NIKON Z6 MIRRORLESS CAMERA REVIEW
Since I have some time on my hands while my poor knee is in a state of repair I thought it would be a great time to share my thoughts on the Nikon Z (in this case the Z6). In short, I didn’t want to buy the Z7 as I felt the “all rounder” feel of the Z6 at an attractive price point meant I could use it as much as possible before making my mind up, especially as I look to switch from Sony’s long in the tooth A-Mount system. While the Z6 has some excellent video chops I will be focusing on its stills during my trip to Alaska; which the camera would have it’s limits tested with poor weather, temperature changes, lens changes (in less than great conditions) and used with gloves on, inside helicopters, Cessna and dog sledding.
So how did my time with Nikons all-rounder mirrorless go, let’s get into the review now.
lets talk elephants
Let’s get the elephant in the room talked about first, the single XQD slot, many had a fit about the single slot when the Z6 and Z7 was announced (weirdly silence when the Sony A7II came out with a single SD card slot, low performance one at that) and as a professional I wouldn’t use it for something where I couldn’t tether or return with a working XQD card right away in the event of a failure. So would I use it for shooting a rock concert, maybe not but for the sake of this test and travel I’m sure the XQD card slot wouldn’t be an issue and spoiler alert, it was fine.
Added bonus points awarded here the card performance is excellent and never really filled the buffer enough to stop shooting altogether, more on that a little later on.
Hopefully a new “pro-grade” Z Mount will follow soon, not to say there is nothing lacking in the Z6/Z7 just that extra slot would be a huge benefit and give me that little safety net.
Exploring Alaska with the Nikon Z6
First test was the glacier in Seward, Exit Glacier sits around 70 miles south from Anchorage and during the fall the peninsula has some highly questionable weather as the cool and warmer coastal air meet and the poor weather didn’t let me down, I waited a few days to climb but no decent weather forecast I decided to throw caution to the wind and make the climb anyway. The rain was horrific and the short hike from the bottom to the middle section of the glacier to see the best views took a little longer than normal (especially since the direct path was closed for high bear activity) with the rain lashing away. Thankfully my Nikon Z6 and Sony A99II were ticked away nicely in my miggo waterproof backpack until I reached the clearing and overlook.
With most of the tourists out the way because of the weather, I had time to set the camera up on a tripod and make some HDR images using a few brackets, all the while the rain was hammering me and the Nikon Z6. I’m not sure I would have attempted this with any of the Sony mirrorless kit I’ve previously owned but the Nikon coped effortlessly, all the buttons worked and responded as expected although with gloves I did hit the two buttons by the lens mount inside the grip more then I would have liked, a way of locking them out would be super handy as the amount of times I hit them was quite high; the other issue is the on/off switch is very close to the wheel right above it. Without gloves (which is most of the time) the wheel is easy to use but in colder weather I wonder how many times I’ll be switching the camera off by mistake; Those were my only complaints about the ergonomics and button layouts, which were really only annoyances under special circumstances.
With the glass I experienced (almost) no fogging or issues with condensation, which has been a small issue on a few of the other brands when moving from bag to an adverse cold atmosphere. I switched between the Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 and the Laowa 15mm D-Zero and was able to keep the airborne debris off the sensor which was surprising given the wind blowing all around me. So for me the atmosphere test was certainly a pass. The only time I really had an issue with condensation was when we flew to Katmai National Park, the cabin ground temp was some 20f cooler than the 6 of us crammed into a Cessna at a few thousand feet midway to viewing bears after taking off from Homer. Condensation built up pretty quickly and the rear of the Z 24-70 f2.8 and needed to be cleared by hand several times for me to get the shots I wanted. After talking to Nikon it seems I have received a faulty copy of the lens which is disappointing so I will have to try something like this again to see how bad the Nikkor 24-70 Z fogs up or not.
By the time we landed on the beach some 65 mins later the lens condensation had cleared and I was good to go, even though I had nothing like a super zoom with me for the Z6 the Nikon produced some great shots of bears in their wider surroundings, images looked sharp and again the button layout made using the Nikon familiar as using my old D750. The improved ISO performance was a boon too and the dynamic range was enough for me to be shooting into the sun to recover the shadows and highlights a little later in Capture One, and the buffer was fast enough for me to get through a bundle of images (RAW shooting only) and didn’t experience any buffer write lag under normal shooting conditions.
OH THAT EVF
Nikon have done a great job with the EVF, switching between my trusty a99II which has an excellent EVF and back to the Nikon the difference was night and day both in resolution and clarity and every bit as good as the Lumix S1R EVF which leads the EVF pack in the mirrorless space right now in my opinion. I love the button on the side of the viewfinder where you can toggle the priority of the display on the back and EVF making it easy to work only in the viewfinder which removes all the rear display completely (my preferred choice), viewfinder priority meaning the camera will auto switch to the rear display when you remove your eye and then rear display only, which does exactly that.
I wish there was the option to turn the display back on itself and have some buttons on the back of the display. Anyway the button shortcut is very much welcome and great when flipping the screen out to get a low down shot
The size of the body is perfect, it’s not got that small Japanese boy hand feel the Sony Alphas and Fujifilm mirrorless systems have, which feel unbalanced when attached to “big glass” and doesn’t go into the realm of the Lumix S1R monster sized mirrorless either although I am a big fan of the balance of the Lumix for sure. Another trick Nikon has managed to pull off is keeping that giant sized mount a home on the body that doesn’t over power it, now why would I worry about that I hear you ask, well cameras ergonomics can be won or lost based on its ability to hold a lens without sacrificing too much surface area for an overall button layout that’s useful. It’s a credit to Nikon to not only pull it off but make a transition from one camera system to this one painless.
