Build Quality, Ergonomics, and Handling
When it comes to ergonomics, Nikon decided to design the Z-series mirrorless cameras from scratch in order to make them as compact as possible, while taking into account its DSLR ergonomic and handling experience. As a result, the Nikon Z-series cameras are indeed superb ergonomically, providing a familiar Nikon experience to the end-user. The grip on the camera is deep and comfortable, although some photographers have stated that the grip is a bit too small for them. Ideally, it would have been better if Nikon made the camera just a tad taller. Those who transition from a DSLR camera should handle the Z6 first to make sure that their right hand is comfortable.
Still, for me personally, and for most Photography Life team members who have been using this camera, it is a non-issue. In fact, when comparing the Z6’s grip versus that of other mirrorless options like the Fuji X-H1 and even third-generation Sony A7 cameras, I prefer the feel of the Nikon Z6. It somehow feels more substantial and more comfortable to handhold over long periods of time.
It is clear that Nikon put a lot of thought into the ergonomics of the Nikon Z-series cameras. The front of the camera has a minimalistic, yet functional design with only three buttons and the familiar front dial. In the same place as Nikon users have come to expect, you’ll find the lens release button.
Pushing the button and rotating the lens clockwise detaches the lens from the Z6, while attaching the lens is very similar to how it is done on Nikon DSLRs – you simply align the white dot on the camera with a white dot on the lens (or an adapter) and you rotate the lens counter-clockwise until you hear a physical “click” that locks the lens or adapter in place. Once the lens is fully attached to the camera, there is a little bit of play when rotating the lens in locked position on the Z6, something that’s normal on all bayonet mount interchangeable lens cameras. When comparing the Z with the F mount, it feels like the Z mount attaches lenses more securely thanks to four hinges on the camera side instead of three.
Nikon designed the new Nikon Z mount lenses (as well as the FTZ adapter) a bit differently compared to their Nikon F counterparts. The plastic body shell extends a bit farther, slightly protruding over the metal mount. In turn, the rubber gasket that protects against dust particles sits inside the barrel itself. While this might look like a subtle change, I believe it does a better job at keeping the lens and the camera chamber clean, as well as keeping the lens more tightly connected to the camera body.
Moving to ergonomics, you can see that the front of the Z6 has two programmable function buttons, similar to the ones we have seen on Nikon DSLRs, except they are shaped slightly differently. Some photographers reported problems reaching these buttons with their fingers, but I personally have no issue with it, as I can easily reach the two buttons with my middle and ring fingers. Perhaps they are trying to reach the buttons with their index finger, although that is not really the way the grip was designed. The two buttons are meant to be reached with middle and ring fingers since the index finger is supposed to be on the front dial at all times. This becomes especially important when using function buttons in combination with the front dial for adjusting particular settings.
Programming these two function buttons on the Z6 is quite simple. Go to Custom Setting Menu -> Controls -> Custom control assignment -> Fn1 or Fn2. Personally, I set mine up for “AE Lock (Hold)” for Fn1 and “Exposure Delay Mode” for Fn2, as I use those two features quite a bit in the field. Spencer sets his for “Access Top Item in My Menu” (specifically Auto ISO Settings) for Fn1 and “Exposure Delay Mode” for Fn2.
PASM Dial and Top Controls
When looking at the top of the Z6, you will notice that Nikon went with a very refreshed design that we have never seen before:
First of all, the Nikon Z6 (along with the Z7) is the first professional-grade Nikon camera body that has a PASM dial with U1, U2 and U3 user modes. Traditionally, user modes were featured only on lower-end Nikon DSLRs, but many photographers asked for this feature to be implemented on higher-end cameras. Personally, I prefer the U1, U2, and U3 user modes much more than Nikon’s menu banks, which are inconvenient to use and annoyingly can be rewritten by changing camera settings.
To set a user mode, all you have to do is select a particular mode (such as Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program Mode or Manual), then modify your camera settings. After you are set, simply navigate to the Setup Menu -> Save user settings -> Save to U1 / U2 / U3. The Z6 will save and remember your settings.
