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Nikon Z6 - My First Real Low Light Test by Philip Swallow

A few weeks ago I traded in my old Nikon D3s body for a new Nikon Z6 mirrorless kit that included the body, FTZ adapter and 24-70 f/4 lens. Aside from a few local shots I hadn’t really put it through its paces but had the opportunity recently to test it out in real world conditions.

The verdict - it was a success! But rather than this being the shortest blog in history I will elaborate a bit more and provide some shots with associated specs.

So what was in my bag for the shoot?

  • Nikon Z6 body

  • FTZ adapter

  • 24-70mm f/4 S Series (Z mount)

  • 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII (F mount)

  • 20mm f/1.8 (F mount)

  • 85mm f/1.8 (F mount)

The Shoot Setting

The shoot took place at the Barons Court theatre in West London, which is located in the basement of the Curtains Up pub. The venue has 57 seats and is dark, very, very dark. Whilst the house lights could do a job, I went to the lighting deck and switched the stage lights on which made for a better experience for all, not just the photographer . . .

The occasion was a rehearsal day by The Impulse Company for a short Rep season at the Barons Court Theatre.

I started with the 24-70mm f/4 and was delighted with the early results. I was very much comparing them with what I get on my occasional visits to the Lime Meadow Folk & Blues Club. That is generally a dark venue with a random LED lighting rig to work with.

Here is an example with the initial setup:

24-70mm f/4 S Series (Z mount), 1/100s, f/4, ISO 2500, 70mm

24-70mm f/4 S Series (Z mount), 1/100s, f/4, ISO 2500, 70mm

This was easily comparable to my old D3s and due to mirrorless technology, typically the EVF, it was done with a breeze and with complete confidence that the exposure was spot on (or at least in the right ballpark).

Although not much different in terms of focal length, I took a batch using the FTZ adapter and a prime lens. Here is an example using the 20mm AF-S f/1.8. This is a very good and fairly light weight lens - one of my favourites in fact:

20mm f/1.8 (F mount), 1/320s, f/2.5, ISO 1000

20mm f/1.8 (F mount), 1/320s, f/2.5, ISO 1000

Later in the session I changed position and shot some using the 70-200 f/2.8 (adapted) and was again delighted with the results - I did not feel I lacked anything over the D3s set-up but the lens still felt heavy despite a much lighter body. It has made the promised 70-200 S Series a very tempting investment when the time comes!

70-200mm f/2.8 VRII (F mount), 1/250s, f/3.2, ISO 1250, 135mm

70-200mm f/2.8 VRII (F mount), 1/250s, f/3.2, ISO 1250, 135mm

Once again, results that were easily comparable to what I had achieved before in similar conditions, if anything the files felt a lot cleaner.

As you will see I also brought my 85mm and took a few images. As this length was covered in my lens line-up I wouldn’t bother taking it with me in the future, for a similar shoot.

Shot Count per lens

Here is a summary of kept images from the day, broken down by lens type. I wouldn't read too much into why I took so many with the 20mm, it wouldn’t always be needed for such a shoot but I just left it on for one whole act of the rehearsal day.

  • 24-70mm Z mount - 478

  • 70-200mm F mount - 233

  • 20mm F mount - 192

  • 85mm F mount - 10

Summary

Overall I was delighted with the results. I am happy that the move from old to new technology has given me what I had before plus much more in terms of portability, the huge benefits of using an EVF and the yet to try out fully, video capability.

The battery usage was higher than a DSLR but that is to be expected with the EVF working hard throughout. I took just under 670 images in the morning session and the battery depleted to around 60%. I switched to the spare and added some charge to the original so there were no issues. I would suggest always covering yourself with extras and a charging capability but that is good professional discipline anyway.

On reflection I could have probably done the whole shoot with the 24-70 Z mount and an adapted 70-200. Part of this test was to do the switching and ensure I could get results. For a quick switch the FTZ adapter can be left on the heavy 70-200 and there would be little loss of time between setup changes. You can always bring more than one body of course.

I am pleased that I made the move to mirrorless, although I tend to use my DSLR for headshots and portraits currently. I will do a tryout headshot shoot with my Z6 soon and report back. Mirrorless is the direction the industry is heading in and I think it makes sense to get on board as soon as you are prepared to make the investment.

Nikon Mirrorless Announcement - My Views by Philip Swallow

Ok, first and foremost this won't be a deep technical analysis of the Nikon Announcement, plenty of people have covered that already despite not having access to review units yet!

There will be some technical references however as I think they are necessary. This is mostly about my thoughts as a Nikon user and how I see the general direction of travel and when I will jump on board with this modern camera technology.

Overall, I think this is the right move for Nikon as it is the way the industry is heading. Sony have delivered some excellent Full Frame (FF) mirrorless bodies and a number of photographers have made the switch, one notable being Hannah Couzens who moved across from Canon earlier this year.

Sony going first has been good for them but it also allows the likes of Nikon (and Canon) to assess their offering and shape their own lineup accordingly. I don't think you always have to be first, but you do have to get it right. Worth noting here that Apple have typically watched the market and then delivered a world-beater, i.e. let the other guys to the R&D and test the market then strike your blow.

I never buy Version One of anything. It is the final beta version in so many cases. I will be regularly catching up with the real world reviews, YouTube coverage and sales numbers. But I don't expect to invest in a new Nikon Mirrorless body for around two years.

I do think it odd that they only provided one card slot but only time, sales and XQD performance will see if they rue that decision. Sony found a way of fitting two cards (SD, one slower than the other) in a smaller form factor FF mirrorless body but Nikon said it wasn't possible for these launch models. A response to a comment I made on Instagram about this saw the following reply from a Nikon employee "never seen an XQD card fail". As the saying goes, "there's a first time for everything" and a wedding shooter would not want to be at the mercy of that first failure! 

I think the pricing is realistic and some of the bundle offers look good (for 2018 only?). But that would still be Version One of course.

I'd like to understand more about battery life, which looks poor on paper. Add in a tether setup and you would really need to plug in the USB-C charging cable to keep it all going for a day in the studio - assuming this is possible. Generally the Nikon batteries have been so good and so reliable so this could be seen as a dilution but the EVF does cause drain so you can't have everything. I would have preferred a larger form factor that could have supported a larger battery . . .

I like the fact that Nikon have set out a draft lens roadmap. That suits my own high level timetable but again, let others experience them for real before I decide what to do. Having an adapter means I am under no pressure to replace everything straight away.

One other technical point is the AF. Sony have Eye AF, I've never tried it but people seem to like it. As a portrait photographer I am perfectly able to select the focus point and admit I have never craved something that needs to detect an eye! But some people think it is a missed opportunity.

So have they got it right? Very hard to say. This is a new era for the company, but it does seem like a mixed bag and it is impossible to please all the people all of the time. 

We shouldn't have to wait long for some proper feedback and commentary on this new hardware. The bodies will be released in late September (Z7) and late November (Z6) and review units will be available prior to then - exciting times!

So, are you going to pre-order, watch, wait, move systems?? I'd love to hear any comments you may have!