Nikon Z 6 Review

The Nikon Z 6 and the co-introduced Z 7 are Nikon's long-awaited first full frame MILCs (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras). The Z 6 is Nikon's lower resolution, more-affordable model in this series. This is a ruggedly-built, full-featured camera that is ready for professional use.

The Z 6 and Z 7 were introduced in the same announcement timeframe as the Canon EOS R and these two brands' cameras share many similarities. One similarity they seem to share is that people love to comment on any camera model's deficits with the "It's the first in a series..." being a reason. Sony, in part via acquisition, has become the strong early competitor in the full frame MILC market and both Canon and Nikon had been chastised by some for being late to the game. While Sony is on their "III" revision models, I still see some significant deficits in these cameras.

While Nikon's cameras are indeed technically "firsts", like Canon, Nikon has a deep history in full frame interchangeable lens camera design and production and (similar to Canon) these models are not Nikon's first MILCs. Remember the Nikon 1 bodies? There are 1-short of a dozen of them. Nikon's engineers spent significant effort designing the Z models and while these are not absolutely perfect models, they are highly refined and they perform remarkably well.

Nikon Z 6 Front with Z 24-70mm f/4 S Lens

Note that you are going to find this camera listed everywhere, including Google suggestions, as the Nikon Z7. We saw that issue develop immediately upon the announcement and opted to follow the manufacturer's lead as the parent should know the baby's name. When questioned about the name, Nikon's official response was: "“Z” is a letter symbolizing Nikon’s new camera brand. To emphasize this, there is a space between Z and 7/6." The word I received from a major retailer is: "This is the way Nikon sent it to the retailers. That is why there is no separation." So, this is the Z 6, not the Z6.

Summary of Nikon Z 6 Features

  • Brand new Z mount, compatible with F-mount lenses with adapter
  • 24.5MP Megapixel Back-Side Illuminated Full Frame CMOS Sensor with a Low-Pass/AA Filter
  • 5-axis image sensor stabilization
  • 5.5 fps continuous shooting with AF/AE (12 fps with AE locked/12-bit RAW, 9 fps with AE locked/14-bit RAW)
  • ISO 100-51200 with expansion up to 204800, down to 50
  • Hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF (with AF assist system) with 273 single-point AF points, sensitive down to -2 EV (-4 EV with low-light AF)
  • Silent shooting capable
  • Flicker Adjustment Shooting avoids flickering light issues
  • EV -4.0 - EV 17.0 metering range
  • +/- 5 stops of exposure compensation
  • Various auto white balance options
  • 3.2" (8cm), approximately 2,100,000 dot tilting touchscreen LCD
  • Up to 4K video recording at 30 fps using full sensor width
  • Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Single XQD memory card slot
  • 4K Time-Lapse
  • 1/200 sec x-sync
  • Focus peaking
  • In-camera Multiple Exposure, HDR, Interval Timer and Focus Shift modes
  • Active D-Lighting, Auto Distortion and Vignetting Corrections
  • 310 image battery life
  • Magnesium alloy body with weather sealing

This is a strong features list and the first bullet point should be emphasized as it is a big deal.

The Z mount is Nikon's first new full frame mount since the F mount was introduced nearly 60 years ago in 1959. As you can likely guess, there have been significant technological advancements made over the last 60 years and the Z mount is Nikon's roll-up of them.

The new Z mount is based on a large 55mm inner diameter, up significantly from the F-mount's 44mm diameter. Though the Nikon Z's mount is only 1mm wider that the Canon RF mount, that 1mm allows Nikon to claim the "largest full-frame mount on any camera system" title. For comparison, the Sony E mount is a smaller 46.1mm. Just as important is the shortness of the Z mount's flange distance, measuring just 16mm, reduced more than 30mm from 46.5mm in the F mount. The combination of a wide diameter mount and short flange distance gives lens designers great opportunity, enabling new optical designs that are potentially smaller and often include large diameter rear-positioned elements that can reduce the angle of light rays in the image circle periphery. Bending light to a lesser degree can lead to improved image quality, especially with better-corrected aberrations. The larger rear-element design of Z lenses also lends to a comfortable shape and weight balance. Camera and lens data communications are also improved (higher-speed, larger-volume) with better AF and image quality included on this benefits list.

While Z lenses will be most advantaged from the Z mount features, with the Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter, Nikon's F mount lenses work essentially unimpeded on the Z series cameras (I'm assuming that FTZ stands for "F To Z").

Nikon Z 6/7 Cross Section

Ever hear of the righty-tighty left-loosey rule? This rule defines the direction of how (nearly) everything in the world rotates to tighten or loosen. Nikon's lens mounts either predated that rule or someone thought it would be a good idea to ignore it, designing the mount to work in reverse-fancy-saying rotation (with the lens hoods turning in the proper direction). I know, in photography, all rules are meant to be broken, but ... not this one. I fear that I am going to someday tear a mount off of a lens or camera. The Z mount was an opportunity to fix this usability issue and Nikon didn't take it. They also did not change the focus ring rotation to match most other lenses. Nikon's focal length rotation direction seems backwards to me, but Sony matches the Nikon on this one.

With a couple of (big) differences, the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 are extremely similar. Our differences between the Nikon Z 7 and Z 6 article delves into what differentiates the two models, but the primary differences are imaging sensor-related. The Z 7 has a much higher resolution sensor that directly affects some other differences from the Z 6 with a higher price tag being the biggest Z 7 negative for most. As the two cameras are very similar, these two reviews will share significant content.

Nikon Z 6 Front

Sensor and Image Quality

The Z 6's primary difference from the Z 7 is the imaging sensor with about 21 million pixels leaving the scene. Still, this camera's 24 MP resolution, consisting of data collected from relatively large photosites, is excellent. And, the full frame background blur capability is there.

As I've noted, Canon and Nikon's first full frame mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras feature a lot of similarities, but resolution is an area of divergence. While Canon (initially) offered a single model, the EOS R that featured a mid-level 30.3 MP of resolution, Nikon opted to go with two models, hitting both high and low resolution (for review-time standards) that essentially mirrors Sony's a7R III and a7 III resolution levels.

Here is a chart featuring (primarily) sensor information from an interesting set of cameras.

ModelFOVCFSensorPixel SizePixels/MegapixelsViewfinderDLA*
Canon EOS R1.0x36.0 x 24.0mm5.36µm6720 x 448030.3 .71x100%f/8.6
Canon EOS 6D Mark II1.0x35.9 x 24.0mm5.75µm6240 x 416026.2 .71x98%f/9.3
Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R1.0x36.0 x 24.0mm4.14µm8688 x 579250.6 .71x100%f/6.7
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV1.0x36.0 x 24.0mm5.36µm6720 x 448030.4 .71x100%f/8.6
Nikon Z 71.0x35.9 x 23.9mm4.35µm8256 x 550445.7.80x100%f/7.0
Nikon Z 61.0x35.9 x 23.9mm5.98µm6000 x 400024.5.80x100%f/9.6
Nikon D8501.0x35.9 x 23.9mm4.35µm8256 x 550445.7.75x100%f/7.0
Sony a7R III1.0x35.9 x 24.0mm4.5µm7952 x 530442.4.78x100%f/7.2
Sony a7 III1.0x35.6 x 23.8mm5.9µm6000 x 400024.2.78x100%f/9.6
View the full Nikon Z 6 specifications to compare additional cameras.

