Nikon Z6III initial review: Digital Photography Review


Product Photos by Richard Butler

The Nikon Z6III is the company’s third-generation full-frame mirrorless camera, bringing a faster 24MP sensor that boosts the autofocus and video capabilities of this stills/video hybrid.

Key specifications

  • 24MP “Partially Stacked” CMOS sensor
  • 14fps with mech shutter, 20fps e-shutter up to 1000 Raw files
  • Up to 60fps JPEG in full resolution, 120fps with APS-C crop
  • In-body image stabilization rated at up to 8.0 stops
  • 5.76M dot EVF with high brightness and wide color gamut
  • Fully articulated 3.2″ 2.1M dot rear screen
  • 6K/60p N-Raw video, 6K/30p ProRes Raw
  • 5.4K/60p H.265 video
  • Pre-burst capture, pixel-shift high-res mode

The Nikon Z6III will be available from late June at a price of $2500. This is a $500 increase over the previous Z6 models but brings it into line with the likes of Canon’s EOS R6 II and Sony’s a7 IV, with which it directly competes.


What’s new

24MP “Partially Stacked” CMOS sensor

Nikon’s image of the Z6III’s sensor, showing the extensive readout circuitry above and below the sensor.

Image: Nikon

The sensor at the heart of the Z6III is responsible for much of what the new camera brings. Nikon uses the term “Partially Stacked” to suggest it has some of the performance benefits of the Stacked CMOS chips it uses in its Z8 and Z9 models, but without the associated cost.

Nikon hasn’t given us precise detail but it appears the readout and analog-to-digital conversion circuitry around the edge of the chip is built-up, allowing it to be both more sophisticated and closer to the pixels themselves, delivering faster readout.

The result is that the camera can read out its sensor fast enough to deliver full-width 6K video at up to 60p in N-Raw mode and a flash sync speed of 1/60 sec. This means it must be able to read the entire sensor in less than 1/60 sec. This is around the same speed as the Canon EOS R6 II, but in 14-bit sensor readout mode, rather than 12-bit. It can shoot full-res JPEGs (presumably from 12-bit readout) at up to 50fps.

However, that maximum sync speed of 1/60th is around a quarter of the speed of true Stacked CMOS sensors and not a vast leap forward from the previous generation of sensors. It should improve AF performance and video capabilities but won’t deliver the blisteringly fast performance of the likes of the Z8.

Improved AF

Along with the faster sensor, the Z6III also gains the autofocus improvements seen in Nikon’s recent models, including 3D Tracking and subject recognition. The company says AF is up to 20% faster than it was in the Z6 II, and that the performance is comparable with the Z8 and Z9.

On top of this, the camera can focus at down to –10EV without you having to engage the Starlight AF mode (though it’s worth noting that this figure is predicated on an F1.2 lens being attached). It also gains most the subject recognition modes from the Zf, though lacks the dedicated bird detection mode that the Z8 and Z9 have recently gained.

Subject detection modes
  • People
  • Animals
  • Vehicles
  • Airplanes
  • Auto

(Dogs, cats, birds)
(Cars, motorbikes, trains, airplanes, bicycles)

These all reflect a significant improvement over the Z6 II. The 3D Tracking system resembles those on Nikon’s DSLRs: pick an AF point and the camera will follow whatever’s under that point when you hold the shutter half depressed or the AF-On button. As soon as you release it reverts to your previously chosen position. Unlike the Z6 II’s system you don’t need to press a button to cancel tracking and it doesn’t revert to the center.

But as well as this increased ease-of-use, the interface controls a much more effective and reliable tracking system that’s much less likely to lock onto the wrong thing or just lose it completely (which was not uncommon, especially in movie mode, on the previous generation of cameras). Add to this the camera’s ability to recognize a series of subjects near your chosen AF point and the Z6 III should be much quicker and easier to work with than previous mid-level Nikons.

