Z6

Z6

Nikon Z6 Full Review

By

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What We Love. Excellent image & video quality. Rugged build. Lovely ergonomics & in-hand feel. Good pricing. Professional 10-bit 4:2:2 video recording with n-log, time code, zebra patterns, and focus peaking. 120fps slow-motion video. Face detection autofocus for stills & video. NIKKOR F-mount compatibility with an optional adapter. Good wireless controls.

What We'd Change. Add EyeAF and improve tracking as well as low-light AF. Remove the tripod mount from the next FTZ Adapter. Add dual card slots. Declutter the playback screen. Enable more adjustments in SnapBridge. Consider making future bodies a finger-width taller.

Pick Up the Nikon Z6 If... You're an enthusiast or professional Nikon shooter looking for a hybrid mirrorless camera system, or you're looking for your first full-frame camera system. The Z6 is perfect for video shooters who want to shoot stills or stills-focused photographers looking to get into video. Regardless, the Z6 is an excellent value for anyone who doesn't need a high-resolution camera.

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INTRO

Blasting through the reeds, we're skimming across glassy waters aboard an airboat in central Florida. Cutting through the morning mist hunting birds. Swerving around a corner when we see it. A Great Blue Herron, lithe and majestic, taking skyward as we all raise our weapons to take the shot...

No, not with guns.

We're armed with Nikon Z6 full-frame mirrorless cameras and a dozen or so NIKKOR telephoto lenses. 

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200mm, F2.8, 1/3200, ISO 250

If the Nikon Z7 is a resolution beast, the Z6 is Nikon's more affordable speed demon hybrid system. It can shoot up to 12fps in its highest burst mode and up to 120fps in 1080p HD video. It also features a 24.5-megapixel-BSI CMOS sensor, a 100-51,200 ISO sensitivity range, 5-axis in-camera vibration reduction technology, a 3.6m-Dot Quad VGA viewfinder, and full-frame 4K UHD video recording capabilities with full pixel readout.

In short, with fewer/larger pixels, the Z6 trades resolution for speed and cleaner low-light/video imagery. You could think of it as a mirrorless replacement for the still-capable Nikon D750 DSLR, but here in 2018, the Z6 is a direct spec-and-price competitor for the game-changing Sony A7 III and, to a lesser degree, the Canon EOS R. So how does the Nikon Z6 compare to those two excellent cameras, DSLR ancestors, and Z7 sibling? And is this the right new camera for you, dear reader?

Let's find out.

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105mm, F1.6, 1/3200th, ISO 100

LENSES & GEAR USED

Native Z-mount lenses are smoother, quicker, and quieter for video, and suffer less chromatic aberration due to the new 55mm Z-mount. F-mount lens performance varies depending on the lens design. Some functions, like VR, improve on the Z6, with others, like AF speed, may slow compared to Nikon DSLRs. You may also find it harder to record internal audio with F-mount glass. In other words, great F-mount lenses are still great; lesser lenses are still lesser.

During this review, I spent most of my time with the new NIKKOR Z 50mm F1.8 S and the AF-S NIKKOR 105mm F1.4. I like the 50mm F1.8 and 35mm F1.8 Z-mount primes a lot. They're compact, light, quiet, quick, and are perfect for photography as well as making videos. That 105mm F1.4? Get-one-get-one-get-one-get-one, it's one of the greatest Nikon lenses of all time, even though it suffers from far too much fringing. Still, if you shoot portraits, you'll fall in love with it. 

The 24-70mm F4 kit, on the other hand, is a good lens and produces pleasing images, but it's less sharp than Sony or Canon's 24-105mm F4 kit lenses, which also boast more usable zoom ranges. For what it's worth, Canon's new RF lenses are all, so far, much more exciting than Nikon's current offerings. But, based on the Z-mount 50mm and 35mm F1.8 primes, I'm excited to see where NIKKOR Z goes. 

