What it's like to use

Cameras can serve different purposes for different photographers; the right tool for one person might be the wrong one for someone else. With that in mind, we'll be taking a look at how the Nikon Z6 stacks up for a variety of common uses, based on its specifications, our lab testing and the time we've spent with it in the real world.


Travel

ISO 100 | 1/1000 sec | F4 | Nikon Z 50mm F1.8 S
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

The Z6 is compact and light enough to get full-frame photo quality on the road. While there's no true Z-mount travel zoom out yet, F-mount lenses with more versatile focal ranges than native lenses can be adapted. Images look very good straight out of the camera, and they can be shared quickly via Nikon's much-improved SnapBridge system. USB charging lets you keep the battery topped up, and a charger is included to keep a spare ready to go.

Pros:

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Rugged, weather-sealed body
  • Very good out-of-camera JPEGs
  • SnapBridge allows for instant photo transfer and easy sharing
  • USB battery charging (with EN-EL15b batteries)

Cons:

  • Noise reduction a bit strong (by default) at higher ISOs
  • No travel zoom lens on the roadmap
  • Battery life may be limited if Wi-Fi is used frequently

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Video

Video capture is one of the Z6's strongest features, with oversampled 4K/30p recording, 10-bit Log output to an external recorder and reliable autofocus. All video settings are separate from those for stills, so you don't need to reprogram anything when you switch modes. Some videophiles may be bothered by non-linear manual focus (and the focus ring direction) on Z-mount lenses and the lack of a fully articulating LCD.

While the ETA is unknown, Nikon is planning on adding support for ProRes RAW video output to an Atomos Ninja V, something no other hybrid stills/video camera currently offers.

Pros:

  • Excellent oversampled 4K video
  • Good video AF
  • 5-axis image stabilized keeps things steady
  • 1080/120p for slow-motion video
  • Separate exposure settings for stills and video
  • 10-bit Log output to external recorder
  • Focus peaking and zebra warnings
  • Headphone and mic sockets
  • Raw video support on the way (ETA unknown)

Cons:

  • Fully articulating LCD would have been nice
  • Focus rings on native lenses don't have linear response, and may turn the opposite direction from what users of other systems are used to

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Family and moments

ISO 110 | 1/80 sec | F1.8 | Nikon Z 35mm F1.8 S
Photo by Jeff Keller

The Z6 is responsive enough to capture special moments with image quality that easily beats what your smartphone can produce. It locates faces with ease - even those wearing glasses - and does a good job keeping them in focus. The camera has no kind of Eye AF (though it is coming in a promised firmware update,) and selecting a subject that you wish to track is more difficult than it should be. Sharing photos with friends is very easy thanks to Nikon's SnapBridge system. The 24-70mm F4 S lens is the ideal choice for this kind of photography given its flexible range, but the two currently available primes will do in a pinch.

Pros:

  • Very good out-of-camera JPEGs
  • Good face detection performance
  • Detected faces can be selected easily with dial or screen
  • Auto image transfer for easy sharing via SnapBridge

Cons:

  • Noise reduction a bit strong at higher ISOs at default settings
  • Auto-area focus mode can struggle to re-focus on subjects when previously locked onto foreground/background
  • Choosing a subject to track is more difficult than necessary
  • Lacks a selfie-friendly LCD

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Landscape

ISO 100 | 1/200 sec | F7.1 | Nikon Z 24-70mm F4 S
Photo by Jeff Keller

While not as capable as higher resolution cameras, the Z6 can serve as a lightweight camera for landscape photography. The Z6's superb build quality can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at you, and its tilting LCD is perfect for tripod work. JPEG and Raw images are very good, though there is a small chance of banding if you really pull up shadows.

Pros:

  • Rugged and weather-sealed
  • Excellent Raw and JPEG image quality
  • Articulating touchscreen display
  • Reliable AF

Cons:

  • Lacks resolution of some competitors
  • Banding may be visible when shadows are brightened
  • Battery life may be limited if Wi-Fi is used frequently

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Portraits

ISO 900 | 1/250 sec | F4 | Nikon Z 24-70mm F4 S @ 70mm
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

While you can take lovely portraits with the Z6, it doesn't offer the tools needed to get the best results. There's no equivalent to competitors' Eye AF (yet), so you have to rely on face detection (which usually works quite well,) and the focus points are either too big (single-point) or too small (pinpoint). Pinpoint AF is only available in S-AF mode and focuses far slower than the other focus modes. The selection of native portrait lenses are very limited at this point, as well.

