The Nikon Z5 is the Best Value Full Frame Mirror-less Camera Available Today

The Nikon Z5 is the Best Value Full Frame Mirror-less Camera Available Today

2000 1125 James Tocchio

A good friend of mine recently messaged me with a question. “What’s the best entry-level full frame mirror-less camera I can buy new today?” Having just gone through the tedious process of determining this for myself mere months before, I had the answer ready to go. It’s the Nikon Z5.

Compared to the entry-level full frame mirror-less cameras of Nikon’s nearest competitors, the Canon EOS RP, the Sony a7II, and the Panasonic Lumix S5, The Nikon Z5 beats them all in both technical specifications and, importantly, price. And while the differences in the spec sheets are in some places marginal, there is a clear winner in the end.

So let’s compare the Nikon Z5 with the very similar cameras mentioned previously, with specific focus on what makes the Z5 the one to buy.

Specifications of the Nikon Z5

  • Image Sensor: 24.3 MP FX BSI Sensor, 5.9µ pixel size
  • Sensor Size: 35.9 × 23.9mm
  • Resolution: 6016 x 4016
  • Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-51,200
  • In-Body Image Stabilization: 5-Axis
  • Processor: EXPEED 6
  • Dust Reduction: Yes
  • Weather Sealing: Yes
  • Body Material: Magnesium Alloy
  • Shutter Speeds: 1/8000 – 30 seconds
  • Shutter Durability: 200,000 cycles, self-diagnostic shutter
  • Storage: 2× SD UHS-II
  • Viewfinder: 3.69 Million Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
  • Viewfinder Magnification: 0.8×
  • Continuous Shooting Speed: 4.5 FPS
  • Built-in Flash: No
  • Autofocus System: Hybrid PDAF, 273 Focus Points
  • AF Sensitivity Range: -2 to +19 EV (-3.5 to +19 EV with low-light AF)
  • LCD Screen: Touch-enabled 3.2″ Tilting LCD with 1.040 Million Dots
  • Movie Mode: 4K UHD @ 30 FPS, 1.7x crop
  • HDMI Output: 8-bit 4:2:0, no N-Log
  • Silent Photography Mode: Yes
  • Intervalometer: Yes
  • Focus Stacking: Yes
  • In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
  • WiFi / Bluetooth: Yes
  • Battery Type: EN-EN15c
  • Battery Life: 470 shots (CIPA)
  • USB Standard: Type-C 3.1
  • Weight and Dimensions: 590 g (Body Only); 134 × 100.5 × 69.5 mm
  • Price: $996

Experienced photo nerds will likely browse that spec sheet and settle on the last line of data – the price. It’s surprisingly low.

That we can get a camera this good for $996 is simply astonishing. And while $996 is a lot of money, no doubt, I can see by the specs that the camera we get for that money could satisfy the image-making requirements of most photographers for a long time to come. With a spec sheet that good, there’s very little reason to upgrade.

 

The Nikon Z5 Compared to the Canon EOS RP

Canon has their own entry-level full frame mirror-less camera, called the Canon EOS RP. And it’s a very good camera. But when we really dive into its spec sheet we start to see that it falls just short of the Nikon in a few key areas. Here’s a list.

Nikon’s Z5 has in-body 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization which works in both stills photography and video modes. The Canon EOS RP does not have in-body image stabilization whatsoever. Instead, Canon offers lenses with built-in optical image stabilization (IS lenses). These lenses are bigger and more expensive than those without IS. When shooting video (but not in stills photography), the Canon uses software-based digital image stabilization. This sounds neat, but it also slightly degrades image quality.

Nikon’s Z5 can shoot 4K video at 30 fps, where Canon’s EOS RP records 4K only at 24fps. While this isn’t a massive win for the Nikon, it’s still a win. Both cameras, incidentally, record 4K at a 1.7 crop factor, which is a big reason to consider upgrading to a higher level camera – but now we’re getting away from entry-level pricing.

The Nikon’s electronic viewfinder has higher magnification than Canon’s, 0.8x compared to 0.7x, and the Nikon’s is made up of 3.69 million dots where Canon’s is 2.36 million. Another win for Nikon.

The Canon only has a single SD card slot compared to the Nikon’s two slots. This is important for anyone who wants to use this camera professionally, as it’s critical to have redundant backups of images that can’t be replaced. Think, weddings, engagement photos, senior portraits – working photographer stuff.

Nikon’s camera costs $5 less than Canon’s. Okay, that really shouldn’t factor. But again, that’s a free cup of coffee or two if we choose the Nikon.

