With Nikon’s long-awaited full-frame mirrorless Z6 and Z7 cameras finally announced, and the Z7 now shipping to the earliest pre-orders, it’s time to take a look at how the two compare. Naturally, they are quite similar in certain ways, even having practically identical camera bodies. But under the hood, there are plenty of differences, some of which are quite significant. Are you thinking of buying either the Z6 or Z7? If so, this article should help you understand the main pros and cons of each.
Nikon Z6 and Z7 Specifications Comparison
Physically, both cameras physically look identical and weigh the same. However, Nikon is clearly targeting the Z6 and Z7 at different audiences, akin in many ways to the difference between the Sony A7 and A7R line-ups, or the difference between the Nikon D750 and D850.
The Nikon Z6 is targeted as a general-purpose mirrorless camera, with its 24 MP sensor, 12 fps continuous shooting speed and 273 autofocus points. The Nikon Z7, on the other hand, is going to be marketed as a more premium offering, with its 45.7 MP sensor that can push 9 fps and a superior autofocus system with a total of 493 focus points. Both cameras offer hybrid autofocus systems, with on-sensor phase detection and contrast detection AF.
Let’s take a look at the specifications in more detail:
|Camera Feature||Nikon Z6||Nikon Z7|
|Sensor Resolution||24.5 Million||45.7 Million|
|Sensor Type||BSI CMOS||BSI CMOS|
|In-Body Image Stabilization||Yes, 5-axis||Yes, 5-axis|
|Sensor Size||35.9 x 24.0mm||35.9 x 23.9mm|
|Image Size||6048 x 4024||8256 x 5504|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 6||EXPEED 6|
|Viewfinder||Electronic / EVF||Electronic / EVF|
|Viewfinder Type / Resolution||QVGA / 3.6 Million Dots||QVGA / 3.6 Million Dots|
|Flash Sync Speed||1/200s||1/200s|
|Storage Media||1x XQD||1x XQD|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||12 FPS (limited to 12-bit RAW and no AE), 9 FPS (14-bit RAW but no AE), 5.5 FPS with AE||9 FPS (only 12-bit RAW, no AE) – 8 FPS (14-bit RAW, no AE) – 5.5 FPS (14-bit RAW and AE)|
|Max Shutter Speed||1/8000||1/8000|
|Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter||Yes||Yes|
|Exposure Metering Sensor||TTL metering using camera image sensor||TTL metering using camera image sensor|
|Base ISO||ISO 100||ISO 64|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-51,200||ISO 64-25,600|
|Autofocus System||Hybrid PDAF||Hybrid PDAF|
|Focus Peaking / Peaking Colors / Levels||Yes / Red, Yellow, Blue, White / 3||Yes / Red, Yellow, Blue, White / 3|
|Video Maximum Resolution||4K @ 24/25/30 fps, 1080p @ 120fps||4K @ 24/25/30 fps, 1080p @ 120fps|
|4K Video Type||Full-sensor width (oversampled)||Line skipping|
|HDMI Out / N-LOG||4:2:2 10-bit HDMI Output / Yes||4:2:2 10-bit HDMI Output / Yes|
|Articulating LCD||Yes, Tilting||Yes, Tilting|
|LCD Size||3.2″ Diagonal LCD||3.2″ Diagonal LCD|
|LCD Resolution||2,100,000 dots||2,100,000 dots|
|Battery Life||310 shots (CIPA)||330 shots (CIPA)|
|Weather Sealed Body||Yes||Yes|
|USB Version||Type-C 3.1||Type-C 3.1|
|Weight (Camera Body Only)||585g (20.7oz)||585g (20.7oz)|
|Dimensions||134 x 100.5 x 67.5mm (5.3 x 4.0 x 2.7″)||134 x 100.5 x 67.5mm (5.3 x 4.0 x 2.7″)|
|MSRP Price||$1,999.95 (check price)||$3,399.95 (check price)|
Now that we have used both the Nikon Z6 and Z7 extensively for real-world shooting, it is clear that there are some major differences between the two cameras that photographers need to know about. First, however, let’s just look at the specifications alone. As you can see, the Z7 is ahead in some areas, but the Z6 isn’t a slouch by any means. In fact, for many of the most important specifications, the two cameras are identical.
Are you primarily interested in the video features of these cameras? If so, the Z6 is actually slightly better than the Z7, since its 4K video is downsampled from the full width of the sensor (totaling about 6K at first) rather than pixel binned. And, as you’ll see in a moment, the stills image quality on the Z6 is no slouch either – matching or beating the Z7 when your ISO is high enough. On top of that, the two cameras handle identically, with exactly the same camera body.
