Nikon has been one of the premier camera manufacturers for decades. From stellar lenses to top notch camera bodies, Nikon has stayed on the forefront of the camera market, offering some of the best options for every type of shooter, from absolute beginner to seasoned pro. Photographers looking for a modern Nikon are faced with a potentially challenging question: when it comes to the Nikon Z6 vs Z7, which is the better camera?
Over the course of several years, Nikon started to lag behind as smaller brands such as Fuji, Panasonic, Olympus, and – most successfully – Sony revolutionized the mirrorless camera market. They introduced very high quality digital cameras with cutting edge technology in formats built around the removal of the mirror that defines the Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera. Nikon had no answer for these cameras outside the niche and short-lived Nikon 1 series.
Until 2018, that is. In September of 2018, Nikon unleashed the Z7 on the world, followed in short order by the less expensive Z6. Now that these two Nikon cameras have been on the market for a couple of years, let’s take a look at them and see if the Nikon Z6 or Nikon Z7 is the better camera for you.
Z6 And Z7 Overview
Both Nikon and Canon, the two undisputed kings of DSLR, resisted the transition from DSLR to mirrorless. However, with the release of Nikon’s Z7, followed shortly by the Canon EOS R, the Nikon Z6, and the Canon EOS RP, SLR-style mirrorless cameras became an officially entrenched part of all the manufacturers’ camera lineups.
If you’re looking at the Nikon Z6 and Z7 now, probably the first thing you’ll notice is how similar the two cameras are. So which camera is right for you? How can you choose between the two?
Let’s see how various components of the cameras compare and help you decide between the Z6 and Z7.
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A good place to look to compare the Nikon Z6 and Z7 is a breakdown of their key specs. Let’s see an overview of how they compare, and then break down some of the major differences.
Price is, for some people, one of the most important comparison points for two cameras (although for others a relatively insignificant one).
At launch, there was a significant price difference between these two cameras, with the Z7 releasing at about $3,400 and the Z6 just below $2,000. As of publishing this, the difference has decreased a fair bit. The Z7 has dropped in price by almost $1,000, now retailing for just under $2,500 while the Z6 has only dropped to about $1,800.
There’s still a sizable difference in cost between the two models, but it’s about half of what the difference originally was.
The sensor is the heart of the camera and, aside from the price, is the first place where you see a noticeable difference between the two models.
Z7: Higher Resolution
While both cameras have full frame sensors, the Z7 has a very high resolution (45.7MP) version with no low-pass filter while the Z6 sports a more moderate 24.5MP sensor. Camera marketing has conditioned us that more pixels are better, so does that mean that the Z7 is the better choice? Possibly, but not necessarily.
The huge resolution and lack of low-pass filter is extremely beneficial for some photographers. The high resolution lets you create larger prints without losing quality (you can certainly upsample lower resolutions, but the results aren’t perfect and get worse the more you upsample). The lack of low-pass filter helps to maximize sharpness, but has an increased risk of artifacts such as moire and false-color. That being said, this combination of huge image size and maximum sharpness is ideal for certain photographers, such as landscape photographers who regularly make very large prints.
Z6: Lower Resolution
On the other hand, there are some very real benefits to lower resolutions, and the Z6’s 24.5MP fits nicely in what is generally considered the sweet spot for image resolution.
Lower resolution files are, to put it simply, just easier to work with. You don’t need as much storage space (either on your memory card or your computer’s hard drive). And, unless you have an extremely high=end computer, larger resolutions images take a little bit longer to do anything with while editing. A small number of simple edits on a couple images may not be a huge difference, but the more extensive your edits and the larger the number of images you’re editing, the more likely you are for your editing process to take noticeably longer.
Similarly, lower resolution files are easier for the camera to work with, allowing for faster write speeds. This translates to faster burst shooting (12 FPS for the Z6 compared to 9 for the Z7) and longer/larger buffer sizes.
Additionally, if all else is equal (same sensor size, same sensor tech, etc), a lower pixel density (fewer pixels on the same size sensor) generally results in less noise when using higher ISOs, and this holds true with these two cameras. There’s not a huge difference at lower ISO, but the higher you push it, the better the Z6 gets compared to the Z7.
The bottom line when it comes to the sensors is that (for most people), the Z6’s sensor will be more pleasant to work with and lets you push the ISO a little higher. But if you need the very high resolution and maximum sharpness, the Z7 would be for you.
Autofocus is another area that is important to look at. On paper, the Z7 holds the edge here with 493 phase detection points compared to the Z6’s 273.
In real world experiences, most people won’t be able to notice the difference between the two. Both autofocus systems are fantastic. If you are regularly shooting subjects that need to handle tricky autofocus situations, the Z7 would edge forward. However, this difference might be offset in situations such as sports and wildlife shooting by the higher burst rate and buffer size from the Z6.
The autofocus systems, while clearly different, are a bit of a toss up in regards to whether they should influence your choice one way or the other.
Ever since Canon’s 5D Mark II introduced video features into a DSLR body, video capability has become increasingly important for many shooters. Nikon has lagged behind both Canon and Sony for a while, but the Z6 and Z7 both close the gap thanks to fantastic autofocus systems, in-body images stabilization, and overall high quality video capture.
While both cameras downsample higher resolution segments of their sensor to 4K output (thus increasing the overall video quality over a straight 4K recording), only the Z6 does this uncropped from its entire sensor. Uncropped full frame 4K has become a bit of a target for many video shooters thanks to the advantages at achieving wide focal lengths and thin depths of field, and many cameras have been criticized heavily for not offering it.
In addition to offering uncropped 4K, real world usage has shown the Z6’s video to be a little bit sharper and higher quality in general than the Z7. If video is a primary concern for you, the Z6 has a strong edge over the Z7.
What They Have In Common
Before we look at the differences in the two cameras, we have to acknowledge that there are a lot of features and specs that are identical between the two cameras. They have the same lens mount (Nikon’s new Z-mount) and the exact same processor (EXPEED 6). Both the electronic viewfinder and the 3.2” tilting touchscreen LCD are the same between the two bodies.
They also have the same 5-axis Sensor-Shift image stabilization, single XQD card slot, shutter mechanism (and thus shutter life), and use the same battery (although the Z7 manages to somehow squeeze out a few more shots from it). The bodies themselves are even exactly the same dimensions and weight and have the same weather sealing.
As you can see, there is a lot of similarity between the two cameras.
Should I Get the Nikon Z6 or Z7?
The reality is that there are far more similarities between the two models than there are differences. So which is the better camera, the Z6 or Z7?
As with most decisions in photography, it ultimately depends on what you shoot and what you do with your images.
The biggest example of who would benefit from the Z7 would be, for example, a landscape photographer who routinely wants huge prints. The resolution and sharpness advantages of the Z7 will be most valuable to these photographers. It’s also a good choice for portrait photographers. On the other hand, if video is absolutely a must or you really need the extra FPS bursts, choose Z6. It would be a good option for wildlife and sports photographers, too.
If neither of those are primary concerns for you, how do you choose?
At launch, the $1,400 price difference made the Z6 a better choice for most people. Since then, price drops have cut that difference in half, so that’s a less significant factor, but it is still there.
If we had to give a bottom line, for most people right now, unless you really need the extra resolution and sharpness, get Z6 and put the extra $700 towards your lens budget. The lower resolution is much kinder on workflow, gives more flexibility when you find yourself fighting low light, and has far higher resolution than any modern electronic display is capable of showing. If you’re still not sure between the two, you can rent one of these cameras to get some hands-on experience and see which one you prefer.