Nikon D6 Wildlife Photography Review

It’s finally here – my D6 wildlife photography review!

For this review, I hit the road for just over five weeks photographing wildlife in Theodore Rosevelt NP, Badlands NP, Custer SP, and a final two weeks in Yellowstone NP. During this trip, I really put the camera through its paces for action, stills, low light – you name it. Over 18K shots and counting!

This review was done entirely on the road and the truth is I’m only now heading home. It took far longer than I ever anticipated, but I think it turned out really well. It covers everything – build, ergonomics, new features, autofocus, sensor performance, frame rate, buffer, customization, recommendations and more. Enjoy!

(As always, your comments and shares are GREATLY appreciated.)

Purchase / Support

If you would like to purchase a D6, please consider using my Amazon link by clicking here. If you would like to help support these reviews, please consider a voluntary contribution.

Nikon Setting Guide PDF With AF Info:

Here is the link to the Nikon Sports Shooters PDF mentioned in the video:

http://download.nikonimglib.com/archive4/HO19s00V55zT04ey5p752U0XhT31/D6_TG_AF_(En)01.pdf

FAQs

Q:
How does the D6 AF compare to the Sony a9ii AF?

A:
From what I can tell, they are neck and neck. The trick is, in some circumstances, the D6 is a bit better, in others, I prefer the a9ii.

For example, when photographing black bears, the Sony struggles sometimes with the dark eyes and does a bit more hunting than I like – however, the D6 usually latches right on.

On the other hand, Sony’s tracking is far better than what the D6 offers (3D). Only the fastest of subjects get away from that a9ii! I caught swallows taking off with the a9ii’s flexible spot tracking that were total misses with Nikon’s 3D and Auto AF (the D6 lost the lock instantly).

There are also differences with the AF areas. In some cases, the D6 AF areas are better suited for a subject, in others, I prefer the Sony. I also like that the D6 single point AF area are relatively smaller in the viewfinder than the Sony single point area.

The truth is, both are outstanding and in 98% of the situations, I can get the shot with either AF system.

GPS Battery Drain

Still on the road – I’ll post it when I can.

ISO Tests

Below you’ll find the ISO comparisons mentioned in the video. Click them for a larger view (they’ll open in a new page) and you may need to click a second time to see them at full size. Also, I’ve included B&W versions as well since it’s easier to evaluate luminance noise in B&W.

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12,800

ISO 25,600

ISO 51,200

ISO 102,400

Sample Photos

Below is a selection of sample photos from the review. The truth is, this is only a fraction of what I captured; however, there’s only so much time in the day for post-processing. If I were to try and get everything I photographed (and liked) processed, you wouldn’t see this review until late fall, LOL!

Also, whenever someone posts a review with photos, invariably someone always comments with something along the lines of, “Gee, I could have taken that shot with my [fill in the blank] camera!”

And it’s 100% true.

However, it also sort of misses the point of owning a fast, high-end camera.

The truth is that, had you been standing next to me using the same kind of lens, the same exposure, had locked focus, and shot at the exact same moment as I did, then yes, you would get the same shot. You technically don’t need a D6 to get ANY single image shown below – you could, in theory, capture them with any camera.

The bigger question is – could you have reliably captured them ALL?

That’s where cameras like the D6 come into their own. It’s not so much that they captured a single great shot, it’s that they make it easier to consistently capture great moments whenever they materialize in the viewfinder. Their AF speed, frame rate, enormous buffer, and overall performance can help a skilled photographer (or even me) capture a higher percentage of keepers than other cameras. It’s really that simple.

I know I could have captured most of these with my D850 – but I’m willing to admit there are at least a few in there that I likely would have missed too. Especially when the light gets low 🙂

At any rate, here are a few select images from the review. Give ’em a click to enlarge.