The biggest difference between the two cameras is, of course, sensor resolution: 24 MP versus 45 MP. Many photographers actually prefer lower resolution in this case, since it leads to smaller file sizes that are still plenty large enough for huge prints. Only certain photographers, such as those who shoot landscapes and make large prints, will find 45 MP to be critical.
You’ll also notice that the autofocus system is different between these cameras. The Z7 has a 493 point system versus the Z6’s 273 point system. In practice, though, you can’t even tell the difference in the field. Both focusing systems work equally well in real-world use. However, the Z6’s faster frame rate (12 FPS versus 9 FPS) is a significant benefit in some conditions, making it the better of the two cameras for fast action.
The more minor changes between the Z6 and Z7 are also interesting, such as battery life and ISO range. Personally, as a landscape photographer, I love the base ISO 64 that Nikon is starting to use in its high-resolution cameras, and I find that to be an important positive of the Z7. That said, it is only 2/3 stop difference, and it has no benefit unless you are shooting at ISO 64, most likely from a tripod – so it’s not like the Z6 is bad in this regard. And although battery life technically leans in the Z7’s favor (330 versus 310 shots), that difference is invisible in practice.
In short, the Z6 is actually the better camera in most ways, despite the lower price. Only photographers who need 45 megapixels rather than 24 should pay the extra $1400 for the Z7. Otherwise, save yourself some money and get better 4K video quality, better high ISO performance, a faster frame rate, and smaller file sizes.
Speaking of ISO, let’s take a look at some samples from each camera to see how they perform side by side:
25. Nikon Z6 vs Nikon Z7 ISO Performance Comparison
Let’s start with ISO 100, the lowest shared standard ISO value on both these cameras. In order to compare 24 MP versus 45 MP side by side, I downsampled the Z7 images to match the Z6’s 4024 × 6048 resolution. The Z6 is on the left, and the Z7 is on the right:
As you can see, the two images are very similar overall. However, the Z7 image has a bit more detail, thanks to its higher initial resolution. Especially pay attention to the edges of the color swatches, where the Z7’s image is more defined.
Next, let’s look at ISO 200 to 1600. The same story is true here: similar noise performance, with an edge to the Z7 files in certain areas of the frame:
However, at ISO 3200 and 6400, it is starting to become clear that the Z6 has better noise performance. Pay close attention to the red and pink color swatches below. Although the differences here are fairly small, the Z6 does come out ahead in terms of noise. But the Z7 still looks a bit sharper. Personally, I would prefer the Z7 image at ISO 3200 and the Z6 image at ISO 6400, but it is a close race:
At ISO 12,800, the Z6 is clearly pulling away in noise performance. It is visible throughout the image, but especially in the green, pink, red, and gray swatches. Although the Z7 still looks a bit sharper, the Z6 file is definitely better overall here:
At ISO 25,600, the Z7’s sharpness advantage is gone, while the Z6 is even more clearly ahead in noise performance:
And at ISO 51,200, the Z6 clearly wins, with cleaner shadows and more contrast overall. At this ISO, I’d say the Z6 is about 2/3 stop better in noise performance:
Lastly, at ISO 102,400, the Z6 is far ahead of the Z7, even though both images are pretty much unusable:
The takeaway here is that the Z6 is the better camera at high ISOs, but you probably will not notice any difference until ISO 3200. Even then, the Z7 is still arguably the better camera, and it is only at ISO 6400 or even ISO 12,800 that the Z6 pulls ahead. After that point, though, it is no contest that the Z6 is the better low-light camera.
Which Camera Should You Get?
This is not the only time Nikon has ever released two versions of a camera with the same body but different internal components. For example, we’ve already had the D800 vs D800e and the D810 vs D810A. However, the Z6 and Z7 have more differences than either of these cases, with a $1400 difference in price and very different target audiences.
The Nikon Z6 is naturally the more popular of these two releases, and not just because of the lower price. 24 MP is a bit of a sweet spot in the megapixel race, especially if you take a lot of travel pictures or shoot events. For that reason, I recommend getting the Nikon Z6 for most photographers who are considering the two cameras. You should get the Z7 only if you know that you need the extreme 45 MP resolution for large prints or tight cropping. All the other differences between the two cameras are negligible, and many of them even lean in the Z6’s favor.
So, whether your next Nikon camera is going to be the Z6, Z7, or a DSLR instead (which is likely to go down in price now, especially used), there is no bad answer. Now that we have done extensive head-to-head testing, it is clear that Nikon has two serious winners on its hands.