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.
Excellent user interface and control layout
What is the Nikon Z6II?
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.
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 great 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 Z 6. 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.
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, however, 60P will be added with a firmware update that expected to arrive in February 2021.
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’s going to make producing good-quality video a lot 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.
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 I anticipate that the Z6II will be exactly the same.
I used the Z6 and Z7 in heavy rain, sunshine and mist, and neither suffered as a consequence. I’ll have no qualms about doing the same with the Z6II and Z7II.
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 Info screen is customisable so you can set it to access the 12 features that you use most frequently.
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.
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.
As the Z6II has the same 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot touchscreen as the Z6, we can anticipate that this is very responsive with a good level of detail visible. This screen can 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.
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.
As the Z6II has the same sensor as the Z6, it should produce near-identical images. However, the autofocus improvements and faster continuous shooting rates will 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. I expect the same will be true of the Z6II.
Nikon Z6 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 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. The Z6II is likely to be exactly the same with great-looking images up to around ISO to 25,600.
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.
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.
The Z6’s ability to capture a wide range of tones and withstand post-capture adjustment is impressive. In my tests, I found that it’s sometimes possible to brighten a low-sensitivity raw file by as much as 5EV and get an acceptable result. That’s an adjustment that’s outside the range offered by the average graduated neutral density filter.
The same is likely to be true of the Z6II and I look forward to testing it with some landscape images to see how well it holds the highlights and withstands shadow-brightening post-capture.
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 AF for humans and animals in video mode is very timely.
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 I’m looking forward to putting the Z6II through its paces. I just hope there’s some sport taking place so I can test the improved autofocus system, otherwise, my little dog is going to get very tired.