Nikon Z7 II for Wildlife and Action Photography
Although the Nikon Z7 II is mainly targeted at landscape photographers, it’s also true that many of the Z7 II’s new features are in areas that matter more to sports and wildlife photographers. For example, the Z7 II has a bigger buffer than the original Z7, and it also shoots at a higher number of frames per second. Serious Nikon Z sports and wildlife professionals probably have their eye on the Nikon Z9 instead, but the Z7 II is a tempting and less expensive choice. So, in this section of the review, let’s take a look at how the Nikon Z7 II performs for photographing fast-moving subjects.
The buffer on the Nikon Z7 II has been greatly improved compared to the Z7. The degree of improvement depends on which type of image you’re using, as you can see in the chart below:
|Camera||Image Type||File Size||Buffer|
|Nikon Z7 II||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||45.7 MB||77|
|Nikon Z7||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||44.7 MB||23|
|Nikon Z6 II||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||TBD||124|
|Nikon Z6||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||22.5 MB||35|
|Nikon D850||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||41.5 MB||170|
|Nikon D810||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||31.9 MB||47|
|Nikon D800 / D800E||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||32.4 MB||21|
|Nikon D750||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||21.0 MB||25|
|Nikon D780||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 12-bit||21.7 MB||100|
|Nikon Z7 II||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||57.0 MB||49|
|Nikon Z7||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||55.8 MB||19|
|Nikon Z6 II||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||TBD||TBD|
|Nikon Z6||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||28.2 MB||43|
|Nikon D850||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||51.5 MB||51|
|Nikon D810||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||40.7 MB||28|
|Nikon D800 / D800E||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||41.3 MB||17|
|Nikon D750||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||26.9 MB||15|
|Nikon D780||NEF (RAW), Lossless compressed, 14-bit||27.7 MB||68|
|Nikon Z7 II||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||39.6 MB||96|
|Nikon Z7||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||40.7 MB||23|
|Nikon Z6 II||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||TBD||TBD|
|Nikon Z6||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||20.4 MB||37|
|Nikon D850||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||34.2 MB||200|
|Nikon D810||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||29.2 MB||58|
|Nikon D800 / D800E||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||29.0 MB||25|
|Nikon D750||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||19.2 MB||33|
|Nikon D780||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 12-bit||19.4 MB||100|
|Nikon Z7 II||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||49.2 MB||74|
|Nikon Z7||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||49.4 MB||19|
|Nikon Z6 II||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||TBD||TBD|
|Nikon Z6||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||24.8 MB||43|
|Nikon D850||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||43.8 MB||74|
|Nikon D810||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||36.3 MB||35|
|Nikon D800 / D800E||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||35.9 MB||20|
|Nikon D750||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||23.9 MB||21|
|Nikon D780||NEF (RAW), Compressed, 14-bit||24.1 MB||100|
|Nikon Z7 II||JPEG Fine (Large)||24.0 MB||200|
|Nikon Z7||JPEG Fine (Large)||17.2 MB||25|
|Nikon Z6 II||JPEG Fine (Large)||TBD||200|
|Nikon Z6||JPEG Fine (Large)||9.4 MB||44|
|Nikon D850||JPEG Fine (Large)||22.0 MB||200|
|Nikon D810||JPEG Fine (Large)||18.1 MB||100|
|Nikon D800 / D800E||JPEG Fine (Large)||16.3 MB||100|
|Nikon D750||JPEG Fine (Large)||12.6 MB||100|
|Nikon D780||JPEG Fine (Large)||9.8 MB||100|
The buffer on the Z7 was one of its weakest points. It’s just not practical for many wildlife or sports photographers to have a roughly 20 image buffer, even at the compressed RAW settings. The Z7 II is a major improvement by comparison. Even at the maximum frame rate of 10 FPS, we were able to capture dozens of images in sequence before the camera began to slow down. At lower frame rates, such as 6 or 7 FPS, the buffer was essentially unlimited (only maxing out at Nikon’s built-in 200-image cutoff).
Note that Nikon did not publish detailed buffer or file size specifications for the Z7 II, other than the 77 image buffer for 12-bit RAW images and the 200 image buffer for JPEGs. So, the results in the chart above are from our own tests and may not perfectly match yours. Buffer capacity also depends on the speed of your memory card, and you may get a smaller buffer than this if you’re using slower cards.
AF-C Focusing Performance
Nikon has come a long way in improving continuous autofocus on its mirrorless cameras since the launch of the system. A number of firmware updates have been introduced to add features such as Eye AF, Animal Eye AF, faster AF tracking, and improved focusing speed. However, Nikon warned that further improvements to the original Z6 and Z7 would not be possible due to processor limitations. With the release of the Z6 II and Z7 II, Nikon doubled up on the processors, going from a single EXPEED 6 architecture to dual processors. This does two things: It improves autofocus performance with the current firmware, and it opens up opportunities for further firmware improvements in the future.