Pros:

  • Attractive skin tones
  • Adapted portrait lenses focus quickly
  • Face detection works well

Cons:

  • Lacks Eye AF (though Nikon says it's coming in a future firmware update)
  • Single-point is too large, while pinpoint AF is too small; the latter is only available in AF-S mode
  • Few native portrait lenses at this time

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Lifestyle and people

ISO 4000 | 1/320 sec | F5.6 | Nikon Z 50mm F1.8 S
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

For a full-frame camera the Z6 quite compact, its fixed focal length lenses are reasonably fast and the 24MP sensor offers plenty of dynamic range to work with. Having a tilting LCD is handy for shooting at different angles, though fans of portrait-orientation shooting will wish for a fully articulating screen. Sharing photos is easy via SnapBridge and the Z6 is compatible with Nikon's Creative Lighting System for off-camera flash usage.

Pros:

  • Nicely compact for a full-frame camera
  • Very good JPEGs, flexible Raw files
  • Easy sharing via SnapBridge
  • Tilting screen lets you take photos from unusual angles
  • Effective face detection, even with those wearing glasses

Cons:

  • No Eye AF may limit focus accuracy in portraits (though Nikon says this feature is on the way)
  • LCD isn't selfie-friendly

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Candid and street

ISO 560 | 1/80 sec | F4 | Nikon Z 24-70mm F4 S @ 40mm
Photo by Jeff Keller

The Z6 isn't what we'd call a stealthy camera, but its silent shutter mode can keep things discreet. The downside of using this mode is that banding under artificial light and rolling shutter when panning will be visible in some situations. The tilting LCD allows for shooting from the hip and quickly tapping on the subject you wish to focus on. There are two fast primes available (as of December 2018), a 35mm F1.8 and 50mm F1.8, though they're not especially compact. Again, SnapBridge makes sharing photos 'a snap' (groan).

Pros:

  • Silent shooting option
  • Tilting touchscreen
  • Good out-of-camera JPEGs
  • Easy sharing over Wi-Fi/Bluetooth

Cons:

  • Size of body and (especially) lenses doesn't help with discretion

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Sports

Cropped to taste | ISO 560 | 1/800 sec | F2.8 | Nikon 70-200 F2.8G FL ED VR @ 200mm
Photo by Jeff Keller

While no D5 (or Sony a7 III, for that matter,) the Z6 can handle casual sports photography. You'll want to skip the subject tracking mode, as we've found it takes too long to select a subject, but if you stick with a single point or zone and C-AF, the camera can keep up most of the time. You can shoot at 9 fps without a live feed and 5.5 fps with a live view, though there's a jarring blackout in the EVF between shots that can make it hard to follow the action.

Pros:

  • Solid continuous AF performance in good light
  • Easy to select focus point with touchscreen or joystick
  • Adapted Nikon lenses work well

Cons:

  • Burst rate with C-AF is 9 fps (or 5.5 fps with live view), slower than closest competitor, the Sony a7 III
  • Noticeable blackout between shots during bursts
  • Selecting a subject to track takes too long for action shooting

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Weddings and events

ISO 100 | 1/1250 sec | F2.8 | Nikon Z 50mm F1.8 S
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

While it doesn't offer the resolution of the Z7, there's no reason why the Z6 can't serve as a useful tool for wedding photographers. It has a wide AF area, good face detection (but no Eye AF, yet,) a silent shutter mode, and a joystick and touchscreen for quickly moving the focus point. The Z6 supports Nikon's wireless flash system, though it can't utilize the AF assist on external flashes. The lack of a second card slot may be an issue for pros.

Pros:

  • Very good image quality and dynamic range
  • Wide AF area, reliable face detection
  • Easy to select AF point with joystick or touchscreen
  • Silent shutter mode

Cons:

  • Lacks Eye AF for ultra-precise focusing (though it's coming soon)
  • Single card slot
  • Can't utilize the AF assist on external flashes

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