Now that Nikon has formally announced the Nikon Z9, let’s take a look at how its specifications stack up against those of the Nikon D6, the previous flagship camera in Nikon’s lineup.
Looking at these specifications, it’s clear that both the Nikon D6 and Nikon Z9 are very high-end cameras for sports and wildlife photography. But there’s no denying that the Z9 has more advanced features of the two. It shoots more frames per second than the D6 (20 vs 16) yet has over twice as much resolution – without sacrificing on buffer depth. That’s a huge leap in technology.
Not to mention video, where it’s hardly a contest. The Z9 is one of the most advanced mirrorless cameras on the market for video shooters, while the D6 was already a bit behind on video specs at the time of its release in late 2019. Even if you don’t need 8K for your work, the ability to shoot slow-motion 120p 4K video – plus record 10-bit N-log video internally – are far above the D6’s specs.
There are plenty of smaller areas where the Z9 is ahead, too, such as its multi-axis tilting rear LCD and smaller, lighter form factor. Meanwhile, the D6 is only substantially ahead in its battery life. The Z9’s battery life is very good for a mirrorless camera, but (at least if you’re shooting through the viewfinder) the D6’s is clearly better. That’s as expected in any DSLR vs mirrorless comparison, though.
The one question remaining is the autofocus system, where the D6 is famously excellent and the Z9 is largely untested. But the Z9 does show a lot of promise in this area. Nikon has been steadily improving their mirrorless autofocus over the years, and they claim the Z9 has their best AF performance yet.
Take a look at the Z9’s focus tracking shown by Nikon in this (admittedly overpositive and dramatic) advertisement:
If the real-world performance is anything like that, the Z9 will have no trouble competing with the D6 in focus performance and may be an improvement over it.
Overall, the Z9’s features exceed those of the D6, as expected for a high-end mirrorless camera released more than two years after the DSLR. The magnitude of improvement is impressive, though – certainly a bigger jump than from the Nikon D5 to Nikon D6 – and should be encouraging to anyone who has high hopes for Nikon’s next steps in mirrorless.
My recommendation is to get the Z9, not the D6.
Usually in my comparison articles, I equivocate a bit and talk about how both options are good cameras – and while that’s true in this case too, the Z9 is the way to go if you’re buying one of these cameras new today. It’s $1000 less expensive, it has better features, and mirrorless is clearly Nikon’s future.
Photographers with an extensive set of F-mount supertelephoto lenses may cry foul at those sorts of statements, but even then, I’d recommend the Z9 over the D6.
Supertelephotos are some of the lenses that work the best with the Nikon FTZ adapter, even for fast autofocus tracking. And you can always sell them to fund the upcoming Z 400mm f/2.8 if you prefer to eschew the adapter.
What about if you already have the D6, or a slightly earlier model like the Nikon D5? Is it worth selling it to switch to the Z9?
My answer is still yes. If you’re the type of photographer who’s currently using a D6, you’ve already made the decision to pay extra to be at the peak of today’s camera technology, probably because it’s important for your business. You’ll lose some money when you sell the D6, but the Z9’s benefits are worth paying for. You’ll very likely come out ahead in the end.
I should, however, mention that it may still be worth getting the D6 if you’re buying used and find a great price. The issue is, at the time that I’m publishing this article, the D6 is selling used for more than $5000, at which point the Z9 simply makes more sense. Used prices may drop on the D6 now that the Z9 is announced, but at least for now, the winner is clear.
Finally, my recommendation for sports and wildlife photographers on a tight budget is to get an older generation workhorse like the Nikon D4 or D4s, which sell for excellent prices used (as in, under $1500). But photographers who aren’t on a budget – and therefore are considering the D6 vs Z9 in the first place – have an easy answer. Unless you’re opposed to mirrorless cameras no matter what (at which point, good luck, because nearly the whole camera market is going to be mirrorless before long) the Z9 is superior to the D6.
You can purchase either camera through the links below: