Sony’s A7-series of full-frame mirrorless cameras have caused a stir but it’s taken until the 3rd generation for the cameras to deliver what people really want. Nikon, however, seems to have skipped the evolution stage and introduced two cameras that look set to hit the ground running. The Nikon Z6 is the 24Mp all-rounder of the two cameras that have been announced and it has the build and feature set that should make it popular amongst enthusiast photographers.
We still need to do our in-depth testing, but so far I’m very excited and optimistic about the Nikon Z6. This hands-on Nikon Z6 review is based upon the time I spent shooting with a sample prior to the announcement.
Nikon photographers who have been eagerly awaiting a full-frame mirrorless camera now have two options. The high-resolution Z7 or the all-rounder Nikon Z6. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot with both, but as mentioned earlier, this hands-on preview focuses on the Z6.
Like the Z7, the Z6 uses the new Expeed 6 processing engine. However, in the Z6 it enables a maximum continuous shooting rate of 12fps. The sensitivity range is also ISO 100-51,200.
This is backed-up with a 273-point hybrid focusing system that uses phase and contrast detection. The imaging sensor is used for the focusing so there are pixels dedicated to the AF system. It means that the AF performance is the same whether you’re shooting using the viewfinder or the screen.
Nikon is aiming to combine the benefits of an SLR with those of a mirrorless camera with the Z6 and Z7. This means that the viewfinder has to be bright and clear. With this in mind, there are Nikon optics in the electronic viewfinder (EVF).
Fluorine and anti-reflective coatings have been used to repel dirt and banish reflections. With 3.6million dots, it’s a high-resolution device and it shows 100% of the image with 0.8x magnification. That resolution is the same as the Sony A9’s viewfinder. It’s great to see it in a camera aimed at a wider audience.
The EVF’s refresh rate is 60fps. That should mean the image is smooth when following a moving subject.
While designing its full-frame mirrorless cameras, Nikon has also developed a new lens mount. This isn’t a decision that has been taken lightly. However, it removes some of the restrictions that have so far been imposed on the optic and sensor engineers by the F mount.
The mount diameter jumps from the 47mm of the F mount to 55mm with the Z mount. That gives much more scope for letting light into the camera – and future cameras. Whereas the F mount limits the maximum aperture to f/1.4 or f/1.2 at the very most, the new mount makes f/0.95 lenses feasible. In fact, there’s already one in the pipeline.
Although the diameter of the mount may have been increased significantly, the flange depth has shrunk to just 16mm. That and teh lack of a mirror means that the Z6 is very slim – although there’s still a beefy grip.
Although there will only be three S-Line or Nikkor Z lenses available when the Nikon Z6 goes on sale, Nikon has revealed its roadmap. This shows six more lenses coming in 2019. In addition to the luxurious Nikkon Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct there will be optics that will be high on any enthusiast or pro photographer’s shopping list. The 85mm f/1.8 will appeal to portrait photographers, for example, while the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8 have all-round appeal.
It will be interesting to see how big the f/2.8 lenses are. The 24-80mm f/4 is a nice size with the Z6 but a larger aperture will probably mean a larger lens. However, as the image below shows, the AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR is impressively small. So Nikon has clearly been working on downsizing optics.
In another break from Nikon tradition, the Z6 has a 5-axis stabilisation system built in. This is claimed to give 5EV of shutter speed compensation.
Using in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) avoids having to put Nikon’s VR system in the S-line (or Nikkor Z) lenses. That should help keep size, weight and prices down.
Like the Z7, the Z6 can record 4K UHD (3840 × 2160) video at 30p with full-frame readout. Slow motion lovers will also like the fact that Full HD footage can be recorded at up to 120p.
Footage recorded internally is in 8bit colour. However, if you connect an external recorder via the HDMI connection, it’s possible to record 10bit 4:2:2 colour with N-Log for better grading and colour matching.
Using N-Log and 10bit recording extends the tonal range to 12stop or 1,300% dynamic range.
There’s also Timecode, focus peaking and zebra display. It’s also possible to adjust both the focusing speed and tracking sensitivity across 7 steps. That’s useful when you have a moving subject or when you want to slow focsuing for a more cinematic appearance.
Memory, Power and Wi-Fi
While most manufacturers are going with SD cards and putting dual slots in their top-end mirrorless cameras, Nikon has gone for just one XQD card slot. There will also be a firmware upgrade to make it compatible with CFexpress cards.
That’s quite a brave decision, but it’s been made to keep the speed up and size down. A single card port is likely to be less of an issue for the Z6’s intended audience than it is for the Z7’s.
The Z6 has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity built in as part of the SnapBridge system. However, the Wi-Fi can be used directly if you prefer. A dedicated CPU is incorporated into the Z6 to help maintain the connection.
Alternatively, the Z6 is compatible with Nikon’s WT-7 wireless adapter.
Like the Z7, the Z6 uses a new EN-EL15b battery. However, it can also accept the D850’s EN-EL15a battery.
Build and Handling
Nikon has given the Z6 exactly the same form factor as the Z7. That means if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford both, you shouldn’t have any problems switching between the two.
