Nikon Z6 Review Conclusion

Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S lens at 24mm, f/8, 1/25s, ISO 280

When Nikon decided to throw their hat into the full-frame mirrorless ring, they did so not with just one body, but rather a pair of cameras. The Nikon Z7, on the one hand, sporting a high-res 45.7MP sensor, and the Nikon Z6 on the other, with a more modest 24.5MP chip. However, while the Z7 garners deserved praise for its stunning image quality, the Z6 meanwhile rightfully holds its own when it comes to image quality yet also stands out against its high-res sibling by offering more speed and performance features as well as enhanced video quality and specs. Overall, the Nikon Z6 aims to be the more well-rounded full-frame camera from Nikon's mirrorless lineup (so far). With faster burst shooting, deeper buffers and higher-end video recording, along with a more affordable price tag, the Nikon Z6 pulls it all together as an enticing option for both enthusiasts and more advanced photo and video creators looking for a compact yet versatile full-frame mirrorless camera.

Of course, there are some drawbacks and issues to the Z6, just like with any camera. Many of the downsides are shared with the Z7, seeing as these two cameras are extremely similar in many ways. Introducing an all-new camera system is no easy feat, and there are still some issues to overcome. However, Nikon accomplished a nice balancing act with the Z6 when it comes to features, quality, performance and price.

Read on to see how the Nikon Z6 fared in our review...

Design & Ergonomics

Given the fact that the Z6 is physically identical to the Z7, if you're already familiar with the Z7, you can simply scroll past this section. The Z6 looks, feels and functions exactly the same.

For those unfamiliar, however, suffice it to say, the Nikon Z6 offers an all-around excellent user experience when it comes to its design and basic handling characteristics. The build quality is fantastic, with a deep and comfortable grip yet a surprisingly compact overall size. The camera body feels extremely sturdy, and if our weather testing results are any indication, the Z6 should have no issues withstanding rain, dirt and other inclement conditions.

Despite it and the Z7 being all-new cameras, Nikon made a conscious decision to focus on familiarity and a design language similar to their DSLRs, and it shows. The Nikon Z6 feels like a Nikon. From the way the grip feels in the hand to the placement, shape and operation of all the buttons and dials, and even the design of the menus -- and heck, even that charming red chevron styling on the grip -- the Z6 looks, feels and behaves like a tried-and-true Nikon camera. And this is a good thing, not only for new owners but also existing Nikon customers.

It can be argued though, given the minimal amount of native Z-mount lenses currently available, that these Z6 and Z7 cameras are very much designed for current Nikon DSLR owners, who can easily use their existing F-mount lenses via an adapter. For these customers, the Z6 and Z7 already feel familiar; there isn't a big learning curve going from your trusty Nikon DSLR over to a Z6 mirrorless camera. The Z6/Z7 bodies fit right into your kit and workflow. And despite being DSLR lenses, we found that modern adapted F-mount glass using the FTZ adapter work extremely well, with excellent handling and little to no noticeable performance loss when it comes to autofocus.

Regardless of whom the Z6 is designed for or if it feels like a Nikon, in and of itself, the camera offers little to complain about when it comes to its design and operability. The physical controls are plentiful, easy to operate and offer lots of customizability -- all of which are key factors for an enthusiast-grade camera. The joystick control is a lovely addition, and the rear touchscreen works well and adds versatility to both stills and video shooting.

The various screens on the Z6 are all excellent. The small yet useful top-deck display is a very nice touch that we don't often see on compact mirrorless cameras. And the EVF offers a wonderful user experience, with a bright, crisp display and a very large magnification factor. The tilting design of the rear LCD screen, however, is perhaps a bit of a head-scratcher. A vari-angle, or fully articulated design, would be more helpful in some situations, especially for video recording. On the other hand, for stills shooting, there are a few of us here at IR that prefer the Z6's tilting design, as it's simpler to use for low-down or high-up shooting angles.