Personally, I set up three user modes: one each for landscapes, portraits, and action. For U1 (landscapes), I set up the camera to Manual Mode, ISO 100, Auto ISO Off, Exposure Delay Mode set to 2 seconds and EFCS On. For U2 (portraits) I set the camera to Aperture Priority Mode, ISO 100, Auto ISO On, Face Detection On, and no Exposure Delay Mode. Lastly, my U3 is used for photographing fast action, so the camera is once again set to Aperture Priority Mode, ISO 100 and Auto ISO On with a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th of a second.
To the right of the viewfinder, Nikon added a small digital OLED display that displays exposure and flash settings, exposure compensation, battery level, release modes, and remaining frames on the memory card. While it is nice to see a digital OLED display for a change, the whole point of having such a display is to be able to display different types of information. And although the display does turn some information on and off (for example, pressing the ISO button removes all information except for ISO), it is, unfortunately, impossible to change the OLED display to show custom information. Fuji is a step ahead in this regard and it allows the end-user to customize the OLED display on its X-H1 and GFX 50S cameras, which is something I would love to see on the Nikon Z-series cameras in the future.
The grip area on the Nikon Z6 cameras is pretty similar to what we see on modern Nikon DSLRs like the D850. Aside from the Camera On/Off switch and Shutter Release button, you will find three buttons: video recording, ISO, and exposure compensation. These are very handy to use when shooting. Since the video recording button isn’t used when shooting stills, you can also use it as a custom function button. Personally, I use it as a quick way to access my autofocus settings.
The rear dial is something new, at least on a camera at this level. Instead of being inside the camera chamber like on Nikon DSLRs, it now sits on top of the camera. (The entry-level D5600 and D3500 DSLRs are the same way.) Personally, I am not a huge fan of this dial. I am not sure why Nikon decided to put it on the top of the camera, but it feels like space is just wasted by it. Although it is easy to reach, it just does not have the same feel as the front dial to me.
I wish Nikon kept the two dials on the front and the rear like it has always done and used the top of the camera for either a larger OLED monitor or perhaps an extra button or two. Speaking of buttons, it would be nice to get the metering, bracketing and autofocus mode buttons back! While it is possible to program a custom button for one of these purposes, there aren’t really enough custom buttons to go around. Nikon could have addressed the problem by incorporating these buttons on the top-right side of the camera.
Rear Layout and Controls
Let’s now go over the rear side of the Nikon Z6. As you can see from the image below, Nikon did a great job with the placement of the key buttons and the joystick on such a compact body:
To the left of the EVF, you can find the traditional playback and trash buttons that are present on many of the modern Nikon DSLRs.
On the side of the EVF, you will find a button that allows switching between different monitor modes. There are four total modes to choose from: “Automatic display switch” (which automatically switches between the EVF and the LCD), “Viewfinder only,” “Monitor only,” and “Prioritize viewfinder” to simulate DSLR behavior, where the EVF is off unless you put your eye into the viewfinder (and the LCD remains off unless you shoot a video, playback an image, or turn on the camera menu).
On the right side of the EVF, there is a diopter adjustment control dial. Nikon did a good job ensuring that the diopter does not get turned by accident. In order to adjust the diopter, you need to first pull it out, then rotate it clockwise or counter-clockwise to make adjustments. Although I have good vision and I did not have to make any adjustments, those of us in the team that have poor vision had good success with the diopter adjustment to make the image in the EVF appear crisp to their eyes. Keep in mind that it is also possible to adjust the brightness levels of the EVF. By default, the EVF isn’t set up to be very bright, so if you find that it looks too dark for your eyes, you should boost the brightness from the camera menu (though keep in mind that excessive brightness harms battery life).
To the right of the viewfinder, there is a switch for toggling between stills and movie modes. The middle of the switch has a “DISP” button that is used for switching between different display modes in the viewfinder and the rear LCD. While I can understand that Nikon decided to put the DISP button here in order to make it easier to switch between different types of information in the viewfinder, I personally find the placement of the button to be a bit out of place. Nikon should have made a much smaller “DISP” button and placed it somewhere more natural, such as to the left of the EVF, right below the viewfinder mode button. The current “DISP” button could then be replaced with the missing AE-L / AF-L button or a programmable function button.
