Mirrorless interchangable-lens cameras (MILCs) are set to replace DSLRs in the coming years. They will take over, just as digital replaced film, and mobile phone cameras replaced compact cameras. Sensor technology now has caught up to allow electronic view finders and these lighter, simpler mirrorless systems are here to stay.
Following this inevitable tide, the Nikon 1 series of cropped frame mirror cameras was discontinued mid-2018. As replacement, Nikon simultaneously released two full frame mirrorless models—the Z6 and Z7. Until then Sony had a strong hold on the market. And, Canon has now also introduced its own full frame mirrorless system.
Images and video are both the top quality on the Nikon Z6 mirrorless digital camera, and firmware updates since the initial release have fixed a number of niggles. As a kit, the Z6 is sold with the 24-70mm f/4. It comes boxed with a EN-EL15b rechargeable battery plus charger and USB cable and cable clip. There’s also a strap, body cap, hot shoe cover, and rubber eye cup.
The Nikon Z6 at a glance
- Excellent 4K video capabilities
- Great looking 3.68M dot electronic viewfinder (EVF)
- Excellent autofocus system with 90% coverage & 273 AF points
- New Z mount system—plus FTZ adapter to use older Nikon lenses
- Top build quality and excellent ergonomics
- Only a single XQD card slot
- High ISO noise reduction is not so great
- Minor delays in EVF—not good at tracking fast action
- Battery life could be better.
The Nikon Z6 hits the right balance between features and price. It has the same controls as the Z7, as well as the magnesium alloy body construction and weather sealing. There is barely a discernible outside difference between Z6 and the Z7. But, the Z6 is around two thirds of the price.
To think of the Z6 in terms of the comparable Nikon DSLR, the Z6 is a mirrorless version of the D750. Its light and ergonomic design will feel familiar to those who use Nikon’s DSLRs. The Z6’s 24MP full frame backside-illuminated CMOS sensor is 23.9 x 35.9mm, with 6,048 × 4,024.
It uses in-camera five-axis image stabilization. This will add 5 stops to Nikon Z lenses and 3 stops for other lenses. You will also get full frame 4K video without any crop factor and a high 12fps burst speed, although with some limitations. There is an option to shoot in a silent mode as well.
The Nikon Z6 has only a single card slot. As with Nikon’s latest DSLRs, it is the newer XQD format. If your other cameras use SD cards, then you will need to pick up some new ones for the Z6. Firmware updates mean there is now support for the faster CFExpress cards too.
Who is the Z6 for?
This camera is well suited to enthusiast photographers who are keen to take a leap into the world of mirrorless cameras. Current Nikon users are going to be attracted the Z6, but any photographer who is thinking of branching out to shoot some video, should take a good look too.
The video performance on the Z6 is sought after, even by serious filmmakers. With full width 4K video and capabilities to output 12-bit via HDMI, it has a strong edge over other full frame digital mirrorless cameras.
Photographers who shoot travel images, nature and landscapes are going to find the Z6 produces top images. It also an excellent choice for astronomy photography and portrait work. New firmware updates have significantly improved the autofocus, but give it a miss if you regularly need to shoot groups of people, or fast paced action.
New Z6s and Z7s are expected later in 2020.
Key Features and Benefits of the Nikon Z6 Mirrorless Digital Camera
One of the great advantages of mirrorless cameras is that the autofocus system is directly on the sensor. No AF adjustments are necessary. Shooting with super narrow depth of field now becomes far more accurate and enjoyable.
The Nikon Z6 generally does a great job at finding the focus. There are 273 AF points which cover 90% of the frame. It uses a hybrid of phase and contrast detection autofocus. The focus point can be easily set via the touch screen.
Thanks to new firmware, the Z6 now includes eye-AF. Both the face recognition and eye-AF work well, but are not quite as sticky or fast as competitors.
