Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II: what you need to know

Intro

The Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II are the first time the company has used ‘Mark II’ branding and it makes sense: these are relatively subtle refreshes of already established cameras.

However, while the overall specs of the cameras don’t change dramatically, the updates and improvements address a number of key criticisms of the original models and will start to add up for some users. Both the Z6 and Z7 have benefited from fairly substantial firmware updates since their release, but the biggest changes in the Z6/7 II come courtesy of different hardware.

Dual card slots

One of the most obvious changes to the Mark II models is the provision of dual card slots. Both cameras gain a UHS-II SD card slot in addition to the XQD/CFexpress Type B socket. As you’d expect, there are options to have the two slots provide simultaneous backup, overflow capability or Raws to the primary card and JPEGs to the second. There’s no option to record stills to one card and video to the other.

The change won’t make a lot of difference to some people, but it may make the Z6 and Z7 II a lot more practical for some workflows.

Full vertical grip

Another much noted absence on the original Z cameras was the option for a grip with duplicate controls for portrait orientation shooting. The Z6 and Z7 do have a grip available, but it’s a simple battery grip with no duplicate controls.

The MB-N11 ($399) is a proper vertical grip, which duplicates the main control dials and AF positioning joystick for vertical shooting. The grip displaces the Z6/7 II’s in-body battery, effectively providing space for one additional battery. The outermost battery is hot-swappable, meaning you can replace it on-the-fly while recording video, without having to pull the whole battery tray out or stop recording. There’s an additional USB type C socket on the grip, meaning you could power the camera from one socket while sending data over the one on the camera body.

Both cameras bodies are identical in dimension to their predecessors, though, so can also use the older MB-N10 control-less battery grip or any other cage, bracket or accessory you might have for one of the older models.

Battery

The new cameras use the latest version of Nikon’s EN-EL15 battery. The EN-EL15c is a higher capacity version of the existing type ‘b’ battery and, like that unit, can be charged over USB. The cameras will work with all previous EN-EL15-pattern batteries but for best performance you’ll want one of the latest versions.

The battery is higher capacity but the dual processor designs mean both cameras deliver between five and ten percent mode shots. The Z6 II is rated at 410 shots per charge with the LCD, 340 through the viewfinder, while the Z7 II offers 420 and 360, respectively. Energy saving modes boost all these figures by a further 5 percent on the Z7 II and around 14 percent on the Z6 II.

Dual processors: faster shooting / more shots

Under the skin, the biggest change in the new Mark II cameras is the move to dual Expeed 6 processors. This doubling of the cameras’ processing power is what allows the Z6 II’s shooting rate to be expanded up to 14 frames per second from 12, while the Z7 II hits 10 fps, rather than nine. Note that these maximum framerates are only available if you’re shooting 12-bit Raw and using a single AF point.

The added processing power helps both cameras clear their buffers much faster, more than trebling the number of Raw files you can shoot in a burst, in some instances.

AF improvements

The new cameras have received a major update to the way their autofocus works, with human or animal eye/face detection now available in the cameras’ Wide area AF modes. The significance of this is that it lets you limit the zone of face/eye detection to the part of the frame you want to focus on, making it easier to select your subject.

Nikon says this feature is contingent on the additional processing power supplied by the dual processors, and so is unlikely to be extended to the original Z6 and Z7 via firmware. The company also claims that overall AF performance has been improved, specifically in terms of stickiness, when it comes to focus tracking.

The low-light capabilities of the cameras’ focus systems are also improved, with the Z7 II capable of achieving AF down to –3EV in standard AF mode and the Z6 II reaching –4.5EV with an F2.0 lens. This is a one stop improvement over the existing models and comes without engaging the slower, low-light AF mode for shooting in extreme low light.

Viewfinder improvements

The cameras continue to use the same 3.69M dot OLED viewfinder panels, but we’re told that blackout times between exposures have been improved.

Nikon also says the response lag of the finders have been improved but it hasn’t provided a number for this claim. It does point out that the EVF optics, which provide an impressive 0.8x magnification, are made from Nikon glass.

