Nikon Z7 II review: Digital Photography Review Leave a comment


Introduction

Product shots: Dan Bracaglia

Late last year, Nikon announced the Z7 II, the second iteration of its (for now) range topping high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera. As the name implies, this is a refinement rather than a reimagining; and while the updates may not knock your socks off, we really enjoyed the original Z7 and this new model builds on an already successful formula.

The Z7 II still has a 45.7MP full-frame BSI sensor, but it’s now backed up by dual processors compared to the single processor in its predecessor. The exterior of the camera is largely unchanged, which is fine by us: Nikon’s Z-series cameras offer some of our favorite ergonomics on the mirrorless camera market. Blessedly, though (especially for those of us that moderate online comment sections), Nikon has included dual card slots in the Z7 II for users that need immediate backup or want to easily separate their still images and video clips. See? Something good came out of 2020 after all.

Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 200 | 1/160 sec | F2.8 | Adapted Nikon AF-S 70-200mm F2.8E
Photo by Barney Britton

Key specifications:

  • 45.7MP BSI-CMOS sensor with native ISO 64
  • 4K/60p video with 93% coverage of the sensor (a ~1.08x crop)
  • 5-axis in-body stabilization (3-axis with adapted F-mount lenses)
  • 10 fps burst shooting with single-point AF
  • 3.69M-dot EVF, 3.2″ 2.1M-dot rear screen
  • -3EV focusing with F2.0 lens
  • 1 CFExpress / XQD card slot, 1 UHS-II SD card slot
  • New EN-EL15c battery, CIPA rated to 420 shots (LCD), 360 shots (EVF)
  • Compatible with new MB-N11 battery grip with vertical controls

The Z7 II, being the high-resolution model in Nikon’s mirrorless lineup, is all about outright image quality. It remains one of the only cameras on the market that provides a low native ISO of 64: this helps maximize dynamic range for high-contrast scenes like sunset or sunrise landscapes.

The Z7 II is priced at $2999 body-only or $3599 kitted with a 24-70mm F4 lens. The new MB-N11 battery grip with duplicate vertical controls will cost you $399.


What’s new and how it compares

Ask, and ye shall (sometimes) receive: The Z7 II now has one SD card slot and one CFExpress / XQD card slot. All control points shown are identical to those on the original Z7.

The big story in the Z7 II (if you don’t count the new card slot) is its dual Expeed 6 processors – so what exactly do those give you?

To start with, the Z7 II is a more credible action camera than its predecessor. Its burst speed tops out at 10 fps with continuous autofocus instead of 9 fps (albeit with a single AF area, and not subject tracking), and the buffer is up to three times deeper, giving you a total of 77 12-bit Raw images before slowing down. Helping you follow the action is a claimed reduction in blackout in the viewfinder, which is welcome, though we would have liked to see a boost in EVF resolution as well. Maybe next time.

Autofocus modes

New AF modes have also been added and are accessible in the main and ‘i‘ menus. They include the addition of face / eye detection in the ‘Wide area AF’ mode instead of just ‘Auto Area AF’; this means you can place an AF box over a person’s face to tell the camera to focus on that particular person’s eyes, which is especially handy if there are multiple people in a scene. An equivalent mode is available that prioritizes animals.

The new processors also allow the camera to focus in light as low as -3EV with a lens at F2 (and you can still push this even lower for static subjects by enabling the ‘Low Light AF’ feature).

Video and other updates

For video, the Z7 II is rather more competent than its predecessor, and now includes 4K/60p capture with a slight (1.08x) crop. It will also output 10-bit N-Log or HDR (HLG) footage to a compatible external recorder, and you can output Raw video in 1080p if you’re using the full sensor and 4K if you’re using a cropped APS-C sized region. We’d expect good video quality, but hardcore video shooters should set their sights on the Z6 II and its oversampled 4K video which should offer much better fine detail.

