The Nikon Z6 II and Nikon D780 don’t look similar side by side. The Z6 II is a slim mirrorless camera, and the D780 – though not a huge for a DSLR – is still a DSLR. But beneath the surface, the two cameras have a lot in common.
In this article, I’m going to compare the Nikon Z6 II against the D780. We’ve tested these two cameras extensively here at Photography Life, both in the lab and in the field. So, if you’re considering either of them cameras, this article should help you figure out which one to get.
As you can see in the scale image below, the Z6 II (on the left) is smaller than the D780 (on the right):
It’s also lighter at 705 grams (1.55 lbs) compared to 840 grams (1.85 lbs). These differences aren’t as extreme as some mirrorless/DSLR comparisons, like the Nikon Z7 II and the Nikon D850. But if you’re looking for a travel camera, the Z6 II starts off on the right foot.
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before diving into the pros and cons of each camera, let’s first take a look at their specifications.
Nikon Z6 II and D780 Specifications
|Camera Feature||Nikon Z6 II||Nikon D780|
|Announced||October 14, 2020||January 6, 2020|
|Camera Type||Z-Mount Mirrorless||F-Mount DSLR|
|Sensor Resolution||24.5 MP||24.5 MP|
|Sensor Type||BSI CMOS||BSI CMOS|
|In-Body Image Stabilization||Yes, 5-axis||No|
|Sensor Size||35.9 × 23.9 mm||35.9 × 23.9 mm|
|Image Size||6048 × 4024||6048 × 4024|
|Pixel Pitch||5.94 µm||5.94 µm|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-51,200||ISO 100-51,200|
|Image Processor||Dual EXPEED 6||EXPEED 6|
|Viewfinder Type||Electronic; 3.69 million dots||Optical; ∞ dots|
|Flash Sync Speed||1/200||1/200|
|Storage Media||1× CFexpress / 1× SD UHS-II||2× SD UHS-II|
|Max Continuous Shooting Speed||14 FPS||7 FPS mechanical shutter, 12 FPS electronic shutter in live view|
|Camera Buffer (12-bit Lossless Raw)||124 images||100 images|
|Shutter Speed Range||1/8000 to 900 seconds||1/8000 to 900 seconds|
|Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter||Yes||Yes|
|Exposure Metering Sensor||TTL metering using camera image sensor||180,000-pixel RGB sensor|
|Autofocus System||273 hybrid AF points||Viewfinder: 51 Phase Detection AF points, 15 cross-type|
Live view: 273 hybrid AF points
|Autofocus Detection Range (f/2 Lens, ISO 100)||-4.5 to +19 EV (-6 to +19 with low-light AF)||-3 to +19 EV with viewfinder (-6 to +17 EV in live view with low-light AF)|
|Internal Video Modes||4:2:0 8-Bit||4:2:0 8-Bit|
|Video Maximum Resolution||4K UHD @ up to 60p, 1080p @ up to 120p||4K UHD @ up to 30p, 1080p @ up to 120p|
|4K Video Crop Factor||1.0× (24p and 30p), 1.5× (60p)||1.0× (24p and 30p)|
|HDMI Out / LOG||4:2:2 10-bit HDMI Output / Yes||4:2:2 10-bit HDMI Output / Yes|
|Articulating LCD||Yes, tilt only||Yes, tilt only|
|Rear LCD Size||3.2″ Diagonal LCD||3.2″ Diagonal LCD|
|Rear LCD Resolution||2,100,000 dots||2,359,000 dots|
|Wi-Fi / Bluetooth||Yes / Yes||Yes / Yes|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||340 shots||2260 shots|
|Weather Sealed Body||Yes||Yes|
|Weight with Battery and Card||705 g (1.55 lbs)||840 g (1.85 lbs)|
|Dimensions (L×H×D); Depth Excludes Protruding Viewfinder||134 × 101 × 70 mm (5.3 × 4.0 × 2.8 inches)||143.5 × 115.5 × 76.0 mm (5.6 × 4.5 × 3.0 inches)|
|MSRP As Introduced||$2000||$2300|
|Current Price||$2000 (check price)||$2000 (check price)|
Key Similarities and Differences
What strikes me the most is how similar these specifications are. Most of the differences are the usual pros and cons of mirrorless versus DSLR: weight, battery life, in-body image stabilization, viewfinder type, and so on. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the Nikon Z6 II is a “mirrorless D780,” and the D780 is a “DSLR Z6 II.”
