Video

Of the two Nikon Z-series bodies, the lower-priced Z6 is the better of the two choices for video. It includes all of the capture tools of the Z7 but, unlike that camera, its UHD 4K video is oversampled (the Z7 can only do that with a crop,) with no line-skipping. That puts it at the same level as the Sony a7 III, which bodes well for the quality of its footage.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Z6 captures excellent oversampled 4K footage
  • Autofocus and 5-axis IS work well during video capture
  • You can capture 1080/120p video for slow-motion
  • The camera can output 10-bit Log footage to an external recorder; support for ProRes RAW output to an Atomos Ninja V will be added in the future
  • Choice over whether video settings are carried over, or distinct from, stills settings
  • Pre-amp for using an external mic has significant hiss

Basics

The Z6 can capture 4K video, which is sampled from the entire width of the sensor and then downsized (that's a good thing) at 30p, 25p or 24p. You can shoot full-frame or switch to DX mode for a 1.5x crop. Whichever mode you choose, quality is excellent.

In addition to 4K/30p, the Z6 can also capture Full HD video at 120p and 100p. The camera's on-sensor phase detection maintains focus well and the 5-axis stabilization keeps everything nice and steady.

DPReview TV's Jordan Drake talks about using the Nikon Z-series cameras for video

As noted in the video above, the Z6's pre-amp isn't the best, producing a background hiss that's difficult to remove in post production.

Video settings

The Z6 has a myriad of video controls that should satisfy all but the most discerning videophile. Before we get into those it's worth repeating that the Z6's video settings are, if you desire, sandboxed from those for stills. Settings such as white balance have a "Same as photo settings" option, in addition to all the usual presets, meaning the camera will follow or diverge from yours photo settings as you choose. Autofocus area modes are the same as with stills, though what many manufacturers call 'C-AF' is actually 'AF-F' on the Z6. Translation: if you want the camera constantly focusing, even while composing, you want to be using AF-F mode. As in stills mode, AF-C only acts while the shutter button is held.

Some of the settings that can be adjusted include file format (MOV or MP4), Picture Control (the 'Flat' profile can be found here,) microphone sensitivity (with an attenuator and wind noise filter,) headphone volume and time code. The time code options include count-up method (record or free run), origin and drop frame.

More advanced video settings can be found in section 'g' of the custom settings menu. Here you can customize buttons, dials and menus, select the AF speed (±5) and tracking sensitivity (1-7), and configure zebra patterns.

AF speed scale. The options for 'When to apply' are 'always' or 'only when recording'. You can choose whether the AF always runs at this speed or only when recording. AF tracking sensitivity. The higher the value, the less likely it is that the Z6 will jump to a object that passes between your subject and the camera.

The AF speed setting isn't always honored. If you choose a specific AF point, the camera will refocus at the specified AF speed if the subject distance changes but will refocus as fast as it can if you tap to specify a different subject. Only in Auto-area mode, where tapping on a subject initiates AF tracking, will the camera gently refocus when you tap. We'd like to see an 'Always honor AF speed setting' option.

External video capture

The Nikon Z6 can output 10-bit Log footage - called N-Log - over HDMI to an external recorder.

Log gamma attempts to capture as much of the original scene's dynamic range as possible while retaining enough information to still allow processing and adjustment of the files (essentially trying to make a JPEG that can be edited more like a Raw file). Moving to 10 bits of data means you can retain more tonal information about each stop of DR, giving you much more flexible footage.

Nikon has also added a 'View Assist' function to let you shoot with a 'corrected' preview while outputting the flat, washed-out Log feed.

The camera can't capture 10-bit footage internally, so N-Log can only be sent to an external recorder. Some people might want 8-bit internal Log capture, but you can at least see why Nikon might decide not to offer this much less powerful option.

Nikon says it will add ProRes RAW output for use with external recorders such as the Atomos Ninja V in a future firmware update. That would make the Z6 (and Z7) the only hybrid stills/video camera to support the feature.

10-bit N-Log vs Flat Picture Profile

The above video, recorded with the Z7, offers a quick comparison of Nikon's Flat Picture profile - available when shooting any internal capture mode - to N-log footage captured to an external recorder.


Video autofocus

In addition to 10-bit Log output, the biggest change between Nikon's DSLRs and the Z6 is usable autofocus in video. The move to on-sensor phase detection means the camera is now aware of subject distance while shooting video, which increases both speed and dependability. Overall, autofocus in video isn't class-leading, but still very good. Tracking and refocusing on subjects is straightforward and reliable, though sometimes a bit 'hunty'. Despite that, the Z6's video AF is leagues better than anything Nikon has previously offered.

Video quality

Below please find our video still for comparing the Z6's various video modes to those of its peers, including its most direct competitor, the Sony a7 III.

4K

The Z6 and a7 III take different approaches to their oversampled 4K output with the Sony doing a better job capturing fine detail. The Z6 looks to be using larger-radius sharpening by default (see the slight halos around the colored blocks) which results in a punchier look out of camera. As expected, the Z6's full-frame 4K looks better than the Z7's full-frame 4K, which doesn't use all its pixel rows, reducing both resolution and low-light performance.

The Z6's cropped 4K also appears to use larger-radius sharpening than the Sony's and looks similar (but still slightly better) when compared to the Z7's. Interestingly the Z6's 4K full-frame footage looks very similar to its 4K APS-C cropped footage. There may be a bit of a noise penalty using the latter, but detail is broadly similar, making it possible to inter-cut between footage.

1080p

The Z6's full-frame 1080/24p looks better both than the Z7's full-frame 1080/24p and than the a7 III's 1080/24p. As a whole, the Z6's HD footage has much more sharpening applied than the a7 III's, but it doesn't necessarily show much more tangible detail. This is also the case when comparing the Z6's 1080/120p to the a7 III's.

Rolling shutter

As you'd expect, you'll notice rolling shutter when capturing video on the Z6. At 4K/24p in FX mode it's not quite as good as the Fujifilm X-T3 but leagues better than the Canon EOS R. Putting the Z6 into DX crop mode greatly reduces the distortion, so if you'd panning or having fast-moving subjects pass by, then it may be worth the 1.5x crop.


Sample footage

Download higher quality version (391MB)