October 11, 2021 ·

Robert Thompson
The Z 7II with the 24-70mm f/4 S zoom lens. This is Nikon’s current flagship second-generation full-frame mirrorless camera.

INTRODUCTION
The last couple of years has seen an expansion in the full-frame mirrorless sector. All the major camera manufacturers, including Nikon, have stepped up their commitment to the mirrorless world with the addition of new cameras and lenses to their line-ups. While many thought that Nikon entered the full-frame mirrorless race a little later than others, they have more than proved in the last three years what their c­apabilities are. The forthcoming release of their flagship model, the Z 9 is likely to set the bar even higher. Nikon is not a recent contender in the mirrorless field, in fact, they have been making mirrorless cameras as far back as 2011 with the launch at that time of the Nikon 1. Although the mirrorless market is more competitive today with so many cameras available to suit a wide range of consumer and professional needs. Nikon still stands out as a brand that is synonymous with innovation, quality and remains a powerful force in the camera world.

The rear view of the Z 7II showing the layout of the function buttons and the large electronic viewfinder (EVF) screen. The overall control scheme is good and well thought out. Photographers migrating from the D850 will not find it a problem. The layout of the function buttons on the top of the grip are the same as the D850 which is handy. The MB-N11 vertical battery grip can accommodate dual EN-EL 15c batteries giving you extended shooting times along with a swappable battery slot for on-the-fly battery charging. The grip also improves the ergonomics for vertical shooting. It also adds extra depth making it more comfortable for those with larger hands.

The Nikon Z 7 first made its appearance back in the summer of 2018. Like many professional photographers, I watched with interest as mirrorless began to break into what was essentially a DSLR stronghold. For me, and the type of work I do, mirrorless was not at that point on my radar. I was more than happy to continue using my D850s, and like many, felt that the mirrorless landscape was still evolving. However, more importantly, the lens selection and diversity was still catching up but was not at the point where it could match the range of lenses and accessories that the F mount had for DSLRs. When the Nikon Z 7II was announced, in October 2020. I felt that this could be the entry point for me where I could, at least, begin to look more seriously at the possibility of entering the mirrorless world and getting a feel for what will undoubtedly be the future of photography in the years ahead. The Z 7II is Nikon’s current flagship second-generation high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera (although that will change when the Z 9 launches). It’s not a replacement for the Z 7, but a refinement, updating and improving on what was an already highly successful predecessor.

I should point out that this is not an in-depth technical analysis of the Z 7II; there are a plethora of reviews out there if it’s every last specification and function that you want to know. The purpose of this article is to give an account of my thoughts and experience of using the Z 7II in the field primarily for stills and how it compares to using a DSLR for much of my routine work. To be honest I have never been one to jump from one brand to another. I have been with Nikon for almost 25 years and in that time I have never felt the need at any point to migrate to another brand just because something new was added or particular features were improved. I often wonder how we all coped pre-digital when we worked with cameras with less sophistication but still managed to produce some great and innovative imagery.

Bog Asphodel Narthecium ossifragum A small, brightly-coloured flower common on bogland habitats. Photographed using the new Z MC 105mm f/4 VR S on the Z 7II. The sharpness of this lens is impressive and an improvement over its F mount predecessor, which is still an excellent macro lens.

Today’s photographic platform is a very different one from the pre-digital era that many will remember. I think we have become a profession obsessed with technical change and feature-driven to the point where we want, or almost demand a camera that is capable of virtually performing every single task and procedure flawlessly; reducing our own contribution to merely pointing the camera in the right direction. There is no doubt that social media plays a part in this frenzy nit-picking at every specification or feature that a particular brand has or lacks. It’s easy to get swept along in the flow convincing oneself that what you currently have is already outdated and underperforming.

It will be challenging for leading camera manufacturers in the years ahead to keep innovation at its current level. I suspect we are getting to the point where increased pixel counts will no longer be enough to justify upgrades with only marginal differences. Camera manufacturers will, I think have to explore other challenges for example dynamic range and in-camera processing features etc. where improvements are likely to be more beneficial than adding additional pixels.

