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Nikon Z6 II initial review

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The Nikon Z6 II is an updated version of the company’s 24MP multimedia full frame mirrorless camera. It gains more processing power to add improved autofocus and a few other tweaks to an already well-rounded feature set.

Key specifications

  • 24MP full frame BSI CMOS sensor
  • Continuous shooting at up to 14 fps (in 12-bit Raw with single AF point)
  • Full-sensor UHD 4K video at up to 30p
  • UHD 60p from an APS-C crop promised in future firmware update
  • Two card slots (1x CFexpress/XQD, 1x UHS-II SD)
  • 3.69M-dot EVF with improved blackout times
  • Tilting 2.1M dot read touchscreen
  • USB-C socket for recharging or powering the camera
  • Battery rating of 410 (LCD) and 340 (EVF) shots per charge
  • Connectors to allow battery grip with portrait orientation controls

The Z6 II launches at the same price as its predecessor, with a recommended selling price of $1999 body-only or $2599 with the Z 24-70mm F4 S lens. It will be available from November 2020.


What’s new and how it compares

The addition of a second card slot will be a hugely welcomed change for some photographers.

The Z6 II is a subtle refresh of the existing Z6, extending the capabilities a little, but offering a mostly similar, well-rounded stills and video feature set. In terms of hardware, the main difference is that the Mark II gains a second Expeed 6 processor, with most of the performance and feature improvements stemming from this additional processing power.

Autofocus

Nikon says the autofocus performance has been incrementally improved over the original Z6, but the most notable feature change is the addition of face and eye detection (both human and animal) to the wide area AF mode. Previously these features were only available in ‘Auto’ area AF, meaning the camera decided where to focus. By adding them to wide area, you are able to narrow-down the region in which that camera hunts for faces, giving you a way of pre-selecting the face you wish to focus on.

The variants of Wide Area AF with human and animal face/eye AF have been added to the list of AF modes accessible from the ‘i‘ quick menu, meaning you don’t have to separately engage those functions.

Nikon says the focusing system now works in light as low as –4.5EV (a one stop improvement), when using an F2.0 lens (or faster). And that’s without using the slower low light AF mode, which extends a further two stops.

Shooting rate

The Z6 II’s maximum burst speed increases to an impressive 14 frames per second, but only if you use a single AF point and you’re willing to take the slight dynamic range hit of shooting 12-bit Raws. If you want the camera to choose an AF point or track a subject, it shoots at a still very respectable 12 frames per second.

Video

The (paid) Raw upgrade will allow an output that an Atomos recorder can encode as ProRes RAW or, after February 2021, a Blackmagic Video Assist to encode as Blackmagic Raw.

The Z6 II builds on the Z6’s already pretty strong video feature set, with the promise of UHD 4K 60p in a free firmware update due in February 2021. This higher rate footage will come from an APS-C crop of the sensor, and will only be available for internal capture.

In addition, the camera’s video output options have increased, with the Mark II able to output 10-bit HLG HDR footage, in addition to N-Log, to an external recorder. An optional paid upgrade enables a 12-bit line-skipped 4K Raw stream can be sent to an external recorder to be encoded as ProRes Raw or, after a February 2021 firmware update, as Blackmagic Raw.

Viewfinder

The viewfinder in the Z6 II is the same 3.68M dot OLED as in the original model. Nikon points out that the optics and coatings are of its own design and says it’s decreased both the refresh lag and the blackout time between shots. However, the company hasn’t put a number on either improvement.

Compared to…

Despite being a relatively subtle update, the Z6 II remains broadly competitive with the other cameras with launch prices around $2000. The Canon EOS R6 is the outlier: priced at a higher level but offering better specifications (though it can’t always deliver the full promise of its video capabilities).

We haven’t included the Sony a7C here, since it seems more focused on compactness than being an enthusiast’s main camera, but its specs are similar to the a7 III’s, just without the AF joystick.

Nikon Z6 Canon EOS R6 Panasonic S5 Sony a7 III
MSRP (body) $1999 $2499 $1999 $1999
Pixel count 24MP 20MP 24MP 24MP
Sensor tech BSI-CMOS CMOS CMOS BSI-CMOS
AF system On-sensor PDAF

Dual Pixel
(On-sensor PDAF)

Depth from Defocus
(Contrast Detection-based)
On-sensor PDAF
Image stabilization 5-axis 5-axis + sync with lens IS 5-axis + sync with lens IS 5-axis
CIPA rating Up to 5EV Up to 8EV Up to 6.5EV Up to 5EV
Maximum frame rate 12 fps
(14 fps*)
12 fps mech shutter
20 fps electronic

7 fps (AF-S)
5 fps (AF-C)

