After shooting extensively with the Nikon Z 7, we know a lot more about it and the Nikon Z 6. That’s because the two Nikon full-frame mirrorless cameras have a huge amount in common. However, there are a few very significant differences to consider when deciding which one to buy. So let’s take a look.
The most obvious difference between the Nikon Z 7 and the Z 6 is their sensors. They both have full-frame backside illuminated (BSI) sensors, but the Z7’s has 45.7million effective pixels whereas the Z6’s has 24.5million. That means that the Z7’s images are bigger (8256 x 5504 vs 6048 x 4024 pixels) and contain more fine detail.
Because the Z 6 has fewer photoreceptors (aka pixels) on the same size sensor, its pixels are larger. This means that they gather more light individually and the signal requires less gain to be applied to create the image. As a result, the Z 6 should produce cleaner images than the Z 7.
This explains why Nikon has given the Z 6 a 1EV higher maximum standard sensitivity than the Z 7, ISO 51,200 rather than ISO 25,600. This suggests that Nikon feels the Z 6 offers a 1EV improvement in image quality at the higher ISO settings in comparison with the Z 7.
- Nikon Z 6 Sensitivity Range ISO 100-51,200, expandable to ISO 64-102,400
- Nikon Z 7Sensitivity Range ISO 64-25,600 expandable to ISO 32-102,400
In our Nikon Z 7 review, we found that the high-resolution camera controls noise extremely well, even at ISO 25,600. At this value, there’s just a little texture and some of the finer details are lost. Reducing the setting to ISO 12,800 results in impressively detailed images. It looks like we should be able to get similar or even better quality (albeit at lower resolution) from the Z 6.
The extra light that reaches the Z 6 pixels means that the lowest available ISO setting is 64, or 32 in the expanded range. That shouldn’t be much of a drama, but it means a neutral density filter will be needed a little earlier than with the Z 7 when shooting wide open.
Both cameras use a hybrid autofocus (AF) system that combines phase detection and contrast detection. However, as this relies on the imaging sensor and the Z 6 has fewer pixels, there’s naturally a difference in the number of AF points they offer. The Z 7 has 493 AF points while the Z 6 has 273. According to my maths, that means that the Z 6 actually has slightly better coverage.
And thanks again to those larger pixels, the Z 6’s AF system is also more sensitive. Nikon claims an AF sensitivity range of -1 to +19EV for the Z 7 but -2 to +19EV for the Z 6.
That means that the Z 6’s AF system is better in low light and could be better at tracking subjects.
After shooting in the pouring rain on a very dull Saturday, with the Nikon Z 7, I know that it can get fast-moving subjects sharp and keep them that way. It also copes with motionless subjects well in pretty gloomy conditions. It seems like we can expect that and more from the Z 6.
So while you can shoot sport with the Z 7, the Z 6 could be better at it.
Sticking with the subject of sport, the Z 6 has a maximum continuous shooting rate of 12fps in its High-Speed Continuous Extended shooting mode. The Z 7 tops-out at 9fps. Although the exposure is fixed at the start of the sequence, the AF system continues to function throughout.
Further good news for sport and action photographers is that the Z 6’s buffer capacity is bigger than the Z 7’s. If you shoot lossless compressed raw files you’ll get a burst of 35 large images with the Z 6 or 23 with the Z 7. Switch to large fine Jpegs and its 44 vs 25.
That’s another win to the Z 6.
Mirrorless cameras use the image sensor for exposure metering. This means that the Z 6 once again has a slight advantage over the Z 7. Whereas the Z 7 has a metering range of -3 to +17EV, the Z 6’s range is -4 to +17EV. As a result, the Z 6 should give correct exposure readings in darker conditions than the Z 7.
Large, high-pixel-count sensors are harder and more expensive to make. So they cost more. A lot more. That explains the £1,300/$1,400 price difference between the two cameras.
Some people assume that paying more means you get the best, but the Z 6 and Z 7 have a heck of a lot in common. It’s more important that you weigh-up the points we’ve raised and pick the right camera for you. Or the one you can afford.
Price is a major factor in selecting a camera. However, if money isn’t an issue, how do you decide?
The Z 7 is excellent, and while you can use it to shoot sport, it’s a better fit for shooting landscapes, portraits and still life. Its high resolution ensures plenty of detail is captured and its wide dynamic range means you get all the information in the highlights.
We’ve yet to shoot with a final sample of the Z 6, but it’s designed to be the all-rounder of the two full-frame Nikon cameras. It’s just a bit nippier that the Z 7. Plus its AF and metering systems are more sensitive, so it’s better able to cope with low light. It should also be better at tracking fast-moving subjects.
On the face of it, the Z 6 looks like the best option for many photographers with the Z7 being reserved for those who really need large images.
We’re looking forward to testing the Z 6 very soon and will update this post to let you know how it shapes up.