November 16, 2020 ᛫ 4 min read

Nikon D6 field test – is it good enough to surpass D5?

The short answer is YES, but not everyone will notice that.


Hi Needers! Are you thinking of buying a Nikon D6? Are you ready to spend money on it? Been there, done that. This short review, based on my experience, was done using my privately owned Nikon D6. I’m not a press photographer, just a professional amateur who likes bird photography. As you may have guessed, I am dealing with low light scenes, fast-paced actions and difficult on-site conditions. Rugged camera design, usable high ISO-sensitivity, fast autofocus and perfect ergonomic - they all add up to my idea of perfect camera.

New vs Old

Let there be no doubt about the new Nikon camera. In comparison to Nikon D5, the progression may seem as stagnation. As I own Nikon D5, I preferred to avoid a snap decision, but at the same time, I was curious how new Nikon D6 performs. And it performs well! Most of the technical specs are shared between D5 and D6, but some parameters look worse. When it comes to autofocus, don’t overlook numbers. D6 have slightly less AF points (105) in contrast to 190 points in D5. At the same time, some features shine, such as a wider image area is covered with all cross-point AF system in D6. Regarding the numbers, the good question here is if we want to crop images in postprocessing or take perfectly cropped photos. The former is usually done to enlarge our object of interest and show our laziness, the latter speaks well of the photographer which is aware of his equipment. In the world, where we are bombarded by high resolutions sensors, Nikon D6 20 megapixels may appear as a low-resolution one. That’s why from Nikon naming convention, the D5s name comes to my mind - not D6. Based on the technical specifications and high price tag, it is really difficult to find any justification to drop D5 in favour of D6. Such a blissful ignorance. D6 is a great camera and if you already have been pushing your current camera to the limits you definitely should pull the trigger on a purchase and upgrade your gear!

Field test

My first experience with D6 was during photographing pygmy owl. These beasts have a length of 16 to 18 cm, and to make it harder, they prefer darker forests. Sounds like the perfect combo for an exhaustive test of Nikon D6 with attached Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens. It was 21st of August, 9 PM, a magical golden hour before sunset. I waited patiently for 40 minutes, and it was worth it! Pygmy Owl flew by my head, with a hunted mouse. I didn’t waste this opportunity and pressed the shutter-release button. Exif settings were as follows: aperture f5.6, shutter speed 1/400s, sensitivity ISO14400. I believe that if I use D5, photos from this photo expedition can be easily thrown away. But after looking on my D6 screen I thought so far so good and continued shooting. 105 cross-type sensor points tracked this little animal seamlessly, but I knew that everything will turn up at home. What I like about D6 ergonomic is that it is consistent with previous models – same good old Nikon layout.

Let the dust settle

When everything was over, I returned home and started to verify each photo. I was pleasantly surprised by its quality. As I mentioned, some pictures were taken starting with ISO as high as 14400 and ended up with 40000 sensitivity. Still, the image quality was acceptable. All the details, like a hunted mouse, are precisely registered. For those of you unfamiliar in bird photography – the sharp bird’s eye is a key to a clear image. No surprise there - the owl’s eye was razor-sharp on every photo.

My score

Nikon D6 might not be the tech spec king compared to the high-resolution bodies, but from a usability point of view for the consumer, it is hard to beat. Low light conditions and fast-moving objects are ideal environments for Nikon D6. Autofocus is robust, quick and accurate. The D6 has less AF points than D5, but wider focus coverage and all cross-point AF system done the job well. But my biggest surprise was related to the ISO sensitivity, which overperformed the one which we know from D5 sensor. Don’t forget to check out our sample gallery below, download hi-resolution images and form your own opinion.