Nikon Z6 image quality and dynamic range impress, but not without caveats

Studio Scene We shot the Z6 using Nikon's new Z 50mm F1. 8 S lens, since improved optics are one of the main promises the company has made for its mirrorless system. JPEGs were shot with lens corrections minimized as far as possible.

Adobe Camera Raw has mandated lens distortion and chromatic aberration corrections, despite us disabling that option in the camera. Have a look below, then take a look at our dynamic range assessments further down.

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The results of the Z6 and 50mm S lens are impressive, with consistent performance across the frame$(document). ready(function() { $("#icl-4298--901106245"). click(function() { ImageComparisonWidgetLink(4298); }); }). The anti-aliasing filter appears a bit stronger than the Sony a7 III, which means a bit less detail but less occurrence of false color$(document). ready(function() { $("#icl-4301-714546339"). click(function() { ImageComparisonWidgetLink(4301); }); }).

While fine detail isn't as well preserved at low ISO$(document). ready(function() { $("#icl-4299-740733493"). click(function() { ImageComparisonWidgetLink(4299); }); }) or at high ISO$(document). ready(function() { $("#icl-4300--152210045"). click(function() { ImageComparisonWidgetLink(4300); }); }) as the best of its peers, the Z6 generally strikes a nice balance between noise and detail. Low light Raw performance is competitive with the best of its peers$(document). ready(function() { $("#icl-4302--698920912"). click(function() { ImageComparisonWidgetLink(4302); }); }), which is to say it's essentially class leading.

Exposure Latitude

Our Dynamic Range tests presented no great surprises. The same banding in shadows the Z7 displayed is present in the very darkest tones of its images, at 12 row increments - the very rows dedicated to phase-detect AF (PDAF). This suggests the Z6 PDAF rows aren't being perfectly corrected when they're incorporated into the Raw files. This will impact the usability of darker tones in images relative to its peers like Nikon's own D750 or Sony's a7 III. We'll also check for striping (bright white stripes across shadows) in back-lit shooting as we put together a sample gallery with the camera.

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ISO-Invariance

The camera isn't entirely ISO Invariant but this is largely because the sensor features the Aptina-style Dual Gain design that Sony Semiconductor has been using for the past few years. This sees the camera use a second higher gain circuit in its pixels to reduce noise from ISO 800 upwards (at the cost of some capacity for dynamic range), where the camera is essentially entirely ISO-invariant.

This means that if you shoot Raw there's no advantage to increasing ISO above 800, for the same shutter speed and aperture, vs. brightening the Raw file yourself while protecting highlights in post-processing. This method of working can afford you many stops of additional highlight detail at no cost to you other than a dark image preview.

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Our results are confirmed by Bill Claff, based on the test images we sent him. His graphs show a similar pattern to the a7 III's results but with the performance lying a fraction behind the Sony and a little ahead of the Canon EOS R at most ISO settings. In real world shooting, though, banding in shadows may decrease the overall usable dynamic range.

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2018-11-7 17:40

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