My Nikon Z6 Experience and Review By Steve Huff.

My Nikon Z6 Experience and Review

By Steve Huff

First my video on the Z6, worth the watch! 

The Nikon Z series. There are gobs of reviews out for this camera already and many have praised it, few have critiqued it but that’s just a sign of the times. First, all camera today at this level are great for image quality. Each brand has their own flavor, their own style and mojo.

Mirrorless. 

Sony has had a huge head start on Nikon when it comes to the mirrorless camera realm. For years Canon and Nikon did not take it seriously, and thought mirrorless was something that would go away. As Sony pushed on and developed serious cameras that were smaller, had full frame sensors and performed in the image quality world of the big DSLR’s, well, Nikon and Canon were creating cameras like the EOS-M and V series. Not cameras that were up to what Sony were doing.

As Sony grew in popularity Nikon and Canon both started to see that mirrorless full frame cameras were outselling DSLR’s, as they really were. Sony was on a roll, and a massive surge of popularity. I saw it all first hand as I loved these Sony cameras and started reviewing them and using them from their very 1st entry into mirrorless with the NEX-3 and 5. I also enjoyed seeing what they would come up with next as with each full frame A7 and A9 release they were putting another nail in that DSLR coffin.

The Z6 in action…

Say what you will, but for years I have said the DSLR is dying and that mirrorless would take over in sales and popularity when it comes to digital imaging. Well, that time is now and Nikon cam out swinging (finally) with the Z6 and Z7. At launch, many were upset about the cameras not having dual card slots. I even fell into some of the drama with these cameras (EOS-R and Z series)! The excitement was high as were the hopes. Some felt let down by the specs but what we were all guilty of doing was comparing these paper specs to the Sony cameras and Sony had a massive 5 year head start over Nikon and Canon! Also, one should never judge a camera on paper specs, but rather by USING IT.

For first attempts, the Canon and Nikon are FANTASTIC and beat out Sony’s first attempts without question. Between the lower resolution and less expensive Z6 and the higher resolution and more pricey Z7 I was interested in trying out the Z6. I felt that the specs suited me better and it had some great bang for the buck, which is always nice. Who doesn’t want more for their money?

Not owning any Nikon glass and being 100% happy with my new EOS-R I still wanted to give the Nikon a shot as it is what I do! For eleven years I have been trying and shooting every digital camera under the sun. I admit, lately I have not been testing ALL of them as again, all are wonderful. All are fantastic. Each just offers a different flavor. I am not one to stress out or freak out over paper specs though. For example, I do not need IBIS. I do not need two card slots. I do not need ALOT of what these new cameras offer as I see it from a different approach.

I’d rather have a simple camera. Yes, less is more for me when it comes to taking photos. But the way marketing works these days, more is better and each year new models are released with MORE, and that marketing tells us we NEED it so people buy the new cameras. With thousands of camera reviewers out there today pushing all of the latest tech for affiliate sales (even if the gear sucks) we are living in a massive age of buy, sell, buy, sell, lose money, buy, sell, repeat. As I have said for years, I only review camera gear that I find is really good, or great. If a camera is lousy, or I do not like it then I do not waste my time reviewing it. So when you see me review something it means I like it a lot or it’s worthy of a purchase and should not be a disappointment to anyone if it meets there needs.

The Nikon Z6 Specs

  • 24.5MP FX-Format BSI CMOS Sensor – This to me is the perfect resolution for a full frame sensor. I feel it gives us the best balance of resolution, ISO performance and even AF speed. 
  • EXPEED 6 Image Processing Engine
  • UHD 4K30 Video; N-Log & 10-Bit HDMI Out – Great video specs here and video looks great. 
  • 273-Point Phase-Detect AF System – Point schmoint. I use center frame this day as when you use one of these points the camera, no matter the brand, seems to never focus on what I want. 
  • Built-In 5-Axis Vibration Reduction – Great to have, works great for video. Not a necessity in any way for me. 
  • 0.80x 3.6m-Dot EVF with NIKKOR Optics – EVF is wonderful. Comparable to the Canon EOS-R and bests the Sony A7III.
  • 3.2″ 2.1m-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD – Nice LCD!
  • 12 fps Shooting; ISO 100-51200 – The speed demons will like 12FPS. ; ) 
  • Top-Panel Dot-Matrix OLED; XQD Card Slot – I love the top panel as it’s nice to check your settings on the fly. The XQD card I have mixed feelings on. Cost me $200 for a card and a reader. So expect this cost. You can not use SD cards!

