I just got a new camera! Well, sort of.
The word “value” can have many meanings, even more with regards to the world of photography and filmmaking. How do we define value? Is it simply a matter of having the most impressive set of technical specs? Or is value better defined solely in financial terms? Is it just a matter of paying the least while getting the most? How the word “value” is defined is fundamentally a measure of the one writing the definition. As a photographer, and, more importantly, as a consumer, my definition of value is an ever-changing formula meant to discern how I get what I need in the most efficient and affordable way possible.
I teased this article last week in my essay about mistakes that I’ve made in buying photographic gear over the years. In a nutshell, the outlook on my individual purchasing decisions has been largely shaded by the ultimate utility of the products purchased. That sounds obvious but requires a bit more explanation. I don’t mean utility in a sense of having the most specs. I don’t mean utility in the potential the camera had to do what I needed. I mean utility in terms of how effective the camera was as a tool, day in and day out, throughout its life cycle. It doesn’t matter how many megapixels a camera has if it has other shortcomings that mean it sits on the shelf most of the time. Conversely, just because a camera seems to be lacking in high-end specs doesn’t mean that it won’t end up being an everyday workhorse and hold far more intrinsic value than another camera which might have cost five times as much. All of this is what led me last week to plunk down a bit of cash on a new camera. Well, actually an old camera. Well, actually a heavily discounted used version of an old camera, but one that was a perfect fit for my use case.
This is not the first Nikon Z6 that I have owned. Back when the camera was originally released in 2018, I purchased one as a way of dipping my toes into the mirrorless world in addition to my Nikon D850. The Z6 was never terribly expensive, relatively speaking, and it added video features not available with a DSLR. So, I gave it a shot.
Because the D850 is the greatest DSLR ever made, the Z6 never was quite able to dislodge it from its starting position. Also, as a commercial photographer whose clients are mainly using my images for large scale advertising campaigns, megapixels mattered. So, the 45.7-megapixel sensor of the D850 was far preferable to the 24.5-megapixel sensor of the Z6 for most of my client work. Plus, because I am a big fan of the optical viewfinder, the Z6 was always fighting a losing battle in trying to become the top dog in the kennel.
While I shot a lot of projects with it, I eventually ended up selling my first Z6. Not because I didn’t love it, but rather to raise money to invest in other gear as I continued my rocky journey towards finding the ultimate hybrid camera. Again, I spoke more about this in last week’s article. But, long story short, it wasn’t the smoothest transition, but I eventually found everything that I needed in the Nikon Z9. It was the one mirrorless camera that finally gave me the confidence to move on from my DSLR and still feel as though I could create art on my own terms. So, I eventually went on to invest in a pair of Z9s, sell off every camera body and accessory not related to the Z9, and go all in for the foreseeable future.
I couldn’t be happier with my toolkit for professional work. The Z9 leaves me wanting for absolutely nothing on set. But, part of that world-beating comes at the price of payload. Not that I’m trying to body shame a camera, but the Z9 is a big boy. That’s part of why I like it so much. But, it also means that it’s not necessarily ideal for simple walkabout photography, vacation photography, or other times when I want to have a camera with me, but not be reminded that I’m carrying it every five minutes.
So, I had a gap to fill for a personal camera. Being a personal camera, I didn’t want to spend a lot. This isn’t a camera meant to make money. It’s a camera meant to offer me the most personal enjoyment for the least amount of money. I didn’t need a massive amount of megapixels. I already have a Z9 for that. It didn’t have to be a main video camera. I have a Z9 for that (or will rent larger cinema cameras on a per-project basis). This camera needed to be relatively small. Because I am both a photographer and a filmmaker, video performance was important to me. I prefer full frame versus a crop sensor, although this particular spec was lower on my list of important details.
Higher on my list was wanting the camera to be a Nikon. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that, while it’s nice to criss-cross camera brands and sample everything on the market, doing so gets really expensive. Sticking within the world of Nikon mirrorless meant that I wouldn’t have to buy any more lenses and many of my existing accessories would work. With the Z6 bodies taking the same batteries as my D850, I already had a small arsenal of Nikon batteries that were just collecting dust that could go to immediate work. And because I used to own a Z6, I even already had a SmallRig camera cage in my closet that could now be put back into use with another Z6 body.
In other words, the original Z6 hit the perfect sweet spot for my needs. It was small, comparatively speaking. With the firmware updates over the years, focusing speed was more than adequate. Again, I already own the lightning-fast-to-focus Z9 for professional work. I already had a bag full of accessories that would work with the Z6 which meant that, unlike most camera purchases, there was literally zero additional money necessary to get it working exactly how I wanted. I even had a spare CFexpress Type B card in need of a home which slotted perfectly into the Z6. True, the Z6 only has one card slot. But as I don’t shoot weddings/events and the number of card slots on a camera literally means nothing to my particular workflow, this was not going to be a problem. Especially since, once more, the Z6 would now be replacing my personal fun camera as opposed to trying to be my number one professional workhorse.