When pressing the “DISP” button, the camera cycles between the following:
- Indicators on – shows camera mode, exposure information, as well as other relevant information
- Simplified display – only shows metering, exposure information, number of shots remaining, and battery level on the bottom of the camera
- Histogram – displays a live histogram
- Flash info – displays information related to a mounted flash (not available in EVF)
- Information display – displays the same information as the “Info” button on DSLRs (not available in EVF)
- Virtual horizon – displays a virtual horizon in the center of the viewfinder / LCD
Here is the graphical representation of all this:
LCD Information Display Issue
And this brings up the biggest issue that our team has found on the Nikon Z6. When looking at the LCD in live view, there is no DISP option which hides shooting information on the screen, so part of your picture is always covered in live view. Take a look at the “simplified display” option above – that’s the cleanest view you can get!
Basically, you are always stuck looking at the battery level, metering mode, exposure information and the number of shots remaining. If you have touch controls enabled, you will also see the touch icon, as well as the “i” icon in the middle of the screen. Nikon DSLRs do not have this problem since they instead have a black or gray line at the bottom of the screen for the information to sit. The issue stems from the fact that the Z6 has a 2×3 aspect ratio screen rather than 3×4. This new aspect ratio is actually a good feature, since it matches the dimension of your photos, resulting in a larger image preview. But Nikon messed up the fundamental idea of having a 2×3 aspect ratio screen – giving you a better image preview – because there is no DISP option to eliminate shooting information.
Why isn’t there just a “DISP” mode which shows the image without any information on it? That’s all it would take to solve the problem! Photographers can just look at the top LCD to get this information, no harm done. I really hope that one of the upcoming firmware updates will add this simple “clean DISP” option. On the bright side, when you review photos you’ve already taken, you can get rid of all this information – but that’s not a good workaround for long-term photography and composition in the field. The Nikon Z6’s main competitors – specifically the EOS R and Sony A7 III – can do this without issue, so why can’t you do the same on Nikon? Very strange.
Luckily, the same problem does not exist when looking through the electronic viewfinder. Within the EVF, all the relevant shooting information is displayed below the image, since the EVF has a taller screen. However, it is not realistic to use the viewfinder for every important composition, so this fix is badly needed.
Moving on to the rest of the Z6, to the right of the DISP button is the AF-ON button that Nikon shooters are very familiar with. It is located in just the right place to reach with the thumb, and you can customize it to perform a limited number of functions, including AF lock and zoom options. If you’re still half-pressing the shutter button to focus, AF-ON is something you really need to try instead, as we’ve covered before in our back-button focus article.
Right below the AF-ON button, to the right of the LCD, is the Z6’s joystick. I am very happy to see Nikon include the joystick on the Z-series cameras because it is a great way to select AF points aside from touching the LCD. I customized my joystick to jump to the middle when I press it instead of the “OK” button. With the ability to zoom in to an image when viewing through the EVF, I prefer to allocate the OK button to zoom in 100% on the subject, so that I can perform manual focusing with precision (more on manual focusing further down in the review).
Right below the joystick, there is the “i” button that is used for displaying the information screen from which you can make quick adjustments to camera settings. The information screen is customizable through the camera menu.
Further down, there is the traditional multi-selector with the center “OK” button, as well as four smaller buttons at the bottom. This is one of the bigger changes on the Nikon Z6 compared to Nikon DSLRs. The two buttons on the left are served for zooming in/out and getting information on the menu. The buttons on the right open the camera menu and change camera release modes.
Personally, I like the zoom in/out buttons and the menu button, which all feel very natural. I am not as sure about the camera release mode button, which feels a bit out of place. I think it would have made more sense to be on a ring at the top of the camera, beneath the PASM dial, as Nikon has done on many of their DSLRs (like the D750).
Single Memory Card (XQD) Slot
On the right side of the camera, there is a door to access the memory card compartment that hosts a single XQD memory card slot. A number of photographers and popular YouTubers were quite unhappy with Nikon’s decision to include a single card slot, arguing that it is unacceptable for a camera manufacturer to provide less than two memory card slots on modern digital cameras. Both Nikon Z6 and Z7 were criticized heavily as a result, with the single memory card slot being a “deal-breaker”.
I had a chance to ask a Nikon representative about the single card slot decision. I was told that the primary reason for going with a single XQD card slot had to do with space constraints – due to the compact size of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 camera bodies, it would have been very difficult to integrate a second memory card slot. In addition, Nikon believes XQD to be much more reliable media type compared to CF and SD cards, so it did not see a problem going with a single memory card slot.