I think what’s more important and often overlooked is to evaluate what you currently have and does it meet your needs for the work that you routinely undertake. Most photographers would agree that cameras these days are capable of producing outstanding imagery, even those at the lower end of the market. It’s the specifications and features where cameras begin to diverge. There will always be those that want to have the very best of what’s currently out there even though many may never fully utilise all of the functions and features that the camera is capable of doing. I can speak with experience on this front having had photographers on some of my workshops who have the ultimate in gear but struggle to understand and get the best from it!

Green-veined White Pieris napi One of the first images I shot with the Z 7II on a warm overcast evening in a wooded river glen. I came across this roosting butterfly, which had settled for the evening among the bluebells. I was impressed with the clarity and brightness of the EVF viewfinder. Photographed with the 200mm f/4 IF-ED micro nikkor.

Green-veined White Pieris napi One of the first images I shot with the Z 7II on a warm overcast evening in a wooded river glen. I came across this roosting butterfly, which had settled for the evening among the bluebells. I was impressed with the clarity and brightness of the EVF viewfinder. Photographed with the 200mm f/4 IF-ED micro nikkor.

As a natural history photographer, I have to cover, a wide range of subjects and topics, which can involve shooting from helicopters to photographing in marine rock pools and the subterranean landscape. Macro is also one of my main specialities, and I was keen to see if mirrorless would be an advantage for some of the work I currently undertake in this field. I’m not going to dwell too much on technical details; it’s already well documented on the web. But there are some important things for me to consider before retiring my beloved DSLRs and committing to the mirrorless world.

Elegant Anemone Sagartia elegans The Z 7II is just as capable of handling challenging situations equally as well as the D850. Focus peaking was very useful here as the small pool was heavily shaded.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Removing the Z 7II from its box, I was initially surprised by how small it was compared to the bulk of the D850. However, having said that I found the body to be ergonomically well designed and pretty robust considering it’s not the typical Nikon professional body that I’m used to. The moulded grip and camera as a whole felt comfortable in my hand even though it’s smaller than the D850. The buttons and dials occupy similar positions to the D850 which reduces the learning curve. The mode dial button is different to the D850 and has a central button which you need to press to rotate. Apart from the usual functions there are three modes U1-3 which allow you to customise settings to suit the type of photography you are undertaking; (not unlike custom banks) which means you can switch quickly between groups of settings which is useful for me.

The addition of the battery grip with dual controls would be an advantage and worth considering for many who have larger hands and are used to the bulk of a D5 or D6; it would reduce the difference in size between architecture of the two camera bodies. Also, it would be an advantage when shooting with longer focal length lenses giving a more pro feel to the camera in addition to going some way to achieving a better balance when shooting with larger telephoto lenses.

An approximate comparison in size between the D850 and the Z 7II. Despite being smaller than the D850, this camera is more than capable of delivering outstanding images. The function buttons have a similar layout to the D850 and ergonomic design feels very comfortable in the hands.

An approximate comparison in size between the D850 and the Z 7II. Despite being smaller than the D850, this camera is more than capable of delivering outstanding images. The function buttons have a similar layout to the D850 and ergonomic design feels very comfortable in the hands.

The touchscreen on the Z 7II interface is very responsive and although it does not have a fully articulating screen, for the work I do and probably many photographers it’s not an inconvenience. Some video photographers may find this to be an issue, but it’s not a game-changer in my opinion. Like all mirrorless cameras when switching on there is a small lag before being able to see through the EVF, unlike a DSLR where you can view the subject instantaneously whether the camera is switched on or not. I know some photographers habitually like to scan a scene with their eye at the viewfinder accessing possible compositions. However, with an EVF viewfinder, you have a millisecond of a delay while powering up each time from when it goes to sleep. For me, it’s not a big deal and I tend to leave the camera on and extended the timeframe before it shuts off. The default setting, was for me, just a bit too brief however, this is easily sorted in the menu system. Alternating between the D850 and the Z 7II was not a problem and I quickly got used to the difference in size and operation of the two cameras. I think one of the great advantages of using the Nikon system is the fact that the migration from DSLR to Mirrorless has been well studied. Nikon has clearly thought about the layout and function of the camera making it easier for DSLR shooters to make the transition to mirrorless with relative ease.

Although it’s not a fully articulating screen, the majority of photographers will find it more than adequate in most situations.

