Without a doubt, camera firmware is one of the most important parts of any modern digital camera, and this is especially true for mirrorless cameras that have a lot more electronics compared to DSLRs. The Nikon Z7 is Nikon’s first attempt at getting into the mirrorless market. Considering that it is a first generation camera of its kind for the company, it is already highly capable and solid, something that cannot be said about other mirrorless camera launches we have seen in the past. However, just like any first generation product, the Nikon Z7 has its list of issues that we would like to see addressed in upcoming firmware updates as soon as possible. In this article, we will take a look at critical firmware updates that Nikon should deliver for the Z7, as well as a wishlist of updates we would like to see on the camera to make it even more appealing to the masses.
Before we go through the list, let’s first tackle the big question.
Will Nikon Deliver Firmware Upgrades?
As we have seen in the past, Nikon has mostly kept firmware updates for its DSLR cameras as bug fixes. It is extremely rare to see new features delivered via firmware updates, something Nikon has been criticized for in the past. However, with the introduction of mirrorless cameras that house a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, in-body image stabilization and other features we have never seen on DSLR cameras, those who are interested in Nikon’s Z-cameras might be wondering if the company is planning to deliver real firmware upgrades that actually add features to the camera, not just fix known bugs. This is a very important question and something Nikon should take very seriously, if it truly wants to become a key player in the mirrorless market.
I had a chance to ask this question from a Nikon representative during the launch of the Nikon Z7 camera. I was specifically concerned about potential problems that might arise with the first generation product and I wanted to find out if Nikon is planning to do something similar to what Fuji has been doing with its “Kaizen” (continuous improvement) firmware updates. I was told that Nikon is very committed to the Nikon Z mount and future products. I was also promised that Nikon is indeed planning to release more frequent updates to the Z7-series cameras than before. Lastly, the representative told me that the company is very open to listening to all customer feedback and that each request will be taken very seriously.
This was encouraging to hear, and I made a note to myself that after having a chance to test the camera in detail, I will create a list of issues I would like to see addressed by Nikon on the Z7. After spending a few weeks producing our comprehensive Nikon Z7 review, I decided to write a separate article that is addressed to Nikon engineers. I really hope they will take a serious look at the below list and work hard on delivering updates, especially the most critical ones. So let’s get started!
1. Fix Ability to View the Whole Image on LCD (Critical)
Being able to see what you are about to photograph in its entirety, without any distractions is very important – something we are accustomed to seeing on all modern cameras. I don’t know how Nikon let this one slip through, but as of today, there is no way to configure the camera to only display the image on the rear LCD of the Nikon Z7. Due to the change in aspect ratio of the screen, all the extra bits of information such as battery life, exposure settings, etc. are overlaid right on top of the image, making it impossible to see the full image:
This is a huge problem for those of us that like to use the LCD (for landscape, architecture, product photography, etc), because we cannot use the screen to properly compose our shots without any distractions. Nikon should issue a fix for this as soon as possible that allows the camera to switch to a fully clear view without any information overlays. Essentially, this means adding another view mode to the DISP button.
2. When Camera Turns Off, Remember Focus Position (Critical)
The new Nikon Z mount lenses use “focus-by-wire” method of focusing in its lenses, which differs quite a bit compared to mechanical focusing. One of the key differences, is that the lens has to be told to move to a particular focus position each time the camera is turned on. With the Nikon Z7, all native mount Nikon lenses by default reset when the camera is turned off and sadly, their focus position is not remembered. This means that if you focus with the camera on a particular subject or scene, then turn the camera off, you have to refocus the lens again. The temporary workaround at the moment is to set a relatively short time-out period for the camera so that it goes into standby mode, then wake the camera up instead of turning it off, which remembers the focus position.
However, a real fix would be to remember the focus position when the camera is turned off, then instruct the lens to return to its last position when the camera is turned back on. I really hope Nikon finds a good way to make this work without any changes to focus position. Fuji does that on all of its X-series and GF cameras by default and I hope Nikon can issue a firmware update as soon as possible to address this issue.
