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This Affordable Full-Frame Camera Just Might Be My Gateway Drug

A new generation of mirrorless full frame cameras has me questioning my commitment to crop sensors.

nikon z5
Eric Limer

When I bought my first camera, I made a conscious commitment to crop-sensor life. I cast my lot with Micro Four Thirds with my eyes fully open, and for reasons that still hold up: cheaper gear, smaller lenses, resolution enough for 99 percent of purposes. But here in 2020, the road I choose looks to be a dead end. And so like many photographers, I'm faced with reevaluating course for the future. And Nikon's new Z5 has got me second-guessing where I thought I might be headed.

Released back in August, the Z5 is primarily notable for two things in combination: sensor size and price. At a list price of $1,399 (body only), the Nikon Z5 is not the cheapest mirrorless full frame camera available. Options like the Canon RP (which you can find for about $899 these days) and various pre-owned or older-model options of various higher-end bodies have it beat. Not to mention you always could get a DSLR. But the Z5's suite of features and general performance make it an especially enticing gateway drug for potential crop sensor converts like me. And maybe more crucially, a sign of things to come.

There are various advantages that come with a big ol' sensor: creamier bokeh from a shallow depth of field, the ability to crop in obscenely far in post without pixels jabbing you in the eye, better low-light performance. These are all advantages I've been aware of in the abstract, but it's been a revelation to experience them first hand in a compact mirrorless body. In particular, the ability to shoot at night, tripod free, with only a hint of the visual noise I'd expect from my Olympus OM-D EM10 -- all without sacrificing the portability of a mirrorless body -- has been a dream and the thing that will be next to impossible to go back from.

But the Z5's specific combinations of creature comforts make it even more compelling to me. It boasts 5-stop in-body image stabilization that it borrows from its more premium cousin, the Z6, which makes the Z5's low-light performance virtually magical compared to the crop-sensor camera I'm used to. Weather sealing, an autofocus joystick, and dual sim-card slots round out the package.

Choosing a camera system is a complicated calculus, with variables like lens selection, personal preference, brand loyalty, and use case all floating in the mix. As a photographer still shopping around, I'm not sure Nikon's is right for me, and even less confident I could make the call for you.

But what my time with the Z5 has left me completely convinced of is that my eventual conversion from crop sensor to mirrorless full frame is ultimately inevitable. Because if the Z5 is any indication of where the feature set and and price range is headed, the options will only get more tempting from here.

Nikon Z 5
Nikon amazon.com

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