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Getting a Nikon Z5 - compared to the Z50 or Z6

The Nikon Z5 was Nikon's attempt to make the Nikon Z full frame line attractive for amateurs. They had this 24MP full frame sensor which was already used in DSLRs and the Nikon Z mirrorless body. Why not try to make an attractive package from that? I think they did a good job.

The package is sold with a kit lens, usually the 12-50 F4.0-6.3, for around 1200€ in Europe. Nikon seems to have supply problems currently, like most manufacturers. But the camera is in stock in many places. As an example of the problems, the lens hood for the kit lens is not available since months. I got myself a replacement from a third-party source.

The Z line currently consists of the Z6, Z6-II, Z7, Z7-II and the Z9 full frame bodies, and the ZFC and Z50 APS-C sized sensors (DX versus FX). You can use the full frame lenses on the DX bodies. But the other way around, you experience a 50% crop, which reduced the Z5 to 12MP. The full frame bodies have in-body-stabilization (IBIS), and the ZFC and Z50 rely on the optical stabilization (VR) of the available DX lenses (which is actually perfect). 

Nikon Z5 40mm F8 ISO800

The next step up would be a Z6. The body is about 500€ more and does not have the dual card slot. With a nice 24-70 F4 kit lens, this adds to about 1900€. I talk about other differences below. The next step down would be the Z50. The body is about 400€ less. With a nice 12-50 F3.5-6.3 kit lens, you end at 900€. The decision should be based on your budget. You could buy a Z50 with a full frame lens and upgrade the body later.

This is an entry level pro-grade camera. So, it doesn't have an onboard flash. The Z50 has one. If you know how to use fill-flash, this could be an argument. Otherwise, you need the Nikon SB-500 flash for around 200€, or the smaller SB-400 if you still can find one. The full frame camera has an excellent low light performance, so you might not need a flash just for more light. But indirect flash and fill-flash are options you might want to consider. For indirect flash bouncing from a wall, you might want the SB-700 for around 205€.

Nikon Z5 40mm, F8, fill-flash

Some features of the Z6 and Z7 had to be left out. The most prominent ones are 

  • the fully working 4K video,
  • the small shoulder LCD, 
  • the display with higher resolution, 
  • high burst speed,
  • high AF speed in low light,
  • an infrared sensor for remote control.

Otherwise, not many compromises were made. The camera has even two slots for SD cards, missing in the S6 and S7. You have to go for the S6-II and S7-II to get two slots, and then you get one for the expensive XQD cards. It was a wise move to have two SD slots on the Z5. 

Nikon Z5 24-50mm F16

You will have to decide if the missing features are worth the additional cash. Or you might spare the money and spend it on lenses instead. Lenses determine the results more than the camera.

Here are some considerations for you to decide between the Z5 and the higher and models.

  • The Z5 has a slower burst speed than the Z6 or Z7, as well as a slower AF in low light. If you shoot sports, especially indoors, the Z6 might be a better choice. Or you can stick with an older full frame DSRL for that purpose. You might get a used one with a good lens for the same money as the Z5 with a kit lens. Under most conditions, however, the AF is perfect.
  • If you want to do 4K movies, maybe in slow motion, this camera is not for you. It will crop 4K and go only to 30 FPS. It does full HD just perfectly with 60FPS.
  • If you are a professional, you will want to have two card slots. The Z5 offers those, but not the Z6 or Z7. You need to go to the Z6-II and Z7-II.
  • If you are a professional doing huge prints, you may opt for the Z7 line because of the higher MP count. For all normal prints, 24MP is enough.
Nikon Z5 24-50mm F13 iSO800

In the following, some things the Z5 can do, and many other cameras can't.

