Sometimes in one's life a new camera system appears that offers a paradigm shift in the way one works.
As you will appreciate if you have read any of my other articles about the increasing weight of camera equipment, particularly with respect to those of, shall we say, advancing years, I have been thinking for some years about trying to reduce the load and bulk of kit that I am carrying. There is no doubt that packing less allows one the freedom to do more, especially with the type of work that I most often do.
Most of what I still shoot is to do with my involvement with the armed forces in general and with Army Cadets in particular. The demands of the job means that one is always forced, first and foremost, to carry the kit and equipment that is essential for operating and survival in the field. This means uniform, webbing, bergen rucksack, food, water, rations, sleeping equipment, shelter, waterproofs and a zillion and one other items that make life in the field more comfortable. On top of that I have to consider camera equipment. Sometimes, when I am not expecting to be living out in the field overnight, I can discard some kit. Other times when I am expecting to be operating in FIBUA (Fighting in Built-Up Areas) or on exercises that range across the Mendips, Dartmoor, Salisbury Plain or Sennybridge I have to factor a helmet and perhaps ballistic goggles into the equation as well. All this mitigates against carrying loads of kit - there is simply nowhere to stow it and I haven't the ability (or the desire) to carry it! Of course, sometimes I have the luxury of operating close to a vehicle or from a fixed location, meaning that I can discard the military kit and max out on camera equipment, but it's nearly always a compromise that sees my kit drawing the short straw.
You may recall that I borrowed a mirrorless Fuji X-Pro1 camera system from my good friend John Robert Young but how frustrated I became with the mechanics and ergonomics, despite the fact that it delivered outstanding results. I reverted to my trusty Nikon D3S bodies along with my tried and tested range of NIKKOR lenses whilst being well aware that time was running out. At some stage in the near future I would have to make a big decision - replace the ageing D3S duo with a pair of Nikon D850 bodies, which are a little lighter but still with a similar bulk, or jump ship and move to a modern mirrorless system from Sony, for example. There had been rumours for some time that Nikon was exploring the design of a mirrorless system, so that faint hope encouraged me to hang on and pray for an announcement. Would the new system allow me to continue to use all my existing NIKKOR lenses or would I be forced to re-equip? Would it be so fundamentally different that I would have to learn a new system from scratch - something that I would have to do anyway if I bought a Sony for example?
When the Nikon teasers first started to appear I began to think that some of my prayers had been answered. Beneath the sexy new skin lurked a camera and operating system that I was familiar with. Hints that there was to be a new Z lens mount that would/might be able to take my existing lens collection encouraged me to wait. Finally, on 24 August 2018, a pair of new Nikon Z series mirrorless bodies, with associated lenses and accessories, was announced and I knew that all my prayers had not been in vain. I devoured all the information that was available, downloaded all the brochures and for the first time in my career I ordered, sight unseen, a Nikon Z6 kit, comprising the body, a NIKKOR 24-70mm f/4 'S' lens and the stunning Nikon FTZ F to Z mount adaptor, from Grays of Westminster. Oh the joy - but oh the worry!
In this modern internet age it's almost impossible to escape the trolls and naysayers who pour scorn and derision on new equipment. One of the major sources of angst was that the new Z series 'only' had a single card slot, albeit a state-of-the art XQD one that Nikon pioneeered in the D4. A single slot, so pontificated the 'experts' reduced the system immediately to that of an amateur one. Had they never used film? Had they never used early professional DSLRs from Nikon and Canon that only had single card slots? In my entire career I have never had a single card failure and still only use the second card slot as an overflow one, so there is no back up. That's what second or even third camera bodies, fitted with different focal length lenses, have always been for. That's why professional photographers always checked their film was loaded correctly into all their camera bodies, reformatted their cards every time the contents were downloaded, rotated them regularly and replaced them every couple of years. That's what being a proper professional is all about. I never questioned for one millisecond the lack of two card slots. Deal breaker? Deal breaker my arse!
A week after ordering my Z6 kit I went up to Nikon UK to get my NIKKOR AF-S 200-400mm serviced through the NPS scheme - a new Silent Wave Motor and lens mount at £450 were all that were needed - and while I was there I bumped into Rob MacNeice, the NPS Manager, who let me play with a Z7 - the 47 megapixel version of the 24 megapixel Z6 - along with the new 24-70, the FTX adaptor and some F mount NIKKOR lenses. I was bowled over. It was better than I had ever dreamed of and just felt so natural in my hands. The controls and menus were all just I as I would have expected and the bonus was that the FTZ adaptor worked seamlessly with my lenses. I floated out of Nikon on Cloud 9 and immediately phoned Gray Levett and ordered another Z6 body.
Evolution or revolution? Put it this way, for my needs - and I stress that this is purely personal - I do not expect to ever buy another D series Nikon. The Z6 comes in at around half the weight of a D3/D4/D5 and a body minus the lens fits comfortably in a jacket pocket. Throw in a couple of extra batteries and perhaps a longer F mount lens and it's a done deal. Battery life is actually remarkably good; certainly far better than the naysayers make out. When the new 70-200 'S' lens appears next year I suspect that it will be just perfect for me. Will I buy a Z7? If I need to do more studio work, yes - possibly.
For me it's a revolution. It will change the way that I work for the better, ease the burden on my shoulders, give me results that better the Nikon D750 that it shares so many similarities with and enable me to shoot more video to a much higher standard.
I can barely wait until the end of November to get my hands on a revolution.
Will I report on it?
I doubt it. It's a professional tool and you don't hear carpenters talking about their saws do you? How many authors talk about the computer they wrote ther book on? How many artists pontificate on the virtues of the brushes and paints that they used to create their masterpieces?
No - it'll be in the pictures and my satisfaction knowing that I have done the best job possible with the bext kit that I could find that allows me to stay with my old lenses without breaking the bank.
Image © Nikon
Nikon Z6 - Evolution or Revolution?