COMPLETE STARTER MODEL: Nikon Z6
The Nikon Z6 and Z7 are the first full-frame mirrorless models from Nikon. However, the cameras do not feel like typical first-generation products with all the flaws that sometimes come with that. The cameras immediately feel familiar, with the well-known Nikon ergonomics and menu structure. One advantage that Nikon had, of course, is that they have not only been able to use the best from their SLR models, but that they have also been able to watch the competition figure out what works and what works less well in system cameras. The ergonomics are good, especially thanks to the nice, big grip, and the touchscreen offers a lot of ease of use. For the Z6 and Z7, Nikon had to develop a number of things itself, such as phase detection on the sensor and built-in image stabilization, because other Nikon models did not yet have that. The Z7 is currently the flagship of the line, but with its competitive price and virtually identical options, the Z6 may be the more interesting camera for many photographers.
THE SAME, YET DIFFERENT
The Z6 shares a lot of technology with the Z7. Despite the price difference, both cameras have the same body, the same screen and even the same 3.6-megapixel viewfinder. The big difference between the two cameras is in the sensor and the autofocus system on that sensor. The A6 has 24 megapixels, where the A7 has 45. The AF system is therefore somewhat less extensive. The AF system of the Z6 has 273 points, compared to the 493 of the Z7. Because the files are somewhat smaller, the highest shooting speed is a bit higher than with the Z7, namely 12 images per second. A difference that could possibly work to the advantage of the Z6 is that you can film with the Z6 in 4K in full-frame mode using an oversampled image. With the Z7, you get the best 4K image precisely in crop mode.
MANY ADVANTAGES WITHOUT A MIRROR
Once you have the Z6 and Z7 in your hand, the benefits of a mirrorless camera become clear. The Z6 weighs slightly less than the D750, with which it is somewhat comparable. In comparison with the D750, the Z6 has many more AF points, which also cover a much larger part of the image. This allows you to follow subjects more easily, and you are freer in your composition. Another advantage of the mirrorless design is the built-in image stabilization. The Z6 has a five-axis image stabilization with the Z lenses and a three-axis stabilization with lenses that are used via an adapter. In combination with F-lenses with stabilization, the camera can use both systems. Nikon claims a benefit of 5 stops with the Z-Nikkors. That roughly corresponds to what similar systems get from the competition and is better than what you achieve with an SLR.
XQD: FAST BUT EXPENSIVE
What a number of photographers will have to get used to is that the Nikon Z6, like the Z7, uses a single XQD card. So there is no model with a double card slot yet. Thanks to the XQD card, the camera can quickly empty its buffer, but you cannot use CF or SD cards in the Z6. CF Express cards will be supported in the future. The Z6 therefore focuses primarily on the future and not on the past. The new mount is also an expression of that. While the XQD card for the high end Z7 with its large files makes sense, that is not entirely true for the Z6. If you switch from a camera with SD cards, then XQD requires a considerable investment. A 64-Gb XQD card costs around 100 euros, and if you want to have at least two, you’ve easily spent 10% extra on your camera. This is quite substantial for an entry-level mirror reflex.
A NEW MOUNT AND NEW LENSES
The Nikon Z6 and Z7 constitute a break with the past in more than one respect. In addition to the mirror, the camera also says goodbye to the well-known Nikon F mount that has been in use since 1959. The new mount is completely electronic and much larger than the old one. This should clear the way for extra bright lenses such as a 58 mm f/0.95. The first three lenses that are available for the Z6 are a 24-70 mm f/4, a 35 mm f/1.8 and a 50 mm f/1.8. In addition, there is also an adapter available with which Nikon F lenses can be used on the Z mount. The Nikkor 14-30 mm f/4 has now also been announced and, like the 24-70 mm S, can be retracted for transport. It is therefore very compact, and what is perhaps even more special is that you can use regular screw filters on it.
Nikon Z7 versus Nikon D750
The Nikon D750 is a model that has been around for a while, and you notice that as soon as you put the Nikon Z6 next to it. Both cameras have a 24-megapixel sensor, but the Nikon Z6 has a more modern BSI sensor and an EXPEED 6 processor. It is two generations newer than the D750. You can see that in the sensitivity, among other things. The Nikon Z6 achieves ISO 51,200 (ISO 204,800 Extended). That is two stops more than the D750. The Nikon Z6 is also twice as fast, at 12 images per second, versus 6.5 for the D750. The Nikon Z6 can also film in 4K; the Nikon D750 only in Full HD. The Z6 is also lighter and smaller and has an electronic viewfinder with a larger magnification than that of the Nikon D750. The rear screen of the Z6 also has nearly twice as many pixels with 2.1 million than that of the D750, which only has 1.2 million. And something that the Nikon D750 does not have at all and the Z6 does have is built-in image stabilization. Are there no longer any reasons to buy a D750, apart from the optical viewfinder? Yes, at least two. The Nikon D750 is currently slightly cheaper than the Z6, and you get four times as many photos from one battery charge according to the CIPA standards: 1230, versus 330 for the Z6.