USB power

Another change from the older models is the ability to operate the cameras using USB power. A modern USB-C power supply should provide sufficient current (Nikon says the source must use a USB-C to USB-C cable). This comes on top of the ability to charge the camera over USB, and opens up the possibility of extended video or timelapse shoots.

Video updates internal

Nikon has made a series of improvements on the video side of things. The most significant for people using internal capture is the ability to shoot 60p 4K footage. The Z7 II will capture the higher frame rate footage from 93% of the width of the sensor, and will need to line-skip or pixel-bin to do so. The Z6 II instead uses a native 3840 x 2160 crop from the middle of its sensor, which is essentially an APS-C (‘DX’ in Nikon speak) region. Z6 II users will need to wait until February 2021, when 60p capability will be added as part of a free update.

60p can only be recorded internally, possibly held back by the cameras’ HDMI sockets.

Video updates external

There are a couple of significant improvements for anyone capturing video using an external recorder, too. The first is that, in addition to N-Log output, the Mark II cameras gain the ability to output ready-to-view Hybrid Log Gamma footage for viewing on HDR TV sets. This provides a way to deliver HDR content but it’s worth noting that Panasonic’s S5 can do this without the need for an external recorder. Both cameras will be limited to 4K/30p output.

The both cameras will have a paid upgrade option to output Raw video streams. In the case of the Z6 II, this will be like-skipped 4K from most of the width of the sensor, on the Z7 II will output Full HD (1080p) Raw from the full sensor area or 4K from an APS-C crop. Initially, there will be support for the Atomos Ninja V, which encodes the steam as ProRes RAW. In February 2021 a further update is promised, adding compatibility with Blackmagic recorders for encoding as Blackmagic Raw, opening up the ability to use Raw footage with DaVinci Resolve.

Minor updates

As well as the larger updates, both cameras also gain a series of small tweaks and improvements that Nikon is bringing to its latest models.

These include the option of exposure times as long as 900 seconds (15 minutes) rather than being limited to 30 seconds. The cameras also gain the ability to create videos from interval timer mode (which lets you also save JPEGs or Raws of every frame), rather than just from the simpler timelapse mode. These are both features we first saw on the D780.

Video shooters are also likely to appreciate the new (and overdue) option to reverse the direction of the focus ring when manual focusing. All Z-mount lenses are focus-by-wire, so can be programmed to respond in the same direction as most other brands, or remain Nikon-like, depending on your preference. It’s unclear whether this feature will come to the original Z6 and Z7 via firmware (but we hope so).

What’s the same?

The cameras’ ergonomics and handling are fundamentally unchanged, which we think is a welcome decision. Nikon has a history of putting well-designed hand grips and sensibly-positioned control dials into its medium / high-end cameras, and the Z6 and Z7 II are (literally) no different.

A few small adjustments have been made to the user interface though, including the addition of ‘Wide + Human Face/Eye detect’ and ‘Wide + Animal Face/Eye detect’ to the ‘i‘ quick menu, but most of the UI remains the same.

Overall

The Z6 and Z7 II are solid mid-life updates to the original Z6/7 which, on the face of it, make helps the Nikon Z-mount look a little more fresh alongside the latest cameras from Canon, Sony and Panasonic which have been released in the past two years. While some Z6/7 owners will find little reason to upgrade, these new Mark II versions should prove more attractive to some of Nikon’s DSLR customers who’ve been waiting to make the switch to mirrorless.

We can’t say yet how well the Z6/7 II compare to the best of their peers in terms of autofocus or video performance, but, on paper at least, they appear likely to to be competitive. An effective doubling of processor power opens up of potential for performance tweaks via firmware, too, going into the future.

So should you buy a Z6 or Z7 II? As always, that depends (and we’ll be breaking down the reasons for and against in another article coming soon). Upgrading from an original Z-series model will be unusually painless – they’re physically identical, and the interface is all-but unchanged. If you don’t need the extra power (or the extra card slot) and you’re not much of a video shooter, it’s a harder question to answer, especially given that the original Z6 and Z7 are continuing in Nikon’s product line, and are likely to get cheaper in the coming months.