Perhaps the only significant area of complaint about the Z6's design is the choice of a single XQD card slot. First, the choice of XQD (and later CFexpress with a future firmware update) is certainly a bit of future-proofing, as the cards are not only robust but also offer incredibly fast read and write speeds -- a welcomed feature for lots of data-hungry shooting, particularly video. On the other hand, the cards are not as common at the moment and are still rather expensive. And then, there's the complaint about the single card slot. On an enthusiast-grade camera like the Z6 it's perhaps not as big of an issue as on the more professionally-oriented (and more expensive) Z7, but many other competitive and similarly priced cameras offer dual card slots. Dual slots are great for workflow and data backup purposes, and while it's not a dealbreaker in our opinion (and physically, we don't think Nikon could have even fit two XQD slots in the current body dimensions), we'd have loved to have seen dual card slots in some fashion.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E + FTZ Adapter: 500mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 2800

Image Quality & Video

At 24-megapixels, the Nikon Z6 goes up against a fair number of other full-frame cameras when it comes to image resolution. The Z6 likely shares a sensor similar to that inside the Sony A7 III, the Panasonic S1, and the Nikon D750 to name a few. There are differences, of course, given varying numbers of on-sensor phase-detect pixels or the lack thereof, but a 24MP 35mm sensor is a fairly common one these days among enthusiast-grade full-frame cameras.

Overall, we don't find much to complain about when it comes to the Z6's image quality. The 24MP chip offers a great amount of resolving power, while still balancing reasonable file sizes. The Z6 is easily capable of extremely large wall-sized prints, even as the ISO rises -- think 30 x 40 inches at ISO 800. If you want or need larger prints, or rely heavily on cropping potential, then the 24MP resolution might be a bit limiting in those cases. For the most part, the Z6 is capable of vibrant, detail-rich images with very good dynamic range and flexible raw files.

Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S: 24mm, f/8, 1/25s, ISO 500

High ISO performance, as we've come to expect with modern full-frame cameras, is quite impressive, making the Nikon Z6 a good choice for low-light situations. The Z6 offers an extremely wide ISO range, with extended sensitivity reaching up to ISO 204,800. (But while the camera can hit that high ISO level, we don't necessarily recommend doing so, as image quality is severely degraded at that point.) In our Print Quality testing, the maximum native ISO of 51,200 was the highest ISO we were comfortable using for prints. For most uses, though, the high ISO performance of the Z6 is excellent, with straight-from-camera JPEGs offering a good balance between fine detail and well-controlled noise (although we would have preferred a lighter touch to default noise reduction), and of course even better results are possible from carefully processed raw files.

Like the Z7, the Z6 did however exhibit a few image quality foibles during our testing, such as oversaturated reds and warm custom white balance under incandescent lighting, but these issues have easy workarounds (such as tweaking settings or shooting in raw mode). Also, the on-chip PDAF pixels can cause faint banding in deep shadows in certain situations, however the artifacts seem to be a pretty rare occurrence and were only visible when exposure was boosted considerably in post.

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E + FTZ adapter at 500mm, f/5.6, 1/640s, ISO 500

Despite being a stills-focused camera, the Z6 is nonetheless very much in the realm of a hybrid camera, offering a very healthy dose of high-end video features as well as excellent video quality. With full-width, oversampled 4K up to 30fps, Full HD up to 120fps and Log recording (albeit limited to an HDMI recorder) as well as IBIS and phase-detect AF, the Z6 is a capable video camera, especially for those still photographers who dabble in the world of video. However, the Z6 isn't the most versatile nor full-featured video camera, as it comes with a number of limitations, such as the aforementioned HDMI recorder limitation with N-Log video. There's also a 29:59 recording limit, somewhat underwhelming bitrates and the performance of the in-body image stabilization during video recording could be better. So while the Z6 isn't as full-featured for video as the Panasonic GH5 or S1, for example, the Nikon Z6 still captures pleasing, high-quality video and offers a decent feature set for those wanting to explore the more advanced world of video.

Performance

When it comes to speed and performance, the Nikon Z6 is fast, nimble and responsive for a camera of this class. It's not the fastest camera around, but it's not designed to be, nor priced as such. It performed admirably in our lab testing and in the field with swift overall AF speeds, but not groundbreakingly fast. Continuous burst speeds matched up very closely to Nikon's specs, and at its fastest 12fps mode, the Z6 hits right up there with high-end sports cameras. Buffer performance is similarly great, with the Z6 offering generous buffer depths paired with very short clearing times thanks to its super-fast XQD memory card slot.

Nikon 500mm f/5.6E PF + FTZ Adapter: 500mm, f/5.6, 1/2000s, ISO 1000

One of the big selling points to the Z6 (and Z7) is the ease at which you can adapt your existing Nikon F-mount DSLR lenses. The FTZ adapter is a no-frills mount adapter, and surprisingly, we found the AF performance of modern adapted Nikon F-mount lenses to be very good. In the field, we were able to successfully use long, supertelephoto lenses to capture birds in flight and other wildlife subjects, for example, with few if any noticeable performance issues. This is quite remarkable, as we'd typically expect some kind of performance hit, particularly when it comes to autofocus, when adapting DSLR lenses to a mirrorless camera, but that doesn't appear to be the case with the Nikon Z6.