If you happen to shoot critical work (such as weddings, concerts, corporate events, etc) and you’re used to a dual card setup for simultaneous image backup, I can understand why you would want a camera that can provide the same feature. Sometimes photographers are required by their employers to use a dual memory card setup for other reasons such as shooting RAW into one card and JPEG into another. So there are certainly valid cases for requiring a dual memory card setup. If you are a photographer with such specific requirements, then the Nikon Z-series cameras aren’t for you. However, for the majority of photographers out there who don’t have such requirements, a single XQD memory card slot should not be a problem.
There are a few important points to keep in mind here. First of all, if one does a reasonably good job with memory card maintenance, the chance of memory card failure is going to be very slim. One of the best practices for memory card maintenance is to replace them every few years, depending on their use. Ever since I started shooting professionally, I made it a habit to replace memory cards with reliable brand-name cards at least every 2-3 years. I never pull out batteries while the camera is busy writing into the card, and I never pull my cards out until the camera is turned off and all write operations are complete. I always keep my memory cards protected in memory card cases to prevent wear and tear.
In addition, I make sure not to put all of my eggs in one basket by buying a single large memory card – I use smaller memory cards that fill up and require changing. See my post on memory cards for more information on this. In short, if you take care of your memory cards, you will drastically reduce their chances of failure. I am happy to say that ever since I started taking care of my memory cards, I have never experienced a single memory card failure – and I shoot a lot!
Tripod Socket and FTZ Attachment Issue
Lastly, let’s talk about the bottom side of the camera – another area where Nikon goofed up. For whatever reason, Nikon engineers decided to place the tripod socket closer to the mount of the camera, away from the center. Although enough time has passed that companies like RRS have dedicated brackets for the Z6 (and Z7), it is likely that your generic Arca-swiss plates will stick out from the camera a bit, as shown below:
This would not be a problem, except for the very odd “foot” of the FTZ adapter, which makes it impossible to attach the FTZ when an Arca-swiss plate is sticking out. Specifically, Nikon made the FTZ adapter taller than the camera bottom, so it sticks out like a sore thumb! Nikon’s product images of the FTZ adapter give the impression that the bottom is in line with the Z6 and Z7 cameras:
But that’s certainly not the case when you look at the side of the camera on the same level:
To the Nikon engineer who did this: could you please explain why this decision was made? Why do we even need a tripod socket on the FTZ adapter in the first place? Heavy lenses should be attached via their own tripod collars anyway, so what’s the point of this? I do understand that the FTZ adapter must host a motor to adjust the aperture of older Nikon F lenses, but wasn’t there a way to do this without making the FTZ adapter so tall? If there is no solution to fix this, why not make the camera slightly taller to match the two? It would have improved the size of the grip for those with larger hands.
Anyway, this problem means you will almost certainly need to buy a dedicated Z6 bracket in order to use the FTZ adapter, rather than use existing Arca-Swiss plates you may have. And if you use a tripod head with a non-standard plate (not Arca-Swiss), you are probably out of luck. Using the FTZ adapter will be a pain to deal with. You’ll need to remove your tripod plate every single time you want to attach the FTZ adapter, then reattach it to the FTZ to use your F-mount lenses on a tripod.
As expected, the build quality and the weather sealing on the Nikon Z-series cameras are stellar (with the exception of the rubber wear-out, as explained in the next section). The camera has a full magnesium-alloy shell and it was built to withstand pretty much any kind of weather. Our friend Roger Cicala recently did a full teardown of the Z7, and his conclusion was “I’m just here to say this is a damn well-built camera, the best-built mirrorless full-frame camera we’ve taken apart.” You can read about his experience on this page.
After using the Z6 in rainy and sub-freezing temperatures for more than a month of constant shooting, as well as four Nikon Z7 cameras in all sorts of conditions, I have to agree with his assessment. All cameras survived the test and performed without any problems. At one point in time, I intentionally let the camera soak up some water from rain + humidity and let it dry out in a hotel room afterward. The camera operated without any errors or issues afterward.
Build Quality, Ergonomics and Handling Summary
Overall, aside from the issues pointed out above, the Nikon Z-series cameras are excellent ergonomically. They are easy to handle and control, especially for someone who is moving from a Nikon DSLR environment. Nikon is 90% there, but a few extra tweaks here and there would have made a difference in my opinion.
