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The Nikon Z6 for headshot photography

The mirrorless bug finally bit me. As a long time Nikon shooter, I was patiently waiting for the Z series. With a D4S and D850, I was interested to see how the Nikon Z6 could fit into my professional (and personal) workflow. As a corporate headshot photographer, I’m typically on location, in a conference room for the day or in my studio for individual sessions.

Headshots on location

For the volume corporate headshot jobs, the D4S is still my favorite tool. It will sit there all day, ready for action in a fraction of a second. I love that it doesn’t go to sleep like mirrorless cameras or my lights. It’s always on. The battery will last for days. The resolution is very manageable as my work typically ends up online or in small print brochures or magazines. In fact, more recently, I’ve had more challenges downsizing images as opposed to not having enough pixels. The only real downside of the D4S is its mass. That mass still translates to credibility among non photographers, but my back also takes notice.

I tend to shoot fast and frequent as catching changes in micro expressions are key to getting the perfect shot. The D4S has never let me down. There’s just something about handling a D4S sized body on an almost daily basis. Every function is accessible — even in the dark with back-lit buttons. All the little refinements add up with heavy use. Think of it terms of cars. If you know you’ll be driving 25,000 miles a year. Would you rather be driving an Audi A7 or a Volkswagen Jetta?

Headshots in the studio

In my new studio, I usually reach for my D850. As it’s easier to manage with a prime lens, hand held or on the tripod. I love the ugly office light killing ISO 64 range. As a regular strobe user, I wish ISO 64 was standard on all cameras.

The D850’s resolution is of course amazing. But those pixels aren’t as forgiving as the D4S. Just the other day on location, I was dragging the shutter to bring in a little more ambient light in an office and I found it tough to go much below 1/125 of a second without getting a little camera shake blur (with a 24-70mm lens). Your technique must be spot on with the D850.

Finding a place for the Z6

So far, the Z6 straddles these two environments well. It’s far lighter even compared to the D850. I carried the Z6, FTZ adapter, native 24-70mm f/4 and F-mount 85mm f/1.4 lens in a backpack and it didn’t feel any heavier (on a quarter mile walk from the car) than the D850 and 85mm lens alone.

The 24-megapixel resolution is plenty for my needs. The in-body stabilization is already coming in handy in the studio. And while it doesn’t have the eye detection yet, I found the face detection more than adequate for studio use. Normally, I’m always moving around the focus point to the eye as I recompose. But with the Z6, I just engage the AF and it finds the face every time. Certainly not the most challenging autofocus situation, but it’s exciting to think how this could change my workflow. Your best portraits will come from more interaction with the client and less chasing of focus points.

For studio sessions, I’m really loving the Z6. The form factor and portability is great for my individual headshots sessions. For larger volume jobs, I need to do some testing to see what I can expect in terms of battery life in tethered setups. Once a tethered setup is established, I try to avoid disconnecting for any reason as tethering in Lightroom isn’t 100% reliable.

The Z6 for personal use

OK, maybe for personal use like chasing my kids around, I can see the need for the eye AF. But the form factor alone is a big improvement. I’ll be more likely to simply have the camera with me. I went with the 24-70mm f/4 kit because of it’s size and utility. While I’m not a big fan of the 24-70mm range, I stick to longer primes or a 70-200mm for portrait work. I’ll probably pick up the 50mm f/1.8 too as the Nikon F-mount 50mm is showing its age.

At WPPI, I checked out the new 24-70mm f/2.8 Z mount — it’s beefy. Not as big as the F-mount version, but still big. I don’t make money with a 24-70mm as I do with a 70-200mm. So the rational choice would be to wait for the native Z-mount 70-200mm.

The Z cameras also have some newer WiFi functionality built in. It’s more versatile than the D850. I’ve played with it just a bit, but need to spend more time. You’d think offering simple WiFi connection would be easy, but it’s been more complicated than you’d think. Nikon has a released an entire manual for networking the Z6 and Z7. Unfortunately, these features seem to have missed the marketing budget.

What about video? I don’t shoot much video at all. But that’s on the 2019 resolution list. Even for BTS video, I can see this camera as a winner. Just in the last few days, I’ve been amazed at the video functionality. Stay tuned for future posts on video.

Final thoughts

I like all three of these bodies. They serve different purposes. For simplicity, I’m not crazy about having a third body in the mix with slightly different menus. In a professional context, operating the camera must be second nature. And with menu systems (even from the same manufacturer), it’s a challenge. So I’ve been thinking about giving up one of those bodies. If I had to narrow it down to two bodies in my kit, I’d probably drop the D850 for a second Z body.

Yes, that feels odd to say when the D4S is nearly five years old. But it does have its place. And its distinguishing features, I think, are for a completely different audience than the Z or D850. That’s also why I’d guess we’ll see at least one more generation (a D6) of flagship DSLR bodies.

Will you be integrating the Z cameras in your kit? If so, how? What unique challenges do these bodies solve for you?

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