Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera Review - Real World
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The release of two new Nikon Mirrorless cameras the Z7 and the Z6 was a roller coaster ride for many photographers. Everyone I know who was waiting for the day Nikon to release their mirrorless offerings were anticipating great things. Nikon more than anyone set our expectation high on the bar, I know mine was. In my honest opinion, Nikon pumped everyone up by releasing teaser ads explaining how light would be bent, and mirrorless re-invented months prior then displaying a giant countdown timer on their website showing the days, hours and minutes to the release. So, my expectation was very high and I already knew in my gut I would pre-order on the day without even knowing the actual performance of the cameras. That day arrived and now I have a Nikon Z6 and Z7 and have been shooting with both for several weeks on a daily basis. Here are my opinions about the Z6 camera.
2019 Update: During the 2019 CES Nikon announced upcoming Firmware that will add Eye Focusing, improvements to overall focus, CFExpress, and ProRes RAW Codec support. Plus Nikon announced a 14-30mm f/4 S lens.
First, The short list of my 4 annoying things.
(1) EVF startup delay from sleep mode. When the camera is not being used after 30 seconds (default) the camera will go to sleep, which helps squeeze more juice out of the batteries that is good, but the downside is it takes a few seconds to wake up after touching the shutter button. This is not really an issue for Landscape/still life photographers but for fast-moving wildlife or sports you may miss a shot waiting on the camera to respond. To Nikon's credit, you can go into menu C - Timers/AE Lock and set the delay to be longer up to 30 minutes, I set mine to 5 minutes. - This is manageable by simply touching the camera's shutter button ever so often to keep it awake, while you wait on the action to unfold.
(2) Vibration Reduction. The in-camera VR is fantastic - I love it, it works very well indeed allowing me to use non-VR lenses and obtain steady shots at much slower shutter speeds than normal. The issue is when you attach a lens with built-in optical VR and turn on the Nikon Z camera if the lens VR is set to on it will activate and run continuously for as long as the camera is powered. In the world of DSLRs the VR only becomes active as you press the focus and remains active until the acquisition of the image, then it turns off.
- Secondly, you can not disengage the lens VR and switch to in-camera VR only, doing so will shut down the entire VR system. The camera is not configurable to allow Optical VR only or in camera VR separately. Not a big issue but hearing the VR run on the lens constantly is a bit worrisome. Maybe the future of Nikon S lenses will not include Optical VR in the lens - time will tell.
(3) One Card Dilemma. This is the much-debated topic, the bottom line is the Z cameras only have one XQD slot, if you can not live with one then you will need to wait on the next Nikon Mirrorless - hopefully, Nikon listened to all the ranting, and will address this in their next mirrorless camera.
(4) Either EVF or LCD. Not both. You can not use the touch features of the LCD while looking through the EVF, the LCD goes black. Some reviewers have complained about this missing feature and prefer to have the ability to slide the focus point with a finger while looking through the EVF rather than the joystick, they say it is faster with the finger. Me, I never miss the feature because I never experienced it.
Those are my minor annoyances. Bottom Line if you want to skip the rest - The Nikon Z6 is a very capable mirrorless camera. I am truly impressed with how well it is made and the performance for still images and video are both excellent. As far as video is concerned it is the best Video-capable camera Nikon has released to date, Nikon took a giant step forward in regards to the video capabilities on this camera.
As of Jan 2019, my list of the more serious Issues Nikon Z Cameras: Sad to say and verify is the focus performance. Primarily as a wildlife and Bird photographer speed and accuracy is critical for getting the shot quickly - where I live birds do not hang around long when you point a long lens at them. Both the Nikon Z6 and my Nikon Z7 struggle at times with accurate focus/focus tracking. Recently a Hawk was perched watching the birds at the bird feeder - I took out my Z7 and Nikkor 600mm the result was about 40% of the time I depressed the focus the Nikon Z7 would miss and jump to the back or on a nearby branch, this was identical to the performance of the Nikon Z6 and my experience using both these cameras. Additionally, at times when the camera nails focus and I touch the focus button a second later, the camera would lose focus - even though the subject has not moved any.
How serious is the focus issues with both the Nikon Z6 and Z7 - not enough for me to not use the Z6 or Z7, frustrated when it happens yes, but once you come to realize the focus may not be 100% dependable, you adapt to it because there are many other good things the cameras offer.
What I like about the Z6: My non-comprehensive list using bullets without explaining why for each one, and yes some features exist on DSLRs
- Rugged solid and built to weather the elements - Nikon did not skimp on this feature
- Ergonomically speaking very nice and comfortable to hold and use the buttons and dials even with gloves - as I did recently.
- Compatible with legacy batteries and F mount lenses which I have a stack of
- USB charging when using the newer included EN-ELb battery
- Excellent Image Quality and output even at higher ISOs above 6400
- Dynamic Range is excellent as long as you don't blow the highlights, or leave the lens cap on you have an image.
- Lightweight - gone are the days of lugging a multi-pound camera to capture beautiful images
- Highly configurable with 3 User Settings + my menu + I menu can be customized to your needs
- User settings and independent between Video and Stills, giving additional flexibility for video users
- Better video than the Z7, Z6 has 4k no crop.
- In body Vibration Reductions - fantastic. Hopefully, Z lenses will be cheaper - right!