Nikon z6 versus Sony A7 III
The big competitor of the Nikon Z6 is of course the Sony A7 III. Both are mirrorless system cameras with a full-frame sensor with 24 megapixels. The Nikon Z7 uses a faster and more modern XQD card, but it only has one card slot. The Sony uses SD cards, two of which can be used in the camera. Just like the Z7, the Nikon Z6 has a viewfinder with 3.6 megapixels; the Sony A7 III still works with the slightly older 2.36-megapixel sensor. Also, ergonomically, the Nikon is slightly nicer than the Sony, especially thanks to the clearly larger handle. On the other hand, the eye-detection autofocus of the Sony works slightly better than that of the Nikon Z6. If you already have modern Nikon F lenses, then the Z6 is a logical choice, because they work great with an adapter and the menus are immediately familiar. The Sony has much more choice in lenses specially designed for the A7 and A9 models. Ultimately, the Sony is a slightly more sophisticated camera, which should not be a surprise, considering that it is already the third generation for Sony. What is more striking is how little the Nikon Z6 has to give up to the Sony. And with the recent firmware updates, the gap has become even smaller.
Nikon z6: BUILD QUALITY, DESIGN AND ERGONOMICS
The body is more compact and slightly more angular than the design of the current SLR models, without the camera looking ‘retro’. It is, of course, a lot smaller and also thinner than the full-frame Nikon single-lens reflex cameras, but thanks to the strong grip on the front, it feels great in the hand. It has an on-off switch around the shutter release button, so you can easily operate it with one hand if you wish. We like to see that with light mirrorless cameras. The on button is close above the aperture wheel, and you have to be careful that you don’t turn the camera off if you want to adjust the aperture. In addition to the usual double setting wheels, the Z6 has a screen on top of the camera so that you can always check your settings. The selector switch is located on the left side of the top cover. On the front, the first thing that stands out is of course the huge mount, with a diameter of fully 55 mm. It is the largest mount of all full-frame cameras. Now that Nikon is finally doing away with the F mount, they are also doing well right from the start. On the back, you will find most of the buttons, and they are all known to Nikon users. The camera has a joystick for autofocus, and that will delight many users. The battery is a new type and can also be charged via USB in the camera. The older EN-EL15 batteries of the D850 and D7500 can also be used, but without the option of charging them in the camera.
SCREEN AND VIEWFINDEr
The viewfinder is, of course, electronic and has a resolution of 3.6 megapixels and a magnification of no less than 0.8x. That is even bigger than the 0.75x of the D850. The difference is visible. The resolution is lower than that of the new Panasonic S models, but this is one of the most beautiful electronic viewers of the moment: big, detailed, high-contrast and perfectly distortion-free. With a viewfinder like this, switching from an SLR to the Z6 becomes a lot easier. It has a high refresh rate of 60 images per second. The only time the viewfinder makes itself visible a bit is when you take shots in the highest setting with liveview. Then it will not keep refreshing, and you see an older image at a given moment, making it difficult to follow moving subjects. The rear screen has a resolution of no less than 2.1 megapixels and is touch sensitive. You can both use it to select your autofocus point and to operate the menus. You can also easily browse through your images and zoom in on photos you have taken via the touch option. What is missing is that you cannot shift your autofocus points while you have the camera held to your eye. You are then dependent on the joystick. It works great, but you do have to go through all your autofocus points. A touchscreen is often just faster. The screen is tiltable for shooting from high or low views, but only if you hold the camera horizontally. The screen does not turn, and you cannot use it for vlogging or selfies.
The 24-megapixel BSI sensor of the Nikon Z6 is an excellent sensor. The sensor has an anti-alias filter. That costs a little bit of sharpness, but also ensures less moiré in recordings. Competitors such as the Sony A7 III and the Canon EOS R also have such a filter. In that respect, they give nothing up to each other. Although the resolution of the Z6 is a lot lower than that of the Z7, you won’t notice much in daily practice. In combination with the new S lenses, the Z6 lets you to make particularly sharp and detailed images that you can have printed quite large without issues. For many photographers, it is more than enough.
The sensor of the Nikon Z6 broadly corresponds to that of the Sony A7 III. The dynamic range of the Z7 is hardly inferior to that, even though extreme clarification of the dark areas can cause stripes in the image. The pixels used for the phase detection are supposed be the cause of this. They are not used for registering image information. You will only see it if you apply extreme image editing. We didn’t see it in our field tests. It does mean that the usable dynamic range of the Z7 is slightly lower than that of the Sony A7 III. The dynamic range is again slightly larger than that of the Canon EOS R.