While the resolution of a 24.5 MP imaging sensor is not close to competing against the 40+ MP imaging sensors, 24 MP is still a substantial resolution, similar to or higher than the resolution being used to capture many of the most recent world events (Olympics, World Cup, Super Bowl, etc.). Benefits of lower resolution include the effects of diffraction not being apparent at smaller apertures and, with motion blur being caused by scene details crossing over pixels during the exposure, larger pixels and lower resolution mean motion can be frozen at lower shutter speeds.

Related is the Z 6's CIPA 5-stop-rated 5-axis (yaw, pitch, roll, X and Y) image sensor shift vibration reduction system, able to significantly improve image quality in scenes featuring a still subject and a not-still camera. The IBIS (tested on the Z 7) performs quite impressively. Using the non-stabilized Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S Lens in ideal conditions, 24mm results were nearly all sharp at .5 sec, about half were sharp at .6 seconds and an occasional sharp image was captured at 1.3 seconds. At 70mm, nearly all images were sharp at 1/4 sec, about half were sharp at .4 seconds and an occasional sharp image was made at 1 second. With larger pixels, the Z 6 should surpass even those impressive results.

Nikon's IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) offers normal and sport (for moving subjects) modes. Non-VR F-Mount Nikkor lenses mounted via the Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter also take advantage of the IBIS, creating some very attractive options. Consider the benefit of IBIS with lenses such as the Nikon 105mm f/1.4E ED AF-S NIKKOR Lens. "Nikkor lenses that already have VR, like the AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, get the added benefit of roll axis for a total of 3-axis VR." [Nikon USA] The VR lens handles pitch and yaw correction while the camera corrects roll for better performance than when used on a DSLR.

Note that Nikon has indicated that the Z 6 has an anti-aliasing filter, avoiding potential moiré from the relatively large pixels.

The Nikon Z 6 resolution looks good (I plugged a Canon EOS R into that comparison). The Nikon Z 6 and Sony a7 III resolution comparison is especially relevant and other cameras are available for comparison in the right-most selection box on that page.

Noise levels are always an image quality concern and our simple Kodak Color Control Patches test illuminates this factor. This test involves a rather boring subject, a huge amount of setup time to photograph and hours of processing to publish each camera test. Sensor technology improvements (including onboard circuitry) implemented by sensors seldom show up on a specification chart, but they do show up in pictures of a color block chart.

Nikon Z 7 ISO Noise Comparison

These noise test results are captured in RAW format and processed in Nikon's Capture NX-D. The Standard Picture Control is selected with sharpness = 1. The other parameters are zeroed. Key is that noise reduction is disabled. Noise reduction can be performed on any image during post production, so my primary concern is getting a clean, low noise image to start with and that is what these tests focus on. While noise reduction can improve an image, noise reduction can be (and usually is) destructive to fine detail and this is why lower noise is better to start with. My strategy is to apply light noise reduction only when needed and I do this only during post processing of RAW images.

Ctrl- (or command-) click on the link to open the above link in a new tab if you want to save your place here. When using the comparison feature of the site's camera noise tool, let your eyes tell you the results. The even colors found in these test charts make noise very apparent relative to most real life subjects as detail in a scene will hide noise much better. If you can't readily pick out the difference in any color block comparison, it is unlikely that you will be able to recognize the difference in real world results.

I'll start out this image quality discussion with very strong perception that noise reduction seems to be applied to Z 6 images somewhere in the pipeline, even though I have it turned off in the RAW processing (I checked multiple times). The Z 6 is producing noticeably-cleaner results than the Sony a7 III and the two share similar resolution imaging sensors. The change certainly appears beneficial, but I'm not happy to lack control over my image quality in that regard.

Backing up the noise reduction speculation is that Adobe Lightroom produces far noisier results. In that comparison, you will see that Lightroom also produces larger image details which of course has nothing to do with noise reduction. In what I see as a major flaw in Lightroom, a lens profile built into the RAW file is being applied with no alternative option available and in this case, distortion correction appears to be the culprit. Image processing software is an extremely important part of the package and neither alternative is currently acceptable to me. Rant over.

We never really know what processing is performed before a RAW file is written, but at least Nikon admits (in the owner's manual) that High ISO Noise Reduction "Off" may not really be off.

Nikon Z 7 High ISO Noise Reduction Off is not Off

This camera offers an ISO range of 100 - 51200 in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, or 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, or 1 EV (ISO 50 equivalent) below ISO 100 or to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1, or 2 EV (ISO 204800 equivalent) above ISO 51200.

The base ISO setting, 100 in this case, produces an extremely clean, low noise result and ISO 200 is practically the same. If other factors did not warrant differently, these would be the two ISO settings always selected. Other factors of course warrant faster ISO speeds and those through ISO 800 appear very clean.

At ISO 1600, noise is becoming slightly perceptible in smooth colored areas of the frame. Noise continues to increase with levels becoming apparent at ISO 6400 and by ISO 6400, you are going to notice noise, though these images are usually quite usable to me. Uglyness begins to set in at ISO 25600 with noise levels heading deeper into my bothersome range, but ... with some noise reduction added, results at this setting and even images captured at this setting can be usable, especially when viewed at less than 100% resolution. ISO 102400 images are simply ugly, with significant noise reduction and reduced final output size being keys to this setting's usability.

Results from settings over ISO 51200, the extended range, have very low usability, aside from the arguably deceptive marketing/bragging rights aspect. Just because the feature is present doesn't mean that you should use it. Which of your images would be acceptable looking like this (ISO 204800)?

Nikon Z 6 ISO 102400 Noise

Perhaps there are surveillance operations that might be able to pull something out of that image, but ... maybe this image quality is not even good enough for that purpose. On the other end is ISO 50, a low-extended setting that produces a very clean result. ISO 50 is not without limitations.

Overall, Nikon Z 6 noise levels is at the top of its class (with the caveat that some noise reduction may be involved).

Six sets of included noise tests were captured with exposure variances ranging from -3 to +3 stops of exposure variance, all adjusted to the base exposure during post processing. The overexposed images made darker show the ability of the imaging sensor to recover highlights and the brightened underexposed images show the increased noise penalty incurred by this process, especially in the shadows.

The 1-stop overexposed results appear nice, though auto white balance was slightly off. At 2 stops of overexposure, the brightest colors have been impacted slightly and image quality falls apart at 3 stops of overexposure (the brightest white block is approximately R,G,B = 225 in the standard result). This performance is quite good, essentially matching the Nikon Z 7 but trailing the Canon EOS R and Sony a7 III somewhat.

Since I had these images loaded in Lightroom, I also created a Capture NX-D vs. Lightroom comparison using the 3-stop-overexposed image. I wanted to know if Lightroom could extract any more dynamic range from the RAW file. That was not the case, but the Lightroom images look slightly better in this particular example with blown highlights being rendered darker.

