Nikon Z6 II Review
Designed to be more of an evolution than complete overhaul, Nikon has introduced two new refreshes for its Z6 and Z7 mirrorless models. In this review, we'll be looking at the Z6 II, which is designed as the more “consumer” friendly, all-rounder device, compared to the Z7 II, which is aimed primarily at professional photographers.
There are a number of small refreshes which help to address some of the problems or issues with the original Z6, which when added together make for quite an interesting proposition - especially if those problems particularly bothered you with the first iteration.
At the heart of the Z6 II is exactly the same 24.5 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor as found in its predecessor, but it now comes with promised improvements to autofocusing, buffer, video and now includes a secondary card (SD) slot.
Some of those improvements come courtesy of the added Expeed 6 processor - meaning that the Z6 II (and Z7 II) now has two processors, instead of one.
Along with the new models, some new accessories were also announced at the same time - including a new battery grip and a new wireless remote.
At the time of writing, the Z6 II (body only) retails for £1,999, compared to £1,549 for the original Z6 (which remains on sale). Alternatively, you can pick up the Z6 II in a couple of different kit configurations, including with the 24-70mm f/4 lens, for £2,549, or with the FTZ mount adapter (for using the Z6 II with any existing Nikon DSLR lenses you have) for £2,139. You can buy all three together (Z6 II, 24-70mm f/4 and FTZ) for £2,679. By contrast, the original Z6 will set you back £2,099 (+24-70mm), £1,649 (+FTZ) or £2,199 (+24-70mm & FTZ).
So, all in all, the Z6 II costs around £4-500 more than the Z6, depending on which kit package you buy it in. With this review we'll aim to find out if it's worth upgrading if you already have a Z6, or, if it's worth spending extra money on the newer version if you're looking towards these models for the first time.
Ease of Use
Nikon has used pretty much the same body design for the Z6 II as the Z6/Z7, which doesn't come as much as a surprise. It is a couple of mm deeper and around 25g heavier than its predecessor - presumably to accommodate the extra card slot, which we think is very definitely worth the trade off for the convenience.
As with its predecessor, Nikon has gone for a chunky and solid design which shrinks down all the vital elements of a DSLR, without it being frustratingly small to use.
The body of the camera is replete with plenty of dials and buttons which all have enough space to breathe, and we'll go through those in more detail as we progress along the review.
It feels very well-built and has a premium-feeling covering around the grip and rear thumb rest, which helps to make the camera feel comfortable in your hand as well as adding to a feeling of quality.
Most of the camera's buttons are found on the right hand side of the camera, particularly those that you're likely to use frequently. That means you can make almost all of the main changes to settings using just your right hand - and conceivably even use the camera one-handed if you so wished (though we'd recommend using one of the lighter lenses if you're going to do that).
To the left of the top plate, however, you'll find the camera's mode dial. Here there's all the usual manual and semi-automatic modes, (PASM), as well as fully auto, and three slots for user-customised settings.
The latter three come in handy if you're often shooting a particular type of subject - such as sports or action, and want to quickly flick to a certain group of settings.
Just underneath the mode dial on the back of the camera, you'll find the playback button and the delete button - two buttons which you won't be using to make any settings changes and are quite neatly packed away here.
Moving over to the right hand side of the top plate and first of all you've got the LCD display, which shows you all the key settings, such as aperture, battery, remaining shots, drive mode and shutter speed. It's a great way to quickly ascertain if you have the settings you want selected, without having to check the back screen.
To the right of the screen, there's a large dial which you can rotate with your thumb and is used to adjust different settings depending on the shooting mode you're in - in shutter priority, it will control shutter speed. You can also use it in conjunction with one of the other buttons - such as ISO - to make adjustments.
Toward the front of the top plate, at the top of the grip, you'll find the on/off switch, as well as the shutter release button. This is surrounded by a dedicated video record button, an ISO button and an exposure compensation button.
At the front of the grip is another scrolling dial, which again controls different settings depending on the mode you're using - in aperture priority, it adjusts aperture in aperture priority, for example.
The back of the camera is where you'll find the majority of buttons. Starting at the top, you've got a display button which you can use to adjust how both the screen and the viewfinder displays - for example, you can switch off the live view feed altogether and just show settings on the rear screen, and you can switch on and off a histogram and horizon level. In the viewfinder you can toggle on the level, histogram and display around the frame.
Around the display button, there's a switch which you can use to move between stills mode and video mode. It's quite a stiff switch, so it's unlikely you'd do this by accident and end up in the wrong mode.
To the right of this button/dial combination, is the AF-on button, which you can customise to allow for back-button focusing if you prefer to set up AF in that way. This means that when you press the shutter release, it won't attempt to refocus again, which is useful for focusing and recomposing, or for photographing quick moving subjects.
Underneath the AF-On button, there's a joystick. This comes in extremely handy for moving the AF point around the frame, either while composing via the screen, or while composing via the viewfinder.
Unlike some other cameras on the market, you can't use the touchscreen while shooting through the viewfinder, so it's very likely you'll be using the joystick for this purpose. You can also use the stick to move around either the quick or full menu, but you'll have to enable this in the custom control settings of the main menu first.
You can access a quick menu by pressing the “i” button underneath the mode dial. Here you'll find a group of settings which you're likely to use frequently, such as Picture Control, Flash, Release mode, AF-area mode, metering, and so on. You can navigate around this menu either by using the joystick (if enabled), the directional keys or by touching on the setting you want to change.
