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Nikon’s Z6III Is Fast, But With A Very Specific Performance Cost

Nikon’s newly released Z6 III offers a whole host of powerful features, among them being an extremely fast sensor readout. This has a cost it seems.

Testing of the Z6 III published to the website Photons to Photos by researcher Bill Claff has demonstrated that the new camera’s dynamic range is notably weaker than what the previous generation of 24MP sensors delivers.

The overall research findings by Claff and his analysis at the Photons to Photos site go into very elaborate detail.

However, in summary, the new partially stacked sensor technology found in the Nikon Z6 partly delivers a lower maximum dynamic range than what the camera’s predecessor the Z6 II can deliver.

In the case of the new Z6 III, the maximum dynamic range was found to be 10.4EV, while the dynamic range maximum of the Z6 II is about 11.3EV.

While this difference doesn’t seem enormous, it’s large enough to make a modestly notable impact on noise in images, and that’s surprising given the otherwise superior specs of the newer camera, the Z6 III. There is however a caveat to this difference in DR, and I’ll get to it shortly.

First, it’s worth noting that dynamic range doesn’t necessarily correlate directly to better or worse image quality.

Two cameras can have equal or even slightly different dynamic range levels while one still delivers better tonal quality, especially in brighter parts of an image.

With that said, the Z6 III does seem to create noisier shadowy and dark areas than its predecessor (and presumably, certain other similarly priced cameras on the market.)

The tradeoff here is that this is a notably faster camera than the Z6 II or many others in the same price range, and it offers a much improved rolling shutter for photos and video, and e-shutter for still shots in particular.

Nikon designed the Z6 III as a relatively affordable model that nonetheless partially delivers the benefits of stacked sensor design through its “partially-stacked” sensor.

Normally, stacked sensors, among Nikon cameras and those of other brands, are found only in high-priced, premium camera models.

With the Z6 III, many of the fast sensor readout benefits of a fully stacked sensor are available to users of the camera and could be especially useful in high-speed shooting scenarios.

This modest reduction in DR that has been noted by Photons to Photos may not even be very important or visually relevant to most photographers using the new camera, but it’s worth describing in a bit of detail.

Nikon itself, in response to an inquiry by the website PetaPixel about Claff’s testing, explained that feedback among users for the image quality of the Z6 III has been excellent.

The company also noted that the Z6 III’s EXPEED 7 processor delivers better image quality than what’s possible in the Z6 II with its EXPEED 6 chipset.

However, the company made no comments about the dynamic range testing revealed by Claff on his website.

The caveat of the test results for the Z6 III vs. the Z6 III is that the gap in the dynamic range fades to near zero at higher ISO levels.

As the key interactive graph from Photons to Photos shows, a difference of 0.82EV between the Z6 II’s 11.26EV and the Z6 III’s 10.44EV is very notable at ISO ratings of between 50 and just under 200. After that, it very slightly shrinks until closing off almost entirely at an ISO of 800 or more.

A line graph comparing the photographic dynamic range versus ISO settings for the Nikon Z 6II and Nikon Z 7II cameras. The Z 6II line is in blue, and the Z 7II line is in grey.

In other words, users doing night and low-light photography with the Z6 III at higher ISO settings likely won’t even notice the dynamic range issue at all. Then of course there’s the above-mentioned EXPEED 7 chip in the newer camera, which provides superior image processing to compensate for any defects.

Essentially, the Z6 III’s lower DR level is modest and unlikely to cause any serious image quality issues for a majority of users.

It could almost be described as irrelevant, except that it is noteworthy in the context of the Z6 III’s new sensor design and higher price.

The above aside, the Nikon Z6 III comes with a range of extremely robust technologies that make it a much more powerful performer overall than its predecessor, even if it delivers a lower dynamic range at certain ISO levels. If anything, it’s a notably excellent choice among cameras in the mid-range market for mirrorless devices.

As far as I’m concerned, if there are any specific reasons for not being interested in the Nikon Z6 III, the DR shouldn’t be one of them.

Photo credit: Nikon, Photons to Photos

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