Nikon Z 6
The Nikon Z 7 exceeded our expectations and then some. It’s time to find out if the Nikon Z 6 is an amazing all-rounder. AP’s Michael Topham was the lucky one to try it
Michael Topham finds out if the Nikon Z 6 is an amazing all-rounder
Not content with just one model in the Z series, Nikon has adopted a similar approach to how Sony entered the full-frame mirrorless market by releasing a second model to sit beside the Z 7 in the form of the Z 6. The two are identical in the way they share the same body design and use the same large- diameter, short back-focus lens mount, but the Z 6, rather like Nikon’s D750, is a general-purpose model that presents a lower resolution sensor, less sophisticated AF system and faster continuous burst offering. For anyone who doesn’t require super-high resolution but fancies a well- equipped full-frame camera for £1,300 less than the Z 7, the Z 6 is very tempting. But can it compete against Sony’s A7 III as one of the finest full-frame offerings around £2,000?
The Z 6 introduces Nikon’s new Z-mount, which has the largest opening of any full-frame system. With its 55mm internal diameter it accommodates super-fast lenses such as the Nikkor Z 58mm f/0.95 Noct that’s due next year, plus with a flange distance of 16mm from lens to sensor, it gives Nikon’s lens engineers greater flexibility in optical design. Importantly, Nikon hasn’t forgotten about the millions of people using F-mount lenses, which are fully compatible via the FTZ mount adapter, which I’ll touch on in greater detail shortly.
The key difference between the Z 6 and Z 7 lies directly behind the Z-mount. Rather than employing a 45.7- million-pixel full-frame CMOS sensor, the Z 6 features a 24.5- million-pixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Unlike the Z 7 this chip has a low-pass filter, but like
its sister mode lhasa back sideilluminated structure to maximise its light- gathering capability. The Z 6 has a standard sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200, expandable to ISO 50-204,800. Nikon has united the sensor with its latest EXPEED 6 image processor – a pairing that allows it to shoot a continuous burst at up to 12fps. Compare this to the Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7 III and it’s 3fps and 2fps faster, respectively.
Shutter speeds range from 30sec to 1/8,000sec with a flash sync of 1/200sec. The Z 6’s silent shooting mode automatically engages the electronic shutter; however there isn’t the option to shoot any faster than 1/8,000sec. One peculiarity that we noticed on the Z 7, whereby the highest shutter speed is 1/2,000sec when using the electronic first- curtain option, is also seen on the Z 6.
The hybrid AF system combines contrast and phase detection points across 90% of its sensor’s surface area. In total there are 273 phase detection points compared to the Z 7’s 493 points, with the option to select every other point for fast AF point repositioning across the frame. The detection range of the AF system spans from - 4EV to +19EV in its low-light AF mode and pinpoint AF is inherited to aid with precise focusing on small subjects. Other AF-area modes include single-point AF, the choice of two wide-area AF modes and an auto AF mode that ties in with face detection and subject tracking.
Like the Z 7, the Z 6 features 5-axis in-body stabilisation (IBIS). Compared to the usual pitch and yaw correction that’s provided by in-lens optical stabilisation, IBIS additionally corrects for rotation around the lens axis, which helps when shooting handheld video or shots using slow shutter speeds. It also corrects for left- right and up- down movements, which can have a significant impact when shooting close- ups. Pair the Z 6 with an F-mount lens with VR using the FTZ adapter and the in-body and in-lens systems work together. Pitch and yaw is corrected by the lens, with the IBIS system compensating for rotation around the lens axis.
On the video side of things, the Z 6 is capable of in- camera 4K recording at up to 30fps using the full width of the sensor. Those wishing to experiment with slow motion can do so at Full HD at up to 120fps, while VR and Active D-lighting are both available in 4K UHD. Videographers will also be pleased to receive aids such as a peaking display for accurate manual focus, and zebra patterns to avoid overexposure. Attractive video functionality doesn’t end here. AF speed and tracking sensitivity can be adjusted during recording, while 10-bit footage can be output over HDMI using a flat N-log profile. Microphone and headphone sockets are built in too and are located one above the other to the side of the HDMI, USB- C and accessory ports.
Equipping the camera with a single XQD card slot is a dubious decision by Nikon. While there’s an argument XQD cards are more robust than SD media, not having the option to insert a second card for spilling over or to use as back up will be missed by many. With regard to power, the Z 6 uses an updated EN- EL15b battery, which fully supports in- camera charging via its USB- C port. Anyone who owns older EN- EL15a
batteries can use them, but they will need to be charged externally via a charger.
Build and handling
Getting the right look, feel and balance to an entirely new system presents a serious challenge for camera manufacturers. With Nikon’s expertise of producing DSLRs that feel as good in the hand as they are to use, I had high hopes they’d get it right – and I’m glad to report they’ve nailed it. Nikon’s design team has struck the perfect balance between what feels natural to existing users while making it considerably leaner than their smallest full-frame DSLRs. With a well-sculpted handgrip and sizeable thumb rest, the Z 6 offers an extremely satisfying handling experience which, from the moment you pick it up, feels more comfortable than the Sony A7 III. Though it might be a minor point, the rubberised texture of the grip feels nicer than the A7 III too, leading to it feeling more secure when working with gloves or when your hands are wet.