So why not the Z6II? Well, this is where that personal use-case math comes into play. The Z6II is objectively a better camera. There’s a reason it’s the second generation. But, the advantages the Z6II has, such as dual card slots and slightly better autofocus performance, were not things that were going to affect me with regards to the camera’s intended use. So, again, because cost was an issue, it made more sense for me to stick with the original Z6 and save a few dollars.
Speaking of saving a few dollars, here is where the real financial magic happened. Because the original Z6 has been on the market for some time, with its successor already released and a version three likely in the near future, there were plenty of the original Z6 bodies available on the used market. Since I will always buy used when given the option, I was able to secure the full frame, 24.5-megapixel, 4K Z6 for only about $900. I think for my own tolerance levels, keeping the cost of a personal camera under $1,000 is about what the doctor ordered. So, being able to pick up the exact same model that I paid a little over $2,200 for brand new a few years earlier for this limited price felt like a steal.
I could have opted for a used version of the original Z7 instead. This would have offered the same sensor as my favored D850 and a megapixel range complementary to my Z9s. I gave this option considerable thought. The prices for the original Z7 used, though higher than the Z6, are still reasonable. But, ultimately, because so much of my work is video based these days, I felt that getting the tradeoff of the better video performance of the Z6 over the Z7 might prove more worthwhile to me than the added megapixel count for stills. For professional still work, I’d be using the Z9 anyway. If the Z6 does make it to set, it will more than likely be there as a third video camera option rather than to shoot stills for a campaign. The personal stills it does shoot will more than likely end up online or on social media, meaning that 24.5 megapixels is more than enough.
Speaking of video production, the original Z6 is not without its flaws in the modern world. It still requires the use of an external monitor to record 10-bit N-log. Internally, it can only handle 8-bit. So, while having the option to output 10-bit over HDMI is a step up over Nikon’s current smaller APS-C bodies, I do wish that internal 10-bit was included considering many competing brands do offer this with even their cheaper bodies. I’d expect that the upcoming third generations of these cameras, or the mythical Z8, will have this as a feature internally. But, again, since this camera is primarily meant to be a personal camera rather than my main professional shooter, having to use a monitor on the rare occasions it does get pulled into professional duty seems like a decent trade off for the cost savings. Especially since I already own the monitor and cables.
Opening the box of my new (old) Z6 was a real thrill. You’d think with it being the older model, and a used one at that, that my enthusiasm would be dampened. But taking the camera out of the box and putting it straight into a day pack already filled with complementary accessories gave me the incredible satisfaction of knowing I purchased a tool that will actually get a chance to earn its value. By keeping costs low and adhering to the concept of only paying for what I am actually going to use, this old and used Z6 body poses a far more balanced value proposition than many of the cameras I have purchased over the years. I might even go so far as to say that purchasing a used Z6 in 2023 might just be one of the best bangs for your buck on the market today. A tool well capable of doing the job at a fraction of the cost.
Seems like a very fine camera to me. I just bought a Nikon from 2012 with only 16 megapixels. It is very nice to work with and I am sorry I missed it's release by 10 years.
Z6 is a great camera. There's zero disadvantages for anyone who wants to shoot with vintage glass over any other camera in the world. Auto-focus doesn't matter, zoom functionality is one touch both directions, and viewfinder is excellent. For vintage lenses, the pixels above 25 MP don't matter, as very few vintage lenses resolve above 20 MP. For video as you point out, the Z6 is very good out of the box, with IBIS for micro hand tremors (for heaven's sake don't try to pan with IBIS on). A smoking good camera, almost timeless like the Canon 5D Mark III was.
Interesting, thanks Alec. Would you mind explaining a little bit more about your views on IBIS and panning?
IBIS means that panning stutters as it's trying to stabilise the pan, before it goes with it.
I still use my Z6. It's really small and light, making it a great hiking camera. My go to timelapse camera too. A real workhorse.
A couple of years ago, I traded in a D750 and my F lenses for a Z6 with its kit zoom. My use case is different from yours, but like you, the Z6 fits my needs perfectly.
Interesting article. Somewhat biased and exaggerated in some areas but Interesting.
With my z6 I took 620,000 frames in 4 years!!!
Z6 was never a bad camera. It was just underwhelming for some people especially to those who compare it to Sony’s α7 III.
But for me, I adapted to the camera’s “quirks” and shot with it for almost 3 years without issues.
Wish I would've known before you posted this. I would have sold you mine.
That's a great combination Mr. Malcolm. I have the Z6 too and just love it. My son-in-law has the Z9, so we're both set for the Z's. I also use the D600 and D700 just to compare all 3 from time-to-time. I bet you some absolutely gorgeous shots with both cameras, but oh my, the Z9 really puts them out. Keep it up.
They compliment each other beautifully.