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Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera Review - Real World

Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera Review - Real World
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Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera Review - Real World

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Full Frame Goodness

- As of March 2019: Read my Nikon Z7 Review first then come back to the Z6 as both cameras have very similar focus issues. if you are thinking about buying a Z camera for bird in flight I would suggest you hold off until Nikon releases a Firmware update to improve focusbut for everything else - The Nikon Z6 is the next level of camera.

Nikon released two Mirrorless cameras the Z7 and the Z6 and that was a roller coaster ride for many photographers.  Everyonewas waiting for the day Nikon to release their mirrorless offerings and was anticipating Great Things. 

Nikon more than anyone set our expectation high on the mirrorless bar, I know mine was.  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. Like many, 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.  I do not like being lied too!

This is a three-month updated review of the Nikon Z6. March 2019: following daily use of both the Z7 and Z6 I have acquired enough insight to share with readers wishing to know more about the Z6. 

Just like the Nikon Z7 review, I will preface this review with the following paragraph - 

** My comments concerning focus is based primarily on FTZ adapted Nikkor Telephoto Lenses and NOT the Native Z lenses. I found the current (3) native lenses work well enough to meet my general photography needs. So don't be put off by some of my whining in the Focus Performance Section below. Consider a D850 or D500 if you do action photography as your primary photography. **

Why Buy a Nikon Z6 Mirrorless:

  • More Information provided in the viewfinder and LCD which is customizable
  • The EVF displays the exposure in real time - WYSIWYG, What you see is the picture you get, no more chimping
  • No Mirror for more quite operations and less vibration + focus is direct off the sensor
  • Lighter and smaller - makes you want to use the camera and not dread carrying it
  • Better Video and Live View - The Nikon Z6 has superior Video capabilities over any Nikon Camera to date
  • Faster Frame Rates a whopping 12fps
  • Video Autofocus 
  • True Silent Shooting - no sound what so ever
  • The BEST time lapse of ANY camera - NO camera on the market has better timelapse
  • The best ergonomics of any camera - my opinion
  • Full customization to fit you the photographer, 3 still profiles and 3 video profiles via dial
  • Latest bells and whistles for BlueTooth, Wifi and SnapBridge

Why NOT Buy a Nikon Z6 Mirrorless:

  • If you do fast moving wildlife or sports photography 
  • If You expect the top of the line focus performance

Build and Ergonomics: The Nikon Z6 is a well made high quality, rugged weathered sealed camera on the level of a D5, the build is just that good. Ergonomically speaking the camera is well designed to fit into your hand without being cramped with all necessary buttons within fingers reach, couple that with the lightness of the Z6 means it is a pleasure to hold and use.

The EVF: Just like its big brother The EVF is one of my favorite likes with the Nikon Z6, It is Big and Bright with minimal lag and excellent refresh rates. Looking through you see the total information picture - lot more information and the best part you can customize most of it. If it becomes too cluttered you can declutter with a touch of the DISP button. On the side of the EVF is a push-pull diopter to adjust for eyesight with or without glasses, and a button to switch between EVF only, LCD only or both. The EVF also has a long eye relief to keep your nose off the LCD when looking through the EVF. I rate the Z6 EVF as the best EVF on the market.

LCD: Like the EVF the LCD is large, easy to read and can if you desire to display the most important photo information at a glance, and the good news is most of what is displayed can be changed by touching the screen icons so you don't need to go into the menus.

Menus and Customizations: Another Great Feature of The Z6. The Nikon Z is highly customizable and offers 3 dedicated profiles for stills and 3 for video shooters and are independent for each other. With a turn of a top dial, you can move from a landscape profile to an Action shooting Profile for example and if you switch to video have 3 profiles for that mode as well.  The new i menu offers quick access to the most used functions of the Z6 and it can be customized if you desire to remove and replace one function with the one you use more often. With the i menu you literally never need to take your eye off the viewfinder to access and change settings. You may also set and change the action of function buttons such as what the lens focus ring does on native lenses, I set mine to change f/stops. Even the record button can be set for a function when in still photo mode. Bottom Line the Z7 camera is made to fit your photography needs. In summary, the Nikon Z is one of the most highly customizable cameras on the market.

Battery Life: This depends on how much video you shoot - For every hour of shooting you need 1 battery. For still photos using only the EVF I got near 800. With the LCD on and off I was around 550 with two bars left.  I do recommend you have at least one spare and the good news here is the Z cameras can be charged from the USB cable.

Image Resolution and ISO performance: People reported banding but considering I don't shoot 6 stops under in low light and try to fix in post, I feel that claim is mostly ridiculous. The images from the Z6 is very good indeed. Unlike the Z7 the Z6 includes anti-aliasing so the resolution will not be a good as that of the Z7 but has plenty of punch with the 24mp sensor. The detailed resolution, clarity, and colors this 24mp BSI sensor delivers are very good.  To make it even better the ISO performance is also an improvement when using higher ISOs. This is the one camera where I trust and use auto ISO without fear of too much noise. Low light performance is very good, one of the better cameras, especially in video mode. The native ISO is 100 up to 51,200.

