Nikon Z7 or Z6? Spare Change, Anyone?

By | April 9, 2020

Since Nikon released the new Z-series platforms in late 2018, photographers considering a cross-grade to a EVF-based camera within the Nikon ecosystem have been faced with a choice between meat and cheese and extra meat and cheese in their pixel sandwich. That is to say, if the cameras are both perfectly serviceable for amateurs, pro-sumers and wedding pros alike, and since the available optics have already proved to be super-de-duper sharp, why should a smart shopper spend $1500 more for the Z7? It’s a valid question unless money’s no object. So what are the important differences?

Resolution

The Z6 is 24mp and the Z7 is at 45mp. One reality is that as far as resolution is concerned, most available FX optics can’t resolve to the 45mp level. If a photographer is planning to carry over his existing inventory of glass or to share same between FX bodies that aren’t going to be thrown in the trash anytime soon, there are very few Nikon lenses that will benefit from the 45mp resolution of the Z7. Another reality is that unless the photographer is planning to output full-resolution (300 dpi for commercial printing) images much larger than 16×20, the extra resolution just isn’t useful. Most images wind up being displayed electronically and even if large print sizes are necessary, it’s unlikely that the difference between a 36×48 image (that’s 3 feet by 4 feet) would be noticeable by most folks at normal viewing distances.

(For some fantastically geeky information on mexapixel resolution and maximum print sizes at different print resolutions, visit https://www.scantips.com/mpixels.html)

Sensor Sensitivity

The Z6 delivers a mind-boggling maximum ISO of 204,800; the Z7, 104,800, which is also pretty mind boggling. Are the images produced by either camera useful at those ISOs? Maybe for surveillance or forensic or other special applications where low light is the norm. In test after test, however, the higher ISOs produce similar results up past ISO 12,800, but the Z6, because the higher count in the Z7 sensor produces more noise, performs better. So, great results on the Z6 without $1000 worth of improvement between it and the Z7.

FPS

The Z6 runs along at 12 FPS for JPEG or 12-bit NEF or 9 FPS for 14-bit NEF; the Z7, 9 FPS for 12-bit NEF, dropping to 8 FPS for 14-bit. On either camera, this is simply phenomenal performance. If the shot gets missed with these “spray and pray” capabilities, the shot wasn’t meant to be captured – sorry. The point here, though, is that the Z7 has no speed advantage in either the FPS category or in ISO sensitivity.

So, What Makes The Z7 $1000 Better

It depends on the needs of the photographer and the specs aren’t exactly the same. The Z7 doesn’t have a low-pass filter which may result in slightly sharper-looking images, again depending on the attached optics. The Z7 has more autofocus points, but 273 autofocus points in the Z6 is a big step up from, say, the D750 which has 51 focus points. The Z7 and Z6 can both shoot 4K UHD video, but the Z6 can shoot full-frame and the Z7 crops. So, in the end, the sensor is the difference – the question is, for the particular photographer, is that make-or break?

Conclusion

If the choice isn’t clear on the basis of specs alone, it’s possible to rent either camera through a variety of rental companies to test it yourself. Borrowlenses.com rents a Z7 for $160 a week and a Nikon Z6 for a week for $105. So, for a couple of bucks, it’s possible to try these incredible cameras for yourself before plunking down a few, or several, thousand bucks. That may be the best way to settle the bet with yourself once and for all.

Nikon Z7

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