A Modern Classic Reloaded

Courtesy Nikon

The Nikon Z 7II is a full-frame camera built around a 45.7-megapixel sensor and the Nikon Z lens mount. The backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor in the Z 7II is essentially the same as in the original Nikon Z 7. The sensor packs 45.7 effective megapixels into a 23.9x35.9mm area. Given the area of the sensor and the megapixel count, the pixel pitch (the distance from the center of one pixel to another) is 4.34 micrometers (µm or microns), with each pixel measuring 18.84 square microns. To understand the scale, 4.34 µm is roughly two-thirds the diameter of a healthy red blood cell. Photographically, a sensor like this, when used with the right lens and securely support- ed, can resolve the finest of details (see “Backside Illuminated Explained,” below, right). But this is not the camera I’d choose for situations where I regularly need to use very high ISOs. For that, in a full-frame (FX), I’d want a camera like the Z 6II, which has larger pixels.

©Ellis Vener

High resolution can turn into mush when handholding a camera. So, like the Z 7 and the Z 6, the Z 7II puts the CMOS in a 5-axis vibration reducing mount that cancels movement in five directions (vertical, horizontal, roll, and opposite corner tilts). The German publication Foto Magazin tested various camera systems with different lenses and was surprised to find that, overall, with 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses, the Z 7II bested the other full-frame competitors (Canon EOS R5, Panasonic Lumix S1R, and Sony a9 II). Moreover, with the lens at 200mm, they got excellent results down to two-thirds of a second. That is a full seven stops below the shutter speed at which you’d expect an unstabilized lens and camera combination to yield sharp results (using the reciprocal of the focal length as the minimum shutter speed). Nikon claims a more conservative five-stop shake cancellation.

When Roger Cicala wrote up Lensrentals’ teardown of the Z 7, he noted the robust build of its in-body image stabilization. In fact, he uses “robust” often to describe the build quality, general construction, and weather- sealing of the Z 7. However, the full effect of the five-axis stabilization comes into play with Nikkor Z lenses. With adapted F-mount lenses, the IBIS system works on only three axes of motion. This is the case whether the lenses have a built-in stabilization system or not, including lenses mounted with the Nikon FTZ and other adapters.

©Ellis Vener
©Ellis Vener

Dual Nikon Expeed 6 processors provide the computational power for analog to digital conversion, the necessary initial image processing steps, audio processing, autofocus, and metering. Capture formats include raw format NEF, 8-bit TIFF, and JPEG still images, as well as video at 4K and 1080p resolutions at various frame rates.    

Internally, the Z 7II uses three types of media: CFExpress Type B or XQD in the primary slot and SD media in the second slot. An external recorder can be connected to the HDMI port for recording higher-quality video. The two media slots allow for different recording methods: in-camera duplication, overflow, or to separate the image formats.    

The electronic view finder uses a half-inch Quad VGA 3.69 million-dot OLED screen that refreshes at 60Hz. As with all mid-size high-end Nikon cameras since the D750, the 3.2-inch 2.1 million-dot touch-sensitive TFT type LCD monitor mounts on a robust metal frame that tilts out from the camera’s body.

©Ellis Vener

The Z 7II’s control layout is identical to the Z 6, Z 6II, and Z 7, as is the body construction. Although the control layout is simplified compared to that of DSLRs, the physical feel, control layout, and the electronic menus and their arrangement are similar enough that if you have experience with a Nikon DSLR or even an SLR, you’ll feel immediately at home with the Z 7II. You can customize the controls to fit the way you shoot in the custom settings menu.

Along with image signal processing and the near-instantaneous processing of the preview images sent to the camera’s EVF and monitor, the dual Expeed 6 processors in the Z 7II are the brains for the camera’s autofocus system. The 493 autofocus points cover 90% of the Z 7II’s sensor—all but the outer edges. Compared to the original Z 7 and Z 6, the Z 7II autofocus system is faster, more accurate, and more capable for general photography. Although the system’s ability to track a subject’s eye is not as good for erratically moving subjects as the Sony Alpha 1, Sony Alpha 9 II, or Canon EOS R5, it works reliably unless you’re capturing birds in flight or subjects moving against a busy background. To get the absolute best out of the camera’s many autofocus options, I highly recommend Steve Perry’s “Secrets to The Nikon Autofocus System: Mirrorless Edition” e-book. I’m learning something new and valuable every time I go to it.

There are multiple ways to supply power to a Z 7II. The primary method is to use a removable Nikon EN-EL15 type battery. While any EN-15 type battery works in the Z 7II, my experience with the included EN-EL15c battery has been that a fresh charge delivers between 900 and 1,100 frames in most situations using AF-C, sensor plus lens stabilization, and constant switching between the EVF and the monitor for preview and playback. Using the camera’s intervalometer to create time-lapse sequences with autofocus turned off, I can shoot several thousand frames with a fresh battery. The EL-EL15c batteries can be charged in camera using the supplied USB-C cable.

©Ellis Vener
©Ellis Vener

There’s also the option of the new MB-N11 vertical grip, perfect for those who like using larger form cameras. Unlike the MB-N10 designed for the original Z 6 and Z 7, the MB-N11 has a complete set of controls. 

I like cameras that not only make great photos but feel good to use. The Z 7II is one of those cameras. For me it comes down to the grip, the placement of controls, and what I see when looking through the viewfinder. While no single camera will ever be perfect for every photographer, for me and what I generally shoot, the Nikon Z 7II comes very near to being an ideal hybrid between a sleek thoroughbred and a rugged workhorse. Topping the attributes list are image quality, versatility, and handling.

The placement of the physical controls makes sense to my fingers. Much of this is due to intelligent design, but muscle memory from my years of using other Nikons plays a part. This user-friendly quality allows me to do a better job of concentrating on the moment.

Tags: cameras  gear  nikon