I have been using the Z 7II for a while now and I’m impressed overall with the handling and performance of the camera. The image quality is outstanding, on par for sure in every aspect with my D850. Whether I’m shooting landscapes or macro, the image quality of the raw files are impressive with excellent detail in the shadow areas; I would expect nothing less from Nikon on this front. Image quality at its base ISO 64 is superb when you can take advantage of it. Even at higher ISO values, I have found the results to be excellent. The general colour palette of the raw files are on par with my D850; the yellow and greens are rich and vibrant which suits most natural history subjects pretty well.

A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF SOME OF THE MAIN SPECIFICATIONS

Sensor Size and Dynamic Range
The 45 .7 MP CMOS back-illuminated sensor with its native ISO 64-25,600 is the same sensor that’s in my D850. The Z 7II has 493 phase detect sites covering most of the image area. Shooting high contrast scenes, particularly in landscape photography, for example, at sunrise and sunset, is one of the most demanding aspects of any camera’s sensor to deal with; image resolution and dynamic range on this front is outstanding. Nikon’s reputation of image quality is well-known, and this camera does not disappoint, in my opinion. Comparing it to my D850 I think that there are a few minor tweaks that have been made to the sensor. When working in low-light situations such as woodlands, I am impressed by just how good the image files are and how much latitude there is for adjustment. Whether you are shooting landscapes or close-ups, the camera adds little in the way of visual noise. Even when you underexpose to preserve additional highlight information, I was impressed with what you can extract from the raw file.

North Donegal coastline, Ireland. The dynamic range of the Z 7II is impressive. Sunrise and sunset are among the most challenging aspects for any sensor. Exposure can vary considerably between the brightest parts of the sky and the land. Nikon is renowned for the quality and capabilities of its sensors and the Z 7II does not disappoint. The raw files have a considerable latitude when adjusting exposure for shadows and highlights. The image above was processed from a single raw file.

Frame Rate
The camera is also capable of 10 fps (when shooting 12 bit raw) with single-point AF which, for me, is acceptable and a reasonable balance in a camera such as this. It’s worth bearing in mind that in every case the frame rate can vary depending on the subject and how much the autofocus might have to correct itself during the sequence; this is true for every camera and it’s a point often overlooked. In most routine situations, I can manage with the frame rate. When I’m running seabird workshops, one is always tempted to have a little more, but I feel you should be able to achieve enough keepers at this rate. The improved buffer performance gives greater capacity to continue shooting up to around 77-12 bit raw files before it begins to slow down a little. One of the issues of having high frame-rate cameras capable of shooting 20-30fps, is the aftermath of dealing with large numbers of images. Ten seconds on the shutter button gives you 300 images to start with.

I find the frame rate adequate. There are, perhaps, a few situations were it might be advantageous to have more, however, I feel you have to balance this against other factors. The high resolution camera is not targeted specifically to sports and action photographers, but strikes a sensible balance in my opinion. The up and coming Z 9 will likely fulfil this aspect and more.


Large files require the ultimate in processing power with plenty of RAM, not to mention hard drive space to accommodate the heavy volume of images that will require your attention. All of this leads to increased editorial time when in the vast majority of cases it’s overkill for most photographers, with the exception perhaps of those that are shooting sport at pro-level. Most professional photographers would concur that you can’t afford to spend endless time processing and wading your way through countless images that contain only subtle differences; I certainly can’t! Except for sport and perhaps bird flight photography, I don’t think you need endless images with only minor differences of the same subject; they inevitably clog up cards and hard drives. I also think most professional photographers want control over what they are shooting and don’t want total in-camera automation to make decisions for them, I certainly don’t!

Storage Media
The camera has dual storage card slots, a CFexpress (type B) XQD type memory, and an UHS-II SD card slot, which is an additional benefit for those that want to shoot both raw and jpeg, to backup, or have the ability to overflow or shoot to a different card. Personally, I don’t see the need to produce jpegs of what I’m shooting in raw. I prefer to have my jpegs for the web, or sending to clients produced from the raw files which have been processed; any corrections are then incorporated into the jpegs! However, I do recognise that some photographers may need to do this or want assurance in case of card failure. SD cards are perhaps more fragile however, these days they are generally pretty reliable; in my experience, I have only ever had one card that had a problem and that was some years ago. I don’t give them any special treatment, they stay in my bag and get the occasional wipe that’s about it! Bear also in mind that the Z 7II is not Nikon’s ultimate flagship and it’s a camera that’s aimed at a wide range of photographers and priced accordingly. The SD slot is also an advantage for many photographers who may already have multiple SD cards and don’t want the expense of having to upgrade to the faster XQD cards. Some photographers would prefer to have dual cards of the same type which is a fair comment. I would also be in favour of dual XQD’s however, considering that this is not going to be Nikon’s permanent flagship camera I think many photographers will agree that this is an acceptable compromise.