Also, one interesting thing to note is that when the Z6 was first released, the camera's fastest 12fps burst rate offered continuous focusing, but not continuous auto-exposure. This has now been changed with the recent v2.00 firmware update; 12fps Continuous H Extended burst mode now offers both C-AF and C-AE. Furthermore, the firmware update added C-AF with Eye-Detection AF functionality, which as we tested here in this video, works quite well, although it doesn't seem as precise nor as responsive as Sony's long-existing Eye-AF technology. Regardless, it's a handy feature to include, especially for portrait photographers that often use lenses with shallow depth of field.

Battery life is perhaps one area of concern, as the Z6 is CIPA-rated for significantly less battery life compared to a full-frame DSLR. In general, mirrorless cameras often have much lower battery life than DSLRs, due to their nature: more use of the rear LCD and an EVF draws way more power than the optical viewfinder along with generally less usage of the rear screen on a DSLR. However, although CIPA battery ratings for the Z6 are underwhelming, the Z6 fared far better in real-world usage, much like we experienced with the Z7.

Nikon 300mm f/4E PF + FTZ Adapter: 300mm, f/4, 1/2000s, ISO 100

Summary

The Nikon Z6 is a terrific, well-rounded camera. All in all, as we said at the end of our Field Test Part I, there isn't a lot to complain about when it comes to the Z6. The body is compact and robust yet features lots of physical controls as well as a styling and design language that should be familiar to existing Nikon owners but easy to understand for newcomers. Image quality is very good, the AF performance is terrific (and even better now with updated firmware) and the video features -- while not groundbreaking -- are a nice starting point for those getting more seriously into video shooting. With excellent overall features, impressive image quality, nice build quality and design as well as a very competitive price point of US$1999 (or less depending on sales/promos) the Nikon Z6 is a great all-around package. And while at this point, the Z6 (and Z7) appeals perhaps a bit more towards current Nikon owners, the Z6 is still a compelling camera for anyone looking to jump into the full-frame camera arena. While not perfect, all told, the Nikon Z6 certainly is another one to add to our Dave's Pick list!

 

Pros & Cons

  • Great overall image quality
  • Terrific high ISO performance (especially from raw files)
  • Very good dynamic range (but see Con about shadow banding)
  • Good AF-S speeds
  • Eye-detection AF for stills
  • Able to autofocus in extremely low light (especially in dedicated Low-Light AF mode)
  • Fast cycle times
  • Up to 12fps burst speeds with continuous AF and AE
  • Good buffer depths
  • Swift buffer clearing (thanks to fast XQD cards)
  • In-body image stabilization
  • Rugged build quality
  • Comfortable handling
  • Excellent weather resistance
  • Familiar control layout for existing Nikon users
  • Well-organized menus (mostly)
  • Excellent, full-width oversampled 4K/30p video
  • 4:2:2 10-bit 4K via HDMI out
  • N-Log video HDMI output
  • 4K focus peaking
  • Separate settings menus for stills and video
  • Large, High-res OLED EVF with 100% coverage
  • Smooth viewfinder performance, even when shooting continuously
  • EVF works well in low light
  • Top deck status display
  • Tilting high-res 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD
  • USB 3.1 Type-C port
  • Built-in SnapBridge Bluetooth/Wi-Fi communications
  • Type-C Mini HDMI port
  • Headphone and microphone jacks
  • New native lenses are sharp
  • 24-70mm f/4 S kit lens is surprisingly compact
  • Adapted F-mount lenses work well
  • Single card slot
  • While touchscreen is responsive, touchscreen is underutilized (no AF touchpad function)
  • Rear display does not offer swivel functionality
  • Below average CIPA-rated battery life (though real-world battery endurance is much better)
  • It can be tricky to get good white balance in incandescent lighting
  • Colors can be a bit warm or reddish
  • Default high ISO NR is a bit strong
  • Limited native lens selection (as expected for a new lens mount)
  • Top burst speed slows down to 9fps when shooting 14-bit NEF files
  • Banding may occur in deep shadows related to PDAF pixels
  • 1/200s x-sync speed (most competing models are 1/250s)
  • No battery grip (yet)
  • Video mode seems like a work in progress and could use firmware improvements (see our Video page for details)