And of course, there’s those dual card slots. One supports CFExpress (Type B) and XQD cards, and the other is a UHS-II compatible SD slot. The Z7 II also includes a new EN-EL15c battery, which boosts battery life to a CIPA-rated 420 shots using the rear LCD with energy saving modes disabled. In response to customer feedback, the Z7 II is compatible with a new MB-N11 vertical grip, which allows for the use of two batteries and has portrait-orientation controls built-in. Finally, from a power management point of view, you can now power the camera over its USB-C port, as well as charge it.

Lastly, we’re pleased to see that Nikon has added support for firmware updates over Wi-Fi through its SnapBridge app. This will make it easier for everyday users to get the most out of their cameras, as Nikon has been diligent about updating its camera in the past with new functions and features.

Compared to…

Let’s take a look at how the Nikon Z7 II stacks up against some other stabilized, full-frame cameras on the market. Of particular note is just how competitive the Z7 II’s MSRP is right at launch.

Nikon Z7 II Canon EOS R5 Sony a7R IV Panasonic Lumix S1R
MSRP (body) $2999 $3899 $3500 $3699
Sensor res. 45.6MP 45MP 61MP 47MP
Image stab. 5 stops 8 stops 5.5 stops 6 stops
LCD type Tilting Fully articulating Tilting Two-way tilting
LCD size/res 3.2″ / 2.1M-dot 3.2″ / 2.1M-dot 3″ 1.44M-dot 3.2″ 2.1M-dot
EVF res / mag
(equiv.)
3.69M-dot
0.8x
5.76M-dot
0.76x
5.76M-dot
0.78x
5.76M-dot
0.78x
Burst w/AF 10 fps (single AF area only) 12 fps / 20 fps mech/
e-shutter
10 fps 6 fps
Video res. 4K/60p
(1.08x crop)
8K/30p 4K/30p 4K/60p
(1.09x crop)
Mic / headphone socket Yes / Yes Yes / Yes Yes / Yes Yes / Yes
Battery life (rear LCD) 420/360 shots 320/220 shots 670/530 shots 380/360 shots
Weight 675g (23.8oz) 738g (26oz) 665g (23.5oz) 898g (31.7oz)

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Body and handling

Put the Z7 II next to the original Z7 and you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. Indeed, the only differences of any consequence are the slightly taller memory card door to accommodate the dual slots and the small ‘II’ on the front plate.

But we’re not going to complain too much, because we really didn’t find much fault with how the original Z7 handled. And you can expect the same experience from the Z7 II: a deep, very comfortable grip, well-placed buttons and control dials, an easily readable top display and a satisfyingly ‘clicky’ mode dial.

Okay, but we’re going to nitpick a bit just because we can. Being the high-res, stills-focused camera in the range, the Z7 II wouldn’t necessarily benefit from a fully articulating mechanism that video shooters prefer, but a ‘two-way tilting’ design such as that found on the Fujifilm X-T3 and Panasonic S1R would have been welcome. And though the front two function buttons are well-placed, some of us on staff find them a bit ‘mushy’.

Other than that, though, the Z7 II feels incredibly solid in the hand and is a supremely comfortable camera to hold and use for extended periods of time. The touchscreen interface is responsive, and it’s easy to switch between stills and video quickly. The arrival of a new battery grip with duplicate controls (!) will make for a more comfortable experience for use with larger lenses, like the Z 70-200mm F2.8 and adapted F-mount telephotos.

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Image quality

Out-of-camera JPEG.
ISO 450 | 1/50 sec | F9 | Nikon Z 24-70mm F2.8 S
Photo by Barney Britton

The Nikon Z7 II’s 45MP sensor is unchanged from its predecessor, and that’s just fine by us: image quality is absolutely outstanding in a broad range of scenarios, and Raw files are eminently flexible. In files from the original Z7, we did see some minor banding in the deepest shadows, but Nikon appears to have cleared that up with the new model.

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you’ll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to emulate the effects of different lighting conditions.

