Nikon Z7 teardown

LensRental, after doing it for the EOS R, tore down a Nikon Z7 to show what’s inside:

This is not marketing department weather resistance. This is engineering department weather resistance. Anything that can be sealed has been sealed. I’m impressed, and I will say for future cut-and-paste blurbs: this is as robustly weather sealed a camera as we’ve ever disassembled.

Remember this is a ~USD$3,500 camera body, which the build quality impressed.

The future is mirrorless

There, I said it. The future of interchangeable lens cameras is mirrorless.

Olympus E-P1 camera

Let’s see why.

The SLR design date back from the film days. A design that allow precise framing using through the lens viewfinder, but that has a somewhat complex mechanical design, increasing cost and size. Today, the film being replaced by an electronic sensor, an instant image can be obtained through the lens. An electronic viewfinder will also be through the lens, with all the advantage of the SLR design, and more. Without the need for that complex and bulky mirror box, the camera can be designed to be more compact.

There are a few reasons why DLSR exists and are still somewhat the de-facto design: trade offs.

The first trade off is that you have to change the lens mount to benefit from a more compact design. This made moving from the older film camera to the digital one is not as easy unless you threw away your investments in glass. This was a perfectly valid point in the last decade, and since the move has happened, the problem persists, even for those that started with a DSLR.

The second trade off is the performance of the autofocus system. DSLR use a phase detection system with sensor located in the mirror box. Something that appear to be problematic on a mirrorless camera, and phase detection AF is more performant than the contrast detection system commonly used by mirrorless cameras. Manufacturers have worked out technology to improve the situation a lot. A small category of users that needs it really needs it still, but we are getting there.

But it is time to make the jump.

The market

Currently only 4 vendors still offer DSLR. Canon, Nikon, Ricoh-Pentax and Leica. Sony hasn’t released a DSLR in a while and given their α lineup (mirrorless), I don’t think they will, Olympus has made the switch to M4/3 a while ago already, Panasonic has been mirrorless only as well also with the M4/3 system, Leica is mostly betting on mirrorless and Fujifilm has been kicking it with the X- series, improving at each generation and the GFX medium format.

In August Canon announced the EOS R, their full frame mirrorless system, while they have a EOS M series that feature an APS-C sensor. They just announced new lenses for that system, so it might stay for a little while. And it is much more affordable as well.

Weeks prior to that, Nikon had just announced the Nikon Z, their full frame mirrorless system, after discontinuing the Nikon 1 which wasn’t really a sensible proposal with its miniature sensor.

As for Ricoh-Pentax life is tough. The Pentax K 01 wasn’t really a success, nor was the Pentax Q that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. And now that it is Photokina, it doesn’t seem that Ricoh had anything to announce in that product line.

If anything, the growth on the market for Sony as proven that mirrorless full frame can be a viable option. Sony is clearly the market leader for full frame and Canon, Nikon and Panasonic wants to try to catch up.

Is full frame the future? I don’t think it will be the only but it will be dominant. Panasonic just announced a full frame mirrorless, sharing the lens mount with the Leica SL, while still continuing with the M4/3, and Sigma who barely has presence in the camera body market has announced they were developing a body for the L-mount. I’m confident that Fujifilm can continue with the X-series without moving away from APS-C, with a more compact system that nails the image quality including in low light, at a price lower than the current full frame lineup. Sony will probably keep some of their APS-C mirrorless until they can bring down the price of the α series down enough.

The medium format has a future too for demanding users, but the price is steep. For example, the Fujifilm GFX 50, a “medium” format sensor mirrorless starts at about US$5,000.

The future

I predict that within 5 years, neither Canon nor Nikon will be pushing DSLR, except maybe in a few niche segments like top of the line sports. The Leica S might survive as Leica just announced the S3 just 10 years after the previous iteration but this camera is already in a very niche segment given it’s price. And some of the manufacturers won’t be left unscathed.

Nikon Z, finally

Nikon finally officially announced the Nikon Z, their new mirrorless digital camera system. Mirrorless is not new for Nikon as they just discontinued the Nikon 1, but this time they are getting serious.

And there is a lot of hate about the Nikon Z, haters are gonna hate.