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175mm, F2.8, 1/3200, ISO 720

KEY FEATURES
  • 24.5MP BSI CMOS image sensor with on-sensor phase detection
    • OLPF (Optical Low Pass Filter)
  • ISO 100-51200
    • Expandable to ISO 50-204800
  • 12fps high-speed continuous shooting (extended)
  • Hybrid AF system
    • 273-point AF
    • covers 90% of the sensor vertically & horizontally
  • Compatible Lenses: Z mount (native); F mount (with optional adapter)
  • EXPEED 6 Image Processor
  • 3.6M dot QVGA EVF (OLED)
    • 100% frame coverage and 0.8× magnification
  • 3.2" tilting touchscreen LCD (out of the D850)
  • 5-Axis Vibration Reduction
    • Up to 5.0 stops of exposure compensation 
  • Full-frame 4K video recording with full pixel readout
    • 4K UHD (3840 × 2160)/30p
    • 10-bit 4:2:2 4K video when using the HDMI out
    • N-log color profile boosts dynamic range to 12 stops
    • 8-bit 4:2:0 4K video recording internal or external
    • Full-HD/120p slow motion
    • Active D-Lighting
    • electronic vibration reduction
    • focus peaking (for 4K & HD)
  • Silent shooting mode
  • 12-bit lossless RAW
  • 14-bit uncompressed RAW
  • Interval timer photography (HD or 4K Time Lapse Movie mode)
  • 1 XQD card slot (CFast Express firmware update coming)
  • magnesium alloy body
    • weather sealing
    • shutter rated for 200K cycles
  • WiFi & Bluetooth
    • Snapbridge 2.5 
    • PC transfer (RAW, JPEG, TIFF, Video to computer)
  • Dimensions: 5.3 × 4 × 2.7 in. (134 × 100.5 × 67.5 mm)
  • Weight (with battery & memory card): 1 lb 7.9 oz (23.9 oz or 675 g)
  • Support for existing (optional) DSLR camera accessories
  • Supports EN-EL15/a/b batteries 
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WHAT'S IN THE BOX

When you purchase a Nikon Z6 kit ($2,599.95 MSRP), it includes:
  • Z6 Camera Body
  • EN-EL15b Rechargeable Li-ion Battery
  • MH-25a Battery Charger
  • UC-E24 USB Cable
  • HDMI/USB Cable Clip
  • BS-1 Accessory Shoe Cap
  • AN-DC19 Camera Strap
  • BF-N1 Body Cap
  • DK-29 Rubber Eyecup
  • NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S
  • LC-72B Snap-On Front Lens Cap
  • LF-N1 Rear Lens Cap
  • HB-85 Bayonet Lens Hood
  • CL-C1 Lens Case
  • Manuals & Warranty Card
This Z6 kit is the same as the Z7 kit minus one accessory -- the EH-7P Charging AC Adapter -- which we didn't love anyway.

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BUILD QUALITY, ERGONOMICS,
DISPLAYS, & MENUS

Visually and ergonomically, the Nikon Z6 is identical to the Nikon Z7. So, if you want to read a little more detail and take a tour of the camera body, please click HERE to read our Nikon Z7 full review. The shorter version is this:

The Nikon Z6 is as rugged as a Nikon D850. Magnesium alloy wrapped with hard plastics, glossy metals, and super-grippy rubber. Ergonomically speaking, the Z6 feels great in-the-hand. You can shoot for hours without fatigue, which you can't do with every DSLR. The button layout is also smart -- we're very used to it now -- although Nikon DSLR owners may have a bit of a learning curve, as things like a left-side dedicated AF button is has turned into right-side Fn 2 button. We do think Nikon could perfect the Z camera bodies by making them one finger-width taller (the Canon EOS R, by comparison, is our current favorite mirrorless camera to hold).

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Despite a few missing buttons, the Z6's endlessly customizability helps out. A lot. You can change the Fn buttons, organize the i-button menus for both stills and photography, and you fill up your MyMenu with all the things you think are too buried in the main menu. And if that's not enough, the camera boasts three User Modes so you can instantly toggle to precise settings. I found this extremely helpful when jumping between 4K/24p and 1080/120p video recording because you don't have to boost or reduce shutter speed (for video, pros recommend setting the shutter speed to double your frame rate). However, while your three User modes can have distinct aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings for photo AND video, picture profile and white balances are shared across Photo and Video in each User Mode.

