Full frame, fast-shooting and 4K – that’s a great combination. Nikon’s new Z series mirrorless body the Z6 offers all of these things, while still being light enough to carry around and powerful enough to perform in low light. It’s not without its quirks, but they certainly aren’t enough to hold it back as a great camera choice for pro and semi-professional shooters, both for stills and video.
The Z6 is very similar to its higher resolution sister, the Z7, which we have also reviewed – the body design is the same, the new wider lens mount is the same, and several of the other specifications also match. Where it differs is in resolution and focussing – the Z6’s sensor is smaller at 24 megapixels versus the Z7’s 45.7, and it has fewer autofocus points, but for those more invested in video than in stills the Z6 is the clear choice.
With 4K video sampled from the full width of the sensor with no line-skipping (the Z7 can only capture oversampled 4K video with a crop, which makes for a less impressive video performance in low light), impressive 5-axis image stabilisation technology and high frame rate Full HD video options of 120p or 100p, the Z6 makes shooting video very easy… Most of the time. It trips up when you want to take full control of your shot – when shooting video on any of the automatic or semi-automatic shooting modes (P, A, S), you are restricted to Auto ISO. Granted you can still set your ISO limit, so you can stop it from automatically choosing a crazy-high ISO to prevent huge noise issues, but if you want to choose your ISO manually you must shoot in full manual mode, and manually select your aperture and shutter speed as well. That said, there’s a very handy and quick way to toggle auto-ISO on and off by holding the ISO button and rotating the front wheel, so it’s easily fixed when you are in M mode, but it strikes me as odd that it shouldn’t be able to be switched on and off in all modes.
The rear LCD tilts but won’t flip out to face you if you want to chat to your camera, which may be a dealbreaker for some vloggers, but with your phone, a Bluetooth connection and Snapbridge you can still review and shoot. There’s also a microphone input, and hotshoe for those who wish to mount a shotgun mic.
I found the Z6’s autofocus to be mostly quick and accurate, both for still shooting and video, though of course having a lot of light is always going to help – in the dark it can still be a little slow and inaccurate. Face detection certainly makes my life easier, and the recent firmware update announcement for May promise eye-detection autofocus which makes me more excited still – a wonderful value add for anyone who shoots portraits, live music, or like me; weddings. Continuous shooting is possible at up to 12 frames per second, which also makes the Z6 a solid choice for people in fast-paced sports and wildlife fields, although with the limited range of Z series lenses currently available, anyone who needs a long telephoto focal length will have to keep using their F mount lenses with the FTZ adapter, at least for now.
If video is neither here nor there to you, and stills are what you’re concerned about, then you can consider the Z6 to be the D750’s mirrorless fraternal twin. Unless you were specifically wanting a mirrorless full-frame body, or keen to invest in the Z series lenses in the future, the $500 price difference might be enough to convince you to choose the D750 (at $2499.95 for the body only) over the Z6 (at $2999.95 for the body only), especially if you’re already using F mount lenses.
I used the Z6 in a few different shooting situations – cityscapes on cloudy days, neon portraits and landscapes after dark, and just to really test its in-built decision-making prowess, at an evening dance concert on full automatic everything. It held up in all situations, even when it chose to shoot the concert at 51200 ISO – there was noise, but it was managable and didn’t render my shots unusable. The extra 5 stops of light afforded by the 5 axis image stabilisation make shooting after dark much easier – I was able to push it down to 1.3 seconds handheld and still produce a sharp shot in dawn light, and I found the auto and semi-automatic exposure modes to be just fine for casual stills shooting – only a couple of times did I find I needed to use exposure compensation to achieve the exposure I pictured in my mind.
Photographers who need to travel with all their gear will love the portability of the Z6 – at just 675 grams sans lens or 1175 grams with the 24-70mm f4 lens attached, it’s going to make your gear bag lighter. Further to that, it’s not unfathomable to carry it with you for full frame quality on holidays. I could easily see myself travelling with a Z6, and perhaps a Z mount 24-70 – especially with the f2.8 version now available. Maybe that’s just me – I’m the girl who has travelled with a D800 and two lenses on more than one occasion – but for anyone who doesn’t want to sacrifice quality and low light performance the Z6 could be a great option.
Somehow, the Z6’s single memory card slot bothers me less than the Z7’s – for me personally as a wedding photographer, in-camera backups are pretty important, but I prefer a higher resolution than the 24 megapixels offered by the Z6 so I can’t imagine myself using it in that field. I don’t currently shoot video professionally, so others might feel differently in that regard, but I imagine for me this body would fit into my life more as a camera that I use in situations where the final images are destined for digital display and less so for print. Somehow, I’d be less concerned about losing my own personal photos than photos for my clients, or on less “once-in-a-lifetime” style situations where we could re-shoot if we had to. That said, the Z6 currently only supports XQD card format, with the May update allowing CF Express cards as well. My pile of large, fast SD cards is crying in the corner of my office.
The auto-ISO restriction issue notwithstanding, it’s hard to find fault with the Z6 – it’s robust, performs beautifully and caters to so many areas of photography and videography. As more Z series lenses are released, and with the addition of the May firmware update, it’s only getting better. Just make sure you keep an eye on your ISO limit.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Excellent video, great image stabilisation
Lowlights: Limited range of lenses available, auto-ISO only for video in P, A and S modes
Price: $2999.95 with body with 32GB XQD card and card reader/$6499.95 with Nikkor Z 24-70mm f4 lens & FTZ adapter & 32GB card & reader
Review conducted using a retail unit provided by the manufacturer.