In this review, we’ll take a deep look at both the good and the bad to explain why the Nikon Z6 — one of Nikon’s first-ever full-frame mirrorless camera — is the best in its class. That’s right: After thorough testing, we’ve determined that the Nikon Z6 is the best full-frame mirrorless camera for video shooters.
Before we get too deep. Let’s do a quick overview of the camera: The Nikon Z6 has a 24.5-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor that shoots up to UHD 4K at 30 frames per second with full pixel read-out. It offers Nikon’s first log gamma picture profile — N-Log — though it’s only available when recording to an external recorder.
Along with N-Log, the Nikon Z6 also outputs 10-bit 4:2:2 UHD 4K video via HDMI. It has a 273 point phase detect autofocus system and in-body image stabilization, or as they call it, five-axis vibration reduction.
Finally, the Z6 offers a 3.2-inch tilting touch-enabled rear display, a single XQD card slot and a 3.6m-Dot electronic viewfinder.
The best bits
We really liked this camera. It feels like Nikon took all of the best parts of the Sony a7 III and gave us even more for the same price of $2,000. With a competitive price like that, Nikon sets the Z6 up as a great value. Let’s take a look at our favorite features.
Starting off, one of our favorite features is the option to add a crop when you need it. The Nikon Z6 can shoot full-frame 4K in FX mode, but the camera also gives you the option to use DX mode for a 1.5 times crop if you so desire.
Usually, in video, a crop is a bad thing, but with this camera, you get full-frame when you want it and a 1.5 times zoom when that works better for your shot. You can change between FX and DX modes with the click of a button.
Next on the list is the size of the camera. The Z6 is compact and lightweight, so it fits nicely in your hand and has a great balance. Its size combined with built-in five-axis vibration reduction means this camera is ready for shooting handheld or on the go. Because it has vibration reduction, you don’t need to spend more to get image stabilization on your lenses. However, you can still use lenses with stabilization in coordination with the sensor stabilization on the Z6.
The Z6 currently offers 10-bit 4:2:2 output via the HDMI. Outputting via HDMI also gives you the option to shoot in N-Log. With the Z6, you can output 10-bit with N-Log to an external recorder for billions more colors compared to 8-bit.
Additionally, Nikon has announced in a future firmware update that will give the camera 12-bit output via HDMI. However, Nikon hasn’t announced yet when this firmware update will be available.
The lens selection for the new lens mount is also impressive. Nikon, Canon and Panasonic all announced new full-frame mirrorless cameras and new lens mounts last year, and the new systems have all been rolled out differently. Nikon, in contrast to Canon and Panasonic, released their affordable lenses for their new mount first. This means you can get lenses and a camera body at a lower cost compared to other recently released mirrorless camera and lens systems.
Native Lenses, the adapter and adapting lenses
For this review, we tested three different native lenses and five non-native lenses using the FTZ adapter. The first lens we tested was the NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S, which costs $850. 35mm is a great focal length for a normal perspective. As a great walking around focal length, expect to capture what your eyes see when shooting at 35mm. Plus, this particular lens looks great and offers a nine-blade iris. With nine blades, the bokeh on the NIKKOR Z 35mm is nice and round.
For less money, consider the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 s at $600. It’s the most affordable Z mount lens currently available. Like the 35mm above, this lens also offers a nine blade iris. The NIKKOR Z 50mm is a great choice for interviews because of its added focal length. It will offer nice space compression, bringing your background forward and flattening facial features. When used with the DX crop, it has an effective focal length of 75mm — a superb focal length for portraits.
The last native lens we tested was the NIKKOR Z 24 to 70mm F/4 S, which is priced at $1,000. A maximum aperture of f/4 sounds like a bummer, but the Z6 has a great low light performance, so it turned out that shooting at f/4 was not a burden.
Additionally, because it has the same maximum aperture of f/4 across the full zoom of the lens, you don’t have to change exposure when you need to change the focal length. The one thing we didn’t like about the 24-70mm f/4 is that you have to extend it out a bit before you are able to use it. This isn’t a huge deal, but it will add a step before you can begin to shoot. In situations where the camera needs to be ready quickly, there will be one more step between you and your shot.
