Nikon Z6 II
- + Great all-round performer
- + Good build and weatherproofing
- + Rapid 14fps continuous shooting
- + Large, sharp viewfinder
- + 4K 60p video coming in future
- + Impressive low-light autofocus
- - Only minor updates over predecessor
- - Lacks full screen articulation
Price as Reviewed:£1,999.00 (Body Only)
It boasts more processing power than its predecessor, but how much does this add to Nikon’s enthusiast all-rounder? Richard Sibley finds out
Nikon Z6 II at a glance:
- £2549 with 24-70mm f/4
- 24.5MP BSI-CMOS full frame sensor
- ISO 50 – 204, 800 (extended)
- 14fps continuous shooting
- 3.69m-dot EVF, 0.8x magnification
- 3.2in tilting touchscreen
- 5-axis in-body stabilisation
- 4K 60p (via future firmware update)
Although time may feel like it is standing still right now, technology still marches on. Incredibly it has been a whole two years since Nikon launched its first full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Z6 and Z7. It was roundly praised for these two cameras, which featured many of the features that its DSLR users have come to expect. They placed Nikon firmly in the full-frame mirrorless battle, which with the introduction of cameras from Canon, Panasonic, Sigma and Leica, meant that Sony no longer had that part of the market all to itself.
It wasn’t completely positive news, though, with much of the initial criticism aimed at the fact that the pair lacked dual card slots, which for many photographers is a dealbreaker if the camera is to be used professionally. The autofocus also lagged a little behind some of its competitors, most notably from Canon and Sony’s equivalent models. With the launch of the Nikon Z6 II, these two criticisms have been addressed.
As was the case two years ago, the Z6 II launches alongside its 45.7MP Z7 II counterpart, at a price of £1,999. Impressively, and going against the trend, this is £100 less than the £2,099 that the Z6 cost at launch, although the older model can currently be purchased body-only for £1,549.
Not so long ago Nikon would have named this new camera the Z6s, with it having very incremental new features over its predecessor. But Nikon has now caught up with the naming convention adopted by most other brands by adding a numerical designation, which should make it a lot easier to work out the generation of the camera (Fujifilm X100 S,T,F,V anyone?).
With the same 24.5MP full-frame BSI-CMOS sensor, the same 3.2-inch tilting screen and the same 3.690m-dot EVF, most of the new features of the Nikon Z6 II are to be found in the camera’s menu rather than on its body. Indeed the only physical change that is immediately discoverable is the very welcome addition of an SD card slot. This overcomes the ‘only one card slot’ criticism, and also removes another mild annoyance, which was the exclusive use of XQD cards.
With the CFexpress format being physically the same size as XQD, Nikon updated the firmware in the original Z cameras to use both formats, which should future proof the camera for the next few years and provide owners with more options. However, the addition of an SD socket means affordable cards are within reach for everyone.
The biggest difference between the Z6 II and its predecessor comes with the addition of a second EXPEED 6 image processor. This may not read like a headline feature, but it is this system that powers everything that the camera has to do. So naturally, doubling the potential processing power has a knock-on effect on the performance of the camera. The effect of the new processing system, and tweaks to the algorithms that make everything work mean that the Nikon Z6 II boasts faster and more accurate AF, a faster shooting rate and better low-light performance compared to its predecessor.
Those interested in the Z6 II for video will be pleased that it builds on the high specification found in the original Z6. Full HD 1080p video can be captured at up to 120fps, whilst 4K is recorded at 30fps. The 4K footage is downsampled from 6K footage, which should provide a great amount of detail.
The video is also set to be improved in February 2021, with a planned firmware update which will add a 4K 60fps mode. However it will suffer from a 1.5x crop, meaning you’ll have to use a shorter focal-length lens than you would normally to achieve the same field of view. It can also only be recorded at this frame rate internally.
External recording via HDMI allows for 10-bit footage to be captured, and there is a paid update for the camera which will allow for 12-bit export so that footage can be recorded in ProRes Raw or Blackmagic Raw via an Atomos Ninja V recorder.
- Battery life – The EN-EL15c battery can last for up to 450 shots when using the screen and Low Power mode.
- Compatibility – The EN-EL15c is a variant of the EN-EL15 which has been used in a lot of Nikon DSLR cameras. The batteries are back and forward compatible, but EN-EL15 and EL15a batteries cannot be charged in-camera via USB-C.
- HDMI – Interestingly Nikon has opted for a Mini HDMI socket. This is a halfway point offering a more secure connection that Micro HDMI used in many other cameras, whilst saving space over using a full-size HDMI socket
- External audio – The Z6 II features two 3.5mm sockets, allowing for an external microphone to be used, along with headphones for audio monitoring
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – The Z6 II can be connected to a smartphone or tablet via either a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection. Nikon’s SnapBridge app allows images to be transferred and viewed on the smart device.
