The Nikon Z6 marks Nikon’s entry-level full-frame offering into the mirrorless realm. It was initially released fall of 2018 with its bigger and more expensive counterpart, the Z7. Of these two camera releases in Nikon’s new Z system, it serves as the more affordable option, and an entry point aimed to convert existing SLR users. It has a 24.5-megapixels BSI sensor with an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF) and the EXPEED 6 image processor. In specifications, it competes with Sony’s A7 Mark III in both price point and performance.
While, simultaneously, it promises to deliver distinct advantages over the more expensive Z7 in low light performance and video capabilities. Impressive. Nikon has stated their intentions, which are to disrupt Sony’s ongoing dominance in the full-frame mirrorless market. But, considering this is their first real attempt at a full-frame mirrorless camera, can this release succeed at such a massive ambition? Nikon has experimented with APS-C mirrorless cameras in the past with the Nikon 1 V3, which flopped sadly.
Will these cameras provide the comeback they so desperately need to put the camera maker as a competitive option in the mirrorless domain? Is this truly the kind of camera that would convert diehard Nikon SLR shooters or any other user for that matter? In today’s post, we take an in-depth look at Nikon’s first shot at full-frame mirrorless.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Nikon Z6?
The image quality provided from its 24-megapixel sensor is competitive amongst other leading cameras in this class, namely the Sony A7 III. Yes, it’s sensor has an OLPF to reduce the presence of moiré. But are the images it produces soft? No, far from it. Its image quality rivals Nikon’s older D810 flagship, which has a 36-megapixel sensor. Point for point, image quality, and dynamic range are on par with the Sony A7 III, quite a feat considering it’s Nikon’s first mirrorless camera.
One thing that surprised us about this particular camera was color rendition, especially in skin tones. The color rendition across the board is excellent and very natural. While not as pleasing as Canon, images require only minimal post-production adjustments in this regard, and that say’s something.
It has a continuous burst rate of 12 fps using the mechanical shutter without AF-C or 5.5 fps with AF tracking, which provides approximately 40 images or 200 images, respectively. During the continuous burst, the camera can both follow and track moving subjects with an incredibly high hit rate with only a small handful of out of focus images. However, bear in mind that using the electronic shutter increases the presence of a rolling shutter considerably.
Video capabilities and performance are the real yet surprising strengths of this camera. It shoots 8-bit 4K UHD 30p internally, at a full sensor readout. That’s right, no pixel binning or artificial means here. Instead, it records true 4K resolution without cropping, unlike Canon’s EOS R, which translates into stunning 4K footage. Not only that, but when shooting at the lower resolution 1080p FHD, the footage it produces is also incredibly sharp and lends itself nicely to upscaling to 4K resolution. It even shoots 1080p up to 120p.
Both 4K and 1080p footage have significant amounts of detail, ample dynamic range, and excellent color rendition. Overall, we’re surprised to say that the footage it produces when coupled with its full-sensor readout makes it vastly superior choice to the EOS R, A7R Mark IV, or Nikon’s flagship D850. It’s directly on par with Sony’s A7 Mark III, an enormous feat for a first-time release.
Connecting the camera to an external recorder unlocks Nikon’s new N-Log flat picture profile, which increases the available dynamic range while simultaneously allows 10-bit 4:2:2 recording. For those who use external recorders (i.e., Atomos Ninja’s), coupling these features with excellent AF performance create a camera that’s quite a powerhouse for video. This camera outperforms its more expensive big brother, the Z7, as well. Surprising considering Nikon isn’t historically known or admired for strong video performance, nor do they have a competing cinema lineup of cameras. With the release of this camera, however, that seems to be changing.
For those who don’t use external recorders, the flat picture profile offers excellent footage that lends itself well for post-production grading. The colors in this profile look natural, though it lacks the improved dynamic range achievable by shooting with N-Log, however. By default, the camera natively captures 11 stops of dynamic range. Enabling N-Log bumps this to 12 stops, the same as Panasonic’s new S1.
It has an option to change the display when filming in N-Log to better judge exposure to prevent clipping while also removes the washed-out flat look for a better understanding of how the footage will grade in post.
Nikon promises a future paid firmware update, which will allow the camera to shoot dual bit ProRes RAW, the video equivalent of RAW images. If this happens, it’ll make this camera a serious contender for filmmakers and cinematographers, as it’s an essential professional format.
Video recording time caps out at industry-standard 29 minutes 59 seconds.
Low Light Performance
Low light performance in still shooting is excellent and on par with the leading competition. In video, however, is where this camera reigns as arguably the best low light full-frame video camera to date. Of the options available on the full-frame mirrorless market, not all cameras record 4K video using the full width of the sensor, without the skipping of pixels. With that, of the cameras available, it is directly on par with the Sony A7 II, where it experiences very minimal and controlled noise up until ISO 6,400. Even at ISO 12,800, the noise is usable with minimal artifacts and only requires the smallest post-production noise reduction.
