Product shots: Dan Bracaglia
The Nikon Z6 II is an updated version of the company’s 24MP multimedia full-frame mirrorless camera. It gains more processing power to add improved autofocus and a few other tweaks to an already well-rounded feature set.
- 24MP full-frame BSI-CMOS sensor
- Continuous shooting at up to 14 fps (in 12-bit Raw with single AF point)
- Full-sensor UHD 4K video at up to 30p
- UHD 60p from an APS-C crop promised in future firmware update
- Two card slots (1x CFexpress/XQD, 1x UHS-II SD)
- 3.69M-dot EVF with improved blackout times
- Tilting 2.1M-dot read touchscreen
- USB-C socket for recharging or powering the camera
- Battery rating of 410 (LCD) and 340 (EVF) shots per charge
- Connectors to allow battery grip with portrait orientation controls
The Z6 II launched at the same price as its predecessor, with a recommended selling price of $1999 body-only or $2599 with the Z 24-70mm F4 S lens. It is available now.
What’s new and how it compares
|The addition of a second card slot will be welcomed by some photographers.|
The Z6 II is a subtle refresh of the existing Z6, extending the capabilities a little, but offering a mostly similar, well-rounded stills and video feature set. In terms of hardware, the main difference is that the Mark II gains a second Expeed 6 processor, with most of the performance and feature improvements stemming from this additional processing power.
Nikon says the autofocus performance has been incrementally improved over the original Z6, but the most notable feature change is the addition of face and eye detection (both human and animal) to the wide area AF mode. Previously these features were only available in ‘Auto’ area AF, meaning the camera decided where to focus. By adding them to wide area, you are able to narrow-down the region in which that camera hunts for faces, giving you a way of pre-selecting the face you wish to focus on.
Nikon says autofocus now works in light
as low as -4.5EV
The variants of Wide Area AF with human and animal face/eye AF have been added to the list of AF modes accessible from the ‘i‘ quick menu, meaning you don’t have to separately engage those functions.
Nikon says the focusing system now works in light as low as -4.5EV (a one stop improvement, and the equivalent of moonlight somewhere between gibbous and quarter), when using an F2.0 or faster lens. And that’s without using the low light AF mode, which extends AF to light levels a further two stops lower, at the expense of longer acquisition speed.
The Z6 II’s maximum burst speed tops out at an impressive 14 frames per second, but only if you use a single AF point and you’re willing to shoot JPEGs or take the slight dynamic range hit of shooting 12-bit Raws. If you want the camera to choose an AF point or track a subject, it shoots at a still very respectable 12 frames per second.
|The (paid) Raw upgrade will allow an output that an Atomos recorder can encode as ProRes RAW or, after February 2021, a Blackmagic Video Assist to encode as Blackmagic Raw.|
The Z6 II builds on the Z6’s already pretty strong video feature set, with the promise of UHD 4K 60p support in a free firmware update due in February 2021. This higher rate footage will come from an APS-C crop of the sensor, and will only be available for internal capture.
In addition, the camera’s video output options have been expanded, with the Mark II able to output 10-bit HLG HDR footage, in addition to N-Log, to an external recorder. An optional paid upgrade enables a 12-bit line-skipped 4K Raw stream can be sent to an external recorder to be encoded as ProRes Raw or, after a February 2021 firmware update, as Blackmagic Raw.
Line-skipping means less detail, more noise at higher ISOs and greater risk of moiré. You gain more flexibility in the footage but ProRes Raw from the camera doesn’t have the required metadata to let you use the White Balance or ‘ISO’ adjustment tools in Final Cut Pro.
The viewfinder in the Z6 II is the same 3.68M-dot OLED as in the original model (and the Z7/II). Nikon points out that the optics and coatings are of its own design and says it’s decreased both the refresh lag and the blackout time between shots. However, the company hasn’t put a number on either improvement.
Despite being a relatively subtle update, the Z6 II remains broadly competitive with other cameras with launch prices around $2000. The Canon EOS R6 is the outlier: priced at a higher level but offering better specifications (though it can’t always deliver the full promise of its video capabilities).
