(Pocket-lint) – During the spring of 2019 we spent weeks shooting with the Nikon Z6 around South Africa’s wine region and pretty much fell head-over-heels for that superb full-frame camera.

So when Nikon announced its follow-up, the Z6 II, just 18 months after the original debuted, we wondered what more it could bring to the table. The answer is more processing power, for more speed in burst shooting, along with a wider buffer for capturing more shots consecutively, and dual card slots.

Don’t think of the Z6 II as an upgraders camera, then, just think of it as the original enhanced for new buyers. And quite the camera it is too. But with stiff competition, is it the full-frame mirrorless camera you should consider buying?

What’s new?

  • Dual Expeed processing engine
  • Dual card slots (1x SD (UHS-II), 1x XQD)
  • 14fps burst mode, buffer to 200 JPEG Fine / 112 Raw
  • 4K 60p capture coming 2021

So the Z6 II – that’s “two”, not “mark two” by any means, we’re told – adds a Dual Expeed processing engine. It’s the first time Nikon has put a dual system into any of its mirrorless cameras, meaning the Z6 II can shoot at up to 14 frames per second (up from 12fps in the original Z6). Not only that, but an increased buffer size means up to 200 JPEG Fine or 112 Raw files.

But one of the biggest changes to the Z6 II is something you can’t see from the outside: beneath the side flap are two card slots, one for XQD, one for SD (UHS-II), meaning the choice is yours when it comes to format – or use both should you want automatic back-ups or a JPEG/Raw split.

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In addition the II model features enhanced autofocus – with low-light shooting to -6EV, which is said to be “quarter moonlight” – to further cement its appeal. Although, as we’ll come to, we don’t find the system feels that different in use compared to the original.

Design

  • Z series mount; FTZ adapter available for F-mount compatibility
  • Magnesium alloy front, back & top covers; weather sealed
  • 3.6m-dot electronic viewfinder (100% FoV, 0.8x mag)
  • 3.2-inch tilt-angle LCD touchscreen

When it comes to design and aesthetics the Z6 II is a mirror image of its mirrorless original. That means the same Nikon Z series lens mount, bringing super quality potential – it’s a big mount, but not too big, smaller than the Leica one used in the Panasonic S1; while Z lenses aren’t as epic-massive as those in Canon’s EOS R either.

The Z6 II is well built, robust, weather-sealed, it’s got all the buttons and dials in the right places so it’s familiar to use for any Nikon user or newcomer/enthusiast. We particularly like the toggle to the rear that’s ideal for quick adjustments – and it’s positioned well should you be using the camera up to your eye.

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As we said of the original Z6, though, there is still one slight change we would make: although the 3.2-inch LCD screen is of ample quality, we’d switch out its tilt-angle mechanism to a full vari-angle one for greater flexibility.

Performance

  • In-body stabilisation to claimed 5-stops (VR; vibration reduction)
  • 273 phase-detection points, covering 90% of frame

While Canon tends to opt for simple area focus on many of its mirrorless camera models, the Nikon approach is a little more varied and precise. Not only does the Z6 II offer 273 phase-detection autofocus points, encompassing 90 per cent of the frame, you can adjust from auto to wide-area, single-area or pin-point focus.

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It’s the pin-point mode that we’ve found really useful, especially in low-light, as with a full-frame sensor at your disposal it’s critical that focus and aperture selection are on point for pin-sharp focus. The automatic modes are still very decent at grabbing hold of a subject and quickly focusing though.

Switch to continuous autofocus and this is where Nikon says the Z6 II has ramped things up compared to its predecessor. It’s apparently more adept at following moving subjects, but we’ve found the difference slight to the point of not really noticing – some more long lenses in testing would be needed for us to really see any difference.

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Nonetheless, the system is capable, just not the most accomplished in the market. As we said of the original: we can’t shake off the fact that the Sony A7R III offers some incredible subject tracking from its active focus system – and that system is a couple of years old now.

Another major boon in the Z6 II is the in-body image stabilisation. The larger and more resolute a sensor, the more beneficial image stabilisation is at an image level. Sure, you can’t see the active benefit of stabilisation as you would through a lens-based solution, but having that added assurance that hand-held shots will be extra sharp at even fairly low shutter speeds is a reassurance.