Battery Life
The Z 7II has a new EN-EL15c battery which increases the number of frames to approximately 420 if you are using the LCD; less if you prefer the EVF as I do. Photographers who primarily shoot video may compare it to the Sony’s A7R IV, which can achieve more on a full charge, but in stills photography, it’s a simple process to change the battery, which is not that big an inconvenience. You can also use the EN-EL15 batteries, which is an advantage as many photographers will have spares from a previous camera. These are still useful as additional backup. However, they will deplete quicker compared to the designated battery.

The high-definition 3690k-dot EVF viewfinder provides excellent clarity. I found the Z 7II high refresh rate reduces blackout even when I was shooting high-speed flight shots. Being able to see in the viewfinder the image in real-time is extremely useful, especially when shooting macro

EVF Viewfinder
As someone who is used to an optical viewfinder, (OVF) switching to an electronic viewfinder (EVF) is a different experience and it does take a little getting used to. OVFs have better clarity and overall better dynamic range and can resolve differences in extreme contrast and brightness. However, in low light situations, it can be harder to see clearly and focus. EVF is a mini electronic display and digital representation of what the camera’s sensor sees. EVFs also allow you to overlay more image information onto the screen such as focus peaking and the histogram etc.; the former is useful when critical focus is needed for example in macro and for adjusting exposure directly without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Also, with EVFs what you see is what you get. When viewing the image preview you can see the actual exposure, and depth of field straight off the sensor and depending on how it’s configured other camera settings that have been applied. Also, the EVF display can provide an enlarged section of the image. For me, the resolution of the EVF is an important aspect to consider especially when shooting close-ups. The Z 7II EVF resolution is 3.69 million dots with an 0.8X magnification producing a large crisp image within the OLED viewfinder. It’s not the highest resolution EVF out there, but it’s more than adequate and I had no issues with it even when working in heavily shaded woodland and late on in the evenings. EVF blackout has also been improved which enhances the continuous shooting experience. I did not find this to be a major problem even when shooting flight shots. Once you get used to working with an EVF I found the OVF on the D850 a bit of a comedown each time I used it, particularly in lower lighting situations. The 60fps refresh rate is reasonably fast and I found no issues here during routine shooting.

Plain Golden Y Autographa jota The EVF really comes into its own when working in low light situations, as in this case in a heavily shaded woodland where this moth was resting among the grasses. It makes focusing much easier.

There is a button on the left shoulder of the EVF which you can prioritise your favourite method of shooting. If you prefer to use the viewfinder as I do in most cases, you can change it from switching between viewfinder and screen to viewfinder only, or you can reverse it if you prefer framing and composing with the larger LCD screen. The high-resolution 2.1m-dot touch screen can rotate 90° upwards and 45° downwards, which I find useful when working with the camera at ground level in woodland settings. If you prefer to control many of the functions on the back screen then it’s very responsive even when exposed to the rain; believe me living in Ireland it’s seen its fair share of water. Located above the EVF is a small eye sensor that detects when the screen is pulled out and automatically disables the eye sensor to prevent switching between the two which helps conserve battery life; another nice touch! One other cool feature is you can adjust the colour temperature of the EVF screen. I prefer it to be slightly warm rather than cool.

Extended Shutter Speeds
One addition that I do find extremely useful is the extended shutter speeds. Working in dense woodland, often at base ISO, or shooting landscapes at sunrise or sunset, especially with ND filters I frequently exceed the maximum 30 seconds shutter speed limit, which means having to time exposures beyond this. The extended shutter speeds are only available when shooting in manual mode and need to be activated via the shooting display menu. The additional speeds extend up to 900 seconds (15min); this is an extremely useful feature that many photographers especially those who specialise in long-exposure photography will welcome.

