Z6 - First Impressions

If you want a simple, fool proof way to set your color, and know without a doubt that it is 99.97% correct, you should try the ExpoDisc.

I have an ExpoDisc that I've only used a few times. Granted it will set an 18% gray but final color temperature for me is somewhat subjective, unless it's a product shot, I may want something different than a true color. For me shooting a white, gray, black target at the start of a set, then adjusting with the eyedropper in LR, gives me a quick way to adjust color temperature to what I need for the image.
I thought I would share some of my initial experiences and thoughts on autofocus modes and accuracy, since that was something I prioritized when switching to the Z6, and one of the reasons many switch to mirrorless.

AF-S modes
  • Single-point: Works at least as well as any DSLR I’ve used, and is what I typically use for portrait work
  • Pinpoint: Supposedly more precise but slower than single-point, intended for inanimate objects. It seems to work just fine, but I’m not sure when I’d use this. I read somewhere that it uses contrast detection rather than phase detection.
  • Auto-area: I can see the EyeAF being useful for portrait work, although I think this is more useful in AF-C
AF-C modes
  • Single-point: Works just as well as on a DSLR, and I’m just as bad at keeping the single focus point on a moving subject
  • Dynamic-area: Similar to single-point but a little more forgiving. Works about the same as dynamic AF-C modes on my D500, typically in d25
  • Wide-area: I found these modes to be the most useful in lower contrast scenarios. These worked more reliably than Auto-area Subject tracking, and was easier to use than single-point or dynamic-area. My only reservation is whether they would be accurate enough with wider apertures and a much thinner depth of field.
  • Auto-area Eye-AF: Eye-AF works great as long as I try to fill the frame with the subject's face, otherwise it tends to fall back on Face-AF. However Eye-AF seems to completely break if the subject is wearing sunglasses.
  • Auto-area Face-AF: Seems to work well in a scene where you can clearly see person's face, but is too small for Eye-AF. With multiple people in the photo you can choose which face to focus on using the sub-selector, although at that point I’d probably just fall back on single-point to explicitly select where to focus.
  • Auto-areas Subject tracking: This works very well in high contrast environments and when you keep the subject in frame. However in lower contrast or strongly backlit scenes, it tends to lose the subject and Wide-area works much better. Also, if the subject leaves the frame, it doesn’t seem to find it again. I like it a lot for most scenes.
Overall, the AF modes I would expect to find on a DSLR work as well or better than my D500, so it's definitely a win. The modes specific to mirrorless, such as Eye-AF and Subject tracking, are very usable, especially once I got used to the strengths and limitations of each. I’ve read reviews comparing some of these features unfavorably to Sony and Canon’s flagship mirrorless offerings, but at this price point I really can’t find anything to complain about; it checks every box for me.

Here are a few snapshots in harsh midday lighting to illustrate some of the strengths and weaknesses of Subject tracking AF.

Lens: Nikon AF-S 70-300 VR
240mm, 1/800s, f/5.6, ISO 400
Not the sharpest lens, especially from 200-300, but fast accurate autofocus. I originally selected his face, then he looked away for a moment, and it locked onto his left knee. This is a good example of how subject tracking is great with high contrast scenes (kept the focus area on the subject reliably), but not so great with low contrast (didn’t stay on his face with dark helmet and all dark clothing)

by adamhiram, on Flickr

Lens: AF-S 85mm f/1.8
85mm, 1/3200s, f/1.8, ISO 100
I find this lens to be very sharp with beautiful bokeh, but lots of CA. It is also pretty slow to focus, barely able to keep up - it's meant to be a portrait lens after all. With his face filling the frame more as he rode by, subject tracking was very accurate and didn’t stray as he approached and passed. It got the glasses instead of the eye, but close enough.

by adamhiram, on Flickr

Lens: AF-S 50mm f/1.8
50mm, 1/4000s, f/1.8 ISO 100
This lens is nice and sharp with pretty decent focus speed, but not a particularly exciting focal length, in my opinion. Eye/Face-AF didn’t detect the face well, probably because of the sunglasses. Subject tracking was originally on his face, but wound up on the brighter area on his neck after he spun around. Definitely not bad, but AF-C Single-point or Dynamic-area probably would have worked a little better here.

by adamhiram, on Flickr

One other point of interest…. Coming from DX, my standard lineup of primes was 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. 35 was a nice walk around lens but not a particularly interesting focal length to me, 50mm had pretty snappy AF speed and was my go-to if I had the room, and 85mm was my sharp, but slow-focusing portrait lens. With FX, 50mm is now my boring normal prime, and 85mm is the focal length I used to use for faster action, but is not well suited to it. That leaves me wondering if the Z-mount version can focus much faster, or if a much more expensive (and heavy) 24-70 is needed for tracking fast moving subjects in the normal zoom range.
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Thanks for another detailed review.

The CA can be easily handled in post with the 85mm f1.8 and FWIW, many lenses have this issue with high contrast edges and certain lens designs suffer more.
The CA can be easily handled in post with the 85mm f1.8 and FWIW, many lenses have this issue with high contrast edges and certain lens designs suffer more.
Agreed, the CA isn't a big deal with this lens, but it's always there when I shoot wide open in this kind of lighting. Easily fixed in Lightroom with Lens Corrections > Manual > Fringing ("Remove chromatic aberration" isn't particularly effective). I didn't bother for the above shot, but it was easy enough to fix in my library in a few seconds.