To give it its strength and rigidity the Z 6 is built around the same magnesium alloy chassis as the Z 7, which is fully weather-sealed to prevent moisture, dust and dirt penetrating through the seams and damaging the internals. Nikon offers further reassurance by saying it’s weather-sealed to the same standard as the D850, which I can vouch for being extremely durable having used it in persistent rain for hours on end without a hint of a glitch.
Existing Nikon DSLR users will love the way they immediately feel at home with the Z 6 in terms of its operation. There’s not a great deal new to learn and by keeping the dedicated buttons, dials and controls we’d expect to see on a camera of this level it saves you having to dive into menus or learn a whole new way of working. The mode dial is located at the top-left shoulder and requires the lock button to be depressed as it’s rotated. Rather than getting a drive dial beneath it, drive modes are loaded using a button below the menu button and are set with the front/rear thumb dials. You get a joystick that falls naturally under your thumb for shifting the focus point around the frame and its knurled texture helps you identify it from the AF- ON button above. Video mode is easily engaged from a stills/video switch, inside of which is a Disp button to toggle through the various display modes that include a levelling function and histogram. The front and rear thumb dials are nicely positioned for exposure control and the way the camera lets you reassign the manual focus ring of the lens to control aperture or exposure compensation is a nice touch. Up on the top plate the movie-record button only starts recording when you’re in movie mode, but like many of the buttons it can be assigned independently to stills and video functions. There’s a well-positioned ISO button directly behind the shutter button, but I found the exposure compensation button a bit too far off the side for my liking. The addition of a topplate screen is another subtle reference to DSLRs of the past. This reveals all the key shooting information you might want to glance down at, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, drive mode, battery life and the remaining capacity of the memory card – using an OLED display that adapts to the ambient light conditions.
All things considered, the Z 6, much like the Z 7, offers a very satisfying handling experience.
Viewfinder and screen
The similarities between the Z 6 and Z 7 extend to the electronic viewfinder and screen. The Z 6 has a superb 3.6-million- dot EVF with 0.8x magnification, which displays comprehensive shooting information against a black background above and below the preview image. It has a refresh rate of 60fps, displays a clear and sharp image and is noticeably superior to the A7 III’s EVF when you compare them. It’s a delight to use when you’d like to review images in bright conditions; offers an accurate preview of how aperture affects depth of field; and faithfully displays exposure, white balance and colour so you can be confident that what you’re seeing is a true representation of how the final image will look.
The screen is the same 2.1-million- dot touchscreen that you get on the Z 7. It tilts 90° up and 45° down for waist-level shooting, but can’t be pulled out to the side to aid portrait shooting from difficult angles. The screen is a nice slimline unit and adds very little depth at the rear of the
camera. The sensitivity and precision of touch control is excellent when you’re navigating the main menu and you’ll rarely select the wrong setting from the ‘i’ menu as the icons are fairly large. Moisture can play havoc with the operation of some touchscreens, but this isn’t an issue on the Z 6. Using the camera in the rain revealed that it operates no differently whether it has water droplets on its surface or not.
Nikon hasn’t released any figures about how many frames the Z 6 is able to process in a continuous shooting scenario, so this was top of my list of things to test. Loaded with a 64GB Sony XQD G-series card capable of a 440MB/s read and 400MB/s write speed, the Z 6 rattled out 200 raw files set to 5fps shooting in its low continuous shooting mode. Switching to high-speed continuous extended (12fps) saw this number reduce to 35 frames. With raw and JPEG (Fine) selected, it managed 71 frames in high-speed continuous (5.5fps) and 28 frames in high-speed continuous extended (12fps). It should be noted that the 12fps burst option is only available when the bit depth is set to 12-bit. In 14-bit the fastest the Z 6 shoots at is 9fps. This commendable buffer performance is good news for those who rattle out shots in quick succession and demand that their camera can keep up.
The Z 6 backs up its high-speed shooting with a fine focusing performance. A visit to a racetrack was the perfect opportunity to switch across to continuous AF (AF- C) and find out how well the camera responds to high-speed action. I found the Wide-area AF (S) mode most effective for tracking cars travelling directly towards the camera, with the Wide-area AF (L) and Auto-area AF modes proving to be more effective with subjects that appear large in the frame. Reviewing my images in the EVF told me that the camera was delivering a high success rate of sharp shots, with only around three shots in a burst of 21 frames being out of focus or unusable. For day-to- day shooting, users are likely to use Single point AF in Single AF (AF-S) mode. The red AF target turns green to confirm focus has been achieved and with all focus points active it takes approximately 2.3sec to shift the AF point from one side of the frame to the other using the AF toggle. The way the Z 6 allows you to move the AF target diagonally is great for spontaneous focus point changes, and by selecting the every other AF point option you’ll find it’s even faster to shift the AF point, albeit not quite as accurately. In low light the Z 6 isn’t as hasty at acquiring focus on its subjects as Canon’s EOS R, so you’ll need to be a little bit more patient. Saying that, its bright- green AF assist
The Z 6’s Natural Light Auto White Balance mode delivers true-to-life colour in outdoor lighting conditions Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S, 1/1250sec at f/4, ISO 800
The Z 6’s in-body 5-axis IS is highly effective at compensating for handshake at slow shutter speeds. This image was taken at 70mm Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S, 1/25sec at f/5.6, ISO 400
I was impressed by the sharpness of the Z-mount 24-70mm f/4 S standard zoom, which is weather-sealed like the body Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S, 1/400sec at f/4, ISO 640