Why the Nikon Z6 + 1.4x TC > the Nikon D500 *and* the Nikon D5 Locked

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RazorSharpWO Senior Member • Posts: 1,459
Why the Nikon Z6 + 1.4x TC > the Nikon D500 *and* the Nikon D5

There's been some talk recently about the Nikon D500 versus the Z6, the D850, and the Z7 concerning "which" is the better wildlife camera. I've always maintained that the D500 is among the best wildlife cameras on the planet, when it came out, and even now. However the provisio is so long as you have good light. Up to 800 - 1200 ISO.

It's interesting how many people celebrate the D850 and Z7, yet these cameras never touch the D500, when in DX mode:

Reference Link

That's right, if you're cropping to DX (which, as a wildlife photographer, you're going to be doing over 90% of the time), the D500 is the camera to use. Its 1.5x crop gives you an advantage within this context.

However, the Z6 turns this premise over on its head. Because of its incredible high-ISO ability, even in DX mode, once you get to ISO 800, even the cropped Z6 starts to overtake the D500, due to said high-ISO performance:

Reference Link

Moreover, if you want to play with the numbers, the Z6 also overtakes both the D850 and Z7 beyond 800 ISO as well, both cropped and uncropped, and keeps this lead the higher you go. Okay, so what?

This post will demonstrate how completely dominant the Z6 + 1.4x TC is over the D500, making eating its 1.5x crop advantage altogether, combined with its by far better high-ISO performance. This thread will absolutely prove the Z6 +1.4x TC is even sharper than the bare D500, because of how absolutely accurate the Z6 AF is. Also, when adding the 1.4x TC, you then have to evaluate the Z6 as a FF when comparing it to the D500:

Reference Link

But what does all of this mean?

Since we are all photographers, seeing what this means is always better than "reading" what this means. I made some comparisons the other day, with the 1.4x TC on the Z6, compared to the bare D500's native 1.5x "crop factor" @ 4000 ISO, 8000 ISO, 12,800 ISO, 16,000 ISO, and 25600 ISO.

THE SUBJECT: Old, gnarled wood, with many different color nuances, textures, etc.

THE METHOD: I use the 800mm f/5.6 lens bare w/ the D500, and w/ + 1.4x TC on the Z6. This gave a huge advantage to the D500, not having to go through an extra piece of glass, and being able to deploy f/5.6, while the Z6 had to shoot @ f/8 because of the extra glass. The ISO was the constant control, and shutter speed adjusted automatically, based on the uniqueness of each camera.

THE WORKFLOW: Because the Z6 has baked-in adjustments made in Lightroom, what I did was make minor adjustments to the D500 RAW image, and then synced the Z6 settings to the D500's adjustments. Every single photograph was therefore processed identically in Lightroom. The only variation is that the D500 tends to expose "brighter," which left the Z6 images darker, when processed identically. Therefore, I had to adjust the exposure in Z6 images to make them all look about the same.

In Photoshop, I re-sized everything down to 4500, so all images are the same size. I made a light Nik ColorEffex adjustment, and a light Neat Image, noise reduction, and created an "Action," so each image was processed in Photoshop identically also. All images are therefore processed identically:

With this preamble out of the way, let your eyes be the judge:

@ 4000 ISOD500 + 800 (~ 1200mm) @ 4000 ISO

Z6 + 800 1.4x TC (1120mm) @ 4000 ISO

Note: The little red box in the first image shows my area of focus. The focus point was the same for both cameras, and in both cases I was using each camera's AF Back Button. The acorn woodpecker in the D500 image actually "photo bombed" my effort, but I left them in there because it was funny

You will see that the D500 missed focus, even on the wood, using the AF back button. It focused a little behind my designated point. My D500 normally nails focus when I use Group AF, but I just learned something (that the D500 back-focuses when using Back Button AF).

The Point: Compare the color and detail in the wood. At ISO 4000, they're fairly comparable, but you'll see that the Z6 shows much richer colors, sharper focus, etc.

@ 8000 ISO:D500 + 800 (~ 1200mm) @ 8000 ISO

Z6 + 800 1.4x TC (1120mm) @ 8000 ISO

Note: The framing is a little skewed, I apparently panned a little to the right with the Z6, but the distance is identical. Again, the focal point is the same throughout. The D500 continues to back-focus, while the Z6 nails it every time. More importantly, the color and sharpness in the D500 becomes paler and paler, while the Z6 retains significantly more color, contrast, and detail.

