Nikon’s release of firmware 3.0 for its Z6 and Z7 cameras is significant. Not just for the changes it brings, but the significance of those changes in the context of the company’s history. Like Canon, Nikon has historically brought DSLR cameras to market that you could be sure would work exactly the same in ten years as the day you bought it. There simply wasn’t any expectation that you would gain additional features, refinements or enhancements over the life of the product.
But times have changed, and with the Z6 and Z7, Nikon has clearly taken industry feedback to heart. Of course, this isn’t the first major firmware update for these cameras – firmware 2.0 brought us eye detect autofocus – but 3.0 changes some of the autofocus system’s fundamental operation in an attempt to make it more familiar to users of the company’s DSLR cameras.
Alright, enough with the pontificating. Here’s what firmware 3.0 brings to the table.
Refined autofocus tracking implementation
The most significant change in FW 3.0 (to us, anyway) is the refinement in the behavior of the Z6 and Z7’s tracking autofocus. Up until now, you had to hit the ‘OK’ button while in the Auto AF area mode to bring up the tracking box. You could place that over your subject and initiate autofocus, and it would track around the frame. But when you released the shutter button (or AF On button), the box would continue to track your subject until you canceled it with the ‘OK’ button, and then the tracking box would reset to the center of the frame, regardless of whether you’d moved it around before initiating autofocus. You then exited tracking with the ‘Zoom out’ button.
|You can now have either the Fn1 or Fn2 buttons initiate tracking AF. Our opinions on staff differ, but I personally find these buttons fall naturally under my middle and ring fingers, and are easy to press.|
Now, with FW 3.0, you have the option to assign Tracking mode to one of the Fn buttons on the front of the camera, which are easier to manipulate with the camera to your eye. And once you’ve initiated tracking, releasing the shutter or AF On buttons will see the camera cease tracking, and the box return to wherever it was when you initiated tracking.
It actually makes a remarkable difference in everyday shooting, and we’ve found that we can use the Z6 and Z7 more comfortably, and in a similar way to how we’re used to shooting with Nikon’s DSLRs.
It’s not quite perfect though. Firstly, if you enter playback or menus, or power-cycle the camera, you’re back into non-tracking Auto area AF mode. We’d love to see it remember your chosen mode or, better still, be offered as a distinct AF area mode. Secondly, initiating tracking on a face does not switch to face and eye-detection, as it does on Sony and Canon cameras with the latest firmware.
But on the whole, it’s a welcome improvement and makes the Z6 and Z7 much more usable, further improving on cameras that already had great ergonomics and handling. We discuss how this new behavior interacts with the cameras’ other AF features in our Nikon Z7 review.
Pet eye detection and CFExpress
Firmware 3.0 also brings the ability to focus on the eyes of pets, for all you pet portraitists out there. Depending on the pet (in essence, on how similar their eyes looked to human eyes) some Z6 and Z7 users with the old firmware might have found that their cameras already did a decent job of this, but now it’s official. With Firmware 3.0 you get more reliable and stable pet detection tracking, when you enable the requisite menu function.
Lastly, the Z6 and Z7 cameras are now compatible with CFExpress cards. This won’t impact you too much if you already have a bunch of XQD cards laying around, but CFExpress is the future, and broader compatibility is always a plus.
Our reviews of both the Z6 and Z7 now have updated autofocus sections, updated conclusions, and we made tweaks to the scoring. Neither received a higher overall numerical score – they both scored very highly to begin with – but the ‘metering and focus’ category of the scoring widget has received a noticeable boost on both. We’ve also updated our Pros and Cons lists at the top of the conclusion pages to reflect the changes.
To see all the changes for yourself, hop on over to our full Nikon Z6 and Z7 full reviews.