An E-M5 II User’s Test of the Nikon Z6

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Rohith Thumati Contributing Member • Posts: 580
An E-M5 II User’s Test of the Nikon Z6
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I rented a Nikon Z6 with the 24-70 f/4 and 50mm f/1.8 recently to see if it’d make sense to switch systems, and I thought my experience might be relevant to others here thinking of switching systems (though if it’s more appropriate to the Z forum, I won’t complain if it gets moved). Micro Four Thirds is the only camera system I’ve ever shot with, starting with the E-P1 10 years ago. Given my E-M5 II is four and a half years old, I wanted to evaluate whether to stick with Micro Four Thirds and get an E-M5 III (or E-M1 II), or switch to another system altogether. I tried several Sony’s before (including the A7 series) and never got on with them, so I ruled the A7 III out. The Nikon Z had a more appealing lens roadmap than the Canon RP, so I narrowed in on that.

I used the Z6 on its own and in direct comparison against both my E-M5 II with the 12-35mm f/2.8 and the 25mm f/1.4 (for as close a comparison as I could muster) and my LX100 II, since the majority of my photography over the last year has been with that camera. I used the cameras as i would in every day usage, so it’s not particularly scientific, but it’s representative of the kind of image quality I can expect to get out of these cameras, so it’s relevant to me.

By the way - I highly do not recommend doing what I did and take three cameras out at the same time and take the same photo of the same scene with two or three of them. It reallyis unwieldy

A note about the photos - They’re all edited a little bit - roughly to about 90% or so of what I’d want the final image to look like. Final color tweaking, vignette, noise reduction, and other small edits aren’t in, but I think they’re representative of what the cameras can do. I did play with white balance an awful lot with many of them to get them at least closer to each other.

TL;DR: The Z6 is pretty awesome, but the IQ advantage isn’t enough to justify a switch, especially given the compromises it would entail. I’m sticking with Micro Four Thirds for the time being.

Handling

While it’s bigger and heavier than the smaller Micro Four Thirds cameras like the E-M5 II, the Z6 isn't uncomfortably heavy - at least with lenses the size of the 24-70 f/4 or lighter attached. That combo is about 12 oz heavier than the E-M5 II + 12-35mm f/2.8, but I had no problem slinging it around - even with a sprained right hand (my ring and pinky fingers are kind of messed up). That was really pleasant to discover.

Despite it not being uncomfortably heavy, the size of the camera and lenses does create issues. While the Z6 isn’t all that much bigger than the E-M5 II, it crosses over the line into being unmistakably a SERIOUS PHOTOGRAPHIC TOOL, and people around you (including little kid subjects) tended to treat it as such. The E-M5 II is discrete and tends to not get noticed.

Packing and carrying a Z6 kit is a substantially different proposition as well. While they have a couple smaller lenses on the roadmap, Z lenses so far are big. While the camera with one lens attached fits in a lot of the same places as the E-M5 II + 12-35mm, it doesn’t fit in all: I can fit my E-M5 II + 12-35mm (plus a smaller lens or two) in a pouch that goes into our diaper bag. The Z6 is just bulky enough to make that unfeasible. When you add another lens, it just becomes a lot of volume to carry. The bags I use to carry a full range of lenses - namely, E-M5 II, 12-35mm, 40-150mm f/2.8, 15mm f/1.7, 42.5mm f/1.7, and small flash - can only fit the Z6 with those two lenses i rented, and maybe have room for a theoretical compact lens or small flash. Throwing a Z6 + lens in my bag when I’m going on a work trip or have meetings in SF - something I’ve always done with my Micro Four Thirds cameras - means having to carry a lot more overall, which just doesn’t appeal. And one bag travel (which I try to do as much as possible, especially since I’m also carting around a toddler’s and baby’s things) with a Z6 kit would be really difficult. If I’m going out for a dedicated photography excursion/trip, it’s not really an issue (since the weight increase isn’t massive), but the vast majority of my photography is in the course of everyday life or as an adjunct to something else (family, travel, work, etc.), it’s something that I’d have to mold my life around, rather than something that fits into my life. I’m not at a point in my life (or career) where i can do that.

