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horvendile

Camera choice: Nikon D850 vs Z7

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Hi!

In a neighbouring thread I explore what wide-angle lens to use for a Nikon full frame system. I’m also thinking a lot (I mean really a lot) about what camera to use, which I hope to shed some light on in this thread.

 

But first, let me stipulate what this is not about! It’s not about cost. Cost will absolutely be a part of the final decision, yes. But this thread is only about camera merits. Likewise, lens choice is left out. Yes it’s very important, just not in this thread. At least not to begin with.

 

So, the contenders are the Nikon D850 and the Z7. The Z6 could possibly be an alternative, but for simplicity’s sake let’s keep it to D850 and Z7.

 

The following is my impression of the merits, divided into different aspects.

 

Sensor: to all practical purposes they have the same sensor. No meaningful difference.

 

Size and weight: The Z7 is about 300 g lighter. If I go with Sea & Sea I save another 100 g on the housing.

 

Autofocus: Very tricky to judge. The D850 has more refined and predictable AF. Probably often faster. Better 3D-tracking and more reliable for focusing on closest object. However, the underwater housings remove some of the ergonomic advantage of the D850 (it seems neither the AF joystick nor the front customizable buttons can be used) and the Z7 has much greater area coverage. And the Z7 AF doesn’t seem to be bad at all, just not as refined as the D850. Difficult for me to predict how important this is.

Also, the Z7 has workable movie AF. Stills are most important to me, but a movie now and then could be nice.

 

Speed: The D850 seems to be a bit quicker in operation, but that may be masked by the underwater conditions. I don’t think the bigger buffer and higher fps of the D850 will matter that much.

 

Viewfinder/screen: So far I have only used back LCD:s when diving. I haven’t had anything else. On land I normally use the eye viewfinder, but under water I can see some advantages with using the back LCD. With the camera system’s greater mass and lower weight under water compared to topside use camera shake from holding at arm’s length shouldn’t be that severe. Either way, the Z7 has a liveview mode with the same AF speed as using the viewfinder, which cannot be said for D850.

 

Stabilisation: All lenses will be stabilised on the Z7. When using strobes this is likely not important. When using available light in dark Swedish waters it may well be important.

 

Battery: D850 has longer battery life. Nice, but no big deal. I’m used to switching battery at least every two dives.

 

Flash sync: This may be unpleasant either way. I’m spoiled with flash sync at 1/2000 s on my LX100. D850 has 1/250 s, Z7 1/200 s. Could be an issue sometimes, though smaller apertures than I use on the LX100 may force me to lower shutter speeds anyway.

 

Summing up: Looking at it this way, Z7 has stabilisation of all lenses, liveview performance, weight and AF coverage going for it. The D850 has AF refinement, general speed, better battery life and slightly better flash sync. Have I forgotten anything important? Remember, lens choice and cost are disregarded for the moment.

 

Topside I trust myself to judge what’s important to me in a camera. Underwater, not so much. I’m just not experienced enough. Thus, experienced input is greatly valued!

 

You have been great so far. I’m hoping for some good feedback here also.

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I shoot a D810 underwater and will be taking my D850 underwater in a couple of weeks. Never used the Z7 or Z6.

 

What I look for now are advantages and limitations in a dive camera. For instance, my D850 should give me significant advantage over the D810 in terms of autofocus, particularly in dark conditions as well as when subject (or diver) is moving.

 

I've shot for many years with point-n-shoots that used the LCD instead of a viewfinder. I think overall that's an advantage. But I do like the viewfinder on the D810, and the D850's is better. No lag, but problems in low light.

 

The autofocus on the Z7 is supposed to be significantly better than the autofocus in the D850 in Live View / Video modes. Clear advantage there.

 

If the camera is a bit smaller, that doesn't hurt when it comes to packing a housing.

 

Disadvantages of the Z7? Hard for me to tell, but perhaps battery. I can easily go three dives with the D810 using the pop-up flash in TTL mode. The D850 should do better, partly because there is no pop-up flash. (Use a trigger instead).

 

I suspect Z7 video is better in a number of ways, but then if I were primarily shooting video I'd probably get a dedicated video camera.

 

IBIS - Lens choices are pretty limited, so I don't see this as a lot of advantage. For instance, my only non-VR diving lens is the 60mm micro, and I don't use it because it is too short on FX. My 16-35 and 105 micro both have VR. So for me, not an advantage.

Edited by phxazcraig

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Despite several advantages with the Z7 I'm currently inclined to go with the D850. One important reason is that while lens compatibility with the FTZ adapter is excellent for modern Nikon lenses, screw-drive autofocus does not work. I'm pretty sure the Sigma 15 mm fisheye is screw-drive, and I'm certain the 28-70 AF-D is, which happens to be the only zoom lens I know works with the Nauticam WACP. I wouldn't like to close that route. And we do know that the 24-70/4 S does not work with the WACP.

