Body and handling

Key takeaways:

  • The Z6 (and Z7) are among the most well-built body of any mirrorless camera on the market
  • It feels good in the hand, though some controls are easy to bump accidentally
  • The large, super-high-res EVF is one of the best we've seen
  • Unlike most Nikon DSLRs (and many competitors) the Z6 lacks dual memory card slots
  • The by-wire focus ring doesn't have a linear response, which is the opposite of what many video shooters want

The Nikon Z6 is very well-built and comes with a modern style that doesn't stray too far from its DSLR roots. It's about equal in size to the Canon EOS R and Sony a7 III and smaller and lighter than the Nikon D750 (but not by a lot). The Z6's build quality is top-notch (and others agree), and whose durable, weather-sealed body remains surprisingly light in the hand.

The Z6 has a very nice grip that puts most controls within each reach of your fingers, though it's a bit of a stretch to reach the customizable buttons that sit against the lens mount. It's pretty easy to end up resting your thumb on the AF-point joystick, which is great if you want to adjust the AF point but not-so-great when you accidentally bump it and get kicked out of playback mode. Something else that might bother large-handed folks is that there's no real support for your pinky finger. A battery grip which will extend the grip is in development, but is not yet available.

Control overview

Two things to note on the top plate are the mode dial and OLED info display. The mode dial has a lock, but it's not something you can toggle on and off: it must be pressed down in order to rotate the dial. The OLED display shows the information you'd expect, and is visible in all lighting conditions. The two-button shortcuts for formatting a memory card or resetting the camera found on most Nikon DSLRs are absent from the Z6.

The rear controls are, generally speaking, well laid out, though it would be nice if the zoom in/out buttons were higher up. The joystick is small and, due to the proximity to the thumb rest, can be easy to bump accidentally. You can easily switch between stills and video shooting with the switch that surrounds the display button. One of the nice things about the Z6 is that exposure settings and customization options are exclusive to each mode, so you can jump from stills to video without having to adjust a thing. Despite the 'red button' on the top plate, video cannot be recorded in stills mode: you must flip the switch.

Electronic viewfinder and LCD

The Z6 has one of the sharpest and largest we've seen on a mirrorless camera. It has 3.69 million dots and a magnification of 0.80x. What you see through the viewfinder is incredibly crisp, but live view is laggy.

As you'd expect, there's an eye sensor to switch between the viewfinder and LCD, with four different settings available: automatic, viewfinder only, monitor only and 'prioritize viewfinder,' which keeps the LCD black, except when shooting video or reviewing photos. Unfortunately, flipping out the LCD doesn't disable the eye sensor, so you may find yourself tripping it accidentally when shooting from the hip.

The LCD is high resolution as well, with 2.1 million dots. It can tilt upward by a bit over 90° and down by 45°. Some videophiles may be disappointed that it's not a fully articulating display. The screen is touch-enabled, and there are more details on what you can do with it on the next page.

Lens Ring Function

The Z6 lets you re-purpose the lens focus ring. Since it's focus-by-wire, with no mechanical connection to the lens elements, there's no reason it has to act as a redundant focus ring if you're relying solely on autofocus.

The default is that it's used to control manual focus (and provide AF override). The alternatives are that it can be used to set aperture or control exposure compensation. There's also the option to assign no function to it, to prevent accidental operation. If you switch the lens to manual focus mode, this choice is overridden and the dial reverts to manual focus.

We'd like to see even more customization options for the lens ring - Canon offers a custom ring on EOS R lenses, and it looks like some forthcoming Nikon S-series lenses might do, too. For video shooters in particular, the options to enable linear focus response (as opposed to speed-sensitive) and perhaps reverse the rotation direction would be hugely useful.

Ports

All of the Z6's I/O ports can be found on its left side. They include headphone and external mic sockets plus USB-C, HDMI and remote cable release. Both of the rubber flaps that protect the ports are 'hinged,' so you don't have to uncover those which you don't need. Both can be rotated out of the way, as shown.

Memory cards and battery

As with the Z7, there's a single XQD card slot on the Z6. Nikon promises support for faster CFExpress cards (which share the same form-factor as XQD) via a firmware upgrade in the not-too-distant future.

The Z6 uses a single EN-EL15b lithium-ion battery, which is cross-compatible with the Nikon D750 and D800-series DSLRs, and can be charged in the Z6 over USB. The grey EN-EL15a batteries from those earlier-generation DSLRs can also be used in the Z6, minus support for charging. Even the original EN-EL15 batteries can be used but older ones missing the 'Li-ion20' marking will give less battery life. The included external charger takes just over 2.5 hours to 'fill up' the EN-EL15b, with charging over USB taking about the same amount of time.

Going by CIPA standard ratings the Z6 can take up to 380 shots using the LCD and 310 using the viewfinder, though most users will likely get a lot more than that in real-world use. We were able to take over 1200 shots per charge, though these numbers will depend on how you shoot and whether you're using Wi-Fi frequently.

Nikon says that a battery grip is in development, but since there are no electronic connectors on the bottom plate of the camera or in the battery compartment, it may not offer portrait orientation controls.