Video

The faster sensor sees the Z6III’s video capabilities gain a significant upgrade, compared with its predecessor. It’s too soon for Nikon’s purchase of cinema camera maker RED to have played into this camera’s development, but it relieves any uncertainty around the inclusion of onboard capture of both N-Raw and ProRes Raw video formats.

All of the codecs offer both UHD 4K and a higher-resolution capture mode, all of which use the full width of the sensor. The Raw modes offer 6K or 4K capture, while the gamma-encoded modes (ProRes 422, H.265, H.264) offer 5.4K or 4K recording.

Codec Resolutions and max frame rates
N-Raw 6K/60p
UHD 4K/60p
ProRes RAW 6K/30p
UHD 4K/60p
ProRes 422 5.4K/60p
UHD 4K/60p
H.265 5.4K/60p
UHD 4K/60p
H.264 UHD 4K/30p

Like the Z8, the Z6III includes shooting aids such as waveforms, zebras and focus peaking.

The Z6III also becomes the first Nikon to accept a line-level input over its mic socket. It’s also compatible with Atomos’ AirGlu, a Bluetooth-based Timecode sync system.

Additional functions

The Z6III also gains all the other functions that have been added to Nikon cameras since the launch of the Z6 II, including pre-burst capabilities and multi-shot high resolution modes.

It also has the image stabilization system that centers its correction on your chosen AF point. This is particularly valuable if you’re focused in the corners of wide-angle shots, where the required pitch and yaw correction is significantly different from that needed at the center of the image.

In addition, like the Zf, the Z6III can use its subject recognition system even if you’re in manual focus mode. This means that engaging magnified live view will punch in on your subject’s eye, as you check focus, rather than you having to navigate around the scene to find it.

Finally, the Z6III will be compatible with a “Flexible Color” tool that will be added to Nikon’s NX Studio software, which provides an enhanced set of color tools for creating custom Picture Control color modes to install on the camera.

Cloud access

The Z6III will be the first Nikon camera to use the Nikon Imaging Cloud service. This will fulfill a series of functions. At its most basic it’ll be a service to which images can be uploaded and then sent on to other storage and social media services (rather than the camera itself having to know how to connect to multiple services).

It’ll also be a source for “Imaging Recipes,” which are camera settings intended for taking specific types of image, created with the help of Nikon’s sponsored creators. There will also be “Cloud Picture Controls” presets that can be downloaded. This service isn’t available yet, so we won’t be able to assess its usefulness until it is.


How it compares

The $500 price hike brings the Nikon directly into line with the MSRPs of its two most comparable competitors: Sony’s a7 IV and Canon’s EOS R6 II. All three cameras are highly capable stills and video machines with strong AF systems. We’ve included the more expensive Panasonic DC-S5II X here because its video capabilities and price are closer to those of the Nikon.

Nikon Z6III Canon EOS R6 II Sony a7 IV Panasonic Lumix DC-S5II X Nikon Z6 II
MSRP $2500 $2500 $2500 $2500 $2000
Sensor type “Semi-stacked” BSI CMOS Dual Pixel AF FSI CMOS BSI CMOS BSI CMOS BSI CMOS
Resolution 24MP 24MP 33MP 24MP 24MP
Maximum shooting rate 20fps (Raw)
60fps (JPEG)
40fps (12-bit Raw or JPEG) 10 fps (lossy Raw) 30fps (e-shutter) 14fps
10fps (14-bit Raw)
Rolling shutter rate (ms) ∼14.6ms
(14-bit)
∼14.7ms
(12-bit)
∼67.6ms (14-bit) ∼51.3ms
(14-bit)
∼50.8ms (14-bit)
Video resolutions

6K (Raw)
5.4K
UHD 4K

6K (Raw over HDMI)
DCI 4K
UHD 4K
UHD 4K

6K
5.9K
5.9K (Raw over HDMI)
DCI 4K
UHD 4K

UHD 4K
Uncompressed video N-Raw
ProRes RAW
Over HDMI Over HDMI Over HDMI
Viewfinder res/ magnification/ eye-point 5.76M dot OLED/ 0.8x/
21mm

