Nikon lenses were only made for DSLR the throat could not be enlarged without obsolescing every lens that Nikon had ever made.

But the unique design of MILC along with the Nikon FTZ adapter will allow any Nikon F-mount lens to be used - they don't have to be turned into paperweights or conversation pieces. Until the end of the year, the FTZ adapter can be purchased for $150. After that, the price will go to $250. If you own Nikon F-mount lenses and decide to invest in a Z 7 or Z 6 (highly recommended by me) I suggest you stock up on several of these adapters. 

Where Nikon has dropped the ball is limiting the card reader to one slot and one type of card, the XQD. And while the XQD is one of the best cards made today, it’s still a limitation. Pros like choices. 

Nikon has also dropped the ball with the battery life, only 330 rated actuations per charge. Sony has shown that batteries for MILC can have a reasonable number of actuations per charge. The NP-FZ100 battery used in the a7R III is rated for 650 actuations. Battery life is one of the big bugaboos held against MILC one would think Nikon would have tried harder.

NOTE: Battery life ratings are usually conservative as for how you use your camera can have a big effect on battery life. For example, leaving the camera on continuously will drain the battery faster than turning it off between bursts. Using the EVF instead of the LCD screen will drain the battery faster. Previewing every image on the LCD will drain the battery faster. If you are careful you can often realize double or more the number of manufacturer rated actuations.

The one other faux pas on the Z 7 is the lack of a flash sync port. This may not be important to the weekend shooter, but it is de rigueur to most pros - the ability to plug a battery pack directly into the camera on a commercial set. Yes, there are workarounds, but the pro shouldn't have to work around this one. 

What these oversights prove is there ain’t no perfect camera. But even with these minor improvements and additions, and the occasional ball drop, the Nikon 7 and Sony a7R III are virtually identical cameras, unless field tests show that one or the other is significantly faster at AF or exposes more accurately. But Sony can no longer claim to be the cock of the walk. You can already hear Nikon crowing.



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