After Canon, Nikon is now also launching a professional DSLR camera for sports and news photographers. What is the difference between the D6 and its predecessor, the D5, and the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III?
Click on the camera for specifications, prices and test results.
TEST RESULTS Nikon D6:
On the outside, there are hardly any differences between the D6 and its predecessor, the D5.
Like the EOS-1D X Mark III, the D6 is primarily intended for professional sports, news and nature photographers. Above all, they want an excellent camera with a high series speed, combined with a reliable autofocus system and excellent image quality directly from the camera, even at high sensitivities. After all, for an assignment, there is usually no time for post-processing; the images must be sent to the customer or the agency as quickly as possible. The D6 meets all these requirements.
BUILD AND OPERATION
On the outside, there are hardly any differences between the D6 and its predecessor, the D5. As a result, the D6 immediately feels familiar. All the physical controls are in the same position, so that no learning process is required for those who have already worked with a D5. The D6 has a horizontal and a vertical grip with a release button, AF-ON button and a joystick to change the position of the focal point.
The big, bright optical viewfinder, the LCD screen and the two monochrome status screens are also identical. The LCD screen displays a sharp image with 2.4 million pixels and is clearly visible in bright light. The screen is touch sensitive and can be used to set the extended camera menu and to view images by swiping left or right. Swiping up or down allows you to protect a photo from deletion, assign a score, add a speech note or select a photo to forward – you assign the exact function yourself from the menu. New is a connection for a Kensington safety lock. That’s useful if you use the D6 as a remote camera, for example behind the goal at a football match.
The new EN-EL-18c battery sits in the vertical grip. According to the CIPA standard, this is good for 3,580 shots. In practice, you’ll get more, depending on how often you use the screen and which wireless functions you activate. Like the EOS-1D X Mark III, the D6 now also has WiFi, Bluetooth and a GPS receiver built in. For years, we were told that this wireless technology was incompatible with the high weather resistance requirements for these cameras. The fact that Nikon and Canon have found a solution at the same time suggests that the engineers visit the same bars after working hours!
But seriously, for the user, it means that the D6 works with Nikon’s handy SnapBridge app. This automatically sends a smaller version of the photo to a connected smartphone while you’re shooting. Very convenient, and a potential time savings for professional photographers with a deadline. The D6 still has the connection for the wireless WT-6A transmitter for those who need a bigger Wi-Fi range. An ethernet port is also available so that the camera can be connected directly to a wired network. According to Nikon, sending images to an FTP server is 15% faster.
For the D5, Nikon offered the choice between a version with two Compact Flash memory cards and a model with two XQD memory cards. The D6 comes in a single version, with two slots that fit both XQD and CFExpress memory cards. If you use two cards at the same time, you can use the menu to set how they are used: overflow, backup, RAW on card 1 and jpeg on card 2, or two different jpeg formats. With the latter option, you can save a full-size jpeg for your archive on one card, for example, and a reduced jpeg for forwarding on the second. It is advisable to buy CFExpress memory cards immediately when purchasing the D6. After all, they are faster than XQD – not only when writing images to the card, but also and above all when copying files to the hard drive in your computer (see the test of memory cards in Focus 5).
The maximum serial speed of the D6 is 14 frames per second, in full resolution and with continuous autofocus – that is two frames per second more than the D5. The EOS-1D X Mark III is faster, with 16 fps when using the optical viewfinder, and (like the Sony A9) 20 fps when live view. The D6 can shoot completely silently at 10 fps in live view with the electronic shutter, but that is without continuous autofocus (5 fps with C-AF).
The buffer of the D6 is large enough for 200 consecutive images in jpeg format with full resolution (20 megapixels). After reaching that limit, the camera slows down. The EOS-1D X Mark III maintains its high shooting speed as long as there is space on your memory card. Is that a problem in practice? I don’t think so. 200 jpeg shots at 14 fps, which is good for 14 seconds of continuous photography, so more than enough for the 110-meter hurdles from start to finish. In RAW format (14-bit, lossless compression), the memory card plays the decisive role. With a ProGrade Cobalt CFExpress Card, the D6 still achieves 175 consecutive RAW images at 14 bps. With a slower Sony M XQD card, the D6 slowed down after 114 shots.
