For the first time in history, Nikon released a camera that carries the mark II addition in its name. It is indeed the same camera as the mark I, but with a lot of improvements. I reviewed the Nikon Z 6II to find out if it is worth the upgrade.
Back in 2018 I reviewed the Nikon Z 7. I got the opportunity to compare this Nikon full frame mirrorless camera with the Canon EOS R and the Sony a7R III. Although I’m a user of Canon equipment, I found the Nikon Z 7 the best camera. It has a wonderfully ergonomic design, an almost fully functional touch screen, the buttons and dials were of good quality, and its body is not too small. Of course, these three cameras each produced great quality pictures.
There were some downsides to the Nikon Z 7. One of these was the single card slot. Also, the autofocus was not that great. Don’t be mistaken, it worked well enough for most kinds of photography, but it felt short compared to a camera like the Sony a7R III, and even the Canon EOS R.
There were a lot of complaints all around the internet about the Nikon Z 7. These complaints also applied to the Nikon Z 6, which was basically the same camera with a lower resolution. But now Nikon has released the second edition of both the Nikon Z 7 and the Nikon Z 6. It even got the mark II addition, something Nikon has never done before. I got a chance to review the Nikon Z 6II for a month and a half to find out how much this second edition is improved.
How the Nikon Z 6II Looks
The Nikon Z 6II holds no surprises. It is exactly the same camera as its predecessor. It has the same buttons, the same dials, the same menu, and the same ergonomics. If you would have both cameras next to each other, you wouldn’t know which one is the first version and which one the second version.
There is a very small difference in weight and size due to the addition of a second Expeed 6 processor. It made the camera 30 grams heavier and 2 mm thicker, something you won’t notice at all. This second processor makes many of the improvements possible.
Another big difference you will notice is the second card slot. It accepts a UHS-II SD card next to the XQD/CF Express Type B card. Now you have the ability to save your photos to both cards at the same time. The Nikon Z 6II also has a new battery with a 10% larger capacity. You’ll be happy to hear it is downward compatible with the older batteries.
There is not much to say about the exterior of the camera, its buttons, and the customization options. Nothing has changed on that part, which is a good thing. Two buttons on the front are the only ones that are fully customizable. All other buttons have only one function, although you can change the behavior for some. The Nikon Z 6II does have a quick menu that you can activate by pressing the "I" button and it holds twelve functions. This quick menu is fully customizable.
The LCD screen of the Nikon Z 6II has the same touch screen functionality as its predecessor. You can use it for the menu, but also to place the AF area. Or the AF point depending on the settings you have. Unfortunately, there is still no possibility to use swipe-AF. You will have to use the joystick for that, or to tab your finger on the location you would like to focus. This does not work when you use the EVF.
What Has Been Upgraded?
Nikon seems to have listened to some of the complaints about the previous version of the Z 6 and Z 7. The upgrade addresses a lot of those shortcomings. I already mentioned a second Expeed 6 processor, a second card slot, and the new battery. But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s have a look at all the changes Nikon made.
- Double card slot (ZQD/CF Express Type B and UHS-II SC)
- New battery with a 10% larger capacity
- Second Expeed 6 processor
- 14 frames per second burst instead of 12 frames per second (in 12bit raw files)
- Memory buffer is increased to 124 raw files (instead of 35 files, both in 12bit raw)
- Improved AF tracking
- Eye-AF is now available in wide area AF
- Low light AF is improved with 1EV
- EVF has a shorter blackout
- USB-C power supply
- Video recordings in 4K 60fps with 1,5crop is available through a firmware update in February 2021
- Eye-AF is now available for video recordings
- More possibilities for video recording with external recorder
- It is possible to shoot video in raw format, but you will have to pay for this update
- Interval and time-lapse movie is now possible
- You can set the shutterspeed up to 900 seconds (but you need to activate this in the menu)
- A new vertical grip is available, with a second set of controls
As you can see, there are a lot of improvements. Some are small and almost insignificant, others have made the Nikon Z 6II a more capable machine. I think the improved autofocus capabilities and the shorter EVF blackout are most welcome, but that also depends on your own personal preferences.