In this “Experience” report I will not be showing you a slew of pixel peeping tests, or talking deeply about specs. I will not be talking about things that have nothing to do with actual photography (pixel peeping doesn’t have anything at all to do with the art of photography) but rather how I liked using the camera for… get this…taking photos ; )

To me, what is most important is the auto focus, the handling, the color and overall IQ and ISO performance. What a file looks like at 100% view is not really my thing as all cameras today deliver the goods. There is no need to stress over little things, really. There isn’t.

If a camera feels good, has great controls, has a nice file and offers up great AF and performance then making the choice to buy comes down to your preference for the brand and what it offers.

I will say up front. If you own Nikon glass, the Nikon Z6 or Z7 are great cameras and probably one I would jump on (If I owned Nikon glass). If you own Canon or Sony glass, stick with those brands. I LOVE my Canon EOS-R for photos and video and it has performed for me without a hitch since the day I bought it (and I only use EF lenses with it)! I have a preference for some of the great Canon glass (50 1.2, 24 1.4, 85 1.2, etc).

Click for better and larger versions. Nikon Z6 and 24-70 f4

USING THE Z6

So the Z6 arrived for me to try out for a few weeks courtesy of B&H Photo and it arrived with the 24-70 and 35 1.8 (which is a fantastic lens). I admit, before I saw the Z in the flesh I judged the lenses based on appearance and shouldn’t have. They are built to a high standard and feel amazing in the hand. They are also much smaller than the Canon EOS-R native lens offerings! Canon went for speed and IS in the lens, Nikon went for small and IBIS in the body. Nikon probably made the best move here but those Canon lenses are GORGEOUS. Large, but gorgeous in build and IQ and function.

So far so good. The Nikon body felt wonderful. Beefy yet small, solid yet not tank like, and controls were all in the right place. My 1st impression on holding it was “this feels great” but not as good as my EOS-R. The Canon fits my hand better and has a better grip, and I am not alone in this thought. Both beat the Sony in feel and ergonomics (Sony needs a redesign IMO).

When I realized and remembered that I can not use an SD card with this camera I bought a XQD and Sony Reader from Amazon, cost me $200! Even though I was just evaluating this camera I spent $200 to test it, lol. Well, at least now I will have a card and reader…unless one of you guys want to buy them for half price? If so, 64GB XQD and a Sony Card Reader – $100 plus $15 shipping. Email me HERE. 

So the battery is charged, XQD card arrives, and I finally get to go out and shoot the Nikon Z6!

Shooting at the super low light venue, “The Lost Leaf”

I took it with me one day when Debby was getting a new tattoo, her 1st of three sessions for it. I had to learn the controls as they were so different from Sony and Canon but after an hour or so I had it all set up and felt it was natural and ergonomically fantastic.

I was noticing the Auto Focus was fast but not up to the EOS-R performance. In fact, for me, wasn’t even close for video use or C-AF. The Canon EOS-R is INSTANT and that is not hype, I thought it was broken when I first shot the Canon but nope, the AF was just that fast, even in low light. (more on this later).

But don’t get me wrong, the Nikon Z6 AF is still great. It’s just not the “best” out there. I feel Canon wins 1st place here, Sony 2nd and Nikon 3rd. Remember, I have shot with all of them extensively, so these are my honest opinions. Being in 3rd doesn’t mean it’s bad, it’s better than something like a Sony A7II for sure. It’s FAST just not INSTANT. In low light though, it’s a different story.

I was shooting the Nikon here and there, testing video, testing photos. I then realized something. It wasn’t inspiring me to use it. It was nice, but the color signature and way the files were being put out were not to my preference (though it may be to yours). Out of camera JPEGS were flat, no matter the color profile I set. RAW files were much better as they should be so these Nikon files do need tweaks to really shine. I would not recommend this as a JPEG camera unless you like subdued flatter files.

I don’t know…the camera feels great, looks great, has a wonderful EVF and LCD, and has IBIS. It just was not getting me excited, so I set it down for a week or so and never gravitated toward it. Instead I used my Canon, and realized that for me, the EOS-R is MY preferred camera. But I was not evaluating the Nikon for ME, I was evaluating it to let you guys know what I think about it!

