Review: Nikon Z6 II
One of the things we've realised over the last few years of writing and reading camera reviews is that for many photographers, the aim in choosing a new camera is simply to find a tool that stays out of your way, doesn’t intrude upon your creativity, and just allows you to get on with it.
The more experienced you become, the more you may look for a specific characteristic or feature within a camera – which is why we always try to give each model a thorough inspection – but it’s worth remembering that, at a basic level, usability is still key.
Which brings us to the Nikon Z6 II, the latest revision of Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless platform and a camera that not only improves on its predecessor, but also does this with a minimum of fuss to create one of the more well-rounded cameras on the market today.
For this review, we tested the Z6 II with Nikon's compact Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens. The Z6 II retails for $3,399 (body only).
First off, it’s worth mentioning that the Z6 II is definitely more on the iterative end of the upgrade spectrum and, externally at least, there is very little difference between the new camera and its predecessor.
For the body, the only giveaways are the "II" nomenclature next to the Z6 logo, and a marginally deeper battery door. Nikon says the body is a couple of millimetres deeper, and marginally heavier, but there’s little else to tell the two generations apart.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing though, as the body is nice to hold, has a logical button layout and a solid, deep grip. One criticism would be that the rear LCD and electronic viewfinder haven’t received the upgrade treatment that the internals have – and although the OLED EVF is bright and clear, with 3.69 million dots, its 60Hz refresh rate is starting to look a little dated.
At the same time, the tilting rear LCD is a bit of a weakness, and an articulating screen would make it much more versatile, especially when shooting in portrait orientation.
Finally, kudos to Nikon for listening to their users (and probably thousands of online commentators as well) about the need for dual card slots. As a result, the Z6 II now offers a dual system – 1x SD UHS-II and 1x CFexpress (Type B) / XQD, which at least gives an alternative to the expensive XQD format.
When it comes to IQ, we already knew that the 24.5MP CMOS BSI sensor in the Z6 was a solid performer, and perhaps the only disappointment is that the Z6 II doesn’t get something newer and a bit flashier. However, it is a good sensor that does include a couple of surprises this time round.
The first is that exposure metering now works down to -6EV, enabling the Z6 II to practically see in the dark. Speaking of the dark, our testing suggested that high ISO performance has improved markedly. If you do find yourself shooting at ISO 6400 and above, it's clear that the tweaks Nikon have made to the Expeed processing engine have made an improvement to image clarity. This is also something backed up by other reviews we’ve seen too.
It may not quite be the type of headline spec we’re used to seeing these days, but the most notable improvement when it comes to autofocus in the Z6 II is the addition of face and eye detection (both human and animal) to the Wide Area AF mode. In the original Z6, these features were only available in 'Auto' area AF, which left the camera to decide where to focus.
The eye detect works well in most instances, although the Wide Area focus box is quite small. When the camera identifies more than one eye, it displays an arrow on one side of each box it puts around each eye, and the choice of eye can then be changed with the joystick on the back of the camera. It’s a neat way of managing eye detect and becomes intuitive quickly.
The Z6 II uses a hybrid phase detect and contrast detect AF system, and brings with it 273 AF points covering 90% of the sensor. Tracking performance is very good, with the camera sticking to moving subjects nicely.
The Z6 II's maximum drive speed is also impressive, although many users might be disappointed to hear the max 14 frames per second only works with a single AF point and only in JPEG or 12-bit RAW (which has less dynamic range than 14 bit). If you want the camera to choose an AF point or track a subject, you’ll need to settle for 12fps.
The Z6 II offers solid video capabilities, although the ability to shoot at 4K/60p was not available at launch and is still due to be added in a future firmware update. The 4K/30p video mode offers FX and DX cropping modes.
When recording in-camera, video is limited to 8-bit, although more detailed 10-bit 4:2:2 video, including with N-Log, is available with an external recorder via HDMI.
In our tests, the video results were excellent, and it’s great to see Nikon has also brought some of the new AF technology over to the video capabilities as well, with the improvements to Animal eye-AF now enabled when recording video – the previous Z6 could only track whole animal faces, rather than their eyes, in video modes.
Like a trusty old pair of running shoes, there’s something reassuring about the Nikon Z6 II. The company has clearly listened to the criticisms of the original Z6, and brought in a series of tweaks with its successor that add up to a greatly improved photography experience.
That said, if you were hanging out for a serious upgrade to what is now a two-year-old camera, you might feel a little underwhelmed there’s not more ‘wow’ specs with the Z6 II. But for everyone else, and especially those after a camera that gets the job done with a minimum of fuss, you’ll find plenty to like with this new update to Nikon’s Z6.
More info: www.nikon.com.au