Another advantage of the Z 7II over the D850 is the extended shutter speeds. I always found it annoying having to time exposures beyond 30 seconds. Long exposure photographers will like this feature especially when using neutral density filters.

iMenu
The iMenu is another convenient feature that I find extremely useful. It is fully customisable, allowing you to access up to twelve commonly used settings of your choice. It’s integrated into the touchscreen, where you have immediate access to your chosen settings rather than having to navigate the menu systems. I was amazed just how much I use this feature during my routine work.

GPS
For me, GPS is an essential part of my work and this is one aspect that would have been extremely useful for me to have it integrated into the camera. Personally, I think all cameras should have it built-in. It’s not expensive to include however being able to isolate it from the magnesium alloy body is where the problem lies, not in the unit itself. You can, via Snapbridge, have the information transferred, but for me, it’s a bit more time-consuming and I’m not sure just how accurate it is! Since a lot of my work will be archived long-term in the National Museum, it is better to have the information embedded within each file at source.

Autofocus
There have been a number of improvements to the autofocus system. The 493-point hybrid AF system performs well over the Z 7 however, this is one area I have had little time to explore thoroughly and therefore it would be unfair to speculate. I fully intend to spend more time on this, but I had only a few hours shooting seabirds. With Covid restrictions, I was not able to run my usual seabird workshop this year. I did find however that the Z 7II performed well with the limited amount of flight photography I was able to do. I had only a single 500mm lens with me and I had to use the FTZ adapter. Most of the gannets were coming in fast and often deviating at the last moment. The camera nailed most of them only very occasionally dropping focus usually when the bird diverted quickly and flew between land and sea.

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus I found the Z 7II with the FTZ adapter on a 500mm lens performed pretty well nailing almost all of the shots of these birds that were coming in fast on a tail wind. Only occasionally when they veered suddenly at the last moment usually over land did I miss the first shot. The small image is at 200% you can see how sharp it is.

Overall, the vast majority of images were spot on and sharp. The D850 might still be a better option in some situations especially if you were doing a lot of flight photography, particularly with small fast-flying birds. I know some photographers have stated that the autofocus is slightly slower with the FTZ adapter but I can’t comment on this as I have not had enough time to evaluate it critically. Having said that the vast majority my results were good and sharp! The dual EXPEED 6 processors has allowed improvements to the overall performance of the autofocus system. It also includes human or animal eye and face detection in the Wide-area AF modes. Another welcome improvement is focusing in low light down to -3EV compared to the Z 7’s -2EV.

Image Stabilization
The Z 7II’s in-body image stabilization (IBIS) delivers up to five stops of compensation with Z lenses, this is reduced to three with F mount lenses. Some photographers will find this very useful, however, I shoot every image I can from a tripod, only resorting to hand-held photography when the terrain or subject makes it difficult to use a tripod. Having said that it’s an extremely useful feature which I have used with excellent results. Many photographers will take advantage of this in preference to a using tripod in some situations!

Atlantic puffin Fratercula arctica A typical situation where I’m having to work my way in on my arms and chest. In these situations, it’s difficult to position a tripod on a cliff edge. Taking advantage of these situations using IBIS is where mirrorless has the maximum advantage over DSLRs.

Ports/Accessories
The Z 7II has a USB Type-C port, which can be used to power the camera. HDMI Type C an accessory terminal, stereo mini-jack input and audio output. It also has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Photographers sometimes see firmware updates as a bit of a hassle. You can now update firmware via the Snapbridge mobile app which will be welcomed by many.

The various ports on the Z 7II. You can also connect an electronic shutter release in here or a remote control unit.

IN THE FIELD
When this camera first arrived I was a bit unsure how I would fare with it considering I was so used to working with the D850. I need not have worried on this front as I became more familiar with the Z 7II I found myself using it more frequently than the D850 for routine work and also for a large percentage of macro. It became my default camera for landscapes. The build quality and weather sealing is excellent; even when exposed to rain I had no issues with camera or LCD screen. The dynamic range is outstanding especially at the default ISO 64 with good colour rendition and a lot of flexibility during processing with little sign of any visual noise. Overall, the image quality across the wide range of ISO settings is excellent. When shooting macro, my typical ISO settings range on average from 200-800; the higher ISO values are used when shooting a magnifications beyond 1:1 using the Novoflex bellows to ensure my shutter speeds are high enough expedite focus stacking as quickly as possible. I only soot in raw so based on my experience I have to say that I find no perceptible noise within this ISO range at all. I see a slight increase at ISO 1600 but not much.