3. Reset Focus Stacking / Focus Shift to Its Initial Position (Critical)
While it is great to see the focus stacking capability on the Nikon Z7 (which Nikon decided to call “focus shift”), it does have two main issues that make it difficult and not particularly practical to work with. The first issue has to do with focus position staying in its last state after shooting the stack is complete. This means that once you shoot a single stack, you have to go back and re-focus on the closest subject again and again, each time you want to re-initiate focus stacking.
The solution to the problem is to have the camera return to its initial focus position once the stack is complete. If this is done, it will make the process of focus stacking so much easier!
4. Improve Focus Step Width in Focus Shift (Critical)
By default, the Nikon Z7 a total of 10 focus step width positions, ranging from 1 (Narrow) to 10 (Wide), as can be seen below:
Unfortunately, even the most narrow position of 1 is simply too wide for doing very fine-tuned focus stacking, such as when shooting at extreme close-up / macro distances. The solution is to expand the number of total focus step width positions to something like 20 or 30, so that the focus position can be changed very slightly in-between. Alternatively, Nikon could make the value 1 equal to the minimum focus step, while 10 is the largest.
5. Switch to Magnified View When Manually Focusing (Critical)
When switched to manual focusing, the camera should have a “Focus Assist” feature, where it can automatically switch to zoomed in view as soon as the focus ring starts turning, whether shooting in EVF or the LCD of the camera. Having this feature is very useful, whether one shoots landscapes or portraits, as it allows the end user to quickly view the subject at 100% zoom and see if it is in focus. The focus assist feature should have a timeout period that can be defined within the camera menu. Once a picture is taken, the camera should jump out of the 100% view back to full live preview.
As of today, one has to either press the zoom in button on the back of the camera multiple times, or program one of the buttons on the camera to instantly zoom in 100%. It should be assumed that if one is using manual focus, some sort of focus assisting is required.
6. Improve Continuous Autofocus Reliability (Critical)
If you have read our Z7 review, you can see that we weren’t particularly psyched about the continuous autofocus performance of the Nikon Z7. Our test was quite simple – to photograph a subject moving towards the camera. First, the person quickly walked straight at the camera, then we asked the person to move erratically towards the camera. In both cases, the camera’s autofocus system did not deliver the results we are used to seeing from a high-end Nikon camera no matter what mode we tried – there were more out of focus images than we expected to see (comparably, the Nikon D850 did a phenomenal job doing the same thing). In addition, we believe there are a few issues with the way AF is implemented on the Nikon Z7, so let’s go through some of them.
7. Allow Half-Press of Shutter Release To Start Tracking a Subject (Critical)
When shooting in continuous mode (AF-C) with Auto-area AF selected, the Nikon Z7 requires the end user to press the OK button to bring up the focus selection window, as shown below:
Once it comes up, it is possible to move it to the desired area that needs to be tracked, which the camera then locks on to. The OK button can then be pressed to reset the focus position, or perhaps lock on to another subject. This process is too painful to use in the field, as it requires an extra step before the subject can be effectively tracked. Instead of requiring a button press, it would be better if Nikon bypassed the requirement for the OK button and instead started immediately tracking the center area of the frame. This way, the subject can be placed right in the center, then half-pressing the shutter release or holding the AF-ON button starts tracking AF. With the subject actively tracked, the framing can be changed. If one does not desire the center area of the frame to be tracked, it should be possible to use the joystick to move the focus point to any part of the frame. Releasing the shutter button should stop tracking, and re-engaging the tracking should be done with the half-pressing and holding the shutter release button or pressing and holding the AF-ON button.
8. Fix Focus Confirmation in AF-C Mode (Critical)
When shooting in Single AF (AF-S) mode, once the camera focuses on the subject, the focus point changes to green, which indicates that the subject is in focus. If one switches to AF-C mode, the focus point always stays red. Nikon should fix this as soon as possible, so that focus confirmation works in both AF-S and AF-C modes.
