Nikon Z7 Vs D850 For Wildlife

By | 01/11/2022
Photo of the view from Te Mata Peak, Hawkes Bay. Nikon Z7 is a very capable and convenient landscape camera body.
View from Te Mata Superlative, Hawkes Bay. Nikon Z7 is a very capable and convenient landscape photographic camera body.

I have used Nikon DSLRs since 2004 when the D70 arrived. Over the years I take enjoyed the D200, D300, D700 (a favourite of mine and even so, I call up ane of the all time great cameras), D3s, D800, D810, and most recently D500 and D850. Each has been an evolution of the previous and for my preferred bird in flying photography the D500 and D850 accept been spookily good with Grouping area AF.

Photo of a White-faced Heron in flight
White-faced Heron in flight. Nikon D850 is the perfect tool for this blazon of photography.

Since 2012 I have run a parallel system with Fuji cameras then am not entirely new to mirrorless cameras. The quirky but lovely X100, X100s and currently my X100F with hybrid Rangefinder/EVF and the XT1 and now XT3 as pure mirrorless bodies. I have really enjoyed the meaty size and image quality (especially out of photographic camera JPG images) from the Fuji cameras for travel and street photography. Unlike my Nikons that alive in manual manner, the Fujis live in aperture priority fashion with exposure compensation – different tools for different jobs.

As has been widely discussed in innumerable articles and podcasts, Nikon and Canon were slow to the mirrorless political party (in larger format sensors, the Nikon i serial being a mirrorless system with smaller sensors). Personally having used both DSLR and mirrorless cameras, I didn’t quite get the issue that Nikon and Catechism were being criticised for. I knew from my experience with both systems that there were things a DSLR could practice that a mirrorless couldn’t that just made information technology a more versatile tool for nigh photographic jobs. It seemed to me that the loudly touted advantages of mirrorless were more than of a marketing consequence than a existent benefit when taking into business relationship the drawbacks of mirrorless. When Nikon finally appear their Z6 and Z7 mirrorless bodies I struggled to see the place for them as they were in many ways not quite as good every bit the current Nikon DSLRs. At that place was no temptation for me to fifty-fifty trial ane as a replacement for my D500/D850 setup.

My recent exploration of macro photography inverse that. Struggling with an optical viewfinder to gauge sharpness while shooting image stacks for focus stacking revealed the game changing benefits of focus peaking. This led me downwardly a path of wanting to get a mirrorless trunk purely for macro work, specifically focus stacking.

Photo of a female Vagrant Spider (Uliodon spp) and Springtail
Female Vagrant Spider (Uliodon spp) and Springtail. 8 stacked images assembled in Helicon Focus.

The simplest pick would take been an entry level torso as all macro needs is manual settings. The Canon system is definitely ameliorate catered for in the macro sphere with more than OEM and third party options for lenses and flashes. Nikon’south sole dedicated macro flash arrangement runs on dispensable batteries which is less than platonic. This tempted me to await at Canon merely I was reluctant to give up the gorgeous high resolution D850 sensor with the benefits information technology offers. I physically played with a Catechism R6 and hated it. This is no reflection on the Catechism only more on the depth of my ingrained muscle memory. Nothing seemed in the right place, the controls weren’t intuitive to me and fifty-fifty the shutter release felt as though information technology was in the wrong position. It seemed teaching an old Nikon canis familiaris new tricks was a span too far. Added to that was the fact that to reach the high resolution I wanted, I would have had to spring for a R5 and that price merely did non make sense for a purely macro system.

I decided to stick with Nikon and explore their mirrorless options. The Z5 seemed quite good value just the recently released Z7ii was simply too expensive to justify for macro when it would not be as capable equally my D850 in other areas. While intensively pondering and researching options I found an splendid deal on a brand new Nikon Z7, slightly over half the new price despite being a legitimate import through one of our largest technology bondage. It seemed too good to pass up a Z7 for non much more than the toll of a Z5 so I placed an guild to collect it on our way out of Auckland where we had spent the weekend. On collecting the camera I found that it included a $400 memory card which made the deal fifty-fifty better than I had thought it was.

What swayed my decision on the Z7 was that I could employ all my existing lenses, flashes and memory cards then the camera may end up not only being useful for macro. Having now used it for over a calendar month I have some initial impressions about the Nikon Z7 vs Nikon D850.