- USB-C – The USB-C port on the side of the Z6 II allows for images to be transferred. It also allows for charging of the battery with the camera switched off.
- Battery grip – The Z6 only paired with MB-10 battery grip, which lacked any additional controls. The Z6 II is compatible with both the MB-10 and the new MB-11 vertical battery grip which adds a shutter button and controls for vertical shooting.
Build and Handling
With its Z series body design, Nikon has created a mirrorless camera as close to its DSLR line as it possibly could. Externally, little has changed on the mark II from the original Nikon Z6, and the new camera is just 2mm deeper to accommodate the extra card slot and/or processor (which may need slightly more space for heat dispersal).
All the hallmarks of a Nikon DSLR are present; the power switch located around the shutter button, the angular prism jutting out from the top plate, the mode dial on the top left of the camera and let’s not forget the distinctive red flash around the handgrip. As a result, the Z6 II should feel familiar in-hand to Nikon users, while for those coming from other brands, the button layout is typical of a contemporary camera.
Without wasting time and words describing the details in minutiae there are a few small features that are worth flagging. Firstly, the top LCD display. In my mind this is such a key feature of an enthusiast and pro DSLR that it’s great that Nikon have carried this over to the Z6 and Z7 range, as it helps distinguish these cameras from the Z5 and APS-C Z50, which sit lower down on the Nikon ladder.
However, despite my delight having the option to use this top-plate display, I don’t actually recall a time when I so much as glanced at it, such is the benefit of having all of the information on the rear screen and the viewfinder anyway.
Next up we have both the familiar directional control pad and a small joystick. Both provide quick ways to navigate menus and make it easy to shift the AF point around. However I found the quickest way to shift the AF point is to make use of the touchscreen.
Finally, the grip. As someone who has owned a Nikon F50, F80, D70 and D300 you do become accustomed to type of camera grip and, for me at least, this is something that Nikon always gets right. The Z6 II is no exception with a large, high profile, rubberised grip that any Nikon DSLR user will feel right at home with.
Another welcome carry-over from the firm’s high-end DSLRs are two function buttons on the front of the camera, which can easily be pressed whilst holding the camera up to your eye.
All of the sockets on the side of the camera are hidden behind rubberised covers. These aren’t hinged but are self-retaining. It takes a firm push to put the rubber cover snuggly back into position, which offers reassurance as to the weatherproofing of the camera. Combined with the solid magnesium alloy body, this should provide photographers with the trust they need to shoot with the camera regardless of the conditions.
From an operational perspective, there is little to write about. The well-managed menu system is the latest version of that which has been found in Nikon DSLR cameras for years. Everything is logically placed, with clear labels and some attempts at colour coding, which all make it easy to find what you need. Combine this with a customisable My Menu, the top LCD, and a Quick Menu which can be displayed whilst shooting, and you have all the tools you need to make quick changes to settings.
Viewfinder and Screen
I found the large 3.2-in 2.1m-dot tilting touchscreen to be very crisp and clear, with menu and text looking particularly crisp. Some users will certainly be pleased with the lack of full articulation, with ‘we don’t want to take photos or film ourselves’ and ‘having a screen tilting at the side isn’t as natural as having it centrally’ being the two most common refrains.
With the off-centre location they have a point; a centrally located tilting screen, such as that on the Z6 II does make adjusting the composition a more natural experience. However, in 2020 and with an ever-younger audience, there are many that want to document their travels and experiences, and a fully articulated screen could have been a key selling point over the existing Z6. Nikon may have missed a trick here, particularly with the camera having some interesting video capabilities.
The more purist photographers out there will be pleased to hear that the electronic viewfinder has a decent 0.8x magnification and a resolution of 3.69m-dots, which puts it ahead of the Sony A7 III, and on par with the Canon EOS R6. As with the rear screen, I found the EVF to be bright and clear, and I had no problem with any lag or capturing what I wanted. That said, it obviously lagged the finesse of the current top of the range EVF with almost twice the numerical resolution and refresh rates of up to 120Hz.
With two processors comes the increased power to calculate autofocus movements. For me, it is these AF improvements that warrant the most attention when considering the Z6 II, as I think it is where there was the most room for improvement from the original model. Like the Z6, the Z6 II has 273 phase detection AF points that cover around 90% of the frame – basically everything except the very edges. On paper little has changed in terms of specification, so it is with the increased processing power, and presumably the new AF algorithm (which is available as a firmware update for the Z6), where the improvements will come from.