It can find it difficult to pick the right face in group shots, or lock back onto a subject’s face when they are moving in and out of frame. Frustratingly, it often decides that focusing on a random background object is a better choice. It is easy enough to correct by selecting where you want the focus, but other cameras are smarter at this and don’t need help.
In low light, or with back-lit subjects it can also get caught hunting for the focus, which means you cannot shoot. It has a bright green AF illuminator which may be annoying for your subjects.
However, manual focus override is instantaneous, and works in all modes. This is not the case for other mirrorless digital cameras.
Ergonomics & Controls
If you are used to shooting with Nikon, you are going to find the Z6 extremely familiar and comfortable. It is smaller, but it still feels robust and simply great in hand.
The top dial has space for three user presets to be stored. Not every setting will be remembered, but they are a good base in a handy position. There’s also two function buttons next to the mount which can be assigned a range of functions and easily accessible during shooting.
The Nikon menu system is well organized and relatively intuitive to use. Again, for those who already shoot with Nikon, there aren’t any shocks in store and the transition will feel natural.
A flicker reduction setting is available—perhaps the first mirrorless digital camera that has this option. This helps to mitigate the flickering from older fluorescent or mercury-vapor light sources when using high shutter speeds.
Rear LCD and Touch Screen
The rear screen on the Z6 is 3.2″ (8 cm) diagonal, and has a high 2.1M dot resolution. It appears clear and sharp. Whenever it is lit, it is available for everything you need—AF point selection, playback, entering text and menus. The screen does not not have any auto brightness control though.
The screen will tilt vertically only. This is often enough to accommodate shooting at odd angles when necessary, though you may hit its limits. However, it doesn’t allow the screen to be used for selfies and vlogging, as the Canon EOS R does.
When an image is zoomed in on the screen, you can navigate by dragging with your finger, or use the four-way button on the rear. One nifty feature is the ‘touch shutter’, which fires the shutter with a tap of a finger on the screen.
When looking through the view finder, the rear screen shuts off. Current shooting settings, battery life, and shot count can still be seen on the OLED control panel on the top of the body.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF)
The image in the electronic view finder is great. It is a high resolution 3.68 million dots and offers 100% coverage at 0.80x magnification. Brightness can be either automatically or manually controlled.
Everything you need to do can be done through the viewfinder. You can show all the menus, playback and magnify images. No DSLR can do that, and this is another advantage of mirrorless systems. A button on the side of the viewfinder cycles through the monitor modes.
It does take a moment to wake up when you first put your eye to the viewfinder. A quick half-press of the shutter button before put your eye to the camera will get it ready though.
The levels display is too big and distracting in the EVF to compose a shot when it is on. If you need to see live levels, you might prefer to use the rear screen for this.
In most cases the EVF works fine for following subjects’ movements. However, it doesn’t keep up with super fast paced movement and you will see slight delays due to buffering. Shooting sport and action would be tough.
In very low light the EVF can also struggle and give murky, noisy images.
The Nikon Z6 produces excellent quality stills and also stands out for its 4K video capabilities. Some serious filmmakers will gravitate this way. Switching from stills to video is done via a simple rotating selector on the back. It uses the same picture controls as still images, but settings can be set differently as required. There’s also additional electronic vibration reduction which kicks when recording video.
Importantly, the Z6 uses the full width of the sensor to capture 4K video (3,840 x 2,160), and then downsamples to the correct resolution. However, you can still select cropped DX format if it suits what you are doing. You can shoot 4K up to 30fps, and full HD video (1,920 x 1,080) up to 120fps, which can optionally be converted in camera for slo-mo playback. There is no loss of quality if the camera does the conversion, but no audio will be captured.
Maximum take length is half an hour (29:59 min). With an external recorder this can be longer.
With a paid upgrade streaming and using an Atomos Ninja V recording monitor the Z6 will record and encode in ProRes Raw Format. Video can be output in 12-bit 4:2:2 via HDMI, including with the new N-Log color profile. It records great dynamic range and ensures high quality color grading is possible.