Because Nikon has a large collection of robust and high-quality lenses for the F mount, they released an F-mount to Z-mount, or FTZ, lens adapter. For $250 — less if you get it packaged with the camera body — the FTZ adapter allows for those who have already invested in F-mount lenses to pair those with the new Z mount cameras.
The first thing we noticed about the adapter is that it has a ¼” 20 screw mount on it. It’s similar to what you find on larger telephoto lenses, like a 70-200mm, where the length will affect the fulcrum point on the camera. It’s a nice addition to minimize unnecessary damage to the mount, but it has a pretty big flaw: It hangs down below the cameras own plate mounting point. This means you will likely use the adapter’s mounting point instead of the one on the camera.
This seems fine at first, but if you have a plate on the adapter, you won’t be able to remove the adapter without removing the plate first. The plate gets in the way. This doesn’t affect how well it adapts lenses, but it does cause a rigging problem in some situations.
We tested five F-mount lenses using the FTZ and the Z6: the 35mm f/1.8 G ED with a price tag of $530, the 14-24mm f/2.8 G ED for $2,800, the 24-70 f/2.8 G ED at $1,800, the 105mm f/1.4 E ED costing $2,200 and the 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR for $2,800. Outside of having the lenses extend a bit further from the FTZ adapter, all of the F-mount lenses worked flawlessly. Even when shooting at f/2.8 at 200mmm on the 70-200mm, the camera was able to quickly find and lock focus with the same performance as the native lenses.
The one thing we noticed with native lenses is that the focus motors are noticeably louder and have a different sound. The F-mount lenses clicked and the Z mount lenses did not.
Using the camera and navigating the menu
Like we said before, the size and balance of the Z6 body are nice. It sits nicely in your hand and is ready to be pulled up to your eye. Its size and built-in vibration reduction make this a great camera to shoot handheld for a prolonged periods of time.
The camera body is not the smallest in class, but it’s only slightly bigger than the current title-holder, the Sony a7 III. However, the Z6 is the lightest at 1.29 pounds.
We would have loved to see a fully articulating screen. On top of being a necessity for vloggers, more articulation of the screen allows for more adjustment against glare and odd angles. The tilt of the Z6 screen is the bare minimum and there will be many shooting situations where it will fall short. With that said, we did like the way that the screen looked and how it the touch interface operated.
While we were learning the camera, the touch function for all exposure controls was handy. With the i button on the back of the camera, you can customize what controls you want to have at your fingertips. In two steps, we were able to change the frame rate, resolution, audio input gain, white balance, autofocus (AF) control and switch between full-frame and cropped mode.
But, the sky’s the limit when it comes to customization. This handy menu can be customized to your preference. Overall, we preferred using this menu over customizing actual buttons on the body of the camera.
However, for those who want to use the buttons, they also allow for lots of customization to suit the user’s needs and wants. This includes two function buttons located where your fingertips fall when gripping the camera. We like these buttons, but those with small hands may struggle to reach them.
The camera has all of the buttons and knobs you would expect an interchangeable-lens camera to have. It has a function control wheel for quick shooting mode changes and includes three user programmed modes. It has a very easy to read control panel on top that switches depending on whether you’re shooting photos or video. Plus, it has a front trigger wheel and a dial for your thumb to control shutter and aperture.
Because this camera can do a lot and allows for a fair amount of customization, the usability of the menu will affect a shooters ability to get the shot — for better or worse. We didn’t have any problem finding anything in the menu that you would need to change often or quickly. However, for those features that you don’t need all the time, you might have to dig a bit to find them.
Here are the tests!
We put the camera through a gamut of tests to evaluate its low light performance, rolling shutter, moire, battery life, overheating potential, image quality at high frame rates, autofocus, 10-bit capture, N-Log capture and vibration reduction.
Let’s start off with its low light performance because our results were impressive. We tested by capturing an image at ISO 100 with proper exposure and doubled the ISO for each shot while adjusting the shutter speed to counter the added light at every stop. This gives us a view of when noise is introduced into the image.
