When Nikon’s Z series mirrorless cameras were introduced, they caught a lot of flak. Although I wasn’t a fan at first, I’m starting to come around. Turns out I just had to use one.I’ve been a Nikon shooter my whole career, starting on a Nikon N6006 35mm film camera in high school, moving to a D200 in college, and on up the chain since then. I have a Fujifilm kit for backpacking and travel, but still use Nikon for most of my professional work. When the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 came out, I saw so many things wrong with them that I blew them off. But earlier this year, I bought a Z 6, and it changed my mind.
When Nikon’s new Z mirrorless cameras were released, there was one feature (or lack thereof) that turned me off completely: no dual card slots. When shooting high-brow corporate events — the commercial equivalent of a wedding that can’t be recreated if something goes wrong — it makes me sick to my stomach to not be shooting backup to two card slots in case one card malfunctions. That was my main beef with the Z 6 and Z 7 when they were announced. There were other small things, of course: for some reason the battery grip didn’t have a vertical release button, they didn’t have as good of an autofocus system as DSLRs, there was viewfinder lag when shooting at high FPS, etc.
I decided to hold off until the next version. These are Nikon’s first full frame mirrorless cameras, and I get that. I generally shy away from buying the first generation of anything so that there’s ample time for the bugs to get worked out. I also realize that Sony and even Canon’s mirrorless offerings are miles ahead of Nikon’s in a lot of ways. The problem is that I’m heavily invested in Nikon and love it for my commercial work, so those other mirrorless offerings are not enough to entice me to switch systems entirely. I have so many lenses that it would be a huge jump and investment to switch, so I decided to just give Nikon’s mirrorless system a shot and see how it went.
So, earlier this year, I bought a used Z 6 and FTZ lens adapter on eBay, and I don’t regret it. I opted for the Z 6 over the Z 7 because of its better high ISO capabilities and faster frame rate, even though the Z 7 has better autofocus. I knew I would be using it in a lot of lower-light situations doing event work, so I needed that image quality at the upper end, and didn’t really need the higher resolution of the Z 7. Plus, it was cheaper. I bought the camera in February and took it with me to a week-long corporate event shoot in Dallas the next week as a second rig. I ended up using it much more than I anticipated that week, and became a quick convert.
The main reason I wanted to have a mirrorless option was for the silent shutter capability. I shoot a lot of events where the client requests a silent shutter. Think pin-dropping piano performance or an off-the-record meeting with a former president in a small room. In lieu of buying/renting a blimp, which has many limitations, I had been using my Fuji system for those situations, but I hadn’t invested heavily in Fuji’s longer-range zooms that I normally use for event photography (I use my 70-200mm all the time) and have stuck with only small, fast primes on that system. I wanted to be able to use my Nikon glass in these situations, so it was cheaper for me to try a Z camera than to invest in more Fuji lenses. Plus, the X-T3’s smaller sensor just isn’t that great in extremely low-light situations. Of course, using any electronic shutter has its limitations, naturally, but in most cases it works very well. But, here’s the thing: even the mechanical shutter on the Z 6 is much quieter than the shutter on any of my DSLRs. I’d guess that it’s at least half the volume of my D5, maybe less, and in many cases it’s been quiet enough that I haven’t even needed to turn on the silent shutter. It’s amazing.
The FTZ adapter, though it doesn’t feel like much — a little plasticy, not heavy duty enough compared to Nikon's professional lens quality — has actually worked quite well. It seems to be able to hold my 70-200mm lens just fine without me fearing that it will break, and I feel like it translates the autofocus capability of the lens adequately. The limitations of the autofocus definitely lie with the camera, not the lens or adapter. I’d like to have a separate set of Z lenses for this camera, of course, but in reality the extra bulk the adapter adds isn’t much compared to bringing a whole separate set of lenses to a shoot if I also want to bring my DSLRs. I’m OK with using it for now.
The autofocus does leave something to be desired. I’m used to the blazing fast focus and great 3D tracking on my D5 and D850. I knew that pretty much any mirrorless camera wouldn’t hold its own compared to those. I haven’t been in enough situations where I’ve noticed that I missed too many shots, but I’d put the Z 6 in between my Fuji X-T3 and the D850 as far as autofocus speed and reliability. It’s better than the Fuji, but there’s still a lot of room to grow.
I’ve gotten over my fear of not shooting dual card slots via two methods: on the most important events, I bring along a second body to shoot part of the time so that, if something goes wrong, I at least have some photos of the event to hand over. I also try to swap out memory cards on the Z 6 more often than I normally do in order to spread the photos out over more cards. The XQD cards seem to be pretty tough compared to SD cards, so that gives me a little peace of mind as well.
Overall, I’ve been more impressed than I expected to be with my Nikon Z 6. Sometimes, I guess, you just have to get something in your hands and try it out firsthand instead of just reading reviews to really determine what you think about it. With this camera I get main the benefits of mirrorless — smaller form factor, real-time exposure and color previews, both quieter and silent shooting capabilities — and also get to use my full array of Nikon lenses and enjoy the same colors coming out the sensor as my D850 and D5. I think Nikon is finally realizing that mirrorless cameras are a huge market, and maybe even the future of photography, so I’m looking forward to the next versions to see what they decide to change and improve upon. Nikon is rumored to be releasing some new Z bodies soon that address many of these issues, so I'll be watching to see how well they've listened and learned.