9. Add Face Recognition to Other Modes (Critical)
Although the Nikon Z7 has a face recognition feature, it is currently only effective when using Auto-area AF mode – it is not available in any other AF mode. Nikon should fix this, so that the camera can identify and track a face in other modes as well. This way, one does not have to remember which mode face activation works with and if they desire to turn it off, they can easily do that from the camera menu. The option to enable / disable face tracking should be added as an option into the camera menu and made available as a choice to add to the “i” button.
10. Add Eye Recognition (Critical)
Yes, we will keep on asking for this until it is done. Eye autofocus detection is an essential feature for all portrait photographers. The Nikon Z7 needs to be able to detect an eye within the face and focus specifically on it. Ideally, the closest eye should be the one the camera always focuses on. However, if it is not possible, Nikon should add the option to select left or right eye to focus on. This is a critical feature, something Nikon really needs to work on as soon as possible.
11. Multiple Exposure RAW Shooting (Critical)
Nikon, please don’t take away features that we already had before! As of today, the Nikon Z7 automatically switches to JPEG when using the Multiple Exposure feature and the camera no longer produces a RAW image. This was a great, working feature that we have had on many Nikon DSLRs and for some strange reason, Nikon decided to change it and remove the RAW recording ability.
12. Improve Live View Performance in Low Light (Critical)
Nikon needs to find a way to properly boost the live view / LCD screen when shooting in extremely dark conditions. Earlier this year, we put the Nikon Z7 and the Fuji X-T3 side by side and took pictures of the Milky Way. When I showed others how bright the Milky Way looked on the Fuji X-T3 when compared to the Z7 (which looked black) and when I was able to even focus on the Milky Way with the X-T3, everyone there was in shock, as they had never seen anything like that before. Considering that Fuji uses an APS-C sensor, the Nikon Z7 should have done a better job at boosting the signal from the sensor, but it clearly didn’t. Nikon should do what it can to boost the feed from the sensor, so that one can preview what’s going on, even in very dark conditions.
13. Keep Self-Timer After Camera is Turned Off and On (Critical)
One of the biggest annoyances on the Nikon Z7 is the fact that the camera resets the self timer after it is turned off and on. This is unacceptable and something Nikon should fix as soon as possible via the next firmware update.
14. Add Blown Highlight Warning / Blinkies to EVF and LCD (Wishlist)
It would be nice to be able to see if an image, or part of an image is going to be blown out before the image is captured. So if Nikon added blinkies / blown highlight warning within the EVF and the LCD, essentially blinking the areas that are blown out, it could help out a lot when shooting.
15. Add Pixel Shift Feature (Wishlist)
The Z7 is the first Nikon camera to feature IBIS (in-body image stabilization), which is exciting. We have already raved about it in our review and we certainly find it to be one of the best IBIS implementations out there. I really hope that Nikon does not stop there with IBIS and adds a “Pixel Shift” feature into the camera via a firmware upgrade. Since the sensor is able to move, Nikon engineers should be able to figure out how to take multiple exposures at different sensor positions in order to create an exceptionally detailed image. A number of manufacturers such as Sony and Pentax have already done this, so I am hoping to see Pixel Shift added to the Z-series cameras in the near future.
16. Improve Split-Screen View (Wishlist)
Nikon should really work on improving the split-screen view to be used with both horizontal and vertical images. It is an amazing feature that makes it super easy to achieve proper focus on a scene – one does not have to worry about calculating hyperfocal distance with this feature. Here is how it looks:
At this time, the only way to access the split screen is by enabling it via the “i” button. It would be nice if there was a way to toggle to the screen via the DISP button as well.
17. Add Lens Ring Sensitivity Option (Wishlist)
With the new Nikon Z mount lenses doing focus-by-wire, it would be great to have the option within the camera menu to either slow down focus, or accelerate it (something like slow, medium and fast would work). Personally, I am not a big fan of the way the focusing ring works on the Z7, as it sometimes can feel too fast or laggy. If there was a way to slow it down, it would make it easier to manually tweak focus on lenses, especially when ultra-precise focusing is required.
