Nikon Z 6 for Wildlife Photography Versus the D850

The Nikon Z 6 was one of the company’s first attempts in the full-frame mirrorless camera market. How does it fare with wildlife photography and its unique challenges?

Two months ago, wildlife photographer Michael Aagaard left his trusty Nikon D850 behind to begin using the Nikon Z 6 for his work. In this video, he reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the Z 6 that he experienced in the field and compares the newer mirrorless camera to his D850. Aagaard notes that he has only used the Z 6 with firmware version 3.0 released earlier this year which improved autofocus performance and even added Animal Detection AF.

In the pros column of the Z 6, Aagaard praises its low light capabilities, reliability for video, the EVF advantage over optical viewfinders, its silent shutter mode, and its compact size for travel. Over on the cons side, he mentions the size again as it can also be uncomfortable to hold without the optional MB-N10 Multi-Battery Power Pack, its poor battery life, the autofocus for fast moving subjects, and its lower resolution when compared against the D850.

Check out the full video above for a deep dive into all Aagaard’s thoughts between the Nikon Z 6 and D850.

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53 Comments

David Pavlich's picture

Imagine you've spent a small fortune to go to Churchill, Manitoba to photograph the polar bears. You've spent the first day on one of the buggies and got some great shots with your Z6. You get back to the hotel and grab the lone memory card out of your Z6, pop it into your reader and up on your laptop appears 'No Data'.

The guy that was next to you on the buggy that had a D850 has a card failure as well. BUT, the other card in the D850 is fine. Just sayin'.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I don't know Nikons, but, doesn't the Z 6 have a usb port where you can just connect it your computer. So, even if the card doesn't read on your computer, if you were able to preview the images on the camera, couldn't you just download directly from the camera.

Jason Frels's picture

Imagine you do all that with your [any name brand] camera with dual card slots and you get back to the hotel and find out that the camera failed and corrupted all of your files as it was writing them to both cards. Same thing. There's always another weak link. Your only solution is to duck tape two cameras together.

Eivind Larsen's picture

Imagine that you come back to your hotel with your two cameras duct taped together, someone steal your car with the gear... maybe you should have brought two cars.

David Pavlich's picture

The extra card is added insurance. It's mandatory for me. What it is for others is no concern of mine. I just point out the fact that cards aren't 100% fail proof. And just so you know, I've never had a camera give up the ghost, but I did have a car failure.

Eivind Larsen's picture

I've never had a card failure, but I've had Nikon D90 totally die on me in Uganda and had to be sent to Europe and back for repairs, I've had my camera bag stolen, my car stolen, my motorcycle stolen...
If I was shooting paid work at one-off events, I probably would want dual memory cards.

David Pavlich's picture

Sounds to me like a card failure would be a minor thing. :-)

Johan Doornenbal's picture

Imagine you only have one camera and you drop it into the water. Imagine you forget your battery. Imagine your forget your gloves and have to stay inside. Imagination is wonderful.

Shang-Hsien Yang's picture

Imagine you dropped your a9ii or EOS R5 into the water. Imagine after grieving for your financial loss, the camera has uploaded the photos to your internet storage.

David Pavlich's picture

Maybe this person with the bad memory or that has butter fingers should make a list or maybe keep his/her camera on a strap and the strap around his/her neck. Imagination is wonderful, indeed.

You're assessment is a list of human foibles. Now, if the card was handled poorly by your imaginary photographer, it's the fault of the photographer, but the card still failed. Maybe, just maybe, if the photographer had a two slot camera, the day would be saved.

Johan Doornenbal's picture

In my experience, good memory cards are more reliable than any human. I've ran dual cards since the 1D III, and when I switched to the EOS R, I just rotate through my cards every hundred photos or so. Sure, theoretically I could lose a few photos, but my keeper rate is massively higher than it ever was with the 1D III, 7D II, 5D III, 5D IV, etc.

David Pavlich's picture

For sure. However, I'm not willing to take the chance that the few photos that I might miss because I only had one memory card just might be that one in a million. I'm not willing to chance that if I'm shooting a one off event that I may lose even 1 photo due to the fact that I only had one memory card. Clients pay for results. Any added insurance that I can have to ensure that I produce what the client wants is prudent in my eyes.

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

I used my Nikon D2x for nearly 16 years, I still have the same 4 CF cards, never had a single card failure...
300k + exp.
World is a strange place...

Only thing I always did was to format the cards before any shoot in camera, and once in a while, do a full format on a PC and then reformat in camera, and have the the camera on service and cleaning at least once a year...

Nick Bentley's picture

I use the Z6 along side a D5 for my work shooting sports I have never in the year plus I’ve used the camera had any issue with cards. Or ever had an issue with a xqd. If your so worried my smaller cards and swap them. 2 card slots in reality used to be needed because of the quality of as cards but it’s not the be all and end all. It’s just another easy way to hate on a perfectly good camera.

That said I do miss a vertical grip but not enough that it’s ever stoped me getting a shot. I have the battery pack to and find it balances the camera well and gives me the ability to hot swap battery’s so the camera is never off. This is something that is so important in the work I do !

stuartcarver's picture

What you need to be doing is making sure you format them regularly, properly eject them from your PC, use good quality cards, carry a portable drive with SD card upload to regularly back up whilst travelling... these steps will help ensure you dont run into that issue.

Nick Bentley's picture

Exactly every time your card goes in the camera format it. I was worried to start with but we shoot 3000+ images most weekends (pre Covid) at events and we have had no issues at all

stuartcarver's picture

Im not saying for a minute that there arent dodgy cards out there, there is bound to be with the qty that are produced... BUT i work in system support as a job and the amount of mal-practise i see with computer equipment is astounding, im 99.9% certain a lot of issues with SD cards are caused by misuse and general laziness, the same people who's gear is battered to hell and claim its just general use, my guess is they take the same amount of care with their SD cards.

David Pavlich's picture

I'm an in camera formatter and do it regularly. And guess what? I still had a card fail. BUT, it was in a 5DIII. The SD card failed, but luckily, I had a 5DIII and the CF card was fine. If one is willing to take the chance at a one off shoot that the single card will NEVER fail, it's fine. I'm not willing to take that chance.

I don't 'hate' any camera. I'm just not willing to chance a card failure, so I buy cameras with two slots. That's all I'm saying. No card failures is great, until it happens for the first time. It's at that point that statistics become meaningless.

Nitin Chandra's picture

I have never pulled out any kind of card from my Nikon bodies excepting for firmware updates...No need when you can use a cable to transfer.

Robert Teague's picture

It's more likely the camera will fail before the card ....

David Pavlich's picture

Perhaps. I've had a card failure, so having two card slots is mandatory for me. It's added insurance for those one off shoots that can't be duplicated. It's fine is someone is willing to roll the dice that they will never have a card fail. I'm not willing to take that chance.

Robert Teague's picture

You have had an XQD or CFExpress fail?

David Pavlich's picture

Nope...SD card. Question: Do the manufacturers of XQDs and CFExpress GUARANTEE that their cards won't fail? If they don't, regardless of how small the chances are to fail, I won't take the chance. Whether you do or not doesn't matter to me. I'm only doing what I think is best to make sure that what I shoot is safely saved.

Look...those of you that have one card cameras do not need to justify your decision to buy one card cameras. I hope that you never have a card failure. I had a failure, so I'm firmly in the two card camera as a requirement because cards do fail, however small the chance of failure. Not all cards fail, but some do. You cannot deny that fact.

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

some people are just unlucky...

I had my D2x for 16 years, 4 main (+ 2 backup) CF cards, also 16 years old, never had one single card failure... (I have actually still not used the 2 backup cards I have).
The cards should actually been worned out 3-4 times by now because of the writes and format cycles, but they still work...

I have had multiple card readers fail on me though...

But yes, cards do fail and if you think 2 slots is safer, I agree with you, buy a camera with 2 slots...

David Pavlich's picture

I don't do a lot of paid events, but the fact that I do them is the main reason that I insist on 2 cards. It's one thing to have a portrait session go sideways because a card failed since the session can be replicated, but something like a wedding or a one time gathering can't be replicated, so any bit of extra insurance is worth the extra dinars. :-)

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

I used it for real estate photography, the images had to be in the agents hand the next day...
Deadline was always no later than 08-09 AM the next day... And a normal day was 4-6 assignment a day, average of 150 to 300 images on each, sending 20-30 images to the Realt Estate Agents...

So I think I had a little over average write amount on the cards, and I never once thought about that I needed 2 card slots.

I have also done my part of Events...

So again, some people are just unlucky, but there are no reason to bash a camera system just because of it has one slot... (not saying you are doing that, but a lot of reviewers have)

...

And now, Sony have come with a camera with one card slot, no one have attacked Sony the same way they attacked Nikon for it... It's kind of funny...

David Pavlich's picture

Cameras with one card slot take great pictures, but having two cards is a required parameter for me. Never having a card fail is great...until a card does fail. I had one failure and that was enough to convince me that a two card camera is a necessity for me. Luckily, the card that failed (SD) was in a 5DIII that I had at the time. However, the CF card was fine. No data lost.

Robert Teague's picture

Just curious.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

I think you make a valid point. I was worried about using my Z7 with a single card and I was in the high arctic. Fortunately it did not fail at all. I must say it has never failed thus far. But you never know. I was nervous enough to download the card to my computer at each opportunity I got. Would not have done it if I had two cards I think.

David Pavlich's picture

For sure. Card failure is rare and there's a very good chance that you will never have a failure. In the past 8 years that I've been serious about this stuff, I've had one failure, but it was in a 2 card camera so the data wasn't lost. Two cards is one of many ways to ensure that you have what you shot at the end of the day.

Richard Richard's picture

Is there any evidence this happens t o XQD cards?

David Pavlich's picture

Good question. I don't know. However, I won't buy a camera with one card slot, so for me, it doesn't matter.