I’ve spent a couple of hours or so shooting with the cameras and so far, I really like them. They feel solid and durable. And given that they have a magnesium alloy body and weatherproof seals, they should survive some serious use.
It’s clear that Nikon has put quite a bit of thought into the design and has done a great job of keeping the size down despite the huge lens mount.
Crucially, the grip is nice and deep so the camera feels really comfortable in your hand. I mainly shot with the 24-70mm and 35mm lenses and they felt well-balanced. Even the new AF-S 500mm looks quite sensible on the Z6 – but then it is a surprisingly small lens for the focal length!
Although the Z6 is small for a full-framer and it has an extensive array of buttons and dials, there’s enough room for your fingers and thumbs.
The buttons on the back of the camera are all within easy reach – mostly by your left thumb and there’s a conveniently positioned mini-joystick for setting the AF point.
As soon as you pick-up the Z6 and start exploring the controls or dipping into the menus it’s apparent that it has a lot in common with cameras like the D850 and D750. However, the size reduction means that the button layout has been reconsidered. I’ll need to shoot for longer with the Z6 to be certain, but on the basis of what I’ve seen so far, I think the control layout is one of the best I’ve come across on an interchangeable lens camera.
I love the fact that Nikon has allowed so much touch-control. You don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, but it’s there if you do. And it really speeds some aspects.
Pressing the ‘I’ for Info button, for instance, reveals a panel of 12 features that can be selected and adjusted with taps on the screen. If want you can use the physical controls but you have to press repeatedly to navigate over to the feature you want.
You can also customise this Info screen so you access the 12 features that you need most often.
The main menu options can also be selected by tapping the screen.
As you’d expect you can also set the AF point and trip the shutter via the screen if you want. Unfortunately, there’s no trackpad option to use the screen while you’re looking in the viewfinder though.
Nikon has used a mode dial like the D750’s on the Z6. I much prefer this approach to the button and dial system of the D850. I think it’s quicker and easier to select the exposure mode that you want.
Across the top-plate and on the back of the camera you’ll find all the buttons that you’d expect. The AF-on button is conveniently placed for back-button focusing lovers.
In addition to the tilting 3.2-inch screen on the back of the camera, there’s a status screen on the top-plate to show key settings. It’s a nice touch that adds to the high-end feel. It even adapts the lighting conditions so you’re not dazzled.
The main screen is very responsive to touch and there’s plenty of detail visible. It can also be tilted up or down to give an easier view at high or low shooting angles. Thanks to the small size and weight of the camera, it’s easy to hold the Z6 steady while looking at the screen and shooting video.
If you think you don’t like electronic viewfinders, you need to look at the 3.6million-dot EVF in the Z6. It’s great. Aside from the fact that you can see how changing exposure or colour settings impacts upon the image, the view is very natural. And if you follow a moving subject, there’s no lag or tearing. It’s as close to an optical finder as you can get while still having the benefits of an electronic finder.
I’ve shot with the Z6 but the camera wasn’t a final production sample so I haven’t been able to keep any of the images.
However, I could examine them on the main screen and in the electronic viewfinder. At the lower sensitivity settings there’s lots of detail visible and if you push up to the highest native value, ISO 51,200 there’s still plenty of it on show. Noise doesn’t seem to be much of an issue either. Going beyond the native settings into the expansion values introduces some noise and smudginess, but I’ve seen much worse.
With the Automatic or Standard Picture Control mode selected along with one of the Auto White balance settings, the Z6 coped well with the mixed lighting of the launch venue. The Matrix metering also took everything in its stride.
I can’t wait to get outside shooting with the camera to find out how it handles everyday shooting scenarios.
Although there were some well-lit areas at the press launch venue, much of it was quite dim. This would challenge any autofocus system but the Z6 coped fairly well.
With the AF point over a moving subject and continuous autofocus mode selected, the Z6 was also able to get the subject sharp and keep it so. It was a bit more variable with the Subject Tracking mode, however.
My gut instinct is that’s it’s not quite as good as the Sony tracking system, and there’s no Eye AF, but a full production sample will enable me to find out for sure. A bit more time in the field with the camera will also enable me to find the perfect settings to use with each type of subject.
By giving the Z6 and Z7 the same specification (with the exception of anything pertaining to their pixel count) and identical build and handling, Nikon has given users a real choice without compromise. You can have the lower price and lower resolution for better low-light performance and faster continuous shooting without having to miss out on the weather-sealing.
The Z6 is a great price for a full-frame camera with so many features. There’s lots of testing to be done before I can pass the verdict in full, but at the moment, I think that it looks like the camera that many Nikon photographers have been holding out for. It combines the handling that you expect from a Nikon DSLR with some great mirrorless camera advantages. The electronic viewfinder is superb. Obviously, I want to test it further, but it seems very good indeed, coming as close to an optical viewfinder as you could wish for.
Many photographers will have been waiting for Nikon to reveal its hand before deciding on a mirrorless camera. The Z6 goes head-to-head with the Sony A7 III, with both offering a 24Mp full-frame sensor and a collection of advanced features. Follow the link below for further thoughts on how they compare: