My transition from film to digital
I’ve been using Nikon DSLRs since switching from film to digital back in the early 2000s, and I’ve been really happy with that choice. However, over the past couple of years I’ve been doing more and more video work. I purchased a Panasonic GH5 when it was released a couple of years ago since the Nikon video capabilities have been lacking. Currently I’m running a Nikon D850 paired with said GH5.
Why FF mirrorless?
Having access to IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) is a game-changer for video work, the electronic viewfinder being almost as important especially in bright conditions where it is difficult to determine focus on the back LCD. I recently spent a week filming in Hong Kong. I brought both the Nikon D850 as well as the GH5. As the week went by I realized I left the heavy and cumbersome D850 in the apartment for most of the time, the type of filming was so much quicker with an IBIS equipped mirrorless camera. Another benefit of the GH5 is audio, the pre-amps in the D850 are so noisy that recording high-quality audio becomes difficult.
Which FF mirrorless body to choose?
A lot has happened in the mirrorless market and I was holding out for the FF (Full Frame) Lumix S1/S1R release before deciding on which FF mirrorless body to choose. The GH5 has proved flawless for what I have been asking for it, but the aesthetics you get from nice lenses (step forward 70-200 F2.8 VII) on the FF D850 for video is difficult to achieve on the m43 sensor. Hence the urge to go FF mirrorless.
With the the recent release of the Lumix S1/S1R it was time to decide which system to choose. The spec sheet of the S1 seems perfect for what I need, but having a lot of legacy F-mount glass means the Z6 was a tempting option as well. What decided things for me was indeed the pricing of the Panasonic L-series glass. Buying into the new system would mean a significant investment, where as if I chose Nikon Z6, I would be able to gradually transfer to Z-glass using my F-glass with the FTZ adapter in the meanwhile. So I ordered a Z6 from Studio Fotocenter in Vasa, knowing that one of my cameras (D850/GH5/Z6) was going to relegated to third camera duties.
Why a Z6 and not a Z7 you may ask? Since I’m buying the camera for mainly video duties the Z7s higher resolution was less important than video quality, and the Z6 actually produces better 4k video since the Z6 does downsampled full sensor readout where as the Z7 reverts to line-skipping in FX mode.
Z6 first impressions
I eagerly picked up my Z6 together with the FTZ adapter and a Nikkor Z 35mm f/1.8 S lens from the local post office. The camera-menus are similar to those of the D850 so getting started was easy. An added bonus is that the D850 and Z6 batteries are interchangeable, although you loose the ability to charge and/or power the Z6 via USB if you use the older batteries from the D850 and before.
First impressions are important, and here are some of my reflections upon picking up the camera. I will return with a long-term review at a later date.
Big, bright and beautiful EVF.
Flexible picture control settings (can use flat on video and other settings for stills)
Great flexibility in modifying picture control settings for video (sharpness, contrast etc)
Possible to have separate custom button settings for stills/movie mode
Focus peaking available in 4k (doesn’t work on the D850).
The placement of the toggle switch for video/stills is much better
The fully customisable U1/U2/U3 modes are nice, just as on the GH5.
The manual focus ring on Z-lenses can be customised for other duties, like exposure compensation or ISO setting
The top display is modern and cool looking
The Z6 lacks a dedicated WB-button (but custom front button can be programmed for this)
Very small chassis, doesn’t feel as comfortable in the hand as the D850, especially in winter using gloves.
No screen protection for the back LCD.
The button placement takes getting used to, the front control dial is recessed quite a bit and is not as grippy as the one on the D850 making winter handling more difficult
Focus peaking doesn’t work if AF is switched, ie it is not possible to get focus confirmation with contrasting colors if you use AF.
The square eyepiece looks odd (cheap?…) after using big round eyepieces for years
Need to expose many ports on left hand side if connecting e.g. a USB-C cable (=> HDMI and remote trigger port are there not protected
Not possible to illuminate buttons/display with the power switch as on Nikon Pro DSLRs
The locking mechanism on left hand mode dial needs to be pushed each time the modes are changed. The GH5 implementation is much better (every second click activates/deactivates the locking mechanism)
The two button shortcut for formatting the SD card is removed.
The dedicated af-mode button on left hand side of the body missing.
The EVF magnification is a bit too large for people wearing glasses. Not possible to adjust the EVF magnification like on the Lumix G9.
Overall, the feel of the camera is more akin to a D7200/D7500 than a D500/D850. The camera ergonomics are not on a Nikon pro-body level. A battery grip (the MB-N10 Battery Pack is in development) is a must-have accessory to get the balance and grip-level as compared to a D850.
Comparing the Z6 with the GH5 (and the D850)
Much has been said about the Z6 and Z7 having only one card slot. For me that is only a minor issue since I only record video to one SD card at a time on the GH5 anyway. Still, it´s nice to be able to separate stills and video on different cards, and I suppose some photographers will miss the possibility of having-camera back-ups of stills.
I suppose what I miss most from the GH5 is the the small size and light weight of high quality lenses, the fully articulating back LCD, the option of high-quality on-board audio recording as well as the high-end video features:
internal 10bit 4:2:2 recording
single, large videofiles making editing multicam interviews etc easier.
Sharp FullHD slow-motion capacities up to 150fps (180fps possible but the GH5 quality takes a nosedive)
VLOG with support for LUTs on the camera display
The Z6 proves to combine many of the benefits of the GH5 and D850. Having access to that FF sensor which enables the use of those lovely F-mount lenses coupled with IBIS is wonderful. In some situations the GH5 is still superior with regards to video qualities and the convenience of small lightweight lenses means I will still use the GH5 a lot together with the Z6. But even with those limitations the Z6 will for sure increase the production value for me.
For shooting stills, the bigger body, superior ergonomics and quicker acting AF of the D850 means the D850 will still be the go-to camera for still images.
Nikon proves that they have done many things right with their first entry into the FF market. The availability of more native Z-lenses as well as a bigger pro body is something I look forward to!