Released in the fall of 2020, Nikon’s Z6 II is their updated take on their original Z6. And it comes as an improvement upon their initial efforts to further refine and revise the platform now with faster speeds, improved AF, and better overall versatility.
And, really, it continues building on the strengths and successes of the original model. The original Z6, following its release, suffered from critical feedback. But, Nikon progressively released updates to correct much of its initial shortcomings. And it’s quite a reliable camera today. But, it looks like, with this latest refresh, Nikon’s listened to the feedback and criticism. And this release seems to resolve any of the issues that plagued the first model.
Nikon markets this camera as their “true multimedia powerhouse” aimed directly at hybrid shooters wanting the best of both worlds. And it’s a camera designed with content creators needing utmost versatility. But as this is mostly an incremental update, is it enough to catapult Nikon forward and make them more competitive? The markets changed in the last two years following the original model’s release.
So, are the changes here enough? It competes with the Panasonic’s S5, Canon’s R6, and Sony’s A7III, all of which have pushed the bounds in this class. Can Nikon compete? Let’s find out.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon Z6 II?
It obtains the same 24.5MP backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor with an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) as its predecessor. However, they’ve installed dual EXPEED 6 image processors this go-around, a first for a Nikon camera.
And this configuration provides faster image processing and improves the overall processing power. And combined with the sensor’s BSI design, the camera delivers cleaner images at higher sensitivities. Even so, the camera’s 14-bit RAW images provide similar detail as the original model. And pictures have plenty of dynamic range and a similar natural color rendering, which requires minimal if any post-processing.
The updated processors have led to notable increases in continuous shooting performance, however. And in this case, the camera now offers a continuous high shooting rate of 14 FPS without AF or 12 FPS with AF, matching their flagship D6. And this over doubles its predecessor 5.5 FPS rate with tracking and is a substantial improvement.
The processors have also reduced the camera’s viewfinder blackouts at this rate. Additionally, they also help with buffer clearing. And the camera now offers a deep buffer of 124 RAW or 200+ JPEGS before slowing, which is approximately 3.5x larger than before.
It obtains mostly the same capabilities as its predecessor. In this case, it still shoots 4K UHD 30p with a full pixel readout, and it also shoots 1080p full HD video up to 120p with audio. Both resolutions record to the MP4 or MOV formats with 8-bit 4:2:0 color internally and H.264 compression.
However, recording externally does unlock 10-bit 4:2:2 color. And shooting in 120p automatically slows the footage down to 24-30p depending on the setting for up to 5x slow motion. While mostly unchanged in this regard, the footage this camera produces remains excellent. Both resolutions offer considerable detail, ample dynamic range, and accurate color rendering.
- It has built-in Time-Code.
- It has zebras for highlight warning and clipping indication.
Recording via HDMI unlocks 10-bit color along with N-Log and HDR video using HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma). And recording in HLG produces true HDR videos that are suitable for immediate playback. Using an external recorder also unlocks the N-Log View Assist to help gauge the footage. And the camera also offers clean 4K 30p signal via HDMI, making it a suitable choice for live streaming via Nikon’s Webcam Utility app.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance is mostly on par with its predecessor but is excellent for the class. It features a native ISO range from ISO 100 to 51,200, further expandable to a high setting of 204,800. And users can expect usable images up to ISO 6,400 or 12,800 with minor post-processing.
With this new release, Nikon’s updated the autofocusing system. Sure, on paper, it obtains the same 273-point phase-detect AF system with 90% frame coverage. But, this iteration now provides slightly improved low light focusing, moving from -4 to -4.5EV. And Nikon claims the autofocus can now find subjects in half the available light as before.
They’ve also installed a new option for Face and Eye-detection. And the camera now offers both features for humans and animals, and both support stills and videos. They’ve also configured Hybrid AF for video, which automatically switches between phase and contrast-detection, improving overall accuracy.
Taken together, these are substantial improvements over the original model. And the system ups the overall accuracy and adds needed flexibility. The camera can now confidently track subjects, even on the outskirts of the frame. And it appears to be more responsive, consistent, and tenacious than before.