While the Z6 II has a few more points in its column than the D780, that’s not always a sign of the better camera. For example, if you prioritize the D780’s long battery life or optical viewfinder, the advantage can start to shift toward the DSLR instead. Given how close most of these specifications are, the choice is definitely a dilemma.
Unfortunately, even if you ignore all the features above and just pay attention to image quality, the choice doesn’t get any easier. Both of these cameras use the same sensor and have indistinguishable image quality. They also cost the same (at least at the time I’m publishing this article), so you can’t just pick whichever is cheaper.
As I see it, there are two major advantages to the Nikon Z6 II and two for the Nikon D780. These are the differences that I would suggest basing your decision upon:
- The Nikon Z6 II has access to Nikon’s excellent lineup of native Z-Series lenses, while the Nikon D780 does not. Both cameras have access to Nikon’s huge lineup of F-mount lenses, although the Z6 II can only use them with an adapter (and doesn’t always have full compatibility).
- The Nikon Z6 II is smaller, lighter, and more portable than the D780. The D780 isn’t a huge camera, especially for a full-frame DSLR, but the difference isn’t subtle if you’re bringing along your camera all day.
- The Nikon D780’s 51-point viewfinder autofocus system is a better tracking system for fast action like sports and wildlife photography compared to the Z6 II’s hybrid PDAF system. The Nikon Z system gets more flack online than it should, and it’s certainly still possible to photograph action with the Z6 II, but the implementation is smoother on the D780. That said, the Z6 II does a great job autofocusing on people thanks to its stellar eye-tracking AF.
- The Nikon D780 has a much longer battery life (at least when using the optical viewfinder) for all-day shooting.
I’m not saying the other differences don’t matter, but for most photographers, those are the four things I would think about the most.
Which Camera Should You Get?
For wildlife and event photographers, I recommend the Nikon D780 because of the autofocus system and long battery life. For travel and landscape photographers, the Z6 II is the way to go thanks to the Z-Series lenses and the more portable form factor. Even for portrait photography, I lean toward the Nikon Z6 II; its eye-tracking autofocus system is amazing for photos of people, and you get the other mirrorless benefits like weight and in-body image stabilization along the way. (The D780 also has eye-tracking AF, but it’s only in live view and not through the viewfinder.)
If you’re a long-time Nikon shooter with a large lineup of native F-mount glass, I’d say to stick with DSLRs for a bit longer. The Nikon Z6 II works reasonably well with the FTZ adapter for adapting F-mount glass, but not as well as a DSLR like the D780. (Just to name one example, the FTZ adapter can’t be attached or removed when your camera is on a typical tripod head.) You may eventually decide to switch to mirrorless, but if you have a great F-mount lineup already, there’s no need to rush.
On the other hand, first-time Nikon photographers who aren’t sure should go with the Z6 II. Nikon – like most other camera companies – is clearly putting more effort into mirrorless than DSLRs these days. I have mixed feelings about that myself, but it’s hard to deny that’s the direction they’re going. I therefore recommend starting your Nikon journey with the camera system that Nikon is prioritizing rather than phasing out, all else equal.
Naturally, the Z6 II and D780 are both fantastic cameras, and you can’t go wrong either way. I know that I say something like that every time I write one of these comparison articles, but it’s true. Practically every modern DSLR and mirrorless camera is amazing, and they’re usually priced where they should be, too. That’s doubly true in the case of the Nikon Z6 II and Nikon D780, which are as similar as a mirrorless and DSLR can be. You’ll be able to take equally amazing photos with either camera, so pick whichever one sets your heart aflutter and don’t look back.
SpencerI’m a generalist photographer. Actually I don’t get out much anymore but that’s about to change when I retire next year. I’m currently a D750 user and have been pleased with its performance EXCEPT live view use sucks and the shutter is loud. I plan of traveling and doing architectural, street, and some landscape photography. No events, sporting or otherwise, nor much action work. I’m already invested in some moderate priced F-mount lenses (50mm f1.4; 18-35 f3.5-4.5; 24-120 f4.0, and 70-300 f4.5-5.6) plus speedlights (SB400 and SB700) and 77mm B+W premium UV and circular polarizer filters. I’ve heard the FTZ converter isn’t as good as advertised which is concerning for use with my F-mount lenses. The main lure of the D780 for me was to be able to effectively use live view in various ways and to be more inconspicuous in street photography – e.g. shooting from waist level vs holding the D750 up to my eye for every shot, and utilizing the D780’s silent shutter mode. Since I’ve never used an EVF, I can’t say which VF I’d likely prefer. I’ll appreciate some guidance as I decide whether the D780 or Z6II is the right choice for my usage. Note that I’m now 66 years old and will appreciate less weight to carry around, however that’s not the only criteria. Thanks in advance for the assistance.