We haven’t included the Sony a7C here, since it seems more focused on compactness than being an enthusiast’s main camera, but its specs are similar to the Sony a7 III’s, just without the AF joystick.
|Nikon Z6 II||Canon EOS R6||Panasonic S5||Sony a7 III|
|AF system||On-sensor PDAF||
|Depth from Defocus
|Image stabilization||5-axis||5-axis + sync with lens IS||5-axis + sync with lens IS||5-axis|
|CIPA rating||Up to 5EV||Up to 8EV||Up to 6.5EV||Up to 5EV|
|Maximum frame rate||12 fps
|12 fps mech shutter
20 fps electronic
7 fps (AF-S)
|Flash Sync speed||1/200 sec||1/250 sec**||1/250 sec||1/250 sec|
|High Res mode||No||No||Yes||No|
res / mag
|2.36M dots / 0.74x||2.36M dots / 0.78x|
|Rear screen||2.1M-dot tilting touchscreen||1.62M-dot fully articulated touchscreen||1.84M-dot fully articulated touchscreen||921k-dot tilting touchscreen|
|Top-plate settings display||Yes||No||No||No|
|Video capture||UHD 4K 30p
UHD 4K 60p
|UHD 4K 60p
|UHD 4K 30p
UHD 4K 60p
|UHD 4K 24p
UHD 4K 30p
|S-Log2 / 3 / HLG
|Memory cards||1x CFexpress B
1x SD (UHS-II)
|Dual UHS-II SD||1x UHS-II SD
1x UHS-I SD
|1x UHS-II SD
1x UHS-I SD
|Battery life (CIPA) LCD/EVF||410 / 340||510 / 380||440 / 470||710 / 610|
|Dimensions||134 x 101 x 68 mm||138 x 98 x 88 mm||133 x 97 x 82 mm||127 x 96 x 74 mm|
|Weight (CIPA)||675 g||680 g||714 g||650 g|
* When shooting 12-bit Raw using a single AF point
** In electronic first-curtain mode: 1/200th with mechanical shutter
*** Promised in Feb 2021 f/w update
Body and handling
|The camera’s ergonomics are essentially the same as the original Z6, which is a good thing.|
The body and handling of the Z6 II is basically the same as its predecessor, which means it remains a solidly built camera with a comfortable grip. The weather-sealed body is primarily constructed from magnesium alloy, providing a good balance of weight and solidity.
The grip itself is comfortable and the front and rear dials very well positioned so that they are readily accessible when you’re holding the camera. There are two customizable Fn buttons next to the lens mount, which can be configured independently or set to perform paired functions (such as aperture open and close during video capture).
Viewfinder and screens
Although the spec of the Z6 II’s viewfinder isn’t particularly stellar by 2020 standards, the camera does at least use its resolution to its full potential (there are rival cameras with high dot-count finders that then drive the screen at lower resolutions). We haven’t been able to shoot much sports to test the EVF refresh rate, though Nikon says that compared to the original Z6 there’s less blackout when you take a shot.
The rear screen is also unchanged, meaning it has a decent resolution but only a tilt up/down design. We find we prefer the two-axis screens used by the likes of the Fujifilm X-T3 for stills or a fully articulated screen for video.
Menus and interface
The camera’s menus are consistent with most Nikon cameras made over the last decade or so. This means the menus are quite dense with options but the key ‘Customs Settings’ section is well arranged and color-coded, which makes it easy to navigate. A My Menu tab can be configured with either your preferred options or a list of your most recently used options.
In terms of the user interface, the main change is the addition of Wide Area + face detect and Wide Area + animal detect to the ‘i‘ quick menu, meaning that you can more quickly engage human face or animal face detection as part of your AF mode selection.
The Z6 Mark II comes with the latest EN-EL15c battery. It’s a 20% higher-capacity version of the 15b that came with the previous model. The camera is compatible with earlier EN-EL15 batteries but will perform much better with the more recent versions. USB-charging is only available with the type b and c units.
The camera is rated as delivering 410 shots per charge if you use the rear LCD and 340 shots per charge if you use the viewfinder. As always, these ratings are based on very challenging usage, and it’s not uncommon to get at least twice as many shots per charge in practice, depending on how you use the camera. We tend to find a rating of around 400 is sufficient for a day’s committed shooting or a weekend of fairly active photography, but not enough for something as photographically intense as a wedding without charging and carrying spares.
If you need more than this, you can power the camera over its USB-C socket or add the MB-N11 battery grip, which provides space for a second, hot-swappable, battery.
Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you’ll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.
The Z6 II’s image quality is indistinguishable from that of its predecessor, including at. This is to say (with the Z 85mm F1.8 appearing a touch sharper than the Z 50mm F1.8 used on the older camera), and are comparable to its peers.
appears good, with warm, rich yellows and greens. Pinks lean a fraction towards magenta, rather than the orange that produces such pleasing skin-tones in Canon’s rendering, but it’s less noticeable than with Sony and Panasonic. is a touch more crude than its rivals: the Canon R6 is showing finer detail despite its lower pixel count, and the pulls out more subtle detail from its very similar sensor. Noise reduction is pretty good but a little more than the competition, which means lower apparent detail.