It uses a hybrid autofocusing system, which melds both contrast and phase-detect system together. In total, this system provides 273 AF points, which supply 90% coverage of the imaging area. As this is a smaller sensor than the larger Z7, the AF points are larger, which results in better performance. Not only that, but it can also confidently focus down to -4 EV. Overall, the focusing performance this camera delivers is excellent considering this is Nikon’s first real mirrorless camera, which requires a different technological approach during development.
As this is their first iteration of full-frame mirrorless technology, it doesn’t perform to the levels we see in Sony’s cameras. They have more experience in this regard. However, for a first release, this system is incredibly impressive and will undoubtedly become a competitive industry leader as the Z system matures.
It has Face Detection AF, which works well when using the Wide AF selection mode in still shooting. However, as this is the first generation implementation in this system, it does have some limitations. To achieve the best and most consistent performance, it requires the following: subjects must be in a portrait range, well lit, and you cannot shoot at an extremely shallow Depth of Field. This system is also best when tracking slower moving subjects or portraits.
For complex action, it will struggle. However, Face Recognition and Tracking in video are excellent. Surprisingly, these features perform similarity to the Sony A7 III, which makes this camera an excellent choice for unmanned or self-composed video recording. Subject tracking performance is particularly exceptional at following and locking onto moving subjects, including when an object temporarily blocks them. Even in tough situations, it doesn’t hesitate, pulse, or stuttering during continuous autofocusing. We’re pleasantly impressed.
Battery performance is slightly below the industry standard of 340 shots per charge at only 310 shots. However, it’s reasonable considering the level of performance this camera offers. Not to mention, this camera also allows existing Nikon shooters to use their EN-EL15 batteries. A nice plus.
Display & Viewfinder
It has a 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD, which has a resolution of 2.1 million dots — this display tilts, which proves to be helpful when composing at awkward angles. Overall, the viewing experience is excellent, and the display provides ample contrast, sharpness, and accurate color representation. The touchscreen also sports touch focus, touch to shoot, and full menu/user interface navigation.
It has a high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder at 3.69 million dots, a 60 Hz refresh rate, and 0.8x magnification. This viewfinder also doesn’t experience any drops in resolution during focusing, making it among the best in class.
It features a top-level status display, which functions to display critical shooting parameters at a glance. This particular display is typically a feature reserved for top-level digital SLRs, nice to see it here.
The user interface on this camera is absolutely a joy to use. The overall interface is incredibly well optimized for touch input and works very well. Interestingly enough, Nikon has opted to include touch gestures, which allows users to swipe to change pages of the menu. A simple addition and possibly overlooked by most, sure. But, it’s not a standard feature on cameras in today’s market, and it does make a difference. Overall, the menus of this camera are excellent, considering their complexity.
Navigating the menus or changing the settings through the touchscreen LCD works well. In typical Nikon fashion, the menus are simple and are customizable to your specific preferences to provide more immediate access to necessary features. It’s also possible to save menu settings as presets to share with other cameras, an interesting and uncommon feature.
- It features a touch-enabled scroll bar when reviewing images in Playback, which helps users quickly scrub through a larger subset of images.
- It has three custom user modes on the mode dial, U1-U3.
It has dedicated menus for photo and video modes. It’s clear that Nikon design this camera for users who frequently find themselves switching between modes. Whatever your control configuration is in either mode are stored and immediately available after changing modes. Each mode retains its settings. Not only that, but it also has three custom modes that translate separately into each mode as well. This effectively turns the three physical buttons into six distinct custom shooting modes. Wow. Overall, these additions here deliver extensive flexibility for users to customize the camera to their specific needs.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
It features the same body design as the Z7, making handling and ergonomics identical between the two bodies. It’s a comfortable size, with a simple yet utilitarian design. Its button layout is well executed. All of the core functions are immediately accessible at a fingertip. Nikon is known for its very strategic button placement. This camera follows suite and helps users avoid much of the typical confusion in differentiating between various controls.
This camera is also designed and optimized for single-hand use. Frankly, its layout provides some of the best single hand control available to date. And its build quality, on the other hand, is on par with Nikon’s SLR flagships. So, no complaints there.
It features a luxurious and comfortable grip with a raised thumb rest section, which combine to deliver exceptional contouring. Nikon has a wonderful sense of ergonomics, and we’re pleased to see this experience translate over into their mirrorless cameras. Their extensive design knowledge and expertise from DSRLs have created arguably the best ergonomics we’ve seen to date. Again, we’re surprised here.
