Posted by: kerryl29 | April 26, 2021

The Other Side of the Story

Having done a significant amount of complaining about certain aspects of the Nikon Z7ii on this blog in recent weeks, I thought it was only fair that I offer some thoughts about my first field session with the camera, which took place a week before this piece was posted.

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Foggy Morning black & white, Ft. Harrison State Park, Indiana

Some background.  I was in Ennis, Texas, a haven for bluebonnets during the spring bloom.  I was only there for one full day and a bit of two others, but it was to be my last time out with the camera prior to an extended trip to the Arizona-Utah back country beginning later this week and into next.  My time in Ennis was my third session with a camera in the field since the start of April.  I spent a bit of time at a state park in eastern Arkansas during a layover on the drive from Chicago to Houston in mid-April and then I was in Washington County, Texas, between Houston and Austin, for one day in mid-April on a quest for wildflowers.

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Tenaya Creek Reflections, Yosemite National Park, California

But these sessions with the camera found me still using my Nikon F-mount gear rather than the Z-camera, mostly because I didn’t expect to be able to flesh out my Z-mount kit prior to heading to the Southwest near the end of this month.  It seemed silly to me to begin the process of getting used to the Z-mount gear if I was going to have to revert back to the F-mount during an extended trip.

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Muleshoe Picnic Area, Bow Valley Parkway, Banff National Park, Alberta

But in the middle of my one full day in Ennis I received word that a second Z7ii body would be available to me before I left for the Southwest.  I have detailed, on more than one occasion on this blog, why I insist on having two identical cameras with me when I’m on an extended photo trip.  I hadn’t expected the second Z7ii to be available to me until after I returned from the Southwest, but hearing that I’d be able to have it in my possession before I left made me think.  Maybe I should get out in the field with the one body I had in my possession during the second half of my time in Ennis and see if that experience would lead me to reverse course and go with the Z-mount in Arizona and Utah.  So, beginning in the early afternoon of that single full day in Ennis, I shoved the F-mount cameras aside and, for the remainder of the day, used the Z7ii and my two Z-mount lenses.

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Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

What was that experience like?

Short answer:  it was good.  Very good, in fact.

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Thunder Rock Cove Overlook Black & White, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

My biggest interest in moving to a mirrorless system–something I’ve contemplated doing for the better part of three years now–was to reduce the size and weight of the equipment in my bag.  I have indeed done that, dropping about five pounds and numerous cubic inches of space.  This is partly due to the camera bodies themselves–the Z7ii body is about half the weight of the D800E and much, much smaller–and part of this is a function of the the two Z-mount lenses (the 24-70/4 and the 14-30/4) that I’ve acquired.  The new glass replaces the F-mount 14-24/2.8 and the 24-70/2.8.  It’s apples and oranges given that the two new lenses have maximum apertures of f/4 compared with f/2.8, but the fact is that both of the new lenses are about half the weight and less than 2/3 the size of the old ones.  (I won’t miss the f/2.8 maximum aperture at all; I literally never shot either of the two F-mount lenses at f/2.8 in the field in the nearly 13 years that I’ve owned them.)

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Glowing Hoodoos at Sunrise from the Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

So the size/weight goal has been accomplished.  But there’s more to my positive experience with the Z7ii than that.  After a few hours of using the new camera to take pictures of bluebonnets, I realized something:  I haven’t enjoyed the process of working with a camera as much as I did with the Z7ii that afternoon/evening in…I don’t know, maybe ever.  This mirrorless camera and many of its features is really, really well constructed for the type of photography I do. I don’t know how great it would be for action (though AF, at least, seems plenty snappy to me), but for landscape photography, it’s terrific.  I already feel extremely comfortable with it–almost certainly a function of my familiarity with the Nikon ergonomics, menu system and terminology–and going back to the D800E would feel like a step backward. This effect isn’t nearly as dramatic as the change from film to digital was 18 years ago, but it’s pretty consequential.

