Wildlife photographers depend on their gear just like any other genre of photography. One notable difference is the elements. To have the patience to wait for animals and birds for photography is not for everyone. Often, the climate is wet, cold or very hot and the gear needs to be able to function in all kinds of situations. My primary body for wildlife is the Nikon D5. I know and trust that bodies ability to handle what I throw at it. That brings me to the topic of today’s post. Is the Nikon Z6 or Z7 a suitable wildlife camera?
All Z-mount lenses have a gasket around their flange that seals against the camera’s flange, to prevent any water from getting inside via that route. If you have hands on or looked at the Z-mount lenses themselves, they also have internal sealing of a similar level to that in the camera bodies. The camera has a full magnesium-alloy shell and it was built to withstand pretty much any kind of weather.
When it comes to ergonomics, Nikon decided to design the Z-series mirrorless cameras from scratch in order to make them as compact as possible, while taking into account its DSLR ergonomic and handling experience. As a result, the Nikon Z-series cameras are indeed superb ergonomically, providing a familiar Nikon experience to the end user. The grip on the camera is deep and comfortable when holding for longer periods trying to compose and capture critters and birds.
The rear of the camera is familiar to my DSLR. To the left of the EVF, you can find the traditional playback and trash buttons that are present on many of the modern Nikon DSLRs. On the side of the EVF you will find the “Monitor mode button” that allows switching between different modes. There are four total modes to choose from: “Automatic display switch” (which automatically switches between the EVF and the LCD), “Viewfinder only”, “Monitor only” and “Prioritize viewfinder” to simulate DSLR behavior, where the EVF is off unless you put your eye into the viewfinder and the LCD remains off unless you shoot a video, play back an image or turn on the camera menu. See the “Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)” section below for more information about the EVF quality, behavior and issues that we have found in the field.
On the right side of the EVF there is a diopter adjustment control dial. Nikon did a good job with making sure that the diopter does not get turned by accident. In order to adjust the diopter, you need to first pull it out, then rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to make adjustments. Keep in mind that it is also possible to adjust the brightness levels of the EVF. By default, the EVF is not set up to be very bright, so if you find that it looks too dark for your eyes, you should boost the brightness level up from the camera menu.
To the right of the viewfinder, there is a switch for toggling between stills and movie modes and the middle of the switch has a “DISP” button that is used for switching between different display modes in the viewfinder and the rear LCD. While I can understand that Nikon decided to put the DISP button here in order to make it easier to switch between different types of information in the viewfinder, I personally find the placement of the button to be a bit out of place. Nikon should have made a much smaller “DISP” button for toggling between different information and it should have been placed to the left of the EVF, right below the viewfinder mode button. The current “DISP” button could then be replaced with the missing AE-L / AF-L button or a programmable function button. Just my personal preference.
In the field, the mirroless performed well and grabbed onto focus quickly with all lenses I tested including the Nikkor 180-400mm, the 70-200 f/4and the Nikkor 500mm f5.6. On CH with the frame rate of 12 fps, it was able to capture birds in flight and animals running at a full sprint without issues.
One issue that bothered my was the balance with the tele-photo lens on. It took me some time to get use to the weight begin farther down the barrel with the Z6 attached. The balance felt better to me with the D5 on and that may just be because I use that more often and the muscle memory is just acclimated to the D5. I also had to adjust the Wimberly head given the difference in weight with the Z6 The only issue regarding the weather that I have come across is the touch-screen. At times when wet, this feature become either unresponsive or very unreliable when wet. This is likely because the water greatly changes the capacitance of your fingertip, so the electronics have a hard time telling where you’re pressing, if they’re able to detect a touch at all. You need to set your camera up in such a way that you’re not relying on the touch-screen to operate it, if you expect it to get wet while shooting.
All in all the camera performed well and I would not hesitate to use this in rain, snow or extreme conditions. Overall this camera could be used for wildlife and will produce some really nice images.
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