The Nikon Z6 II is the follow-up to the company’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, the Z6. Now over three years old, the Nikon Z6 is the former holder of our best mirrorless camera crown. But there's still room for improvement, and with the Z6 II Nikon has opted to retain the core spec and design of the Z6, while addressing its weaknesses.
To that end, pretty much all the main features of the Z6 II are inherited from the Z6. This includes the excellent full-frame 24.5MP BSI CMOS sensor, which delivers images with excellent levels of detail, plenty of dynamic range and a very good high-ISO noise performance.
Compared to one of the Z6 II’s closest rivals, the 20.1MP Canon EOS R6, the extra pixels here give you that bit more flexibility when it comes to framing and cropping, whereas the EOS R6 has a slight edge at higher sensitivities. Comparing the Z6 II to its other close rival, the Sony Alpha A7 III, there’s really not much between them when it comes to results.
While the sensor remains the same, Nikon has equipped the Z6 II with a second EXPEED 6 image processor. This brings a number of performance improvements, most notably an increase in burst shooting speed, from a maximum of 12fps to 14fps. That’s faster than the Alpha A7 III, and a match for the EOS R6 (although the R6 can shoot at 20fps using its electronic shutter).
The extra processor has also allowed Nikon to improve on the 273-point AF system that’s in the Z6. As well as general performance improvements and the ability to focus in darker conditions, human and animal eye/face detection are now available in Wide area AF mode. It’s a solid system that’s great for general photography, although if you’re going to be shooting lots of action (or portraits), then the focusing systems in both the EOS R6 and A7 III have the edge here.
The Z6 had a strong set of video specs, including the ability to shoot oversampled 4K for footage with plenty of detail. For the Z6 II, Nikon has tweaked the video capabilities to enable 4K capture up to 60p, although this won’t be available until around February 2021 via a firmware update. The Z6 II also gains a number of output options that include the capture of 10-bit HLG HDR footage to an external recorder. For these reasons, we think the Z6 II is one of the best video cameras you can buy right now.
With the Z6 II using the same design as the Z6, there are few surprises when it comes to build quality and handling. The magnesium alloy body parts, weather sealing and comfy grip make the Z6 II feel more durable than rivals, while Nikon has managed to squeeze in a UHS-II SD card slot alongside the XQD/CFexpress card slot, resolving one of the key weaknesses of the Z6.
There’s no getting around the fact that the updates found in the Z6 II are modest at best; however, while existing Z6 owners shouldn’t be tempted to upgrade, if you’re looking for a quality full-frame mirrorless camera you’re not going to go far wrong with the Nikon Z6 II. It's undoubtedly one of the best cameras for photography.
While rivals might outclass it in some areas, the Z6 II has consistency on its side, performing strongly across the board. If you can live without the upgrades though, do check out the Z6 – it’s still on sale for now, and the money you’ll save over a Z6 II will go a long way towards a new lens.
Nikon Z6 II release date and price
- The Nikon Z6 II launched on October 14, 2020
- It costs $2,600 / £2,549 / AU$4,399 with the 24-70mm f/4 lens
- You can also buy the Nikon Z6 II body-only
The Nikon Z6 II was announced in October alongside the Z7 II, and is available to buy now.
Like the Z6, the Z6 II can be purchased with the excellent Nikon 24-70mm f/4 S standard zoom for $2,600 / £2,549 / AU$4,399. If you’re looking to upgrade or invest in a second body you can buy the Z6 II body-only for $2,000 / £1,999 / AU$3,399, while those looking to pair the Z6 II with their F-mount DSLR lenses can add the FTZ lens adapter for around $150 / £150 / AU$250.
The Nikon Z6 II will naturally be compared to Sony’s Alpha A7 III, while the arrival of the Canon EOS R6 means many will also see that camera as a key rival. The A7 III is almost three years old now, but it still packs a serious punch and will cost you in the region of $2,880 / £2,650 / AU$4,640 with Sony’s 24-105mm f/4 G, which is a little more versatile than Nikon’s kit lens.
The EOS R6 is also priced a bit higher than the Z6 II at $2,799.99 / £2,849 / AU$4,799, although this comes bundled with the relatively slow and variable-aperture 24-105mm f/4-7.1 lens, which isn’t quite a match for the lenses paired with the Z6 II or A7 III.