In terms of Raw detail capture, the Z7 II puts up a really strong showing against its competition. The Canon EOS R5 looks just a bit softer than the others here, but that’s likely due to a weak anti-aliasing filter, but this is of little practical impact other than saving you some time with the moiré tool in post. We find that 45MP is plenty of resolution for almost any purpose; though, of course, the Sony and Panasonic offer you more resolution in their pixel shift modes assuming your photographic subjects are static enough to take advantage of them.

At the highest ISO values, the Nikon Z7 II pulls ahead of Panasonic handily with respect to noise levels, outstrips the Canon EOS R5 by a hair and looks to be pretty much neck-and-neck with the Sony a7R IV. But really, all cameras look solid at the more realistic ISO values that you might consider shooting at.

Onto the JPEGs, we find the overall color palette from these cameras to be excellent but the Nikon’s yellows look to be just a bit richer and golden, and the greens a tad warmer (we think those are good things). The slightly more magenta pink patch could impact caucasian skin tones, though. JPEG detail is likewise good, though the Sony (with its resolution advantage, admittedly) looks a bit better as the Nikon is using clumsier, larger-radius sharpening that doesn’t reveal fine detail as well. As ISO values climb, the Nikon and Canon leave behind less luminance noise than the Sony and Panasonic but also retain less low-contrast detail.

Dynamic range

As we mentioned, the Z7 II’s sensor is essentially the same as its predecessor; it uses a dual-gain design to minimize read noise above ISO 320, so that high ISO settings have lower visual noise. As a result, the ISO 100 and 200 settings (below the higher gain step which would lower dynamic range) are a little noisier in the shadows compared to higher ISO settings – above ISO 320 – using the same aperture and shutter speed. The difference is impressively small, though, and so the sensor is adding really low amounts of noise to the final image, even in the lower gain state used at low ISOs. This also means that you can save four stops of highlight detail by shooting at ISO 400 instead of ISO 6400, with the same exposure settings, and brighten selectively – while protecting highlights – in post. You’ll pay little to no extra image noise cost in doing so.

Our standard Exposure latitude test really emphasizes how little noise the camera itself is adding to your images. Even if you reduce exposure significantly, which again helps you capture additional highlight information, the Z7 II puts up a really impressive performance. We also don’t see any of the banding that could sometimes occur in the very deepest shadows with the original Z7 when exposures were pushed.

A key thing to note is that ISO 64 mode allows camera to capture more light before clipping than its rivals can. This, combined with the very low noise performance seen above, means the Z7 II can capture images with cleaner tones, all the way down into the deepest shadows. And, now the banding in the darkest tones has been resolved, this results in higher image quality and greater flexibility than its peers in situations where it’s practical to use ISO 64.

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Autofocus

The Z7 II’s autofocus system is a match for that of the Z6 II, which in turn is a continuation of the improvements introduced during the lifespan of the preceding models.

The major change is that the human and animal detection features are now built into variants of the ‘wide-area’ and ‘auto-area’ AF area modes. This means they don’t have to be selected from a separate i-menu option, and they can be easily accessed if you have one of the camera’s buttons set to ‘Focus mode/AF area mode.’

The provision of a Wide-Area AF (L-people) mode provides a way to predetermine where in the frame you want the camera to look for its subject, which provides a way to pre-select which person the camera is going to focus on. On the previous Z models you had to use ‘auto-area’ mode, meaning you had to wait to see who the camera focused on, before being able to select a different subject if required.

Unfortunately, unlike the latest Canon and Sony AF systems, human and animal detection system separate modes from the camera’s subject tracking function. This means that you have to make the decision whether to use a simple AF area, subject tracking or face/eye detection, and then select the appropriate mode.

AF performance

Face/Eye detection autofocus performance tested using firmware v1.10

Generally we’ve found that the Z7 II’s autofocus system is very good, but not up there with the very best of its peers. Face and eye detection work well, successfully finding subjects even when they’re quite distant, though the Z7 II’s higher resolution makes it a little clearer that the camera is focusing a fraction in front of the iris than was apparent with the Z6 II.

