Nikon Z5 vs Z6 - Head-to-head Comparison
Nikon have been diligently expanding their mirrorless camera range in the last few years as the Japanese giant seeks to migrate their extensive DSLR user base over to this relatively new technology.
Their most recent introduction is the Nikon Z5, an entry-level model predominantly aimed at smartphone and compact camera upgraders looking to take their first step into the exciting world of interchangeable lens cameras.
On paper at least, though, the new Z5 bears more than a passing resemblance to its bigger brother, the Nikon Z6, which Nikon market towards a more intermediate enthusiast audience.
With the price of the 18-month old Z6 not being that much higher than the brand spanking new Z5 (albeit the latter also shipping with a kit lens), beginners and enthusiasts alike may be confused about which Nikon camera to choose, so we're bringing you this handy Nikon Z5 vs Z6 comparison to help you choose the right model for you.
At first glance there's precious little to choose between the two camera here, as both models have a very sensible 24 megapixel sensor.
This has become the sweet-spot for entry-level and mid-range mirrorless cameras, with much higher megapixel counts reserved for premium flagship models.
However, a closer look at the specifications sheets reveals that the Z6 has a BSI - Backside Illuminated - sensor, whereas the Z5 does not.
This is a special manufacturing process that should result in better image quality in low-light situations.
So with the megapixel count being equal, the Nikon Z6 potentially has the edge when it comes to higher ISO shooting, something that is borne out in our full reviews of both cameras.
If you don't do a lot of handheld shooting in low-light, then there's very little to choose between the two cameras in terms of their image sensor.
Both the Z5 and Z6 offer 4K UHD video recording up to 30fps, but the Z5 has a number of serious limitations which makes the Z6 a much better choice for more serious videographers.
First off, the Nikon Z5 applies a massive 1.7x crop to its 4K video, whereas the Z6 captures oversampled 6K footage and therefore produces more detailed results with no crop at all.
The 1.7x crop also means that you'll need to use wider-angle focal lengths on the Z5 to achieve the same field of view as the Z6, and faster lenses to achieve the same depth of field, something that will prove particularly problematic for avid vloggers who will be forced to position the camera further away than at arms length.
Thankfully in 1080p / Full HD mode both cameras shoot with no crop at all, but again the Z6 has the edge thanks to its 120fps super-slow-mo mode, with the Z5 topping out at 60fps.
Finally, the Z6 additionally offers N-Log recording for advanced profiling during post-production and 10-bit video recording externally via its HDMI output.
The Z5 is still a decent enough camera for movies, with a connection for an external microphone built-in and support for focus peaking, zebras and timecode, plus the ability to create time-lapses, but overall the Z5 is the clear winner in terms of video.
Somewhat surprisingly the new Z5 has exactly the same 273-point Hybrid autofocus system with eye and animal detection as the Z6, so both cameras offer the same snappy performance, being able to focus on a wide variety of subjects with the minimum of fuss.
Both cameras can focus down to -3.5EV as standard and all the way to -6EV in the low-light AF mode, so they're equally well-equipped to deal with very low-light situations.
On paper there's little to choose between the two models here, both offering native ISO ranges of 100-51200.
Crucially, though,the Z6 can be pushed two stops further to ISO 204800, whereas the Z5 can only be expanded to ISO (102400). Both can drop down to ISO 50 if required.
Continuous shooting is where the Nikon Z6 has a clear advantage over its cheaper sibling.
While the Z5 can only shoot at a rather pedestrian 4.5fps, the Z6 cranks things up to a whole other level, reaching 12fps at its fastest setting.
This makes the Z6 much better suited to action, bird and wildlife photography where getting the perfect shot often relies on having a sequence of very similar photos to choose from.
As an aside, the flagship Z7 model is slower than the Z6, reaching a maximum of 9fps, although that is at a much higher resolution of 45 megapixels.
The more expensive, enthusiast oriented Z6 is surprisingly ever so slightly lighter than the Z5 - 585g versus 590g - and ever so slightly smaller than the Z5 - 134 x 100.5 x 67.5mm versus 134 x 100.5 x 69.5mm.