To date, my biggest concerns are the inability to remove all information on the LCD, along with the rubber wear issue. The former can be addressed via a firmware update, while the latter could be a problem with the quality of the rubber on the grip. If that’s the case, it will be an expensive repair process for the company. The tripod socket issue is not as big of a problem, assuming your tripod plate company releases a compatible product.
Tilting, Touch-Enabled LCD Screen
The Nikon Z-series cameras feature a 3.2″ tilting touchscreen LCD that is very bright, sharp and detailed, with approximately 2.1 million dots. The Z6’s screen is also 2×3 aspect ratio rather than Nikon’s typical 3×4, which matches your photos, making the screen feel significantly larger than that of Nikon’s DSLRs. As a result, the screen on the Nikon Z6 (and Z7) looks better than any other from Nikon so far.
Being able to tilt the LCD screen is indeed a big deal, especially for us landscape, macro and architecture shooters who often have to work with odd angles or shorter tripods. However, Nikon really needs to step up its tilting ability, so that the camera tilts beyond the up and down movement. Both Canon’s and Panasonic’s full-frame mirrorless cameras let you tilt the screen along with more than just a single axis, and Canon’s lets you rotate the screen out completely – ideal for vlogging, a use case that is growing more and more popular today. Even Nikon’s own D5600 gets this right, so hopefully, the next iteration of the Z6 will as well.
The touchscreen is another helpful addition to the Nikon Z6. While one can completely turn it off and just use the regular buttons to do all the navigation, image playback and focus acquisition, I personally like this feature, because it is implemented very well.
There is practically no lag when playing back images, zooming in or navigating the menu, which is not something I can state about some other cameras on the market. Nikon did a wonderful job there for sure. In addition, the LCD screen can also be used for AF acquisition, which will make the camera focus on the exact area you touched on the screen. Focusing this way is quick and efficient, taking advantage of the phase-detection pixels on the camera, so it is much faster compared to the slow contrast-detection AF we see on live view implementations of Nikon DSLRs.
Just like on other Nikon DSLRs, you can customize the tint of the LCD, so if the colors don’t look right, you can always use the menu to compensate.
Sensor Boost in Darker Environments
When I was shooting the Milky Way with the Fuji X-T3 and the Nikon Z cameras side-by-side, I was shocked to see how bright the image appeared on the LCD and the EVF of the X-T3 in comparison. Fuji has done a remarkable job with cleanly boosting its sensor output, which allows one to easily see the stars when shooting at night. In fact, on a few occasions, I was even able to zoom in and autofocus on the Milky Way with the X-T3, something I have never been able to do with any other camera!
Unfortunately, this is one area where Nikon is clearly behind when compared to its competition. If Nikon could figure out a way to cleanly boost sensor output in dark environments on the Z-series cameras (perhaps through a firmware update), it would make the camera on the best tools for photographing the stars.
Electronic Viewfinder (EVF)
One of the big reasons why photographers enjoy shooting with full-frame DSLRs has to do with how large and bright optical viewfinders (OVF) are, especially on modern cameras. For example, the optical viewfinder on the Nikon D850 is considered to be one of the best on the market, thanks to its 0.75× magnification, clarity of the pentaprism glass and superb coatings that make it a joy to shoot with.
Nikon knew very well that many photographers struggle with electronic viewfinders on digital cameras. Often, they have poor response rates and cartoon-like representation of the scene, making it difficult and even nauseating to use after a short while. For this reason, Nikon engineers worked hard on making the electronic viewfinder on the Nikon Z-series cameras to be as realistic as possible. In addition to using a modern high-resolution EVF, Nikon also used a layer of coated glass elements in order to make the viewing experience of the EVF as realistic as possible:
If you had a bad experience with electronic viewfinders in the past, I highly recommend that you give the Nikon Z-series cameras a try – it might change how receptive you are going to be towards EVFs when compared to OVFs. Nikon has done a remarkable job with the EVF on both Z6 and Z7. The EVF is lag-free, whether you shoot in bright outdoors or darker indoor environments. In fact, thanks to the fact that the brightness of the EVF can be boosted in darker environments, shooting with the EVF can be much easier.