Intro

The Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II are the first time the company has used ‘Mark II’ branding and it makes sense: these are relatively subtle refreshes of already established cameras.
However, while the overall specs of the cameras don’t change dramatically, the updates and improvements address a number of key criticisms of the original models and will start to add up for some users. Both the Z6 and Z7 have benefited from fairly substantial firmware updates since their release, but the biggest changes in the Z6/7 II come courtesy of different hardware.
Dual card slots

One of the most obvious changes to the Mark II models is the provision of dual card slots. Both cameras gain a UHS-II SD card slot in addition to the XQD/CFexpress Type B socket. As you’d expect, there are options to have the two slots provide simultaneous backup, overflow capability or Raws to the primary card and JPEGs to the second. There’s no option to record stills to one card and video to the other.
The change won’t make a lot of difference to some people, but it may make the Z6 and Z7 II a lot more practical for some workflows.
Full vertical grip

Another much noted absence on the original Z cameras was the option for a grip with duplicate controls for portrait orientation shooting. The Z6 and Z7 do have a grip available, but it’s a simple battery grip with no duplicate controls.
The MB-N11 ($399) is a proper vertical grip, which duplicates the main control dials and AF positioning joystick for vertical shooting. The grip displaces the Z6/7 II’s in-body battery, effectively providing space for one additional battery. The outermost battery is hot-swappable, meaning you can replace it on-the-fly while recording video, without having to pull the whole battery tray out or stop recording. There’s an additional USB type C socket on the grip, meaning you could power the camera from one socket while sending data over the one on the camera body.
Both cameras bodies are identical in dimension to their predecessors, though, so can also use the older MB-N10 control-less battery grip or any other cage, bracket or accessory you might have for one of the older models.
Battery

The new cameras use the latest version of Nikon’s EN-EL15 battery. The EN-EL15c is a higher capacity version of the existing type ‘b’ battery and, like that unit, can be charged over USB. The cameras will work with all previous EN-EL15-pattern batteries but for best performance you’ll want one of the latest versions.
The battery is higher capacity but the dual processor designs mean both cameras deliver between five and ten percent mode shots. The Z6 II is rated at 410 shots per charge with the LCD, 340 through the viewfinder, while the Z7 II offers 420 and 360, respectively. Energy saving modes boost all these figures by a further 5 percent on the Z7 II and around 14 percent on the Z6 II.
Dual processors: faster shooting / more shots

Under the skin, the biggest change in the new Mark II cameras is the move to dual Expeed 6 processors. This doubling of the cameras’ processing power is what allows the Z6 II’s shooting rate to be expanded up to 14 frames per second from 12, while the Z7 II hits 10 fps, rather than nine. Note that these maximum framerates are only available if you’re shooting 12-bit Raw and using a single AF point.
The added processing power helps both cameras clear their buffers much faster, more than trebling the number of Raw files you can shoot in a burst, in some instances.
AF improvements

The new cameras have received a major update to the way their autofocus works, with human or animal eye/face detection now available in the cameras’ Wide area AF modes. The significance of this is that it lets you limit the zone of face/eye detection to the part of the frame you want to focus on, making it easier to select your subject.
Nikon says this feature is contingent on the additional processing power supplied by the dual processors, and so is unlikely to be extended to the original Z6 and Z7 via firmware. The company also claims that overall AF performance has been improved, specifically in terms of stickiness, when it comes to focus tracking.
The low-light capabilities of the cameras’ focus systems are also improved, with the Z7 II capable of achieving AF down to –3EV in standard AF mode and the Z6 II reaching –4.5EV with an F2.0 lens. This is a one stop improvement over the existing models and comes without engaging the slower, low-light AF mode for shooting in extreme low light.
Viewfinder improvements

The cameras continue to use the same 3.69M dot OLED viewfinder panels, but we’re told that blackout times between exposures have been improved.
Nikon also says the response lag of the finders have been improved but it hasn’t provided a number for this claim. It does point out that the EVF optics, which provide an impressive 0.8x magnification, are made from Nikon glass.
USB power