We shot in 4K in both in FX and DX mode, noting a difference in performance when the sensor is cropped. In FX mode, noise starts at ISO 6400 but is good all the way up to ISO 25,600 before the image starts to be drastically affected by the noise. When shooting in cropped DX mode, noise starts a stop earlier at around ISO 3,200. Still, the image is usable until ISO 12,800. That’s quite fantastic and definitely above other cameras priced similarly.
Rolling shutter and moire
Next, we tested the rolling shutter of the camera. We did the same test in 4K and HD in 24fps and in 120fps. A rolling shutter exposes each pixel for the same amount of time but doesn’t capture the same moment in time. This causes lines to appear to bend when the camera moves quickly.
We tested this by panning the camera starting at a slow speed and ramping up to a whip pan while focused on a vertical line, in our case a c-stand. The Z6 has a rolling shutter, so we expected to see some rolling shutter effect. However, the effect was slight, it was consistent in 4K, HD and at 120fps.
Moving on to testing moiré, we shot a DSC Labs sine zone chart to see how well the camera captured fine lines. Typically, a lens is at its sharpest at f/8 or f/11, so we tested both. We panned and tilted the camera to see if the fine lines bounced around or danced but saw no moiré issues at either f/8 or f/11.
Battery life and heat test
Next up was our test for battery life. This is a relatively simple test: Set the camera at its max resolution and frame rate and capture video until the battery runs out while keeping track of the time. This is also a good time to observe whether or not the camera overheats along the way. We saw a long battery life of two hours and 10 minutes or 130 minutes. The camera got warm over that period of time but had no performance change as a result.
Shooting at high frame rates
The Z6 will shoot up to 120 frames per second in HD, so we wanted to see if the high frame rate video was as good as standard frame rates. Cinematic slow motion is typically 60 fps. With double that, the Z6 can extend any action by a factor of 5 when slowing 120fps to 24fps. The camera can either capture the footage at 120fps and keep that frame rate or convert in-camera to allow for slow motion playback. Many times, when a camera converts internally, it affects the quality of the video, but not with the Z6.
Regardless of where the slow down happens, the outcome is the same — with one caveat. When the camera slows it down for you, no audio is captured. However, when comparing the quality of the image at 120fps to some shot at 24fps, we saw no quality loss between the two. That can’t be said about the Sony a7 III.
Autofocus and vibration reduction
Good autofocus is a difficult thing to obtain for video shooters. If it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough. If the camera struggles even a little bit, it could ruin a shot. Though the Z6 has quick AF when using tap focus on the monitor, it struggles when shooting a subject that is moving quickly. We tested continuous AF and full-time AF to track a toy. Instead of moving the subject, we moved the camera on a motorized slider. We started at a shallow depth of field at f/1.8.
When moving slowly, the camera kept up with the movement and kept the toy in focus. After testing with multiple speed and sensitivity settings, we found full-time AF to be the best option. Once we ramped up the speed, the camera had a difficult time finding focus on our subject. This is true even when changing the AF selection area. Single point AF worked okay, and so did auto-area AF. However, Wide-area AF (S) and wide-area AF (L) worked best, though neither was great at f/1.8.
We then did the same test at f/4 and found that the deeper depth of field allowed the lens to track better. Though we were not able to get it to continue any track once the subject left the frame or was obstructed by something else. Overall, autofocus would work in a situation where you had a deep depth of field and the subject had a strong contrast from its background. Otherwise, we would say to stick to manual focus.
Let’s move on to image stabilization with Nikon’s five-axis vibration reduction in the Z6. You can use the sensor stabilization either by itself or in coordination with a lens with image stabilization. Plus, you can add in electronic stabilization for super smooth footage, though electronic stabilization does result in a slight crop. The stabilization looked good and did not draw attention to itself, countering most of the camera shake. Is it a gimbal replacer? No, but when shooting handheld you can expect to have usable footage that isn’t shaky.
Because the camera can not capture internal 10-bit, we used an Atomos Shogun Inferno to capture 10-bit externally via the HDMI. This is a nice set up as it also allows for longer than 30-minute clips. We don’t have a LUT for N-Log and couldn’t find any online. However, we found that a LUT for Canon C-Log to REC 709 got us close enough for a secondary grade. N-Log is not too radical and fairly easy to grade overall.