I've read the Z-mount 85mm f/1.8 is sharper, particularly near the edges, and has a lot less CA. However the bigger question for me is whether it focuses faster than the F-mount, and if so, is it fast enough to use an an action lens?
Another limitation I came across is that I cannot disable automatic DX crop when using DX lenses. Several of my DX lenses are quite usable on full frame - my 17-55 resolves well from 28-55, my Tokina 11-16 is usable at 16mm, and even the cheap 35mm f.1.8 looks okay with a very slight crop. Unfortunately the option is grayed out when a DX lens is connected, resulting in a 10mp file. It’s not something I would have used in the long run, but it would have been nice to have now. After all, every full frame Nikon DSLR I’ve used has this option.
I agree! I found a cheap hack to 'beat' the auto-DX problem: buy a cheap F-to-Z adapter with no electronics and the camera won't force you into DX crop mode. Works like a charm!
One additional note. I debated waiting for the second iteration of the Z6, but with nothing official other than occasional rumors I figured why wait. Then less than 2 weeks later, Nikon announces the Z6II product launch in 2 weeks. Now technically the launch date is within my return window, and I suppose if there's a compelling reason to upgrade I can do that. From what I've heard it may not be anything special - it will likely have a 2nd card slot and better AF, which I would love, but otherwise it sounds like pretty minor improvements. However, it's probably going to cost $200-400 more, probably won't include an FTZ adapter which will be another $250, and most importantly, probably won't ship for a while, just like all the new Z-mount lenses they announced. I guess we'll find out in 11 days!

It looks like this question has been answered for me by this update from nikonrumors.com. Several people predicted the Z 6II would come in at around $2000, which would have been an easy $200 upgrade. However, it looks like it will actually come at a 30% premium, or approximately $550 more for a 2nd card slot and better AF ($800 if they don't include an FTZ adapter). If this turns out to be true, I can't see spending that much more for basically a newer iteration of the same camera. Time to start looking at lenses!
Several people predicted the Z 6II would come in at around $2000, which would have been an easy $200 upgrade.
Change of plans - it turns out Nikon actually did hit this price point. I am still within the return window for my first-gen Z6, and for $200 it’s a no-brainer for me. The only downside is having to wait for a yet-to-be-determined release date, slated for sometime in November.
  • Better Eye-AF and AF overall. Some have hypothesized that AF improvements may be provided for first gen Z6 users as well via firmware updates. However, at some point raw processing power will probably factor into these improvements, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Nikon used this as a way to differentiate between the Z6 and Z6II in functionality.
  • Reduced blackout in continuous shooting. For me, the slight bump in controls shooting frame rate is not a big selling point, but reducing the blackout period between shots will make tracking action a lot easier.
  • Dual card slots. I never really cared about this. Then a few weeks ago a friend had to deal with a corrupted memory card after a full day of fall family lifestyle shoots and it was a good reminder why it matters.
  • Longer supported lifespan. While the differences between the 2 bodies may not be that significant, the Z6II is 2 years newer and is now the current model. That means new development will likely be focused on the newer product. Both will likely receive bug fixes, but feature updates will be for the Z6II. The official end of life and end of vendor support for the older model will likely occur at an earlier date. $200 for a longer support window seems pretty trivial.
What’s an extra Expeed 6 processor cost, I’m betting more than the added $200 premium of the Z6 II?

It might be worth debating on the upgrade for a New York Second, then make the pre-order call, lol.
It might be worth debating on the upgrade for a New York Second, then make the pre-order call, lol.
Already on the waitlist at my local camera shop, and working on the Adorama return of the first gen Z6 as we speak. :)
Great thread and review of the Z6, thanks
Great thread and review of the Z6, thanks
Thanks, I hope you found it useful! I started a new thread when I switched to the Z6II here, as well as some notes on continuous shooting on the Z6II here.
Adam, this is a terrific thread and a great service. I'm thinking of buying a Z6 (I currently have a D4, D800, and D500) so your experiences and insights matter a lot to me in my decision-making.
Adam, this is a terrific thread and a great service. I'm thinking of buying a Z6 (I currently have a D4, D800, and D500) so your experiences and insights matter a lot to me in my decision-making.
The Z6, with latest firmware updates, is a fantastic camera. I love the colors and white balance. I find the high-ISO images to hold up exceptionally well; even up to 10,000 ISO. For my use cases, the auto focus is quite excellent. I love this camera, and have for 2 years. Strongly recommend. I'll post a few favorite images.

One tree, two visions by Peeb OK, on Flickr

Bison Silhouette by Peeb OK, on Flickr

by Peeb OK, on Flickr

Waiting for the Eclipse (Explore 5-27-21) by Peeb OK, on Flickr

Mystical Light- Explore 2/21/22 by Peeb OK, on Flickr

Happy Easter! by Peeb OK, on Flickr

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