In Use

Nikon’s menus are so much easier to comprehend than Olympus’. It’s not close. I won’t say I was able to master the Z6’s menu in 5 days, but I was far more comfortable with the Z6’s menu system than I was in the first month with the the E-P1 or original E-M5 each (and those were fairly similar).

Autofocus was really good, for the most part, but it took me some time to figure out. Once I got comfortable with how the camera worked, I didn’t have any issue. I don’t get why people slag the tracking AF - it worked just fine for and made sense to me.

Using the Z6 side-by-side with the E-M5 II and LX100 II really demonstrated the value of PDAF. It’s not necessarily that much faster, but it’s so much more confident, and with tracking, there’s no wobble. I wasn’t sure of the value of upgrading to the E-M5 III or E-M1 II from the E-M5 II before, but I’m convinced that it’ll be a worthwhile upgrade just for the improved AF alone.

One other AF note: the 24-70 focused slower than the my 12-35 in lower light. It was more confident, and didn’t have the CDAF wobble, though, so keeper rate was still pretty good. In good light, I didn’t notice any difference in AF speed.

Using a tilt screen (on the Z6) side-by-side with a fully articulated screen (on the Olympus) left me with mixed feelings. I liked how quickly i could deploy the tilt screen, but in shooting in portrait orientation or at odd angles, it’s of no help. If I could only have one style, I’d go fully articulated.

The EVF on the Z6 is great. Not much to say about it. The screen seemed to wash out a lot, though, even when tilted. I lost track of the AF point a lot - something I never had an issue with on the Olympus. Maybe its because the AF point is a thin lined red box, versus a thick lined green one? Not sure the AF box outline can be changed.

The AF joystick is awesome; every camera should have one.

The lack of either a flash or mini flash like my two cameras came bundled with is a bit disappointing, and it doesn’t appear that Nikon makes a flash as tiny as the E-M5 II’s, so carrying a larger flash further adds to the bulk of a Z6 kit. The rather slow flash sync speed of 1/200th is also disappointing. I use flash a lot for a little extra pop with my LX100 II, since it can sync wide open as fast as 1/2,000th, and 1/4,000th stopped down a bit. The E-M5 II flash sync’s at 1/250th according to the manual, but it works at 1/320th as well. That’s not a stop faster, but it’s significant enough to aid in flexibility.

The image stabilization didn’t seem great. I don’t have the steadiest hands, but I can handhold the LX100 II at 1/30th at 35mm equivalent, and get good results - a camera with pretty poor IS, The Z6 struggled to get sharp results at 1/20th under similar circumstances. It’s nowhere near as good as the E-M5 II’s.

Lastly, the lack of long exposure capabilities like Live Composition and Live Timer, which I’ve come to rely on in my long exposure photography are a downer for the Z6.

But overall, it’s really fun to use. The controls have a pleasing tactility and the shutter sound is addictive.

Image Quality

The Z6 has a definite resolution advantage. In the photo below, for example, the Sutro Tower in San Francisco is visible through the fog and haze from across the Bay, while it’s barely there in the LX100 II’s photo (my E-M5 II died and I forgot a second battery; the LX100 II and the E-M5 II with the 12-35 don’t have significantly different IQ, from my experience)

Z6 - View from Oakland Zoo - look for the Sutro Tower in the distance

LX100 II - View from Oakland Zoo - Sutro Tower can’t really be made out.

The resolution increase doesn’t necessarily make that big of a difference all the time, though. The resolution helps, but it’s a difference of degree most of the time, not a difference that changes or enhances the story like the Sutro Tower example above.

The resolution increase doesn’t necessarily make that big of a difference all the time, though. The resolution helps, but it’s a difference of degree most of the time, not a difference that changes or enhances the story like the Sutro Tower example above.

