Dual card slots, dual processors, 14fps shooting and eye AF for humans and animals in video mode might not be enough to tempt existing Nikon Z6 users to upgrade but they keep Nikon right in the heart of the mirrorless camera market. There are faster autofocus systems out there with more assured eye detection, but the Z6 II is a great camera and a very good all-rounder. Its solid build and well-thought control arrangement make it a pleasure to use.
Excellent user interface and control layout
Eye detection can be unreliable in video mode
Video Info menu not customisable
4K 60fps shooting will incur a 1.5x crop factor
We’ve been putting Nikon’s new 24Mp full-frame mirrorless all-rounder through its paces for stills and video shooting.
What is the Nikon Z6 II?
Just as the Nikon Z6 is the 24Mp partner to the 45Mp Z7, the Nikon Z6II is the partner to the Z7II. Both are full-frame mirrorless cameras with the Nikon Z mount and they share the majority of features part from the sensor.
As the 24.5Mp camera in the second generation double-act, the Nikon Z6II is the all-rounder that’s a bit nippier and more affordable than the high-resolution Z7II. It’s primarily aimed at enthusiast photographers, but it’s also likely to appeal to professional photographers, perhaps wedding photographers, who don’t need the larger files sizes brought by the Z7 II.
You can pre-order the Nikon Z6II from Adorama in the US and Wex in the UK.
Storage: Dual slot 1 XQD/CFexpress and 1 SD/SDHC/SDXC
Dimensions (W x H x D): 134 x 100.5 x 69.5mm / 5.3 x 4 x 2.8-inches
Weight: 705g with battery and memory card but without body cap, 615g body only
While Nikon has stuck with the same 24.5Mp backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor as is in the Z6 for the Z6II, it has added a second Expeed 6 processing engine. That extra power enables the Mark II camera, more correctly known as the Nikon Z 6II, to have a maximum continuous shooting rate of 14fps, 2 fps higher than the Z6. That’s with full autofocus and metering capability and the rate can be maintained for 200 Jpegs or 124 uncompressed 12-Bit raw files.
Despite the extra processing power, Nikon isn’t making any bold claims about new noise reduction algorithms and the Z6II has the same native sensitivity range as the Z6, ISO 100-51,200, expandable to ISO 64-204,800.
There’s also the same 273-point hybrid focusing system that uses phase and contrast detection, with points covering 90% of the sensor. However, the tracking and low-light AF performance has been improved. In fact, Nikon claims that the Z6II can focus down to -6EV with an f/2 or faster lens. That’s roughly equivalent to the light cast by a quarter of the moon.
Also, the human and animal eye AF that was added to the Z6 as a firmware upgrade has been enabled for the Z6II so that it now operates in video mode. That’s good news for wedding, portrait, lifestyle and wildlife photographers and videographers.
Viewfinder and Screens
Like the Z6, the Nikon Z6 II has Nikon optics in its 0.5-inch 3.6million-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) along with fluorine and anti-reflective coatings to repel dirt and reduce reflections.
While there are now higher-resolution viewfinders, 3.6million dots is still very good. As before, the Z6II’s finder shows 100% of the image with 0.8x magnification.
The screen on the back of the Nikon Z6II is also the same 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot tilting touch-screen as is on the original Z6. And again, Nikon makes good use of the touch-control so that you can navigate the menus with taps, make setting selections, set the AF point and swipe quickly through images.
As an added bonus, there’s a small LCD on the Z6II’s top-plate that shows key settings like the exposure and battery capacity. That’s useful on those occasions when you don’t have the main screen tilted.
Although Nikon uses lens-based stabilisation (VR) for its DSLRs, it introduced 5-axis in-body stabilisation (VR) with the original Z6 and Z7. This continues with the Z6II and there’s a claimed shutter speed compensation value of 5EV.
Like the Z6, the Nikon Z6 II can record 4K UHD (3840 × 2160) video at 30P, and 60P will be added with a firmware update that expected to arrive in February 2021. However, disappointingly, this 60p capability will be subject to a 1.5x crop factor which means a focal length of 24mm, for example, will seem like 36mm.
It’s also possible to record Full HD footage at up to 120p for slow-motion playback.
Footage recorded internally is in 8bit colour. However, if you connect an external recorder via the HDMI connection, the Z6II can record 10bit 4:2:2 colour with N-Log for better grading and colour matching.
The Z6II also features Timecode, focus peaking and zebra display, plus the focusing speed and tracking sensitivity can be adjusted to suit the subject or the desired look of the movie.
As I mentioned earlier, the big news on the video-front is that the Z6II has eye detection focusing for humans and animals. That should make producing good-quality video easier for many people.