- It has a dedicated AF joystick for quick and responsive AF point selection.
- It has a dedicated AF-on button, perfect for those who prefer back button focusing.
It features dual custom function keys on the grip of the camera. This is also an unusual feature amongst its competition, but an insanely helpful one. These function buttons provide immediate access without changing your grip whatsoever. Typically this is done by stacking custom function in a single multifunction button. But, we’re glad to see this useful and innovative addition.
With this new ecosystem, Nikon is moving forward with the new Z mount. Overall, this is a much-needed change as they’ve been using the same F mount on all cameras released since 1959 with the release of the Nikon F. The new changes do come with associated pros and cons, however. Nikon claims the new mount provides less light fall-off in the corners and also allows them to make faster better performing lenses than before. Nikon has also released the new FTZ adapter with this camera, which will enable users to adapt existing Nikkor F lenses without any degradation in existing performance.
Thankfully, using the adapter causes no issues in autofocusing speed or accuracy, which reduces much of the burden for users feeling forced to purchase dedicated lenses for this system. The con to the change, however, is it means first time Nikon users will have to either buy existing Nikkor lenses or patiently wait for native lenses to release. Unfortunately, that wait will be rather long, especially for professionals who need access to top-performing glass now.
The native lenses released for the system so far, though useful, are not exciting. Professionals will surely need a greater selection of strong performing lenses to entrench themselves in confidence in this new system. A slight letdown, since we hoped for more native lenses at the launch of this system. But, it’s not nearly as big of a hindrance as it would otherwise be if the adapter caused reductions in performance or had stipulations. And while Nikon is late to the mirrorless game, they do have an extensive selection of lenses at their disposal.
Instead of traditional SD cards, Nikon opted with XQD with this new system. This decision, like the new mount, comes with associated pros and cons. The con is, well, XQD cards are significantly more expensive than equivalent UHS-II compatible SD cards. The benefit, however, is that they provide upwards of twice the read and write speeds of UHS-II cards. This increase in speed means buffer performance during continuous shooting is vastly improved, and so are transfer speeds when offloading media to a computer. Both of these two can dramatically speed up workflow, depending on how you shoot.
This camera has in-body image stabilization (IBIS), making it the first Nikon camera to inherit this feature. Considering this is their first attempt, they’ve done brilliantly well. The IBIS technology is excellent, especially when coupled with their existing VR system on compatible lenses. This system delivers 5 stops of image stabilization, which allows users to shoot upwards of 1-second exposures handheld. This level of performance makes it arguably the best of its competing full-frame lineup to date, and close to the industry-leading performance in the flagship Panasonic GH5 and Olympus EM-1X.
- It is entirely dust and weather-sealed.
- It features a USB-C port, which sports both USB charging and the faster file transfer speed available with this newer format.
- It has a built-in 4K Timelapse mode, which offers extensive customization.
- It has a microphone input.
- It has a headphone input.
It has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, which allows the camera to connect to a paired smartphone via Nikon’s SnapBridge app. Once connected, users can synchronize both the time and locations of the photos taken. Through the app, you can also transfer photos and remotely control the camera.
It has a built-in retouch menu that allows users to do the following: crop, resize, perform red-eye removal, image overlay, RAW processing, lens distortion, and perspective control. To say this menu is extensive is quite an understatement. It has a vast array of exciting options and delivers the best retouch menu seen to date.
- It has manual focus peaking.
- It has zebras.
- It has focus magnification to check critical focus.
Images do have slight banding during extreme post-production recovery, causing a reduction in the camera’s available dynamic range.
During max continuous burst speeds, there is significant viewfinder lag, which makes it challenging to track moving subjects. To keep moving subjects in the frame, shooting at 5.5 fps is best.
While 11 fps sounds like an excellent burst rate, it lacks continuous autofocusing relegating users to 5.5 fps. With that, this is not an ideal camera for sports, wildlife, or action photography as it’s slow in comparison to the competition on that front.
During recording, files are automatically split into 4 GB segments. This automatic splicing means that users have to combine videos manually after the fact in post. The pro, however, is that if a file is corrupt, all footage isn’t lost. The con, it complicates your workflow.
Manual focus magnification doesn’t work when recording for some odd reason. If you need to change the focus, you’ll have to do so without this particular feature.
While this camera has Face Detect AF, it lacks Eye AF, sadly. Eye AF is one of the most significant innovations in mirrorless technology in recent years, shame to see it lacking here. And, unfortunately, while the Face Detection AF is good, it alone isn’t accurate enough to critically focus on a subject’s eye when shooting at a shallow depth of field.
