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

Amateur Photographer - - 7 Days -

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?

Fea­tures

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.

Per­for­mance

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

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