18. RAW Histogram and Blinkies (Wishlist)
This one has been on my wishlist for a while now! RAW histograms and blinkies are important, because that’s the only way to actually see if data is getting lost during the process of capturing images. Sadly, what we see on cameras today, is histogram and blinkie output from JPEG images that are embedded into RAW files. The moment you start changing your camera settings, the histogram changes, which means that you end up looking at data from 8-bit images, which has no way of showing what is actually happening to the 12+ bit RAW image.
You might be seeing overexposure on the histogram and the blinkies, when in reality, all of the data might be fully preserved in the actual RAW file. Nikon could be a true pioneer in the camera industry, by implementing true RAW histograms and blinkies first! It would be wonderful if Nikon did it right from the start though, which means RAW histogram output for each color channel, similar to what we see below (sample output from RawDigger):
And how awesome would it be, if blinkies were implemented differently for each color channel? Flash red for red channel loss, green for green channel loss and blue for blue channel loss. When multiple channels are lost, flash those areas white. Imagine how easy it would be to expose to the right – we would be able to make correct exposure choices without second guessing anything.
19. Fix the Rubber Grip Issue (Critical)
This one does not really belong in the above list, as it is not a firmware-related issue. However, I decided to go ahead and add it anyway to bring up the problem with Nikon. Basically, the rubber part of the grip where fingers rest in between the mount and the grip wears off on the Nikon Z7 cameras. The first person who reported the issue was Spencer from our team, whose grip showed visible signs of tearing / collapsing of the rubber:
Since he hand-holds the camera a lot and does not use a strap, I thought that perhaps his fingernails were cutting into the grip more than they should. However, my Nikon Z7 sample showed exactly the same issue just two weeks later. We reported the problem in our Nikon Z7 review and so far we have had four other people who reported exactly the same problem, which indicates that we are not just dealing with one or two affected units with weak rubber in that particular part of the camera. To clarify, it is not that the rubber on the grip is peeling off completely – it is just the surface of it that’s coming off. Still, having used many Nikon DSLRs in the past, I have never encountered this problem, so it looks like this one might be related to the quality of the rubber, or its coating.
20. Re-release the FTZ Adapter (Wishlist)
The new FTZ adapter is amazing when it comes to focusing and reliability, but it does have some rather annoying issues that should be fixed. First of all, when mounting older manual focus lenses, the camera cannot properly read the aperture of the lens and shows “F–“, no matter what is done under “Non-CPU lens data” menu option. That’s because the FTZ adapter does not have an AI follower tab. What’s the point of having this section of the menu, if it doesn’t even work? As a result, when using older manual focus lenses, the correct metadata and exposure information is not recorded in the resulting file.
In addition to the above problem, the FTZ adapter does not work with any screw-drive AF-D lenses. There are so many classic AF-D lenses out there, and I am a bit bummed that I cannot use AF on any of them. Nikon should have thought this one through and make a better adapter that works with not only modern AF-S and AF-P lenses, but also older AF-D ones.
Third, considering that the FTZ adapter is shallow inside, Nikon should have added the option to use a polarizing filter inside the adapter, similar to what Canon has done on its EOS R adapter. Those of us who shoot with glass like Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G would love the ability to have a polarizing filter without having to use huge filters and filter adapters. This seems like a lost opportunity.
Lastly, I have already discussed the big problem with the FTZ tripod mount in my review of the Nikon Z7, but the fact that it sticks out more than the camera is something that really baffled our team. Nikon should have skipped the tripod mount completely on the FTZ, which would have solved the problem with using generic tripod plates.
In my opinion, Nikon should re-release the FTZ adapter with new features (AI follower tab, AF-D lens compatibility, ability to use drop-in filters, no tripod socket). Personally, I would be willing to pay more for such an adapter.
Other Firmware Update Requests
As I have already pointed out above, I am planning to send the above list to Nikon. If you have any other feature requests on your Z7, or have any other suggestions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below. We ask that you keep the discussion civil – this post is not written with negativity in mind. As a long time Nikon shooter, I only want Nikon to succeed with its mirrorless cameras and I strongly believe that as long as the company is ready to step up and listen to customer feedback and work hard on improving its product through continuous firmware updates and improvements, it can truly become one of the key players on the mirrorless market in the near future.