Which Nikon Z mirrorless camera is right for you? See all of them compared

Jun 12, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Which Nikon Z mirrorless camera is right for you? See all of them compared

Jun 12, 2023

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Nikon was one of the last to join the world of serious mirrorless cameras. Sure, they had the Nikon 1 system, but that doesn’t really count. Their first full-frame mirrorless camera announcement was at Photokina 2018. Since then, the company’s announced ten more full-frame and APS-C cameras. But which one is right for you?

What might be an advantage for one person may be a disadvantage for another, and vice versa. In this video, photographer Matt Irwin looks at all of them, from the lowest entry-level Nikon Z30 (buy here) to the flagship Nikon Z9 (buy here). He compares the benefits and pitfalls of each to help you decide which one you should go for.

YouTube video

Who are the APS-C bodies targeted towards?

Nikon seems to have shifted in stance with their transition from DSLRs to mirrorless cameras. They don’t see any of their APS-C cameras as being for professional use anymore. At least, not with the bodies that currently exist they don’t. There’s no mirrorless equivalent of the Nikon D500 or the D7x00 series, and there have been no hints that one is coming.

In the APS-C range, we’ve got the lowest level Nikon Z30, which isn’t quite as inexpensive as the old D3x00 series, but generally tends to sit at about the same level. It definitely offers some improvements over the D3x00 series, including faster and more accurate autofocus with Eye AF. They can also shoot 4K 30p video and 1080p at up to 120 frames per second. Next up, there’s the Nikon Z50 (buy here) and the Nikon Z fc (buy here). These two cameras are largely identical, but with the latter sitting in a more retro-styled body.

Nikon Z30, Nikon Z50, Nikon Z fc
Left to right: Nikon Z30, Nikon Z50, Nikon Z fc

All three APS-C models are generally targeted towards beginners, hobbyists and enthusiasts that aren’t going to be shooting for money. Sure, a professional may pick one of these up for specific tasks, but that task usually means acting as a personal camera. After all, photographers want to get good holiday snaps, too. The Z fc also works very well as a street photography and travel camera thanks to its appearance.

All three of them, though, are very similar to each other with minor specs. The Z30, for example, lacks the EVF and popup flash of the Z50. This helps to keep the cost down without being a disadvantage to those who are used to tapping away and watching a smartphone camera screen. The Z fc also lacks the popup flash of the Z50 but does contain an EVF. If you’re going to be using only ambient light, particularly for things like street photography, it’s a great option.

One downfall of Nikon’s APS-C bodies – at least for me – is that they lack a wired remote shutter port. For most people, this won’t be an issue. But if, like me, you bought a bunch of Nikon APS-C DSLRs for shooting timelapse and want to replace them with mirrorless bodies, you’ll have to step up to full-frame if you want to use wired intervalometers. If this hadn’t been the case, I’d have already sold all my Nikon DSLRs and bought a handful of Z fc bodies to replace them.

What about full-frame Nikon Z?

With Nikon’s full-frame Z mount bodies, the use cases become a little more scattered. Each camera is typically tailored towards a specific audience. Although full-frame, the Nikon Z5 (buy here) is still an entry-level body. It’s a decent overall camera designed to provide the most possible versatility to the average user at an affordable price. Despite being entry-level, it’s still a very capable camera.

The Nikon Z5 has a 24.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with a base ISO range of 100-51,200, letting you shoot in a wide range of lighting conditions. It has a 273-point autofocus system with Eye Detection AF to help ensure sharpness, even with moving subjects – both human and animal. It shoots 4K video at up to 30 frames per second and 1080p at up to 60 frames per second. It shoots up to 4.5 frames per second raw stills, and for macro and landscape photographers, you get a 300-shot Focus Shift mode for image stacking in post. It also features dual UHS-II SD card slots to shoot backups while you go.

Nikon Z5, Nikon Z6 II, Nikon Z7 II
Left to right: Nikon Z5, Nikon Z6 II, Nikon Z7 II

The Z6/Z6 II (buy here) and Z7/Z7 II (buy here) are the first real entries into the professional world. Both are designed to be daily workhorses. The Z6/Z6 II is a fantastic all-rounder for a lot of genres such as photography, including weddings, portraits, or events. It has a 24.5-megapixel sensor, with 10fps 14-bit raw stills shooting, 4K video at up to 60 frames per second, 10-bit 4:2:2 output over HDMI. It sports a whole array of features with a build quality that working professionals demand.

The Z7/Z7 II steps up the Z6/Z6 II with a much higher resolution 45.7-megapixel sensor. It also has a lower base ISO, bringing the lower limit down to ISO 64. It also has almost double the number of focus points to help ensure accuracy throughout the frame. In most other respects, it’s pretty much identical to the Z6/Z6 II, albeit a couple of frames per second slower during continuous shooting. For fine art photographers, high-end portraits and landscapes that will be printed big, the Z7/Z7 II is probably the better option out of these two.

Nikon Z8, Nikon Z9
Left to right: Nikon Z8, Nikon Z9

The Nikon Z8 (buy here) is the most recent body announcement from Nikon. Like the Z7 II, it contains a 45.7-megapixel sensor, but this one’ as BSI CMOS sensor. Hypothetically this means less noise and better high ISO performance. It also comes with a whole lot more speed and capability than the Z7 II possesses. It shoots 8K raw video at up to 60 frames per second, and 45.7-megapixel raw stills at up to 20 frames per second.

It contains Nikon’s latest technology, including the fast Expeed 7 processor that’s found in Nikon’s flagship mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z9 (buy here). If you’re still not sure which camera you want to buy, then this is almost certainly not the camera you want to buy. Yes, it contains all of Nikon’s high-end bells and whistles. It shoots 8K raw video, 45.7-megapixel raw stills at up to 30 frames per second, and has a built-in vertical grip. But if you don’t know precisely why you want to buy the Nikon Z9, you don’t need to buy the Nikon Z9.

Matt goes a lot more in-depth in his video at the top into some of the specs, differences and advantages of each body over the other than this article covers. And it’s a long video, coming in at almost 43 minutes. But if you’re really stuck and don’t know which one to buy, or perhaps you’ve already got an entry-level APS-C body and want to see what your options are for stepping up to full-frame, it’s well worth a watch!

Which Nikon Z body will you buy first? Which did you buy first?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “Which Nikon Z mirrorless camera is right for you? See all of them compared”

  1. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    After using Nikon p&s compact bridge cameras for the past decade, a couple years ago I ventured into my 1st changeable lens system with the Z5 24-50mm kit. I’ve since added the z mc 50 & 28mm lenses. Last summer I decided on adding the Z6II body to my bag as I sorely needed it for school theater as the main use, though I’ll sometimes use it when I need video. My snapbridge app is used probably more than my phone camera.

    I don’t see myself using the Z8 or Z9 and I’m satisfied with what I have (tight budget as well) so I won’t be getting the Z7/II either. I may rent them if I need them for a short term project.