Important Quirks and Features of the Nikon Z6 for Cinematography

The Nikon Z6 (Amazon, B&H) has turned out to be a surprising entry to the mirrorless video segment. With the addition of RAW recording (not yet available at the time of writing) via an external recorder it stands unique.

It’s natural for a serious video shooter to be interested in this camera, and let’s go over some important quirks and features of the camera for cinematography.

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The most important features are:

1 N-Log

With 10-bit, in any picture control, the angle of view is reduced by 90%. The crop factor is roughly 1.11.

This only applies to the Z6, and not the Z7. So in effect, if you want the maximum dynamic range from this camera for video, you can’t get the full frame look (strictly speaking) as well.

I hope this is rectified when RAW becomes available.

The lowest ISO for N-Log is ISO 800. This is the base or native ISO for N-Log. To know why this is important, read What is the best ISO for video?

You can’t shoot in 100/120p in 1080p, via N-Log. The highest speed you can choose is 60p.

And finally, the video autofocus performance is worse in N-Log because the image isn’t contrasty enough for the algorithm to work.

2 Video Features

The maximum data rate for 4K with the Nikon Z6 (Amazon, B&H) is 144 Mbps, and you can opt for this while selecting 3840×2160 in 23.976, 25 or 29.97p. Note: 24 is really 23.976, and 30 is really 29.97p. There is no true 24p in this camera.

You can shoot in two image area modes – FX (full frame 35mm), and DX (APS-C size). DX mode has a crop factor of 1.53. This applies to 4K as well. However, for 100/120p, you can only shoot in FX mode.

There is a recording limit with the Nikon Z6. You can record in one go up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Nikon does warn us that the camera is likely to overheat when recording for continuous stretches of time.

The camera records 8 files up to 4 GB each. This is a total of 32 GB. you get in a 30 minute limit at 144 Mbps. The 32 GB XQD card I tried gave me about 27 minutes after formatting, so you might want to get a 64GB card instead, if you plan on long recordings.

Resolution Frame Rates Data Rates
3840 x 2160  23.976, 25, 29.97p 144 Mbps
1920 x 1080 23.976, 25, 29.97 28 Mbps
1920 x 1080 50, 59.94 56 Mbps
1920 x 1080 100, 119.88p 144 Mbps

Key takeaways:

  • The file type for all is H.264 (MOV or MP4 wrapper), 8-bit 4:2:0, with a limit of 29m 59s.
  • You can only record 10-bit 4:2:2 with an external recorder.
  • You cannot simultaneously record 10-bit with both an external recorder and internally at the same time.
  • You need cables that support 4K. HDMI 2.0 is backward compatible, so look for those.
  • You can control the recording on an external monitor through the camera. It’s called External Recording Control, though it doesn’t work with a card in the camera.

3 Slow Motion

There is a 3-minute limit. This is plenty for most slow motion shots. At 120p retimed to 24p, 3 minutes is the equivalent of 15 minutes!

The biggest problem is if you shoot 100/120p you get 144 Mbps, while in slow motion you only get 29 Mbps!

There is no audio recording, N-Log, face detection AF, flicker reduction or electronic Vibration Reduction (VR) while you shoot slow motion, so it’s hard to recommend the slow motion mode for any serious video work.

If you want slow motion, shoot in 100/120p and then retime in post.

4 FTZ Adapter

I purchased the kit with the FTZ adapter, which allows you to mount Nikon F lenses, with Autofocus and Vibration Reduction enabled. You also get to control aperture, etc.

However, not all Nikon lenses can be used, specifically Non-AI. There are issues with some lenses and the FTZ adapter – auto focus and VR won’t work correctly.

5 Zebras and Weird Code Values

For some strange and unforgivable reason, N-Log code values are written in 10-bit, while the Zebras in the camera (called Highlight Display) is written in 8-bit. Why, I have no idea.

I really hope Nikon can give us IRE values.

Also, the Zebras start at code value 180, which is the equivalent of 75 IRE, so its only useful for highlight detail and nothing else.

7 Lack of Important Video-Specific Tools

These are important video features that other cameras in this range have, and it is inexplicable the Nikon Z6 doesn’t have them. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve read the manual twice and I can’t find these features, if it does exist.

First of all, a shocker, there’s no clear display on the back LCD for video. You get a clean feed via HDMI, but no overlays. And if you go to the menu for whatever reason, the recorder treats like a new clip, and the menu is output instead. There’s just no way to change any of this behavior in camera.

Next up, there’s no Rec. 709 mode at all. The Neutral profile is closest to the real world, according to Nikon, but that’s for photos, in sRGB or Adobe RGB mode. Not in Rec. 709.

If you’re shooting Log, you get a View Assist in camera, but Nikon doesn’t tell us what you’re seeing. Is it a Log to 709 profile? Who knows?

Thirdly, there are no frame markers. Not even the standard 1.85 or 2.39 markers.

And finally, worst of all, there is no in-camera meter in video mode!

Is this camera really made for video shooters? Either people at Nikon were lazy or they didn’t add any of these important features on purpose. Both ideas are troubling, but I hope Nikon will address these simple fixes in future firmware updates.

8 What is the best recorder for the Nikon Z6 right now?

The Atomos Ninja V (Amazon, B&H) is the one to get. However, I’ve been able to output 10-bit to an “old” Atomos Shogun as well.

9 Can I use LUTs in the camera?

No. There is no option to load LUTs.

10 What format should I choose for the best video quality on the Nikon Z6?

For 4K, you need to shoot externally in 10-bit 4:2:2. The internal data rate of 144 Mbps is too low for any color grading work. For straight to YouTube though, internal recording is fine. Then stick to 144 Mbps in 4K.

For 1080p, you can record internally, though I highly recommend always shooting in 100/120 fps.

11 What about HDR?

There is no HDR mode in-camera.

12 Is the Single Card a Problem?

The Nikon Z6 (Amazon, B&H) only has one XQD card slot. For ages people had only one roll of film in the can, and only one card slot. It’s great to have two cards, but XQD has proven to be a reliable media card, so I wouldn’t be worried.

And further more, your card can fail, but so can the camera, and so can you.

That’s it for now. To pre-order or purchase the Nikon Z6 please use these links – (Amazon, B&H).

Exclusive Bonus: Download my camera settings and 7 cinematic custom picture controls for the Nikon Z6. Setup your camera for cinematography, ready to shoot.

And, get my free guide to exposing and grading N-Log - delivered to your inbox!

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6 Comments

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    1. Yes, all the things you mention are valid and important. Nikon has gone out of their way to ensure you can’t enjoy shooting video without an external recorder/monitor. My review’s coming up next week.

  1. I’m shooting video at the moment with Nikon dslrs. We shoot live music videos and are creating shows for local tv.
    We were thinking the BMPCC 4K Cameras we’re going to be out next step forward. We need longish run times and better codecs than we have now . We also were looking into the Nikon Z6 Cameras because we have Nikon glass. From this review for me I’m still looking at the BlackMagic I believe.
    We are also wanting to do some documentaries for the local public broadcast.
    What would you suggest for us ?

    1. The BMPCC 4K was unreliable for me, and I won’t invest it in for anything important. I would say take a good look at the Canon C200.

  2. Downloaded your custom picture profiles into my Z6…Can you follow up and give a description of what and why you have constructed these profiles. I noticed you included a “comment” on the 5, 6 and 8 profiles but not on the 1,2,3 and 4 profiles. Thank!

    1. The profiles are variations I found interesting. It’s created for those who don’t want to color grade later in post. The comments were added automatically I think, I didn’t add any manually!