3.69M dot OLED/
0.76x/
23mm

3.68M dot OLED/ 0.78x/
23mm
3.68M dot OLED/
0.78x/
21mm
3.69M dot OLED/ 0.8x/ 21mm
Rear screen 3.2″ fully-articulated 2.1M dot 3.0″ fully articulated
1.62M dot
3.0″ fully articulated
1.04M dot
3.0″ fully articulated
1.84M dot
3.2″ tilting 2.1M dot
Image stabilization Up to 8.0EV Up to 8.0EV Up to 5.5EV Up to 5.0EV
Up to 6.5EV with Dual IS 2 lens
Up to 5.0EV
Media types 1x CFe B
1x UHS II SD
2x UHS II SD 1x CFe A / UHS II SD
1x UHS II SD
2x UHS II SD 1x CFe B
1x UHS II SD
Battery life EVF / LCD 360 / 390 320 / 580 520 / 580 370 / 370 360 / 420
Dimensions 139 x 102 x 74mm 138 x 98 x 88mm 131 x 96 x 80 mm 134 x 102 x 90mm 134 x 101 x 70mm
Weight 760g 670g 659g 740g 705g

What the table can’t capture is the subtle differences in performance between these models, which is increasingly what it comes down to, in this most competitive of classes. Our early impressions are that the Z6III matches the Canon and Sony in terms of autofocus tracking performance and usability, wheres the Panasonic lags a little and the Z6 II feels like it’s left significantly behind.

Likewise the new Nikon and the Canon stand ahead in terms of video performance, as they offer faster video capture with less rolling shutter, especially compared with the rather slow Sony. We’ll need to shoot the Nikon more to know whether it can outdo the Canon’s video AF, which isn’t the most dependable.

The stills stabilization figures do nothing to convey the smoothness of video stabilization, either, with the Panasonic doing particularly well in this regard. Increasingly, choice and availability of lenses will be the critical deciding factor for a lot of people.


Body and handling

The Z6III looks, at first glance, a lot like the existing Z6 and Z7 models, with a familiar low-height camera with significant hand grip and viewfinder hump extending from it. But if you put them side-by-side you find that the Z6III is a very different body, even if it uses the same styling cues.

It’s a larger camera than its predecessors and heavier. However, it’s much closer in size to them than it is to the Z8. It’s wider and thicker but maintains a solid, comfortable grip. The button positions are essentially unchanged, compared to the previous cameras, with twin function buttons on the front and an AF joystick on that back.

Viewfinder

The Z6III is a larger, heavier body than its predecessor, but the controls are essentially the same. The Playback and drive mode buttons have been swapped, but that’s the most significant change. There’s also a button on the top plate to illuminate the settings panel.

The Z6III becomes the first Z-series camera to move beyond the 3.69M dot panels used so far. It sees a jump to 5.76M dots but, more importantly, also gains a significant brightness boost. The panel can go as bright at 4000nits and can cover the full gamut required for HLG.

You’ll need to manually push it to its brightest setting to get this full brightness but it means the camera can represent true HDR capture when shooting in HEIF mode, and generally give a viewfinder that differs less in brightness, relative to the real world.

Articulated rear screen

The Z6III becomes the first mid-range Nikon to gain a fully-articulated screen, rather than the tilting panels that the previous models have had. It’s a 3.2″ LCD panel with 2.1M dots.

The hinge is very close to the camera’s (full-sized) HDMI port and only a little in front of the mic and headphone sockets, so expect it to be a little awkward to use if you’ve got a lot of things plugged into the side of the body.

Battery

The Z6III uses the same EN-EL15c battery as its predecessor, and is rated as delivering a similar number of images. In standard mode it is rated to give 390 shots per charge if used via the rear LCD, and 360 shots through the viewfinder. Move into power saving mode and these numbers increase to 410 and 380 shots per charge, respectively.