How does the Nikon Z6 Perform? Before the Z I have been using a D850, D500, Fujifilm XT-3, D5 - for my wildlife work and primarily use the D500 along with my 400 or 600mm depending on the location. I am spoiled by the excellent performance the D500 and D850 delivers.
My Wildlife Bird in Flight experience with the Nikon Z6 mounted on a Nikkor 400mm ED FL f/2.8 with and without a 1.4 TC. Knowing how the D500 performs I hoped Nikon Z6 would rise to the standards of the D500. How did it do? It works but not without some missed shots, this is only as it relates to very demanding bird in flight photography using the Super Telephoto lenses tracking and continuous focus - your skills at tracking and the cameras ability to maintain focus. In all other photography situations, I found the Z cameras perform on par as my D500 with one exception as stated below.
The Nikon Z6 mounted on the Nikkor 400mm ED FL f/2.8 lens
The Nikon D500 is more responsive using a longer super telephoto lens for ACTION, like birds flying, Why? the D500/D850 uses an Optical Viewfinder. The current state of mirrorless EVF technology is not comparable to looking through an Optical Viewfinder. Optical Viewfinders do not tax the camera's processor allowing more CPU cycles to help with focus. Optical viewfinders make it easier for tracking fast moving birds as compared to any mirrorless EVF - this is just fact. With ANY EVF today there will be a slight refresh delay as the sensor processes and updates the EVF to reflect what the lens was seeing at any moment in time, not Sony, Nikon, Canon or Fuji has zero lag EVFs, close but no. Both the Nikon D500 and Nikon D850 are better choices for the task of fast-moving subjects.
Based on my experience the Nikon Z6 the camera does well enough for people sports and any other type of photography you can throw at it. Keeping in mind for the fastest of moving objects using Super Telephotos - you must come to grips and understand this is a mirrorless fly by wire camera. You will need to adjust your habits and skills to make the experience and hit rate better when using the Z6.
Nikon has done a fantastic job with the Nikon Z6 EVF! The Nikon Z6 EVF is bright, clear, and very usable with minimal lag but, like I said there is no EFV as good as Optical Viewfinder for keeping your brain up to date with "real life" as it occurs. In high-speed motorsports and fast moving birds, DSLRs are currently the kings in my opinion. Mirrorless cameras are more comparable to optical DSLRs when using non-super telephotos with slower moving subjects.
How about all other photography not involving fast-moving subjects? I found the Nikon Z6 to be remarkably capable of tackling most anything you throw at it photographically. I certainly don't find myself wanting to pick up my heavy DSLR for anything other than the most demanding birds in flight outings. The Nikon Z6 can do everything equally as well as my DSLR can do and in many cases do it better with higher quality output. In fact, I find it better in many regards especially for macro, landscape, and low light shooting. With the smaller size Z, you might just want to start considering street photography again.
Image Quality of the Nikon Z6 exceeds that of the Nikon D500. Especially using Native Z lenses, you can't touch Z quality with F mount glass. Using higher ISOs on the Nikon Z I found the output of the Nikon Z6 to be much cleaner and produces better quality images over the D500. I do less image cleanup with the Z6, the image quality at higher ISOs it is better and cleaner overall. This new sensor and processor is looking good as they say and I now use auto ISO more often without worry of noise.
Flexibility out in the field: Both the D500 and Nikon Z have customizable features but I find the Nikon Z6 much improved over the Nikon D500 as I have 3 dedicated via a dial. As an example, U1 is set up as Auto ISO with + 3 comp while U2 can be Aperture Priority shooting with wide area focusing, etc. All quickly accessible using a dial. We know the Nikon D500 is a DX body thus the FOV is greater when using lenses this is sometimes desirable but hinders the wider end of the deal. The Nikon Z6 is a full frame mirrorless and can be set to DX mode but at a cost of MegaPixels over the D500 because the D500 is already a 1.5 crop, thus you are not cropping the 24MP sensor as you do with the Z6.
Video: Hands down the Nikon Z6 is a full-featured video camera when and if you need those features. The Nikon D500 pales in comparison. I never did many videos with the D500 other than to capture some wildlife creature crawling/walking along. Briefly using the Nikon Z6 video I realized I will be doing more videos now, and it is easier to adjust settings and the live view actually works with proper focusing. I added some URLs of YouTube Z6 Video below.
Battery Life: Using the new EL-ENb batteries you reap the benefits of charging via USB, I recommend if your out for a day of shooting you always carry a couple spare batteries - most likely you will never need it unless you are doing Video. Battery life on the Z6 is good to very good unless you shoot full-time video, 1 battery per 4 hours.
Time to wrap it up: I found the Nikon Mirrorless experience to be a pleasant one, The camera is easy to work with, a pleasure to carry offers quick access to its many features, highly customizable to address any photography needs + compatibility with Nikon's Legendary Flash CLS, access to F Mount lenses and new and future superior Z mount lenses.
If you do mostly fast-moving motorsports or bird in flight photography - I would recommend that you consider the D500 or D850. But, aside from some focus performance issues, the Nikon Z6 is a fantastic camera with a recommendation from the TrueToad.
Get Your Z Cameras through Adorama
Nikon Z6 Features at a Glance - Interactive Features
Portable USB Charger for EN-EL batteries
- Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 ED FL VR
- NIKKOR 24-70mm f/4 S
- Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 S
|Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Kit
||Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Kit
|Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 ED FL
||Nikkor 600mm f/4 ED FL