Nikon Z6 II Review | A Great Camera, Perfected?
This is the first time Nikon has ever done a “mark two” version of a big professional digital camera, and I guess you can say that Nikon can do things right the first time! The Nikon Z6 II is an incredible camera, indeed.
Okay, if you choked on your coffee because I called this SECOND generation a FIRST for Nikon, I’m glad you noticed that irony. But, allow me to explain why this “Mark 2” is such an impressive accomplishment. Simply put, Nikon’s first generation of Z-mount mirrorless camera bodies was already a great camera, and the mark 2 is almost perfection. The “mark 1” was rock-solid, in fact, the Nikon Z6 (and Z7) build quality was already as good as Sony’s IV generation! Nikon’s IBIS/IBVR (in-body stabilization) was already top-notch, and the overall user experience was a familiar delight, both to anyone who has held a Nikon before and to photography newcomers who are picking up their first camera.
All in all, the original Z6 only had two or three flaws, or none at all really, depending on what type of photography or videography you do. If you’re a working professional doing high-dollar work, then you probably missed having dual card slots, as your D850 etc offered. If you’re a wildlife or action sports photographer, then the Z6 probably left something to be desired in terms of autofocus tracking, and overall frames-per-second and buffer depth.
The Z6 II, of course, solves both of those problems; there are XQD and SDXC card slots for redundancy, and the autofocus, FPS, and buffer depth are incredible. If you need any of these improvements, then the $1,996 price tag is an easy decision to make.
Nikon Z6 II Specifications
- SENSOR: 24-megapixel full-frame BSI CMOS sensor, Dual Expeed 6 processors
- LENS MOUNT: Nikon Z-mount (full-frame mirrorless)
- STILL IMAGES: 6048×4024 NEF raw & JPG, 12-bit, 14-bit, uncompressed, lossless compressed, lossy compressed
- VIDEO: 4K (3840×2160) over-sampled (full sensor width) @ 30p, 144 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM (4K 60p promised in APS-C crop, via firmware, coming soon)
- ISO: 100-51200 native (expandable to ISO 50-204800)
- AUTOFOCUS: Hybrid, 273-point AF system, face/eye detection & tracking
- SHOOTING SPEED (FPS): 14 FPS, (12-bit NEF) 12 FPS (14-bit NEF)
- SHUTTER SPEEDS: 900 sec (15 min) to 1/8000 sec, mechanical, 1st-curtain electronic, fully electronic (silent)
- STABILIZATION: Yes, sensor-based, 5-axis, up to 5 stops
- VIEWFINDER: 3.69M dot EVF, 0.8x magnification, 10% coverage
- LCD: 3.2″ articulated (tilting) 2.1M dot TFT LCD touchscreen
- CONNECTIVITY: USB-3.2 (5GBit/s) mini HDMI, 802.11ac Wifi, Bluetooth
- STORAGE: XQD, SDXC
- BATTERY: EN-EL15c, 2280 mAh, 410 shot CIPA rating (up to 2,000 under ideal conditions!) USB-PD direct power with zero battery %% loss
- BODY CONSTRUCTION: Magnesium alloy, fully weathers-sealed
- SIZE: 5.3 x 4 x 2.7″ (134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm)
- WEIGHT: 1.55 lb / 24.87 oz (705 g)
- PRICE: $1,996.95 (B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Nikon Z6 II Review | Who Should Buy It?
The Nikon Z6 II is one of the best all-around cameras on the market, for virtually every reason. From its overall performance and image quality to its durable build, and of course, the value in the sub-$2K price tag, suffice it to say that regardless of what photography you do, you should probably consider the Z6 II. It’s a professional-grade full-frame mirrorless camera, period. From wedding photography to wildlife and landscape photography, and video/cinema, the Z6 II could be the best choice for you.
However, there are two “should I buy it?” factors that are even bigger than, “what type of photography do you do?” that you are likely going to consider. First: what if you already own a Nikon Z6; should you upgrade to the Z6 II? Second, what if you’re absolutely certain that you want to buy into this next-generation of Nikon Z-mount; should you buy the Z6 II, or the Z7 II?
Let’s answer both of those questions now! SPOILER ALERT: If you can answer whichever of these questions is relevant to you, then the final decision makes itself: All four of Nikon’s 6-series and 7-series cameras are good enough that if you like the overall system, including the available lenses and the user experience in general, then hitting the “add to cart” button will become a no-brainer. The image quality and overall performance of all four cameras are just that good. OR, of course, you can scroll down to the “Compared To The Competition” section below, for more info on how these cameras compare to their closest Sony and Canon and other competitors.
Nikon Z6II Versus Nikon Z6 | Should You Upgrade?