The Advantages of EVF vs OVF
There is more to a viewfinder than just user experience. Personally, I find EVFs to be far superior to OVFs for a number of reasons.
Most importantly, it increases my chances of getting a properly focused image. DSLR viewfinders do not do a great job at showing you exactly where the focus is when shooting, especially if you are using a wide aperture lens. For example, it is almost impossible for me to tell if my camera has focused on the eye or nose of a subject when I’m looking through the OVF, so I end up taking multiple shots to make sure I captured what I want.
Second, the AF systems on DSLRs in the viewfinder often require calibration, and even then are not going to be perfect at all focusing distances or focal lengths on a zoom lens. (See my article on how to calibrate lenses.) Mirrorless cameras, however, focus based on data from the sensor, which means they don’t fall victim to lens calibration errors to nearly the same degree.
Third, if you are shooting with a manual focus lens, it’s no contest; an EVF is far easier to judge than an OVF. You can even magnify your display to 100% or more, and you can add focus peaking lines, which increases your success rate several times over. This means that with the Z-series cameras, you can finally revive your older glass and put it to real use without having to worry about any magnification eyepieces or viewfinder accessories. And if you happen to own modern quality primes from Zeiss, those are going to be far easier to use when compared to a DSLR.
Fourth, when using an EVF, you don’t have to worry about difficulties when looking at images on the LCD in broad daylight. This makes a huge difference when shooting in the field, as you don’t even need to look at the LCD after taking a picture. You can play the image back right through the viewfinder, zoom in on it and easily assess its quality.
Fifth, an EVF gives you a true “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG) view of what you are about to capture. With an OVF, you see through the lens, but you cannot get a preview of the exposure in real-time unless you fire up live view on the LCD. The EVF, on the other hand, can be configured to show what the resulting image will look like. This makes it easier to adjust the exposure before taking a shot.
Sixth, it is possible to fit a pretty large OLED EVF screen on even a compact camera body such as the Nikon Z6, something that is impossible to do on a DSLR. With a DSLR, the size of your viewfinder image is directly tied to the size of the mirror in your camera, which means DX/crop-sensor cameras will have much smaller viewfinders than is ideal. And even the largest full-frame optical viewfinder today is smaller than what the EVF on the Nikon Z6 has.
For example, the Nikon D850 has an OVF with a 0.75× magnification, whereas the Z6 has one with 0.80× magnification. This makes a huge difference in the way the image appears in the viewfinder, with the latter clearly showing a more magnified view. To date, the largest magnification I have seen is on the Fuji GFX 50S, which has a super large 0.85× magnification EVF. All full-frame DSLRs seem to be stuck in the 0.70-0.75× range, while that’s basically the starting range on many modern EVFs, even if the camera itself has a crop-sensor body.
Seventh, when shooting against a very bright light source such as the sun, I don’t have to worry about damaging my eyes with an EVF, while it is always a concern with an OVF. Since light passes through the lens into the sensor and then that’s what shows up on the EVF, I just need to make sure that I don’t use a zoom lens and point directly at the sun, as that can damage the camera’s sensor.
Lastly, in addition to WYSIWYG capability, you can also configure an EVF to display other useful information, such as a live histogram and level, which can make it easier to properly compose and expose images.
These are the main benefits of EVFs over OVFs, but there are others, such as being able to navigate through the camera menu, using focus peaking features, simulating different white balance settings, using different picture controls and much more. Keep all these things in mind when comparing EVF to OVF…
Nikon Z6 EVF Sensor Issue
Despite all the things we love about the EVF on the Nikon Z6, our team has identified one key issue that is worth pointing out. It has to do with the eye sensor on the camera – it is simply too sensitive. When shooting in dusty locations, the EVF sensor quickly gets clogged up, and it stops switching between the EVF and LCD (when the camera is set to Automatic switch). The solution was to remove the viewfinder cover, then clean up the sensor, which solved the problem until the dust came back.
Having used a number of mirrorless cameras from Fuji, Sony, Panasonic and Olympus, I don’t remember seeing such issues, so it is definitely a problem with the eye sensor on the Z6. The sensitivity of the viewfinder sensor also caused problems when shooting from the hip – any time the camera detected a darker area, it would automatically switch off the LCD and use the EVF. I really hope there is a way Nikon can adjust the sensitivity of the EVF sensor through the camera firmware.