- Design is virtually identical to the Z6
- Now features a second card slot
- Tilt-angle display not perfect for video
The Nikon Z6 II arrives just over two years since the Z6 launched, and Nikon has opted to keep the new camera’s design virtually identical to that of its predecessor.
While this might seem unimaginative on Nikon’s part (and also a way to save some R&D costs), the decision to use the same body is no bad thing – the Z6 is one of the best-handling mirrorless cameras out there, with controls falling easily to hand and key settings quick to access. The joystick (officially known as the sub-selector) is also weighted nicely, while all this is complemented by a large and comfy hand grip and well-defined thumb rest.
Simply put, the Z6 II is one of the most pleasant mirrorless cameras to shoot with.
Sticking with the same design does, however, mean the Z6 II uses the same tilt-angle display as the Z6. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue if you’re predominantly shooting stills, but those shooting video (and self-shooters in particular) might be disappointed not to see a fully articulating vari-angle display worked into the design of the Z6 II.
That gripe aside, the Z6 II feels really durable, with magnesium alloy top, front and back covers, and the same excellent level of weather sealing as Nikon’s pro-spec DSLR, the D850.
Not everything has stayed the same though. One thing that compromised the Z6 was its single XQD card slot. While this is a media format that can be incredibly reliable, XQD cards are significantly more expensive than even the best SD cards.
Nikon listened to complaints about this, and on the Z6 II it’s managed to squeeze in a second UHS-II SD card slot to accompany the XQD/CFexpress slot. The addition of the SD slot makes the camera more accessible to more users, while those upgrading from the Z6, or who already use the XQD format, will be able to use their existing cards.
There are benefits when it comes to shooting too, with the extra slot providing options for simultaneous backup, overflow storage or recording JPEGs while the XQD/CFexpress slot takes care of raw files.
- Full-frame 24MP BSI CMOS sensor
- 3.69 million-dot electronic viewfinder
- 4K video recording up to 60p
For the Z6 II, Nikon has opted to stick with the same full-frame 24.5MP BSI CMOS sensor that’s in the Nikon Z6. This enables a native ISO range that runs from ISO100 to 51,200, and which can be expanded to ISO50-204,800.
While the Z6 II keeps the same sensor, Nikon has managed to squeeze in a second EXPEED 6 processor. This delivers a number of improvements, the most notable of which is an increase in burst shooting speed to an impressive 14fps, up from an already quick 12fps on the Z6.
The Z6 II also uses the same 273-point AF system as the Z6, though there have been some improvements here too. Overall performance has been improved, while human or animal eye/face detection is now available in the Wide-Area AF modes, rather than just the Auto-Area mode. Focusing in low light should also be better, as the Z6 II can focus in light levels as low as -4.5EV (improving on -3.5EV of the Z6), while a low-light AF mode sees the Z6 II able to achieve focus at an incredible -6EV.
The Z6 already had some impressive video credentials, and the Z6 II improves on these further. As well as using the full width of the sensor to capture 4K footage at up to 30p, the Z6 II is also able to shoot 4K60p.
A little caveat here though: there will be a 1.5x crop when shooting at this rate, and the upgrade won’t be available until around February 2021 via a firmware update. The Z6 II will also be able to continue shooting when connected via USB-C for recharging, which wasn’t possible with the original Z6.
Other key features remain the same though, including the excellent 3.69 million-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) and 5-stop in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system.
- Fast burst shooting speed
- Very capable AF performance
- Better battery life than the Z6
While the Nikon Z6 II can shoot at 14fps, the details are in the small print – at this maximum rate, you’re limited to 12-bit raw files and a single AF-point.
If you want a little more dynamic range in your files, and want to take advantage of the Z6 II’s tracking AF, this drops to a still very good 12fps – that’s faster than the Alpha A7 III’s 10fps, and a match for the EOS R6’s 12fps (though the R6 can shoot at up to 20fps using its electronic shutter). The buffer should be more than enough for most scenarios as well, with the Z6 II able to handle 124 12-bit raw files or 200 JPEGs at its highest frame rate.
The Z6 II’s 273-point AF system has 90% coverage across the frame, which is good in isolation, although it’s left trailing the 693-point system in the Alpha A7 III and the class-leading 6,072-point AF system in the EOS R6.
Those predominantly shooting people (or pets) might favor the systems in the Z6 II’s rivals, as they’re a bit more sophisticated when it comes to eye and face tracking, but the Z6 II still does a very good job here, locking quickly and accurately on to the subjects we tested it on.