@ 12,800 ISO:D500 + 800 (~ 1200mm) @ 12,800 ISO

Z6 + 800 1.4x TC (1120mm) @ 12,800 ISO

The story continues as above …

@ 16,000 ISO:D500 + 800 (~ 1200mm) @ 16,000 ISO

Z6 + 800 1.4x TC (1120mm) @ 16,000

The story continues as above …

@ 20,000 ISO:D500 + 800 (~ 1200mm) @ 20,000 ISO

Z6 + 800 1.4x TC (1120mm) @ 20,000

At this point, the D500's color, contrast, and DR are so bad, the image is no longer realistic or even salvageable. While the Z6 has definitely taken a noticeable hit as well, its colors and contrast remain realistic and are still salvageable in post.

@ 25,600 ISO:D500 + 800 (~ 1200mm) @ 25,600 ISO

Z6 + 800 1.4x TC (1120mm) @ 25,600 ISO

The story continues on ... to 51,200 ISO, where even the Z6 can no longer produce an acceptable image.

In addition to what your eyes are clearly telling you, another thing I remembered, actually using the two side-by-side, is that as it got darker and darker into the evening, the glorious EVF of the Z6 actually allowed me to see everything I was doing, whereas the darker it got outside, the less and less I could even see through the D500's OVF

Also, I was going to also compare the two optics @ 1500mm [by putting the special 1.25x TC on the D500 (which w/ the 1.5x DX "crop" ~1500mm f/7.1)] versus the Z6 adding a 2x TC for 1600mm. The D500 couldn't even AF in darkened conditions, w/ the cusom TC at f/7.1. This made me remember why I don't even bother using the D500 or the D5 on my 800 mm anymore. They can't take TC's. Only in very good available light can they even AF at all, while the Z6 can nail focus with the 1.25x TC (1000mm @ f/7.1), the 1.4x TC (1120mm @ f/8), and the 2x TC (1600mm @ f/11).

The Z6 actually outclasses the utility of the D5/D6, and by a country mile, because of its ability to maintain absolutely accurate AF, with any TC, on the 800mm. My ultimate takeaway is this:

  • Advantages of the D500 over the Z6 + 1.4x TC = ZERO

There is literally nothing the D500 can do that the Z6 + 1.4x TC can't do, and do better. And yet there are many things the Z6 can do, that the D500 CAN'T do at all. And that's just in getting the shot, let alone what the shots look like. The following two images should put this issue to rest, showing that the Z6 actually produces a better image @ 25,600 ISO than the D500 can produce at 12,800 ISO:

Mexican Jay (D500 @ 12,800 ISO )

Mexican Jay (Z6 + 1.4x TC @ ISO 25,600)

Again, all of these images were processed virtually identically.

As somebody who owns the D5, D850, D500, Z6, Z7, and Z7II, I emphatically consider the Z6 to be the most valuable wildlife camera I own, for small bird photography, for these three basic reasons:

  1. You can put a 2x TC on it, and you can still retain AF, and
  2. Because of the quality of this AF, the image quality is still outstanding; and
  3. It outperforms every other mirrorless @ high ISOs.

To those who "look at graphs" and claim the Z7 or Z7 II are better at high ISOs, they're not. I will post a similar comparison, within a week, Comparing the Z6 and the Z7, as above, and put this debate to rest as well.

This information should be extremely important to those who not only shoot with the 800/5.6 FL ED — and also the 500/5.6 PF — but even those shooting the 200-500 zoom, or the Sigma/Tamron 150-600 zooms — you will literally not believe how important the Z6 is, when you realize you can double your focal length, like no D5 or D6 or any DSLR will allow you to do — and yet still retain AF plus demonstrate the kind of high-ISO image quality comparable to the D5/D6.

In closing, I hope this information is both interesting and helpful to fellow birders.

PS: Pardon any typos, I use voice text

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 RazorSharpWO's gear list:RazorSharpWO's gear list
Nikon D500 Nikon D5 Nikon Z7 Nikon Z6 Nikon Z7 II +19 more
Nikon D5 Nikon D500 Nikon D850 Nikon Z6 Nikon Z7 Nikon Z7 II
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