An ideal example where focus peaking really does make a difference. I much prefer to use the EVF than the LCD screen for macro.

I also find the extended shutter speeds extremely useful when shooting with ND filters early and late in the day. The camera also compensates for the filter showing you the image in real-time in the EVF which is a distinct advantage over a DSLRs OVF. The GPS was still an issue for me and I found it easier to shoot a frame with the D850 (which I carry a body with me) and then copy the GPS information into the files during processing which is the quickest and most reliable solution for me at the moment. Some of my work involves shooting rare plants and lichens and precise grid references are important especially in the long-term for monitoring purposes. Since virtually all of my lenses are F mount I had to use the FTZ adapter which worked perfectly fine with no issues. However, I do use the Z 24-70mm f/4 S and the Z MC 105mm VR S; both absolutely superb lenses with excellent sharpness and colour contrast.

Another part of my work often involves working at magnifications beyond 1:1 (life-size). I was very keen to see if the Z 7II would be a much better alternative to the D850 when working at higher magnifications. I have been using the Novoflex BAF-F and BALPRO-1 bellows systems for this work. Novoflex have designed a Retro Reverse Adapter that allows full automation including metadata transfer with the Z series cameras and lenses.

The Z 7II with the Novoflex BALPRO-1 with the Z 24-70mm zoom reversed using the Z Retro Reverse Adapter. It provides full automation including all metadata transfer.
Lisianthus species The above photo is an excellent example of the sharpness, contrast and quality of the Z lenses. The 24-70mm is reversed on the Novoflex Z Retro Reverse Adapter and using the BALLPRO-1 bellows I was able to achieve a magnification of 2.5X of these stamens. The 24-70mm when reversed makes an excellent macro lens. and is extremely sharp!

I have also been testing the latest Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S macro lens with the Novoflex bellows which works flawlessly producing outstanding results. Anyone who owns the Z 24-70mm f/4 S zoom when reversed on the bellows produces magnifications in the region of 3:1 with excellent image quality. It’s an ideal way to explore the smaller world without having to purchase a dedicated macro. For anyone interested in general and high-end macro, the Z 7II is the ideal camera for this work.

Large Red Damselfly Pyrrhosoma nymphula A challenging image to shoot. I had several attempts at focus stacking this species as it kept moving its head. Photographed early in the morning using the Novoflex BAL-F bellows, Z Retro Reverse Adapter, and the Nikon El 50mm enlarging lens mounted on the Castel XQ II focusing rail. Magnification 2X.
Common Hawker Aeshna juncea I found this roosting dragonfly which had settled as a result of the changing weather conditions. I was able to get in close to photograph the eyes at virtually 1X. I used the EVF and focus peaking to help position the focus point to maximise the depth of field.

They say old habits die hard and in my case, I guess that’s so. I prefer to use the viewfinder for macro in most situations; this is where you really see the advantage of an EVF viewfinder. With Focus Peaking activated, I can carefully select my ideal focus point to ensure I get the maximum depth of field for the selected aperture, which I can also see in real-time in the viewfinder. Shooting macro with this camera has many advantages over the D850. Focus shift is also excellent when focus stacking landscape images for increased depth of field and macro at magnifications up to 1:1. You can specify the number of shots and can also adjust the focus step width to a point.

Early Thorn Selenia dentaria Photographed using the micro nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S.

For the majority of my macro photography, I use on the Z 7II, the old, but still superb, 200mm f/4D IF-ED micro nikkor sadly now discontinued. It was another first for Nikon when this lens was released in 1993 being the world’s first 200mm macro. There are many reasons why this lens is so good, working distance, angle of view and tripod collar are among the most important qualities.

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata Photographed with the 200mm micro nikkor F/4D IF-ED, and the FTZ adapter. Longer focal macros are always a better choice when photographing timid insects such as dragonflies.