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D850 has some major advantages underwater if photography is your main focus.

  • OVF is much better for composing wide-angle shots than EVF/Screen which has limited dynamic range
  • Z7 focusing with the adapted 105mm for macro is pretty bad. D850 focusing for macro is class-leading, and 3D tracking is very useful in this scenario since you can't use the joystick or touchscreen underwater
  • 1/320 flash sync speed on the D850 vs 1/200 on the Z7 gives you 2/3 of a stop extra to play with in terms of lowering the background exposure for surburst-type WA shots

Only reason I'd consider the Z7 for underwater use is if video is a significant portion of what you do. Even then, I wouldn't consider it for the continuous autofocusing (which likely will not be reliable enough to use underwater) but merely for the sensor stabilization. That's quite nice to have for video. IMO, stabilized footage looks so much more professional/better.

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Despite several advantages with the Z7 I'm currently inclined to go with the D850. One important reason is that while lens compatibility with the FTZ adapter is excellent for modern Nikon lenses, screw-drive autofocus does not work. I'm pretty sure the Sigma 15 mm fisheye is screw-drive, and I'm certain the 28-70 AF-D is, which happens to be the only zoom lens I know works with the Nauticam WACP. I wouldn't like to close that route. And we do know that the 24-70/4 S does not work with the WACP.

The Sigma 15FE is a HyperSonic Motor, not screw drive. https://www.sigmaphoto.com/15mm-f28-ex-dg-diagonal-fisheye

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It is a simple equation...

 

Images of the most spectacular subject, beautifully lit and framed will not work if they are out of focus. Unlike landscape or studio photographers, it is rare for us to be able to go back and reshoot images that are out of focus.

 

I tried out the Z7 with the ZTF adaptor and the Nikkor 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5 and the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR.

 

http://wetpixel.com/articles/report-nikon-professional-roadshow-2019

 

The Z7's AF was disappointing.

 

The D5/D850 and D500 AFs are quite simply the best around.

 

If you want to save bulk and weight, I would go with the D500. In my opinion, it is still the best all-round underwater camera on the market.

 

Adam

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The Sigma 15FE is a HyperSonic Motor, not screw drive. https://www.sigmaphoto.com/15mm-f28-ex-dg-diagonal-fisheye

 

That very page says "Nikon Mount: NO built in motor lens".

In addition, DPReview says "Focus notes - screw drive for nikon mount" (https://www.dpreview.com/products/sigma/lenses/sigma_15_2p8/specifications)

So it seems the Z7 will be out of autofocus luck for that lens.

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I tried out the Z7 with the ZTF adaptor and the Nikkor 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5 and the Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 VR.

 

http://wetpixel.com/articles/report-nikon-professional-roadshow-2019

 

The Z7's AF was disappointing.

 

 

Oh, I've read that article at least twice! :-)

 

I think the Z7 AF can't really be definitely judged until the promised May firmware update, which of course complicates things.

Complicating further for me personally is that I have no real experience in using high-performance AF under water, so I don't know how important it is. The LX100 I'm using now has decent AF, but not nearly as good as the D850. The question I've been asking myself is whether the Z7 AF might be good enough for diving, even if the D850 AF is better. After all, the AF coverage of the Z7 is superior... and so forth.

 

But you guys obviously putting emphasis on the AF performance is one more indication that the D850 is probably the right way to go.

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I spoke to Nikon at length about the firmware update and it seems that it will not improve AF performance, but will only add Eye AF, which is of no relevance for UW photographers. By the way, this only works with human eyes as the algorithm actually uses a form of facial recognition.

 

I think the option of shooting ProRes RAW video is a very interesting idea for underwater, but this is the only advantage that I can see of the Z series.

 

I would argue that AF is the most important camera feature underwater. We can fix exposure etc. to some extent in post, but if an image is out of focus, it is no use. Given that manual focus is awkward at best and frequently housings do not allow it, we have to rely on the camera's AF. We do not always need fast AF but do need accurate. Once someone has used the D5/D850/D500 AF, they will rarely be satisfied with the alternatives!

 

I should point out that I have both a D850 and a D500, and for most underwater use, prefer the D500. Although you mention the cost is not a factor, you can buy two D500 bodies for the price on one D850, lenses are massively cheaper and less bulky/heavy and the loss in resolution is offset by the fact that we are shooting through domes and water.

 

Adam

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Well, cost will definitely be important in the end, I just wanted to take that out of the equation for this particular D850-Z7 comparison.

A D850 may be a cheaper solution in the end for me than a D500 solution since I own a D850 but not a D500. Still, the rest of the system may make up for that and bulk/weight is of importance.

 

So, as to not put the DX alternative out of mind without good reasons - which are the DX lenses commonly used for diving? Nikon 10-24 for wide-angle? Nauticam recommends the large 8.5" dome for that. Not that Nauticam is the only possible solution, but I've been tending to look primarily at Nauticam and Sea & Sea.