As for displays, the Z6 boasts three. The top-mounted dot-matrix LCD reveals current modes & settings, similar to enthusiast and pro-level DSLRs. The 3.6M-dot EVF is one of the best on the market, though we'd love to see Nikon add a vertical information layout like the Canon EOS R. And, the rear 3.2" touchscreen LCD is sharp, clear, and there's no touch-lag. We do wish, though, that Nikon would declutter the playback menu (at present, file name, date, size, and resolution take up the bottom tenth of the display unless you tap the zoom button).

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200mm, F2.8, 1/3200, ISO 250
Dynamic-area AF + AF-C + Continuous High Extended
Click on any image to see a full res still version

AUTOFOCUS

The Nikon Z6 utilizes a new Hybrid Autofocus system with 273 On-Sensor Phase Detection AF points. If you're coming from a Nikon DSLR, Z6 AF is setup akin to Nikon DSLR Live View AF if Nikon DSLR Live View AF wasn't horribly slow and clunky. You might also be saying to yourself, wait, if the Z7 has 493-points, is the Z6 AF system half as good? Not at all. In fact, while the Z6 shares a few of the same flaws and one new nitpick, it's generally just-as-good, if not BETTER than the Z7 because you still have 90% horizontal and vertical frame coverage (along with the same processor).

In the real world, the Z6 Hybrid AF focuses accurately and quickly. Remember the birds from the Intro? We were shooting them from a moving airboat in low-contrast light, and the Nikon Z6 nailed focus almost every time. (Full disclosure: I mistakenly shot wide open at F2.8 rather than F5.6-F8 as recommended, which means my depth of field is way too shallow for longer wingspans, which is my fault, not the camera's.)


200mm, F2.8, 1/4000, ISO 640
Auto-area AF confused in the reeds... then nails the flying bird

There are two speed-oriented AF modes on the Z6. Auto-area AF includes face detection and subject tracking, which you can let the camera figure out or select yourself. This mode supposedly replaces Nikon DSLR 3D tracking, but it occasionally gets confused with multiple subjects or busy backgrounds, and it's not as quick to reacquire a moving subject if there's a miss in your sequence. Dynamic-area AF -- imagine a semi-flexible single-point -- is the mode to use when you have a frame in mind; it's stone-cold-killer accurate, fast, and what we'd recommend for shooting sports or even moving portrait subjects or street photography. Single-point is great for slower-moving or still subjects, and it's relatively easy to get your AF point on someone's eye when shooting close-ups.

The Z6 AF system shines even more in video recording. It's not perfect -- Auto-area AF can't always anticipate where to focus on a moving subject when you're also moving the camera and shooting wide open at F1.8 -- but that's the type of perfection I haven't seen on any camera. Single-point AF is responsive and accurate, and Auto-area AF can track approaching subjects/faces at telephoto focal lengths and fast apertures. And my Z6 has only failed once at handholding or vlogging-style videos. Overall, the Nikon Z6 video AF stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the industry's best. 

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105mm, F1.4, 1/250, ISO 2000

However, it's this general excellence that makes this AF system's bugs so frustrating. Nikon has a history of class-leading AF, and there are specific scenarios where this system falters.

What do we mean? Like the Z7, we find the Z6 struggles in near-darkness (if you're not cranking the ISO),  making Z cameras iffy choices for things like concert photography. That said, the Z6 is better at low-light photography than the Z7. We've also noticed that the Z6's single AF points are larger than on the Z7, which makes placing your AF point on an eye harder when you're not shooting close-ups. Along those lines, the Nikon Z6 and Z7 desperately need EyeAF, ala Sony or Fujifilm, for shooting moving subjects with fast glass. The Z6's Face Detection/Tracking is accurate, mind you, but when you're shooting at F2.8 or faster, Face Detection often hits an eyebrow or a nose rather than the eye itself. We'd also argue that the 3D Tracking on the D850 and D500 is, overall more accurate and better for situations where you have multiple moving subjects (it's easy to confuse the Z6's tracking box).