Firstly for its planned macro apply information technology is everything I had hoped for. High resolution sensor and game-irresolute (almost cheating as my friend puts it!) focus peaking makes image stacking much easier and more successful. If that’south where it stopped I would be over the moon but having used it during a calendar week away travelling I have discovered another strengths of the Nikon Z7. My initial impression was that I preferred the D850 for everything except macro. That has evolved to the indicate that I would almost be happy with the Z7 for everything except birds in flight. If I could have but one it would exist the D850 equally information technology is a more than versatile tool (except for macro!). Sensors are substantially the same although the D850 has some marginal benefits as it information technology doesn’t have to include focussing pixels within the array.

Good things about the Nikon Z7 vs Nikon D850

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

The EVF has some definite advantages. Giving a
preview of exposure, including histogram, can be useful when working in transmission or machine exposure modes. Having worked manually since the days of pic, I don’t find this a game changer just it can be helpful. For someone but taking upward photography it is a massive do good.

I have e’er loved the big vivid D850 viewfinder but when the calorie-free levels drop the Z7 EVF remains large and vivid.

The EVF can also be gear up to not display a preview of exposure. This is neat for macro at night where y’all tin can have a brilliant view for limerick when relying on flash to provide lite for exposing the image. It is also useful for landscape photography when using heavy neutral density filters to reach long exposures. Even with exposure preview on I was able to apply focus peaking to accurately focus a scene through a x stop ND filter on a clouded day. With the D850 this would take required focus with the filter off, locking focus manually and reattaching the filter to the tripod mounted camera.

Photo of Maraetotara Falls
Maraetotara Falls – 30s exposure with 10 stop ND filter. Easy manual focus with focus peaking on the Z7 even with the filter in place

Nikon Z7 EVF has definite benefits for macro and landscape photography.

In Body Prototype Stabilisation (IBIS)

IBIS is a game changer. Vibration reduction lenses are great but IBIS is ameliorate, especially with VR lenses. Handheld shots just not possible with a DSLR can exist achieved with a mirrorless body. Handheld waterfall blurs I would not even attempt with a DSLR are achievable.

Photo of Waipunga Falls
Handheld prototype of Waipunga Falls. 1/10s at 73mm in the wind. I would have little expectation of a sharp image with DSLR only this was one of many precipitous shots.

Photo of Napier Daily Telegraph building at dusk
Napier Daily Telegraph building at dusk 1/10s 24mm. Without IBIS I would take looked for something to brace against limiting compositional options

Image stabilisation is of no assistance with moving subjects and then little benefit for bird photography except stationary birds. Definite advantage to the Z7 for mural and travel/street photography.

Size and Weight

The Z7 is significantly smaller and lighter than the D850, especially as I use the D850 with battery grip for improved frame rate. The D850 is non a travel camera for this reason. You need to consciously make up one’s mind to take it for a reason. The Z7 with the Nikon 24-200mm lens is definitely a travel/street photography option as information technology is relatively small and low-cal.


The Nikon Z has some unlike autofocus modes and more developed face and middle tracking autofocus (including for animals) that covers a larger area of the sensor. This is non something I take used much still and is of express do good in the work I do but could be useful for travel, portraits, family/pet photos.

Bad things about the Nikon Z7 vs Nikon D850

Many of the good things about the Z7 vs D850 are too bad things and vice versa

Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)

A iii.67 million dot OLED EVF will never match the 576 megapixel resolution and dynamic range of human vision through a pentaprism and even with my ageing optics I can notice a big departure. Practically the biggest issue for me is when photographing birds I am looking for catchlights in their eyes before shooting and the EVF is just not equally reliable in showing this. EVF lag and coma is much improved from my initial Fuji XT1 feel but once again an optical viewfinder (OVF) is far superior for tracking birds in flying.

Some other very meaning issue is being able to identify distant birds through an optical viewfinder. When out photographing birds I do not carry binoculars as they but add complexity. My 500mm lens gives the magnification of a 10x binocular. I simply utilize my camera to locate and identify distant birds. When using the Z7 the resolution of the EVF does not permit me to do this. If I take a photograph and preview on the LCD the resolution is in that location to differentiate species but not through the viewfinder. This is a deal breaker for me and I but cannot recommend a mirrorless body for most bird photography.

DSLR OVF significant advantage for bird photography

Size and Weight

For me a downside the the smaller Z7 is that information technology just doesn’t fit my hand as well. My picayune finger drops off below the grip to the betoken that I have added a SmallRig bracket to improve the treatment. This obviously adds a footling weight simply has benefits for mural photography as I at present have a Arca-Swiss compatible L bracket that makes tripod use very easy.

I merely find that the D850 with grip balances and handles better with the lenses I use for bird photography.