Tokina 10-17 for fisheye, possibly? Yes, a smaller dome would be possible for that.

Or are there other lenses at the wide end I should concentrate on?

 

One disadvantage with the D500 is that it doesn't really fit in with the rest of my topside shooting. But let's ignore that for the moment.

Edited by horvendile

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We are moving somewhat beyond the scope of the original post, but my lens choices for DX are Nikon 10-24, Tokina 10-17 (or Nikon 8-15mm if you want something really good!), and Nikon 60mm f/2.8 micro.

 

There are others, and many people would add the 105mm f/2.8 VR Micro, and a 1.4 x Kenko TC, but the above combination will get almost everything done on DX.

 

Any rectilinear lens will need a bigger port, so if you go down the 10-24mm route you will need an 8-8.5" one. Fisheye you can get away with very small 4" ports, which are great for close focus wide angle. (this isn't even an option on FX!) Some people use the 1.4 TC to "de-fish" the 10-17mm a bit which can be used behind a 4" port and gives CFWA, a bit more reach for larger animals that are further away and less extreme perspective distortion. This may remove the need for the 10-124mm and hence the larger dome...It all depends on how straight you like your straight lines to be!

 

Adam

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We are moving somewhat beyond the scope of the original post,

 

Indeed, so on one hand I should start a separate thread for this, but on the other hand the original question is more or less answered so maybe we can allow ourselves a detour unless it gets out of hand.

 

One thing I guess I could do if I want to save some money and space initially is to get D500 lenses (eg the Tokina 10-17 + small dome) and use on my D850 in DX mode. A D850 in DX mode is almost exactly a slightly slower D500.

Though how much money I'd really save, even in the short run, compared to a budget-oriented (ahem) FX solution is debatable.

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Why not get a D810? I've seen several lately with Nauticam housing for pretty reasonable prices. It's capable of getting some amazing shots and less than half the price. I saw one recently for $2,600 with cameras. A new D850 with Nauticam housing will cost close to $8,000. You would still need to buy ports but you'll have to do that anyway it sounds like. With the D810 you could get ports along with lenses and still have less invested even with a pair of strobes added in. The D850 is definitely a better camera but if you're not shooting commercially the D810 is perfect.

 

I've looked into Mirrorless but I'd rather wait for the next generation from Nikon where they have a chance to fix all the little issues with the first gen version. One benefit of mirrorless is the possibility for Nikonos lenses. Nauticam already makes adapters to use Nikonos lenses with Sony A7 and I'm hoping they come out with one for Nikon. when they can make that happen, especially for the 2nd gen, them I'll get it.

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Why not get a D810? I've seen several lately with Nauticam housing for pretty reasonable prices. It's capable of getting some amazing shots and less than half the price. I saw one recently for $2,600 with cameras. A new D850 with Nauticam housing will cost close to $8,000. You would still need to buy ports but you'll have to do that anyway it sounds like. With the D810 you could get ports along with lenses and still have less invested even with a pair of strobes added in. The D850 is definitely a better camera but if you're not shooting commercially the D810 is perfect.

 

I've looked into Mirrorless but I'd rather wait for the next generation from Nikon where they have a chance to fix all the little issues with the first gen version. One benefit of mirrorless is the possibility for Nikonos lenses. Nauticam already makes adapters to use Nikonos lenses with Sony A7 and I'm hoping they come out with one for Nikon. when they can make that happen, especially for the 2nd gen, them I'll get it.

 

Well, I already own the D850. Sure, if a complete set for D810 turned up at a reasonable price (and with practical purchase conditions, I live in Sweden) I'd certainly consider it.

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Some feedback on the D850. I used mine for a week in Roatan last week, and I've thought about the Z7/D850 choice a bit.

 

I think, at least for me, the only real difference is autofocus, if you compare live view on the D850 with the Z6. (And shutter delay I'd guess).

 

If I'm shooting stills, I want the D850 for all it's advantages in autofocus in challenging situations/low light. I want it fast and pinpointed even in dim lighting.

 

If I'm shooting video, I think I want the Z7, because the video autofocusing on the D850 seems hopeless. I do very little video, but I wanted to try shooting some slow-mo of Christmas Tree Worms. Current kept me moving back and forth, and the autofocus couldn't keep pace. (105vr).

 

 

 

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Skipping through this thread a bit... but will say my D810's AF with the 105mm macro is mind blowing compared to even my previous D700. Don't need a focus light for 90% of situations whereas absolutely needed it for most things with older cameras.

 

No mirrorless camera could remotely hope to compete with that. No firmware updates are going to magically bring sensor-AF up to par with a modern dedicated AF module. Not anytime soon at least, no matter how good some people claim it to be. Perhaps under 'ideal' circumstances but UW shooting is far from that.

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