With the release of the Z 5, Nikon’s mirrorless Z Series now boasts three full-frame models. The Z 7 kicked it all off, announced at the same time as the Z 6, but beating it to the shops by a few months in late 2018. In the meantime, Nikon has also swelled its range of Z mount lenses, specifically designed for the new cameras, but of course you can also add a Nikon FTZ converter and use older F mount lenses, too. Or go for a third party converter which will open up the market to non-Nikon lenses. So it’s a well received and growing system, but how do the three full-frame models in the Z Series compare in some of the most important categories?
1. Resolution and sensor:
While the new Z 5 and the already available Z 6 share a similar resolution – a decent 24.3 and 24.5 megapixels respectively – the sensors have quite different architecture. The Z 6 has a back-side illuminated (BSI) chip which should provide slightly better image quality. But both cameras will let you print easily up to A3 in size and beyond. The Z 7’s far larger 45.7-megapixel sensor is the clear winner in terms of rendering fine details, and it’s improved further by the lack of an optical low pass filter, so images should be razor sharp right off the sensor. It’s only worth paying for if you really need all those extra pixels, but that said, the extra resolution does mean that you can crop into pictures more easily to enlarge detail, or change from a horizontal to a vertical framing and still have a big image, so it’s a great feature to have.
All of the Z Series cameras boast hybrid phase detection AF systems, so you can expect great focusing speed and accuracy, as well as cutting edge features like human and animal eye-detection, and more general subject tracking. The Z 5 has 273 selectable points, as does the Z 6. The Z 7 has 493 points. There are differences in detection range, too, with the Z 6 and Z 7 having a slightly superior -4EV to 19EV when their Low Light AF mode is engaged, compared to the Z 5’s -3EV to 19EV.
3. Burst rate:
Speed isn’t everything, but in theory, the more frames your camera can chew through per second, the more chance you have of catching a vital moment of action or animal behaviour. The Z 5 can’t compete with the Z 6 and Z 7 here. And as an entry level camera, nor should it be expected to. The Z 5 tops out at 4.5fps, which is still useful. The Z 6 and Z 7 meanwhile clock 12fps and 10fps respectively, though these settings require you not to shoot with the very highest quality image settings.
4. Memory cards:
Nikon caused some head scratching when its Z 6 and Z 7 were released with single XQD card slots. After a firmware update, those cameras can now accept CFexpress cards, too. But the while they give great performance, XQD and CFX cards are pricier than SDs, and though failures haven’t been an issue, many people like a dual card slot, allowing them to write to two cards at the same time.
So, the Z 5 will please some with its return to a dual SD card design. This gives organisational options, and extra capacity if required. And SD cards are cheaper and more plentiful, so they’re arguably a better fit with upgraders who already use the format.
In-body image stabilisation is a big deal. It lets you get sharper stills using any lens, and also smooths out video footage on the move. All of the Z Series have an excellent five-axis Vibration Reduction system allied to their sensors, so there’s nothing to choose between the models here. You can use it with any lens, too, so even older optics benefit.
6. ISO range:
Actual noise performance varies from model to model, but you can broadly expect great results from all of these cameras. The Z 5 and Z 6 share a similar base ISO range of ISO 100 to 51200, expandable to an equivalent of 50 at the low end. The Z 5 can also be expanded to 102400 at the top end. The Z 6 beats this by a stop, reaching a 204800 equivalent. Given that results get very noisy at these expanded high ISOs, we can call it even here. The Z 7’s ISO range spans 64 to 25,600, expandable to equivalents of 32 and 102,400, so you get more light stopping power at the low end, but it’s a stop less useful in low light.
7. Screen and viewfinder:
If you’re moving on from a DSRL, buying a mirrorless camera often comes down to how well you take to its electronic viewfinder. Here, there’s very little difference in terms of spec, with all of the Z Series’ models’ EVFs performing wonders. Each one has a 1.27cm 3690k-dot OLED EVF with a magnification of 0.8x.
All of the rear screens are the same, too. They’re 2100k-dot 3.2in tiltable touchscreens, but don’t flip around to the front of the camera for easier composition when you’re shooting your own face. If you want a Nikon mirrorless that does that, you’ll need the smaller sensor’d Z 50.
One other thing: the Z 5 dispenses with the top-plate LCD as found on the Z 6 and the Z 7. Higher end models and pro-cameras use these to speed up changes to settings, or give an alternative view of them, but if it’s not something you’ve come to rely on, chances are you won’t miss it.
Here’s one of the places that things vary in the Z Series. All have 4K maximum recording, but the newcomer Z 5 does it with a 1.7x crop to the sensor’s width. Both the Z 6 and Z 7 use the full sensor, but the Z 7 does it with pixel binning. The Z 5 uses the full sensor for its 1080p output and will give you up to 60fps in that mode; with the Z 6 and Z 7 it’s 120fps.
All the cameras have mic inputs and headphone ports, but the Z 6 really aces this round on the quality front. Not only is its 4K output the best, it can run 10-bit HDMI output, 12-bit Pro Res Raw video and N-Log.
9. Weight and size:
The new Z 5 is billed as a streamlined full-frame option, but that really means when its bundled with its cute 24-50mm kit lens. This retracts when not in use, and is very small even when extended. Otherwise, it’s virtually identical to the Z 6 and Z 7 in size and weight, so if you put the 24-50mm on those bodies you’d be hard pressed to find a difference. All the bodies are small, light and portable, but retain great handling and grip.
With the arrival of the Z 5, the Z Series now has much broader appeal, and even as the entry level camera in the range it’s very well spec’d. It loses out on performance in several areas, which is to be expected, but the balance of features and price makes it very attractive for upgraders.
The Z 6 has the best frame rate, and it’s definitely the one for videographers, but the other cameras do a good job if you’re a more casual video shooter. The Z 7 is the king of resolution, so most likely the camera in the range you would turn to for ultimate image quality, while also packing great performance.