I have my D850 and D500 prepare identically for bird photography with straight access to 2 unlike focus modes for flying and static birds. The real large advantage for me was the Grouping AF for birds in flying and sadly this is ane focus mode that the Nikon mirrorless cameras exercise not have.

Photo of Little Pied Shag
Perched Kawau paka/Little Shag. Photographed with Nikon D850 just the Z7 would do just as well for this blazon of static paradigm.

The Nikon D850 is just a better tool for photographing birds in flying. I remember Nikon Z7 would be fine for static birds just you lot just never know when i will fly past making the D850 a improve option for bird photography.

Photo of a male mallard duck coming in to land
Male Mallard coming in to country. Bread and butter for the Nikon D850 in Group Area AF way. I would accept petty confidence in the Z7 in this scenario

Battery life

Because ability is required to run the EVF battery bleed for mirrorless cameras is higher than with DSLRs. This is offset a little past non needing power to move a mirror but in real terms mirrorless bleed batteries faster. I would feel insecure without a spare battery available for my Z7 whereas with the D850 it is never an issue. This is a bit of an unfair comparing as the D850 lives mostly with a grip and big battery on it simply even when using it without the grip I have non needed to change the battery during a solar day of use. For most uses the Z7 would probably last a twenty-four hour period with ease. If I didn’t already take spares interchangeable from my DSLRs I would want a spare battery for the Z7 in my photographic camera bag set up to get.

Deadening to wake

Compared to a DSLR the Z7 is wearisome to wake when switched on or in power save shutdown. Information technology takes while to be prepare subsequently switching on or half printing of the shutter. I believe that is has improved with the Z7ii only is still not as rapid as a DSLR which is almost immediately fix to go when switched on.

Unmarried Card Slot

Having a single XQD carte du jour slot was widely mentioned as a large issue when the Z7 and Z6 were announced. With firmware upgrades these are now also compatible with CFexpress cards. The single slot is not a big issue for me equally even with dual slots I have them gear up for overflow. I accept only e’er had card bug with one pair of Lexar CF cards and used to utilize backup on the dual carte slots of my D3s for that reason. Using Sandisk SD and Sony XQD cards I have never had menu problems. For bird work if I am working with rare species/behaviours such as Fairy Terns/Rockwrens/Blue Ducks I may set up 2 cards to back-up merely is it’s not my default setup as I have had no reason not to trust my cards. Back in the days of film we simply had one roll at a time. This issue has besides been addressed with the Nikon Z6ii and Z6ii which have dual card slots like the D500 and D850.

Summary Nikon Z7 vs Nikon D850

This is obviously an evolving space. Mirrorless cameras are the futurity and take significant theoretical advantages in terms of size and weight. A large office of this weight event is when in combination with shorter focal length lenses that tin can take advantage of a shorter flange distance of the mirrorless pattern. For longer lenses it is far less pregnant. Frame charge per unit is potentially much higher with no need to suit mechanically moving a mirror rapidly. Focussing will improve and Nikon is currently playing catch-up with Sony and Canon in this surface area. This will improve to surpass what DSLRs currently offer.

My feeling is that currently mirrorless cameras have more advantages than DSLRs for full general photography only there are even so things that they cannot do likewise as a DSLR does. Nikon mirrorless bodies can do some things for me more easily than DSLRs tin can and some things that DSLRs can’t practice – focus peaking for macro and ND landscape, merely equally DSLRs can practise some things that mirrorless cannot – birds in flight with more command and accuracy.

If I was ownership a new camera today and wasn’t obsessed with birds in flight, I would buy mirrorless. As it is I volition enjoy using the all-time tool for the job at hand. DSLR for birds, action, sport and mirrorless for macro, travel and landscape. For portraits either would exercise though I suspect afterward exploring eye AF more I would settle on the Z7 for this.

What would information technology take for me to change my D500/D850 setup for a mirrorless body? Realistically an autofocus setting as good as or improve than Group area AF and an EVF that allowed good tracking of birds in flight. If that were achieved I would forgo the OVF resolution/dynamic range benefits of a DSLR. I am looking forward to seeing what the Nikon Z9 brings but realistically the Z9ii volition probably exist more interesting.

Bird photos with Nikon D850 and Nikkor 500mm f5.6PF lens. Landscape/urban photos with Nikon Z7 and Nikkor Z 24-200mm f4-6.3 lens. Macro photograph with Nikon Z7 and Micro Nikkor 60mm f2.8G lens with Kenko 12mm auto extension tube.