The ISO Capabilities and ISO Invariance
Unfortunately, I didn't test the ISO capabilities with the Nikon Z 7, back in 2018. And even so, comparing it with the Nikon Z 6II would be dishonest due to the different sensor resolutions. But I was curious about the ISO capabilities and the ISO invariance to some extent. So I took a series of photos with different ISO settings while keeping the exposure the same.
I have done the same with the camera on ISO 400 and a deliberate underexposure to see how a correction in Adobe Lightroom Classic would turn out. If the ISO invariance is good, there would be almost no difference between the results with the correspondent higher ISO value. The noise levels should be almost the same. You can judge for yourself with the results below.
These tests are nice, but I wanted to see how it works in real-life situations. I made a landscape photo with the exposure on the brighter parts of the image. In Adobe Lightroom Classic I could raise the shadows quite a lot, with resulted in the expected increase in noise levels. I found it to be very usable, and the noise levels aren't that much of a problem. Still, you might want to use other methods on these occasions, like exposure bracketing.
What About the Improved Autofocus Capabilities?
One of the most important updates is the improved autofocus. It is more sensitive, allowing you to autofocus in with -4.5 EV. This is a one-stop improvement over the first edition of the Nikon Z 6. If you are curious, -4.5 EV is like a moonlit landscape. Do you encounter situations that are even darker? The Nikon Z 6II has a very bright green LED to illuminate the subject. Be aware, it might blind people for a second. You should warn them!
Besides the increased sensitivity, the Eye AF now works under a wider range of settings. This includes wide field AF and movies. The Eye AF has a setting for humans or animals, which can be set in the menu. Unfortunately, there is no option to let the camera decide. You have to manually change the Eye AF between humans and animals.
I found the Eye AF for humans very capable and it detects a human eye without a problem. If the detection of the eye is somehow lost, it will pick it up again swiftly. Also, in bright backlight situations, the Eye AF works without much problem. The eye has to be large enough for the camera to detect, both in strong backlight situations as normal situations. Otherwise, it will switch to body AF.
The animal Eye AF works perfectly for dogs. But it won’t work with all other animals. When I was standing about 2 meters from a deer, the camera wasn’t able to detect the eyes. I had no chance to test this with birds, because I couldn't get close enough for that.
Shooting Portraits With the Nikon Z 6II
I used the camera for a couple of portrait shoots. One of those was in a natural light situation, just before and during sunset. For the other two sessions, I used my living room studio with a Profoto B10 flash unit, triggered by the X-sync contact of a Profoto A1 flashgun for Canon (unfortunately I don't have a trigger dedicated for Nikon).
Shooting portraits is lots of fun with the Nikon Z 6II. Its Eye AF works perfectly and it nails the perfect focus almost every time. Only with a strong backlight it can hesitate a bit, but that is barely a surprise.
Shooting Landscapes With the Nikon Z 6II
There are a lot of photographers who want the highest resolution possible for landscape photography. The Nikon Z 6II only has 25mp, which I find more than enough for almost everything. The Nikon Z 6II does not support super-resolution by shifting the sensor.
I find a good dynamic range more valuable and the Nikon Z 6II performs very well. As you have seen with the ISO capabilities, it is no problem to lift your shadows up by even 4 stops. This can eliminate the use of graduated neutral density filters. Unfortunately, the Nikon Z 6II does not have a fully articulating screen. If you shoot in portrait orientation, the tilted screen is not of much help.
Many of the first landscape photos I took turned out much too dark when I opened the photos in Lightroom. It took a while before I discovered why. If you have the D+ Active Lighting activated, the camera will automatically underexpose to prevent blown-out highlights. Although the camera will correct this when shooting jpeg, the raw files will show an underexposure. It is something to keep in mind if you are using raw file format, and use exposure to the right.
Shooting Action With the Nikon Z 6II
The second Expeed 6 processor improved the AF tracking, Eye AF functions, and an increase in frames per second. Together with the larger buffer, the Nikon Z 6II seems to be more suitable for action photography. Nikon also improved the camera by a shorter EVF blackout, but it doesn’t tell us by how much.
When testing the action photography capabilities, I found the EVF blackout is still too long for effective action photography. It makes tracking the subject very difficult, especially with erratic movements. You will always be too late when following a moving subject. The series down below shows an example.