It’s a similar story if you’re tracking subjects – use the Z6 II in isolation and you’ll be very impressed with the speed of acquisition, but it’s not quite a match for the EOS R6 (which uses pretty much the same AF system as the flagship Canon EOS-1D X Mark III).
The built-in 5-stop image stabilization system in the Z6 II is a consistent performer. Again, it’s not quite as impressive as the EOS R6’s 8-stop system (which is lens-dependent), but you can happily shoot at super-slow shutter speeds and come away with sharp, shake-free images.
Another key area Nikon has addressed with the Z6 II is the battery. The Z6 could only achieve an official figure of 310 shots (though it performs better in real-world scenarios), and the Z6 II gets an improved EN-EL15c battery that’s rated for 410 shots using the LCD and 340 with the viewfinder. This is a welcome improvement, although here again the Z6 II still lags behind rivals like the EOS R6 and Alpha A7 III.
Image and video quality
- Same image quality as Z6
- Excellent sharpness and detail
- Good high-ISO performance
As we’ve mentioned, the Z6 II uses exactly the same sensor as the Z6 – and that’s good news, as results from the Z6 were pretty much class-leading.
The full-frame 24.5MP BSI sensor in the Z6 II delivers excellent levels of detail. If you need to regularly print above A3 you might be swayed by the 45.7MP sensor in the Z7 II (or the D850), but the resolution on offer here should satisfy most shooters.
Thanks in part to the back-illuminated technology in the Z6 II’s sensor (which is missing from the lower-priced Z5), it performs well across the sensitivity range, delivering great results at higher ISOs, although if you’re shooting JPEGs it’s worth bearing in mind that the default noise reduction can be a bit heavy at higher ISOs, which can result in the unnecessary loss of detail.
Dynamic range is also very good if you’re shooting in raw, with plenty of flexibility in post to recover detail in the shadows and pull back highlights.
A quick note on lenses to conclude – the 24-70mm f/4 is a solid choice that performs very well, but since its launch more than two years ago Nikon’s S-series lens range has expanded significantly, and includes some excellent f/1.8 primes and f/2.8 zooms.
Should I buy the Nikon Z6 II?
Buy it if...
You’re looking to upgrade
If you feel like you’ve outgrown your current Nikon DSLR (or Z50 for that matter), the Z6 II is a great upgrade. There’s certainly enough of a jump in features and performance to make it worthwhile, while the FTZ adapter makes it easy to use your existing lenses. Add in the excellent image quality and you’re onto a winner.
You’re looking for a versatile and lightweight travel camera
With a rugged build, plenty of advanced features and a sensor that can cope extremely well with a range of lighting conditions, the Z6 II is a great option for travel. Partner it with a couple of primes or Nikon’s 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR superzoom and you’ve got an excellent setup for travel or walkabout shooting.
You’re looking for something to complement your Nikon DSLR
If you’ve got a full-frame Nikon DSLR such as the D850, the Z6 II is a sound choice for a second body. Not only does it give you a chance to try out a mirrorless camera if you haven’t already, it brings a different set of tools to your kitbag, including improved video capabilities over a DSLR. You’ll be able to happily use it alongside your DSLR with your existing lenses, and the Z6 II is perfect for those times when you want to travel light.
Don't buy it if...
You want to upgrade from the Z6
There’s no question that the Z6 II is an improvement on the Z6, but unless you’re desperate for a second card slot or want to shoot faster bursts, it’s not worth upgrading. Nikon has been good at issuing firmware updates for the Z6, especially when it comes to autofocus, so if you’ve got money to burn, get some new glass.
You’re not going to have much left for lenses
Nikon has done a solid job of turning out a series of S-line lenses for its new full-frame system in the last couple of years, but with the exception of the 24-50mm f/4-6.3, the most affordable lens for the Z6 II is the 50mm f/1.8 at around $500 / £500. This may not be an issue if you’ve already got some F-mount lenses you’re bringing over with your DSLR, but it could be a bit limiting if you’re new to the system.
You’ve got a load of F-mount lenses
If you’re tempted to switch to mirrorless and already have a stack of F-mount FX lenses for your DSLR, you might be better off looking at Nikon’s excellent D780. Combining the best bits of a DSLR and a mirrorless camera (it uses some of the tech found in the Z6), the D780 is one of the best DSLRs you can buy, and an excellent partner for your F-mount lenses.
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