Is the difference in AF speed between the original Z6 / Z7 and the new Z6 II and Z7 II noticeable? Yes, it certainly is. For complex shooting environments with multiple subjects, or for erratically moving subjects, the power of an extra processor certainly makes a difference. For photographing people and doing things like Eye AF, the Nikon Z7 II is as good as the best cameras out there. It does an amazing job at recognizing subjects from distance, and once it recognizes faces, it immediately starts tracking them, allowing one to switch between different faces with ease. Once subjects are close enough, it switches to Eye AF, which also works really well.
With the Z6 II and Z7 II, Nikon also added the new “Wide-Area AF” modes for humans and animals. The difference between this mode and the AF-Area Mode (which also now works for humans and animals) is that it looks for faces and eyes of subjects within a much smaller AF frame.
These new modes work really well and relatively intuitively, although at the expense of a more cluttered AF menu. We wish Nikon put human and animal AF as a sub-menu to different AF modes, so that it simplifies focus mode selection.
In short, the continuous AF performance of the Z7 II for photographing humans and pets works very well and we have no complaints there.
However, when it comes to photographing other fast-moving subjects and certain types of wildlife, the Nikon Z7 II still has a long way to go, especially when compared to the AF systems from Sony and Canon. We tried to use the Z7 II for photographing birds in flight, and it was not the ideal experience. The camera constantly hesitated, especially when photographing birds against the bright sky or in low light conditions. We did not have any problems focusing on perched birds, but after trying out the Canon EOS R6 that has excellent bird AF, the Nikon Z7 II just seemed outdated in comparison.
Another pain with Nikon’s AF implementation for tracking fast action is the overall implementation of continuous AF. With Sony and Canon moving towards artificial intelligence and machine learning for detecting subjects, making it extremely easy to detect moving subjects, Nikon seems to have fallen behind. You still have to find the subject you want to track, then press a button to lock onto it, and if the subject gets in and out of the frame, the camera loses the subject, randomly switching the focusing area to other subjects in the scene.
As of firmware 1.20, one issue has thankfully been improved: In the past, the AF box over your subject would lag behind fast subjects, making it hard to tell if the Z7 II was properly tracking autofocus or not. Note that this wasn’t a problem with the focusing itself, which could be tracking the subject properly, but with the display box showing where you were focused. Nikon has dramatically improved the display box’s responsiveness with firmware 1.20, which makes it easier to understand if you’re focused correctly or not. However, Nikon did not improve the overall AF tracking capabilities with firmware version 1.20. Even in low light, we couldn’t detect a difference in how well the Z7 II tracked fast-moving subjects compared to the prior firmware version.
Overall, continuous focusing has certainly seen some welcome changes and improvements, which we are happy to see. The more time you spend with the camera, the better you’ll understand the AF system’s limits and how to work around them for tracking difficult subjects. However, Nikon really needs to push towards more automated and simplified focus tracking to keep up with its competition. Using this camera side by side against the Canon EOS R6, the Canon had more keepers for small and erratic subjects, whereas both were perfectly fine for more standard wildlife photography.
Other Action Photography Features
Beyond the critical factors of buffer capacity and focusing performance, how else does the Z7 II perform for action photography? One of the key specifications is frame rate. The Z7 II shoots at a maximum of 10 FPS with constant autofocus and auto exposure. However, the 10 FPS high-speed burst is limited to single-point AF, so there is no tracking capability at that speed. Full autofocus tracking is possible at 9 FPS and slower. (You are also limited to 12-bit RAW at 10 FPS, while 14-bit is possible at 9 FPS and slower.)
Another feature that matters to a lot of sports and wildlife photographers is the option of a vertical control grip. Although we discussed the Z7 II’s new grip option earlier in this review, it bears repeating here: The MB-N11 is a fully-featured vertical grip, not the “no controls” MB-N10 that was honestly pretty useless. The new grip is currently $400 at B&H, although it’s only a matter of time before third-party options start appearing at a lower price. Note that this grip only works on the Z7 II (and Z6 II), not the earlier Z7, which doesn’t have the necessary connections.
Beyond that, most of the other features that sports and wildlife photographers would care about are more generic things like battery life and build quality, which we covered earlier in this review. Action photographers also tend to care about the telephoto lens lineup of their camera system, which is an area where the Z system currently struggles. While it’s reasonably easy to adapt Nikon’s excellent F-mount telephotos via the FTZ adapter, the native Z lens lineup still has a lot of gaps in the longer focal lengths.
Overall, we would not say that the Nikon Z7 II is geared toward action photography, whether sports or wildlife. However, it does manage to meaningfully improve over its predecessor, especially in terms of the much greater buffer capacity. If you want a camera with best-in-class tracking, you’ll need to go with the Nikon Z9 instead, or potentially a camera like the Canon EOS R5 or Sony A1 from a different brand. On the other hand, for photographers who mainly photograph landscapes and occasionally photograph something like wildlife on the side, the Z7 II should meet your needs.
The next page of this review covers the Z7 II’s performance in low light, including high ISO tests and IBIS performance. So, click below to go to the next page of this review, “Low Light Photography (High ISO + IBIS).”