The Canon EOS RP does actually edge out the Nikon in a few lines of the spec sheet. Its LCD display can flip entirely around to a front-facing configuration where the Nikon’s only tilts up and down, and the Canon’s image sensor offers a couple of additional megapixels (Canon’s EOS RP sensor records 26.2MP compared to Nikon’s 24.3MP). Canon’s burst mode fires at 5 FPS compared to Nikon’s 4.5 FPS.

For me, the data points dominated by the Nikon are more critical than those claimed by the Canon. And that’s why I chose the Z5.

The Nikon Z5 Compared to the Sony a7II

The camera that I used professionally before switching to the Nikon Z5 was, in fact, the Sony a7II. And I couldn’t be happier with the decision to switch. While Sony’s camera is excellent, the Nikon is just better. Here’s where we see that on the spec sheet.

Nikon’s camera does 4K video and Sony’s does not. It only shoots as high as 1080p. That’s worse than the Canon and an easy win for Nikon.

Nikon’s electronic viewfinder is better than Sony’s, too. Sony’s EVF has the same resolution as the Canon EOS RP, at 2.36m dots compared to the Nikon’s 3.69m.

The Nikon, as already mentioned, has two SD card slots. The Sony, like the Canon, has one.

Possibly a subjective assessment here, but after years of shooting the a7II I’m comfortable reporting that the ergonomics of the Sony are cramped and painful, especially for extended shoots. The Nikon is an ergonomic dream. Its grip, balance, size, and weight are all perfect, and its button layout is intuitive and clean.

The Sony’s finish and durability aren’t as high quality as the Nikon’s. My Sony’s rubber thumb grip peeled away after a year, and the SD card slot door has always been flimsy and weak.

But most damning of all for Sony’s machine is the price. The Sony a7II has a list price of $1,398. That’s $400 more than the Nikon Z5. So, you pay more for… less?

The Nikon Z5 Compared to the Panasonic Lumix S5

Of all the competition on this list, it’s the Panasonic Lumix S5 that comes closest to toppling the Nikon Z5. But that really shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the Lumix S5 has a list price of $1,997 (nearly double the cost of the Nikon). And even though Panasonic seems to run a perpetual sale on the S5, that sale price still never drops below $1,497 ($500 more than the Nikon).

This higher price point realistically places the Lumix S5 as competition for Nikon’s up-specced Nikon Z6, rather than the entry-level Z5. But I include it in this comparison to better illustrate the point that we get a lot for our money with the Nikon Z5. It even competes with cameras above its class.

When we compare the Nikon Z5 to the Panasonic Lumix S5, the only appreciable difference is that the Lumix can shoot 4K video at 60FPS. If we’re happy with 4K video at 30FPS, the Nikon does that for $500 less.

Sample Images Made with the Nikon Z5

(Just imagine what a good photographer could do with one!)

Final Thoughts

Truth be told, all of the cameras mentioned in this article are amazing machines. As I said to my friend when he asked which full frame mirror-less camera he should buy; nobody makes a bad full frame mirror-less camera. The Canon EOS RP, the Sony a7II, the Panasonic S5, and the Nikon Z5 are all world-class, and any of them would do anything that the everyday photo nerd requires. But if I had to pick one, it’s the Nikon.

If only by a narrow margin, the Nikon Z5 is truly the best value camera on the market right now. It’s more feature-dense than the entry-level full frame mirror-less camera from Canon, and a much better camera (and value) than the Sony a7II. The only camera that could beat it is the Panasonic Lumix S5, but that camera’s priced so high that I find it unfair to measure it against the Z5.

The best endorsement that I can give a product is to use that product myself. The Nikon Z5 is the camera that I chose. And I chose it because, simply put, it’s the best value full frame mirror-less interchangeable lens camera available today.


 


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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
9 comments
  • Nikon for ever 😉
    I have a Sony … 😉 I have bought in 2017, I would prefer the Nikon, of course.
    Best wishes for 2023.
    Peace,
    Health,
    Happiness,
    Success,
    and everything you want 😉
    Happy 2023 Year

  • Hi, James – great article; I came to the same conclusion and bought one myself! I use it with a hodgepodge of lenses: 35/2.8 Nikon AI-S with Dandelion CPU installed; Nikon 45/2.8 and CVL 90/3.5 AI-P lenses; Nikon 50/1.8, 85/1.8 and 55-200 AF-S lenses via the FTZ II adapter; and the 24-50 Z zoom shown in your review.