The camera has an ‘Auto’ shutter mode that uses electronic first curtain at shutter speeds where shutter shake could appear, then uses the mechanical shutter to both start and end the exposure for very short exposures. The prevents the glitch that electronic first curtain shutters exhibit with bright lenses at fast shutter speeds, that causes part of the bokeh circle to get chopped-off.
Like its predecessor, the Z6 II uses a dual gain sensor, meaning that high ISO settings have lower noise. As such the low ISO settings (where the higher gain step would cut into dynamic range) are inherently a little noisier. The difference isn’t huge, though: even in the low-gain mode the sensor is adding very little noise to the image. It also means that, instead of using a very high ISO setting, if you want to protect highlights, you can use the high ISO exposure but keep the camera at ISO 800, where the higher gain is used: there’s little-to-no noise benefit to increasing it above that point.
There’s no sign of the AF banding that could appear in the deep shadows of its predecessor
Our Exposure Latitude test emphasizes how little noise the camera’s sensor and electronics are adding. Even if you reduce exposure significantly, to capture additional highlight information, the Z6’s images are at least as clean as any of its peers. And there’s no sign of the AF banding that could appear in the very (very) deep shadows of its predecessor.
Autofocus performance and usability has become one of the key areas of difference between the latest mirrorless cameras, and the Z6 II is strong in both respects, but still a little behind the best in its class.
The Z6 II offers a series of AF area modes, from the tiny contrast-detection ‘Pinpoint AF’ region (AF-S only) up to the ‘Auto Area’ mode that selects a subject from anywhere in the frame.
|People or Animal detection are available as variants of Wide-L and Auto Area modes. You can limit which AF area modes are accessible if you want to make mode selection quicker.|
Instead of the human and animal detection modes being a separate setting, they’re now accessed as variants of the Auto Area and Wide-Area AF (L) area modes. This means you can use the ‘Wide Area AF (Large – People)’ mode to select where in the frame the camera should focus and look for a face, so it’s possible tell the camera to focus on a specific person or focus on a non-human subject, without risk of it getting distracted by other faces in the scene. You’ll need to keep the box over your subject if they move too far, though.
It’s important to change your AF mode to suit your subject, rather than the camera automatically doing so, as rivals do.
Subject tracking mode is activated with a button-press from the Auto Area modes. It gives you a focus box that then tracks a subject when you half-press the shutter button. This is distinct from face detection: you can either use face detection or the subject tracking mode to follow your subject but, unlike some of its rivals, the camera won’t utilize face and eye detection if the subject you ask it to track is human.
This makes it more important to change your AF mode to suit your subject: rather than the camera automatically using its full capabilities on whatever you point it at, as Sony and Canon’s latest systems will.
We conducted our standard AF tests, first checking the camera’s ability to refocus on an approaching subject, then asking the camera to identify a weaving subject and choose an appropriate AF point, too. These tests were shot using the Nikkor Z 70-200mm F2.8 VR S.
Shot 12 is one of the most significantly mis-focused images of the ~500 shots we took in subject tracking mode. In addition, while this tracking performance appears similar to that of the original Z6, we’ve found the Mark II seems better at fixing on a subject if you set the focus subject and recompose, where the older camera would sometimes drift off your intended subject.
In terms of tracking people, the Z6 II does a good job of using eye detection, face detection or just staying focused in roughly the same region, if your subject looks away. But, perhaps because human detection and subject tracking can’t work together, the Auto Area mode will sometimes find a more compelling subject if your intended target isn’t recognizable for a while.
|Eye detection seems improved over the original Z6, with the camera focusing closer to the pupil rather than eyelashes in most instances.
Nikkor 85mm F1.8 | ISO 100 | 1/640 sec | F1.8
In terms of Eye AF, we still find the camera will occasionally focus on the eyelashes instead of the eye itself and, like most systems, doesn’t judge focus quite as well when the subject is wearing glasses. Overall, though, we found Eye AF to be the most reliable way of getting perfect results (rather than pinpoint AF or manual focus).
AF in video works very similarly to that in stills, both in terms of operation and performance, which is something not all its peers manage. We’ve found the tracking to be very dependable, with a decent amount of control over AF speed and willingness to re-focus. The stepper motors used in most Z lenses can contribute a little bit of ‘chatter’ to the internally captured audio, and there can be occasional overshoot as the camera refocuses, but for all but the most demanding work, it’s one of the most reliable video AF systems.
Ultimately, you can expect the Z6 II to perform well in a wide variety of situations. If you’re used to the behavior of an older camera, the AF is likely to seem excellent. But there are rivals that are that bit more dependable and that make the whole process simpler.