The lens is still one of the most commonly used macro lenses today among the macro fraternity. For some reason, Nikon has chosen not to update this lens despite it being probably one of the most important macro lenses they ever made. I only ever use the lens in manual so autofocus is not an issue. Many of my best macro images have been captured with this lens. It’s one of the most important lenses in my collection and probably still best long focal length macro in the world. I find the combination of this lens with the Z 7II in the field difficult to better.

Grey-Dagger Acronicta psi Photographed in shady woodland conditions using custom white balance, the Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S, Novoflex PRO75 and MagicBall.

Another setting on the Z 7II is the Diffraction Compensation feature which apparently improves definition when shooting at smaller apertures. Keeping this enabled reduces the effects of diffraction. It works with Z and F mount lenses connected via the FTZ adapter. I also do not use the auto white balance setting in the field or generally for other types of photography. I always prefer to use custom white balance settings which means I can set the ideal white balance depending on the conditions I’m shooting in. For example, shooting a subject in a heavily shaded woodland canopy often produces an increased green cast to the image. A simple custom setting and test will ensure you have a more balanced colour setting when working in these situations. Also if you are focus stacking this can be important as the scenes colour temperature if on auto may vary during the stack sequence. If you want to make a global change to multiple images during processing it’s easier if the white balance is configured manually.

A FINAL WORD
The mirrorless sector has seen many changes in the last couple of years; this is likely to continue for quite some time to come. As other lenses and accessories are added, camera manufacturers will be encouraging the migration of the remaining photographers from their DSLRs to the mirrorless world. The transition from analogue to digital all those years ago underwent a similar evolution. Photographers, especially in the professional sector, are generally cautious and never quick to make decisions based purely on opinion. There are many reason for this, but one of the most important is the financial aspect as most have a considerable amount of money (myself included) tied up in F mount glass. Many will be hesitant at this time especially since Covid has had a profound effect on the photography industry at the moment.

There is no doubt that the future of photography points in this direction and perhaps solutions will be found to assist with the transition. So, is the DSLR on borrowed time? A couple of years ago I might have given a different answer, but having used the Z 7II and sampled the future I have to say for me, it has to be an absolute yes. I think Nikon has taken onboard what photographers have been asking for and the result is a product that is more than capable of meeting the needs of the vast majority of photographers across the photographic industry.

Nudaurelia-macrothyris Photographed with the Z MC 105mm VR S micro nikkor. The sharpness and contrast of this lens is outstanding in my opinion.



Another point to bear in mind is that airline travel is getting much tighter with onboard cabin luggage etc., this camera is a welcome alternative for travel photographers where weight is an important factor. I normally run a series of workshops on macro and landscape photography in some alpine regions in Europe. However, Covid restrictions have made it difficult this year to fulfil these yet again. Smaller lenses and reduced weight with no compromise on image quality is an important advantage for many photographers who travel and run workshops around the globe. I would have no hesitation taking this camera with me anywhere at all. It offers the best ergonomics and handling experience of any mirrorless camera on the market. The Z 7II is also extremely well priced compared to its rivals and can more than hold its own with the best that’s out there. The Z 7II has proved once again that Nikon is a highly innovative and competent company at what they do.

Finally, the question many photographers asking at the moment is, will Nikon produce an upgrade to the world-class D850? I honestly don’t think so and for very logical reasons. First, how do you improve on a DSLR that has earned the title among many across the photographic industry as the finest DSLR ever made? What could you improve on? Also, why would you try to extend a technology that has already reached its limits? R&D is an expensive business these days; no camera company in the current climate is likely to continue investing in technology that has run its course. The Z 9 will be for Nikon the point that many photographers myself included, will see a camera that will be capable of outperforming the best of DSLR technology that’s out there. The Z 7II is not, in my opinion, a mirrorless alternative to the D850, I think Nikon have been careful to ensure that the D850 still has its independence from the current flagship mirrorless camera with some features that are still unique to it. Whatever genre of photography you do, if you’re thinking of entering the mirrorless world and in need of a high-resolution camera at a relatively affordable price, then look no further than the Z 7II.

