Nikon Z6 Review: The newcomer
The Nikon Z6 is the newest of the mirrorless entrees in recent time. Spec-ed similarly to the A7III, it is Nikon’s take on a full-frame mirrorless camera.
This set is a loaner set for review courtesy of Nikon Singapore and SLR Revolution. I am a portrait photographer as such this review will not touch on the video functions. Many thanks to Riiyuukii for helping with me on the shoots.
The Nikon Z6 is a relatively small system, its just slightly bigger than the XT system by Fuji but with a Full Frame sensor and in-built image stabiliser. By design the Z6 feels quite good on my Asian sized hands and the controls are relatively straight forward. The one thing I like is the Joystick: it has a big flat surface that I can push around, definitely more joy then those of the Fuji’s.
For this review set, I was provided with a 50mm F1.8 and 35 F1.8 z-mount lens. Both are quite large if compared to the similar products on their DSLR lines but in recent years, makers are starting to build larger lens that provides better optical quality. This is true for both lenses, providing sharp results even close to the corner wide open, great contrast throughout the frame and with quite a nice interesting (attractive) bokeh to boot. They are also relatively light by modern lens standard especially if compared to any F1.4 alternatives of similar optical standard. Though I can’t help but wonder why Nikon didn’t go the F1.4 route for some of their primes as a statement. Overall in my short 1 month review over like 5 shoots, the lenses performed well optically, on par in my eyes to any modern well corrected lens and maybe with a slightly better bokeh then I come to expect of a non F1.4 lens. All photos in this review are shot by either of this lens.
Handling and Operations
Back to the Z6, the controls are quite straight forward, everything is laid out with some customisation available for the camera. The grip feels quite good, and the body well balanced with the lenses. All the buttons are labelled and positioned in a way easy to reach. As you can see in the picture, Nikon pretty much cramped most space they could on the back with buttons. In-additional to the button, the LCD is touch screen and pressing the info button will allow you to pull up a menu to change them settings. I like how it works since its designed properly for touch and responsive.
One of the bigger “issues” that people make about initially was the card slots. The Z6 had only 1 XQD card slot, which some people find it unacceptable for a camera of its class. I personally find it just fine since cards rarely break and if anything, a second camera is a better back up. This is my first camera I used with an XQD card, and based on its size and design, its probably one of the reasons why a second slot is not possible since there really isn’t much space around the camera left to put another. The card slot is opened by using a little force to slide the thumb rest back. I thought the design is interesting since there really won’t be much chances you can accidentally slide it out since you will be gripping and resting on it. The choice of XQD I personally thought was a good one, it reads fast, clears fast, and overall improved responsiveness. It also made transferring to a laptop fast with the appropriate card reader which even the fastest SD card felt slower.
The EVF and LCD are quite good. The EVF is the 3.6M dot version, though not the latest, has great responsiveness without noticeable issues. My time with it did not show any noticeable form of tearing or distortion.. The LCD is similar is quite good, viewable in most conditions, with a 3:2 ratio and can be pulled out to tilt up and down. It would have been better if it flips sideways in some manner. The blackout timing and overall responsiveness when using either of them is great: the Z6 had really low blackout times and among the camera I used so far, only the EM-1X by Olympus had a shorter one (ignoring A9 which has none). My only complain with them is the image seen in the EVF is a little different from the image seen at the back. Its like the back LCD has significantly higher contrast. This was noticeable when I did my night shoot to try out.
The autofocus on the Z6 is similar to those you see on most mirrorless cameras today. This includes the Eye-AF made popular by the Sony system. Personally, I did not used Eye-AF much, as so far only the latest Sony provided me with good enough reliable results. My initial testing showed that Eye-AF on the Nikon worked mainly in close ranges and requires to use area-af to work, unlike other system where you can use any focus mode. This will require you to switch between AF-modes in the menu the moment Eye-AF is not working the way you expect. However, when it works, it is quite accurate, and the selection of which eye is easy by just pressing the direction pad.
In terms of the standard AF-modes, I tried both AF-C and AF-S. I find AF-S works better for my usage, being more accurate. A notable point is the AF speed in good light is great similar to everything out there. However, turn down the light to indoors or low light, I find the AF to be slower and at times hunt a little more then I expect in comparison to my Fuji and Olympus cameras I have on hand. Accuracy wise, after some trail and error, pin AF point is the only way to work to get consistently sharp photos on the eyes. In that mode, the camera rarely focuses off the intended target in most conditions.
In-Built Image stabilization (IBIS) is probably one of the best advancements in my opinion in the last decade for digital photography. To me, IBIS is not about the lowest shutter you can take but obtaining consistent result regardless of what lens is on the camera. Testing the camera in both good, and low available light, the IBIS worked well, providing consistent 1/20 shots utilizing either of the lens provided under low light situation. Like the image above which the only light source is the sparkles, the camera provided results that are predictable. The lowest successful shot I done so far is 1/10 of a second for portraits utilizing the 35mm F1.4, and if anything, the issue lies more in how steady the subject can hold rather then the camera on my hand. On static items, I can go as low as 1/5 shutter, but it was not constant but at least options are there in times of need.
Image quality is really what you expect in a modern Full Frame Mirrorless Camera. It looks great, colours are well saturated and the raw is flexible to post editing. In the aspect of image quality, lenses make as much impact as the camera itself and I can assure anyone buying into this system, the 35mm and 50mm is great. I really liked the colours especially in the warmer tones produced by this camera. Dynamic range of the Z6 is quite good, lifting of 3 stops of exposure in shadows results in minimal noise. Beyond that, the Z6 introduces slightly more colour noise which could be fixed in post processing. I will not however recommend increasing it 5stops and beyond as it will start introducing blotches in the blacks. Regarding high ISO, I did not really get to try it beyond 1600 since with IBIS, there really isn’t much reason to utilise it in my usual shoots.
One common problem for mirrorless cameras is banding in extreme bright light or dark shadows due to phase AF pixels. The Z6 exhibits some form of it at the pixel level for the dark shadows, luckily it does a better job here then my GFX100 and Olympus EM-1X. My personal experience shows me this probably will not affect most of the Z6 users and by the time it shows up, the noise is probably high enough that it will be a bigger issue then the banding itself.
Other than that, I have nothing much to cover on image quality. It’s better than my smaller sensor cameras and comparing to the GFX100 I have on hand; it is similar except in the most extreme case of shadow lifting. For now, enjoy the photos below shot with this camera.
In summary, I think the Z6 is a great step for Nikon into the mirrorless race. It has the size convenience that mirrorless is supposed to promise, AF is relatively fast and accurate, the lenses I had were optically great, IBIS is a boon and the image quality is on par with anything else on the market. Coupled with the pricing here in Singapore, it’s a competitive alternative to anything else in the market. Also based on their recent lens release, their latest 24-70 is one of the lightest and optically fantastic lens of its class, the 58mm Noct is a statement that Nikon can make optically magical lens, the Z series will probably have a great future ahead. The Z6 is just a step for Nikon towards the mirrorless future, and a decent step it is.
Special thanks to Riyuukii_Cos for modeling for the shoots I used to test this camera with. You can follow her @ https://www.instagram.com/riiyuukii_cos/