Nikon's "mainstream" mirrorless model ticks all the right boxes – and then some
- 12fps shooting
- Excellent viewfinder and screen combo
- Great handling
- Fairly expensive
- Single XQD card slot
- Limited system (for now)
Nikon’s dynamic mirrorless duo, the Z6 and the Z7, were announced at the same time. The Z6 is the cheaper, lower-resolution model, designed to appeal to a wider range of consumers – while also bringing a couple of advantages beyond the lower price. The result: a superb, capable camera that demonstrates just how serious Nikon is about its new range – and which might be the most appealing camera of the past 12 months.
Nikon Z6 review: What you need to know
The Nikon Z6 houses a 24.5-megapixel, full-frame sensor – making it just shy of half the resolution of its brother, the Z7 (45.7 megapixels). The build and handling of both models is, to the millimetre and gramme, identical, with the same tilting screen, high-resolution electronic viewfinder and controls.
Further key differences include a faster fast frame rate (12fps to the Z7’s nine), and a slightly different AF system that still leaves you with a very capable 273 points.
Nikon Z6 review: Price and competition
The biggest difference between Nikon’s two models is the price. You can pick up the Z6 for around £2,424, or the Z7 for £3,699, both with the same 24-70mm f/4 lens. Neither is small change, but the Z6 falls more squarely into the realm of enthusiast affordability.
In terms of rivals, Nikon’s Z6 goes firmly up against the Sony A7 III. Both are full-frame mirrorless models designed to appeal enthusiasts, with the Sony more keenly priced at a little under £1,900, albeit with a 28-70mm lens that’s arguably inferior to Nikon’s 24-70 f/4 offering.
Canon has also recently announced the EOS RP, its entry-level full-frame mirrorless model, which retails for around £2,300 with a 24-105mm lens and a mount adapter allowing you to use Canon’s EF lenses.
Nikon Z6 review: Design and key features
The Z6 and the Z7 use the same body design and layout. Nikon has distilled the best features from cameras such as the D850 DSLR and made them available on a smaller, lighter body. However, it’s also good care to keep the camera chunky enough to be pleasant to use – with a decent-sized grip and buttons that are easy to hit – unlike what we see on cameras like the diminutive Sony A7 III.
There’s a decent array of dials and buttons, most of which are within easy reach of your right thumb. That leaves your left hand free to comfortably hold the lens. A useful display on top of the camera shows key settings such as aperture, drive mode, battery level and card space remaining. A joystick protrudes from the back of the camera and is extremely handy for changing the AF point when shooting through the viewfinder.
The dual-control wheel setup is reminiscent of DSLRs, while there are direct access buttons for ISO and drive mode. Pressing the “i” button gives you swift access to all your personal favourite settings and the quick menu can be customised via the main menu.
Both cameras have the same fantastic electronic viewfinder that boasts 3,690k dots and is extremely bright and clear. It’s joined by a tilting, 3.2in touchscreen. The vari-angle screen is useful for shooting from low and high angles, but is slightly less useful than a fully articulating screen for shooting video or portrait format images.
Also the same as the Z7 is its single XQD memory card slot. Professionals have had plenty of gripes about the lack of twin memory card slots for on-the-go backup, but for enthusiasts, not being able to back up your shots as you go is less disastrous than it could be for professional wedding photographers. Still, the XQD format is still relatively expensive and, although you’ll soon be able to also use CF Express cards when a firmware upgrade rolls out, it’s something you may need to add to your budget when picking up a Z6.
Auto-focusing is where the two cameras diverge. The Z6 has a 273-point hybrid AF system – which sounds like a lot, until you consider the Z7’s 493-point. Still, the Z6’s points cover almost the whole frame and should satisfy most photographers.
The lower-resolution sensor brings a couple of benefits. Firstly, it facilitates a faster frame rate than the Z7, giving you a pro-level 12fps to work with for moving subjects. Having fewer pixels crammed onto the sensor should also make the Z6 slightly better equipped for low-light shooting, too, although as we noted in our Z7 review, the pricier camera can hardly be improved upon.
