Nikon firmware update adds Eye AF to the Z6 and Z7 cameras. We compare it to the Sony A7 III!


posted Thursday, May 16, 2019 at 2:00 AM EDT

Click here to see how Eye AF on the Nikon Z6 compares to the Sony A7 III!


A number of cameras have had eye-detection autofocus functionality in some form or fashion over the years, but in recent times, Sony's mirrorless cameras -- most notably the A9, A7R III and A7 III -- have really upped the ante when it comes to Eye AF tracking performance thanks to their sophisticated AF and object-detection algorithms combined with image sensors crammed full of on-chip phase-detection pixels. 

Late last year when Nikon announced their Z7 and Z6 full-frame mirrorless cameras, one notable missing feature was the lack of eye-detection autofocus. Both the Z7 and Z6, with their original firmware, offered Face Detection AF tracking, which we found to work quite well. However, if you're a portrait photographer, in particular, the inclusion of Eye AF can really help nail focus on your subject, putting focus right where you want, the eye. With full-frame sensors and fast-aperture lenses, having critically-sharp focus on the eye is much trickier to achieve, and Eye AF technology is a really helpful tool.

Well, as luck would have it for the Nikonians out there, Nikon's been hard at work to bring Eye AF functionality to its two full-frame mirrorless cameras, and with today's release of Firmware Version 2.0, Z7 and Z6 owners will gain Eye AF tracking for still photo shooting modes. Nikon had teased details about this upcoming firmware update, going so far as to even release a video highlighting the development of the Eye AF functionality, but now the wait is over.

Nikon sent us a new Z6 review unit, pre-loaded with v2.0 firmware, so of course we wanted to see for ourselves just how well Nikon's Eye AF feature worked, and how it stacks up against one of its biggest competitors, the Sony A7 III (itself loaded with its newest v3.0 firmware). Spoiler alert: both cameras perform quite well. But there are differences in functionality and shooting experience. Check out the video below for the full shootout comparison!

In addition to Eye Detection AF, the v2.0 firmware update brings a few more notable improvements to both the Z7 and Z6 cameras. First, Nikon's managed to improve low-light autofocus functionality on both cameras, in both photo and video modes. For the Z7, the low-light AF detection range has increased from -1 EV down to -2 EV, while the Z6 can now autofocus down to -3.5 EV (an improvement from -2 EV). The Z6 goes a step further with improvements to its dedicated Low Light AF mode, which has now been extended to an extremely dim -6 EV (down from -4 EV in the earlier firmware).

There have also been improvements to AE tracking with each cameras' burst shooting modes. Originally, both the Z7 and Z6 offered continuous shooting rates, with continuous AF functionality, up to 9fps (Z7) or 12fps (Z6), however both cameras locked exposure settings at the first frame with these fastest burst shooting speeds. Now, with the updated v2.0 firmware, this behavior has changed, and AE Tracking works alongside continuous AF in both cameras highest-speed burst rates.

On the video side of things, Nikon has also officially teased some notable recording improvements, such as 12-bit RAW video output over HDMI and support for ultra-fast CFexpress memory cards. These features, unfortunately, are not part of today's v2.0 firmware release. In the February press release outlining the development of Z-series firmware updates, features such as Eye AF and AE Tracking were specifically given a May 2019 release timeframe, while the video features were left with an unspecified future release date. 

The new v2.0 firmware can be downloaded (free of charge) from Nikon's Download Center.