NIKON Z 7II GALLERY

Northern Gannet Morus bassanus The Z 7IIs dynamic range is excellent retaining detail in the white plumage despite the strong side lighting. Photographed with a 500mm lens supported on the Novoflex PRO75 and ClassicBall 5 II.
Brimstone Moth Opisthograptis luteolata & Citheronia regalis When faced with distracting backgrounds it’s better to eliminate them completely as in both these cases. I used a black card and placed it carefully behind the subjects to isolate the moths from their background. Photographed with the Z MC 105mm VR S micro nikkor supported on the Novoflex PRO75 and MagicBall.
Dandelion seed heads A somewhat delicate shot on a very calm evening. I was hoping not to lose the remaining two seed heads. Another example where the black card comes in handy. Photographed using the Z 7II with the 200mm f/4 IF-ED macro supported on the Novoflex PRO75 with the ClassicBall 5 II. Clouded Magpie Abraxas sylvata Using a custom white balance produced a more accurate representation of these moths that were in heavy shade in the woodland.
Musk Mallow Malva moschata A 2X magnification close-up of the stamens inside the flower. To achieve sufficient depth of field, it was focus stacked and the composite photo produced from 35 images. The shot was photographed using the Z 7II, Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S micro nikkor, Novoflex BALPRO-1 bellows with the Retro Reverse Adapter to maintain automatic functions between camera and lens and the Castel XQ II focusing rail.

This is an extremely stable setup and is my main field tripod for macro.

NIKON Z 7II CASE STUDY

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera I wanted to shoot a series of photographs illustrating the plant, starting with a portrait, an individual flower and a high magnification shot of the delicate pollinia. The setup, Z 7II, Novoflex BALPRO-1, and the Nikon EL 50mm enlarger lens. Supported on the PRO75 and the MagicalBall head.
The profile shot of an individual flower showing the lip and the emerging pollinia. My custom-made stem stabiliser was used to provide additional stability to the flower.

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The final image. A high magnification shot of the individual pollinia which is around 4mm in size photographed at 2X.

Acknowledgement

I would like to express my grateful thanks to Rob MacNeice Senior Consultant Imaging at Nikon UK for his assistance in organizing samples.

Robert Thompson

October 2021

Biography
Robert Thompson is a professional natural history photographer, author and naturalist. He is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and the Irish Photographic Federation; an acclaimed macro specialist in the UK and author of a number of books on natural history and photography. He is also a Novoflex Ambassador for the UK and sat on the Natural History Distinctions Panel for the Royal Photographic Society. His work is widely published in the UK, Ireland and internationally, with numerous photographic credits in a wide variety of publications including Nikon Pro, Nikon NPS, and other media sources. He is a frequent writer and contributor to the photographic press and specialist natural history publications. He has had several solo exhibitions of his photography and has worked on several high-profile natural history projects in Ireland and runs workshops there and Europe.

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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Robert Thompson’s interest in natural history began during his childhood explorations of a large parkland estate where he grew up. He is a professional freelance natural history photographer, writer and author with many well-known publications to his credit on natural history and photography. He is widely acknowledged as a specialist in close-up and macro photography in the UK and was awarded a direct Fellowship by the Royal Photographic Society in 2012 for his work in the field of macro photography. He also sits on the panel for the Royal Photographic Societies distinctions awards and is also a Fellow of the Irish Photographic Federation. As an active conservationist, he has worked on a number of high-profile natural history projects in his own country in conjunction with various government organisations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. He also has a particular interest in dragonflies, butterflies and moths for which he has specialist knowledge. His work is widely published in the UK, Ireland and Internationally, with numerous photographic credits in a wide variety of publications and various other media sources. His imagery has also featured in Nikon UK and Nikon Pro magazine and is a frequent writer and contributor to the photographic press and other natural history publications. He has had several solo exhibitions of his work including the aerial landscape collection from the highly acclaimed ‘NATIONAL HISTORY OF ULSTER.' He has appeared on television and radio as a photographer, author and entomologist and has been a contributor to other television programs relating to natural history and photography. He lectures on photography and is a frequent traveller, running workshops in some of the most picturesque alpine regions of Europe including many of Ireland’s most iconic locations. Robert Thompson FRPS FIPF Natural History Photographer, Author & Freelance Writer 8 Weavers Court Banbridge, Co. Down Northern Ireland BT32 4RP. Email: rst@rstphotography.net Tel: +44 (0) 7764678631 Website: www.robertthompsonphotography.com

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