Shutter Performance: The Nikon Z6 offers good shutter performance from a quite, to totally silent, Single Frame, low speed to high speed continuous with the ability to set the number of frames in continuous mode up to 12fps with some limitations like the first frame is metered but not the rest, and I doubt it really matters within one second. You can also limit the number of total frames in a burst if you so desire. As stated you can change the shooting mode within the i menu. If you are into timelapse the Z6 is no slouch and to reduce the file sizes you can shoot at reduced RAW or JPEGs sizes.

Video: Top resolution is 4K no crop 3840x2160 at 30/25/24p as well as the lower resolutions of 1080 with upto 120fps and lower resolutions if required. The Nikon Z6 video performance is better than that of the Z7 and better than any other Nikon camera to date.

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 a firmware update will allow the option to use either in body or lens VR.

Button and Dials: Rear buttons are not backlighted which I enjoy on my D850 for astrophotography. The Z7 button layout is easy to navigate and not too crowded with the i menu button placed right below the joystick to allow quick thumb access to i menu items. Fewer dedicated buttons overall but with the i menu, you probably will not miss them. 

Wireless: Like the Z7 the Nikon Z6 features robust wireless options to facilitate wirelessly copying images to your smartphone via Snap Bridge as you shoot and with the Nikon App you can remotely control and fire the camera. 

Using the FTZ adapter: I tested all my many Nikkor F glass, and Sigma lenses, they all worked perfectly. The focus speed test results for most adapted lenses is hardly noticeable but did vary from lens to lens. Additional S lenses will take some time to reach the market so the FTZ adapter is a must in my opinion especially if you have an F mount lenses in your stock.  At least you get a $100.00 discount on the FTZ if purchased with the Z camera. If you have Tamron lenses please visit the Tamron site for compatibility, not all Tamron lenses work with the FTZ. It was a good move of Nikon to offer the FTZ.

Focus Performance: Lots of variables dictate the results you achieve. Variables such as lens choice (adapted/non-adapted), shooting environment, lighting situation, the subject, distance, and the person holding the camera. In good lighting using native 24-70 S lens, the focus performance is very acceptable. Good face detection, Good Tracking but awkward to activate you have to turn it on then hit the ok button.  Nikon promises eye detection and tracking in a future firmware release - keep your "eye" on the Nikon support site. In a low light situation with faster-moving action, the Nikon Z cameras did at times miss the shot more so than my D850 in the same situation. I don't consider it unacceptable just something to be aware of.

* For Movie Mode, you can change the focus speed in the menu as well at tracking sensitivity, I use 4 for speed and high 2 for AF tracking sensitivity (video mode) and get good results. This allows videographers to slowly focus in if the situation dictates.

* Focus Performance with Telephoto Adapted lenses: I shoot a lot of fast-moving birds using Long Pro Nikkor Glass (400, 500, 600mm) in situations where busy backgrounds exist I get a LOT of missed shots.  I tried various focus modes with mixed results such as Single Point Continuous and Wide Area Continuous as well as dynamic. Each of these focus modes is not as reliable as my D850 and sometimes the Z6 would go out of focus and required me to repoint the lens to another subject or twist the focus collar to get it back in the game. So, if you do action type photography the Z would not be the best choice, I would pick up a D500 or D850 instead.

Face and Subject Tracking:  The Nikon Z6 support face detection and also support subject tracking. Using subject tracking you enter the mode choose auto area focus via i menu then to active press ok once you have your subject selected. The Z6 will track the subject you choose. For eye tracking. during the 2019 CES Nikon announced upcoming Firmware that will add Eye Detection, and overall improvements to focus, plus a few other goodies. Auto Focus during subject tracking work well for slower moving people but once the pace picks the Z6 at times, misses the focus. Nothing too serious but it is not perfect.

The short list of my 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) 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.

(3) 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. The many useful features of the Z6 out weighs any shortcommings and is a worthy camera to own and use.

No Battery Grip: It was rumored early that a battery grip would be offered which due to a lack of a coupling on the bottom of the Z cameras I highly doubt a battery grip will show up. The Z6 is so light it is impossible to balance the camera with a Nikkor 400/600mm lens. If a grip was available it might help balance the camera.

Nikon 400mm ED FL f/2.8
The Nikon Z6 mounted on the Nikkor 400mm ED FL f/2.8 lens
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 very well indeed.

Based on my experience the Nikon Z6 the camera does well enough for people sports in good lighting, Landscape, Macro, Stills, Protitaiure and general photography. 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. With the smaller size Z, you might just want to start considering street photography again.

Image

Time to wrap it up:  I found the Nikon Mirrorless experience to be a very 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

Nikon Z6 Map


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I live at the edge of the forest in semi-moist locations, I enjoy larva, and other delights. Although I am toothless and mostly warty, I am a sight to see.

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Photographer's Notes

Portable USB Charger for EN-EL batteries

 Nitecore

 

Lens
  • Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 ED FL VR
  • NIKKOR 24-70mm f/4 S
  • Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 S
Camera Body
  • Nikon Z6
Support Truetoad
Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Kit  Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Kit 
 
Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 ED FL  Nikkor 600mm f/4 ED FL 

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