  • The noise levels, dynamic range and colors of the sensor are fantastic. Coming from APS-C, you will experience much cleaner images with more room to fix exposure or colors from the RAW file. That is true to an even higher degree if you come from MFT or another small sensor. If you are not using RAW, I'd recommend an APS-C instead like the Nikon Z50/ZFC or a Fuji camera. You will not be able to exploit the full potential of this camera using its JPEG only. But developing the RAW images of this camera is a joy. I'd say, you can select ISO1600 without hesitation. You can even remove the noise and keep the details if needed.
  • The camera is an entry point to Nikon's expensive but extraordinary line of Z lenses. The reason why these lenses surpass previous products is the newly designed Z mount. The S lenses are a class by itself, but the other Z lenses are superb too. The kit lens is either a 24-50 F4-F6.3 or a 24-70 F4 lens. Especially the latter can be recommended. For more reach, but also more size, there is the 24-200 F4-6.3 which is just as good in the 24-70 range. It is a perfect travel lens. There is a cheap, good and compact 40mm F2. The 50mm F1.8 S is simply outstanding, but at around half the price of the camera. There is also a 24-70 F2.8 lens, but it is so expensive that it recommends itself for a Z6-II or better. Moreover, the big mount allows third-party adapters, and I am sure there will be more to come, as well as native lenses. Currently, there is the FTZ adapter for Nikon's F lenses opening the complete like of FX and DX lenses for the F mount, including third-party lenses, and the TZE adapter for Sony E lenses.
  • I found the design of the body perfect for my hands. The wheels and buttons are all easy to reach, the grip is deep, the display can tilt enough for my taste (but not forward for vlogging). Personally, do not care for flipping displays. They tend to confuse me. The EVF is easy to reach with the eye, has a great resolution and shows 100%. The display is good enough, although the Z6 has a better resolution. I would not hesitate to recommend the camera for a good handling.
  • Another topic is, how well a camera can be configured. The Nikon Z5 does a pretty good job here. I sometimes wished that some buttons have more options. The custom modes U1-3 work well. That comes with some warning that I discuss below.
  • The camera can be used with Nikon's lightning system. It doesn't have an onboard flash, which I used on the D7500 as a master for off-body flashes. You will have to buy the SB-700 for this purpose or the SU-800 command unit for external flashes. I have an inexpensive SB-400 to carry around, but my old SB-600 works just well too. Actually, I rarely flash on this camera because the low light performance is so good. But one should not ignore the option to fill-flash.
  • HD video is perfect, and the AF works well. There are cameras which focus faster and more exact, but I did not have any complaints about the Nikon. The videos are well stabilized due to the IBIS. For 4K, I recommend a higher Z-level.
  • Talking about image stabilization, the internal IBIS can work together with the VR lenses and provide five and more stops of stabilization. The 24-50 kit lens is not VR. It does profit from the IBIS, however, and I can get three stops without any problems. I am not a steady shooter.

There are also a few things that I do not like.

  • Configurability is too restricted. Only the two buttons can be configured almost to anything. Four more buttons on the body have only a restricted choice of options. Nikon seems to try to protect the user from misconfiguration. If you have a lens with buttons, you get a few more options. The display can only cycle through fixed sets, which cannot be configured. One of them is a replacement for the shoulder LCD. It is meant to be used with the EVF for old style shooting. But why not show the image when the user taps the shutter button once?
  • I never use the multi selector (around the OK button) to select focus, since there is the stick. So why not let me configure those buttons to do something else in shooting mode?
  • Speaking of the tracking button, the default sets this to the OK button. To delete the track, you have to press Minus or tap the screen. If you set the tracking to FN1, it works as a toggle, as it should be. The OK button can be reconfigured to zoom 100%, which is a nice feature.
  • The custom settings U1-3 are great to have. They reset the camera to a fixed state, including aperture, exposure and ISO. All settings are saved (with some strange exceptions). However, you may wish to transfer settings (like custom definitions of buttons) from one custom setting to another. For this, you have to transfer everything, including the M/A/S/P mode, and you cannot change the mode while in a custom setting. I found that very annoying.
  • The camera has an AUTO mode. But why not give the user a bit of control in this mode? One would at least like to have exposure control. I would also like to see a scenery choice to help new users. The AUTO mode is simply thriving for low exposure times to help the user get sharp images. This leads to high ISO choices and wide apertures with shallow DOF.

This is all complaining at a very high level. So far, the camera has been a great tool for me and a joy to use. Coming from a DSLR, I had to adapt a few habits. I am now using the display instead of bending and stretching. The EVF is reserved for special situations like harsh light, shooting at exactly eye level, or when maximum stability is required. You should not ignore the option to display a life histogram for perfect exposure. But the exposure preview of the image itself is a big help.

If you are serious about full frame and have the money for the Nikon lenses, this may be a good start. You can upgrade to a Z6 or Z7, or the new Z9, at any time. If you come from these cameras, the Z5 looks like a good backup camera for commercial shooting.

Finally, I take the opportunity to recommend the book by Stephan Haase on the Nikon Z5. I promise you'll find things that you did not know.

Have fun!

Nikon Z5, 85mm F2.5


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