While the Z6 and Z7 were widely well-received, Nikon was criticised for only giving them one XQD card slot with CFexpress compatibility being added via a firmware upgrade. Some photographers were upset that they couldn’t use their existing SD-type cards while others wanted the back-up of a second card slot.
Happily, Nikon has listened to the feedback and added a second card slot to the Z6II. This accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC media and is UHS-II compliant. The other slot remains an XQD/CFexpress slot.
Ano option in the menu allows you to specify which of the cards is the primary one and then set the second card to act as an overflow or back-up. Alternatively, you can send raw files to one card and Jpegs to another.
Connectivity and battery
As usual with a high-end Nikon camera, the Z6II has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity along with Nikon’s SnapBridge system. This enables the camera to connect quickly to a paired smartphone to facilitate remote control and automatic image transfer.
Like the Z7II, the Z6II is supplied with the new EN-EL15c battery which has a higher capacity than the EN-EL15b supplied with the original Z6 and Z7 cameras. However, the battery is backwards compatible.
Conveniently, the EN-EL15c can be charged in-camera via USB-C.
If the badges on the front of the Z6II and Z7II are covered, you can’t tell them apart as they have exactly the same design and control layout. The chances are that you would also fail to pick them out if the original Z6 and Z7 are added to the mix as the new cameras have exactly the same control arrangement and an almost identical shape, but they’ve gained 2mm in depth to cater for the extra memory card slot and processor.
Nikon has again used magnesium alloy for the camera’s body and there are weatherproof seals to keep out dust and moisture. The original Z6 feels very solid and comfortable in your hand and the Z6II is exactly the same. It’s a camera that inspires confidence.
I used the Z6 and Z7 in heavy rain, sunshine and mist, and neither suffered as a consequence. I have no qualms about doing the same with the Z6II and Z7II. So far, I’ve used the Z6II in drizzle and fog, and it didn’t skip a beat.
Nikon Z6II Interface
While the evolutionary link to Nikon’s DSLRs is immediately apparent when you use a Z-series camera, their reduction in size means that the control layout was rethought a little. As a result, I think Nikon has produced its best control arrangement to date.
Although I like to have quick access to key features via buttons and dials, I’m a fan of touch-control where it speeds camera operation. Nikon has got it right with its Z-series cameras and it’s great that you can use touch control to navigate and make setting selections in the menu.
Pressing the ‘i’ for Info button reveals a grid of 12 features that can be adjusted with taps on the screen. This avoids repeated button presses.
Helpfully, the options available in the Info screen change depending upon whether you’re in stills or video mode. However, whether camera is set to stills or video mode, you are only able to customise the stills Info menu which is a bit disappointing. Perhaps this will change with a firmware update.
Unlike the D850, but like the D750 and D780, the Z6II has a mode dial which allows you to set the exposure mode quickly without even powering up the camera. This dial has a lock button at its centre which has to be pressed before it can be rotated. That’s a nice touch but it would be even better if it was the type of lock that you can set to remain unlocked if you want.
All the buttons that you’d expect to see are present on the back and top of the Z6II, with the AF-on button nicely located for back-button focusing. It’s also good to have a joystick to set the AF point quickly when you’re looking in the viewfinder.
Although small, the joystick is quite prominent and has a textured surface, which means it’s easy to locate and operate with your thumb when you’re looking in the viewfinder. A rubber coating would be a nice addition.
The Z6II has the same 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot touchscreen as the Z6 and it’s very responsive with a good level of detail visible. This screen can also be tilted up or down to give an easier view at high or low shooting angles in landscape orientation. However, it can’t help with portrait-orientation images like a vari-angle screen does.
It’s also worth noting here that the screen cannot be tilted through 180°, so it can’t be seen from in front of the camera.
The Z6’s viewfinder was an education for some photographers who thought that they didn’t like electronic viewfinders (EVFs). It’s very good and gives an accurate preview of the image with the exposure and colour settings. It’s also a natural view and moving subjects move smoothly. So while there are higher-resolution EVFs available now, the 0.5-inch 3.69-million-dot is still a significant asset to the Z6 II.
On most occasions, the Z6 II’s viewfinder shows an accurate preview of the image as it will be captured, but I have a few images that are a bit darker than expected.
As the Z6II has the same sensor as the Z6, it’s no surprise that it produces near-identical images. However, the autofocus improvements and faster continuous shooting rates have a positive impact.
As the all-rounder of the two new cameras, the Z6II has a lower resolution than the Z7II, which means each pixel gathers more light. As well as benefiting image quality, this plays a part in the autofocus performance.
I found both the Z6 and Z7 were capable of shooting sport, but the Z6 copes just a fraction better. The Z6II makes another step up again. It’s not a huge difference, but the Z6 II is a bit more responsive and snappy.
Nikon Z6 II Image Quality
While some photographers may wish for the 45-million-pixel count of the Z7II, it’s worth remembering that the Z6II images are 6048 x 4024 pixels. That means that at 300ppi they are 51.2 x 34cm or 20.2×13.4inches in size. That’s plenty big enough for most photographers.
The Z6 II also controls noise is very well. Even images shot at ISO 3200 only have a suggestion of noise when they’re viewed at 100% on-screen.
Adobe has still to update Camera Raw and Lightroom to be compatible with the Nikon Z6 II, so at the moment the only way to process its raw files is to use Capture NX-D that is free to download from Nikon. That doesn’t have the most sophisticated noise reduction controls, you’re just able to switch between the camera settings (High, Normal, Low and Off). Generally, I find using the Low setting produces the best compromise between noise and detail visibility with high-ISO raw files.
I’d aim to make ISO 25,600 the maximum value I use with the Z6 II. Going above that value results in some loss of fine detail and the Jpegs can look a bit mushy in places.
One of the best things about using a mirrorless camera is that you can preview the exposure with the camera settings applied in the viewfinder or on the screen. This means that you rarely need to switch away from the default matrix metering system.
With Nikon Z-series cameras, I like to set the manual focus or control ring on the Z lenses to adjust exposure compensation. This enables me to get the images looking just as I want it with a twist of the lens ring.
As I mentioned earlier, in most instances, the Z6 II delivers a well-exposed result as a result of the settings I selected based on my view in the viewfinder. There are a few images that are a little bit darker than I’d like, but on the whole, they’re good.
Generally, Nikon’s Standard Picture Control mode is a good default setting, and it works well combined with one of the many Auto white balance options. However, Nikon offers an extensive array of Picture Controls and I enjoy using some of the creative options to get the Jpegs looking as I want it at the shooting stage. This dovetails nicely with having an electronic viewfinder because you can scroll through the options until you find one that does what you want.
Helpfully, if there isn’t a Picture Control that does exactly what you want, you can create it.
Like the Z6, the Z6 II’s ability to capture a wide range of tones and withstand post-capture adjustment is impressive. I have found that it’s possible to brighten a low-sensitivity raw file by as much as 5EV and get a very acceptable result. That’s an adjustment that’s outside the range offered by the average graduated neutral density filter.
Scrutinising the shadows of a deliberately underexposed ISO 100 raw file that I brightened by 5EV in Capture NX-D (see below) ), I can see a slight hint of granular texture in some areas at 100% on-screen, but there’s no banding or chroma noise and the colours look great. It’s an impressive result.
Brightened by 5EV
Nikon Z6 II Autofocus Performance
As usual, my first subject for our Nikon Z6 II review was Otto, my dog. That’s especially relevant as Nikon has been working on its Eye AF technology for the new Z6II and Z7II.
As this first shoot took place at around 4pm in November in the UK, the light was pretty low and the sensitivity, which was set to Auto, varied between ISO 2800 and ISO 36,000. As you can see from the image above, Ott’s eyes are dark and surrounded by dark fur and bushy eyebrows.
I was shooting with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S at f/4 and mainly at the 70mm end to limit the depth of field.
It immediately became apparent that the autofocus system is more responsive than the original Z6’s. The Z6II quickly spotted Otto’s eyes and highlighted them for focusing.
Interestingly, the yellow AF box that the camera uses to highlight the eyes sometimes appeared a bit high on Otto’s head, as if the Z6II was spotting his eyebrows rather than his eyes. However, when I inspected all the images at 100%, it’s clear that the camera has focused on his eyes rather than his eyebrows.
Otto’s face was square on to me for most of this first shoot and, as I mentioned, the Nikon Z6 II spotted both his eyes very quickly. When the camera spots more than one eye, it displays an arrow on one side of each box it puts around each eye.
You can choose which eye to focus on using the joystick on the back of the camera, however, by default the camera opts for the nearest eye. As Otto’s eyes were both the same distance from the camera for much of the shoot, the Z6 II jumped around a bit from one eye to the other. It’s not possible to lock it to just one eye, so if you want to swap eye for some reason, you have to use the joystick.
This is less of an issue when the animal’s face is at an angle and it’s designed to ensure that one eye is in focus.
Shooting at a faster pace as Otto raced for a ball proved a bit more problematic for the Nikon Z6 II’s Eye detection system. Sometimes it didn’t spot his eyes, some times it did and didn’t focus on one and other times it delivered a sharp shot with the focus on one of his eyes.
The alternative for photographing a fast-moving subject like Otto is to use Auto Area AF with the Subject Tracking engaged or Wide-area AF (S) or Dynamic-area AF to target him in the frame. When one of these options is selected, The Z6 II does a good job of keeping him sharp as he runs around.