The focusing system struggles during low light. Shooting in these conditions causes it to hunt significantly. We expect this to a certain extent, as this will take maturing of the system to refine its performance. However, if you shoot in low light often and rely on AF, you will be greatly frustrated. Yes, this is still arguably Nikons best focusing system release to date, but it still lags behind the competition in this area. Overall, the system is adequate for casual shooters, be they photographers or videographers. But, for professional use in this area, manual focusing is best.
This system also struggles when shooting in backlit conditions.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
While the camera features several physical custom function buttons, the most customizable options are in the recessed grip. A problem when shooting on a tripod, as these buttons become inaccessible and, thus, provide no use. It’s a shame considering how vital they are to adding customization to the camera.
A big frustration occurs with using the FTZ adapter on tripods. If you want to use a native Z lens, you must first remove the tripod or video plate and then the adapter. In practice, this is a significantly tedious process and poor design.
It only has a single card slot and not the standard SD card format. Instead, it uses XQD with accompanying pros, as mentioned previously. But, it’s important to emphasize that these cards are much more expensive and difficult to find, depending on your location. The XQD format is not standardized whatsoever across the industry yet. Bear this in mind.
You cannot use the screen as a touchpad when composing with the viewfinder.
The SnapBridge app still only supports JPEG image transfer. The app also only supports video start/stop; it doesn’t allow users full remote control over video functionality.
Is the Nikon Z6 a good starting camera?
Yes, absolutely. For the money, this camera is among the best consumer full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market to date. It’s rare for a camera to deliver such value. It outcompetes the acclaimed Sony A7 III in many respects, though not thoroughly. Nikon aimed this camera as a rival to beat Sony at their own mirrorless game. And, quite honestly, with the release of this camera, they have largely succeeded in doing so.
Sure, the Sony A7 III still remains king. But this camera proves itself to be a competitive rival. While it lacks the resounding autofocusing performance of the Sony, they have similar prices and feature sets. The main drawback is a lack of lenses. Sony has quite the advantage on that front with an extensive lineup of both casual and professional level lenses available for use.
Nonetheless, for a first-generation system, this is an extraordinary release on their front. It makes for a fantastic camera, even with a few minor shortcomings. We’re happy to see these video-centric improvements in this new lineup, as well. Nikon isn’t traditionally known for strong video cameras. But, the release of this new lineup is proving to change that impression. Overall, this camera makes an excellent entry point into their new Z system and provides exceptional value for the money.
Bundles for the Nikon Z6
Is the Nikon Z6 a good camera for you?
For current Nikon SLR shooters, seriously consider switching over to this camera if you’re on the verge of going mirrorless. This camera is worthwhile and provides the legitimate value you need to justify the switch. Considering the FTZ adapter comes bundled with the camera, depending on where you shop, and the package is reasonably priced. It’s a no brainer. The Z system represents the future of Nikon’s cameras and the greater mirrorless revolution that is dominating the current market. While this camera doesn’t thoroughly replace their D5 SLR flagship, and soon to be D6.
It represents where the company is going in the future, and the next generation release of these cameras will certainly replace those cameras. This camera shines in its stellar video capabilities. And if you’re a current SLR user who now needs improved video performance, a true hybrid camera, yet want to use your existing Nikon lenses, then this camera makes sense. It makes a better choice over Nikon’s Z7, as well. Current Nikon shooter should seriously consider this camera.
For working pro’s, this is also an excellent choice. All of the core functions are immediately accessible at a fingertip. With superior ergonomics, strong imaging performance, and a weatherproofed body, it is an ideal choice for pros and semi-pros alike. We do want to mention this, however. If you’re a pro who needs the absolute best AF performance Nikon has available, then waiting for the second generation of this system is best. Their current flagships still deliver in this regard.
For non-Nikon shooters, this camera makes a compelling choice as a strong performing all-rounder that delivers top video capabilities.
Videographers and cinematographers rejoice. This is one of the few cameras in this price range that offer 10-bit recording in full-frame. We don’t have a lot of options. But, considering the feature set, this is a competent video camera with excellent IBIS and solid autofocusing.
Overall, Nikon has pleasantly surprised the mirrorless market with a capable release that puts them on the map as a strong contender. The Z6 is an incredibly strong camera and one to watch over the next coming years.
The Nikon Z6 is arguably the best consumer full-frame mirrorless camera on the market to date. It’s rare to see a camera deliver such value in this price range. Nikon aimed this camera to disrupt Sony’s ongoing dominance in the mirrorless realm, and they’ve largely succeeded in doing so.
For a first-generation system, it represents quite a feat for the camera maker. It makes for a fantastic camera, even with a few minor shortcomings, and a compelling choice for those needing an all-rounder with top video capabilities. Overall, Nikon has pleasantly surprised the mirrorless market with a capable release that puts them on the map as a strong contender. This is one to watch over the next coming years