If you photograph pretty much anything that involves action, then the improved autofocus tracking will make the Z6 II worth the upgrade from the Z6. Even though the original Z6 has received numerous autofocus updates via firmware, updates that have greatly enhanced the performance and implementation of its AF, the Z6 II is still going to be even better, and it will only get better in the future with Nikon committing to continued firmware update efforts.
If you’re a video or time-lapse photographer, you’ll appreciate quite a few things, and not just the video quality and specs themselves, but also this one useful addition to the Z6 II: you can power the camera with a USB-PD power bank, and thanks to the higher voltage and amperage of PD, you can shoot without any drain to the internal battery whatsoever. With an Anker USB-PD 20,000 mAh battery, (that costs $49, as opposed to a Nikon EN-EL15c which costs $72.95) …you can easily shoot a multi-day time-lapse, or film 4K video for an all-day job.
Also, something that any DSLR-shooting time-lapse photographers will really appreciate: with fully electronically controlled apertures, you can shoot a time-lapse at apertures like f/13 (above)
Last but not least, of course, if you do any type of high-profile or paid work, then, of course, you’ll appreciate the addition of an SD card slot, making the Z6 II a dual-slot, XQD+SD card camera.
However, honestly though? Like I said earlier, the Z6 is already a really good camera; it’s built to last and has a great overall spec. If you don’t need dual card slots, or direct external power, or the improvement in speed, then there’s no reason why a Z6 won’t give you many, many years of faithful use.
Nikon Z6II Versus Nikon Z7 II | Which Should You Buy?
This is an easier decision: You should probably just get the Z6 II, and save that extra ~$1,500 for a great native full-frame mirrorless Z-mount lens. The biggest reason to get the Z7 II instead, of course, is if you (landscape photographers, fashion/editorial/commercial photographers, etc.) consistently make absolutely enormous prints, or heavily, severely crop your images for some reason. Because, indeed, the biggest difference between these two outwardly identical cameras the 45-megapixel sensor of the Z7 II versus the 24-megapixel sensor in the Z6 II.
24 megapixels is more than enough for almost everything you might want to do, though. It’s more than enough for ultra-sharp 4K time-lapse frames and video, of course. It’s enough for print sizes that are measured in feet, not inches, too. (Of course, if you’re measuring your print sizes in yards/meters, not feet, then yes, save up for the Z7 II!)
If you have any other specific questions about a genre of photography, such as portraits or weddings, please leave a comment below! (However, our answer is probably still going to be that you should get the Z6 II.)
Nikon Z6 II VS Nikon Z5
Really quick, before we move on, this is one question we get a whole lot, too: what about the Z5? Honestly, it’s a really good camera. If you don’t photograph high-speed action at all and are just looking for a “casual” camera that still offers professional image quality, rugged build quality, and dual card slots, then the Z5 is by far the best value in full-frame cameras, period.
However, the Z5 does fall short when your subjects start to really move fast. The maximum framerate of 4.5 FPS, the slightly more limited buffer, and the slower, blackout-prone viewfinder and LCD screen make it significantly more difficult to photograph action sports or fast-moving wildlife compared to the Z6 II’s relatively blazing speed specs.
Oh, and the 4K video on the Z5 is cropped to APS-C, unfortunately, making your wide-angle focal lengths significantly less wide.
Nikon Z6 II Review | Pros & Cons
Suffice it to say, the Nikon Z6II is a great all-around performer. We’ll let the image samples speak for themselves!
Nikon has spent the last decade-plus making full-frame digital cameras with image quality that is either in the lead, or roughly on par with the absolute best sensor technology available in full-frame cameras. Whether it is low-ISO image quality, or at extremely high ISOs, things like dynamic range, noise levels, and overall color vibrance and accuracy has been, well, impressive and beautiful.
The Z6 II is no different: from truly wild shadow recovery potential, (with zero banding issues that we could detect!) to impressively clean images from ISOs like 6400 and 12800, the Z6 II’s image quality is on par with the absolute best cameras available.
Here’s what this translates to in real-world shooting conditions, though: If you’re unhappy with an image that you get from a Z6 II, it’s because you, the end-user, made a grave mistake in setting your exposure, or selecting the best AF settings for the scene.
Put another way, here’s this: With Z6 II NEF files, you can crank your Shadows and Blacks to +100, your Highlights and Whites to -100, and then to top it off, crank your exposure +/- 1-2 EV, …and yet still not see much image deterioration at all!
Having said that, there are two things we would really love to see from a camera that is this good in any light:
- ISO 64 native on the low end. If the Z6 II had adopted this standard that the Z7 II offers, that would have been truly awesome for those who work in extremely bright sunlight, or those who just want the absolute cleanest images possible.