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Foothills, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

I do wish the focus stacking feature worked in a manner that would allow me to directly (rather than indirectly) trigger the start of the process, but the camera still fires off the sequence far, far more quickly than I can do manually.  And because everything with a mirrorless camera requires the camera to be turned on to do anything (the one–and only one–thing I miss about not having an optical viewfinder is the ability to size up the scene with the camera turned off), battery drainage is much more substantial than with a DSLR.  But literally everything else about the electronic viewfinder is superior for landscape shooting and I’ve already adapted my in-field approach to take advantage of some of these things–real time histograms in the viewfinder; being able to review images (with magnification) in the viewfinder; a truly reliable level in the viewfinder.  Some things–like the improved LCD, the focus stacking feature, etc.–I could have gotten with the D850 (the most current rendition of my DSLR) but not these viewfinder improvements.  And I still would have been dealing with a much larger, heavier camera body with all the inherent limitations of the F-mount. The D850 might still be the better option (probably would be, in fact) if I shot any appreciable amount of action, but I don’t.  Most of the things I’m getting with the Z7ii could have been obtained with a Canon or Sony mirrorless equivalent; the benefits I’m talking about are basically mirrorless benefits, not Nikon mirrorless benefits specifically.  But by staying with Nikon I also get the FTZ adapter, allowing me to use my F-mount lenses with the Z7ii (which is critical for now given the telephoto zoom hole in Z system).

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Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

In addition, there’s my aforementioned 20-year familiarity with Nikon ergonomics, menus and terminology, all of which are largely reiterated here, saving me the considerable trouble of reinventing the wheel.  It really says something that I was able to take the Z7ii into the field for the first time and basically hit the ground running with almost literally no interruption.  What was theoretically to be an in-field practice session turned into a very productive afternoon/evening of real world photography.  That’ a big deal, in my view–the seamlessness with which I was able to move from the F-mount in the morning to the Z-mount in the afternoon.

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Dawn, Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Illinois

So in the end, I’ll be taking the Z-system to the Southwest; the trip begins tomorrow.  (You’ll understand if posts are somewhat thin between now and the middle of May.)   I probably should have recognized the benefits of moving to a mirrorless system for landscape photography sooner, but better late than never.

(Note:  you’ll have to take my word for it regarding the Texas wildflowers.  I won’t be able to begin editing those images until the second half of May.  In the meantime, hopefully you’ll enjoy the more or less randomly selected images accompanying this entry.)


Responses

  1. I am looking forward to seeing some results from the Nikon Mirrorless. Part of me is envious – I wished for this move by Nikon 8 years ago – when they didn’t seem really enthusiastically interested in that direction. I made the move to Sony for the same reasons you have now moved to mirrorless. I shot Nikon for over 20 years and always loved the glass. Sony had to kind of start over and IMO, the partnership with Zeiss was the only thing that saved them. The other part of me doesn’t regret that I moved to mirrorless when I did. I wholeheartedly agree regarding the EVF. I also really like the “settings effect” and use it often in shooting conditions.

    Your decision to “practice” shoot a bit and the familiarity with the Nikon layout really resonates with me. I went out for the first time with my newest Sony a7 camera the other day and somehow had made a setting that interfered with my normal shooting routine – almost to the point of making it impossible to shoot. Fortunately, this was just a short, close to home outing done with the knowledge that something could happen. It took me some study when I got home to figure out what was going on. The importance of being intimately familiar with a camera before going out on a serious outing cannot be overstated. Anyone moving to a different camera-company system needs to spend some time with it before shooting in the field.

    • 100% agree re the necessity of being familiar with your equipment before you head off on a photo trip. I said so (explicitly 🙂 ) in this blog entry a few years back: https://lightscapesphotography.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/preparing-for-a-photo-trip/

      After a 600-mile drive today, I stopped in Amarillo; there’s a prairie dog property literally right next to the hotel property. The Z7ii may not be the ideal action camera, but it’s more than capable of holding it’s own. With the F-mount 80-400, using the FTZ adapter, I got more than my share of keepers (and this sort of thing is not my forte). Autofocus with the adapted lens was snappy and the few issues with accuracy were a function of user error.

  2. […] a note from an East Coast camera dealer I had contacted about six weeks earlier, informing me that a second Z7ii camera body had become available and would be in my hands before the end of that week. That would mean that I […]

  3. Cool pic! Thanks 🙏


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