Two configurable custom buttons sit inside the comfortable grip next to the lens mount but I have a few mixed feelings about their usefulness and as I mentioned when wearing gloves they can get in the way; super convenient but at what cost ? Both buttons are easily pressed and having a lockout feature on these would have been an awesome thing to have so like on the glacier I found I had to be a little mindful of the buttons while on the salt flats with the bears. Using them as a mention to change ISO and EV compensation was cool as I could either use the one handed method with right thumb and finger or use left finger and right thumb to do the same job meant it gave me access to those settings really fast and I absolutely love that, even better all that information is viewable from the top LCD display.too, which is super clear with its light on dark easy viewing.
Stabilization & Video
Where can I take the Nikon now, ah I know, let’s go dog sledding, I thought this would be a good test of the 5 axis stabilization as the sled is pulled by 12 excitable dogs with a 200lb Englishman in the back. Before I could get to the glacier we took a helicopter ride over some natural habitat for various animals including mountain goats, eagles and moose. The helicopter was a closed doors affair so that meant some fighting with the perspex windows and the cockpit was super super small so no long lenses. I did shoot some videos on my way up and you can take a look at that below, all handheld so excuse the production quality. Switching between video and stills was a breeze with a flick of the thumb with no buffering of the video when I finished filming and went back to stills.
The results for stabilization were comparable with anything else out there I have used, I tried to drag the shutter down to see where the images would become unusable and the bumpy ride over the glacier did try and stop me shooting any slower than 1/80th, considering we were going at quite a clip the camera seemed to deal well at 1/125th and the shake was eliminated completely. I did underestimate how bumpy the experience would be as I was hoping to get near 1/20th, but the glacier was at the end of the season and not in great shape. Turning the IS off I was forced to shoot at a minimum of 1/200th or faster when not in one of the sweeping turns the musher took us in.
The videos you will find below are 1080p/60f and all handheld with the camera mic enabled, so you can hear how it dealt with loud noises of the helicopter and the voice behind me during the dog sledding, which is super clear considering I’m a few feet away and pointing the camera in the opposite direction.
AF Tracking (Firmware Update 3.0)
Nikon released the update to the Z series cameras today (18th Feb 2020) and initial usage of it is fantastic, this bests the D850 or anything else out there. I think this is the only feature in the new firmware that is useful to me but I’m pleased Nikon are working hard to get these features right.
Sure Sony have brilliant AF tracking features in their Sony Alpha cameras and the Nikon Z6/Z7 had plenty to match in that department but with this 3.0 update I can say the AF is not only better and improved over the last firmware, it’s a new gold standard. Just basic tracking in AF-C mode is fast, sticky and accurate with zero hunt, the back lighting issue from the early firmware seems to have gone completely. All this adds up to a great update for wildlife photographers or even aviation photographers as well.
I found it locked onto my cats eye for animal eye tracking if you like that kind of thing (she’s also a black cat which makes it that bit harder) and of course works well on humans which is much improved over the last update. The only gripe I have is for some weird reason I can’t add the tracking item onto my “i” menu, I can add it to my menu but can’t seem to map the feature. If you have worked out how to do that let me know in the comments.
nikion z6, perfect travel companion
Over the next 7 days or so the Nikon Z6 took all the abuse outdoor photography demands and it pulled through like a champ. I took it hiking through Denali National Park, road trippin’ over the Denali Highway and exploring on the Denali Star Alaska Railroad. Which led me to a few concussions on my way back to Anchorage before heading back to NYC.
The battery life seemed to last way longer than the scaremongers would have you believe, although a little shorter than the Nikon D810 for example. Build quality is superb, it feels like a top grade camera even at it’s sub $2,000 price point and maybe feels better than its rivals in the same class, I hope the next generations will continue that premium feel which seems like a bump in class over the D750 for sure. My only issue with the build was in the grip, I have started to see some wear on the inside of where the grip meets the body, I am very fussy about how a camera handles and having rejected the Sony Alpha a7 series because the grip feels poor to me I was happy to find the Nikon nails it where Canon, Sony and Fuji failed. But the wear could be an issue for a long term user and I need to keep an eye on it for future Nikon cameras.
Nikon have knocked it out of the park with the Z6 and as all rounder it ticks all the boxes, it’s a great size, superb performance, feels balanced and a superb feature set. The auto focus was vastly improved after the last firmware update that takes it from worse in class to one of the best, if you like the eyeAF kinda thing it does that trickery too, however I’ve never really understand why anyone needs it, it’s a willy waving feature and there I said it.
Would I recommend the Z6 to all, yes I would wholeheartedly say it would make the majority of photographers happy, professionals would enjoy it as a second body for sure.
If you have any questions about this Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera review, then please ask in the comments section below.
Video & Still Samples from the Nikon Z6
Note – All video was left with AF enabled to show how good or not the camera was a picking out the correct points, videos shoot at 1080p 60 frames per second which is my goto. Stabilization is switched off for the helicopter ride and on for the dog sled.