- On the high end, for a camera that can deliver such good, clean images at ISOs like 6400 and 12800, it is a shame that the Z6II can’t meter ultra-dark scenes better. And, by ultra-dark, we mean ~negative 8EV light levels, such as a starry, moonless nightscape. Admittedly, this is an extremely rare scenario, and most photographers will find that the Z6II’s built-in light meter works just fine, with maybe a +/-1 EV compensation needed from time to time.
Here’s what everybody wants to know: How big of an improvement is the Nikon Z6 II compared to not just the original Z6, but also, the likes of the similarly priced Canon EOS R6, (~$2,500) or the nearly identically priced Sony A7 III?
Well, Nikon has, in fact, closed the gap. Will a Sony A7 IV offer better Real-Time AF tracking of highly erratic subjects? Probably, but the margin will still be a lot less significant than the difference between the overall reliability of this latest-gen Nikon mirrorless AF system, compared to the similarly-priced DSLRs. (Especially if you factor in heavy use to the DSLRs which means AF micro-adjustment/calibration is routinely a problem!)
In our testing, we found that the wide-area AF system, which automatically selects whatever AF point it thinks is right, did a very good job of finding human or animal eyes, and even tracking them in AF-C mode. Every now and then it would miss the eyes and focus on a nose or something else that was closer to the camera than the eyes. However, these types of scenes are usually better captured with you controlling the AF point more attentively.
The dynamic subject tracking AF mode is also quite impressive; unlike the first iteration of the Z6’s AF system, it now feels actually better than DSLR 3-D AF tracking, and almost as well-implemented. It just works very well, even in challenging lighting conditions.
We still wish dynamic AF tracking had its own dedicated mode, though, so that we didn’t have to hit the “OK” button to activate it. We’re also not sure why Nikon didn’t just call it “3-D” Tracking, if only to make it sound familiar, and be easier for people to understand its purpose.
All in all, if Nikon continues their commitment to upgrading (indeed, not just “updating”) the autofocus performance via firmware for the Z6 II just like they did with the Z6, then we can expect the camera to continue to stay hot on the heels of the absolute best AF system around, which is, indeed, Sony’s Real-Time AF tracking.
Keep in mind, though: a Sony A9 II is a $4,500 camera; if you were a serious professional photographer, for that much money you could also get, approximately, a Z6 II and a complete set of Z-mount, S-line f/1.8 Nikkor primes, or a Z6 II and one of Nikon’s Z-mount S-line f/2.8 zooms, or heck, you could get two Z6 II’s with FTZ adapters, and use your Nikkor F-mount lenses!
From the sheer shooting speed to the overall responsiveness of every little feature and function of the camera, the Z6 II feels professional. You’ll have to remember to put the camera in 12-bit NEF if you want to get the maximum FPS of 14, but as a time-lapse photographer who has been using Nikon’s 12-bit and even lossy compression for 10+ years to squeeze up to ~50% more raw files onto memory cards, rest assured, you’ll never see the difference between 12-bit and 14-bit NEF.
Even in 14-bit NEF, you get a blazing-fast 12 FPS from the Z6 II. Remember, just 10-15 years ago, the $5,000-6,000 flagship sports cameras were only 8 FPS! So, yes, the Z6 II is an action sports beast. Nikon may have a “Z1” or something lurking in their R&D lab, but the Z6 II is certainly ready to get the job done.
Features & Customizations
Nikon has one of the best feature layouts and overall customization systems of all the latest cameras. Not only is the menu interface the most intuitive, but also, there are fantastic features that allow you to differentiate all or none of your settings when switching quickly between photo and video capture. It’s a real shame that both Sony and Canon have not adopted the “photo/video switch” that Nikon has. This makes it so that you can have things like white balance and Picture Control set a certain way for stills, but another way for video, just in case you want to shoot video with a “Flat” or “Neutral” Nikon Picture Control and maybe AWB, but still shoot stills with a “Portrait” or “Landscape” Picture Control, and a Kelvin WB.
Having said that, Nikon could still do a little more to offer total customization of the available Fn buttons, as well as the others which come with a dedicated function. The REC button, and maybe even the 4-way controller now that these Nikons all have a dedicated AF point joystick, could all be re-programmed to do things like turn on/off IBIS, or instantly jump in or out of a crop mode. (Admittedly, having quick access to DX crop mode is more of a Z7 II thing, but still…)
Design & Durability
This thing is a tank! …But on a diet. Just like the Z6, of course, since the physical build is basically identical. That’s a good thing, though, because the original Nikons were built “right the first time”, indeed.
Having said that, we had actually wished for a few small ergonomic changes, and not seeing them in the mk2 iteration is a bit of a let-down. Mainly, the movement of the Menu button and the drive mode dial from the upper left, where they have been on Nikon DSLRs for many generations, to the lower right; these two changes alone leave the user experience not just unfamiliar, but quite honestly, I just think it’s a bad place for the drive mode setting; it’s really one of the hardest-to-reach buttons on the whole camera.
