Autofocus is unfortunately a weak point on the Nikon Z6. I’m going to explain my experience, but in short – its not horrible, but its flawed in some situations that you’ll need to understand how to work around. This is disappointing considering the competition from Sony. I think its something Nikon will improve though, as this is their first mirrorless offering.
There are 3 autofocus modes for stills and 4 autofocus modes for video. For stills, you get AF-S for single servo focusing, AF-C for continuous and MF for manual focusing. Video gets the same modes but with an additional AF-F mode for full time autofocus. Its essentially AF-C but the difference being that its constantly focusing until you half-press the shutter to hold. AF-C is the opposite in that its only engaged when you press the shutter half way or use the back-button autofocus control. This mode makes sense for video, but for some strange reason is completely excluded from the camera manual.
For still photography there are 5 zones you can choose for both AF-S and AF-C. You can use the full frame, Wide-L, Wide-S, Small and Pin-Point. Manual focus features the small area which will turn green when something is in focus acting as a focus aid. Full frame AF will pick the AF based on the camera’s algorithm. The priority is Face Detection – if it sees faces in frame it will auto-detect them as the first priority. If there are no faces, the second priority will be depth awareness.
Autofocus in Video
In video mode, it works the same except you don’t have pin-point as an option for a focus zone. This is due to the lower resolution of video from still mode.
You can touch an area to select a focus point on the LCD screen or you can use the joy-stick to move the AF point selection.
Autofocus on the Nikon Z6 is the area with the most needed attention. Obviously Nikon are known for their DSLRs. This system feels like something you’d find on a DLSR.
Why Autofocus is different on a mirrorless camera
Mirrorless opens up new possibilities for autofocus and Sony has put this at the heart of their camera systems. In traditional DSLR cameras, the AF is determined by a dedicated sensor in the mirror box. Its usually fairly small – like 2 megapixels.
In a mirrorless camera, you get a direct data readout from the sensor. This enables a higher resolution for autofocus reading and theoretically should open up opportunities for better accuracy and faster performance. The Nikon Z7 and Z6 have trouble with both.
In my experience, the camera has trouble in low light, but more specifically lower contrast. The depth awareness seems to have major problems if there isn’t enough separation in luminosity between background and foreground objects. This can be rectified by simply moving the focus manually closer to the zone but this isn’t easy to do fast. You have to turn the switch off move the lens and move it back to AF again. This is the single biggest area that needs improvement as you’re going to miss shots.
Nikon Z6 needs Eye-AF
Nikon also need to implement eye detection similar to what Sony has with Eye-AF. Face detection works really well, but if you’re using large aperture lenses with shallow DOF, you’re likely to get a cheek bone in focus, a chin, hair, eyelashes and if you’re lucky… the eye.
The workaround here is to stop down the lens. You can also try the pin-point AF zone or manual focus, but again this takes away the speed this camera should be capable of performing at.
For most subjects and situations the AF is fine, but when you consider the competition in the mirrorless space – Nikon must make improvements in this area.
Nikon Z6 Review Index
• 01 Introduction
• 02 EVF/LCD
• 03 Ergonomics
• 04 Autofocus
• 05 Menu System and Controls
• 06 Performance
• 07 Image Quality
• 08 Dynamic Range
• 09 Video Quality
• 10 Image Stabilization
• 11 Conclusion
• 12 Image Gallery