Subject tracking is, again, good, but not quite on the same level as the best in its class. It is better at tracking a distinct, moving subject than it is at sticking to the part of a larger subject that you’ve pointed the camera at. This means subject tracking doesn’t always work as a means of precisely placing your AF point, as an alternative to moving it with the joystick. We also encountered occasional instances where the camera would attempt to refocus, even when ‘tracking’ a static subject.

We conducted our standard AF tests, first checking the camera’s ability to refocus on an approaching subject (the camera turned in a 100% hit rate in this scenario), then asking the camera to identify a weaving subject and choose an appropriate AF point, seen below. These tests were shot using the Nikkor Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S.

The Z7 II appears to have had little difficulty in identifying and following the subject around the scene but, as with many cameras, it will occasionally slightly misjudge the focus distance as the rate of the rider’s approach changes. The Z7 II doesn’t offer any settings to adjust the responsiveness of the autofocus (only how it responds in the event of an obstacle appearing between the camera and the subject).

Overall the autofocus on the Z7 II is very good. In a couple of respects it falls behind the very best of its peers but if compared with most older cameras, particularly DSLRs, it’s able to focus very effectively with minimal need for user input. It’s not necessarily going to offer flawless performance for sports shooting but for landscape, studio or portrait work, it’s more than good enough. The implementation, which requires you to change in and out of different area modes for different types of subject, isn’t as slick as Canon and Sony have become but it’s rarely too onerous.

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Video

The Z7 II is a less video-focused camera than the Z6 II but still offers some pretty competitive specs. The Z7 II also does a good job of letting you specify different parameters to stills and video modes, including exposure values, white balance, color mode and even ‘i’ menu configuration. This means it can be set up to allow quick jumps back and forth between modes without carrying inappropriate settings from stills to video or vice versa.

With its higher pixel count, the Z7 II isn’t able to read out its whole sensor quickly enough to create its video output, and instead appears to skip some lines and only use the remainder. The effect is video that’s a little less detailed, with higher risk of moiré and more noise in low light, since the whole sensor isn’t being used.

The camera’s 4K 60p footage appears to be skipping even more lines, which will exaggerate each of these shortcomings. However, it does at least mean that you can capture 60p footage without having to crop too far in, so you can still shoot wide-angle video. If you are willing to crop in, the Z7 II’s APS-C (Super35/DX format) video is a touch more detailed. This uses all the pixels in a 5.5K sensor region but still comes up short when viewed side-by-side with the Sony a7R IV in a comparable mode. The further downside is that the noise performance will be that of an APS-C camera, and it’s harder to find wide-angle lenses for the cropped region.

This is a pretty decent result for a high-resolution camera but, if you’re shooting short clips (and don’t need to use the camera between those clips), the Canon EOS R5 is capable of producing incredibly detailed 4K footage from its 8K capture.

There’s also a paid upgrade option to allow Raw video to be output from the camera. This can now be encoded either as ProRes RAW or Blackmagic Raw, depending on which brand of external recorder you attach. The latest firmware ensures the resulting files are suitable for Raw-level editing of white balance and ‘ISO’ when you get them to edit.

Sadly, we’ve not had access to a camera with the Raw upgrade applied, so have been unable to test this feature.

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Conclusion

What we like… What we don’t…
  • Excellent image quality and dynamic range
  • ISO 64 can give IQ advantage over peers
  • Good video quality and features for such a high resolution camera
  • Excellent ergonomics with well-placed controls
  • Effective in-body image stabilization
  • Decent battery life and some backward compatibility
  • USB charging and separate charger included
  • Dual card slots provide flexibility
  • Auto shutter mode avoids the need to manually switch in different situations
  • SD, XQD and CFexpress compatibility
  • Viewfinder is detailed
  • AF features not as well integrated as in its rivals
  • AF tracking not as dependable as best systems
  • Eye AF still appears to fractionally front-focus
  • Battery life lags behind its peers
  • Tilting screen not as flexible as two-way tilt or fully articulated
  • Non-matched card slots demands purchase of multiple formats
  • Viewfinder isn’t as high resolution as the best of its peers
  • Requires external recorder for best video quality (10-bit Log or Raw)

The Nikon Z7 II may appear to be a relatively subtle refresh of the original Z7 but the improvements that have been made, such as the second card slot, the option to add vertical control grip, and boosted AF performance will all increase its appeal to the kind of photographers it’s aimed at.