Other than this (which isn’t even directly related to the viewfinder), the EVF on the Nikon Z6 is simply fantastic…I would say one of the best in its class.
In-Body Image Stabilization
One of the most impressive features of the Z6 is in-body image stabilization (IBIS), a 5-axis system that does an excellent job stabilizing your photos even at surprisingly long shutter speeds. This is the first Nikon camera to include IBIS. It is a pretty big deal, as IBIS has proven to be an extremely useful feature to have on a digital camera.
After receiving our first copy of the Z6 at Photography Life, we wanted to see just how far we could push the image stabilization and capture a sharp shot. The results were surprisingly impressive, and I found that while traveling I rarely needed to use a tripod even for exposures in the 1/10 to 1 second range. For example, the following image was captured at 64mm and 0.8 seconds:
And as you can see in this 100% crop (click for full size), it is completely sharp:
Taking the old “1 / focal length” equation into account (see reciprocal rule), that’s more than 5.5 stops of stabilization! Who knew that one day we would be able to shoot waterfall images like this handheld with tripod-level sharpness?
If you’re curious, Nikon advertises 5 stops of stabilization with the Z6, and that’s certainly doable with the right technique. However, keep in mind that you won’t get the full IBIS quality when you’re using the FTZ adapter and a non-stabilized lens. Instead of the Z6’s five-axis stabilization, you only get three-axis IBIS instead: pitch, yaw, and roll, but no x/y movements. The difference is noticeable. If you’re using an adapted lens on the Z6, you’ll definitely get some stabilization, but it functions closer to 2-3 stops rather than 4-6. However, if you adapt Nikon F-mount lenses which already have VR, you’ll still get the 4-6 stops of improvement. Specifically, the lens’s VR system provides pitch and yaw stabilization, while the Z6 gives you the added benefit of the roll axis.
Sure, it can take careful handholding technique – as well as potentially firing off a few photos in a row – to get perfect results at long shutter speeds. But the point is that this is possible with the Z6, to an even greater degree than with Nikon DSLRs and VR lenses. It’s a very welcome feature indeed, especially with native Z lenses or stabilized F-mount glass.
Note that you need to enter the Z6’s menu to turn on and off IBIS (called “Vibration Reduction” in the menu), which can get a bit frustrating. I recommend setting one of your custom function buttons to access the top item in “My Menu,” and then add VR somewhere in My Menu if you turn this on and off frequently. Another option is to use the “i” button, which can be used to access IBIS / Vibration Reduction options. Even though IBIS is in the camera body, it would be nice if Nikon kept the old VR switch on the lens to control it. (As a side note, if you’re adapting a lens with vibration reduction, you don’t need to enter the menu at all; just flip the switch on the side of the lens exactly as normal, and the Z6’s IBIS will engage the roll axis automatically.)
In short, Nikon has done a remarkable job with the IBIS on Z-series cameras. Now that every new Z lens will be stabilized 4-6 stops (including the primes), I have to say that IBIS is one of the Z6’s most useful features for anyone who shoots handheld. The Z6 is a killer choice for something like travel photography where a tripod is not practical.
As expected from a Nikon camera, the menu system on the Nikon Z-series cameras is very similar to what one would see on a DSLR. Compared to some other camera systems that have poorly-designed menus and menu options, the Nikon menu system is a breeze to use and operate. There are a total of seven main menu tabs: Playback Menu, Photo Shooting Menu, Movie Shooting Menu, Custom Setting Menu, Setup Menu, Retouch Menu and My Menu:
We went through each of the menu options in our Recommended Nikon Z6 Settings guide, so don’t forget to check it out!
Silent Shutter and Intervalometer Features
The “Silent Shutter” label on the Nikon Z-series cameras has been inherited from the D850, which was the first Nikon camera to include this shooting mode (it takes advantage of the electronic shutter when using the camera in live view mode). Since the Nikon Z-series cameras are mirrorless, you can use this mode in both live view and the viewfinder. The Silent Shutter feature is especially important for situations where you need to stay discreet, such as when doing street photography or shooting a wedding ceremony in a church. In order to enable this feature, all you have to do is fire up the menu, then navigate to Photo Shooting Menu -> Silent Photography and turn it on.