Another change from the older models is the ability to operate the cameras using USB power. A modern USB-C power supply should provide sufficient current (Nikon says the source must use a USB-C to USB-C cable). This comes on top of the ability to charge the camera over USB, and opens up the possibility of extended video or timelapse shoots.
Video updates internal

Nikon has made a series of improvements on the video side of things. The most significant for people using internal capture is the ability to shoot 60p 4K footage. The Z7 II will capture the higher frame rate footage from 93% of the width of the sensor, and will need to line-skip or pixel-bin to do so. The Z6 II instead uses a native 3840 x 2160 crop from the middle of its sensor, which is essentially an APS-C (‘DX’ in Nikon speak) region. Z6 II users will need to wait until February 2021, when 60p capability will be added as part of a free update.
60p can only be recorded internally, possibly held back by the cameras’ HDMI sockets.
Video updates external

There are a couple of significant improvements for anyone capturing video using an external recorder, too. The first is that, in addition to N-Log output, the Mark II cameras gain the ability to output ready-to-view Hybrid Log Gamma footage for viewing on HDR TV sets. This provides a way to deliver HDR content but it’s worth noting that Panasonic’s S5 can do this without the need for an external recorder. Both cameras will be limited to 4K/30p output.
The both cameras will have a paid upgrade option to output Raw video streams. In the case of the Z6 II, this will be like-skipped 4K from most of the width of the sensor, on the Z7 II will output Full HD (1080p) Raw from the full sensor area or 4K from an APS-C crop. Initially, there will be support for the Atomos Ninja V, which encodes the steam as ProRes RAW. In February 2021 a further update is promised, adding compatibility with Blackmagic recorders for encoding as Blackmagic Raw, opening up the ability to use Raw footage with DaVinci Resolve.
Minor updates

As well as the larger updates, both cameras also gain a series of small tweaks and improvements that Nikon is bringing to its latest models.
These include the option of exposure times as long as 900 seconds (15 minutes) rather than being limited to 30 seconds. The cameras also gain the ability to create videos from interval timer mode (which lets you also save JPEGs or Raws of every frame), rather than just from the simpler timelapse mode. These are both features we first saw on the D780.
Video shooters are also likely to appreciate the new (and overdue) option to reverse the direction of the focus ring when manual focusing. All Z-mount lenses are focus-by-wire, so can be programmed to respond in the same direction as most other brands, or remain Nikon-like, depending on your preference. It’s unclear whether this feature will come to the original Z6 and Z7 via firmware (but we hope so).
What’s the same?

The cameras’ ergonomics and handling are fundamentally unchanged, which we think is a welcome decision. Nikon has a history of putting well-designed hand grips and sensibly-positioned control dials into its medium / high-end cameras, and the Z6 and Z7 II are (literally) no different.
A few small adjustments have been made to the user interface though, including the addition of ‘Wide + Human Face/Eye detect’ and ‘Wide + Animal Face/Eye detect’ to the ‘i’ quick menu, but most of the UI remains the same.
Overall

The Z6 and Z7 II are solid mid-life updates to the original Z6/7 which, on the face of it, make helps the Nikon Z-mount look a little more fresh alongside the latest cameras from Canon, Sony and Panasonic which have been released in the past two years. While some Z6/7 owners will find little reason to upgrade, these new Mark II versions should prove more attractive to some of Nikon’s DSLR customers who’ve been waiting to make the switch to mirrorless.
We can’t say yet how well the Z6/7 II compare to the best of their peers in terms of autofocus or video performance, but, on paper at least, they appear likely to to be competitive. An effective doubling of processor power opens up of potential for performance tweaks via firmware, too, going into the future.
So should you buy a Z6 or Z7 II? As always, that depends (and we’ll be breaking down the reasons for and against in another article coming soon). Upgrading from an original Z-series model will be unusually painless – they’re physically identical, and the interface is all-but unchanged. If you don’t need the extra power (or the extra card slot) and you’re not much of a video shooter, it’s a harder question to answer, especially given that the original Z6 and Z7 are continuing in Nikon’s product line, and are likely to get cheaper in the coming months.Read MoreArticles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

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