In single AF mode, the Z6 II is as fast and snappy as I would expect it to be. I didn’t find any issues using it and I would happily say that it matches the competition. One situation that is noticeably better is when shooting in low light. The Z6 II can AF at -4.5EV, which is a stop lower than the Z6. It can also now shoot as low as -6EV in a special Low Light setting. Nikon claims these figures based on single spot AF and using a lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.
Without doing any stringent testing of this, what I did find was when shooting street scenes at night I didn’t experience any hunting that you would except to get whilst occasionally framing the odd image. It is worth noting that the quoted -6EV matches the current ‘low-light King’ the Sony A7S III, which with only a 12.1-million-pixel full frame sensor, has much larger photosites for gathering light. So hats off to Nikon for this feat.
Other improvements come with the Face and Eye Detection modes. More processing power increases the speed of recognition of these, and there is also Animal Eye AF, which came as a later firmware update to the Z6 and Z7. These modes are easily accessible from the ‘I’ quick menu where they can be chosen as companions to the Wide AF mode. This is much better than having them tucked away in the main camera menus or having to dedicate a custom button to switch Eye AF on or off.
I found that the Eye AF worked very well. It felt about as quick to detect and lock on to faces and eyes as the competitor cameras, such as the Sony A7 III. Of course, being able to draw a box on screen around an eye is very different from actually being able to focus on it, but again the Nikon Z6 II performed well when faced with the challenge of children running around, defaulting to Face detection where it couldn’t be sure of eye and getting the vast majority of shots perfectly sharp.
So good is the eye detection that it even dealt with the challenge of focusing on the eye of my daughter whilst she was wearing a bright pink superhero mask, although it didn’t work 100% of the time. When the eye wasn’t detected the default face detection placed the focus probably around 1cm in front of the pupil, for a perfectly acceptable image. But to be able to shoot with a 50mm lens at f/1.4 and focus precisely on the eye of a superhero protecting her identity is impressive.
Shooting in AF-C using subject tracking via the touchscreen worked smoothly. Just touch the screen to place the yellow square over the subject you want to track and away it goes. There were a few times I noticed the back-and-forth wobble where the camera had obviously switched to contrast detection AF, but again for moderately moving subjects I found continuous AF worked well for a camera that Nikon is calling ‘The All-Rounder’.
If you are planning to shoot wildlife or maybe even sports, then it is the obvious choice in the Nikon Z system line-up. However, I still feel like there is more to come from this autofocus system. Nikon made firmware updates to the Z6 and Z7 II and I’m sure that with two processors there will be more to come from this AF system as more feedback is obtained from photographers. I also feel that there is room for a camera higher up in the range, along the lines of the Sony Alpha 9 II. Whilst the autofocus of the Z6 II is about on par with its peers, it still feels like there should be an elite level camera for wildlife and sports comparable to the Nikon D6.
During my time using the Z6 II, and previously the Z6, I was very much reminded of my beloved Nikon D300. The Z6 II feels very much like the mirrorless successor of the D300, albeit with a full-frame rather than an APS-C size sensor. What I loved 10 years ago about the D300 was its versatility; it didn’t necessarily excel at any one thing, but could easily turn its hand to whatever you could throw at it. Gven some tweaking of the exposure settings and some timing of when you pressed the shutter, you could always walk away with great images.
The Z6 II is in a similar place now, with its 24.5MP sensor resolving enough detail for the vast majority of enthusiast photographers. Landscape photographers wanting to make large prints, or wildlife photographers wanting room to crop, may benefit from the higher resolution of the Z7 II with its 45.7MP sensor, but for everyone else the Z6 II will be fine.
I found the dynamic range to be comfortably enough to shoot landscape images, and on par with its competitors. One thing to note is that I found the evaluative Matrix metering to compensate quite a lot for a bright sky. I ended up dialling-in 0.3EV compensation for some landscape shots, and even then I felt I could have raised it 0.3EV more without damaging all but the brightest specular highlights. This does also come down to personal preference, but is worth noting if you regularly use a priority shooting mode.
At this point I’d like to take some time to praise Nikon to a fantastic feat of engineering with the Z6 II shutter mechanism. To produce a mechanical shutter that can shoot at 14fps, which matches the speed of the significantly larger Nikon D6 professional DSLR, is impressive. The sound produced by the shutter is nice and dampened, and there is an electronic shutter for completely silent shooting. It needs pointing out though that the 14fps continuous shooting rate does have its limitations; you can’t use 14-bit raw, presumably to do with the data throughput required, and you have to be in Single Point AF mode.
For all the speed of shooting the AF obviously needs to be able to keep up the pace, which is where the dual processors come in. Shooting at the more conservative 12fps Continuous High mode I took a sequence of images of a Black Headed Gull coming in to land on water with mixed results. I’ll add a huge caveat that shooting birds in flight is a great skill, and one that I don’t pretend to be an expert in. Shooting in the Wide Area AF (L), which looks at a wider area than single point, I found that the first 4 images in the sequence tracking the gull in-focus, but then there was a jump to another gull in the frame. The second gull was the only other object in the frame, and the two gulls were separated by water in the image.