So I grabbed it once again and shot some more with it.

THE QUALITY IS STUNNING

I will say that the RAW files are stunning. These are some of the crispiest shots I have seen from any mirrorless. They create that perfect balance of sharp and smooth and seem like they have more detail than what I see from Canon or Sony. If detail is your thing? You will most likely love this camera. The files while subdued out of camera are NOT subdued in sharpness or detail.

So in reality the Nikon Z6 is offering a better EVF over the Sony A7III. Better ergonomics. Better build. A more filmic presentation in lower light shots (noise) and even has better IBIS performance over Sony. At the same price as the Sony A7III I started to think..WAIT! I do prefer this to the Sony A7III but not over my Canon EOS-R.

The Sony A7III has been the mega hit of 2018 in the world of mirrorless. The Nikon does beat it in these areas BUT NOT in AF, high ISO in low light, or battery life. So pick what is important to you if you are shopping for a new digital mirrorless camera.

All shot with the Nikon Z6 – Exif info is embedded in each

MY VIDEO EXPLAINS ALL OF MY THOUGHTS AND SAMPLES 

My video below (a must see if you skipped it at the top) shares my thoughts, photos, video and images from the Sony and Canon as I talk about what I think of the Nikon and others. If you are interested in the Z6, check it out:

LOW LIGHT

I will say that when I shot the Z6 for live concert shows in small clubs and bars I was let down by the Auto Focus. Being spoiled by the Sony’s and Canon EOS-R in these scenarios I felt the Nikon was the worst of the bunch here. The AF was hunting and missing with the 24-70 and 35 1.8, both native lenses. This was for a live show with spotlights and stage lighting! Not good for what I shoot as I shoot these kind of shows every week or two.

100% crop, ISO 3200  – Click it for full size and to see some hot pixels.. 2nd image, ISO 18,000

For me the best performers for IQ, usability and ISO noise in these conditions have been the Canon EOS-R (due to it’s instant AF) and even the Leica M10-D (just a beautiful experience and better high ISO over the Z6).

There’s so many pros and cons to all of these cameras though. I will try to break it down, as all are great but none are perfect:

  1. The Nikon Z6 Cons: Low light AF is not good. Period. High ISO in low light will bring more noise than a Sony or even Leica M10. One card slot. Must buy an expensive XQD card.
  2. The Canon EOS-R Cons: Worst low light high ISO between Sony and Nikon. Nikon and Canon are close here but I feel when the going gets tough, the Canon brings the most noise. Sony wins here easily between them all. Silly touch bar is useless. One card slot. No real usable 4K video.
  3. Sony Cons: Worst ergonomics of the bunch, lower res EVF and LCD in the A7III, IBIS not as good as Nikons. Menu system is the most complex. Colors are the most digital of all of these cameras. Nikon is most filmic. Canon has their usual pastel like colors, which I love.
  4. Leica M10 cons: Price and if you love which bang gimmicky features, or auto focus you would hate a Leica. Me, I feel less I more but the cost makes it painful.

These are just the things that stick out to me, top of my head. All have pros and all have cons. Each have a different color signature (which I show in the above video) and each feel different. There are no bad choices here if you are looking for a new mirrorless. Again, go with your heart, and go with what you are drawn to.

BOTTOM LINE

But I will say it again, if you own Canon lenses? Go for the EOS-R as it is truly fantastic. I love mine and have no regrets. It has never let me down.

If you own Sony glass, the Sony A7 series is fantastic. Can’t lose.

If you own Nikon glass, the Z6 or Z7 is without question what you want.

ALL ARE AMAZING in their own ways and they each give you the capability to shoot professional level images. If you are buying new, and do not own any lenses…then again go with the one you are most drawn to. I would choose by color if you are having a hard time. Me, I much prefer the Canon and Leica color science above all others. Always have. Nikon has had the same color signature forever, and you either love it or you don’t.

Where to Buy?

I recommend buying the Z6 from B&H Photo. Links below if you are interested in this camera!

Buy the Nikon Z6

Buy the 35 1.8

Buy the 24-70

See my Canon EOS-R Review HERE

 


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34 Comments

  1. Great review Steve. As someone who switched to Sony A9’s from Nikon D750’s this is very insightful. Thank you, always an avid reader of your site and bought a Leica Q based on your review.