In short, if you're primarily an action/sports or concert photographer who doesn't need video AF, a Nikon DSLR might be better for your needs. That said, our overall experience with the Nikon Z6 AF system is a positive one because it's so balanced and, more often than not, trouble-free, even when shooting subjects like birds from a moving airboat. The Z6 is a cut above the Z7, and we hope Nikon engineers can work out the remaining bugs via firmware. (EyeAF alone would make this an AF BEAST.)

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41mm, F4, 1/6400, ISO 1000, High Extended

SPEED

In Continuous High Extended mode, the Z6 shoots RAW + JPEG at up to 12fps with Continuous AF and tracking, but locked exposure. It's also my understanding that the image you see on your display is the previous shot, not a continuous live view. Regarding buffer speed, the Z6 can shoot ~15 RAW + JPEG images before the buffer fills and, if you keep the shutter pressed, the camera will then click off 1-2-shot bursts as long as you want. With a fresh XQD card and a more restrained shooting style, you'll never run dry. 

Continuous High Extended Burst Shooting

Impressive? You betcha. To find a faster full-frame camera, you have to step up to Canon or Sony's flagship models (Nikon's D5 also shoots at 12fps, but AE isn't locked).

If you want to shoot with AE unlocked on the Z6, flip over to High Continuous, a less exciting 5.5fps that falls short of the Sony A7 III's 10fps with full-time AE/AF, or Low Continuous (you choose 1-5 fps). In these modes, the Z6 is less like a machine gun and more a semi-automatic. Single frame and Self-timer modes round out speed options.

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105mm, F2, 1/1600, ISO 640

METERING

The Nikon Z6 features four metering modes to help you judge exposure along with the live-view image visible on the rear LCD or EVF. Matrix Metering meters the whole frame. Center-weight metering also meters edge-to-edge, but "assigns the greatest weight" to the frame's center, which you can customize in the B3 sub-menu. Spot Metering meters a 4mm circle wherever you set your focus point and is there to help you get your subject properly exposed. And Highlight-Weighted Metering keeps an eye out for highlights to make sure you aren't blowing out highlight details in the brightest areas of your frame. 

Overall, I find Nikon's metering systems to be accurate, although there were a few times during our testing where I wish I had been using Highlight-Weighted Metering (but that's my fault). In evenly lit environments, the EVF and Matrix Metering mode make a powerful pair. And, when in doubt, expose for your highlights because Nikon cameras have oodles of -- 

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105mm, F2.8, 1/1000, ISO 100

DYNAMIC RANGE

I adore shooting Nikon and Sony because their RAW files are so flexible, especially in the shadows. What appears as pure black and underexposed can be lifted to create vivid images that don't feel exaggerated like HDR images from 5-10 years ago. When Z6 shadows are pushed three to five stops, common in landscape and architecture photography,  images remain usable as long as you don't need to crop. Still, there are times where the Z6 feels like it can see in the dark and, whenever you're shooting backlight, go ahead an experiment with exposing for the sky or your brighter backgrounds. We've found that you'll be able to recover your foreground subjects with ease.

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RIGHT: as shot. LEFT: +5 Stops

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Minor Banding: Cropped Image with +5 Stops EV

For those wondering about banding (ala the Z7) in the recovered shadows, yes, there is some. When shadows are boosted 5-stops with a sold/uninterrupted background and you crop/zoom, it's easier to make out the green-and-magenta noise and subtle banding lines. With more complex subject/backgrounds, banding all but disappears. For many scenarios, this won't be an issue, but if you do a lot of shadow manipulation, a Nikon D750 or D850 will produce slightly cleaner images. And, if you need to crop and manipulate shadows, the Z7 and D850's extra pixels will hide the banding a little more. For scenarios where don't need to crop, manipulate Z6 RAW files without worry and retain usability.
 