Still images can be captured whilst filming. When shooting 4K video the images will be also be 3,840 × 2,160. When shooting any other size stills will be 1,920 × 1,080.
Use the built-in stereo mics or the mic jack with plug in power, for audio during video recording. There is also a headphone jack for playback.
The new Z mount system and lens support
Along with the new mirrorless bodies comes a brilliant new lens mount. The Z mount lenses are all top quality as you would expect. Generally they are fairly compact and lightweight, in keeping with overall feel of the mirrorless system.
Without the mirror system of the DSLR, the flange size can be much smaller. In this case it is a tiny 16mm. That is the shortest flange to sensor distance of any professional camera. With a 55mm inner diameter, the Z series bodies also have the widest lens mount of any full frame or DX digital camera.
The range of dedicated Z mount lenses is still small, but continues to grow. You can get five solid primes: 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm, all f/1.8. The 24-70mm f/4 kit lens is a great mid-budget zoom lens but produces great detail. There’s a pro version too. It goes down to F/2.8, but is bulkier and more expensive. Nikon again produces a great all in one lens that is excellent for travel photographers—the 24-200mm f/4-6.3.
The Z mount lenses are also designed with video in mind. They have silent AF and also reduced focus ‘breathing’. However, oddly there is no focus distance scale on the lenses.
If you want to marvel at some very fine glass, take a look at the impressive Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct.
It is an excellent proof of the capabilities of the new wider Z mount system. Don’t expect to be able to afford it, though.
Despite the FTZ mount adapter, keep in mind that compatibility with older Nikon lenses is not completely seamless. It can only autofocus with those that have a built in AF motor. Manual focus lenses also have some issues. This is a shame, as many of these lenses do work much better on Nikon’s DSLRs. Fringer has an adapter for Canon EF lens which also works great.
Additional features to note
The Z6 uses the batteries from Nikon’s DSLRs—it comes with the new EN-EL15b and can also take the EN-EL15rd and EN-EL15a batteries. Based on the CIPA standards, the battery life is okay, but not great. In practice, you will generally get significantly more shots than the rating suggests.
Charging is simple. The Z6 is shipped with the MH-25A external battery charger, as well as a USB cable. It will charge via USB with a USB-C cable and any 5V USB source. That means you can easily charge two batteries at once—one in the camera and one in the charger. Plus, the EH-7P AC charging adapter can be bought separately, if you need it.
There is no built-in flash, but the Z6 works perfectly with Nikon DLSR flash systems. It is enabled for wifi and bluetooth, but lacks GPS.
How does the Nikon Z6 stack up against the competition?
If you aren’t already set on getting a Nikon, it is worth seeing how the Z6 stacks up again some other full frame digital mirrorless cameras. Here we compare it to Sony, Canon and Panasonic models, all around the $2000 mark for the body.
The Canon offers a higher 30MP megapixel resolution sensor, which falls between Nikon’s Z6 and the Z7. The Panasonic and the Sony are both the same as the Nikon.
The Nikon Z6 stands out for its video performance, excellent build quality and great ergonomics.