10 fps
Flash Sync speed 1/200 sec 1/250 sec** 1/250 sec 1/250 sec
High Res mode No No Yes No
Viewfinder
res / mag
3.68M dots
/ 0.80x
3.68M dots
/ 0.76x
2.36M dots / 0.74x 2.36M dots / 0.78x
Rear screen 2.1M-dot tilting touchscreen 1.62M-dot fully articulated touchscreen 1.84M-dot fully articulated touchscreen 921k-dot tilting touchscreen
AF joystick Yes Yes Yes Yes
Top-plate settings display Yes No No No
Video capture UHD 4K 30p
(full sensor)
UHD 4K 60p
(1.5x Crop)***
UHD 4K 60p
(1.05x crop)
UHD 4K 30p
(full sensor)
UHD 4K 60p
(1.5x Crop)
UHD 4K 24p
(full sensor)
UHD 4K 30p
(1.2x Crop)
Log/HDR modes

N-Log
HLG
10-bit (HDMI)

C-Log
HDR PQ
10-bit Internal

V-Log/V-Gamut
HLG
10-bit Internal
S-Log2 / 3 / HLG
8-bit Internal
Memory cards 1x CFexpress B
1x SD (UHS-II)
Dual UHS-II SD Dual UHS-II SD 1x UHS-II SD
1x UHS-I SD
Battery life (CIPA) LCD/EVF 410 / 340 510 / 380 440 / 470 710 / 610
USB-charging Yes Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions 134 x 101 x 68 mm 138 x 98 x 88 mm 133 x 97 x 82 mm 127 x 96 x 74 mm
Weight (CIPA) 675 g 680 g 714 g 650 g

* When shooting 12-bit Raw using a single AF point
** In electronic first-curtain mode: 1/200th with mechanical shutter
*** Promised in Feb 2021 f/w update

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Body and handling

The camera’s ergonomics are essentially the same as the original Z6, which is a good thing.

The body and handling of the Z6 II is basically the same as its predecessor, which means it remains a solidly-built camera with a comfortable grip. The body is primarily constructed from magnesium alloy, providing a good balance of weight and solidity.

The grip itself is comfortable and the front and rear dials very well positioned so that they are readily accessible when you’re holding the camera. There are two customizable Fn buttons next to the lens mount, which can be configured independently or set to perform paired functions (such as aperture open and close during video capture).

Viewfinder and screens

Although the spec of the Z6 II’s viewfinder isn’t particularly stellar by 2020 standards, the camera does at least use it to its full potential (there are rival cameras with high dot-count finders that then drive the screen at lower resolutions). We’ve not had a chance to test the effects of lag and improved blackout with fast-moving subjects but will do so as soon as we can.

The rear screen is also unchanged, meaning it has a decent resolution but only a tilt up/down design. We find we prefer the two-axis screens used by the likes of the Fujifilm X-T3 for stills or a fully articulated screen for video.

Menus and interface

The camera’s menus are consistent with most Nikon cameras made over the last decade or so. This means the menus are quite dense with options but the key ‘Customs Settings’ section is well arranged and color-coded, which makes it easy to navigate. A My Menu tab can be configured with either your preferred options or a list of your most recently used options.

In terms of the user interface, the main change is the addition of Wide Area + face detect and Wide Area + animal detect to the ‘i‘ quick menu, meaning that you can more quickly engage human face or animal face detection as part of your AF mode selection.

Battery

The Z6 Mark II comes with the latest EN-EL15c battery. It’s 20% higher-capacity version of the 15b that came with the previous model. The camera is compatible with earlier EN-EL15 batteries but will perform much better with the more recent versions. USB-charging is only available with the type b and c units.

The camera is rated as delivering 410 shots per charge if you use the rear LCD and 340 shots per charge if you use the viewfinder. As always, these ratings are based on very challenging usage, and it’s not uncommon to get at least twice as many shots per charge in practice, depending on how you use the camera. We tend to find a rating of around 400 is sufficient for a day’s committed shooting or a weekend of fairly active photography, but not enough for something as photographically intense as a wedding.

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Initial impressions

My initial impression of the Nikon Z6 II is of a credible but not terribly far-reaching update to the original camera. That’s no bad thing: the latest updates to the Mark I have meant it remains competitive, so even a small step forward is valuable, but it might leave the Mark II with a fairly short shelf life.

What’s interesting is (on the face of it) how little the application of dual processors brings to the camera: the extra power has allowed Nikon to significantly improve the buffer clearing rate, boosting the number of shots in a burst, and it’s opened-up the possibility of 60p capture, but there’s not much more to show for that added grunt. The top burst rate has increased a little but only with 12-bit output and with a single AF point, which doesn’t exactly tell a tale of abundant processing resource.

The extra power has allowed Nikon to significantly improve the buffer clearing rate, boosting the number of shots in a burst

Overall, I wonder whether it’s simply too challenging to wring much more out of the IMX410 sensor that the Z6 II (and the majority of its rivals) appears to be using. The APS-C crop is the largest region that sensor can produce 60p 4K from, so there’s not much Nikon can do on that front. Capturing 10-bit video internally and outputting 60p over HDMI should be possible, though: Panasonic’s S5 manages both.

