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: 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 something I was keen to test. Loaded with a 64GB Sony XQD G-series memory card capable of a 440MB/s read and 400MB/s write speed, the Z 6 happily 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 when this was increased to high-speed continuous extended (12fps). It should also be noted that the maximum 12fps burst can only be achieved when the NEF (Raw) bit depth is set to 12-bit. In 14-bit the fastest the Z 6 can shoot at in high-speed continuous extended is 9fps. All in all, this commendable buffer performance is good news for anyone who regularly rattles out images at high speed and demands that their camera can keep up and not falter every few seconds.
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 over to continuous AF (AF-C) and find out how well the camera responds to high-speed action. I found the Wide-area AF (S) AF-area 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 larger in the frame. Reviewing my images in the EVF told me that the camera was delivering a high-success rate of sharp shots, with typically only 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 is takes approximately 2.3secs 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 adjustments and by selecting the every other AF point option from the custom setting menu you’ll find it’s even faster to the shift the AF point around, albeit not quite as precisely.
In low-light I found that 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 beam did a good job of offering some extra illumination on close subjects when it was needed.
In terms of battery life the claimed 310 shots per charge doesn’t sound great on paper, but by carefully managing the power off delay options and switching off image review I found I was able to shoot closer to 400 shots before a replacement battery was required. Having the option to charge the battery in-camera via USB is great, however you will find it’s sensitive to power supply. While it showed no problem being charged from mains and a 2A output using the supplied USB-C cable, the small orange LED that illuminates when USB charging is in progress didn’t with some of the smaller 1A output power banks I tried. Plugging the Z 6 into my 5V output car charger using the supplied USB-C cable successfully initiated in-camera charging. Users can rest assured knowing it is possible to top up the power when on the move and driving between different locations.
Out in the field I found myself using the double-tap function on the touch screen to quickly inspect sharpness in playback mode. The way it offers a magnified view precisely where you tap is helpful and can save time hunting around the image. Using the Z 6 with a selection of F-mount lenses via the FTZ adapter also confirmed that performance and focusing is just the same as if they were paired to a Nikon FX-format DSLR. The only thing to watch out for is the way the FTZ adapter’s tripod mount sits lower than the camera body. If you’re using a Z-mount lens and have a tripod plate mounted to the bottom of the camera and then switch to using an F-mount lens via the FTZ adapter, you’ll likely find the tripod plate will foul the adapter being attached and has to be removed first.
As for the Z 6’s IBIS system, it’s remarkably effective at allowing you to capture sharp handheld shots with slow shutter speeds and does a magnificent job of suppressing jittery shake associated with handheld movie footage. With the 24-70mm f/4 lens I managed to capture sharp still images at 1/5sec at 70mm, or 1/2sec towards the wider end of the zoom. If you find yourself shooting handheld shots at such slow shutter speeds it’s advised to take several frames to increase your chance of getting a pin-sharp shot.
The Z 6’s is impressive in other areas of its performance too. It starts up in just over a second of flicking the on/off switch and responds instantly to button presses and taps of the touchscreen. Generally speaking, matrix metering does a good job of analysing scenes and exposing correctly for them, but I did occasionally find myself dialling in -0.7EV exposure compensation to retain highlight detail in exceptionally bright scenes. When shooting outdoors, I opted to use the Natural light auto white balance mode, which I find produces more faithful colours closer to those seen by my eye than the standard Auto mode. For landscape shooters looking to resolve the most accurate colour straight out of camera, Natural light auto is highly recommended, plus it can help avoid the rather cool feel to images that has long been associated with Nikon DSLRs.
It was unfortunate that the Bluetooth pairing option on our review sample refused to work with SnapBridge installed on my iPhone SE. I ended up testing the Z 6 with an Android smartphone instead. Once setup, the always-on Bluetooth LE connection worked well and successfully pinged images across to SnapBridge one by one, with the option to continue doing so when the camera is switched off. It takes around 15-20secs between firing the shutter and the image you’ve taken automatically appearing in the app.
Pairing the Z 6 to my iPhone via Wi-fi and transferring images this way worked without problem. You get the option to select multiple files to transfer and you’re prompted whether you’d like a downsized 2MP image or the full size image before you commit. It’s possible to use your phone and SnapBridge to control the camera remotely too. You get a live view display that can be viewed in the portrait or landscape orientation and the ability to adjust key exposure variables and readjust the focus point. The app is basic and easy to use, however those who want to fire the shutter this way at a critical moment are likely to get frustrated by the momentary delay between pressing the shutter button on the app and the picture being taken.