Quick Comparison Guide
|Nikon Z6||Sony a7 III||Panasonic S1||Canon EOS R|
|Sensor – pixels||24MP||24MP||24MP||30MP|
|AF system||273 point phase & contrast detection AF||693 point phase detection AF / 425 point contrast detection AF||‘Depth from Defocus’|
contrast detection AF
|Dual pixel AF with 5655 AF points|
|Top settings display||yes||no||yes||yes – dot-matrix|
|Viewfinder (EVF) resolution||3.68M dots||2.36M dots||5.76M dots||3.68M dots|
|Rear Screen||tilting touchscreen|
|tilting touch screen|
|two-way tilting touchscreen|
|articulated touch screen|
|Image Stabilization||5-axis IBIS||5-axis IBIS||5-axis IBIS|
& sync with lens IS
|Maximum Frame Rate||12 fps|
|10 fps||9 fps – locked focus|
6 fps – tracking focus
|8 fps – locked focus|
5 fps – tracking focus
|High Res Mode||no||no||yes – 96mp|
uses multiple captures
|Back lit buttons||no||no||yes||no|
|Video Capture||4K 30fps|
Paid Upgrade: Raw HDMI to Atomos Ninja
|4K 24fps –|
– full sensor
– 1.2x Crop
4K 60fps – 1.5x crop
10-bit 30fps (internal)
10-bit 60fps (HDMI)
|upto 4K 30fps|
– 1.7x crop
12-bit – HDMI
|S-Log2 & 3, HLG|
8-bit – internal
10-bit – HDMI
|380 / 310||710 / 610||400 / 380|
with SD card
|370 (LCD)/ 350 screen|
|Lens mount||Nikon Z||Sony E-mount||L-Mount|
Lumix and Leica
|Card slots||Single XQD||Dual SD||1 XQD + 1 SD||Single SD|
|Dimensions (approx.)||5.28 x 3.98 x 2.68″|
134 x 101 x 68 mm
|5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.|
127 x 96 x 74 mm
|5.9 x 4.3 x 3.8 in.|
149 x 110 x 97 mm
| 5.35 x 3.87 x 3.32 in|
136 x 98 x 84 mm
with battery, card and body cap
|675 g||650 g||1017 g with SD card||660g|
Nikon Z6 vs Sony A7III
Both have excellent AF systems, but the Sony is a generation ahead in its technology. Sony’s face recognition and eye-AF are quicker and more accurate than Nikon’s, and it has more AF points.
Ergonomically, the feel of the Nikon in hand is much more comfortable than the Sony. The Z6 also has a higher resolution EVF and a more user friendly menu system. The Sony performs well shooting in a variety of situations, from family shots to travel, to sport. If you spend long days out shooting, than Sony’s long battery life might sway you in that direction.
When it comes to cards, the Sony A7III has 2 SD card slots, compared to Nikon’s single XQD.
If you are not committed to Nikon, then take a look at more detail on what the Sony A7 III offers.
Nikon Z6 vs Panasonic Lumix S1
You will pay a little more for the Panasonic than the other options here. But, it does offer some extra capabilities which make it excel at both stills and video. You will also get dual memory card slots—one for SD card and another for XQD cards.
If you are a landscape shooter or want to print very large images, you may find the S1’s high resolution mode too good to pass up. By moving the sensor and taking multiple captures, it produces an impressive 96MP image.
The Lumix S1 also offers some enticing paid upgrades in video capabilities. This will allow full V-Log recording and 10-bit internal recording. Without an upgrade you can still shoot 4K at 60fps, though it will be with a 1.5X crop.
If you seek high end video options or large images, have a look at the Panasonic Lumix S1.
Nikon Z6 vs Canon EOS R
The key feature that stands out on the EOS R is its articulated screen. If you are making content and fancy doing some vlogging, having a front facing screen is a great plus. However, you are going to have to settle for cropped frame 4K video. Nikon’s video upgrade options put it well ahead.
The EOS R has a single SD card slot, compared to Nikon’s XQD card slot. On the EOS R, sensibly the shutter is closed when off, which offers some protection against dust getting on the sensor. Another detail is that the EOS R shows lens distortion correction in live in the EVF, but you won’t be able to see it on the Z6 until playback.
Vloggers especially are encouraged to read over the Canon EOS R’s full details.
The Nikon Z6 has a few areas where we wish it was a little more snappy and thought through. But, overall it is an excellent all round full frame mirrorless digital camera. If you are a hybrid shooter who takes as much video as stills and plans to use the same gear to shoot both, the Z6 will serve you well. Likewise, if you are only starting to explore shooting video.
Those who already own Nikon cameras are going to slip right in to using the Z6. Sure, not all the older Nikon lenses in your collection will smoothly transition to the Z6, but picking a different brand mirrorless digital isn’t likely to solve that either.
There are many solid reasons to select the Z6, and looked at compared to the Z7 is it undeniably superior value for money.