    But; but – I have this OCD dream of a grand unified film / digital solution. My Maxxum film outfit includes the 28/2.8, 35-70/4, 50/1.7 and 100-200/4.5 Minolta AF lenses – all small, light, and with the same 49mm filter size. With the latest Sony EA-LA5 adapter and an A7 IV, I could have a small but comprehensive AF solution spanning film and digital – not currently possible in the Nikonverse. On my, what to do…

  • James,
    Congrats on your Z5. Mine is in the mail.
    One question though: given that you don’t take pictures with just a camera body, I am curious about what kinds of lenses you use the Z5 with. Specifically (and given this outlet and your profile), I would like to know whether your Z5 employs Nikon’s Z-glass, AF-S lenses over the FTZ adapter, or whether your using the Z5 to drive a range of legacy glass.

    Happy new year!

    • Yes! I am very interested in this question too… The big draw for the Panasonic for me is that you can get it bundled with both the kit 20-60 lens and an 85mm F1.8 for $1700. That is a lot of glass / camera for a little money and feel like it makes it a more competitive deal.

      Also, how is adapted vintage lens shooting on the Z5 (and / or S5 for that matter!)??

      Thanks for the reviews, the writing, and the inspiration! Happy New Year!

    • As someone who has legacy Nikon glass, AF-D, and more modern AF-S lenses, I’d buy the Z5 so I could use all of them along with the newest Z-mount native lenses. Though, with the cost of the full-frame Z-mount lenses, I’d probably only spend enough to buy one of them. Not sure which one though.

  • At this price point, Nikon’s Z5 can do for the Z mount what the Nikon EM achieved for the F mount. It costs about the same in real terms as the EM did in the early 1980’s and it brings a load more people into the Z mount ecosystem – whether buying Nikon’s own or third party Z lenses.

    As others have pointed out, getting into the Z mount opens up more possibilities for adapting legacy glass than any of the other mirrorless mounts, so the Z5 should be an ideal mirrorless starting point for anyone with a disparate collection of old lenses.

  • I have to agree with your assessment that the Z5 is the best value entry level, FULL FRAME, mirrorless digital camera. I think it’s interesting the ways that Nikon handicaps the Z5 to keep it from eating the lunch of its pricier Z6 and Z7 siblings. Things like using SD cards instead of CF Express (though this may be considered a benefit for some), for example. Another example is keeping the burst rate shooting at a paltry 4.5 FPS to keep the pro sports/action/wildlife shooters away. By not allowing any 4K60 video and by requiring a 1.7x crop for 4K video, you’re making the camera less attractive to many professional content creators. But the IBIS, the high res EVF, and user experience make the Z5 really hit the sweet spot for the hobbyist photographer who doesn’t give a shit about video and isn’t shooting sports/action/wildlife all the time.

  • Using your B&H link to the camera is showing $1400 not 996, although it’s on sale for $1300

  • Looking at it from a budget minded shooter’s perspective, the Z5 brings a lot to the table if you’re already a Nikon shooter with a stable of full-frame G series glass, the Z5 and a FTZ adapter will get you a long way. You can use AF-D glass on the FTZ adapter, minus autofocus, of course.

    The Z5 becomes a lot less attractive once you start buying native mount glass for it. While two of Nikon’s Z-mount primes beat Canon on price (Z 40mm vs RF 35mm and Z 24mm vs RF 24mm), they lack the close focus capability of their Canon counterparts.

    What’s interesting to note in the strategies of the two companies is that Nikon stuck with the traditional separate FX/DX focal lengths and designs, where Canon is taking a more hybrid approach. Take any Canon RF mount lens (except for some L glass), multiply the focal length by 1.6 and interestingly enough, you have FX wide zooms that are standard normal on DX, and the primes, FX 35mm/DX 50mm, FX 16mm/DX 24mm, etc., etc.

    Nikon’s decision to open the Z-Mount to third party lens makers is laudable though. Once Sigma and Tamron produce a larger selection of Z mount lenses, the entry cost should come down considerably. Much hay has been made of Canon’s decision to close the RF mount to third parties, but shorter memories seem to forget that Sony did the same thing in the early days of the E-mount. Besides, at the consumer end, RF mount glass is an incredible bargain, so really, how much could third parties undercut Canon on price.

    All this to say, if you’re a new shooter on a budget and you’re not already invested in a system, the Z5 may not be the best bargain.
    At the time of this comment, B&H is currently selling the Z5/24-50mm kit for $1596. The Canon RP/24-105mm kit is $1299. At this point, its a value judgement. Like you said, both are good cameras so its a question of whether or not the Nikon is $300 better.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio