Nikon Z6 Review & Why I Didn’t Buy One
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by Don Rock
Recently, I had the opportunity to try the Nikon Z6 and as you probably know, it's one of Nikon's first mirrorless, full-frame cameras. What I found is that this is a well-built, state-of-the-art, 24 mega-pixel camera featuring image stabilization and good low light capability. Although, this is a great camera with tons of mostly useful features, I won't be buying one any time soon.
I was mainly interested in the Z6 to replace my old Nikon D7100 for a bigger sensor, better low-light performance, the addition of a tilty screen, and focus peaking. I own a variety of manual focus lenses and the focus peaking is something that I could really use. I also like the idea of having a tilting rear screen so that I can shoot from different perspectives and still see what I'm shooting. Other than those things and the larger sensor, there's no advantage to the Z6 except maybe the image stabilization. I don't care about 4k video, so that wasn't a consideration. One big disadvantage though is that my AF/AF-D lenses won't auto-focus with the Z6. There's no focus motor in the camera or in Nikon's FTZ adapter. You can manually focus AF/AF-D lenses using the adapter but that's it.
Z6 Build Quality and Feel
I wear a large size glove and the Z6 feels somewhat small in my hand. The grip is moderately deep but could have been a little deeper for me personally. The only ergonomic feature that stood out was the area where your thumb rests. It's pronounced enough to really help you hold on to the camera.
This camera does have a nice balanced feel, and for obvious reasons, the Z6 is not as beefy or as heavy as its DSLR counterpart. This is attributable to the fact that there are fewer parts: no mirror mechanism and no built-in flash.
If you're familiar with other, more higher-end Nikons then the fit and finish of the camera will be on par with those. In my opinion, the build quality seems just like any other Nikon in this price range – not better, not worse.
Nikon claims there's weather sealing but who knows to what extent. The only clear sign of sealing is the gasket on the battery door.
Z6 Still Photography
As with all Nikon cameras at this level, the image quality is outstanding. Jpegs are sharp and detailed. Having a 24.5 mega-pixel full-frame sensor provides more detail than most of us will ever need or notice.
Exposures from the Z6 were metered near perfectly every time. I rarely needed to use exposure compensation in the hundreds of photos that I took while using this camera.
White balance worked better than I expected using one of four auto white balance modes. I used Auto1 most of the time and switched to Auto☀ when outdoors. Typically, I got nice results and photos had very natural colors coming right out of the Z6.
Personally, I've always liked Nikon's picture profiles and typically use the Vivid photo style with some increases in saturation and sharpness. You also get several other picture profiles to choose from: Auto, Standard, Neutral, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape, and Flat. Regardless, pictures have the same great color that I'd expect from my DSLR.
I'm not going to say much about dynamic range other than it looks good to me! For probably 90% of us that'll be true as well. Dynamic range can be somewhat subjective unless you're comparing large prints – one from the Z6 and one taken on a medium format camera in which case an experienced photographer might notice a difference.
Z6 Focusing System
Since I do not own any Z-mount lenses, I used only F-mount. Auto-focusing for my AF-S lenses with Nikon's adapter actually seemed somewhat quicker than my D7100. Auto-focus is very accurate and I saw no need for any fine-tuning. Regardless of how many focus points I used, subject acquisition was mostly right-on and I have nothing bad to say about the focusing system here.
I really like the focus-peaking on the Z6. It's truly excellent and can be monitored in the EVF or the rear LCD. For me, it's a welcomed feature since my eye sight is not what it once was and I love manual focus lenses. It's also useful when you need to get that shot using a super shallow depth-of-field as it'll tell you exactly what's in focus.
As you turn the focus ring with focus-peaking on, the camera highlights the edges of the objects that are in focus. I found it to be very accurate and it helped a lot to get a larger percentage of my photos in perfect focus.
Z6 Low Light Performance
In low light this camera's performance is as good as can be expected. Only in very dimly lit areas are you going to have issues with the AF. AF worked very well for me with natural light and in well lit areas, but it did hunt at times in very low light.
Photos taken at ISO 6400 and above will have noticeably more noise to them. The graininess doesn't detract from the photo however until you go beyond ISO 12,800 – in my opinion. Like most brands though, super high ISOs such as 102,400 are very noisy and basically worthless.