You can then use the scrolling dials to adjust the setting as required. If you find there are settings in this menu that you don't use all that often, you can customise the “i” menu in the main menu, swapping out any settings you don't use for ones which you do. Another way to access the quick menu is to tap the “i” displayed on the camera screen, too.
Back to the physical buttons, and underneath the I button is a four-way navigational pad, with an OK button at the centre. You can use the directional keys to move the AF point around the screen, as well as navigate around images in playback, or bring up information about said images. The OK button can be used for menu navigation, but also for functions such as resetting the AF point to the centre of the frame.
Underneath the navi-pad is a button with a magnifying glass on it, which you can use to zoom into the scene you're photographing - it's particularly useful for checking critical focus, especially when using manual focus.
Directly underneath it there's a zoom out button, too. You can also use these buttons in playback to check areas of the scene. To the right of the zoom in button is the main menu button, where you'll find a vast array of settings, those which you're unlikely to change on quite as regular a basis as those settings found in the quick menu.
There's several pages to move through, but they are reasonably well-organised into a set of different folders, such as Playback, Photo Shooting, Movie Shooting, Custom Settings, Setup and a Retouch menu.
There's also a “My Menu”, where you can save any menu settings which you access frequently, to save you scrolling through pages of menus to find the exact setting which you need.
One of the big changes, which will come as welcome news to many, is the addition of an extra memory card slot. You'll find the dual slots behind a door which doubles up as the rear thumb rest. There's one slot for XQD / CFExpress, while the secondary slot accepts SD format cards. It wouldn't be possible to put two XQD shaped slots here, so it's a good compromise to have the smaller format alongside the more rugged / faster format.
There is a number of ways you can set up the secondary slot - you can either have it as a backup slot, which makes a straight copy of the first card as you're shooting, you can have set up as “overflow”, so it only comes into play when the first card is full, or you can set up both cards to record different formats. So, you could have the XQD card slot record raw files, and the SD card slot record JPEGs, or one could record stills, and the other movie.
Two things which have stayed the same as compared to the original Z6 is the screen and viewfinder. That means you get a 0.5-inch, 3690k-dot OLED viewfinder, which in practice is great to use and displays a nicely clear view of the scene. It might not be the highest resolution finder on the market, but at this price point it's a good performer.
You can set the viewfinder to switch on automatically as you lift the camera to your eye (the default setting), or you can switch it to so it's permanently on (and the rear screen is not / displays only camera settings), or you can even set it to permanently off if you prefer.
A button at the side of the viewfinder controls all of these settings, while there's a diopter dial on the opposite side of the finder for adjusting the focus of the viewfinder.
Having the same screen as the Z6 will be good news for some, and less good news for other. It's a tilting, 3.2-inch, 2.1m-dot TFT touch-sensitive screen. You can pull the screen quite far out from the body of the camera, which is helpful if you're shooting from top down as you can see the whole frame.
You can also tilt it downwards which is helpful for shooting high angles. As it only tilts, it's not useful for shooting selfies or recording videos to camera - so it's perhaps unlikely that the Z6 II will appeal too much to vloggers. It's also less useful for shooting from awkward angles in portrait format too.
On the left hand side of the camera is where you'll find all the ports, including a headphone and microphone jack, an HDMI port, a remote control port and a USB-C port which you can use for charging the camera. One small - but significant for some - change from the original Z6 is the ability to charge the camera while it is recording stills/video, which could be useful or videographers.
Most of the upgrades for the Z6 II are internal, rather than external / design changes. Nikon claims that autofocus has been improved when compared to the predecessor, and now we have Animal Detection AF that has been added. It's been programmed to work on cats and dogs officially, but we can expect it to also work on other animals of a similar type (such as big cats, foxes etc).
There are also other improvements for action photography here, including 14fps (compared with 12fps), and a vastly increased buffer of 112 raws (12-bit uncompressed) or 200 JPEGs (compared with 37 raws / 44 JPEGs). That means you can shoot for almost three times as long before the camera needs a breather - you should get about 8 seconds with the Z6 II, compared to 3 seconds with the Z6.
To test out these improvements, I've been using the Z6 II with my dog. The results are a little hit and miss, which is a shame when comparing the camera to the Canon EOS R6, which has a phenomenal performance in this respect.
The Z6 II is capable of following the dog when she moves fairly slowly and in a fairly predictable fashion, but you still get a fair number of out of focus shots in a burst - compared to a near 100% hit rate with the Canon EOS R6.
In terms of Eye AF, it seems capable of locking on to her eye - but not always, and especially if she is at a fair distance from the lens. She is a black dog with dark eyes, so it's a challenging test, but again, the EOS R6 had absolutely no problem whatsoever.
That said, the Z6 II does seem to represent a slight improvement when compared with the original Z6, getting it right more frequently than that camera did.
Overall, while it would be hard to recommend this camera too heartily for anybody that shoots a lot of moving subjects, such as wildlife or sport - if it's something you do less frequently and are looking for an all-rounder, it's not quite as disappointing.
In other aspects, the AF is still very impressive, locking on to most subjects quickly and easily. Another improvement comes in low-light focusing, which now sees the Z6 II able to focus at up to -6EV (depending on the lens you're using). I've found that it copes pretty well in dim conditions, not hunting too much, and it's extremely rare for a false confirmation of focus to be displayed.
By default a green focusing light is enabled in the menu, which certainly helps if you're shooting in very dim conditions, but it's quite bright and can draw attention to yourself so you may wish to switch it off - even with it disabled, the Z6 II does well at locking onto a subject, though.