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I Bought a Nikon Z 6 and It Wasn't as Bad as I Thought

I Bought a Nikon Z 6 and It Wasn't as Bad as I Thought

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.

Baby robins in a nest in my yard earlier this spring. Nikon Z6 with FTZ adapter, Nikon TC-20E III 2x teleconverter, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8e at 330mm. 1/640s, f/5.6, ISO800.

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.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon speaks to a crowd at a corporate meeting in Dallas, TX, in February. Nikon Z6 with FTZ adapter, Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8e lens at 190mm, 1/160s, f/3.5, ISO500.

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.

How could I resist sneaking in a photo of the reason I haven't been posting many articles lately wearing a ninja turtle onesie? Nikon Z6 with FTZ adapter, 35mm f/1.4 lens. 1/80s, f/2.2, ISO1600.

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.

De-installation of "Maman," a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR. Nikon Z6 with FTZ adapter, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 at 14mm. 1/5000, f/5, ISO100.

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.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Stephen Ironside is a commercial photographer with an outdoor twist based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. While attempting to specialize in adventure and travel photography, you can usually find him in the woods, in another country, or oftentimes stuffing his face at an Indian buffet.

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I read this blog post and it wasn't as bad as I thought based on the horrible title.

xoxo, thanks for reading.

Why would you buy a camera you thought was bad?

Because I wanted to see if that hunch was right or not. An experiment that I could recover from easily if I didn't like it. Turns out I did.

Two cameras,genius. Much better than one card slot.

I guess spending $1800 for a mediocre product is ok these days. I demand more money for my $ especially in this economy. I guess some have time and disposable income.

When the shoot pays 2x the cost of the camera, it's a great buy.

you can only polish a turd to a certain point. i cannot afford to miss a photo due to bad af or lowlight performance as the cost is much greater than the cheap body you save money on.

I already have a D850 for photos.
I use the Z6 for video, where I always manually focus and the low light performance from 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes is pretty amazing actually.

i needed mirrorless for multimedia back in late 2018 and transitioned to Sony due to the z6 issues. I still use and love D810 and D4 with my Nikon glass for stills. I might get D850 if I can get a good deal because the skintone results from Capture One + Nikon look amazing for portraits. I use 2 a9 and a7riv now and while I don't miss the weight of Nikon dslr I do miss the optical viewfinder, the ease of use with flash, and color.

You might check out the Z6s when it comes out -- might be worth it to be able to use your Nikon glass. Hopefully they'll work out some kinks by then.

Of course, I'd have sold it if I didn't end up liking it, but I did. Only spent $1200 for the body and the 24-70/4 Z lens.

That’s actually a steal

HOLD THE DOOR! $1200 for both!? that's a hell of deal!

AH. Actually, I just looked it up -- $1800, which is $800 cheaper than full retail. But it only had like 1000 shots on it and looked brand new. Turns out my memory from January isn't great. That's what having a baby does to you I guess.

Just don't forget you have a baby ...

It wasn't bad at all, just I don't like Nikon colour for skin tone.

There is certainly no dearth of Canon articles you might find of more interest.

Of course this is subjective, but to me, Canon & Sony Color Science is un-natural when it comes to skin tones out of camera. I'm not even a Nikon shooter but most the modern Nikon files I've worked with have much more pleasant skin tones out of the box. To each his own.

Your perception of pleasing skin tones is definitely out of sync with the vast majority of other humans. That doesn't make you "wrong," but you should probably keep that in mind when making things for clients as they're more likely to be in the majority that think skin tones are a Nikon strong point - and even more importantly, their customers are probably in that majority. Your preference is your preference, not your clients - just like if you liked harsh lighting and a client wanted soft lighting. If you're only shooting for yourself, then definitely just go with what you prefer, though.

all of this about a slot ?

It's a real concern if you're working professionally on things that can't be recreated if you mess up. Weddings, high-brow corporate events where big whigs are flown in for an hour, etc. I've had cards fail. It happens. If I lost photos of something like that, I'd lose a client.

Its a modern camera. Of course it's not bad.

" even though the Z 7 has better autofocus" - everything I've read about these 2 indicate that focus speed is pretty similar on them notwithstanding the difference in no. of focus points. Did you find a difference in practice? Are you running v3 firmware as well?