I have a D780 that I really like. I upgraded a year ago to a FX camera and had some FX lenses. I thought about going mirrorless but a few things stopped me. First, the battery life is terrible in comparison. Second, A big push for the mirrorless was lighter and more portable but by the time you add a battery pack and extra batteries it is bigger and heavier. Third, using the FTZ adapter makes the mirrorless just as heavy as the D780 with F mount series lenses. Finally, the number of lenses and cost of lenses made this prohibitive.
just want to point out, as a bird photographer who also does a lot of video, the ability to film quickly from the viewfinder on the z6 is a HUGE help. And if i had to film on the d780, the difference in battery life wouldn’t be too stark.
the focusing system on both are pretty darn good, but with some good technique and getting used to the z6 does as god a job in the field.
I have the D750 and have owned, and loved it, for about 5 years now. I just ordered the D780 today after almost a full week of researching. I have a number of fx lenses that I really like and take care of. I want the D780 primarily for many of its nicer newer features, and that I will continue to have a dslr for a few years more (in case they decide to stop making them). Being an amateur/hobbyist type of photographer, the D780 will certainly meet my needs. Excited to try out some of the new features.
I feel the mirrorless’ need for battery crazy. To get the same shoots count I need at least 6 batteries vs 1. So you need to carry a lot of batteries and the chargers. How can be a mirrorless camera a good choice to travel?
Just 1 extra battery + powerbank
34 yrs Nikon User mostly Nature, wildlife and travel photography. When the Z6 came out I had high hopes for moving to Mirrorless to a lighter and more compact system with the ML benefits. I was disappointed with the auto focus. Fuji offered me an opportunity to use the XT4 with 3 lenses on a 3 week trip to Kruger National Park is South Africa where I live. This was a great test and came back with very good results and the joy of using a much smaller system. Negatives were the 100-400 lens that has some shortcomings with focus and other niggling issues. The XT4 is a very good camera but also lack fast accurate focus tracking. Then after lots of testing I bought a used Sony a9ii and 200-600 lens. Just in time for this yrs 3 weak trip. Results fantastic with the focus system that is clearly years ahead of the Z system and the XT Fuji system. the 200-600 is a fantastic lens. But I feel Sony files are not as clean as Nikon files and even the Fuji colours and overall files are better than Sony a9ii files. I am currently again testing the Z6ii on the Nikon 200-500. It unfortunately feels like a donkey against a race horse. So find myself in a slightly frustrating position. I love Nikon files, I like Fuji size, handling and overall feel but both lack in auto focus and Nikon lack the Z mount telephoto lens, and I like the Sony 200-600 lens, the auto focus is crazy fast and good, but the bodies lack style and the files need a lot more work. Noise performance and cooler grading. Another issue is price. Future offerings from Nikon will have to be new purchase when a Z8 and 200-600 lens hit the market. Sony a9 and a9ii can be bought used in top condition at major discount and also the 200-600 or 100-400 lenses. Fuji pricing is actually very good and their used equipment maintain good value. So where does the future lie. Unfortunately Nikon has left a lot of photographers very frustrated. Many are moving to other systems and our local market is flooded with Nikon high end lenses and bodies. Lots are still hanging on to the DSLR’s and f mounts, however they fellow wildlife photographers are using mirrorless equipment from Canon and Sony that is not only lighter, faster and offer the all important silent shutter and blackout free 20 fps capabilities when needed. most frustrating is that Sony a9 saw the market in 2017 and with firmware upgrades have the same focus system as the A9ii that is also almost 2 yrs old and Nikon could still not offer in the Z6/7 bodies the same level of AF performance. They could also not even get one telephoto lens to the market except the 70-200. Canon with their mirrorless has given R5/6 bodies with lenses that have a9ii and a1 level focus performance. Disappointed and frustrated with Nikon.