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Click to see a 4000 x 2557 version of this file.
All Nikon Sharpening & Noises Reduction AS SHOT.

ISO

Where the Nikon Z7 and D850 boast an ISO 64 - 25,600 native sensitivity range, the Nikon Z6 offers ISO 100 to 51,200. At base ISOs, this gives the Z7 an advantage in the dynamic range and shadow-recovery departments, but the Z6's fewer/larger pixels give it the edge in producing cleaner images at higher ISOs. Our testing revealed clean Nikon Z7 up to around ISO 10,000, with usable-for-social images up through 20,000 or so. 

Z6-ISO-TEST.jpgClick to see a 6000 x 4000 version of this file.
All Nikon Sharpness & Noise settings turned OFF.

The Nikon Z6 produces surprisingly clean photos up through ISO 12,800 or 16,000, and you could, depending on the subject and your noise-reduction settings, share an ISO 51,200 image in a pinch. In our first example above, you'll see two side-by-side shots of Spaceship Earth in EPCOT. Comparing ISO 1250 to 12,800, you can see the loss of sharpness and detail, but with Nikon's noise-reduction settings applied, the image is VERY clean. 

In the second above-sample, you can see ISO 3,200 all the way to 52,500. In these shots, I zeroed out all sharpness and noise-reduction settings. It's no surprise that there's noise at ISO 52,500, but I am surprised by how much detail you can see in that distant hotel. Also, I've seen noisier ISO 6,400 on other cameras than the Nikon's ISO 25,600.

All-in-all, we're very impressed with the Nikon Z6's low-light capabilities. 

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105mm, F2, 1/500, ISO 100

IMAGE QUALITY

In a word: outstanding. 

That's the truth about most cameras these days. If you buy a Canon EOS R, Sony A7 III, or any myriad of Micro-FourThirds, APS-C, Full-Frame, or Medium Format camera systems, you can capture and create endlessly pretty pictures. 

If you know what you're doing with exposure, have an ounce of technique, and slap a good-to-great lens on the Nikon Z6 and you're somehow NOT taking amazing pictures, welp, that's on you. Color, contrast, clarity, dynamic range, the Z6 is a flexible jack-of-all-trades, perfect for portraits, action, street photography, travel, landscape, black & white, color, and just about anything you can throw at it. Want to shoot a clean flat image and manipulate it after the fact? No worries. Want to try out one of the 20 Nikon Picture Profiles? You're covered there too and, if shooting RAW, go ahead and change your mind later.

If you're a Nikon shooter, you're going to love Z6 photographs. If you've never shot Nikon, you're going to come away impressed. 

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105mm, F2, 1/500, ISO 250

Despite all the compliments, there are two things worth knowing before buying a Nikon Z6. First, Nikon now bakes picture profile information into its RAW files. Meaning, once these files are Lightroom or Photoshop compatible, you'll have to zero out settings like sharpness, color, and contrast before editing your RAW files. It's not hard, but differs from how Nikon has treated RAW, historically, and may disrupt some workflows. We understand Nikon wants to give you their picture profiles AND flexibility, but we wish this were an optional setting.

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50mm, F1.8, 1/200, ISO 320

Our second note isn't a problem, just an inherent limitation with this specific system. Compare similarly-sized prints or digital files to the 30-megapixel Canon EOS R or 40+ megapixels Nikon and Sony systems, and Z6 images will be slightly softer if you examine them closely. Softness is especially apparent when engaging the Z6's DX (APS-C crop) mode. As we said above, you can create stunning imagery with the Z6, but if you want the ultimate in sharpness, a Z7, D850 or A7R III might be a better fits. Again, this isn't a complaint; we've just been spoiled by higher resolution systems. In real-world scenarios -- smaller prints and social media -- Z6 pictures are plenty sharp and detailed.

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VIDEO QUALITY

Another excellent reason to buy a Nikon Z6. 

