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Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Camera Review - Real World

Full Frame Goodness

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 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.

First, is the short list of my 4 annoying things. Nothing on the below list are show stoppers.

(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. The downside is it takes a few seconds to wake up after touching the shutter button, much longer than simply using the front on/off power switch which is near instant by contrast. This is not really an issue for Landscape/still life photographers but for wildlife fast-moving subjects 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 while you wait on the action. 

(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 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 on and not asleep. 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, and I do mean minor.  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 both are 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.

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 delivers.

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 - 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.

The Nikon D500 is more responsive using a longer super telephoto lens for ACTION, like birds flying, Why? the D500 uses an Optical Viewfinder. The current state of mirrorless EVF technology is not comparable to looking through an Optical Viewfinder since there is no electronic processing needed for the optical viewfinder. 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.

How does the slight EVF lag affect the performance of ANY Mirrorless camera - birds in flight? When looking through an EVF you are looking at the past. The lag might be minuscule but it still exists. Your brain is responding to the visual information of the fly by wire EVF and based on the EVF your brain tells your finger to press the shutter at the precise moment to get the picture. We know the EVF display is slightly behind "real life". Depending on how accurate you were at tracking your bird and how up to date the EVF was as you hit the shutter your focus may at times go to the background, foreground or another subject nearby - missed it by this much as they say. Obviously, this does not happen every time but I find the fly by wire EVF miss rate occurs more often the Optical DSLRs . The issue is amplified when the camera is mounted on longer lenses trying to track faster-moving subjects factoring in the subject distance to the lens, background distractions and another close by subject. With Super Telephotos we need to be much more accurate in tracking techniques to improve the hit rate even with Optical Viewfinder DSLRs.  

Based on my experience the Nikon Z6 does well with 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 for bird in flight.

To be clear, 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.

The question you may ask is - can the Nikon Z6 be a Wildlife/Sports camera?  The simple answer is yes. Like I said, knowing what I know and using these awesome mirrorless cameras I sold my D500 "after" I tested the Z. I will keep my D850 handy for just in case situations. This is not my first mirrorless rodeo and it is no surprise to me a Mirrorless is different than a DSLR having both benefits and negatives. Your experience depends on how you approach using it.

In my honest opinion, the best Z6 setting for a bird in flight is the Continuous High-Speed Extended mode; You can set your Z to this mode by pressing the button on the lower back right of the camera while holding down, rotate the rear command dial until you set your release mode to your needs.  The button has a timer icon next to it. Speaking of which the Nikon Z cameras offer so much more in terms of quick access to camera settings without taking your eye off the viewfinder using the highly customizable i menu or the dedicated User modes U1, U2, U3 which by the way offers independent settings for both Video and Still photography. So, your U1 profile has your Still photography profile settings, but if you switch to video it has your settings for video. Same thing with the i menu.

With Bird in Flight / Motorsport shooting with super telephoto lenses topic out of the way - how about all other photography? 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.  The Nikon Z6 can do everything equally as well as my DSLR can do and in many cases do it better with a 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.

Image
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 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 and allows 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 spare battery - most likely you will never need it.  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: Don't let the Nikon haters slant your bias or give you second thoughts. The haters are simply scared because the Elephant has entered the room.  I have truly 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.

Get Your Z Cameras through Adorama

Nikon Z6 Features at a Glance - Interactive Features

Nikon Z6 Map


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
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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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TrueToadTrueToad

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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