How Does the Nikon Z 6 Hold up Against the World's Worst Weather?

How Does the Nikon Z 6 Hold up Against the World's Worst Weather?

I spent several days creating images in nasty, cold conditions on Mount Washington and the mountains of New Hampshire to see how this new mirrorless camera would perform. There were some issues, but no major malfunctions or failures. Overall, I’d say it’s a step sideways from the D750 or D800, but not a big step up at this point.

The worst day I spent out this winter with my Nikon Z 6 so far was on March 6th in Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington. The minimum temperature for the day on the summit was -19F with a high of -11F, coupled with an average wind speed of 56.8 mph. I’ve also been out with it on a few more days that the temperature was no warmer than -2F. I know these exact figures becasue there is a manned weather station not more than a 1/2 mile from where we were photographing. For this conversation, I’m going to call it wintery conditions, maybe bordering on gnarly or even epic winter conditions. On most of those days, it was snowing or at least blowing snow around. I photographed a range or winter sports, from ice climbing to back country skiing. I think that type of subject matter gives a true test of a camera's capabilities and will also show where it misses the mark.

My biggest concern with switching to a mirrorless camera was the weatherproofosity (that should be a real word). I’ve spent many days above tree-line during winter storms over the years to know that my Nikon DSLR system works and performs under cold, gnarly conditions with no problems. Were the weight savings of the Z 6 worth the switch? Could it work as well as the tried and true D800 and D750? Would the EVF work in bright snowy conditions? Did Nikon keep the same high standard for weatherproofing on the Z series as it has on the D series?

I’ll just go right down the list of issues that bothered me to some degree, starting from most impactful if you’re out shooting in the cold. The weirdest and most annoying is how the Electronic View Finder (EVF) behaves in cold temps. When shooting any moving subject, like a skier, the 3.6M-dot Quad-VGA EVF blurs like it would if you were shooting at a slow shutter speed. You can manage to keep the subject in frame, but it’s a distraction and is far from ideal. I don’t know the physics behind it, but I assume it has to do with getting electrons excited in really cold temps, similar to getting models excited to ski in really cold temps. Unrelated to cold temps, there is a time delay to activate the EVF, basically a black viewfinder for a few moments until it turns on. We all know great photography is capturing the right moment. Having to wait to see what’s in the EVF leaves a chance to miss a moment. It’s also disorienting when you pull the camera up to your face and you see a black screen. No lag at all on a traditional DSLR.

There was a lot of concern about battery life when mirrorless came out. Yes, the batteries do not last as long as they do in the D750 or D800. Kudos to Nikon for designing the Z 6 and Z 7 to be able to use the batteries from the D750 and D800 (EN-EL15), so when the Z 6 batteries run out, I have a pile of fully charged ones to use. Yes, batteries run out faster in the cold, but that is just something to deal with no matter what system you use. Pack them into an inside pocket, and they’ll last a bit longer on cold days. I did change the setting so the large LCD did not come on for image previews, which is weird to look through the viewfinder to preview an image. I assume it saved a bit of power. It also helps seeing the preview on those bright sunny days.

Snowy, cloudy white scenes are tough for any autofocus system to handle. I really hoped that the updated autofocus on the Z 6 would blow my mind, but it didn’t. It’s finicky and not any faster than the Nikon Advanced Multi-CAM 3500 II autofocus sensor module found in the D750. That was a disappointment. I am also using the FTZ adapter with the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, and so maybe the adapter reduces the performance of the system? I’ll leave that on the table until I use a Z lens to eliminate the FTZ adapter.

I like the way the D800 feels in my hands. Obviously, the Z 6 is smaller and has a whole different body style, but it works well, even for larger hands with no bulky gloves on. Once the gloves go on, it’s a different story. All those customizable buttons become a bit close together. The Fn1 and Fn2 buttons get pressed all the time, and if you’re not familiar with their functions, you’ll be searching the menus trying to find what setting got changed. I have the back focus button activated, and it’s mightily close to the focus point locator stick/button. I have often found myself trying to find the focus indicator in the EVF, only to see it down in some random corner, hiding from me after my thumb pushed it there unknowingly. It’s easy enough to deactivate the stick/button, but it’s not really any better than the flat selector button for moving the focus indicator in previous bodies. I’ll adapt and overcome on that one. The switch/button that changes the Z 6 from stills to video is excellent and just in the right spot; there's no need to even take your eye from the EVF to find it, with or without a pair of oversize gloves. The push button inside the video/still selector button is great to rifle through a few options like level, mic level, and histogram.

Weatherproofosity: Yeah, I used that word again. Even with the FTZ adapter adding a second level of potential for leaking and problems, the Nikon Z 6 was solid. I’m a pretty good skier, but I wrecked a bunch of times and packed some serious snow into that body and had no issues. The cold didn’t create any loose connections or brittle seals. I spent a few days in the clouds and fog and still didn’t have any problems with weatherproofosity. Some of the lower-end lenses might create a problem, but I haven’t used any of them to provide any comment on the quality of sealing there.

It’s a tough call whether to shell out $2,000 on a new body or stick with your current DSLR. I’m honestly on the fence. My work is evolving and including more filming, so the investment in the Nikon Z system makes sense for me. It may not be for you, but thankfully, we all love to shoot different things and work in a variety of spaces. I hope some of these real, honest comments on the Z 6 help you if you’re looking at investing in a new camera body. This is by no means a complete in depth breakdown of the camera; I’ll follow up later in the spring or summer and add some more thoughts on it as issues come up.