The Nikon Z6 has low noise levels. At ISO 100, you don’t see it, and when you expose properly, you get hardly any problems at 200 and 400 ISO. Just like the Sony A7 III, the Nikon Z6 has Dual Gain technology. At ISO800, the camera receives an additional signal amplification. This reduces noise even further.
Like the Z7, the Nikon Z6 can film in full HD up to 120 frames per second and in 4K up to 30 frames per second. The Z6 has both focus peaking and an overexposure warning. And that this Z6 is a serious hybrid camera is evident from the fact that you can film in 10-bit 4:2:2 in N-log and that you can send that via the HDMI output. One difference from the Z7 is that the Nikon Z6 for 4K video in full frame uses the entire sensor and uses the extra pixels to oversample the images. As a result, the quality in 4K is higher than with the Z7, which does not use all the pixels in the full frame. The Z6 has both focus peaking and an overexposure warning. Unfortunately, you can only use one of the two at a time. On the Nikon Z6, you can use an N-log profile for the most flexible post-processing. Even registration of time code is possible, which is useful if you are filming with multiple cameras. Slow motion is also possible, by shooting at 120 frames per second in full HD (1080x 1920). Naturally, the Z6 also has an input for headphones and a microphone. If you want to film with a Nikon, this is the camera you need.
The Nikon Z6 has fewer phase detection auto focus points than the Z7. But otherwise the system works exactly the same. The autofocus in S-AF is very precise and fast, and, because the sharpness is measured on the sensor, you do not have to calibrate lenses either. After all, with a mirrorless camera you do not suffer from front or back focus. The autofocus system can use face recognition, and that generally works well. Nikon is also releasing a firmware update that also makes eye detection possible. Continuous autofocus works well on the Z6, up to the maximum speed of 5.5 images per second at which the Z6 can still focus. However, the camera has difficulty holding the subject, and the AF point regularly ends up in the background. As a result, you regularly miss the right shot in sports photography with the Z6. The Nikon Z6 focuses well in low light, but it helps to use a bright lens or to open the aperture as far as possible. The autofocus works just as well for video as for photography, and that is a big difference from the SLR models from Nikon. They use a contrast detection system for video that now feels very dated. The phase detection autofocus on the sensor of the Z6 works just as well in video as for photography, and that makes a huge difference if you want to film with autofocus.
A unique feature is that the autofocus ring of the Nikon S lenses is programmable if you do not want to use it for adjusting the autofocus. You can then use it for choosing the aperture or setting the exposure compensation. As soon as you switch the lens from AF to MF, this function is cancelled, and the focus ring becomes the focus ring again. This doesn’t go as far as the extra programmable ring on the Canon EOS R, but it’s a nice option.
Just like the Sony A7 series, the Nikon Z6 has built-in image stabilization, which sets it apart from Canon mirrorless cameras. Thanks to that image stabilization, Nikon can afford not to provide the just-announced Nikon S-line lenses with built-in stabilization. And that should make designing them a lot easier. It also means that older Nikon lenses without image stabilization that are used with an adapter on the Nikon Z6 are also suddenly stabilized. And that’s a nice upgrade. The stabilization works over five axes, and that is two more than is possible with image stabilization in a lens. We have now been able to test the effectiveness of the system with the Nikon 24-70 f/4 S and found a gain of around four to five stops. That is a very good result.
Curious about the performance of the Nikon D3500 in practice? Click on the button below and visit our renewed web gallery with sample images. The images can be downloaded in full resolution to be viewed at 100%.
ConclusiON: Nikon Z6 REVIEW
- Excellent sensor with high dynamic range
- Excellent built-in image stabilization
- Compact and lightweight body
- Predominantly good autofocus in AF-S
- Fine operation and good ergonomics
- Good video in 4K
- Nice viewfinder
- Joystick for AF point selection
- C-AFnot perfect
- AF selection via touchscreen not possible with camera held to your eye
- Screen does not turn
- XQD card is fast but expensive.
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The Nikon Z6 is a very nice camera to work with. It is comfortable to hold, and all the buttons are where they should be. The menu system is also immediately familiar to every Nikon user. If we compare the Z6 with the Nikon D750 and the Sony A7 III, it beats the SLR with ease and is close to the market leader in mirrorless full-frame cameras. And that is a huge achievement. What you get with the Z6 is all the advantages of Nikon in a much smaller, lighter and more portable package. The camera has an excellent electronic viewfinder that should be able to convince almost every DSLR user, and the image quality that you can achieve with this camera is excellent. The Nikon Z6 is a very good all-round camera that is a good choice for a very broad target audience.