The Nikon Z7 exceeded our expectations and then some. Now it's time to find out if the Nikon Z6 is an amazing all-rounder. Michael Topham puts one of the first samples in the UK to the test
Nikon Z6 Review: Features
Like the Z 7, 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’s able to accommodate super-fast lenses such as 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 going forward.
We can expect many interesting lenses to follow the three native Z-mount optics that are currently available and we’re told no fewer than twelve lens will be available by the end of 2020. To maximise the strength of the Z-mount and reduce the rotation angle for faster coupling and uncoupling of lenses, the mount features four prongs as opposed to three. Nikon hasn’t forgotten about the millions of people using FX lenses either, which are fully compatible via Nikon’s FTZ adapter, which I’ll touch on in more 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, which is similar to D850’s but with on-chip phase detection, 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 model has a backside-illuminated structure to maximise its light gathering capability. With fewer photosites crammed onto the sensor, the Z 6 is able to offer a wider ISO range. Whereas the Z 7 shoots between ISO 64-25,600 (expandable to ISO 32-102,400), 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 combination that allows it to shoot a burst at up to 12fps. Compare this to the Nikon Z 7 and Sony A7 III and it works out at 3fps and 2fps faster respectively. Shutter speed ranges from 30secs to 1/8000sec 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 1/8000sec. One peculiarity that we noticed on the Z 7, whereby the highest shutter speed is restricted when using the electronic first-curtain option, is the same on the Z 6. While it’s handy having the option of enabling the electronic first-curtain to eliminate blurring caused by shutter shock, you’ll need to make sure it’s disabled if you’d like to shoot faster than 1/2000sec.
The Z 6’s hybrid autofocus 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 faster 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 in the frame. 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 the face detection and subject tracking modes.
Just as we’ve seen on the Z 7, the Z 6 includes 5-axis in-body stabilisation (IBIS), providing up to 5 stops of compensation for camera shake when shooting hand-held. 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 hand-held video or attempting shots at very 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 helpful aids such as a peaking display for accurate manual focus, and zebra patterns to avoid overexposure. Attractive video functionality doesn’t end here. Autofocus 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. Those who’d like to use the Z 6 with a shutter release cable will need to make sure it’s accessory port compatible. Nikon’s MC-DC2 (£35) is one example of such.
Other features worth mentioning include a time-lapse movie setting that can make 4K or Full HD movies in-camera, an easy to use interval shooting mode and the option to use focus shift shooting to create extended depth-of-field composites. Like the Nikon D850, the Z 6 offers a Natural Light Auto White Balance for optimal results in outdoor lighting conditions and in the standard AWB mode you get two options (AWB 0 and AWB 2) to accentuate warm tones or reduce them.
Equipping the camera with a single XQD card slot much like the Z 7 is a dubious decision by Nikon. While there’s an argument that XQD cards are more robust than SD media, not having the option to insert a second card for spilling over or to use as a means of back up will be missed by many. To offer dual SD card slots like the Sony A7 III offers would have been our preferred option, not only for convenience but to also make a saving having to invest in new XQD memory cards, which are expensive. Choose a high-spec card such as a Sony XQD 64GB G series that we used with the Z 6 and you’ll be looking at spending close to £180.
With regard to power the Z 6 uses an updated EN-EL15b battery, which fully supports in-camera charging via the USB-C port. Anyone who owns older EN-EL15a batteries will be pleased to hear that these can be used too, however they will need to be charged externally via a conventional charger. The claimed 310-shot battery life has nothing on the stamina we’re used to from Nikon’s full frame DSLRs, however with the MB-N10 battery grip that’s currently in development users will be able to load two batteries and increase battery life to over 600 shots before a recharge is required.
Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are built-in, and Nikon has included a dedicated processor to provide a more stable connection to devices running its SnapBridge app. An always-on Bluetooth LE connection can be setup between the Z 6 and your phone too, enabling every single picture you shoot to be automatically transferred to your phone. Selecting the all-important 2MP mode helps speed up transfer times and saves on valuable storage space.