  2. Now that we’ve seen Canikon catch up with the mirrorless game, it’s Pentax and Olympus staying behind. Pentax seems dead. It’s mother Ricoh only seems to keep the GR series alive. Olympus seems steerless. They could excite me (and many others I think) by releasing two 36×36 mm sensor cameras, 36 MP and 55 MP. And with those cameras they should join the L-mount alliance. It would really set them apart and they would still enjoy the advantages of the shared mount. There’s a lot of people out there who love square format.

  3. Thanks Steve for the highly honest review, and for giving the Z6 a shot whereas Nikon would obviously not be your first choice. Beyond the obvious call for Nikon glass owners, I would add that the Z6 is, for me, the nearly as obvious number 1 option for whomever, like me, wants to upgrade to Full Fame from OMD EM1-Mk II (like me) or Fuji XT2. I also believe it is the best choice for whomever starts from scratch, and this for a simple reason: the New S-Lens series and road map, and the willingness of Nikon to produce high quality glass perfectly adapted in size and weight to mirrorless format. As mentioned in another comment of mine, the volume, weight and size of the Z6+ 35mm 1.8 is EXACTLY similar to Oly EM1 mk II + Oly 17mm 1.2. IMO the option of a f1.8 prime lenses line is strategically and technically very clever and accurate. The more so with a 50mm 1.2 also in the pipeline.

  4. Steve, thanks for the review. On your concerns with the Nikon AF, is it your opinion that this is a hardware issue? Or is this something that could be addressed in the future by Nikon with a firmware update?

  5. I’m still looking for perfect camera for manual lenses. Something like Fuji XT3 with FF sensor…
    BTW Why Nikon and Canon are so ugly? :/ (Nikon Df was the right step)

  6. Thank you again Steve, excellent review and insight (including the processing of the Nikon raw images). And yes, I agree that if I only had one camera and one lens on vacation I’d probably go with the SL and a 50 f/2 M mount (Leica Summicron) lens. Lately I have been shooting with a 35mm. many time it is too wide for my liking, so 50mm would also be my choice 🙂

  7. Hi Steve,Another great review for sure. Thank you very much for the sharing. I totally agree with you on “Less is more”. That is why I bought my Leica M246 because I do not even want to be bothered by white balance. On the other hand, as a Nikon glass owner, I think it might be time for me to have them dust off.

  8. I own a Sony A7Riii and find it surprisingly heavy and brick like, the hard edges and very tight squeeze between grip and lens do not help. But I do like that it has smaller sized lenses. NOt M4/3 but smallish primes. Also, as Steve has said many times, I like a camera that makes me want to shoot (like a Pen F that is super fun in mono). The Sony A7Riii is just not an inspiring experience. It is just a tool.

    I have tried out the Nikon Z6 and the grip was just not comfortable for me. I had a Nikon D750 as my last DSLR and it was the first Nikon I had every held that was comfortable. The Z6 reminds me of the D300 – it felt very heavy and sharp in my right plan with the right bottom edge jabbing into my palm. I also thought the grip was not much taller than the Sony – still a 3 finger job. The equivalent lenses to Sony are also quite large in comparison.

    I also tried the Canon Eos R and it was immediately the most comfortable in my hand. Ergonomically I liked it immediately, but it is getting v close to the D750 in size and weight and with the large mount the lenses are enormous. I found the 35mm lens so fat on the camera.

    I like mirrorless but want smaller size and weight. The Sony is still the smallest and lightest and has the smallest FF primes available so I shall stick with it. I just wish they took a leaf from Canon’s book and curved the shutter finger rest and moved the grip out a few mms to give more room around the grip.

    Unfortunately nothing is perfect.

    • I had to send the Z6 back, and I do not have an adapter. I thought I did but do not. But again, these lenses will always be their best on Leica bodies.

  9. Ok Steve, I have the question to end all questions: You’re on vacation and can only take one camera. Are you taking your SL or X1D???

      • I have to agree with the 50 f2 M lens selection. Of all the Leica M glass (and Zeiss and Voigtlander as well) I’ve owned and used over the years, the 50mm APO Summicron is hands down the best… color, rendering, resolution. On an M10 wide open it can be magic.