I have been an ardent NIKON supporter since my first one ( black, unmetered F with F36 MD and cordless pack ) back in ’68. Am proud to have NIKKOR class on my 8×10 DEARDORFF as well. Call me a Neanderthal, but NIKON has not made a camera in TWENTY PLUS YEARS. My feelings about their current products is quite NEGATIVE. Would gladly trade a 780 and Z6 both for another F / F36 !!
The D810/850 are widely regarded as two of the best DSLR’s ever made.
So, if you’re a landscape and a wildlife photographer … ?
My budget-conscious approach is a D7500 for wildlife, as a 300/f4 and 1.4 TC is the most effective lens I can afford, and this gives me 21MP at 630mm (efl). To get that from a 35mm camera would mean a D850 in dx mode – but I don’t have the computer to cope with 45MP for landscape use.
For landscapes I’d like to move from my D610 to a Z5 and 14-30 and (probably) Tamron 28-300 (when it’s out in Z-mount).
I do buy most of my gear used, so it might be a year or two …
Good question. If you want to shoot both with one camera, and you deal with tricky, fast-moving wildlife like birds in flight, I believe the D780 is the better choice. But if you don’t mind using multiple cameras, you already have wildlife covered with the D7500 and could get the Z5 or Z6 II for the best of both worlds.
Thanks for the article. I’ve enjoyed shooting with my D750 for the last 5 years, and I just bought a Z5 two weeks ago at a huge discount and a free FTZ. My enjoyment is now double (almost)!
That’s awesome! Glad you’re enjoying it. The Z5 is really great.
Excellent post, Spencer. Thank you. I got my D780 two weeks ago, after shooting with my D750 for 6-1/2 years and want to give a quick impression of using the D780 for portraits. I’m a non-pro and shoot mainly events (family, etc.) and some street but love portraits. I don’t shoot action, unless you can count grandkids running around as action subjects. I tend to follow wedding photographers to hear their experiences in event/portrait situations.
The introduction of the D780 seems to have been overshadowed by all the DSLR vs. mirrorless discussions out there. Specifically, the “complaints” about the Zs’ autofocus system had me wondering if the D780’s Live View experience would be any good. After digging deeper into the system, I rented a D780 for ten days and loved the results.
From a portrait perspective, I was interested in using all 273 focus points plus face/eye detect in Lv to avoid constantly focusing and recomposing at shallow DOF settings. (Over the years, I have moved the AF points around in the OVF and, even staying with the cross-hair points, got mixed results if I didn’t use the center AF point.)
Lv shooting was spot on and the “flow” of shooting was quick and relaxed. An unexpected benefit was the ability to look at and talk with my subject while shooting, and not hiding behind the camera and lens. It was like having a conversation with a friend while clicking away with the camera, monitoring composition, and letting the eye detect do its thing. In the end, focus nailed, subject relaxed, and photographer not stressed. And outstanding images.
I understand the complaints about not being able to change mirrorless AF modes quickly, but with the D780 it’s easy — mainly because you are using Lv with all options in front of you, and not an EVF while trying to press programmed buttons and count clicks on dials to get to the desired mode. In Lv on the D780, if you need a different type focus box very quickly, just press the OK button or tap the OK icon on the touch screen, which gives you the “white box” that you can place over your subject and shoot. The white box is for subject tracking but it works fine for stationary objects. You can also changes AF modes with a few quick taps of the iMenu on the touch screen. At first, I though a touch screen sounded amateurish but after using it, it is very intuitive and fast.
The D750 continues to be an excellent camera, and I would have kept mine forever, but saw an opportunity to stay with DSLRs with the D780 for my use case and let the mirrorless market continue to play out.
Long time reader of PL and first time poster. Keep up the great work and thanks again for this post!
Good to hear it, Glenn! The D780 is a great camera, and I really enjoyed shooting with it last year. Hopefully all of Nikon’s future DSLRs do something similar in terms of blending DSLR and mirrorless tech. There’s still plenty of room for DSLRs in my opinion, or even hybrid cameras (a DSLR which also has an electronic viewfinder).
The D780’s live view implementation is better than that of any other Nikon DSLR for this very reason – it borrows the Z6 / Z6 II live view almost exactly. I remember how excited people were when some D850 rumors suggested it would have a hybrid viewfinder.
And I helped Nikon’s 2022 fiscal year. 😊
Really nice to read your comments, Glenn. You’ve pretty much helped me make my decision to pick up a D780. I’m not sure what I will do with my trusty D750 however!