We had to wait a little longer for the Nikon Z6 to arrive than the Nikon Z7, but it’s this camera that perhaps has the broader appeal of Nikon’s two full-body mirrorless models, particularly among enthusiast photographers.
Nikon is adopting a two-pronged strategy similar to that employed by Sony when it launched the original Alpha A7R and A7, with the Nikon Z6 and Z7 sharing the same design and a pretty much identical spec sheet, but with three notable differences: resolution, autofocus and burst shooting rate.
Check Out: Best Lenses for Nikon Z6
While the Nikon Z7, with its densely populated 45.7MP sensor, is usually Nikon’s high-resolution supplying, the Z6 is definitely marketed as more of an all-round camera. However, with Sony already stealing a march with the brilliant Alpha A7 III, offers Nikon turned up to the party a little late?
Nikon Z6: features
As we’ve just touched on, while the Z7 has a 45.7MP resolution the Nikon Z6 features a back-illuminated 24.5MP full-frame sensor, which, while not offering quite the staggering resolving power of its sibling, delivers a pixel count that should satisfy most users. It also means the native ISO range is that bit broader, operating from ISO100 to 51,200 (the Z7’s indigenous ISO range is 64-25,600); this is often expanded to 50-204,800, coordinating the Alpha A7 III.
Like the Z7, the Z6 features Nikon’s new Z lens mount, with Nikon having dropped its long-founded F mount for its new full-frame mirrorless cameras. The mount opening is 11mm wider compared to the F mount at 55mm, as the flange focal range (the distance between the rear lens element and the sensor) is a very short 16mm.
Nikon believes the larger design and short flange distance will enable its zoom lens engineers to design optics that surpass current F mount designs and make the most of the full-frame sensor, allowing light to very easily reach the great corners of the sensor to ensure even brightness across the frame.
Launching with the Z6 and Z7 are the first 3 lenses in Nikon’s new S-Line range: a 24-70mm f/4 standard zoom, a 35mm f/1.8 wide-angle prime and a 50mm f/1.8 standard prime. The new mount diameter also allows for lenses with maximum apertures as fast as f/0.95, with a high-end manual-focus 58mm f/0.95 S Noct prime lens expected next year.
For existing Nikon DSLR users who are looking to make the switch to the new mirrorless cameras, or who wish to shoot with one alongside their current Nikon DSLR kit, there’s a new FTZ mount adapter that’ll be compatible with approximately 360 Nikon lenses, 90 of which that may support the Z6’s full AF speed.
The Nikon Z6 includes a 0.5-inch 3.6 million dot Quad-VGA electronic viewfinder (EVF) with an impressive magnification of 0.80x, which edges out the Sony Alpha A7 III’s 2.36-million dot and 0.78x display. The Z6 also uses Nikon’s personal optics, which are claimed to deliver even greater clarity, while the EVF includes a fast display rate of up to 60p.
Supplementing this is usually a large 3.2-inch tilt-angle touchscreen with a 2,100,000-dot resolution, as the Z6 also benefits from a compact top plate LCD displaying key shooting information.
While Nikon’s DSLRs use lens-based image stabilization (which Nikon calls Vibration Reduction), because of its new mirrorless cameras it’s opted for an in-camera system, with the Z6 featuring a 5-axis program (roll, pitch, yaw and X and Y shift) that’s said to be effective for up to five stops. For those wanting to use their F-mount VR lenses on the Z6 via the mount FTZ adapter, the camera’s built-in VR system will adjust itself to support the lens-based system.
Nikon Z6: build and handling
While some standout Nikon DSLRs, like the D4 and D800, have been penned by design agency Italdesign, the Z6 doesn’t quite hit those heights, sporting a more functional look.
Any concerns that this might impact on the handling are dispelled as soon as you pick the Z6 up, though. The camera fits perfectly in the hand, thanks to the large and comfy handgrip. As we found with the Z7, those with larger hands may find that their little finger hangs only a little off the bottom of the Z6, but it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
While the Z6 may be more compact than a Nikon DSLR, this doesn’t mean Nikon has skimped on the build quality. There’s plenty of quality textured rubber around the hold and backplate, and a comfortable thumb rest, while the Z6 features magnesium alloy in its top, front side and back covers just like the Z7. This makes the camera feel very rigid, while Nikon also offers that the Z6 features the same level of weather-sealing as the D850. All this combines to create a very solid and well-made camera.
For those thinking of swapping from their Nikon DSLR, the transition to the Z6 should be seamless because of the familiar controls and button placement.
There’s the same about/off change around the shutter-release switch, while there are dedicated buttons for movie recording, ISO and direct exposure compensation. To adjust the ISO or dial in exposure compensation, you simply press down on the desired button and then use the rear control dial to make the change. Any modifications will be displayed on the small LCD on the top plate.
While the control layout at the rear is slightly different to that on a Nikon DSLR, the various buttons are clearly labelled and easy to find, as the Z6 also sports the same joystick control as the D850; formally known as the sub-selector, this is weighted nicely, and offers easy control of AF area selection. The only small disappointment here is the rather ‘Coolpix’-like four-way control pad.
Nikon’s philosophy of making its mirrorless cameras similar to its DSLRs when it comes to handling has carried over to the Z6’s user interface, with the many sub-menus working along the left-hand aspect of the display.
Nikon Z6: performance
Along with quality and focusing, the other important difference between your Z7 and Z6 is certainly burst shooting speed. While the Z7 is capable of 9fps, the Z6 is definitely that bit quicker at 12fps – that’s also a touch quicker than the Alpha A7 III’s 10fps, and matches Nikon’s flagship D5 DSLR.
As we saw with the Z7, though, the buffer on the Nikon Z6 is quite modest, although it should still be more than satisfactory for most users. Using a 64GB Sony XQD card with both 400MB/s read and create speeds, we managed 35 raw files at 12fps (12-little bit NEF files); the burst shooting acceleration drops to 9fps for 14-bit NEF documents, with a slightly reduced buffer of 33 raw files. Things are a lot better if you drop down to 5fps, with 200 raw data files captured at this rate.
Want to shoot silently? The Z6 has a quiet shooting mode that sees an electronic shutter take over from the Z6’s mechanical shutter for stills capture – the only minor annoyance is that this is buried down at the bottom of the Photo Shooting Menu, and isn’t an option in the Z6’s drive mode list.
If you’re making your 1st foray into using an electric viewfinder (EVF), moving from an optical unit on a DSLR, any concerns you might have will be quickly dispelled.
Raise the camera to your eye and you’re greeted by a remarkably large and bright display. It really is superb, with a decent cluster of shooting info around the perimeter of the display screen, while the fast refresh price means it has a very organic feel. Side-by-side, we reckon the quality of the Z6’s EVF simply edges the Alpha A7 III’s.
The Z6’s 3.2-inch tilt-angle display is normally a touch bigger compared to the A7 III’s 3.0-inch display, as the higher resolution offered by the Z6’s screen (2.1m versus 920K dots), means the clarity and sharpness are that bit better too.
Nikon has also integrated a much wider degree of touchscreen control on the Z6 compared to Sony’s A7 III. While on the A7 III touch control is limited to focus selection, triggering the shutter (by tapping the screen), and reviewing images, the Z6 also offers control over navigation of the menu and settings, making it that bit more useful.