As always, these numbers tend to significantly under-represent the number of shots most people will achieve. Getting twice the rated figure isn’t unusual, and more if you shoot a lot of images as bursts.

A battery grip with vertical controls and space for two, hot-swappable, batteries has been created. The MB-N14, which will be available in summer 2024, has been designed so that it’s backward compatible with the Z6 II and Z7 II. This grip displaces the internal battery, meaning you end up with two batteries in total. It has its own USB-C socket for charging the batteries even with the grip detached.


Initial impressions

By Richard Butler

The Z6III closely resembles the Z6 II (and Z7 II, pictured), but is slightly deeper, and has a larger top-plate settings panel.

The dullest possible reaction to the Z6III would be to take a quick look and conclude it’s all about video. Because, while there are plenty of video improvements, the Z6III is also a much better stills camera than we’ve seen from the company at this level. After the rather subtle refresh of the Z6 II, the III represents a much more significant step forward.

Admittedly, the video improvements are easier to spot. Internal Raw video, a full-sized HDMI socket, that fully-articulating LCD, waveforms, full-sensor 4K and 6K/60p: these collectively move Nikon from bringing up the rear of this class to arguably leading it. It’s striking that this mainstream class of cameras now offers the kinds of capabilities you’d previously have found only in dedicated video cameras like Panasonic’s GH series.

Part of this feature set has trickled down from capabilities developed for the Z9 but a lot of it comes from the new, faster sensor. And that faster sensor is a benefit to stills shooters, too.

The faster shooting rates are the most obvious sign of this, but the autofocus is also improved. The addition of 3D Tracking and Subject Recognition make the system more powerful and quicker to use, but according to Nikon the faster readout also means the Z6III will outperform the Zf, which has the same processor and interface.

But the improvements for photographers go beyond the performance boost: the higher-resolution viewfinder that can more closely match the brightness of the real world, and can better preview HDR shooting is a major benefit for photographers. Then there’s the addition of options such as pre-burst capture and the multi-shot high-res mode, for those who find them useful.

The Z6III doesn’t (at launch, anyway), have the standalone ‘Bird’ detection mode that has been added to the Z8 and Z9, but it can detect them in its Animal mode.

Nikkor Z 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 VR S with Z TC-1.4 | ISO 1250 | F7.1 | 1/640
Photo: Richard Butler

And for every photographer disappointed about the move to a fully articulating rear screen, there may be another who appreciates this as being the only camera in this class to have a top-plate settings display. Nikon has made the camera a little larger but it hasn’t spoiled the ergonomics that we’ve always rather liked.

It’s interesting to look back ten years to the launch of Nikon’s D750 DSLR, a camera that seemed to offer everything a keen enthusiast photographer would want. Image quality hasn’t improved radically since that point: we’d expect the Z6III’s high ISO performance to be a little better, as the D750 pre-dates dual-gain chips, but it won’t be a radical difference. But everything else is unrecognizably better. Modern lenses are sharper and more consistent, autofocus is quicker, more precise and easier to get the most out of, the Z6III is more compact yet will merrily outperform the D750’s pro-sports contemporary, the D4S, in speed and AF while showing less viewfinder blackout. And that’s before we even consider what happens when you press the red REC button.

It would absolutely be possible to take this photo using a Nikon D750, with enough practice and patience, but the Z6III makes it significantly easier.

Nikkor Z 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 VR S with Z TC-1.4 | ISO 450 | F8.0 | 1/500
Photo: Richard Butler

I’ll admit that, having seen how much Nikon had squeezed out of the existing sensor with the Zf, I thought the Z6 III might simply be a repackaged version of that camera, especially as Panasonic’s S5 II twins also continue to rely on that same chip. But the Z6III is much more ambitious, and something that brings Nikon into serious contention in terms of both specs and performance, in what’s probably the most competitive sector of the market.

Pre-production sample gallery

Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter/magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review); we do so in good faith, so please don’t abuse it.

All images taken using a pre-production Z6III, from which we can only publish the out-of-camera JPEGs.



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