The D5 already had a very reliable phase-based autofocus system, and the D6 has become even better. The D6 has fewer AF points than the D5: 105 compared to 153. But on the D6, these are all sensitive cross sensors, which can measure phase differences in both horizontal and vertical directions. In addition, all the autofocus points can be selected – only 55 of the 155 were selectable on the D5. The center focal point is extra photosensitive; it works at LW -4.5, while the other points are sensitive to LW -4.
The familiar Nikon AF field modes are present: single point, automatic, dynamic field (with 9, 25, 49 or 105 AF points), 3D tracking and group field AF. With the latter, up to 17 customizable configurations are now available, so that the AF pattern can be adapted to the shooting situation. For example, it is possible to select a group field AF with all AF points on a horizontal line; the camera then focuses on the subject on the line closest to the camera. This is practical, for example, in a race where participants move side-by-side in the direction of the camera; the D6 then automatically picks out the leader.
As with Canon, focusing is supported by the RGB light measurement sensor. This sensor recognizes shapes, colors and faces and ensures that the continuous AF continues to follow the selected subject.
The accuracy of the 3D tracking on the D6 is phenomenal. All I had to do was make sure that the initial focus was on an athlete’s head, and the continuous AF continued to follow it perfectly, even if he turned his head or another player walked through the frame. Result: out of 1,200 images from a badminton competition, I had only 6 blurred ones. Canon and Sony give a lot of publicity to their smart AF algorithms, but Nikon has at least as much right to brag.
In live view, the picture is less positive. The D6 then uses contrast detection, which is much slower than phase detection when using the optical viewfinder. There must be a reason why Nikon did not equip the sensor of the D6 with phase-based “autofocus pixels,” as with the sensor in the Z-system cameras and the D780, but it does mean that the D6 in live view is not suitable for fast action. The EOS1-D X Mark III, with its Dual Pixel CMOS AF, wins in this area.
And while Canon promotes the EOS1-D X Mark III as a device that is suitable for both photo and video, the video capabilities of the D6 were apparently not given priority. The D6 can film in 4K resolution with up to 30 fps, but with a 1.7x crop. In Full HD, the full width of the sensor is used, at a maximum frame rate of 60 fps; there are no higher frame rates for slow motion. Nor is there a RAW format for video or a Log profile.
We already wrote that the image quality of jpeg images is crucial for a camera like the D6. Here, Nikon fortunately does not disappoint at all. The shots (with the Standard Picture Control) are sharp with plenty of contrast. The light measurement ensures correctly exposed shots, and the automatic white balance control works outstandingly. The performance at high sensitivities is excellent; up to ISO 64,000, there is a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention, so that the shots can be used without reservation. The sensitivity can be extended to the equivalent of ISO 3,280,000, but the noise reduction is so strong that the subject is difficult to recognize.
|sensor||full-frame, 21 m9|
|video||3,840 x 2,160 24/25/30f|
|ISO||auto, 100-102,400 (50-3,280,000 exp.)|
|max. series speed||14 fps C-AF|
|storage media||2x XQD/CFExpress Type B|
|battery capacity||3580 shots|
|dimensions||160 x 163 x 92 mm|
|weight (incl battery)||1270 g|
|list price||€ 7,299.00 (body)|
|importer||www.nikon.nl / .be|
ConclusiON: REVIEW Nikon D6
The performance at high sensitivities is excellent; up to ISO 64,000, there is a good balance between noise reduction and detail retention.
The D6 is the best sports and action photo camera Nikon has ever made.
The accuracy of the autofocus system is amazing, and the image quality at high sensitivities is particularly good. By adding WiFi and Bluetooth, it fits better in a world where everyone has a smartphone in their pocket. The video options are sufficient for those who occasionally want to film; but for those professionals who want to combine photo and video, the D6 falls short.