Nikon’s even added Eye-Detect to Wide-Area AF, not just Auto Area. With this option, you can now relegate Eye-AF to a set area within the frame for still and videos. And essentially, this sets boundaries in the frame for eye-detection to work, giving you more control to determine where the camera focuses. It’s an excellent option for group shots or busy scenes. And it solves a significant issue on the original model.
The camera also offers both focus peaking and focus magnification if you prefer manually focusing.
It uses the EN-EL15c battery, which Nikon rates for 410 shots under regular use or 450 with the energy savings mode and 100 minutes of video recording. This is a 32% improvement over to its predecessor, which only offers 310 shots by contrast. And overall, battery life is excellent for a mirrorless camera.
Nikon’s also created a new optional vertical grip, the MB-N11, which ups the battery performance 1.9x to 800+ shots by using two batteries. It’s a great accessory if you want the added longevity or prefer comfortable vertical shooting.
Display & Viewfinder
It obtains the same Quad VGA OLED electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 3.69M dots and 0.8x magnification as its predecessor. And the EVF has a fluorine coating on the outer element to make it easier to clean. While unchanged, the viewfinder is good. And it doesn’t experience drops in resolution and unnecessary lag.
It also obtains the same 3.2-inch tilting touchscreen LCD with a resolution of 2.1M dots as its predecessor. And while it’s not a fully articulating screen, the tilting design still offers added flexibility when shooting at high or low angles. The screen itself is also good, providing ample contrast, accurate colors, and it’s sharp. The touchscreen itself supports various gestures, including touch focus, touch navigation, and settings control.
The camera also obtains the same top-deck status LCD as its predecessor. And this screen displays critical shooting parameters when shooting at waist level.
It obtains a similar interface and menu design from the predecessor. With that, the interface remains well optimized for touch input, which works well. And they’re not overly complicated. So new users should find this camera intuitive and easily mastered.
- The camera maintains the two function buttons recessed inside the grip, Fn1, and Fn2, giving you immediate access to recall their assigned settings.
- It obtains the customizable i-Menu, to access your favorite functions on a single page.
- It offers the (?) button, which presents a brief description of what a setting does. It’s a helpful feature for newcomers to the ecosystem, and it acts as a quick reference guide.
- Like its predecessor, there are dedicated menus for photo and video modes. And both still and video settings are independent.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
Physically, it retains a similar size and form factor as its predecessor. And the camera’s virtually identical in design. But that does mean handling and ergonomics are also identical. And this is quite impressive considering Nikon’s manage to fit in a second card slot. But, this is good news for current Z6 owners, as all your accessories and cages will fit this new camera. This also means that the camera’s immediately familiar. And it still benefits from comfortable DSLR styling and ergonomics.
Like the original model, the grip is large and well contoured, making the camera quite comfortable during extended shooting. And at only 615g body alone, it balances well with large lenses but isn’t overly heavy and cumbersome. The button placement also remains excellent. Everything is quickly accessible within a fingers reach, and the camera delivers exceptional single-hand use. Nikon’s known for strategic button placement, so it’s good to see this continue.
- The camera also uses a forged magnesium alloy frame, providing strength and full weather sealing.
- The Mode Dial has a lock to prevent accidental setting changes.
- It has an AF joystick for menu navigation and focus point selection.
- It maintains the dedicated video record button to start recordings quickly.
- It has an AF-ON button, which is ideal for back-button focusing.
It offers dual control dials to control aperture and shutter speed. And combined with its dedicated ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons, this camera delivers exceptional manual control.
It obtains the same 5-axis in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system from its predecessor. And it supports up to 5 EV stops of reduction, allowing you to shoot upwards of 1-second exposures handheld. Nikon’s also added the Movie Electronic VR option, which adds digital stabilization to increase performance further.
- It has a microphone input.
- It has a headphone output.
- It offers an HDMI Type-C (Mini) port, which is preferred to the micro size when using external recorders and monitors.
- It offers a USB-C port, which supports in-camera charging and continuous power for indefinite use.
It features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth LE (Low Energy), allowing you to transfer photos, remotely control the camera, and now update the firmware via Nikon’s SnapBridge app. Additionally, the app also supports full settings control and RAW file transfer. And the camera also has the faster 5 GHz band and the 2.4 GHz standard, further improving speed and consistency. Overall, these are significant improvements in this regard.
It now offers dual card slots, one CFexpress Type B, the other a UHS-II SD card. And this now gives users the option to configure the cards for overflow, redundant recording, or independent capture. This is an absolute must for professionals. And it’s a substantial improvement over its predecessor single XQD slot.
Nikon’s updated the camera minimum shutter speed, which now goes to 900 seconds or 15 minutes. And this is an excellent addition tailored towards astrophotographers wanting to capture a long exposure or light paint without using an external remote. To date, it’s the first camera outside of the D810A DSLR to offer this feature.
It has a fully silent electronic shutter.
It offers 4K time-lapse and an interval timer shooting function, allowing you to either render the lapse in-camera or save full-resolution still images.
It has Multiple Exposure, and the camera combines up to 10 exposures into a single photo. Additionally, you can also capture the images and combine them later via the in-camera Retouching menu.
It has the Focus Shift Shooting Mode, which records up to 300 images sequentially as the camera shifts the focus position. This is a great option for focus stacking, but you’ll have to do so manually in post-processing.
You can now reverse the focus ring rotation on NIKKOR Z lenses. Nikon’s added this option in the main menu to alter their behavior, so if you’re used to manually focusing a certain way, you can configure the lenses appropriately.
It has in-camera image rating.
The camera lacks 10-bit internal recording, which will ultimately alienate users who want a lightweight setup without external recorders. As it stands, the only way to get 10-bit is recording externally to a recorder, complicating the setup, and increasing the room for error. So if 10-bit is essential in your workflow, consider another camera. There are several at this price that offer this feature.
The camera doesn’t output 4K 60p via HDMI, only 30p. So videographers wanting 10-bit will have to compromise here, and suffice recording 8-bit color in 60p. This is a strange trade-off that indeed alienates some users.
Strangely, video recordings limit at 29-minutes 59 seconds, which was previously an industry standard. But, the tax that led to this regulation is long gone. So it’s confusing to see Nikon keep this otherwise unnecessary limitation on a professional-oriented camera.
The camera lacks a fully articulating screen, which will disappoint hybrid shooters and videographers relying on the system. And it’s a confusing choice to see them alienate such a large segment of the current buyer market, particularly considering this is their “hybrid camera.”
The rear display isn’t very bright, making it slightly difficult to view under harsh sunlight.
It lacks a built-in flash.
Is this a good beginner camera?
Yes, with a caveat.
Nikon’s original Z6 may offer better value here. The major updates are improved autofocusing, updated connectivity, faster shooting speeds, and a deeper buffer. But, taken together, these are not a must-have for a beginner. So it may be best off saving the money and getting the original model instead.
However, if these are must-have features for you, this is an otherwise excellent beginner’s camera. And it’s a strong full-frame camera with a reasonable price point that’s not unreachable.
Is this a good camera for you?
This camera is an excellent option for sports, wildlife, journalism, events, and weddings, particularly with its fast shooting speeds, large buffer, and dual card slots. And it’s currently Nikon’s best option for these purposes outside of the D500 and D6 DSLRs.
Current Nikon DSLR shooters should consider upgrading. This camera is a thorough replacement for most of their DSLR lineup outside of the flagship D6. And now, with the dual card slots, updated AF, and better buffer, it’s a powerful option, even more so if you want a versatile hybrid camera with solid video capabilities.
Current Z6 owners shouldn’t upgrade, however, considering the enormous price difference. The only real compelling reason to do so is if you need the dual card slots for redundancy. Otherwise, the original model is sufficient.
For videographers, this camera is capable. But better options exist at this price point.
In the end, the Z6 II builds beautifully on its predecessor. And with this release, it’s clear that mirrorless is here to stay, and they’re committed to developing and refining the Z system cameras. And as a release, it helps close the gap in capabilities between DSLR and mirrorless cameras.
Sure, it’s not a significant leap forward. And, in many ways, it competes solely with the date Sony A7III in capabilities. But, it does address many of the issues consumers had with the original model. And while rivals may mostly overshadow this camera at this price point, it remains a solid hybrid camera nevertheless.
Nikon’s Z6 II proves their commitment to the Z system cameras. But, even with its refinements, it gets mostly overshadowed by rivals at this price point. It’s a powerful camera, but it doesn’t offer enough to truly wow, considering what’s available.