I have no doubt that were I more skilled I would have had better results in a single AF spot mode, but my flaws aren’t the point of this tale. What I was impressed with was the speed at which the AF switched subjects. Within a single frame, the camera had told the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 lens to focus back on the gull in flight. It actually jumped between the two gulls another couple of times, within the sequence. The moral of the tale here isn’t that I still can’t shoot birds in-flight very well, it’s that the Nikon Z6 II does have the AF speed to be able to keep up with a bird in-flight, as well as my erratic handholding. Fine-tune the AF settings, use a better telephoto lens and put the Z6 II into the hands of an expert wildlife photographer, and I have no doubt that the AF will be up to the job. And as I said earlier, I still feel that there is more to be tweaked from this system as Nikon gets more feedback and refines it further.
With twice the processing power the data produced by the camera can be shifted around more efficiently. This has seen the buffer increase from 35 12-bit raw shots with the Z6 to 124 with the Z6 II. This is of course reliant on being able to write to a fast enough memory card, with Nikon quoting these figures using a CFexpress card. However, given that they equate to holding the shutter button down for around 9 secs at the fastest shooting rate, the buffer should prove to be more than enough for enthusiast shooters using a UHS-II SD card rather than a faster CFexpress card.
ISO and Noise
As you would expect there is no visible luminance or chroma noise at ISO 50 or ISO 100, in fact images look very clean up to ISO 800. At ISO 1600 that we start to see a hint of luminance noise and its reduction. By ISO 6400 the slight loss of detail caused by luminance noise reduction is visible, and this is the highest setting that I would feel comfortable using regularly. ISO 12,800 is certainly usable, but there is a loss of fine detail and some colour noise creeping in. The maximum native ISO 51,200 has that waxy look with detail lost, and where it is retained, patches of luminance noise are visible. The +1 and +2 extended settings should be avoided, particularly the latter; luminance noise and its reduction has decimated the image, and colour noise is still visible in some places.
As mirrorless cameras go Nikon’s Z6 II is a solid all-round performer that has a great deal to offer enthusiast photographers. From landscapes, portraits, documentary and social photography the Z6 II finds itself right at home. For sports and wildlife the Z6 II will do a competent job with its improved AF. All of the updates from the original Z6 are real and welcome improvements, but you do have to question whether there is enough new on the camera to represent two years’ worth of progress.
It could be argued that with its first-generation models, Nikon hit the ground running compared to the standing start that Sony had some years previously. Perhaps with the Z6 being largely praised as a solid start on Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless journey, there was less that needed updating compared to some of the big leaps forward we have seen in the past. However, it’s also worth noting that the original Z6 is now some £400 cheaper than its successor. So there is a question worth asking as to the value of the new features for those thinking of buying into the Z system for the first time, especially given the firmware updates that have improved the Z6 since its launch.
There is no question in my mind that the Nikon Z6 II is a better camera and priced fairly, but I don’t think there is enough improvement to warrant the vast majority of Z6 owners to upgrade. However with the Z7 II now having up to 10fps continuous shooting and the same dual cards slots and AF performance, it may be an upgrade option for Z6 users.
So what else could have been added? Possibly a higher resolution EVF and a fully articulated LCD screen. But at this price point and target photographer, there aren’t many other places to go within the current limits of technology. In summary, the Z6 II is a great camera if you are a Nikon DSLR user thinking of jumping in on the Z system.
Nikon Z6 II – Specifications
- Sensor: 24.5MP CMOS, 35.9 mm x 23.9 mm
- Output size: 6048 x 4024
- Focal length mag: 1x
- Lens mount: Nikon Z
- Shutter speeds: 30-1/8000sec
- Sensitivity: ISO 100-51200 (standard), ISO 50-204800 (extended)
- Exposure modes: PASM, B, U1-U3
- Metering: Matrix, Centre, Spot, Highlight
- Exposure compensation: ±5 in 0.3EV Step
- Continuous shooting: 14fps (10fps in 14-bit raw)
- Screen: 3.2in, 2.1m-dot tilting touchscreen
- Viewfinder: 3.69m-dot, 0.8x magnification
- AF Points : 273 phase detection
- Video: 4K 60p (future firmware), Full HD up to 120p
- External Mic: 3.5mm stereo
- Memory Card: 1x UHS II SD, 1x CFexpress/XQD
- Power: EN-EL15c Li-ion
- Battery Life: 450 Shots with LCD, 400 with EVF
- Dimensions: 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm
- Weight: 705g with Battery and Card