This is one in a series of posts on the Nikon Z6 and Z7. You should be able to find all the posts about that camera in the Category List on the right sidebar, below the Articles widget. There’s a drop-down menu there that you can use to get to all the posts in this series; just look for “Nikon Z6/7”.
The Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras are the first MILC experience for many folks, and there has been confusion and consternation about some of their vicissitudes. Those cameras aren’t all that different from MILCs from Sony and Fuji that I’ve used, so I’ve not been often surprised by their behavior. That had led to unwarranted complacency my part, so I am late in creating this post. I think it will be useful to many people coming to the Z cameras from DSLRs.
What I’m going to do here is enumerate some of the unpleasant surprises (aka gotchas) that new Z6 or Z7 users may experience, discuss why they happen, and suggest workarounds. As more of these issues occur to me, I’ll add to this post.
SLRs have mirror slap. MILCs have shutter shock. Both are caused by vibrations induced by mechanical activity just prior to the exposure. With SLRs, it’s getting that darn mirror out of the way. With MILCs, it’s closing the shutter and tensioning the spring that drives it. The result is fuzzy images, particularly with longer lenses and exposures in the 1/30 to 1/250 second range, although the issue can occur outside that span.
The fix: Invoke the electronic first curtain shutter (EFCS). This is setting d5 in the menu system. This is set off by default, so it is a trap for the unwary. Once EFCS is set to on. The camera will not close the shutter before the exposure, and vibration blur will be reduced. There are some times when EFCS is not a good idea, but they are very rare with the Zx cameras, and most people shouldn’t worry about them.
High shutter speeds missing
Let’s say you read the above, and turned EFCS on. You’re outside with an f/1.4 lens wide open and the camera says it can’t set the shutter speed fast enough.
When the Zx is in EFCS mode, it won’t let you use a shutter speed faster then 1/2000 second. That’s because there are possible exposure uniformity and Bokeh issues with EFCS at high shutter speeds. Sony lets you use those dangerous speeds. Fuji, in the GFX, switched to all mechanical shutter at 1/640 second and faster.
The fix: Switch to all-mechanical shutter. Put that control in your quick menu to make it easy to find, because you’ll want your default shutter mode to be EFCS.
I can’t see anything when using strobes
There is a control, d8, apply settings to live view. The default is on. When the camera is set thusly, the viewfinder brightness is scaled to match that of the anticipated capture. In the studio, you might set the camera to f/8, 1/200 second, ISO 64, and be framing the scene with just your modeling light for illumination. The camera doesn’t know about the strobe, thinks your image will be greatly underexposed, and shows you what it thinks it will look like: black cat in a coalbin at midnight.
The fix: set d8 to off. Now the brightness of the finder is decoupled from your exposure settings. When some flashes are attached, Nikon helpfully does this for you.
Camera won’t focus using strobes
The Zx cameras autofocusing ability, both speed and accuracy, are affected by finder brightness. If the image in the finder is too dark, the camera’s AF will struggle. This is to some extent true of other MILCs, but not so much as in the Zx cameras.
The fix: as above, set d8 to off.
Camera won’t focus in dim light
Same issue as above if you’re underexposing much at all, which you are likely to do, especially at high ISOs, since the Zx cameras are essentially ISOless there.
The fix: as above, set d8 to off.
The all-electronic shutter of the Z7 takes about 1/16 second to make it all the way across the sensor. If your lighting source varies during that time you may see stripes or bands across the image, running in the long direction. The Z6 silent shutter is a bit faster. But in either case, you are likely to see the bands unless you take some precautions.
The fix: If you’re not doing stage photography, it is likely that the flicker of your lights occurs at twice your mains frequency (60 Hz in the States, 50 Hz in Europe. Elsewhere, consult this table: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mains_electricity_by_country). If you’re in a 60 Hz country, set your camera to 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, or slower, and you’ll probably be OK. If you’re in a 50 Hz country, set your camera to 1/100, 1/50, 1/25 or slower, and things will likely work out well. Test before committing yourself to a shutter speed.
This is also called banding, but it’s different in cause and in effect. The bands occur in the long direction, but the scale is much smaller than lighting banding, repeating about every 12 rows. The current theory is that it is caused by overexuberant correction of a phenomenon in most MILCs with PDAF abilities called PDAF striping. Large extremes in brightness across the frame seem to trigger it, and it is seen as thin dark stripes in the shadow regions after pushing in postproduction.
The fix: There are many ways to deal with this. Here’s the easiest: don’t push the shadows of your images a lot. That’s probably good enough for 95-99% of the photographers out there. Are you one of the 1-5%? Then download RawTherapee – it’s free. There is a fix there that was originally created to deal with PDAF striping that also works on shadow banding.
The Live histogram is MIA
Say you took my advice above and turned d8 off. Now you can’t see the live histogram. What’s up?
The live histogram is derived from the finder preview image. If the preview image doesn’t represent the brightness of the expected capture, then the histogram will be wrong. Rather than show you a wrong histogram, Nikon — wisely IMHO — suppresses it. I think this is far better than what Sony does, which is to show you a histogram that is in every possible way bogus.
The fix: Toggle d8. Put it in your quick menu; you’re going to be switching back and forth a lot.
A few more from Horshack:
Annoying clicking sound when switching between image review and shooting
This is caused by Nikon engaging its IBIS sensor lock when you leave shooting mode. You can stop this by disabling IBIS (assuming the shooting conditions permit disabling IBIS)
Getting rangefinder to display in AF/AF-S mode
Normally the digital rangefinder is only visible in MF mode – when you switch to AF-S mode the digital rangefinder disappears. You can still override AF-S and focus manually by turning the focus ring but the rangefinder won’t be available to aid in focus. I accidentally discovered a way to get it to show in AF-S mode. Do one of the following:
- Press and hold AF-ON before turning the focus ring (downside is that it triggers AF first before you start manually focusing)
- Or, if you don’t want the AF to be triggered, start turning the focus ring first and while still turning it press and hold AF-ON button
Doing either will show both the digital rangefinder and the on-screen focus distance scale.
Lens corrections automatically applied by LR/ACR
Lightroom/ACR automatically apply lens corrections for Nikon S lenses. The profile for such corrections is embedded by Nikon in the raw files, and Adobe doesn’t provide any method to disable the corrections. However, you can disable the corrections by deleting the profile from the raw file.
Nikon embeds lens correction profiles for Z lenses in the Z7 raws. ACR automatically applies those built-in corrections, with no way to disable that behavior. However you can disable them by stripping out the profile from a raw converted to DNG before importing the DNG into ACR/LR, which can be done via exiftool -OpcodeList3= <DNG filename> (space after equal sign).