Much like the Z7, the Nikon Z6 can record full-frame 10-bit 4:2:2 video to an external hard drive in 4K up to 30fps or 1080p up to 60fps. Internally, you can also shoot 8-bit 4:2:0 at up to 4K/30p and 1080/120p. Unlike the Nikon Z7, which downsamples full-frame footage, the Z6 captures full-frame 4K video with full pixel readout, making the footage cleaner and less prone to aliasing. (The Z7 will do full-pixel readout in its cropped DX mode.)

By comparison, the Panasonic GH-5 and Fujifilm X-T3 are more capable in terms of overall speeds as well as internal recording capabilities.  The Canon EOS R can also record 4K/30p in 10-bit 4:2:2 to an external drive, but its 4K footage is cropped and there's no 1080/120p. And the Sony A7 III matches all of Nikon's internal video specs while including S-log an HLG HDR recording, but that camera's currently locked at 8-bit 4:2:0 recording internally or externally, giving the Nikon an edge.

Phew, that's a lot of specs in one paragraph. Still with me?

Great! Bottom line, the Nikon Z6 isn't the very best video camera on the market right now, but it's capable of capturing professional-quality videos. For our testing, we shot a mix of 4K/24p and 1080/120p footage in Nikon's Standard and Flat picture profiles as well as 10-bit 4:2:2 N-log via the Atomos Ninja V, which also doubles as an external monitor. We also tested the Z6 on the new DJI Ronin-S gimbal (the camera lacks full DJI support, so you can't use all of the gimbal's features, but, make no mistake, the Z6 and Ronin-S are an awesome filmmaking pair with a little practice.)

We learned a lot during our testing. The Z6 is very capable, and if you plan to shoot any 10-bit footage, you need tons of storage, a top-of-the-line computer, and know how to color grade. Still, in this mode, we were able to bring up shadows, recover highlights, make colors pop, and really get the most out of N-log's 12 stops of dynamic range.

Recording 8-bit internally yields excellent results as well, perfect for aspiring filmmakers, YouTubers, wedding videographers, and families looking to capture memories. With Nikon's Standard picture profile, 4K and 1080p footage are crispy, clean, contrasty, and colorful, yet very natural. You may want to fiddle around with your sharpness settings; some find them a little hot out of the box. Nikon's Flat picture profile is perfect for anyone who wants to learn color grading without having to deal with the massive 10-bit files. Flat picture profile might not have 12 stops of dynamic range, but it's very flexible.

Nikon cameras have been rendering high-quality quality video for a while, but clunky Live View AF has been a bit of an Achilles' heel. Coupled with the new AF system, full pixel readout for 4K video, and professional quality resolution, frame rate, and bit-depth qualities, the Nikon Z6 is quite simply the best Nikon video camera in the company's 100-year history. Full stop.

70mm, F4, 1/320, ISO 500

STABILIZATION

The Nikon Z6 includes the same 5-axis vibration reduction system -- yaw, pitch, roll, X & Y -- as the Z7. It's good for 5.0 stops of exposure compensation with all NIKKOR Z lenses. VR also works with F-mount lenses coupled to the Z6 via the FTZ Adapter. If the F-mount lens also features VR, the camera adds roll axis stabilization, giving you a total of 3-axis in-body/lens stabilization. If the F-mount lens lacks VR, you'll get 3-axis in-body image stabilization.

Nikon did an excellent job with this system, which offers three different still modes, and four different video modes. In video and stills, you can leave VR OFF, turn VR ON, or turn VR to SPORT mode. During video recording, you can also engage electronic VR, which crops the framing slightly. While it's not as capable as Olympus or Panasonic IBIS -- it's easier to stabilize smaller sensors -- Nikon VR noticeably reduces hand-shake and other vibrations. For still photography, you can shoot longer shutter speeds with lower ISOs. For video recording, you can handhold 200mm videos if you don't have a tripod. 

For ultimate smoothness, nothing tops a dedicated gimbal (no matter what GoPro says!) like the DJI Ronin-S, but Nikon's VR takes the edge off in beneficial ways.