Shadow detail and color is impressive - In the tree example below, the Z6 is clearly superior - the tree trunk in shadow is much more pleasing and accurate than how it’s depicted by the E-M5 II or LX100 II, and it’s not easy to correct in those smaller censored cameras - i’d have to use a local adjustment on that tree trunk. But that advantage isn’t consistent or as noticeable all the time

Z6 - Tree - Trunk color didn’t need much manipulation to get looking proper

E-M5 II - Tree - Trunk color needed a good amount of work to get to look like this

LX100 II - Tree - Shadows were a little funky in this example for this camera. Fine, but needed a lot of wrangling to get looking like this, which isn’t as good as the Z6.

There’s also a ‘niceness’ that is consistent with all of the full frame cameras I’ve tried - I think it’s a combination of crispness from the increased resolution combined with the smoother focus ramping. Looking at the Wonder Woman statue in this comparison, and you might see what I mean - the Z6 image looks nicer, but it’s not a major difference (ignore the shallow depth of field on the Z6 image - I hadn’t really set up a proper test here

Z6 + 50mm f/1.8 - Wonder Woman + R2 + Elephant

Z6 + 24-70 f/4 - Wonder Woman + R2 + Elephant

E-M5 II + 25mm f/1.4 - Wonder Woman + R2 + Elephant

E-M5 II + 12-35mm f/2.8 - Wonder Woman + R2 + Elephant

LX100 II - Wonder Woman + R2 + Elephant

While there is a noise difference - it’s a stop or two, no question - it’s not that noticeable unless at 1:1. At full screen on a 27” monitor, it’s not that apparent.

One thing I hadn’t realized is that colors are surprisingly inconsistent between the three cameras. Even set to the same white balance, the images had dramatically different color casts. Even when the white balance was set to match as best as I could, there’s still some color variation. I’m not sure what’s behind that - camera profile, lens color transmission, color filter array, some combination of all three?

A note about the lenses: the two I tried are really good. The 50mm f/1.8 is a gem, full stop. The 24-70mm f/4 was really good as well, other than some flare.

All in all, to my eye, the image quality improvement is real, but it’s much more of a subtle difference than a marked one. t’s not necessarily going to open up new storytelling possibilities, or dramatically improve the images I can make

Where Did I End Up?

I really enjoyed using the Z6. It’s a really good camera, and the Z system is really promising. The two advantages I found over the E-M5 II (or LX100 II) are IQ and autofocus.

The IQ advantage while real, isn’t massive to my eyes, though, and the E-M5 III and E-M1 II appear to improve on AF considerably as well. The Z6 also brings a considerable downside in the form of sheer bulk and inconvenience. The lack of features like Live Composite or Live Timer also made it less usable for me, and the lesser image stabilization reduces the benefits of high ISO.

So even though I was this close to pulling the trigger on a Z6 with a couple lenses, I’m very happy I rented first, since I’ve decided against investing in that system. It s just itoo bulky to fit in my life style or photography practice at this time, and the IQ advantage isn’t enough to overcome that problem. I’m going to get either an E-M1 II or E-M5 III to get the improved AF and marginally improved IQ, and expect to be happy with that for the near future.

Maybe in the future, I’ll go full frame. I’d love a high quality full frame compact camera (next gen RX1R, maybe, if Sony changed their menu system?) - since I recognize the real improvements in IQ, and a compact camera solves the inconvenience issue..But for now, I’m sticking with Micro Four Thirds.

One additional note - the experience demonstrated that if I did go to a full frame camera, I have to be really disciplined with aperture selection, or the result will be photos with too shallow of a depth of field to be interesting. Comparing these three images, the Z6’s image is to my eyes the worst, since it’s just a blur behind the squash, and even most of the squash is out of focus. With Micro Four Thirds, the attitude is often to just leave it wide open, but that’s not an attitude that will garner interesting images with a full frame camera and bright lenses.

Z6 - Batgirl

E-M5 II - Batgirl

Z6 - Coffee

E-M5 II - Coffee

LX100 II - Coffee

Z6 - Oakland Zoo Gibbon

E-M5 II - Oakland Zoo Gibbon

E-M5

Z6 - Oakland Zoo Gondolas

E-M5 II - Oakland Zoo Gondola

Z6 - Squash on a Wall

E-M5 II - Squash on a Wall

LX100 II - Squash on a Wall

Nikon Z6 Olympus E-M5 II Panasonic LX100 II
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