Nikon Z7 II review update: Image quality tested

Introduction

Product shots: Dan Bracaglia

Nikon has just announced the Z7 II, the second iteration of its high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera. As the name implies, this is a refinement rather than a reimagining; so 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 have 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 has come 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 sensor with native ISO 64
  • 4K/60p video with 93% coverage of the sensor, or a ~1.08x crop
  • 5-axis in-body stabilization (3-axis with adapted F-mount lenses)
  • 10fps 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 will be available in December 2020 for $2999 body-only, or $3599 with a 24-70mm F4 lens. The new MB-N11 battery grip with duplicate vertical controls will be available in November 2020 for $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 get you?

To start with, the Z7 II is a more credible action camera than its predecessor. Its burst speed tops out at 10fps with continuous autofocus instead of 9fps (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 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, with 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 battery grip, which has portrait-orientation controls built-in, and you can now power the camera over its USB-C port.

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 functionality 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) 12fps / 20fps 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 (23.81oz) 738g (26.03oz) 665g (23.46oz) 898g (31.68oz)

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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 camera 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 perhaps a ‘two-way tilting’ design from the Fujifilm X-T3 or 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.

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Initial impressions

Well, has the Z7 II knocked your socks off? Personally, my socks (or at least, my house slippers… covid times, after all) are still firmly on my feet, but that doesn’t mean that the Z7 II isn’t an excellent camera. Take another look at that comparison table earlier and you’ll find that in almost every respect, the Z7 II is not just a credible contender to the other options there, but it’s the cheapest by a good margin. Not too shabby.

On the face of it (pending testing), that makes the Z7 II an easy camera to recommend, though with the caveat that we still have yet to fully analyze its image quality and autofocus performance. The former should be familiar, while Nikon promises that AF should be improved compared to the previous model.

The Z7 II could be what DSLR users from Nikon and other systems have been waiting for

Could Nikon have gone further with this update? It certainly addressed a couple of the big items from our wish list, but something like a new, higher-resolution or better-performing sensor would never be a bad thing. Truth be told, though, the real-world difference between 45.7MP and, say, 61MP isn’t likely to be a deal-breaker; the extra dynamic range from the Nikon’s ISO 64 mode, though, may be. And what is perhaps our most significant request – that Nikon separates autofocus subject tracking into its own mode, rather than as a layer on top of the ‘Auto Area’ mode – remains unaddressed, but is still conceivably fixable through a firmware update.

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

In the end, should Z7 users upgrade to the Z7 II? I would wager that only a small population of pros that really need dual card slots or a battery grip might consider it. But those very updates might also be what users of Nikon’s high-end D850 DSLR, or users from other DSLR systems thinking about making the switch to mirrorless, have been waiting for.

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Image quality

Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.
ISO 90 | 1/50 sec | F7.1 | 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 simply plenty of resolution for almost any purpose; though, of course, the Sony and Panasonic offer you more resolution in their pixel shift modes if your photographic subjects are still 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 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 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 by a lot, 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 and pushed exposures.


Nikon Z7 II sample galleries

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