Also worth noting: if you're looking for ultimate clarity for your still photos, Nikon recommends using a tripod, the optional wireless remote (or SnapBridge app or self-timer), and engaging the Electronic front-curtain shutter, which is different from the e-shutter. With EFCS turned on, your exposure starts electronically and ends mechanically, which reduces shutter shock and will improve the overall sharpness of your image (especially at lower shutter speeds).

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300mm, F5, 1/320, ISO 400

FTZ MOUNT ADAPTER

After two months with the FTZ adapter, we think Nikon, generally, did a good job. We haven't experienced a single issue using NIKKOR glass on the Z6 or Z7. And in some cases, specifically with newer, vibration-reduction capable lenses, you get improved performance. Basically, a great NIKKOR lens will still be great on a Nikon Z6, and lesser lenses won't. Just like on their DSLRs.

However, we have one big gripe about the FTZ Mount Adapter: the built-in tripod mount. Ideally, this mount should help balance the weight of heavier glass (assuming they don't have their own mount) and the camera itself. But, when using a tripod, it's a chore to switch between F-mount and Z-mount glass. You can't use the camera's tripod mount because the FTZ doesn't clear, and if you're switching between the FTZ and native Z glass, you have to then remount your tripod to the camera, all of which sucks valuable time. I hope Nikon designs another, compact adapter.

By the way, if you own Sigma or Tamron F-mount glass, Nikon is not planning to guarantee compatibility (nor have we heard any rumblings for third-party Z-mount lenses). That said, I've seen people using Sigma Art lenses with this adapter, and Tamron just announced firmware updates for three lenses that will make them compatible to the Z7, so we suspect more updates will be coming soon. Still, if you only own third-party F-mount glass, you may have to stick with a Nikon DSLR until companies like Tamron and Sigma work out the bugs.

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32mm, F8, 4.0 Seconds, ISO 100
BATTERY LIFE

While DSLRs are still the battery-life kings, our experience with the Nikon Z6 and Z7 have been positive thus far. Battery life could be improved, but most folks can shoot all day with one EN-EL15b battery if they're casually shooting photos. We've been able to capture well over 1,000 images in a single charge despite the camera's sub-400 guarantee. Granted, if it's hot/cold and you're shooting video & photos and playing back your images/footage and doing lots of SnapBridge wireless activity -- things we tend to do on media press trips -- you'll get about 4 hours of hard use. For those scenarios or video-first shooters, we recommend picking up an extra battery or two and remembering to turn on Airplane Mode if you've previously paired the Z6 to your smartphone.

And, if you're coming from a previous Nikon camera, you might already own an extra battery or two. The Z6 will also operate with EL15a (no loss of performance) or EL15 batteries (with some performance loss). The EL15b battery is unique for its USB-C charging capability; that's the big change from a to b. Nikon is also prepping a battery pack that can hold dual EL15-variants, but it's not a true grip with buttons and dials ergonomically placed for vertical shooting.

Nikon-Z6-Wireless copy.jpg
WIRELESS

The Nikon Z6's Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities are identical to the Z7. In short, when paired with Nikon's SnapBridge 2.5.2, we found the whole system simple and easy to use. Pairing worked every time, despite jumping between multiple Nikon cameras. Downloading pictures is fast and easy for quick edits, though we'd like to see RAW support built-in. Still, for Instagram and social media, you have a surprising amount of flexibility with the jpegs. Remote Photography is also a helpful feature for group shots, self-portraiture, or one-person video making, but we'd like to see Nikon add in full Bulb mode control for long exposures and more easily accessible video settings. As the app stands now, you have to toggle out of remote photography to adjust your aperture, shutter speed, resolution/frame rate, and ISO. 

There is a bit of a lag when using your smart device as an external display, so using an external HDMI monitor like the Atomos Ninja V might be more appropriate for faster-paced situations or vlogging.