While the Silent Shutter feature is certainly a must-have feature on any modern camera, you need to keep a few things in mind when using it. First, you cannot use this mode when moving your camera or when your subject is moving very quickly; if anything moves fast in the frame, the camera might distort the subject due to the effect of the rolling shutter. Second, this mode can cause banding in some conditions, especially when shooting in artificial light. If you are a portrait or wedding photographer and you are planning to use this mode, please test it beforehand and make sure that you don’t see banding in your images. Images with banding look pretty bad and you cannot fix them in post!
Similar to all other modern Nikon DSLRs, the Z6 ships with a built-in intervalometer. You can access it by visiting Photo Shooting Menu -> Interval timer shooting. Just like on the Nikon D850, aside from the key settings, you can also enable Exposure smoothing and Silent photography. The latter disables mechanical shutter, thus reducing the wear overtime when taking thousands of timelapse photos.
Video / Movie Recording
The Nikon Z6 has the highest video specifications of any Nikon camera, including full-frame DSLRs like the D780 and the D850. In particular, the Z6 includes 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI output (compared to 4:2:2 8-bit HDMI output on the D850) and includes a new “N-log” recording option for easier color grading in post-production when you output via HDMI. The Z6’s rear LCD is also 2×3 aspect ratio rather than 3×4, which means that the video preview will appear larger than on the D850 (and you can shoot video through the viewfinder now, which is great in bright conditions). Nikon has even announced a feature upgrade that allows the Z6 to shoot ProRes RAW video with 12-bit color over HDMI, if you are willing to pay a $200 one-time license fee. That is in line with the best of the best from dedicated video cameras on the market, almost all of which sell for far higher prices than the Z6.
Along with that, the Z6’s in-body image stabilization will be very useful for video, whether you are adapting F-mount lenses or using native Z glass. This can be a big deal with 50mm or 85mm lenses that are great for video, but usually not stabilized with vibration reduction elements. And the Z6 fixes an issue with the D850, which didn’t allow you to use focus peaking while filming 4K.
Speaking of 4K, the Z6 can shoot 4K up to 30 FPS, and its 4K shooting is full-pixel readout oversampled video, which is then downsampled to 4K (for better quality than line skipping on the Nikon Z7). There is also no built-in crop when shooting 4K on the Z6, unlike on Canon’s competing EOS R and EOS RP. At 1080p, the Z6 can shoot 120 FPS video for slow-motion effects. You can also use the Z6 with a super 35mm crop (roughly DX area) to get extra reach without sacrificing video resolution.
Here is a 4K video that was shot with the Nikon Z6 by Lola Mansurov:
On balance, the Z6 is the best Nikon camera today for video shooters, with only the Z7 in the same category. If you’re looking for a camera to shoot both video and stills, you should give the Z series a long look. Nikon is clearly targeting both sets of users with this release, and the Z6’s video features, in particular, make it an even better value than expected with its price of just $2K MSRP.
One of the biggest concerns of using mirrorless cameras is how quickly they can drain the camera battery. When the Nikon Z6 was announced, many photographers were very much concerned with the CIPA figures showing 310 images on a single charge, especially when compared to DSLRs. The Nikon D850, for example, has a rating of 1840 shots – a far more impressive figure.
After handling the Nikon Z6 for the first time, it was immediately clear that I could get a lot more than the advertised 310 images. The rear LCD uses less battery than the EVF, but battery life is actually quite good even with the exclusive use of the EVF. I decided to experiment with a timelapse where the EVF and LCD were both disabled, and I got over a thousand images on a single charge – before my memory card filled, when my battery still had most of its charge left.
The best way to use the Z6 for maximum battery life is to leave the LCD and EVF off as much as possible. Try using the Z6 like a DSLR: set the EVF to eye-detect only, where it doesn’t turn on until the sensor detects your eye. With this method, you can get more than 1000 shots per charge without difficulty. I used the Z6 heavily for landscape and travel photography, and I never needed more than a single battery per day. It’s also nice to use my existing EN-EL15 batteries.
For doing landscape photography, when you are sticking entirely to live view, I would say that the Nikon Z6 is actually more efficient than a comparable DSLR (none of which perform great when using the LCD for too long). So, if you are worried about battery life, don’t be. The EN-EL15 will last quite a while, far more than the advertised CIPA figures, especially if you minimize the time that either screen is on.
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