Personally I wonder whether Nikon concluded there was only so far it could push the current sensor and decided to focus R&D resources on what might be possible with a next-gen chip in a future model (hence the use of two existing processors, rather than the development of a new one for this camera). That’s speculation, of course, but other than the video improvements, it’s hard to see what more Nikon could do with the current sensor.

It’s only really the Canon EOS R6 that pushes beyond what the Z6 II offers, and that’s a significantly more expensive camera

Other than a handful of pros and power users who really need the reliability that a vertical control battery grip or redundancy of twin card slots bring, it’s hard to see much motivation for existing Z6 owners to upgrade, but the improved AF behavior, operation under USB power, grip option and twin slots should make it pretty appealing for buyers just moving to Z. To be clear, it’s only really the Canon EOS R6 that pushes beyond what the Z6 II offers, and the R6 is a significantly more expensive camera, and one that – in some respects – struggles to deliver all it promises.

My main hope is that Nikon continues to develop the Mark II throughout its lifetime, as it did with the original, and that we see more ways of exploiting its added processing power over the coming months and years.

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Official sample images

All sample images provided by Nikon

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Specifications

Price
MSRP $1995 (body only), $2599 (w/24-70 F4 lens)
Body type
Body type SLR-style mirrorless
Body material Magnesium alloy
Sensor
Max resolution 6048 x 4024
Other resolutions 3936 x 2624 (DX crop), 4016 x 4016 (1:1), 6048 x 3400 (16:9)
Image ratio w:h 1:1, 5:4, 3:2, 16:9
Effective pixels 25 megapixels
Sensor photo detectors 25 megapixels
Sensor size Full frame (35.9 x 23.9 mm)
Sensor type BSI-CMOS
Processor Dual Expeed 6
Color space sRGB, Adobe RGB
Color filter array Primary color filter
Image
ISO Auto, 100-51200 (expands to 50-204800)
Boosted ISO (minimum) 50
Boosted ISO (maximum) 204800
White balance presets 12
Custom white balance Yes (6 slots)
Image stabilization Sensor-shift
Image stabilization notes 5-axis
CIPA image stabilization rating 5 stop(s)
Uncompressed format RAW + TIFF
JPEG quality levels Fine, normal, basic
File format

  • JPEG
  • Raw (NEF, 12 or 14-bit)
Optics & Focus
Autofocus

  • Contrast Detect (sensor)
  • Phase Detect
  • Multi-area
  • Center
  • Selective single-point
  • Tracking
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Touch
  • Face Detection
  • Live View
Autofocus assist lamp Yes
Digital zoom No
Manual focus Yes
Number of focus points 273
Lens mount Nikon Z
Focal length multiplier 1×
Screen / viewfinder
Articulated LCD Tilting
Screen size 3.2
Screen dots 2,100,000
Touch screen Yes
Screen type TFT LCD
Live view Yes
Viewfinder type Electronic
Viewfinder coverage 100%
Viewfinder magnification 0.8×
Viewfinder resolution 3,690,000
Photography features
Minimum shutter speed 900 sec
Maximum shutter speed 1/8000 sec
Exposure modes

  • Program
  • Aperture priority
  • Shutter priority
  • Manual
Built-in flash No
External flash Yes (via hot shoe)
Flash modes Front-curtain sync, slow sync, rear-curtain sync, red-eye reduction, red-eye reduction with slow sync, slow rear-curtain sync, off
Flash X sync speed 1/200 sec
Continuous drive 14.0 fps
Self-timer Yes (2, 5, 10 or 20 secs)
Metering modes

  • Multi
  • Center-weighted
  • Highlight-weighted
  • Spot
Exposure compensation ±5 (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)
WB Bracketing Yes
Videography features
Format MPEG-4, H.264
Modes

  • 3840 x 2160 @ 30p / 144 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 3840 x 2160 @ 25p / 144 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 3840 x 2160 @ 24p / 144 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 120p / 144 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 100p / 144 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 60p / 56 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 50p / 56 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 30p / 28 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 25p / 28 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 24p / 28 Mbps, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM
Microphone Stereo
Speaker Mono
Storage
Storage types CFexpress Type B / XQD
Connectivity
USB
USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 GBit/sec)
USB charging Yes
HDMI Yes (micro HDMI)
Microphone port Yes
Headphone port Yes
Wireless Built-In
Wireless notes 802.11ac + Bluetooth
Remote control Yes (via MC-DC2 or smartphone)
Physical
Environmentally sealed Yes
Battery Battery Pack
Battery description EN-EL15c lithium-ion battery & charger
Battery Life (CIPA) 410
Weight (inc. batteries) 705 g (1.55 lb / 24.87 oz)
Dimensions 134 x 101 x 70 mm (5.28 x 3.98 x 2.76)
Other features
Orientation sensor Yes
Timelapse recording Yes
GPS None

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Source
DPreview.Com

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