If you already own Nikon lenses, you can use them with the Z6 via its FTZ mount adapter. I’ve tried with a variety of different lenses and it maintains full autofocus and usability – expect to pay around an additional £270 for the adapter or a little less if you get one with your Z6 as a bundle.
The Z6 has the same level of weather-sealing as the Nikon D850, which makes it well equipped to face the perils of shooting outdoors. It feels extremely well built and more than up to the task of brutalising outdoor shoots.
Although there are many advantages to mirrorless cameras, battery life is an area where they still struggle to compete with DSLRs. The Z6 has a fairly paltry official rating of 310 shots. In real-world usage, you’ll get more, especially with careful power management, but it’s worth investing in a second battery if you tend to get snap happy. The Z6 can be charged via USB, so carrying a power pack with you is another option.
Nikon Z6 review: Image and video quality
Unless you crave super-high resolution, the Z6 arguably makes more sense than the Z7, not least because image quality remains superb in a wide range of different shooting conditions.
Dynamic range is excellent, while colours directly from the camera are natural but well-saturated. Detail might not be on a par with the Z7 but it’s still very good – unless you’re pixel peeping at 100%, or have a penchant for extreme crops, you’ll probably be hard-pushed to spot the difference at normal printing sizes.
In fact, in low-light situations, the Z6 puts in a slightly better performance, so if you’re somebody who does a lot of shooting in the dark, it’s certainly something to think about.
Focusing is swift and accurate, locking onto most subjects with ease. As light levels drop, the Z6 will hunt a little more but it’s rare for it to miss altogether. Shooting moving subjects revealed the Z6 to be pretty competent, keeping up with fairly easy to follow subjects moving predictably. It might not be the top choice for sports photographers, but for all-rounders who shoot the occasional action event it should be more than enough.
Having image stabilisation baked in is helpful for getting sharp shots handheld at relatively slow shutter speeds – another bonus for low-light shooters. Using automatic white balance resulted in generally accurate colours, while leaving the Z6 in all-purpose (matrix) metering did a good job of producing exposures that were, on the whole, well balanced.
For now at least, Nikon has a very limited set of proprietary lenses for the Z mount. The 24-70mm f/4 is the obvious partner for the Z6 and produces lovely, sharp images; 50mm and 35mm prime lenses, both at f/1.8 are also available. Later this year should see the 14-30mm and a 50mm f/0.95 Noct lens, but compared to Sony’s much more diverse offering, the Z6 suffers for its youthfulness. Still, if you’ve got other Nikon DSLR glass, you can use it via an adapter, which isn’t so bad.
As is now pretty much the norm, the Z6 shoots video in 4K. You can opt for 30fps, 25fps and 24fps, or there’s up to 120fps slow motion available if you switch to 1080p. There’s also the option to attach an external recorder to output 10-bit 4K footage – do this and you’ll be able to shoot N-LOG footage as well, in the name of more flexible grading. Video shooters will be pleased to see both an external microphone and a headphone socket.
Nikon Z6 review: Verdict
The Z6 is one of the standout releases of the past year. The Nikon Z7 is quite possibly the best camera on the market right now, but the Z6 comes a very close second for significantly less dosh.
It’s a great all-round performer for advanced enthusiasts who shoot lots of different subjects, and would also make a good second camera for professionals shooting with other Nikon models, including the Z7, or DSLRs such as the D850 or the D5.
There are a couple of drawbacks to consider – such as limited battery life and a single XQD card – but, overall, the Z6 is a very capable and extremely desirable camera.
|Image sensor||CMOS, 35.9mm x 23.9mm|
|Effective pixels||24.5 million|
|Card slot||1 XQD card|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO 100 to 51200|
|Monitor||3.2in diagonal, tilting TFT touch-sensitive LCD with 170° viewing angle|
|USB||Type C connector|
|HDMI output||Type C HDMI connector|
|Dimensions||134 x 100.5 x 67.5mm (WHD)|