I Miss the Flash
I do miss having flash built-in. I would use the heck out of that feature. Full-frame DSLRs like the D750 and D810 had a built-in flash and I think Nikon should have put one on the Z6. I'm one who likes to travel light and not have to carry around an external flash unit.
I Miss the Focus Motor
I don't like that Nikon's Z6 has no ability to auto-focus my AF/AF-D lenses (the ones without internal focus motors). It's odd to me that Nikon does not offer an adapter with a focus motor so we can use all F-mount lenses with full functionality as with their higher-end DSLRs. I realize that they want folks to adopt their new line of native lenses for this camera, but that doesn't change how I feel.
On a positive note, it's great that we can adapt almost any lens to this camera due to its short flange distance. There are already dozens of Z-mount adapters that will allow the use of lenses such as: Leica M, M42, Pentax K, Canon FD; just to name a few interesting ones.
Z6 Tilt Screen
Tilt screens are nothing new but I do find myself wanting one on my older cameras. They are great for getting a different perspective on your subject which can add another level of creativity to your photos.
I like the simplicity of the Z6's tilt-screen as it only tilts up or down - not out and sideways; however, this might turn off those who can't use the Z6 for selfies. The LCD is also a touch-screen that can be used for scrolling through your photos and zooming.
The EVF is awesome, it's clear and bright and I experienced no lag. I did notice that it got a little noisy in really low light, but overall I think it's actually as good as or better than an optical view-finder. You get more functionality with the EVF over its optical counterpart in that you can see image playback, magnify images, and show menu items.
Z6 Battery Life
Battery life is decent and I like that I can use my older EN-EL15 battery packs. Nikon was actually being considerate by not making us have to invest in a new type of battery!
You can't use the Z6 charger for the old EN-EL15 batteries though, so you'll still need to keep the old charger for that.
I got 800-1000 photos per charge (with monitor disabled) with the new EN-EL15b battery.
Z6 Image Stabilization
Image stabilization works like it should with any lens – even old manual focus ones. It's a 5-axis type system that can be used along with lens VR as well.
Memory Card Choices or Lack Thereof
Not having dual card slots is no big deal for me, but having only one choice - XQD memory cards at $100+ really sucks. I wish there was an SD or CF slot and an XQD slot for those who don't need the speed, capacity, and other fancy features of XQD. Some might never use 4k video or a 200 frame bursts and if you're a stills photographer like me, then the XQD is overkill.
I did not use the video features of the Z6, but it does do 1920x1080 slow-motion, regular 1920x1080, and 4K UHD 10-bit N-log video with time-code encoded in H.264/MPEG-4, AAC and LPCM, and in MOV or MP4 format.
Main Specs for Nikon Z6:
- Full-frame (FX)
- Mount: Z; requires adapter for F-mount lenses.
- Maximum image size: 6,048 x 4,024 pixels
- Sensor: 24.5 megapixel CMOS
- ISO range: 100-51,200 or 50-204,800
- Auto-focus: 273 AF points across 90% of frame.
- Frame rate: 12 fps
- Image stabilization: 5-axis image sensor shift
- Maximum shutter speed: 1/8000
- Media type: XQD memory cards only
- EVF: OLED electronic viewfinder
- Monitor: Touch screen, tilting rear LCD monitor
- Video: 1,080 and 4k UHD; MOV or MP4; N-Log 10-bit HDMI output.
- Battery: EN-EL15b rechargeable; compatible with EN-EL15 & EN-EL15a
- Weather sealed.
- Made in Japan.
- Price: ~$1700 with FTZ adapter.
Check Nikon's specs page for further details: https://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/mirrorless/z_6/spec.htm
The Nikon Z6 is a versatile mirrorless camera that's well suited for general photography and even pro work. It offers plenty of resolution and provides image rendering that's just as beautiful as you'll see from any other modern digital camera.
For me personally, the reasons to upgrade from my 24 megapixel D7100 would be for the larger sensor, in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS), and focus-peaking. One big plus is that the Z6 is compatible with my older EN-EL15 battery packs. Turn offs include no auto-focus for my AF/AF-D lenses, no built-in flash, and expensive XQD cards.
After weighing the pluses and minuses of the Z6, I decided not to buy one. I just don't feel that there's reason enough to upgrade especially since the five AF/AF-D lenses that I own would be rendered manual focus only.
Never-the-less, I would recommend the Nikon Z6 to those who are ready to buy native Z-mount lenses or already own an AF-S type lens.