The Z6 II is a pretty adept video camera. Nikon says it will add a Super 35 (APS-C) 4K/60p video mode that will bring it broadly into line with the specs of its 24MP peers. However, unlike the Canon EOS R6 and Panasonic Lumix S5, the Z6 II is unable to record 10-bit footage internally and instead requires an external recorder for Log, HDR or Raw capture.
In its favor, though is an intelligent separation of stills and video settings. Out of the box the camera will use different exposure settings for both modes, but in almost every other regard, you get to choose whether video mode should take its settings from stills mode or use its own, distinct values. This means you can just jump across and use the same white balance, if you wish, or use a preset value for video that won’t then mess up your stills.
Add to this a pretty capable video AF mode, that works more similarly to stills mode than many of its peers, and you have a camera that makes it easy to shoot casual clips or shoot high quality stills and video back-to-back.
In terms of video quality, the Z6 II is a match for its predecessor, with highly detailed 4K footage but rather less impressive,, at up to 120p. We’ll have to wait until a firmware update promised in 2021 to see how its APS-C 4K/60p will compare with the R6’s full-frame version.
In terms of rolling shutter, we measured a rate of 22ms for both 4K/24 and 30p, which is much better than the Canon EOS R6 and comparable to the similarly sensored Panasonic S5 (and S1H, for that matter). That’s a long way short of the 10-15ms figures we get with more video focused cameras such as Panasonic’s GH cameras or the Sony a7S III.
The camera’s Raw video stream is sub-sampled: skipping pixels to deliver 4K output from its 6K sensor, but we’ll look at that in more detail in a separate article.
|What we like||What we don’t|
The Z6 II is an extremely capable camera that will support the photographer in almost any situation you throw it into. It’s comfortable to use, takes great photos, has a highly effective AF system and can be used to capture very good video footage.
It’s not a huge step forward from the original Z6 but the ability to add a battery grip with vertical controls, and the addition of a second card slot only help to expand its already broad-ranging ability. With these changes and the various small improvements we’ve seen, we can recommend the Z6 II for everything from family photography to weddings and sports shooting.
The Z6 II is an extremely capable camera that will support the photographer in almost any situation
However, while it does very well in most regards, it’s noticeable that there are cameras that offer comparable AF performance with less need to switch modes, and others that offer more flexible 10-bit video footage without the need of an external recorder. The quiet chattering of the Z-series lens motors and the split-second hunting that precedes a big change in focus distance serve as reminders that ‘very good’ is the minimum required just to remain competitive in 2020.
The Z6 II’s ergonomics are superb, the menus are generally well organized and, AF foibles aside, it’s a very enjoyable camera to shoot with. Battery life might impinge on your experience on long shoots or during extended periods of video capture, but generally it’s an easy camera to live with. Even the Bluetooth/Wi-Fi system works pretty smoothly once you’ve set it up.
It’s a camera very much worth considering, but one that doesn’t stand out from its rivals in any particular respect. This breadth of capability takes the Z6 II beyond the likes of the D750 and D780 (two of the best DSLRs ever made, when they were launched), but against competition that’s just as good, it doesn’t dazzle to the degree necessary to gain our Gold award.
Compared to its peers:
Canon EOS R6: it’s hardly a surprise to find that Nikon’s most pressing competition comes from Canon. The R6 is more expensive and offers fewer direct control points than the Z6 II, but offers a simpler AF experience, impressive image stabilization, 10-bit internal video, larger area 4K/60 capture and the choice of some fast, quiet-focusing Nano USM lenses. But the Nikon’s video is still very good and exhibits less rolling shutter, the AF performance is broadly comparable, and the range of F1.8 primes may be more appealing than Canon’s rather exotic initial offerings. Your individual needs or ergonomic preferences are likely to swing this decision more than either camera being decisively better.
Sony a7 III: the Sony offers a wider range of lenses and significantly better battery life, but doesn’t have the latest AF refinements that would help it stand out from the Z6 II. The Nikon has a nicer viewfinder, better video autofocus and ergonomics that we overall prefer. The very similar Sony a7C offers a size advantage over the Nikon but we prefer the Z6 II unless you really need that extra portability.
Panasonic S5: there are a lot of similarities between the Z6 II and the Panasonic S5, in terms of price, feature set and sensor performance. The big distinction is AF performance, with the S5 falling behind, particularly in terms of video autofocus. Which is unfortunate, since the S5’s video feature set is the stronger of the two, especially when used with Panasonic’s co-operative lens+body IS system. But as an all-rounder, the Nikon would be our pick.
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Nikon Z6 II scoring
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.