We were impressed by how polished Nikon’s first generation of full-frame mirrorless cameras were, so it’s no surprise that the Z7 II works well. It’s responsive in its operation and, though we’d love to see the reintroduction of Nikon’s combined AF switch/AF mode button, offers an experience that Nikon DSLR users will immediate feel at home with. There’s a good degree of customization without it being necessary to completely reprogram its operation.

The main shortcomings (and they’re only really shortcomings in comparison to some very capable opposition) relate to autofocus. The tendency for Eye AF to slightly front-focus and the subject tracking’s habit of focusing somewhere on the subject you selected, rather than tracking that precise point are the only real grumbles in terms of performance.

Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 | ISO 64 | 1/640 sec | F6.3
Processed in Adobe Camera Raw. Straightened, whites raised, highlights reduced. One dust-spot cloned-out with heal tool.
Photo: Richard Butler

More of an issue is the way AF area modes, face detection and subject tracking interact. Both Canon and Sony have tracking modes that will use face/eye/person focus as needed, whereas on the Z7 II, you’ll need to cycle between modes and engage and disengage functions to get the most out of the camera. Most photographers will find a way to make it work for the subjects they shoot, but it’s not as slick as it could be and it can eat into precious custom button availability.

The rest of the cameras’ ergonomics remain amongst our favorite of the current full-frame mirrorless options.

Out-of-camera JPEG
Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 | ISO 90 | 1/160 sec | F2.8
Photo: Richard Butler

The best news is that it maintains the image quality the original camera. We’ve seen advances in other aspects of camera performance since the original Z7 was launched but, particularly in circumstances where you can use its ISO 64 mode, there haven’t been many that beat it in terms of IQ.

The Nikon Z7 II is not a cutting edge camera and it doesn’t have many exciting new features to dazzle with, but it’s hugely competent, very usable and noticeably less expensive than its peers. It’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with the Z7 II, which earns a solid Silver award. It only misses out on a Gold because it doesn’t really out-do its rivals in any specific respect.

How it compares to its peers

The Sony a7R IV is a very credible competitor to the Z7 II, offering a boost in resolution for an increased price tag. The a7R IV’s autofocus is quicker and easier to use, and offers greater precision, in our experience. It also offers significantly better battery life and a more detailed viewfinder. However, the Nikon offers a better video shooting experience and arguably better ergonomics. Lens choice is probably the most critical factor in deciding between the two.

The Canon EOS R5 is a significantly more expensive camera than the Nikon, and delivers a performance boost in return. Again, the Canon’s AF interface is rather simpler than that of the Z7 II and its performance a little better. The Canon can also shoot faster, has a higher resolution viewfinder and can capture truly excellent-looking 8K and 4K footage. However its battery life is noticeably worse, and it’s not able to shoot its best video for extended periods, especially in the midst of heavy photographic usage, making it less dependable than you’d hope. At ISO 64 the Nikon has the edge in terms of image quality.

Finally, the Panasonic Lumix DC-S1R promises much of what the Nikon does, for a little more money. It’s either much more substantial or simply more bulky, depending on your perspective. It offers a multi-shot high-res mode made more practical by its motion correction option. The S1R offers a nicer viewfinder and more flexible screen than the Nikon but its autofocus interface and the in-viewfinder flutter while using it leaves the Panasonic a little behind. It shares the mis-matched card slots of the Nikon, but in the end, the noticeably lower battery life leaves us preferring the Nikon in most situations.

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Nikon Z7 II sample galleries

Please do not reproduce any of these images without prior permission (see our copyright page).

DPReview sample gallery

DPReview TV sample gallery

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Nikon Z7 II scoring

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

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