Using Wide-area AF and Dynamic-area AF means you have to keep the active area over your subject and the camera responds quickly to movement.
I also used the Z6 II in Auto-area AF mode to photograph gulls flying around me. It quickly became apparent that the Z6 II is better at tracking the birds in flight than me. There were a few instances when the camera failed to focus quickly enough to get a sharp shot, but on the whole, it works well.
Nikon Z6 II Video Performance
We can’t test the Z6 II in 4K 60p mode until the firmware upgrade comes out next year but the results in 4K 30p are very good, mirroring the quality of the stills. Some of the finer details of foliage in a winter woodland look a little mushy at ISO 16,000, but overall, I’m impressed.
Naturally, I was keen to test the Eye detection for video and the results here are a bit more mixed. Generally, the Z6 II gets the subject sharp when it’s set to Auto-area AF, either human or animal, but the eyes need to be quite large in the frame to spot them. As you walk towards a human subject the camera switches from Face detection to Eye detection once they are about 3/4 length in the frame. It also does a decent job of keeping the eyes sharp, but it’s best to make smooth, steady movements.
When it’s set the Auto-area AF (animal), the Z6 II spots and focuses on my dog’s eyes when he’s still or slow-moving. If he’s moving, it will keep his eyes sharp if the camera moves at a similar pace.
I shot a few clips of video of him trotting towards and past me, the Eye detection squares usually flashed up just as he left the frame.
Eye detection for in video is a useful addition, but it’s not as impressive as the Canon EOS R6 and EOS R5 Eye AF.
Sony hasn’t implemented Animal Eye AF for video yet, only Human Eye AF, so in some respects, the Nikon Z6 II trumps that, but Sony’s Eye AF is more sensitive and dependable.
Meanwhile, the Nikon Z6 II’s Tracking AF works very well in video and still mode, keeping with the subject as it moves around the frame and towards or away from the camera.
Scroll down to see some videos demonstrating the autofocus performance.
This video was shot on the Nikon Z 6II in 4k (3840×2160) 25p, in Mov format and in the Flat Picture Control.
The first part of the video is straight from the camera, but later (when indicated) some grading is applied. The white balance was set to A2 (Auto WB) ‘Keep warm lighting colours’.
The final clip was shot at ISO 16,000.
This was shot on heavily-overcast November afternoon in the UK with the Z6 II mounted on a Zhiyun Weebill-S gimbal.
The video below was shot with the Nikon Z 6II in 4k (3840×2160) 25p, in Mov format and in the Natural Picture Control. The autofocus was set to Full-time AF and Auto-area AF (animals). The white balance was set to A2 (Auto WB) ‘Keep warm lighting colours’.
At the start, the camera was hand-held with the Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S mounted. Later, the Z6 II was used with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 and supported on a Zhiyun Crane 2S gimbal. It’s a bit unsteady in places because I was largely using the gimbal one-handed, moving around on stairs and trying to attract Otto’s attention with treats in my free hand.
This next video was shot on the Nikon Z 6II in 4k (3840×2160) 25p, in Mov format and in the Natural Picture Control. The autofocus was set to Full-time AF and Auto-area AF and varied between the animal and human setting depending upon the main subject.
The Nikon Z6 II was used with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 and supported on a Zhiyun Crane 2S gimbal.
You can pre-order the Nikon Z6II from Adorama in the US and Wex in the UK.
Nikon created a great duo in the Z6 and Z7 and the Z6II and Z7II look set to forge another good partnership.
However small the adjustment might have been, changing the size of the Z6II in comparison to the Z6 to accommodate the second memory card must’ve been a very painful step for Nikon to take, but it’s great that the company has listened to feedback and responded accordingly.
I wish that we’d made a little more noise about a tilting vs vari-angle screen as I’d like to have an articulating screen too.
It’s great to see that Nikon is onboard with the recent developments in autofocusing and addition of Eye detection AF for humans and animals in video mode is very timely. However, the range of detection could do with extending so that the eyes are spotted when they’re a bit smaller in the frame. The AF adjustment when eyes are detected also needs to be faster in stills mode.
I think it’s unlikely that the changes made by the Z6II will entice many existing Z6 users to upgrade, but they put Nikon on a solid footing for anyone looking to switch to a mirrorless camera or step-up to full-frame photography.
The Z6 is an excellent camera and Z6 II is better. I like it very much, it feels good in your hands, delivers great results and is more responsive than its predecessor. However, the competition has also moved on and there are better AF systems out there. That said, Nikon did a lot of development work on the original Z6 and Z7 through firmware upgrades and, given the processing power of the Z6 II and Z7 II, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see the Eye detection system evolve over the coming months.
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