So let’s review what’s the offer:

The Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7, are the first two mirrorless cameras with a full frame sensor from Nikon, and they use the new Z-mount. Priced at US$2,000 and US$3,400 respectively, they fall in the same proce, the Sony α7III and α7RIII. Both cameras share a lot in their design, handling and appearance. The main differentiator between them is the sensor resolution, maximum ISO, maximum FPS and number of autofocus points, like the two Sony models mentionned.

Note: I haven’t seen it nor touched it – I’m not part of that circle of people. This is a commentary on the specs, you have been warned.

One little distinguishable feature, that you can already find on some of the Fujifilm cameras like the GF50 or the X-H1, is the top LCD screen. A matrix of dots instead of predetermined display: this allow a greater flexibility in what can be displayed.

The controversy comes from the memory card slot. First, there is only one: there is a (relatively small) number of people in that market segment that want two slots, as a safety against losing a shoot when a memory card fails. Second, and that’s probably the worst in my books, is the use of the XQD format. No. Not yet again a format nobody else uses.

Z-mount

Let’s talk about Z-mount a little bit. Since 1959, Nikon has been using the F-mount on their SLR system. Neither autofocus nor digital made them change the lens, even though there are different classes of F-mount depending on the presence of an aperture ring or screw autofocus (ie the autofocusing system is on the body with a mechanical coupling, instead of in the lens). Since Nikon managed to go that far without changing the mount, why doing it now?

As I explained in a previous post, a mirrorless system would allow a shorter flange distance to be able to benefit from a more compact form factor. Since that make the lens incompatible, why not changing the mount? This is were the Z-mount comes. Dropping all the legacy baggage it address some of the issues. One of them is the diameter that has prevented from making very wide aperture lenses. At 55mm, it is probably one of the largest diameter for that size of sensor (or film format), and Nikon already announced a Noct lens: Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 lens.

With a flange distance of 16mm, not only you have a slim body, but you also have more possibilities in term of adapted lenses. And there will be an F-mount adapter priced at US$250 that will allow using F-mount lenses immediately, albeit you lose some of in-body image stabilization efficiency by having only 3-axis VR.

3 lenses will be available in Z-mount at launch, priced a bit over the top:

At least 9 other Nikkor Z lenses are planned until 2020, including Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95

Video

Video isn’t forgotten with the Nikon Z. A range of resolution and frame rates, with 4K HD up to 30 fps, and 1080p HD up to 120 fps for smooth slow motion, mic in, headphone out. A notable omission is the flip out screen, but this is on par with the Sony. The 1080p120 mode is cropped, while all the other modes are full frame.

Caleb Pike from DSLR Video Shooter has some praise for the Z6 on the specs (video):

You can shoot 10-bits N-log 4K in full frame, albeit with an external recorder, with a camera that cost around US$2,000. Something that is usually cost much more. He also believe Nikon colour science is superior to Sony, something that will have to wait to be confirmed.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter

The Nikon Z seems to be a glimpse into what Nikon think is its future in the field of high-end camera. From what I can see, they stroke the balance to be able to satisfied advanced users (professionals or not), both in the area of photo and video, and will be able to handle the transition away from DSLR which I believe is happening.

I wouldn’t call the Nikon Z ground breaking. They don’t seem to do anything that no one else did before, but it looks like they engineered a camera system that seem to have almost all the ingredients to work. While not perfect, and a first generation product, I’m pretty sure the Nikon Z will be damn fine cameras, and their pricing is within the competition.

One more thing

Nikon is sorry that the Z7 is Selling so Quickly… and Canon has an announcement in that area soon.

RIP Nikon 1

Not sure who remembers the Nikon 1 mirrorless ? DPReview informs us tgat Nikon just announced they discontinued the Nikon 1, without a surprise.

The move to kill off the Nikon 1 line shouldn’t come as a surprise. In addition to the rumors flying around, the newest camera in the lineup was launched more than three years ago on April 2, 2015.

In comparison, Canon EOS M seems to have more traction in the market place.

Despite rumors, Nikon still doesn’t have a mirrorless system to replace this. Will they?

SLR mount for a mirrorless, does it make sense?

There is a lot of chatter lately about Canon and Nikon tardiness in the mirrorless world. On one side, Canon seeked feedback from their user about what they want in a pro mirrorless camera. On the other side, Nikon is announcing a full frame mirrorless camera with a new lens mount dubbed “Z-mount”. In both sides there is one topic that seems to come back into the discussion: the camera should be directly compatible with the SLR mount (EF for Canon, F for Nikon). While it is clearly understandable why users would want that, let’s explain on why it is not a good idea, and why the mount adapter is the best compromise — compromise that Canon made for the EOS-M.

A lens mount is defined by a certain number of attributes ; flange distance is the one that matters here.

The flange distance or register distance is the distance between the lens mount ring on the camera body and the focal plane (the surface of the sensor or the film). It is a fixed dimension for the lens mount.

On an SLR camera, you have the mirror box between the lens and the sensor, defining a minimum flange distance, while a mirrorless doesn’t have the mirror box. This is why in general a mirrorless camera has a much shorter flange distance even with a similar sensor size.

Flange Focal Length (2 types camera)
Flange on a SLR camera (top) and mirrorless camera (bottom). By Shigeru23 (Own work) licensed under GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

For example, Sony E-Mount is 18mm while Sony A-Mount (former Minolta SLR) is 44.5mm, as Canon EF-M is 18mm while Canon EF and EF-S are 44mm. In both cases the flange on SLR mount is more than twice as large as on the mirrorless.

What would a DSLR mount do on a mirrorless system? It would increase the thickness of the body in way that the camera wouldn’t be that much more compact. The real example is Pentax mirrorless Pentax K-01. With a flange distance of 45.46mm for the K-Mount, the camera is bulkier than it should with a thickness (depth) of 59mm. In comparison, the Canon EOS-M100 is 35mm thick (deep) as it uses the EF-M mount, designed for mirrorless.

That’s why using a DSLR mount for a mirrorless system, meant to be more compact, isn’t a good design choice. Offering an adapter that support all the features of their DSLR mount is, on the other hand, the best compromise that a camera maker can do, almost equivalent to the practicality of using native mount, but the advantage of the size: the extra bulk only comes if you need it.

Kodak DCS

The Kodak DCS is Kodak 1991 Digital SLR based on a Nikon F3. Kodak was pioneer in the area and Nikonweb interview James McGarvey who designed these.

Six models were priced from $20,000 to $25,000. A total of 987 units were sold from 1991 to 1994.

But:

Many people in Kodak were reluctant. Some of top management tried to stop our business, but some wisdom prevailed and they did not succeed.

That’s right, they were scared to disrupt their own business. But it got disrupted by the competition and now we see were Kodak is: between the rock and the hard place.

Nikon 1

Nikon 1 is the just unveiled Nikon mirror less system. It seems to be a trend. First, m4/3, then Samsung NX, Sony Nex, Pentax Q and now Nikon 1.

2 cameras:

  • Nikon J1: 10.1 megapixel “CX-sized” sensor (x2.7 crop), electronic shutter, pop out flash, 1080p HD video, lot of colors. $649 with the 10-30mm.
  • Nikon V1: more advanced that the J1. No flash, accessory port, built-in EVF, higher resolution LCD, mechanical shutter, stereo microphone input, fewer colors. $899 with the 10-30mm.

The camera feature interchangeable lenses, SD card (high capacity), PSAM exposure modes, autofocus, etc. And NEF raw files.

4 lenses, 1 prime, 3 zooms:

  • Nikkor 10mm F2.8 pancake
  • Nikkor VR 10-30mm F3.5-5.6
  • Nikkor VR 30-110mm F3.8-5.6
  • Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6

Two accessories for the V1: a flash and a GPS unit for $149 each. According to DPReview there will be a F-mount lens adapter coming as well. The availability in the US will be 20th of October 2011.

More at Nikon USA.

(Price are US list prices in USD)

My opinion, without having seen it. The new mount and the small sensor are two things that could hinder the camera success. The sensor, “CX size”, smaller than the one of m4/3, but still bigger than the one of the Pentax Q, make it more difficult to contain the noise at high ISO. I haven’t see samples yet to make myself an opinion. Also the new mount means that the lens will be specific to the system. I do believe Nikon could have benefited from joining the m4/3 gang instead and could have introduced Nikon lenses to the mix for the variety. It is one of the reason m4/3 cameras are popular.

On the other hand, the GPS accessory, while a bit overpriced, seems to be a welcome addition that virtually no other maker has. It is not Nikon’s first attempt.