I’m interested in hearing your experiences with the Z 6 in the cold this past winter and to see if they jive with what I’ve experienced.

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17 Comments

João Chainho's picture

Thank you so much for sharing!

I can't help but wonder why the hell you're not using a Nikon D5 or even D4s? I have always owned and stuck with my pro sized bodies, because I know they will work no matter what. I could go on and on about the reasons and that I know you would not have had any problems, but you must have your reasons. It can't be cost as a D4s or even used D5 is now between $2000 and $3500. It seems you went out expecting issues and trying to find issues and thats what you had, maybe next time take a D4s or D5 and let me know.

I thought it was a fair “report” on his experience. I think everyone will have heard how wonderful the D’s can be and so it’s useful to hear how well new cameras fair and compare.
As for “working no matter what” I’m sure many would contest this claim.
I was especially pleased to read about the Z6 rather than the Z”white elephant”7
I own the D850 so the Z6 is a tempting second body with 12fps at 20megs rather than just a lighter option but I fully appreciate the review was aimed at those who may be looking to travel a little lighter ie not with a D4/5

Thomas H's picture

Let me help the majority to understand how harsh the conditions were (only a small minority on the planet, probably just one country, uses the old German scale of Fahrenheit):
-19F is -28.3C
-11F is approx -24C, and
-2F is -19C
Its not that cold per se for all coming from the North, but combined with such dramatic winds of 56.8 mph (over 91 km/h), that is indeed harsh, and a great tribute to "man and machine!" You sure are an extreme athlete and photographer, totally impressive!

I think that especially your report about the EVF shows that the evolution of the viewfinder is not over just yet: At the moment there is no substitute to the real optical viewfinder, regardless what the web-wide hype about the "miracles of mirrorless" try to claim. I will keep my DSLR for now. I have the tiny Canon RP for experiments with a mirrorless solution, and I feel like a fool who rushed in... Not a replacement for an OVF in any temperature.

Joe Klementovich's picture

Thanks for the conversion chart! I should have thought about that, there was a good 10 inches or (25.4cm) of snow for the skiing. I agree on the over hype, and the continued evolution of the EVF, I did get the camera for it's silent mode, which is pretty sweet while shooting along video crews. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Thank you for sharing. I do have a mirrorless Fuji, but have used the Nikon F4s, F5 and others in Russia for the past 17 years with no problems. Most winters it got down to -25F (-31C) and a few times down to -40F and C. Always made precautions by keeping them covered and having extra batteries. The Hasselblad also had no problems, keeping the same precautions. I am curious about the Z6 and would like to give it a try. Do you have any experience with its' seals against dust, etc? Thank you again sir.

Joe Klementovich's picture

The seals in the nikon Z 6 are comparable to the sealing they do in the other Pro to pro-sumer cameras. I use the D750 and D800 and the Z 6 seems as well sealed as those bodies. Stay warm out there.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Thank you sir. You stay warm also. Are you in Canada or where please? I will research the Z6 some more. Good info from you.

"face and you see a black screen. No lag at all on a traditional DSLR." - true but you also don't get to preview your exposure on a DSLR. On DSLRs I've wrecked a few shots with over or under exposing because the moment was happening and my settings weren't right for the scene. Granted an over or under exposed image is better than no image at all but I guess that's just my take on it

Joe Klementovich's picture

My point on the black screen was that if you're following action it's hard to frame it up and follow it along if the screen is black, reducing your time to adjust.

Exactly, at least you have the light meter reading in an OVF.

Laughing Cow's picture

I would be curious to know if they resist to the Oymyakom climate…
(Surely a bit colder than Mount Washington and the mountains of New Hampshire…)

Had exactly the same problem with the EVF turning black as if I was taking a long exposure shot during my wintersport in the Swiss mountains. And it wasn't even that cold, I guess 3 C.
I couldn't frame my friends snowboarding while I intended to follow them in continious shooting mode because of the black EVF. Had some lucky shots but not what I wanted and I was quite annoyed.
However, overall I am really satisfied with the Z6, beautiful camera

Or would the problem have been that I had (default setting) the image review on the EVF on?

Joe Klementovich's picture

Yeah, I think it has to do with the EVF turning on and off. Maybe there is a way to keep it on all the time but that would drain the power pretty quickly.
Does any one with Cannon or other mirrorless systems have the same problem?

Mark Smith's picture

I had the Z6 out in Alaska this winter for 10 days camping in the cold shooting at night in as low as -40 f (-40C) before the wind. I did have slight issues with the EVF but nothing too bad. Some of the issues I had were simply due to working in big gloves and simply not having used the camera enough. I found the FTZ adapter worked perfectly on all my lenses. I had the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8. Several times I found myself and the camera covered in snow and had no issues with the "weatherproofosity." Batteries did pretty well considering the cold and the extra demands of the EVF. I loved the more compact size of the z6 compared to my D4s. It was so much easier to have on me when hiking up a ridge to grab a frame. I honestly had more problems with my tripod legs freezing then I did with the camera at all! Cheers!!

Joe Klementovich's picture

I think the EVF issue I had was related to fast moving skiers and getting blur. The delay from sleep to active is a bit too long I think. No big deal if you're on a tripod and shooting landscapes but action or sports it could be a problem.
I agree it's way better hauling that body around than the D4, or even the D800.
Thanks for the input.