Dillan K's picture

You're more likely to die in a car accident on the way back home after the shoot.

David Pavlich's picture

Statistics prove your statement correct. However, I'm still not willing to take a chance on a camera with only one card slot.

Ian Grandjean's picture

I'm sorry to criticize, but frankly the comment "...and it's lower resolution compared to the D850" is frankly ridiculous. This is NOT a fair comparison. Perhaps you don't know, but Nikon make the Z7 too - and it has a comparable pixel count to the D850.

Give yourself some credibility guys - oh and yes, the old "only one card slot" chestnut died a while back...

(PS. I use the Z6, 7 and D850 - never had an XQD card failure....yet)

Nitin Chandra's picture

In over 10 years, I have still to have an SD or, more recently, the XQD failing. Of course, I have also upgraded the SD cards as the camera resolutions increased, but, no failure so far...Guess I am lucky :)

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

some people are just unlucky...

I had my D2x for 16 years, 4 main (+ 2 backup) CF cards, also 16 years old, never had one single card failure... (I have actually still not used the 2 backup cards I have).
The cards should actually been worned out 3-4 times by now because of the writes and format cycles, but they still work...

I have had multiple card readers fail on me though...

Nitin Chandra's picture

Great to know! :)

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

lol ... yeh, I knew you needed just that information...

David Pavlich's picture

And that's terrific...until the first time it happens. I've had only one failure, but it was in a camera with two slots. I baby my equipment. I use top shelf cards. If I cleaned a couple of finger prints off the back of my camera and handed it to you, you'd probably think that it was just out of the box.

Card failures statistically are very small. But if it happens, it doesn't matter the stats. All you know is that you've lost a bunch of pictures. Not bad if you're shooting pictures of your cat, but could be disastrous if it's pictures of something that is very important to you or worse, your client that's paying you for a finished product that you now don't have. It's added insurance.

Thomas H's picture

I had the same thought: Compare D850 to Z7 and D780 to Z6.

Michael Aagaard's picture

Hi Ian - thanks for your comment! Did you actually watch my video? Or did you just read the above summary? In the video my point clearly was just that when using the Z6 I miss the extra pixels because I am used to that from the D850. So going down to 25MP was something I noticed.

In the video I also make it very clear that I love the D850 and in many situations I prefer it over the Z6. Moreover, this isn't a video meant to mainly compare the Z6 to the D850 - as the title of the video suggests, it is me talking about the strengths and weaknesses I see using the Z6. I do make some comparisons to the D850 because that is the camera I've been using for a long time up to and with the Z6.

I of course know that Nikon made the Z7 and I know it has a 45.7 MP sensor. But the thing is I didn't buy the Z6 to get the the same resolution - I bought for the video performance and low light performance. Had I gone with the Z7, I wouldn't have got the same low-light performance.

Have an awesome day Ian!

- Michael

Lance Saunders's picture

Michael a really honest and fair review. As a Nikon shooter with a D500 and D850 and who is very happy with them I also know that the mirrorless movement is inevitable, which is great. But I hesitate to purchase the first generation version of any new technology. The D850 represents their finest culmination of 60 years of DSLR technology and updates, the Z6 is year 1 and just not there yet. But by the time a Z8 or Z9 launches in a few years it just might be the perfect option.

Whatever brand of camera your using now if one cannot take great shots today, as the old saying goes “it’s not the wand it’s the magician.”

Jan Holler's picture

Yes, that is a fair review. I agree with all you've said. I still hesitate because of the battery life, the power on lag and the jittering (how he calls it in the video) or lag of the EVF and (less) the 3D-tracking. But the silent shutter tempts me really much.
It was interesting to hear about how he prefers the Z6 over the D850 if it's about the low light performance. To this, resolution vs ISO-performance, I fear, we have to get used to for a longer while. I still admire my D4 's (16MP) low light performance. I think, the 24MP of the Z6 make the best out of it. Therefore, the Z8 should keep the 24MP, add a second memory slot and should have solved the above said. It would be my next Nikon right away. (Wouldn't say no to a better grip with controls and a dedicated interface, just like the DSLRs have)

Nitin Chandra's picture

I did a similar comparison for resolutions, not mirrorless though, for wildlife...Might be useful for some here...
https://youtu.be/ps70ao7onD0

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

I think a fair comparison would be Z7 vs D850. And it meets it and beats it in some ways. The Z7 is an apt equivalent to the D850 in the mirror less world.

Eric Hundley's picture

A lot of talk about not having a secondary memory card. My Nikon Snapbridge automatically saves a full raw copies to my Galaxy s8. Having the ability to put a micro SD card in my phone for exspanded storage is amazing.

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Very useful field experience.

Jess Aggeboe's picture

None of these Nikon cameras are good enough for serious wildlife photography, so this is a slightly ridiculous article!

Michael Aagaard's picture

Hi Jess - thanks for your comment! What brand and cameras would a serious wildlife photographer such as yourself recommend then? Er du tilfældigvis dansker? Det ligner et dansk navn : )

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