  10. Third place is not going to cut it. I guess it will follow the Nikon 1 system into the dustbin of history.

    • Nah, they will come out with the Z7MKII or the Z9 and fix all of the things they need to, making it equal to a Sony. Really, the only way I could pick from these three brands is to choose by color output, as they are all unique. All are capable of taking a great photo or shooting nice video. All of them are ore capable than 98% of us. Third place is still better than 1st place 4 years ago.

    • I thought the 50m Summilux ASPH was excellent on my z7, but manual focus is a PITA if you need to fiddle with enlarged focusing, which stays (I think Leica’s goes full image when you stop turning the lens. So I’ll be getting the 50 1.8 S lens…….

  11. These new cameras do indeed have their advantages. No doubt. But just for fun I wandered back to the Seal Tour photos from a decade ago.

    For me, there is a magic to your work with that M9 and the 50 lux that satisfies my artistic senses like no other camera set up has since. Something about the blackness, the realism, the contrast, the grain – I don’t know what it is really. But I love it. And frankly, miss it.

    Anyways, I’d love to see you pick up that old CCD and lux sometime… just for old times sake.

    Thanks for your posts.

    • Actually that was mostly the M9 and Noctilux and a few with the 50 Lux but I agree. When I go back to that combo, there is a difference in the IQ, color and snap that no camera since has matched. The M10 gets close though, but that Noctilux is $11k+ these days. Eek! Thank You. Just goes to show newer is not always better!

  12. Thank you for this excellent review. Will you have a chance to use Leica m-lenses on the Z6? With IBIS and a thinner sensor cover glass it could be an attractive solution for m-lenses, easily beating Sony’s A7(r)III.

  13. Thom Hogan found out that the focus problems occur in certain high contrast situation. He expects Nikon will be able to solve it with a firmware update.

      • This Z6 and most probably also the upcoming Panasonic S1 might be(come) the most interesting cameras for using legacy glass because of the thin filter stack. (Except for the current Leica’s of course but these are more expensive).
        Which means the wide angle glass problems we saw (see) with the Sony 7’s will be almost non-existent.
        That’s why I’m interested in both these camera’s.

  14. Hi Steve,
    those images are among the best I’ve seen from you, it was a joy to read the review, thanks.

  15. “Sony Cons: WORST ergonomics of the bunch” I agree with you Steve. I just picked up the A7R III while the $400 off was still going on, I immediately attached the Sony battery grip … the camera went from worst to FIRST just like that. I have a great big hand and the battery grip makes the ergonomics PERFECT, not mention that battery life is other worldly … I can shoot all week 😉 Also, it’s nice to have the joystick and control wheel in portrait orientation. Then if I want more stealth for say food shots at restaurants, I simply remove the battery grip and throw on the RRS base plate along with the venerable 55 1.8 Zeiss. This configuration makes the camera light and stealthy with the added benefit of being freakishly good in low light. One other note to mention, Sony must have tweaked the color science in the A7R III with this latest firmware update because the colors are absolutely gorgeous and Canon-like SOOC.

  16. Hohoho agree with you on ergonomics of R. Not sure about the AF speed advantage though but I do dislike A7iii feel and menu (should’ve just copy Canon).

    • Canon have half the features. Less features means less menu items. Less = simple / easy to find.

      Sony menus are arguably more consistent and easier to use than Canon’s. They just have more stuff.

  17. Hi,

    thanks for sharing great post keep up the good work i love reading interesting post will be back soon for reading some awesome stuff from you

  18. Thanks Steve another great and honest review. Agree totally with you regarding less is more and manufacturers seducing us with new models. I got my A7RII and A7s after reading your reviews and would love an A9 but as you say it’s what suits us individually that counts, so upgrading for the sake of upgrading is no point for me I’m happy with my lot. It’s all about enjoying the hobby but still nice reading reviews like this. Best wishes for 2019.

  19. Steve,
    Thank you for the incredible review!! Your insight regarding the good (color and film like look) and the bad (low light AF) are points I have not heard / read before. Also I have two questions:
    1) I have heard that Lightroom 6 is not able to import the new Nikon RAW files. How did you process the new RAW files?
    2) Did you have a chance to try any MF (m-mount?) lenses?
    Lastly, do you have any updates regarding Ken?

    • Hey Jerry, I used good old fashion ACR with Photoshop. The Nikon RAW files open up just fine. I did not try M lenses but did try them with the Canon EOS-R and wasn’t thrilled with the performance. I will see if I can get a few shots with the Nikon using a couple M lenses…

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