We have been shooting the Nikon D6 for months now, almost daily use with over 36,000 frames shot. Not bad for limited travel during a pandemic! It seemed about time to talk about our impressions of this camera, and how it fits in our photography workflow. Much of the D6 is the same as the D5…general body shape, build and weather sealing, 20.8 MP sensor. But a lot has changed too, and I want to focus on differences between the D6 and D5. We have both cameras, so it was easy to compare the models.
Why did I buy a D6? Two words…better autofocus. The D6 uses all cross-type Af points, and everyone is selectable in the viewfinder, and the D6 focuses in lower light than the D5. The D6 is the best autofocus camera Nikon makes right now, and it doesn’t disappoint. We had a blizzard with zero temperatures earlier this fall, and we spent 8 hours photographing elk in a snowstorm. If you have shot in falling snow, you know how this can cause autofocus to hunt and basically not work. I knew something was different when I noticed the D6 just kept working through the blizzard, finding subjects in very low light and very rarely hunting for focus. With the D5 it was hunting noticeably more, and even more so with the D850. So this improved all cross-type focus point system is for real, and works. In general I just notice things are snappier and quicker with the D6 autofocus. The D5 is still excellent, but the D6 is better. And the D6 has the new Expeed 6 processor which also helps move things along. For birds in flight we use Group-Area Autofocus and the D6 tracks moving birds without a problem.
Another big one…14 FPS with a mechanical shutter. For fast moving sports and wildlife, fast frame rates are crucial to get that one fleeting gesture. The D5 does quite well at 12 FPS, but 14FPS is even better. And using a mechanical shutter means we don’t need to worry about banding issues when we shoot indoor venues with artificial light (electronic shutters can create banding in fluorescent lights). There is less blackout (I really didn’t even notice it) with continuous bursts using the D6, the result of a new shutter in the camera. Viewfinder movement during continuous shooting is steady. And you don’t have to worry about your buffer filling up, you can shoot almost non-stop using the new CF Express cards. We haven’t filled the buffer up once, even with long continuous sequences photographing birds in flight.
Camera ergonomics. Nikon has always made a camera that feels right in your hand, and the D6 continues that trend. I love the large body with vertical grip. I can assign different functions to the front three buttons, and this camera balances beautifully on a long telephoto. We normally shoot the D6 with a 600mm F4 or 300mm F2.8, and the balance is fantastic. The D5 fits perfect in my hand, and so does the D6.
I have to mention something that is also very noticeable. The jpeg preview images on the LCD are just incredible! Nikon mentions better jpeg processing in-camera for the D6, and the files just pop off the LCD screen. I know the sensors are the same in the D5/6, but maybe the new processor helps. The NEF raw files are outstanding, and we regularly shoot low light wildlife at ISO 6400 with great results. Low light performance is excellent with this camera in the ISO 3200-6400 range. In the office we have 24×36″ prints made from the D5/6 sensor that are tack sharp and look great.
Nikon aimed the D6 at pros shooting their existing flagship cameras, and that audience has been happy with the D6. Many sports photographers were thrilled at the new connectivity, in-camera culling options, GPS and wireless transfer abilities of the D6. We don’t need those for our work, but the performance upgrades made getting the D6 an obvious choice. This camera is built to take abuse and perform at the highest level in the most challenging conditions. Rainy Alaska bear shoots…check. Dusty African safaris…check. 30 below Alaska winter tourism assignments…check.
At $6500 this is not a camera for everyone. There are rumors mentioning a ‘D6’ mirrorless Nikon coming out next summer, and that will be very exciting to see. We shoot Nikon mirrorless now, and love the optical quality of the new lenses. But for pure autofocus performance in fast situations, we rely on the D5/6 or D850. We’re excited about the new Z6II, and will be testing the autofocus on that camera soon.