I wish Nikon had simply decided to move the “play” and “delete” buttons down to that lower-right-corner, instead. After using both Sony and Canon bodies rather extensively, I’ve decided that is just a better layout, period. (Meaning, this is not a matter of personal preference; the Nikon button arrangement for these two buttons is just flat-out less practical, no matter how familiar you get with the camera’s ergonomics and design.
Nobody is going to question whether such a camera is a good value, considering what it offers today’s photographers. The Nikon Z6 II is providing performance and speed that is far superior to high-speed action DSLR flagships once costing $5-6K. Its 24-megapixel image quality is superior to Nikon’s only $8K DSLR!
There’s no question, it’s a fantastic time to pick up a camera such as the Z6 II. We’ll get to the competition next, however, suffice it to say, if you want the same truly flagship-grade experience from Sony or Canon, or if you want an even better autofocus system, you’ll have to pay a lot more for the likes of a Sony A9 II, or at the very least, Canon’s EOS R6 which “only” costs $500 more than the Z6 II, but definitely does have some drawbacks that make me prefer the Z6 II for what I do.
Really, the main question regarding value is, simply put, this: do you already have a Z6 that you are truly happy with, OR, are you on such a tight budget that a new Z6 (on sale for $1,596) or a new Nikon Z5 (just $1,396!) are all you can afford? Because otherwise, the Z6 II is the camera to buy.
Nikon Z6 II Review | Compared To The Competition
Okay, so, we have a LOT of full-frame mirrorless cameras available in the price range of $2K these days. In fact, if you open up the competition’s price range by a few hundred dollars, there’s a whole lot to talk about.
Why is the Nikon Z6 II one of the best cameras in this price range? Simply put, it offers the build quality, professional controls, and interface of pro cameras costing $3-4K or more. You just can’t get as much of that from more budget-friendly competition such as the Sony A7C, A7 III, or even the Canon EOS R6, ($2,499) or the Panasonic S-5. ($1,997) Simply put, if you’re going based on the physical durability, user interface, and overall professional user experience, the Z6 II (and the original Z6, for that matter) are the best value around.
What if you absolutely need the best autofocus performance? Is Sony still in the lead in that regard, like they were ~2+ years ago? Only barely. At this point, with how good Nikon’s autofocus is, you’re more likely to miss focus due to your own error in technique or focus point control, than due to consistent unreliability of the AF system itself.
In other words, should you buy the Nikon Z6 II, or a Sony A7 III, or maybe even wait for a Sony A7 IV? Honestly, the biggest differences are no longer about autofocus reliability. They’re about how the camera feels and operates overall, in which case we give the nod to Nikon in almost every way, and about the lens selection, in which case we give a strong nod to Nikon for coming up with such a great range of versatile lenses so far, although we’re really hoping the total sphere of the system is soon joined by third parties if we’re honest because that will indeed make the camera body even more attractive to all different budget levels.
What if you are on a really tight budget, and $2K is a little more than you’d like to spend? The original Nikon Z6 is a great camera, and you already read our opinion on that decision. The Nikon Z5 is an even more incredible value, at just under $1.4K; If you don’t photograph highs-peed action, the Nikon Z5 is a better photography camera than a Sony A7C, and almost as good of a video camera, if you’re a less discerning videographer.
All in all, we’re finally getting to a point in the evolution of full-frame mirrorless systems that makes the buying decision much more subjective. Our recommendation? Pick up a Z6 II, actually hold it, work with it, try out one or two of Nikon’s stunningly good Z-mount f/1.8 S-line Nikkor lenses, and see how you like the system.
If you’re coming from a Nikon DSLR, once you get past a few quirks you’ll be delighted at the overall experience. If you’re coming from another mirrorless system altogether, you’ll undoubtedly find differences that are really “done right” by Nikon, thanks to their decades of camera design experience.
Or, of course, if you’re picking up an interchangeable-lens camera for the very first time, you’ll likely find the overall experience to be relatively intuitive, and the end results to be truly impressive once you get the hang of things.
Nikon Z6 II Review | Conclusion
Nikon might have left us a little confused at first, with the original Z7 and Z6 not quite aligning with the overall impressive performance and a professional feature set offered by the truly legendary Nikon D850, ($2,996) , or the modern hybrid marvel, the Nikon D780 ($2,296). However, the Nikon Z6II, with just a few minor improvements to the physical features and processor-based performance, is truly a camera we can hands-down recommend to almost all types of photographers.
Check Pricing & Availability
The Nikon Z6 II is available for $1,996 as a body-only, or $2,096 with the FTZ adapter to use your F-mount DSLR lenses, or for $2,596 with the impressive Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S kit lens.