The launch of the Z7 II took significant steps forward for Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless autofocus. The second-generation improved the speed of the autofocus system, as well as the ability to focus in limited light. While good, it’s not great — it’s a bit outpaced by competing cameras in terms of speed in low light. But, Nikon keeps taking steps forward with firmware updates. The latest update, 1.31, is another step forward, albeit a small one. It focuses on improving low light autofocus specifically when using the single-point autofocus mode.
I updated my loaner camera with the latest Nikon Z7 II firmware and tried it out in the dark corners of a closet and my dimly lit office. The camera can focus in pretty dark conditions, but it does take some time to lock on when lighting is poor. I updated our Nikon Z7 II review to reflect the new firmware. Here’s what I had to say on the Z7 II’s autofocus:
Autofocus was the biggest reason that I bought the D850 after the first Z7 came out. The autofocus in low light and for action just did not compare to the D850. Thankfully, that’s improved some in the second generation, partially via firmware updates. Though for the most demanding users, those changes may still not be quite enough. It will focus on action and in low light decently — it’s just not the best in class. I’d estimate it to be behind Canon and Sony, but ahead of Panasonic.
For low light, the Z7 II is ranked down to -3 EV (and -4 EV if you activate low light autofocus), which is finally the same low light range as the D850 in low light mode. The Z7 II has the AF assist beam built-in, while the company’s DSLRs can get a boost with the AF assist beam built into many hot shoe flashes. I shot the dance floor at a wedding, backlit by DJ lights, and had only about 10 to 15 percent of my shots out of focus. This was with Low Light AF off since this setting improves accuracy but reduces speed.
I tested the autofocus again after installing the latest firmware, 1.31. It’s not the first update to improve autofocus performance, but 1.31 focuses (pun intended) on the single point AF mode in low light.
For the AF system, the firmware takes baby steps forward; it’s not a huge change. But, while using single point AF, I was able to focus with the exposure set at -4 and even -5 EV when I placed the AF point on something with contrast. In low light, the Z7 II will indeed lock focus, it just doesn’t lock on as fast as some competitors. The Z7 II still takes a bit longer to focus when moving from vastly different focus points — the Canon R3 was a bit faster to focus on the same subject, for example.
I’m finally okay with the Z7 II’s autofocus system enough to recommend it for weddings with their dark dance floors and dimly lit venues. It’s comparable with the D850 for low light and the Sony a7R IV, which also lists a -3 EV in the specs. That said, The Z7 II still isn’t best-in-class when it comes to low light autofocus. The Canon EOS R5 can focus down to -EV 6 (though that’s with an f1.2 lens, and Nikon’s rating is with an f2 lens).
In short, the Nikon Z7 II’s low light autofocus isn’t going to win any races, but it’s not in last place either. The updated firmware didn’t change my overall rating of the camera. But, I’m happy to see the company continuing to move forward and offering existing customers more performance with firmware updates.
The latest Nikon Z7 II firmware is available for download directly from Nikon.