I mentioned that ISO 50 has limitations and that is in dynamic range. When using this setting, use caution to avoid any overexposure as there is little headroom on the bright end to work with (brightening ISO 50 shadows works better). Ultra-low ISO settings, acting similar to ND filters, are very useful when using ultra-wide apertures under bright light and when motion blur is desired.

While I seldom want to underexpose an image in-camera, doing so with the Z 6 results in rather low noise difference relative to using the needed ISO setting in the first place, even at the -3 stops difference shared in this example. The Z 6 provides excellent latitude for boosting shadow brightness.

Additional image sets available in the noise comparison tool include images captured in JPG format using the default Standard Picture Control settings. These show that Nikon is normal in the camera world: people like sharp images even when using a lens that is not sharp and Nikon gives them that. But, this over-sharpening is destructive to image quality. Note the bright halos in the periphery of each color block.

Another set of JPG-captured images are included, these showing the results of the in-camera "Normal" noise reduction. The difference is quite noticeable. Regarding high ISO noise, you can have smooth or you can have detailed. Pick one. While not as black and white as that scenario implies, the amount of noise reduction applied to an image requires consideration of the overall concept. The amount of noise reduction ideally applied to an image is not necessarily directly dependent on the ISO setting alone. You may find that some subjects take noise reduction better than others. As a generalization, I prefer a low amount of noise reduction when higher ISO settings are used.

All of Nikon's interchangeable lens cameras provide a wide range of noise reduction, sharpness and other image quality setting adjustments, enabling you to dial the results into perfection. That these settings can be adjusted in-camera is particularly important for those requiring compressed JPG format images right out of the camera (without using the camera's own RAW image conversion capabilities).

Overall, the Z 6's image quality is excellent. It is among the best available at this resolution.

File Size and Media

One advantage of lower resolution is smaller file size. You will fit more images on a memory card and on your hard drive. The following table shows comparative RAW file sizes for a photo of a standard in-studio setup with a moderately-high amount of detail taken with the referenced camera. The lossless compressed RAW format was used for the Nikon results.

Model / File Size in MB @ ISO:(MP)100200400800160032006400128002560051200102400204800409600
Canon EOS R(30.4)35.836.637.638.740.041.843.345.748.049.6***** 
Canon EOS 5Ds(50.6)64.765.766.969.272.576.681.688.1     
Canon EOS 5Ds R(50.6)65.266.467.669.873.077.281.988.4     
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV(30.4)38.839.139.640.441.643.545.548.051.455.159.8  
Nikon Z 7(45.7)59.159.761.162.764.667.570.674.478.683.187.2  
Nikon Z 6(24.5)32.132.232.633.334.135.136.437.939.542.344.447.2 
Nikon D850(45.7)55.155.957.159.061.063.966.770.273.178.284.0  
Sony a7R III(42.4)81.981.981.981.981.981.981.981.982.082.082.0  
Sony a7 III(24.2)47.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.147.247.247.2 
RAW file sizes increase with: 1. Resolution 2. Bit Depth (more is better/larger) 3. Detail (noise adds detail, so high ISO file sizes increase) 4. Lack of compression. Memory and disk are cheap – buy more.

Nikon's compression algorithm appears to be working well, producing similar efficiency as Canon's and significantly smaller file sizes compared to Sony. Lossy compression and 12-bit (vs. 14-bit) options in addition to a variety of JPG options are available for smaller files sizes and the uncompressed and .TIFF formats provides a larger file size. For an ISO 100 RAW image, you can roughly estimate 1.3 MB per megapixel in file size.

The Nikon Z 6 writes images to an XQD memory card. I told of my first XQD memory card purchase story in the Z 7 review, but have since increased my supply to two of these. I always recommend rotating through cards until, minimally, you are able to get the images safely into your formal backup strategy (that includes off-site storage).

Note that Nikon has promised to support CFExpress cards in the Z 6 via firmware update. I'm not expecting significant speed-related improvements coming from that update.

I always recommend rotating through cards until, minimally, you are able to get the images safely into your formal backup strategy (that includes off-site storage). I need to acquire a couple more cards until I'm able to implement my recommended strategy with the XQD format.

While switching to the XQD memory card format has a cost factor and no laptops feature built-in XQD card readers, I do like this format. In addition to being fast, the XQD standard has a rugged design and a compact form factor.

The decision to provide a single card slot (vs. two with redundancy being the most import feature for the dual design) has been a hot topic lately. While I personally seldom use two cards simultaneously, as with the EOS R, the Z 6 and Z 7 are simply not the right camera for those who absolutely require that feature. Most cameras offering the dual card feature do not support the highest speed standard of the same type of memory card in both slots (added complexity), more slots require more space in the camera design and more slots increase the cost.

Frame Rate, Buffer Depth, Shutter Sound

Camera frame rate specs continue to become more complicated. While many modern cameras require giving up AF to reach their fastest frame rate potential, the Z 6 gives up AE (Auto Exposure) during the burst. Since the first frame in a burst is often captured in the same light as the last but subjects have likely moved significantly, I'm much happier giving up AE than I am giving up AF. With AE, the max frame rate drops to 5.5 fps.

In this case, the bit depth of the RAW file being written also comes into play with 14-bit RAW files dropping the rate.

ModelFPSMax JPGMax RAWShutter LagVF Blackout
Canon EOS R2.2-810034/4750msn/a
Canon EOS 6D Mark II6.520018/2160ms 
Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R5.031/Full12/1459ms125ms
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV7.0Full1758ms86ms
Nikon Z 78/92518/23n/an/a
Nikon Z 69/12n/an/an/an/a
Nikon D8507/9n/a51n/an/a
Sony a7R III10.0762820msn/a
Sony a7 III10.040163  
View the full Nikon Z 6 specifications to compare additional cameras.

To test the Nikon Z 6's high speed drive mode and buffer capability, the camera was configured to capture 14-bit lossless-compressed RAW files in manual mode (no AE time lag) using ISO 100, a 1/8000 shutter speed (no waiting for the shutter operation), a wide open aperture (no time lost due to aperture blades closing) and manual focus (no focus lock delay). Nearly all enhancements were disabled (such as lens corrections). The lens cap remained on (insuring a black image with the smallest file size) and a freshly-formatted fast memory card was loaded.

Using a fast Sony 120GB G-Series XQD Memory Card, the Z 6's continuous high drive mode captured frames without pause ... for as long as I held the shutter release down, hinting at an unlimited buffer depth. With far over 100 frames captured, I let go of the shutter release. To measure the experienced frame rate, I measured the time between 26 frames (4.54 seconds) to calculate a 5.5 fps rate, just as spec'd.

Change the drive setting to continuous high (extended) and the camera captures 46 frames in 5.00 seconds before pausing, a 9 fps rate. The first pause measured 0.54 seconds with random pauses and bursts following.

These buffer capacities should be considered best-possible for the camera settings used.

The 5.5 fps rate with AE enabled is a mediocre one. This rate is adequate for many uses, but is not optimal for capturing fast action. The 9 fps 14-bit figure, especially considering the resolution of this camera, is a very strong one and quite adequate for even capturing even fast action. And, the 5 seconds this rate can be sustained for will also be found adequate for many action uses. The buffer depth of the 5.5 fps mode will be found inadequate by ... no one.

This camera quickly formats a 120GB XQD card. Don't underestimate the value of this feature.

Also don't underestimate the value of a short shutter lag such as the Z 6 has. A short shutter lag is important for timing image capture with subject motion.

The Z 6 features a 30-1/8000 second shutter speed range with settings available in 1/3 or 1/2 stop increments (plus Bulb). The max flash sync speed is 1/200.

Nikon Z 6 Camera Sound

Without a mirror to be moved, the Z 6 is a relatively quiet camera. Following are links to MP3 files capturing the sounds of the Nikon Z 6.

Nikon Z 6 AF-S Single Shot Mode
Nikon Z 6 AF-C Continuous High Mode
Nikon Z 6 AF-C Continuous High Extended Mode

Camera sounds are recorded using a Tascam DR-07mkII Portable Digital Audio Recorder with record levels set to 50% at -12db gain and positioned 1" behind the rear LCD.

Historically, photography has had an audible aspect, more specifically, the mirror locking up and the shutter opening and closing create sound. Without a mirror assembly, the shutter (and perhaps the lens aperture) is the only remaining source of sound during exposure when photographing with mirrorless cameras. And, using a completely electronic shutter is another option. The Z 6 has that feature which Nikon refers to as Silent photography, allowing the camera to capture images in complete silence (unless the lens is audible, including aperture movement). Note that in certain continuous frame modes, rate drops 0 to 1.5 fps in this mode.

The ability to shoot in complete silence is a huge value for quiet events such as weddings and when skittish wildlife are the subjects. Additional benefits include reduced shutter wear and vibration.

Why bother including a mechanical shutter? Because the electronic shutter has some downsides.

With no sound or other haptic feedback, knowing precisely when the image is being captured can be problematic and adding a "beep" is counter to the goal of the silent shutter. Nikon handles this issue well, turning the viewfinder black during the exposure.

Other downsides of an electronic shutter are primarily related to the current-technology line-by-line reading of the imaging sensor data. Fast side-to-side subject or camera movement will result in an angular-shifted image with vertically straight lines becoming noticeably slanted (with the camera in horizontal orientation).

Understand that the traditional mechanical shutter's second curtain chasing the first curtain can produce the same effect. However, the difference between mechanical shutter (with electronic first curtain shutter) and electronic shutter performance in this regard has historically been quite big.

I did not encounter the issue with the Z 6, but certain light pulsing can influence image results, potentially showing banding.

Another Z 6 option is electronic first curtain shutter, reducing camera vibration. Note that this mode limits your fastest shutter speed to 1/2000s (camera vibration is unlikely to be an issue at or above this speed) and highest ISO to 25600.

Autofocus

Remember when sensor-based autofocus systems used only contrast AF? Those cameras focused painfully slow and this is not one of those cameras. With a hybrid design having both sensor-based phase-detection and contrast AF, the "... Z 6 automatically switches between focal-plane phase-detect AF and contrast-detect AF to fine-tune focus." [Nikon USA] Fast-focusing is one of the Z 6's particularly attractive features and even the contrast-detection fine tuning is quite fast (tested using the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lenses).

I should say that the Z 6 usually focuses fast. At this point in time, sensor-based AF points are not cross-sensitive and horizontally-oriented-only lines of contrast cause an AF challenge to the camera. I have encountered some focus hunting and even when a subject with horizontal contrast is already in focus, the camera will sometimes attempt to refocus and will sometimes focus on the background if that has vertical contrast. A failure to focus issue is not unusual when no vertically-oriented contrast is available. Those accustomed to using cameras with a large number of cross-sensitive AF points, such as the Nikon D850, may find this trait annoying.

The Z 6's 273 available AF points will be found adequate by most. With such a high number potentially taking more time to select between, Nikon provides a "Focus points used" menu option with 1/2 able to be selected. With AF points covering approximately 90% of the frame (horizontally and vertically), subjects can be focus-tracked deep into the periphery of the image. That positive feature is quite differentiating from DSLR cameras.

AF area modes included are: Pinpoint, Single-Point, Dynamic-area AF, Wide-area AF (S), Wide-area AF (L), Auto-area AF (Pinpoint and Dynamic-area AF are not available in video mode). I most frequently want control over where my focus point is placed and the small size of Pinpoint is great, permitting a very specific portion of a subject to be selected (such as an eye), but focusing in this mode is slow with only contrast AF functioning. Single-Point is what I use most frequently. This mode is fast but I find the size a too large.

Dynamic-area AF essentially uses area surrounding the selected focus point to assist subject tracking in AF-C continuous focus mode (only). Wide-area AF (S), Wide-area AF (L) and Auto-area AF provide increasingly greater areas of the sensor for the camera's artificial intelligence to utilize for focus selection. Similar area modes have been available for a long time and I was surprised by how poorly these modes work in the Z 6, even in AF-S (the sibling Z 7 performs only slightly better). Typically, the closest subject (with contrast) should be selected, but even with a very obvious subject centered in the selected AF point size and even if the subject was in direct sunlight, the camera frequently chose to focus on the distant background, sometimes going to extremes to find a distant subject within the selected AF area and sometimes going outside of the AF area.

A moving subject takes AF performance requirements to another level. Predicting the point of perfect focus on a fast-moving subject at the precise moment the shutter opens in AF-C continuous tracking AF mode is one of the biggest challenges for AF technology.

I tested the Z 6's action tracking capabilities immediately after testing the same for the Z 7. With the two cameras being so similar and I expected the results to be about the same, which was not great. The Z 6 seemed slightly behind the Z 7 in AF-S (single shot mode – not to be confused with the AF-S in Nikon lens names) accuracy but the Z 6 has lower resolution, making AF accuracy slightly less critical.

With the Z 6 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E AF-S FL VR Lenses, I photographed action using all the AF area modes with a variety of points/areas selected and used both high speed continuous and extended frame rates. Very positive is that the Z 6's results were very noticeably better than those from the Z 7. I experienced a considerably higher in-focus rate, one good enough that I wouldn't fear using this camera for sports action from an AF accuracy perspective.

"Whether shooting eye-level with the EVF or in Live View with the LCD, Auto Area AF smoothly tracks your subject's face—even when it’s one among many. The system pays attention to the upper body, too, maintaining focus position when your subject briefly turns away from the camera or moves out of view." [Nikon USA]

Face tracking is available and it is a great feature, but notably missing here is an eye tracking feature, especially useful when photographing with a shallow depth of field lens and aperture combination. There is hope for that feature as Nikon has announced that Eye AF is under development. We should see that feature arrive in a future firmware update. Also missing is the 3D Tracking mode found in the D850 and D5. The Z 6 is able to keep subjects with and without faces in focus even while moving quite rapidly throughout the frame.

Undesired AF area modes can be disabled in the menu. A fast method of AF area mode selection is not provided by default with the i button perhaps providing the easiest access. I'd prefer to not have to press OK after selecting the mode I want as I seem to fail to take that extra step with some frequency.

The Z 6's AF system is rated from EV-2 to EV+19 with the dark end extending to EV-4 with low-light AF enabled. The EV-2 number is decent as is its low light AF capabilities, but the EV-4 number is the one needed to be competitive in the MILC market at review time (Canon is at EV-6 and Sony is at EV-3). Nikon indicates that low-light AF provides "... more accurate focus under low light conditions when AF-S is selected for focus mode ..." and that the display refresh rate may drop. Low light AF can be slow regardless of the mode and it is painfully slow if this camera's low-light mode kicks in. I can find instances where this mode makes a slight difference in this camera's ability to lock focus, but ... the difference seems slight and I'll not likely be using it.

Designed to help low light AF is the Z 6's AF assist light. Unfortunately, this light's top-left position means that my left hand blocks the green light when holding the lens normally. The Nikon lenses I'm using now have a slot in their hoods that permit a small amount of the assist light to shine through them (if I move my hand out of the way).

Video

In regards to contemporary ILC cameras, we expect high-end video features to be included. In this case, the Nikon Z 6 has most of the features you would expect. Here are a some of them:

  • 5-axis sensor image stabilization
  • Electronic VR (Vibration Reduction)
  • Full-frame width (no crop, via oversampling) video capture at 4K, 24/25/30p
  • Full HD 1080p video at 120 fps
  • Up to 4K video output simultaneously to mini HDMI and memory card
  • 3.5mm headphone/mic jacks
  • Built-in stereo microphone
  • Manual focus peaking and zebra patterns
  • Tilt-screen LCD
  • 8K / 4K time lapse support
  • New N-Log Picture Control with View Assist for better detail retention when recording to an external device

Available formats and frame rates are as follows:

MP4/MOV 4K [3840 x 2160px]: 30/25/24p at 144 Mbps
MP4/MOV FHD [1920 x 1080px]: 120/100p at 144 Mbps
MP4/MOV FHD [1920 x 1080px]: 60/50p at 56/28 Mbps, 30/25/24p at 28/14 Mbps
MP4/MOV FHD [1920 x 1080px] Slow-Mo: 30/25p (4x) at 36 Mbps, 24p (5x) at 29 Mbps

Nikon has announced that RAW video support is in development. This support will be in conjunction with the ATOMOS Ninja V using the ProRes RAW codec. This feature would arrive in a firmware update.

For non Slow-Mo movies, the max recording time is 29 minutes 59 seconds. For Slow-Mo movies, the max recording time is 3 minutes.

The additional resolution captured in 4K over Full HD recording is substantial. The illustration below demonstrates the difference between Full HD and 4K resolutions.

4K vs. FHD Resolution Comparison

If outputting to 1080p, you can easily downsample the 4K video, crop the frame to provide a tighter angle of view, or even pan your FHD video within the confines of the 4K captured frame. You can also mimic zooming in and out of a scene to add even more production value to your 1080p movies.

Of course, creating 4K content is the primary benefit of purchasing a 4K-capable camera. 4K video offers more than 4x the resolution of Full HD, allowing for beautifully sharp and detail rich movies that will remain impressive on resolution-hungry devices. The difference is substantial.

To begin movie recording, simply rotate the Photo/Movie selector to the movie icon, select a recording mode via the mode dial and press the movie-record button located between the ISO button and camera power switch that encircles the shutter button. The Z 6 can either use the full sensor width for recording or a DX (1.5x) crop can be chosen to narrow a lens' field of view and obtain a more telephoto perspective.

In Slow-Mo (Slow-Motion) mode, the camera records in MP4 or MOV format and can be set to capture video that is 4x or 5x faster than normal, that, when played at normal speed, is useful for slowing down fast action events such as an athlete scoring a goal or a bride throwing the bouquet. Note that audio is not recorded in Slow-Mo mode and features such as flicker reduction, electronic VR, face detection and time code output are unavailable. Another option for recording slow motion video is to set the camera to FHD 120p and simply slow down the playback speed in post processing. The advantage to using this technique is that the video speed can easily be slowed or viewed at normal speed within the same clip (speed ramping), while also avoiding some of the recording limitations of Slow-Mo mode.

Sound is recorded via the built-in, good quality, stereo microphone or alternately an external microphone using the 3.5mm mic jack.

The Z 6 can be set to record 4K video in-camera (via the memory card) as well as output uncompressed 4:2:2 8-bit video to the mini HDMI (to a compatible playback monitor or recorder). HDMI output is not available with FHD 120/100p or Slow-Mo recording.

Alternately 10-bit 4K video can be output to an external recording device, but the viewfinder remains blank, photos cannot be taken and recording to the in-camera memory card is not possible. When recording 10-bit video to an external device, the N-Log Picture Control is available for retaining as much dynamic range as possible for color grading in post.

The Z 6 features a 5-axis stabilized sensor as well as Electronic Vibration Reduction in recording modes other than 4K and Slow-Mo. The sensor stabilization system is rated for up to 5-stops of camera shake compensation, greatly improving the quality of handheld videos. The difference is dramatic.

Focus Peaking with manual focus can be enabled in video mode as well as Highlight Display (zebra patterns). Unlike the D850, the Z 6 can display Focus Peaking during 4K recording. However, like the D850, the Z 6 cannot show Focus Peaking and Highlight Display simultaneously (Highlight Display is automatically disabled when Focus Peaking is enabled).

And while on the subject of Highlight Display, filmmakers will appreciate that the Z 6 allows for selecting the specific brightness value at which the zebra patterns will appear.

As previously noted, the Nikon Z 6's sensor uses dedicated focal-plane phase-detection AF pixels combined with contrast AF for focusing. Contrast-only based AF systems have typically proved less than ideal for continuous subject tracking for video. Now, hybrid systems like the one found in the Z 6 do an excellent job at subject tracking thanks to the addition of phase-detect pixels.

Like most DSLR and mirrorless cameras in its class, you can select a subject to focus on by tapping the LCD screen.

Manual focusing is, of course, another option. However, the Z 6 does not feature a user-selectable linear manual focus option (the rate of manual focusing changes depending on the speed of the focus ring's rotation) when using native mount Z lenses, resulting in a potentially less ideal manual focusing experience as focus distance changes are not easily repeatable. The said, the rotation speed difference required to engage the Z 24-70 f/4 S Lens' faster manual focus change rate is high enough to mitigate this problem if care is taken. The variable electronic focusing issue can be avoided if using traditional Nikon F-mount lenses with an FTZ adapter.

The Z 6's tilt-screen LCD will be very beneficial for shooting from low and high angles. However, vloggers who want a preview of their self-recorded videos will prefer the Canon EOS R's forward-facing-capable vari-angle LCD.

The Z 6 exhibits moderate rolling shutter.

With a high performing subject tracking AF system and a wealth of highly desirable video features, the Z 6 will not likely be the limiting factor for your video productions.

Exposure/Metering System

The Z 6's metering modes are: Matrix metering, Center-weighted metering (75% given to 12mm circle in center of frame), Spot metering (4mm circle centered on selected focus point, about 1.5% of frame) and Highlight-weighted metering. These are not unusual modes, but combined, they are very effective. The metering range is -4 to +17 EV (from -3 for the Z 7) and -5 to +5 EV of exposure compensation is available in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV (P, S, A, and M modes).

The Z 6 features Flicker Reduction Shooting with the ability to time the shutter release with the optimal brightness of flickering lights. This system can detect 100 and 120 Hz flicker from 50 and 60 Hz power supplies respectively. Flicker Reduction Shooting is not available at shutter speeds below 1/100 sec or in Continuous H (extended) mode. This feature is a game changer for photographing in venues with fluorescent or mercury vapor lights and the Z 6's flicker reduction works well in Continuous H mode.

The tone curve applied to the picture in camera is via the Picture Style with a vast range of options: Auto, Flat, Landscape, Monochrome, Neutral, Portrait, Standard, Vivid and Creative Picture Controls (Dream, Morning, Pop, Sunday, Somber, Dramatic, Silence, Bleached, Melancholic, Pure, Denim, Toy, Sepia, Blue, Red, Pink, Charcoal, Graphite, Binary, Carbon). Picture Controls can be modified and custom Picture Controls can be created.

Nikon Z 6/7 Electronic Viewfinder

Viewfinder and LCD

It is a mirrorless camera and, therefore, there is no TTL (Through the Lens) optical viewfinder. Our Comparing Electronic Viewfinders to Optical Viewfinders page discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each design.

Put the Z 6 viewfinder to your eye and the eye sensor automatically turns off the rear LCD. What you see next is the beautiful 0.5" (1.27cm) approx. 3690k-dot (Quad VGA) fluorine-coated OLED electronic viewfinder that features approx. 0.8x magnification and 100% horizontal and vertical frame coverage. This viewfinder appears very large, noticeably larger than the D850's viewfinder, and I love how far the viewfinder extends behind the rear LCD, providing a comfortable amount of nose relief. That this little camera has far more nose relief than the D850 seems ... backwards.

An EVF makes a configurably-vast amount of information available for display, though I have not found an option to make the displayed information rotate when shooting vertically. Viewing images, especially zoomed in for sharpness verification, especially in bright daylight and especially for eyes that otherwise require corrective optics (if you don't need glasses now, you will at some point), is easy with a quality EVF.

A common EVF issue is a short pause in the video feed when an image is captured. The Z 6 has only a slight amount of that pause/blackout in the continuous high frame rate mode with tracking a laterally-moving subject a bit challenging. The freezing display is a big problem for tracking erratically moving subjects in the continuous high (extended) mode.

A task I typically find challenging with an EVF, a task that is quality-differentiating, is discerning the proper adjustment of a circular polarizer filter. The Z 6's EVF is among the best I've used for this task.

As I've said before, I'm a big fan of optical viewfinders, but ... with the latest EVFs, I'm seeing the future and am liking what I see. I'm good with having this EVF on my daily-use cameras.

Nikon Z 6/7 LCD

The Z 6's rear LCD is a 3.2" (81mm) 2,100,000-dot Tilting, Touch-Sensitive, TFT LCD with a 170° viewing angle and 11-levels of manual brightness controls. It looks great and works similarly. Touch to interact with the camera, including selecting menu options, choosing a focus point (touch and drag AF point selection), accessing the i menu, changing settings, swiping and pinching during image review, etc.

While the LCD's double-hinged tilt feature is very useful for shooting high and low, the limited range (just over 90° upward and roughly 45° downward) does not make the display visible from the front of the camera as needed for selfie capture. The image quality of this LCD is excellent and it easily wipes clean. The touch capabilities make changing camera settings easy, including via the reasonable menu structure (I like Canon's menus better and Sony's less) and also via the handy "i" button (showing the Quick Control screen).

The Virtual Horizon camera level indicator, a practically mandatory feature, is available in the EVF and on the rear LCD. While this level is easy to use, its display is too large with the circle obscuring too much of the scene. Nikon, please give me a configuration option to select a less-intrusive indicator via a firmware update.

Nikon Z 6/7 LCD Side

Tour of the Nikon Z 6

Nikon has long been generous with the quantity of controls provided on their camera and with some of the mirrorless goal being reduced camera size, I was anxious to see which controls would survive in the reduced real estate available. I'll talk about the ergonomics in more detail later in the review, but those familiar with Nikon cameras, including the D850, are going to acclimate reasonably quickly to the new Z-series models. Nikon has done a nice job with the transition, though changes were indeed made.

In addition to the controls and their default functionality about to be discussed, this camera has considerable configurability. There are over 40 functions that can be assigned to some of 8 controls, including, with the Z-mount being a focus-by-wire design, the focus ring (focus, aperture or exposure compensation only). See page 269 in the owner's manual to find the full matrix.

Back of the Camera

The largest feature on the back of the camera is (nearly always) the LCD, a feature we already discussed.

Camera Back View Comparison

To compare the Nikon Z 6 with many other camera models, use the site's camera body comparison tool.

The first change to discuss is the loss of the buttons to the left of the LCD. The D850 has 6 buttons in this location. Three of those were moved to the lower right and joined by the release mode button. These four buttons are positioned far enough from the base of the thumb to avoid inadvertent pressing and they are relatively easy to thumb-access with the camera supported by the left hand. The menu button, located in the top-right position of the square formed by these four buttons, is distinguished by being slightly larger and higher-raised than the other three. The zoom buttons, available for both shooting and playback modes, is separated by a raised area to ensure the desired button is pressed.

Positioned at the bottom right of the four buttons is the release mode button. When pressed, only the main command dial can change the setting. Minimally, the rear Multi selector should be also enabled to make a change. This is a touch screen LCD, so I should also be able to touch the option I want. Some of the release mode options have sub-options, selectable via the Sub-command dial and perhaps that was an otherwise confusing implementation. However, release mode can also be selected via the i menu and in this menu, the main command dial does not work and touch does.

Annoying is that when camera is powered off, the self-timer mode resets to single shot mode. Plan on using the self-timer setting with your camera on a tripod? Make sure that it doesn't time out before you capture the picture.

The OK button has moved to the center of the Multi selector. I've found Nikon's left-positioned OK button to be inconvenient and find the new location more convenient.

Both the Multi selector and Sub-selector (joystick) are 8-way controllers (as they should be), They work well and are positioned for easy thumb access.

Nikon Z 6/7 i Button Menu

The i button is conveniently positioned between the two just-referenced controllers and a press of this button provides quick access to a large set of commonly used (and configurable) camera settings. Pressing the i on the right side of the rear LCD accomplishes the same task if the rear LCD is in use.

The playback and delete buttons are in their Nikon-typical upper left positions, where the non-grip hand is required to reach.

With Live View being the only view option with a mirrorless camera, the DSLR-standard Live view button is no longer needed and has been removed. The 4 lower-right buttons just discussed have moved into the D850 location of the photo/movie selector and this switch takes up a new position immediately to the right of the EVF. New inside this switch is the DISP button, allowing display options, ranging from clean to highly detailed, to be toggled through. The AF-ON button is positioned in its usual location.

The Z 6's thumb rest is part of the memory card door. This rest is rubberized and, with a nice amount of empty space provided, it is comfortable. I am not as comfortable knowing that I'm putting strong pressure on a door, a part that does not seem to be a high strength one.

Overall, the buttons and other controls on the back of the Z 6 are easy to find and use, even with gloves on.

Note that Nikon's two-button Quick Format and settings reset combinations have gone missing on this model.

Top of the Camera

Camera Top View Comparison

The camera product images comparison tool allows comparison of many additional camera models.

On the top of the camera, I'll start at the top right, in part because there are no changes from the D850 made here.

With the power switch located in front of the shutter release, one-handed power changes are easy.

The ISO button makes accessing that frequently adjusted setting also easy. While holding down the ISO button, the main command dial (shown bottom-right) is used to affect setting changes. Turning the Sub-command dial (front dial) while holding down the ISO button (slightly awkward) toggles the auto ISO feature that will instruct the camera to adjust from the selected ISO to obtain optimal exposure in P, S, A and M modes. The movie record and +/- buttons are once again located on either side of the ISO button.

The large un-marked main command dial extends nicely from the corner of the camera, making it especially easy to use even when many clicks are needed. I find this dial much easier to use than the dial on the top/back of the D850.

Nikon opted to provide a top LCD on this camera. With a rear LCD and an EVF, is a top LCD needed? Sony thinks not. Canon thinks so. While I don't find it mandatory, I like having it.

An accessory shoe that provides access to Nikon's vast flash system is top and center over the EVF bulge (there is no built-in flash). The in-camera stereo microphones are located to the front/sides of the EVF and the (rather large) diopter adjustment knob is on the right side. The button on the left side of the LCD toggles the EVF and LCD display settings, determining which, if any, are enabled with the Automatic determination setting being ideal for general use.

Very different from the D850 is the highly-simplified mode dial. Most of the features that have gone missing are available for reasonably fast access in the i menu. Included on the mode dial is the green fully-automatic mode, the basic modes advanced photographers expect and three saved user settings modes.

To the left of the lens mount is the ubiquitous lens release button and to the right are the programmable Fn1 and Fn2 buttons. The function buttons are within easy reach of the grip hand and while they work fine, they are unusually wobbly for a camera of this quality.

Nikon's metal-with-plastic-covering camera strap holders/eyelets are very nice, but I find the right-side loop resting against my index finger at times (slightly annoying).

Side of the Camera

Despite the small size of this camera, Nikon managed to fit a full array of ports into it. Here is a look at the port side of the Z 6:

Camera Side View Comparison

Starting at the top right, there is a SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0 Type-C connector). While in Colorado, I did not yet have an XQD card reader and utilized the USB 3 port for image transfer. I quickly learned that the Z 7's SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0 Type-C connector, same as on the Z 6) did not live up to its name – it seemed super-slow to me.

Next-down is the HDMI port and the bottom port is for a remote release (DC-2 connection). On the left side are 3.5mm headphone and mic ports.

Note that the two flexible plastic port covers have a crease in them, allowing only the bottom-most port on each side to be alone exposed.

Nikon Z 6/7 Right Side

The right side of the camera is rather featureless aside from the memory card slot door.

Nikon Z 7 Compared to D850

Size of the Camera

Features afforded by the mirrorless design include small size and light weight. Compared to DSLRs with similar capabilities, that goal has been met by the Z 6/7.

ModelBody DimensionsCIPA Weight
Canon EOS R5.4 x 3.9 x 3.3"(135.8 x 98.3 x 84.4mm)23.4 oz (660g)
Canon EOS 6D Mark II5.7 x 4.4 x 2.9"(144.0 x 110.5 x 74.8mm)27.0 oz (765g)
Canon EOS 5Ds / 5Ds R6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0"(152 x 116.4 x 76.4mm)32.8 oz (930g)
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV5.9 x 4.6 x 3.0"(150.7 x 116.4 X 75.9mm)31.4 oz (890g)
Nikon Z 75.3 x 4.0 x 2.7"(134.0 x 100.5 x 67.5mm)20.7 oz (585g)
Nikon Z 65.3 x 4.0 x 2.7"(134.0 x 100.5 x 67.5mm)20.7 oz (585g)
Nikon D8505.7 x 4.9 x 3.1"(146.0 x 124.0 x 78.5mm)32.3 oz (915g)
Sony a7R III5.0 x 3.9 x 3.0" (126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)23.2 oz (657g)
Sony a7 III5.0 x 3.8 x 3.0" (126.9 x 95.6 x 73.7mm)23.0 oz (650g)
View the full Nikon Z 6 specifications to compare additional cameras.

Note that camera strap studs are often excluded from the measurements and the stud on the left increases this camera's width by about .3" (8mm).

With the Z 6, you get essentially the same full frame image quality as a DSLR in a package that is a fraction of the size and weight.

Nikon Z 6/7 Bottom

When the camera becomes as small and narrow as this one, base plate and L-plate selection can become an issue and specifically, the tripod foot on the Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter gets in the way, impacting some of my camera plates. The Wimberley P5 fits along with the adapter, but the adapter foot does not permit the camera plate to comfortably seat into the quick release clamp on the ball head. Check out the Kirk BL-FTZ L-Bracket for Nikon FTZ Adaptor

Nikon Z 6 Chassis

Ergonomics, Build Quality and Durability

This camera is small and light, but the strong magnesium alloy frame as found in Nikon's most-rugged DSLRs was not left out.

When picking up a camera, the hand grip is usually the first physical interface. A DSLR's hand grip is one of its largest features, so when size needs to be reduced, the hand grip is the low hanging fruit. Cut it off and your camera is much smaller.

If your camera spends most of its life on a tripod, the camera's grip is not very important. But, if you hold your camera even a modest amount of time, the grip is very important, for comfort, control and ... grip, avoiding drops. I've repeatedly complained about Sony's alpha series hand grip and even with the third iteration of these models, it is still not great. I liked Canon's first EOS R grip at lot, though it seems slightly boring compared to Nikon's design. The grip on the Z 6 and Z 7 is rather Nikon DSLR-like and quite comfortable. Though it is still small, this grip is large enough to avoid knuckle-against-lens issues and enough shape is provided for good camera control with even relatively large lenses mounted.

Nikon indicated that the weather sealing on the Z 6 and 7 was similar to that of the D850 (very good) and Lensrentals' teardown of the Z 7 confirms that this is an exceptionally well-sealed camera.

With a tested-for-200,000 cycle shutter, likely few will surpass the Z 6's exposure life expectancy.

Additional Features

"Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy - Z series cameras easily connect using Nikon SnapBridge to compatible smart devices for remote shooting and transferring JPEG photos on the go." [Nikon USA] SnapBridge on your smartphone can also remotely control the camera with access to Live View, shutter release (single or continuous shots), focus control (via touch), shooting modes (P/S/A/M), image brightness settings including shutter speed, aperture and ISO, exposure compensation and white balance.

The Z 6 can also connect to a wireless network router (Infrastructure Mode) or directly to a computer (Access-Point Mode) (requires Nikon's Wireless Transmitter Utility software with no internet access available while camera-connected) for JPEG, RAW or video file upload or for computer control of the camera. Connecting to the Nikon WT-7 provides other functionality.

The Z 6's Time-lapse feature allows up to 9,999 full resolution stills to be captured.

Focus shift shooting is featured in the Z 6. Set up the camera and it will automatically capture a series of images with focus being adjusted for each. The results are then stacked using image stacking software (not provided). This feature is very nice and much easier than manually doing the same. However, it could be much better still.

Nikon USA's Focus Shift Shooting Guide provides information about setting up the camera for this function (use our Focus Stacking Primer for the post processing). Quickly apparent is how much effort and knowledge (or guessing/trial and error) is required to use this feature. Greatly needed is a fully automatic mode. The Z 6 has a very large focus area and it wouldn't be hard for the camera to automatically determine the distance of the closest and farthest subjects in the frame. With that information combined with the easily calculated depth of field delivered by the selected aperture, focal length and other relevant parameters, the camera should be able to automatically determine the number of images needed and the focus distance adjustment needed between each. Depth of field increases with distance and the camera should take this into account for the full automation. While the existing focus shift shooting function is very nice, it could be amazing. Nikon, can you provide this feature in a firmware update?

Battery

The Nikon EN-EL15b rechargeable Li-ion battery was Nikon's choice for the Z 6. Great is that this battery is compatible with many Nikon DSLR models, but with the mirrorless cameras being more power hungry, the battery life rating plunges from 1,840 shots (EN-EL15a rating) in the D850 to only 310 shots in the Z 6. That number is of course the CIPA rating. Based on my experience, you can expect to greatly exceed that number most of the time; I'm not finding this battery inadequate. The movie recording battery life rating is approximately 85 minutes.

For those wanting to charge the EN-EL15b battery in-camera, Nikon provides the EH-7P Charging AC Adapter in the box. Note that you cannot charge the battery in-camera when the camera is powered on, greatly diminishing the value of this feature. The Nikon EP-5 is required for that.

The older EN-EL15a and EN-EL15 batteries can be used in the Z 6, but note that they have lower capacity and cannot be charged in-camera. Also remember that wireless communications increases battery drain.

The Z 6 provides a 6-level battery indicator on the top LCD and, depending on the options selected, the rear LCD and the EVF. The Battery info menu shows a specific percent remaining value, a shutter count and an age for the installed battery.

Dedicated Accessories

In this space, I usually introduce the camera's dedicated battery grip. From Nikon: "The MB-N10 Multi-Power Battery Pack that is currently in development will hold two EN-EL15b batteries, effectively increasing the number of shots possible and/or movie recording time by approximately 1.8x. It will provide the same level of dust- and drip-resistance as the Z 7 and Z 6, and will support USB charging using the EH-7P Charging AC Adapter." It seems that this battery pack does not provide the vertical grip function that greatly increases the versatility and value of such an accessory.

Nikon Z 6/7 Side Angle

Which Lens Should I Get for the Nikon Z 6?

Along with a new lens mount comes a new series of lenses and the initial selection usually consists of a general purpose lens along with a small number of other options. The general purpose lens is what is generally needed most and for the Z mount, that lens is the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 S Lens. The image quality a camera delivers is very significantly dependent on the lens to provide a clear image and this lens performs very well overall. It is a nice match for the Z 6 and Z 7 bodies.

The Z 6 is available in a body-only kit or in a kit with the Z 24-70mm f/4 S Lens. As the lens is substantially less expensive in the kit (40% less at review time), it is a bargain and this is the lens I purchased with my Z 7. This choice makes a lot of sense.

For those with an existing kit or interested in tapping into Nikon's vast lens lineup, the Nikon FTZ Mount Adapter will be needed. A bit surprising is that Nikon's adapter is priced, at review time, 2.5x higher than Canon's base EF to RF mount adapter. Still, the FTZ is a worthwhile investment and it will be useful long into the future. Buy the FTZ adapter in the Z 6 kit to get a much better deal.

With the FTZ adapter, numerous other zoom lenses, most starting at 24mm, become good general purpose lens options.

Price

The Nikon Z 6 has a moderate price for a full frame interchangeable lens camera with its imaging sensor resolution being the primary value specification holding the price down. The most direct comparable is the Sony a7 III, featuring the same resolution, and that camera is $1.05 more expensive at review time. Thus, it seems Nikon met the already existing market price point.

Wrap Up

Keeping a review of the incredibly-feature-laden Z 6 concise but complete is a difficult balance to find and this review is not a complete description of every Z 6 feature available. Nikon has published an intimidatingly-huge 496-page owner's manual (a link to the manual is provided at the top of this review) that highlights all of the features found on this camera and explains their use. Read the manual, go use your camera, repeat.

The Z 6 used for this review was purchased online/retail.

Nikon Z 6/7 Front Angle

Summary

As I said in the Canon EOS R review ... in the Nikon Z series, we are looking at the future and I again like what I see.

One key feature of the Z 6 is the new lens mount, the first new Nikon full frame lens mount in nearly 60 years. The new lens mount is optimized for the next generation of lenses while FTZ F-mount adapters provide easy integration into existing kits. Expect some exciting new Z-mount lens models to be coming soon.

Two significant differences between DSLRs and MILCs are the viewfinder and the conventional AF system. The Z's EVF, big, fast, bright and with good color, leaves me mostly ready to give up my OVFs for the EVF advantages (except for tracking fast action). The Z 6's AF system is quite good, quite fast and with (mostly) good accuracy, though it is a valid source of some complaints. AF accuracy, primarily in some of the wider AF area modes and in AF-C continuous mode, is a weakness of this camera and some lament the missing 3D tracking mode found in the D850.

The in-body image stabilization works very well and it is a big Z 6 asset. I appreciate the smaller size and lighter weight of the Z series cameras – it is ideal for travel. The grip is especially comfortable and the controls are very adequate.

Nikon's introduction of the Z 6 and Z 7, after releasing multiple teasers, lit up the internet with opinions, including many seemingly looking for reasons to be disappointed (complaining seems to be the thing to do upon big camera announcements). As this is a great little camera, perhaps expectations were set too high? As mentioned, there are some valid AF-related complaints. If one needs dual memory card slots, that is another shortfall. Those who need to track erratically-moving fast action in high speed continuous (extended) shooting mode are not likely to be happy with the EVF freezing momentarily after each shot.

Regardless of any complaints, Nikon now has a pair of extremely high-performing full frame MILCs (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras) in its lineup. That is good news for everyone, even if only for competitive reasons. The Z 6 (AKA Z6) is a compact, lightweight, comfortable-to-hold and easy-to-use camera that provides excellent image quality, great video capabilities and a very strong overall feature set for a reasonable price. This camera is packed full of the latest technology and is ready for a role in your kit.

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