Nikon-Z6-ImageSample-11.jpg
105mm, F2, 1/500, ISO 400

PROS & CONS

Pros
  • Excellent image quality & dynamic range (expose for your highlights)
  • Professional 4K & 1080p video capabilities
  • Improved video quality over the Z7 & D850
  • Rugged Build Quality
  • Tons of customizability
  • Sharp, clear displays (EVF & LCD)
  • Sub-$2,000 pricing

Cons
  • We're spoiled by the Z7's extra megapixels for still images
  • We'd love to see EyeAF & improved low-light AF performance
  • We wish there were internal 10-bit video recording and 4K/60 capability
  • We prefer a Vari-angle display for added flexibility
  • The FTZ Adapter is too tall when; swapping between Z and F-mount lens while using a tripod is a chore
  • Need more native lenses

Nikon-Z6-ImageSample-05.jpg
50mm, F2.5, 1/250, ISO 1,600

BOTTOM LINE

The Nikon Z6 is a remarkable first generation product, deftly balancing image quality, ergonomics, pricing, and compatibility with existing lenses. Despite costing around $1,400 less than a Nikon Z7, the Nikon Z6 retains all of the build quality while boosting performance in all but two areas (resolution & dynamic range), making this more affordable hybrid system a terrific value.

As with any new camera, we'd love to see some changes made, like adding EyeAF so shooters can take full advantage of Nikon's fastest lenses as well as improving low-light AF performance. In future iterations, a flip-forward screen, dual card slots, and a slightly taller body might be welcome as well. And, we want Nikon to hurry up and release more NIKKOR Z lenses.

Nikon-z6-ImageSample-21.jpg
35mm, F3.2, 1/160, ISO 320

Nitpicking aside, the Nikon Z6 is a powerful camera that's perfect for Nikon shooters who want to get into video or anyone considering their first full-frame camera. Whether you primarily shoot photographs and want to do more video, or whether you mostly shoot video and would like to spend more time on stills, the Nikon Z6 is an excellent camera for enthusiasts and pros. 

Who should skip the Nikon Z6? People who shoot mostly sports/action/concerts or the types of portraits where EyeAF is must-have, anyone who needs dual card slots, or folks who require more resolution. In these cases, we'd suggest the Nikon D500 or Nikon D850, or checking out the Sony and Canon competition.


BONUS: Z6 vs A7III vs EOS R

Not a bad camera in the bunch. I'm serious; they're all awesome. You'd be happy with all three, but here are each system's strengths as we've experienced:

  • The Z6 is the most rugged of the three, has better ergonomics/menus than Sony, is a more capable video camera than the EOS R, and a slightly more capable video camera than the Sony (thanks to 10-bit recording). It's also faster for shooting stills than the Sony IF you don't mind a locked AE.

  • The A7 III boasts more native lenses, is faster with stills (with AE/AF), its EyeAF and low-light AF reign supreme (although the EOS R is very close), and its 8-bit video is in league with Nikon or better thanks to 8-bit HLG and S-log capabilities. 

  • The EOS R will produce, arguably, the sharpest still images (more pixels), Canon's new lenses are hella-exciting and arguably better than Nikon's first Z offerings, it feels the best in hand, low-light AF is quite good, and it's got a flexible Vari-angle display.

In short, I find the Nikon Z6 and Sony A7 III to be equally good hybrid systems, perfect for people who want to shoot stills and video. The Canon EOS R is also an excellent camera, but its cropped 4K video and lack of IBIS or VR put it a step behind for hybrid shooters. If you're stills-first, though, the R might be the one to snag. If you're already invested in one of these brands, and you like your in-brand mirrorless camera, there's no need to switch. For newcomers, try them all and pick the one you like using the most. You can't lose;  you'll be getting a great camera no matter what you buy.

Oh, and if you're trying to decide between the Nikon Z6 and Z7, it's simple. Do you need the Z7's mega-resolution of the Z7 and so you shoot more still photos than video? If not, get the Z6. It's faster and a better overall value. You can buy a Z6, a lens and the FTZ adapter for the price of the Z7 body. 

Visitors of Steves can visit the stores below for real-time pricing and availability. You can also find hot, soon to expire online offers on a variety of cameras and accessories at our very own Camera Deals page.