About the Photographer
Nikon professional DSLRs have basically defined excellence in sports & wildlife photography for decades, not to mention photojournalism, where Nikon cameras always sweep the World Press Awards. The reason is simple: Nikon DSLRs always offer class-leading Base-ISO performance (D850), class-leading high-ISO + low-noise performance (D5), as well as most complete APS-C offering available (D500). By also offering class-leading auto-focus, familiar ergonomics, and rugged durability, Nikon empowers the action photographer with the tools for capturing the moment like no other. While the mirrorless era is upon us, as of this writing there still is no mirrorless system that offers all of what the “Holy Trinity” of Nikon’s DSLRs bring to the table:
The Professional’s Choice when it comes to action. The Nikon D5 is actually a niche camera; it is not for everyone. Basically, the moment low light comes into play (especially when there’s movement), this is when the D5 truly shines. This means the moment you are shooting over ISO 2000 (which happens in early morning, at dusk, night, as well as in jungle conditions), no other camera compares. With unrivaled AF acquisition, the finest high-ISO dynamic range, and low-noise performance, the D5 allows the photographer to make the most out of his photographic opportunities under challenging lighting conditions.
See @ Nikon: Nikon D5
The Nikon D850 was the first DSLR of any kind to receive a perfect 100 DxO Mark, offering the finest base ISO performance of any camera available today, surpassing even medium format. To quote DP Reveiw, “… we feel that the D850 will satisfy the needs of an incredible variety of photographers, and we’re comfortable saying the D850 is the best DSLR on the market today.” Although the D850 is fully-capable of capturing wildlife images, where it remains peerless is for landscape, portraiture, and artistic macro imagery. With stunning dynamic range and incredible color fidelity at Base ISO, the D850 remains “The Standard for Image Quality” within the industry.
See @ Nikon: Nikon D850
While APS-C cameras are usually looked down upon as wildlife cameras, the D500 is actually pretty hard to beat. Winning multiple awards its first year in production, the D500’s combination of reach (1.5x crop factor), top image quality within its class, great dynamic range, along with pro-level ergonomics & customization—and a better AF system than any other camera but the D5—all add up to make the D500 a solid choice for wildlife. Quite simply, the D500 is the best DX (APS-C) camera ever made. Any time I need reach, the D500 is my preferred wildlife action camera, so long as there is decent light.
See @ Nikon: Nikon D500
Having watched the mirrorless revolution grow, we have all seen other brands struggle to pioneer their tech development (poor build quality, over-heating batteries, limited EVFs, and sub-optimal lens mounts). During this developing stage, Nikon sat back and watched. With the mirrorless market now maturing, and with proven tech having been established, Nikon has made its entry into the fray with its own mirrorless camera offerings: The Z-Series. Nikon’s new lens mount, The Z-Mount, when looked at critically, offers key advantages in multiple important aspects, over the alternatives.
To begin with, the fit and feel of the new Nikon Z cameras themselves are on another level. Not just ergonomically, but also in their structural integrity. This is a critical difference. Remember, while other companies offer non-ergonomic, cheap-feeling “toys,” you can never ‘upgrade’ such important physical deficiencies with “downloads”; your camera either has a solid, classy fit & finish … and it either has rugged durability … or it does not. The Z cameras have both. They are rugged & built-to-last and they are ergonomically-excellent.
Remember: deficiencies in software function (e.g., “Eye AF”) can always be improved with software updates, but deficiencies in ergonomics and poor build construction cannot.
But it gets better. As important as the superior structure and feel of the Nikon Z-series is, their EVF (what you see) is also several cuts above the competition, as is the resolution of their LCD screens. The combined total of these physical advantages creates a camera that you not only will enjoy for a long time, but that will last (and remain relevant) for a long time. This is vital both for long-term enjoyment as well as for holding re-sale value, should you decide to upgrade to a new Z model.
Finally, the Z-Mount itself possesses critical specifications which position Nikon for future leadership in the segment. The Z-Mount’s 16mm flange distance, mated with its 55mm throat width, mean Nikon’s Z-Mount lenses will always have engineering advantages to what is available from other systems. Nikon’s mount dimensions also mean Nikon Z-mount cameras can be adapted to implement any other lens from any other manufacturer … while no other system will be able to take advantage of the new Nikkor Z-mount ‘S’ lenses.
These are huge strategic advantages for Nikon Z camera users going forward. The Z-Mount cameras are not only the most physically-fit in the mirrorless divison, but the new Z-Mount dimensions ensure that the new professional ‘S’ lenses will offer levels of edge-to-edge clarity, and subtle color-correction, that are simply not possible in any other mount due to inferior dimensions compared to the Z-Mount.
The Z7 is essentially a mirrorless counterpart to the D850. Having owned the Z7 for over one year, I find that it is superior to the D850 in most ways, but yet lacking in a few others. I will discuss the negatives first:
In certain high-contrast situations, where there are dark-darks, and bright exposure areas, the Z7 is not “ISO-less” like the D850. This means, if you have more than a 5-stop difference in exposure, the PDAF of the Z7 will not give you the same “ISO-less” performance of the D850 (or any of “The Holy Trinity,” above). [This is a limitation in ALL mirrorless cameras, from any manufacturer (reference this video, between 4:33 – 6:24).]
The only other small negatives I have found are 1) a lag in response time, when you first turn it on, and 2) its limited AF modes and tendency (sometimes) to lose focus. I find the AF of DSLRs to be more versatile and polished overall.
That said, in some ways, the AF of the Z7 beats all of Nikon’s top DSLRs. For one thing, the recent downloads have upgraded the Z7 by adding Eye AF, which no DSLR can do, making the Z7 superior for all human portraiture (pets too). The Z7’s Eye AF works and it works well. Also, and more importantly for my usage, for long-range wildlife photography, the Z7 also retains AF ability on my 800mm f/5.6 lens, while using the 2x Extender (which changes the aperture to f/11). No DSLR can retain AF @ an f/11 aperture, while the Z-Mount cameras can. This means, for long-distance bird portraiture, I can deploy a 1600mm f/11 optic and retain AF. This is huge!
Moreover, in all other “normal” circumstances, the Z7’s IBIS significantly amplifies the effectiveness of any MF lens, as well as any quality AF lens without VR. Since I really enjoy MF glass, the combination of the Z7’s class-leading EVF (indispensable for macro), its IBIS, as well as the additional bonus of its ability to focus-peak when hand-holding, I opt to use the Z7 almost exclusively now for most non-action nature work. The Z7’s light-weight and compact size are an added bonus.
I still consider the D850 to be a superior landscape camera on a tripod … and the D5 and D500 to be superior action camera for wildilife.
Finally, as a macro option, and especially as a “walkaround” or travel camera, the Z7 is already my favorite option to deploy. With the most recent pro-level “S” glass out-performing all the best glass from all other players, you can bet I will be adding a the forthcoming Z-mount sports camera to my arsenal as soon as it materializes.
See @ Nikon: Nikon Z7