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When it comes to burst shooting the Z6 II offers 14fps, upping the ante compared to the original model. The buffer is far more capacious, too, so if you’re shooting Raw files then the capacity is upped a lot – with the original camera we were shooting three dozen in a single burst, but with the second-gen Z6 that’s over the triple-figure mark, making it three times more capable in our hands.

Another obvious benefit of this mirrorless camera is that it can be completely silent – so if you’re shooting, say, golf or trying to be discreet while out on the street then its electronic shutter option is perfect. We used it to shoot hermit grabs on a beach, lighting them with a mobile phone, and once they poked their heads back out of shell the shutter was of no concern – and out they remained!

Image Quality

  • 24.5MP full-frame CMOS sensor (FX format)
  • ISO 100-51,200 sensitivity

The Nikon Z6 II has exactly the same sensor at its core as the original Z6. Which is to say that it really excels with its image quality.

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That’s down to a combination of things: the sensor and image processing are a big part, but the Z mount has already shown off some of the best lenses we’ve ever seen in the consumer photography space.

In addition to the sharpness is the sheer depth that this full-frame sensor offers. That extra size just creates melty blurred backgrounds and pronounced shallow depth of field that can’t be achieved from lesser kit. You’ll need to be hyper critical about focusing, as we said before, but the pay-off is well worth it.

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Equally impressive is how the ISO sensitivity holds up. The lowest ISO 100 (which is native – no ‘Low’ setting required) delivers pristine shots with a good amount of dynamic range – although you’ll want to shoot Raw to pull on the shadow and highlights details. Up the sensitivity to ISO 800 and it’s difficult to tell the difference over the base ISO. Impressive.

The higher ISO sensitivities hold a fantastic amount of detail without excessive image noise. You’ll see more grain from ISO 1600 up to ISO 6400, but it gives it a filmic quality, while colour noise increases – but is only marginal.

Push it to ISO 16,000 and it’s less impressive, while the top-end ISO 51,200 isn’t a total write-off, but it’s of really limited use. Even so, check out the ISO 10,000 shot of a bead-made butterfly that we took while on away holiday.

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If 24.5-megapixels isn’t quite enough for you then the Z7 II is likely the better path for you to take, with its 45.7-megapixel sensor. It won’t perform quite as well in low-light, mind, nor is it as rapid fire, but that’s the trade-off to consider (oh, and not forgetting the sizeable price bump).

Video specification

  • 4K video capable at 30/25/24fps, Full HD at 120/100/60/50/30/25/24fps
  • 10-bit HDMI clean out (with N Log / HLG)
  • 4K 60p coming February 2021

Nikon has a long history with video capture from its camera. It was the first to put it into a DSLR. But then it largely failed to keep up. The same kind of rings true with the Z6 II: it’s accomplished, capable of capturing 4K footage, but its 60p update won’t be available until some time in 2021. That’s not a problem, per se, but with Sony sailing ahead in this sector it’s hard to ignore.

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The Z6 II currently offers 4K capabilities at 30, 25 or 25 frames per second at the time of writing, along with up to 120fps at Full HD (1080p). There’s also 10-bit clean HDMI out and N Log – along with two 3.5mm jacks for headphones and microphone – so it’s well equipped for quality capture, whether casual or on a rig.

Verdict

The Nikon Z6 II is, just like the original Z6, a mighty impressive camera. That’s because this full-frame mirrorless brings the benefit of an incredible lens mount, delivering exceptional image quality from the right lenses.

However, the second-gen model doesn’t add a huge amount over the original. Yes, it’s nice to have Dual Expeed processing for faster frame-rate and a larger buffer. Yes, it’s great to have dual card slots this time around. But that’s more-or-less your lot. So don’t think of this camera as an upgrade and that’s just fine.

It’s still not a totally perfect camera though. We’d like to see further continuous autofocus improvements because there’s no denying Sony’s grip in this area. And where’s the proper vari-angle LCD screen?

Overall, the Z6 II is one of the most capable full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market. It’s got the lens mount right, the quality right and, despite strong competition and not being a big upgrade over the original model, it’s just exceptional in so many areas.

Also consider

Nikon Z6

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It’s barely any different – and image quality is the same – so if you want to save a few hundred and can find it on a deal then go for the first-gen model instead.

Writing by Mike Lowe.





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