The key difference between the two in terms of design and control layout is the Z6's top-panel LCD screen, which makes way for a conventional shooting mode dial on the Z5.
Otherwise the two cameras are very similar indeed, with both offering the same magnesium alloy construction, pro-level weather-sealing and effective 5-axis image stabilisation system.
Other than the top LCD panel and the lower resolution rear LCD screen, Nikon have made very few concessions on the cheaper Z5 when it comes to handling and build quality.
The Z5 and Z6 share exactly the same 0.5-inch, 3.69 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, which offers 100% horizontal and vertical coverage, 0.8x magnification and 21mm eyepoint). So looking through the viewfinder of both cameras will be identical.
Both cameras have a 3.2-inch touchscreen LCD on the rear that can be usefully tilted to 45 degrees, but the one on the Z5 is much lower resolution - 1.04-million dot resolution versus 2.1-million dot resolution on the Z6. In isolation the screen on the Z5 is perfectly fine, but put the two cameras side by side and you can really tell the difference.
The Z5 also lacks the second top-plate LCD panel that the bigger Z6 has room for, which is very useful for quickly checking the camera's key settings, even when it's turned off.
The older Nikon Z6 came under fire for only having one memory card slot, something that the cheaper, more beginner-focused Z5 has surprisingly rectified by including two card slots.
The Z6 does use a single XQD card, which Nikon claim is less prone to failure than the SD format, while the Z5 uses dual SD UHS-II cards and therefore has more need for a backup option.
We've only ever seen a few SD cards fail completely, though, so the Z5 definitely has the edge here, especially as SD cards are so much cheaper than the rarely used XQD format.
The newer Nikon Z5 uses a newer battery called the EN-EL 15C, which allows the camera to be powered by USB whilst your using it, especially handy for timelapse photography or video and for travel photography when carrying a powerful powerbank.
It also provides a CIPA-approved lifespan of 390 stills or 115 mins of video when using the EVF, or 470 stills or 120 mins of video when using the LCD screen, compared to 310 shots or 85 mins of video on the Z6 when using the EVF.
The older Z6 uses the EN-EL 15B battery, and doesn't allow USB charging, so you effectively get much shorter battery life with no backup power option out in the field.
Note that the Z5 can also use the EN-EL 15B variant, but as you'd expect, you won't get USB charging then.
The lens that ships with each camera is one of the biggest differentiators between them.
We've already reviewed both of these lenses - optically we'd choose the Z 24-70mm f/4 every time, but even though it's not the greatest lens in terms of sharpness and zoom range, the tiny Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 does score highly when it comes to portability.
And when you consider that you can buy the Z5 with the Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 lens for less than the Z6 body-only, newer photographers without a collection of Nikon lenses could do a lot worse than start with the Nikon Z5 kit.
Having said that, the street prices of the Nikon Z5 and Z6 are surprisingly close at the moment, mainly because the Z5 is brand new and the Z6 has already been on the market for 18 months.
The Nikon Z5 is available now priced at $1399 body only or £1719 / $1699 with the Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 retractable zoom kit lens.
The Z6 is priced at around £1699 body / $1800 only, putting it on par with the Z5 bundle, but we've seen even cheaper deals from time to time.
The Nikon Z5 may be the shiny new kid on the block, but the older Z6 still offers a lot of advantages over its newer sibling, at a price that's only slightly higher than the so-called Z5 entry-level model.
Chief amongst these is the much better video mode, much faster burst shooting, top-panel LCD, higher-resolution rear LCD screen, and better low-light performance thanks to its BSI sensor and higher ISO range.
If you don't shoot a lot of video and mainly stick shooting in good light or with a tripod, then the Z5 is still a worth contender, especially as it has dual card slots, longer battery life and supports USB charging, all at a cheaper price with a super-compact kit lens to boot.
Nikon are marketing the Z5 as an entry-level camera and the Z6 as an enthusiast model, but it's clear from our comparison that deciding between these two cameras is a lot more difficult than Nikon would have you believe...