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Why I Switched to Mirrorless

I’ve shot with Nikon cameras for something like 35 years, during which time I’ve gone through a progression of camera bodies and lenses that ranged from film into the digital domain of the current era. Until last year, I was shooting with a D850, with the D810 as a backup. Both are outstanding cameras. In fact, the D850—which is a full frame body that delivers 45.7 megapixels of resolution—has been described as the best DSLR on the market. So, if I had such beautiful DSLR bodies, why did I decide to give them up and go with mirrorless? And after all is said and done, was the changeover worth it?

The D850 had all the advanced features I wanted: high resolution, focus stacking (Nikon calls this focus shifting), and good battery life. Though it’s not Nikon’s top professional DSLR, for many pros and advanced amateurs it’s a dream camera.

But along came mirrorless bodies, first by Sony and Panasonic, as well as other brands. However, given my investment in Nikon glass, I was not tempted to switch. One of the last to enter the mirrorless market, Nikon finally introduced their own line of full frame mirrorless cameras that could use legacy F-mount lenses. Still, I resisted. But eventually, I sold the D810 and bought a Z7 that offered the same 45.7 megapixels as the D850.

Nikon’s mirrorless line has several advantages that attracted me. First, the mirrorless cameras weigh a lot less than the D850, 20.7 oz. vs. 32.3 oz. The Z7 body is slightly smaller. The arrangement of dials and buttons, while somewhat different, is nonetheless familiar. The menu system also builds on the one Nikon has been using on its DSLRs.

One of the real advantages of Nikon’s mirrorless cameras is the fact that the viewpoint is switchable, through the viewfinder when your eyes are positioned there, automatically switching to the LCD screen when your eye is removed. Exposure and other data are viewable both on the LCD screen and, conveniently, through the viewfinder. The view of the scene in both the viewfinder and on the LCD screen shows a jpeg rendering of the exposure and white balance you set, which helps you understand when an exposure adjustment might help.  You can even set the camera to display the histogram in the viewfinder so you can assess the exposure before making the photo.

Because there’s no mirror, there is no mirror slap during exposures, removing a source of vibration and thus improving photo quality and sharpness. Both the Z7 and its smaller sister the Z6 have automated focus stacking and exposure bracketing that supports HDR. Both cameras accept all Nikon F-mount lenses using an adapter for the new Z mount in the camera’s body. Nikon has released several Z-mount lenses that offer lighter weight and improved sharpness, with more on the way. A variety of third party adapters are available to let you mount lenses from other brands.

Eventually, liking the Z7, I also sold my D850 and purchased the 24.5 megapixel Z6, a full frame body offering the same functions as the Z7.

I don’t use the video functions of these cameras, but it’s my understanding that video has been greatly improved in these mirrorless bodies.

So much for the good points. On the other side of the ledger, there are some things to note in the negative column. First, both the Z7 and Z6 lack some features that earlier DSLRs had. There is no on-body flash.  Battery life is shorter, in part because of the constant drain of the electronic viewfinder and rear LCD. The cameras require the new XQD cards that the D850 also used. While these are better and faster, they are also more expensive and require a new card reader. The cameras have only one card slot so there’s no card for overflow or backup, a situation Nikon has fixed with its recent releases of the Z7II and Z6II. There’s no depth of field button, though one of the function buttons can be programmed to perform this function. Some legacy lenses won’t work in autofocus mode; this is particularly true of the 200mm micro lens, which means this lens can’t be used for automated focus stacking, which requires lenses capable of operating with autofocus. While third-party adapters are available for many non-Nikon lenses, there are gaps in what can be used. In short, there are some inconveniences and consequences to put up with.

So given these pros and cons, where do I come out? Overall, I’m glad I made the switch. In my mind, the benefits greatly outweigh the disadvantages. While I loved the D850, I frankly find I had to give up little—other than focus stacking with the 200mm micro lens—to go with the Z7 and Z6.

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