Thoughts on the Nikon Z6 II for Wildlife Photography

Photography Gear

I’ve had the Nikon Z6 II in my possession for the past three weeks and have been able to put the camera to use photographing birds, and I’d like to share my thoughts on the experience.

Let me start by saying I am fully aware that three weeks isn’t necessarily long enough to get to know this new camera fully. I also understand there are some settings that I can likely change to improve some of the behaviors that I found to be less than ideal.

The goal of the 42-minute video review above is to share my experience with the camera, doing my best to treat it just like my previous camera of 6 years, the Nikon D4s. I did my best to set up the Z6 II for my style of shooting and took it out to put it through its paces. I can easily say in many areas I found the camera to exceed my expectations with the areas of struggle being mostly what I anticipated.

I’ve been lucky enough to have many close encounters with these Hooded Mergansers over the many years I’ve been working with them but this one was pretty special. The light was just right and softly glowing from behind the drake as he swam in front of me for at least a full minute, which is a lot in my experience. At this particular pond they are always on the move and the only time they slow down and relax seems to be when they tuck in under the brush along the shoreline. Every previous year my setup has always been in a location that was either shaded or provided front light once the sun got high enough. This year I decided to change things up and set up in an area that would give me a lot of back-lit opportunities and it has paid off nicely. I hope you enjoy this portrait of an incredibly striking duck.

My overall conclusion is, when used similarly as I used my DSLR, this camera does a great job at bird photography and is a camera I can highly recommend to many bird and wildlife photographers. For mostly static portraits and light action the camera excels!

These types of bird photos make up a high percentage of what I shoot. The new benefits that come with a mirrorless camera such as seeing your exposure in the viewfinder as well as being able to use the flip-out LCD in circumstances like laying prone, I do this a lot, are a nice little bonus. The standout feature for me was the silent shutter. Now that I have gotten used to that I don’t ever want to hear my shutter again!

I was at my local pond attempting to photograph Hooded Mergansers who were incredibly uncooperative on this morning. It didn’t matter however when this single Wood Duck hen showed up and swam to where I was set up in my hide along the shoreline. The mood on this particular morning was spectacular with some low hanging mist on the calm water and the sun just starting to break through. This corner of the pond was mostly in shade still but a small area was getting the early morning sun and this lovely lady kindly swam right into it and turned into the light for me. How nice of her! I turned the image a touch more blue and warmed up the sunlight on her in post to exaggerate the natural color difference in the photo and this is the result.

Where the camera still seems to struggle is with the fastest of action. I have managed to get some wonderful photos of birds in flight but I have also struggled to track some birds in flight in circumstances where I haven’t in the past with a DSLR.

While the frame rate can be set to 14 fps, in the circumstances when I would normally want that high of a frame rate the way the camera performs with the slideshow-effect images in the viewfinder make it near impossible to track the action. Subject tracking works wonderfully at times but the inconsistency causes me to shy away from ever fully relying on it.

Animal eye-AF is only geared towards domestic animals, but I had a small sliver of hope it might pick up on the occasional bird eye if it was close and in great light, it did not. Of course, some of these things may be addressed with future firmware updates and I hope they are but this is where the camera is right now.

It’s tough to beat the beauty of a nice natural grassland at sunset or just after the sun dips below the horizon. For this shot, it was just after sunset and the colors in the sky were gorgeous on a cold autumn evening. I saw the pink tones showing a bit further up in the sky and so composed this shot vertically in-camera as I tracked one of these harriers as it flew low over the grasslands. Suddenly another bird showed up and I caught both of them on the same focal plane which was a nice bonus to get a pair of Northern Harriers over such beautiful habitat and with those colors in the sky.

It was completely quiet other than the occasional traffic driving by on this calm cold morning at my local pond. As always about 30 minutes before sunrise a small group of Hooded Mergansers dropped into the pond well before there was enough light to take any photos. As the morning started to brighten a soft orange glow was cast over the pond as the low-hanging mist slowly moved over the surface. Silently this Hooded Merganser drake glides across the surface keeping up with a female nearby. I tracked the bird across the pond and got this photo with his hood standing all the way up. It was the softest of backlight glow but it was enough to illuminate the white feathers of the hood where they are thin near the edge. It was such a great way to start the morning.

For me, it is still going to likely become my main camera and in the scenarios when I don’t feel that this camera might keep up, I’ll bust out my trusty D4s.

As I mention in the video, if you think you might like this camera for your wildlife photography, I highly recommend you rent one and see if it’s a good fit for you. Everyone has a unique style of shooting, as well as approach and goals for their wildlife photography.

A camera can be an ideal fit for one photographer and not at all for another. Cameras are such a personal choice, and while it’s smart to take other photographer’s opinions into account, it’s best not to rely on those opinions and try it yourself to see if it’s a great fit for what and how you like to photograph wildlife.

About the author: Ray Hennessy is a full-time wildlife photographer based in New Jersey who specializes in bird photography. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Hennessy offers workshops and mentorships and is also available for assignments. You can find more of Hennessy’s work on his website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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