We did say that this is the best full-frame camera for video shooters for the money, so let’s take a look at the competition, starting with the Sony a7 III. The a7 II is $2,000, the same price as Z6. It has good in-body image stabilization and offers S-log3 with average low light performance.
The Sony only captures 8-bit internally or externally, with no option to capture anything higher. It has a 24-megapixel full-frame sensor with 693 point hybrid AF that uses both contrast and phase detection. This camera also has the same kind of tilting screen as the Z6, but offers dual SD card slots.
Next up is the Canon EOS R at $2,300. It has the most flaws for video shooters of all the full-frame mirrorless cameras out there, starting with its 1.7 times crop in 4K. This wouldn’t be a big deal if you have the right lenses, but you are paying for full-frame sensor and you don’t get that value when shooting in 4K.
Canon offers a decent selection of native RF lenses, but they are on the high end of the price range. The EOS R offers C-Log and 10-bit output via HDMI. It has average low light performance and just a single media card slot. This camera uses a higher megapixel full frame sensor at 30.3MP and has dual-pixel CMOS autofocus with 5,655 autofocus points. Lastly, its fully articulating screen is 3.15 inches.
Last is the Panasonic Lumix S1 for $2,500. Costing $500 more than the Z6, it’s a formidable foe to the Z6. It offers limited 10-bit internal capture currently, with more promised in a future paid firmware upgrade. It shoots up to UHD 4K at 60 frames per second to dual card slots for XQD and SD cards. The biggest flaw of the S1 is that it’s high frame rate mode only shoots in auto exposure.
The S1 also has a 24 MP full-frame sensor, along with a triaxial tilt screen, which just means you get one more movement over the Z6 and a7 III. It’s still not fully articulated like the EOS R. The S1 has a contrast detect 255 area autofocus system with in-body stabilization called sensor-shift image stabilization. The S1 doesn’t have a log gamma, but that future paid firmware upgrade should solve that as well. The cost and release date of the upgrade are still unknown.
Final Thoughts and recommendation
The Nikon Z6 has a very nice, high-quality image, great low light performance and a long battery life. We really like being able to crop your sensor at will and shoot slow motion up to 120 frames per second. Plus, there’s no quality loss at that higher frame rate. If you shoot handheld, the Z6 has you covered with five-axis vibration reduction, perfect for keeping away the shake. Add with the current 10-bit output and 12-bit coming soon, it gets even more exciting. The Z6 also has Nikon’s first log profile with N-Log.
If you’re looking for an affordable full-frame mirrorless camera for video shooting — along with affordable lenses and a rich feature set — you should look at the Nikon Z6. We were super impressed.
- 10-bit external capture
- Great image quality
- Vibration reduction
- Single media card slot
- Screen isn’t fully articulating
- Corporate and Event Videography
- Marketing Video Production
- Online Video Production
- Lens Mount: Z
- Camera Format: Full-Frame
- Pixels Actual: 25.28 Megapixel
- Sensor Type / Size: CMOS, 35.9 x 23.9 mm
- Still Images: JPEG, RAW
- Movies: MOV, MP4
- Audio: AAC, Linear PCM (Stereo)
- Bit Depth: 14-Bit
- Memory Card Type: XQD
- Image Stabilization: Sensor-Shift, 5-Way
- Video Format:
- 3840 x 2160p at 23.98/25/29.97 fps (H.264)
- 1920 x 1080p at 23.98/25/29.97/50/59.94/100/120 fps (H.264)
- Focus Mode: Continuous-Servo AF (C), Full-time Servo (F), Manual Focus (M), Single-servo AF (S)
- Autofocus Points: Phase Detection: 273
- Interval Recording: Yes
- Connectivity: 1/8″ Headphone, 1/8″ Microphone, HDMI C (Mini), USB Type-C, Nikon DC2
- Wi-Fi Capable: Yes
- Battery: 1 x EN-EL15b Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
- Weight: 1.29 lb / 585 g camera body only