I'm running V3 on the Z6, but haven't actually tried the Z 7 yet. I didn't need the higher resolution (and therefore lower high ISO quality) and it cost more. My thoughts on the autofocus speed differences are theoretical only. In theory, more focus points means better autofocus capability.

"Think pin-dropping piano performance...", dance and theatre performances. This is exactly the reason why I would, and more and more want, to buy the Z-system. But "The autofocus does leave something to be desired." is the reason why I still hesitate. Let's see what the Z6s or Z7s is going to achieve here. I could live with an EVF, get probably used to it. And the second card slot of the new s-version of the Z6/7 takes away the last argument for me not to buy it.

Thank you for this article. If you don't mind please let us know more about your experiences with the AF of your Z6, especially in low light conditions. I shoot dance performances with quick and sudden movements of the performers in low light (ISO 3200-6400 most of the time necessary) quite regularly, sometimes with single-AF continuous, other times with 3D-tracking when I can't keep up. The D4 almost never failed me here.

I shoot dance too, and some HS Sports... I've not had any issues focus tracking with my Z6. It is different in how my D850 does it but I didn't miss any shots with the Z.

So far, the AF in low light has been better than expected. Better than my Fuji. Nothing holds up to the D5, of course, but that's also a $6K+ camera. The shutter on this thing is so quiet I've sometimes forgot I had it turned on instead of in silent mode. It's quieter than my D5 or 850 in "quiet" mode.

The continuous tracking mode is a little hard to work with (you have to press the center D-pad button to lock on to something, then reset it, etc.) but I'm getting used to it. The low light performance is on par or better than my D850. Worth playing with if you're curious. The EVF takes getting used to, but I've found I like it. My Fuji experience prepped me for that, so it wasn't an issue with this one. It's nice seeing exposure, white balance, etc., in real time.

Thank you, Stephen and also Jim, for the answer. I guess I'll have my friendly dealer let me test a Z6 for an evening.

None are bad, at least compared to the digitals of 10 years ago. But all have different limitations based on what you're shooting.

I sold my Fuji X gear. It simply wasn't in the same class with high isos compared to the Z6. I will trade up my Z6 for the Z6s when it comes out. The Z6s will have dual card slots, a functioning battery grip and dual EXSPEED6 processors which should allow for better AF. I don't listen to opinions of photo forums or Youtube channels anymore. It is 90% b.s. anyway. I choose what works for me.

I haven't used my Fuji much since I got this, but then again I haven't gone backpacking (it's so small and light!) or traveled since I got the Z6. I suspect I'll still like it for travel since I'm the kind of guy that takes one small carry on for a 3 week international trip. I'm interested in the Z6s as well.

Has to be the most stupid concept for an article EVER. Why the hell would you buy something and think "Oh this is not as bad as I thought it would be". Wow; sheer stupidity in logic. Shows not all photographers are Einsteins.

It was more of an "I'm curious if this is as bad as my initial reaction to reading about it was so I want to try it out for longer than renting and can always sell it if I don't like it" situation.

Also, did you literally just make this account to leave a tasteless comment? Cool.

I have to admit I think it's weird that someone who trusts Nikon in general would then trust internet reviews of a new product over the company you've trusted your career to. And a lot of the reviews by working professionals - as opposed to Instagram photographers - were much more balanced. I'd trust reviews from working professionals who happen to also do reviews over Instagram photographers every time. Plus, as others have noted, almost any camera targeted at even just serious enthusiasts or above can produce professional level results these days. Some have more caveats than others, but overall unless you're doing something very niche the tools aren't going to be the limiting factor.

Also, why not take advantage of offloading the files in real time either wirelessly or wired if a single slot makes you nervous? Seems more reliable and easier to manage than juggling multiple cameras and cards. A bit more setup at the beginning, but many benefits downstream in workflow.

i have several pro photographer friends. some shoot weddings, some shoot news etc. They unanimously are ok with the camera. the af in low light and iso performance were some of the things I remember them criticizing. This is not high praise. I can't afford to miss a photo. That is why I cancelled my preorder for z6 back when it was released. i dodged a bullet. i do miss the Nikon DSLR system for reliability and ruggedness. i'd buy the d850 in a heartbeat if i still shot Nikon everyday. I still kept my d4 and 810. 810 is very good when I need to shoot in studio.

I would make a comment, but it seems everyone else is on the same page as me. Just wondering why you chose to word your title this way!?!?