Due to the EVF blackout, you will lose your subject more often than you like. If the subject is not moving with a constant speed parallel to the camera, the hit rate will drop significantly. The EVF blackout imposes less of a problem if the subject is moving towards the camera. Although you will get used to this blackout, and you will learn to shoot with it, I find the Nikon Z 6II not the best camera for action photographers.
Recording Video With the Nikon Z 6II
I did some video shots with the Nikon Z 6II. But that was only in full HD with 25 fps. Since I don’t have any experience with judging video capabilities, I will leave that up to the experts. But I can tell you the camera has some major improvements, like the Eye AF during video recordings, and a larger resolution after the update in February 2021.
If you’re serious about filming, there is an option for recording video in raw format. You will have to pay for this update, though. I think this option is for the more professional user. But then again, if you’re that serious about shooting video you will probably choose a camera that is more specialized in video.
My Conclusion About the Nikon Z 6II
I like photographing with the Nikon Z series from the moment I used the Nikon Z 7. It is a great camera that is a lot of fun to use. It delivers good quality and it has tons of options. The Nikon Z 6II has a lot of improvements over its predecessor, and I dare to say it is a better camera altogether.
Although some improvements are not that significant and can be considered as just nice additions, there are a lot of things that should have been in the first version. I believe Nikon released the Z-series mirrorless full frame cameras too soon, thus introducing a camera that wasn’t quite finished yet. The Mark II version is the camera that the Mark I version should have been.
Still, with all its improvements the Nikon Z 6II still has some annoying issues. The first is the EVF blackout. Even with its improvement, it is still too long. The second issue is the lack of an automatic detection between human eyes and animal eyes. You need to switch between the two, which is frustrating at times. Too bad the animal Eye AF doesn’t work with a more extensive range of animals.
The Nikon Z 6II is no perfect camera, but I do believe the Nikon Z 6II is an amazing camera. It does a great job in many kinds of photography. If you are an action photographer, shooting sports and that kind of thing, the Nikon Z 6II is not the best camera for you.
What I Like
- Good ergonomics
- Well sized and balanced
- In-Camera Image Stabilization
- Eye-AF for people and animals, also in wide field-AF
- Eye-AF during filming
- Eye-AF works very well under most circumstances
- Tilted LCD screen
- Good implemented touch screen functionality
- Double card slot (XQD/CF Express Type B and UHS-II SD)
- Improved battery (10% larger capacity)
- Time-lapse and interval movie available
- Good ISO capabilities
- Enough customization possibilities
- Increased speed (14 fps instead of 12 fps)
- Increase buffer (124 raw files instead of 35 raw files)
- Shutterspeed adjustable up to 900 seconds in manual
What I Don’t Like
- EVF blackout makes following moving subject very difficult
- Eye AF has difficulties detecting eyes that are small in the frame
- Eye AF for animals is very limited
- No automatic switch between eye-AF for animals or humans
- Autofocus assist light is extremely bright
- No swipe AF function
- Changing AF point with the joystick feels slow
- You need to pay for the raw file movies capability
- The 4K 25 fps upgrade is with a 1.5x crop
Is It Worth the Upgrade
Although the Nikon Z 6II is the second edition of the first Nikon Z6 from 2018, both are still available. It means you can choose between the two. It may seem strange, but I think the improvements are less valuable for some photographers. Not everyone needs two card slots or improved video capabilities. Perhaps you don’t use Eye AF that much, or AF tracking as a matter of fact.
For a landscape or a real estate photographer, for instance, the first Nikon Z 6 is a very capable camera, and it performs very well. The improvements may not be that important for such a photographer. If you already own a Nikon Z 6, and you don’t use the changes Nikon made to the Nikon Z 6II version, the upgrade will be not necessary and perhaps even a waste of money. But if you are a portrait photographer the improved Eye AF will be very valuable. It might be worth the upgrade.
Are you planning to buy a Nikon Z6 camera, or are you in doubt about making the upgrade? You need to take a good look at the improvements of the Mark II version. Ask yourself this: will I ever use this option for my photography? If you know the answer, you might know what to do.
What do you think about the improvements Nikon has made to this beautiful camera? Do you think it's worth it, or not? I would also like to know your experience with this camera, if you own one. Please let me know in the comment below.