We were lucky enough to spot this eagle on a small pond on the borders of Lamar Valley in YNP. Just prior to this shot he was perched on another rock. However, as I watched the cell-phone photographers close in on him I knew I was about to capture a flight shot. Luckily, he landed on a relatively nearby rock. The 14FPS frame rate, huge buffer (he was flying quite a bit before this shot) and 7×7 Group AF area all proved invaluable for this one! D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, 1/3200, F/5.6, ISO 5000.
This elk calf was minding her own business when a bird decided to perch on her back. I’d witnessed this before and knew the calves didn’t like it, so I swung the camera around, focused, and started shooting just as the bird took off. I love her expression on this one. D6, 180-400 @ 550mm, 1/1000th, ISO 1100
I love photographing wild horses in Theodore Rosevelt NP and we were fortunate enough to run across a small, cooperative group in really great light on our last evening. I was super happy to get the adult and foal together as they looked towards the camera. D6, 180-400 @ 220mm, 1/500th, F/5.6, ISO 2200.
If you watched the video, you know what happened here LOL! D6, 1/500th, F/5.6, ISO 400
I have an entire “How I Got The Shot” blog post about this one – click here
D6, 180-400 @ 400mm, 1/2500th, F/4.5, ISO 3200
This Red-Tail Hawk was perched happily on this rock and we were able to get a few nice portraits of him. Not surprisingly, a couple of tourists spotted us in the field and decided they needed to get closer – and we prepared for the inevitable flight shot. As I mention in the video, the D6 seems noticeably better than the D5 (or any other Nikon I’ve used) at nailing these takeoff shots – even with a TC attached! D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, F/5.6, 1/4000, ISO 1400
We called him the Marmot Super-Model. I loved the little pose he gave us here. This is one of those times any camera would do – however – it’s good to have a camera that can handle both the easy and the tough stuff. After all, sometimes the easy stuff can turn into tuff stuff in the blink of an eye! D6, 600mm F/4, + 1.4TC, 1/1000, F/5.6, ISO 220
Believe it or not, a high frame rate can sometimes help with relatively simple shots. I have several of this pose, but I liked the tail and mane position of this one the best. D6, 70-200 @ 140mm, 1/500th, F/5.6, ISO 450
This is another one that’s included in the “How I Got The Shot” blog post I mentioned before. Check it out for details. D6, 180-400 @ 370mm, 1/1600th, F/4, ISO 5600.
These little tree swallows are tough subjects – it’s challenging just to keep them in the viewfinder with long glass hanging off the front. Still, overall I was fairly happy with the keeper rate from the D6 with these fast-moving birds. D6, 600mm, 1/4000th, F/4, ISO 10,000
I normally only shoot elk in the fall, but we were lucky enough to spend a couple of mornings with these velvety bulls. It’s weird to see them being nice to each other – I should try them in July more often 🙂 D6, 600mm F/4, 1/1000th, F/5.6, ISO 5600
We were lucky enough to encounter a large group of magpies in a Yellowstone meadow (I think there were nests in the vicinity). I waited forever for this one to take off, but I do like the result. I think this is one place where DSLRs have the edge over mirrorless – I’ve found that looking through EVFs for long periods isn’t as pleasant as an optical viewfinder – and can really take a toll on batteries. D6, 600mm + 1.4TC, F/7.1, 1/4000, ISO 1000.
Say what you like about using nearly $20K in gear to photograph chipmunks, but I still love his goofy pose! D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, 1/1250, F/5.6, ISO 180.
I hate to admit it, but until this trip I didn’t know yellow-headed blackbirds even existed. Once I spotted the first specimen, I knew I needed a flight shot. We spent a couple of early evenings at this little pond photographing them as they flew over the vegetation. I even got this one to look at me as I fired away 🙂 D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, 1/4000th, F/8, ISO 2200
Remember that yellow-headed blackbird from the last pic? They were hunting these! Now and then one would get close enough for a pic and I could usually talk Group AF into locking on. As a Star Wars fan, I like that he was going full X-Wing :).
D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, 1/4000th, F/8, ISO 2200
This bison seemed to enjoy the flowers at sunset. No real trick for the D6 or any camera, but not every shot is an action shot. D6, 600mm F/4, 1/640th, F/5.6, ISO 4000.
I know, this one is a little different. The light was a bit hard and high so I maneuvered for a bright sky background and allowed it to mostly blow out. In Lightroom, I finished the job so it was pure white. I like the graphic feel to the image. Naturally, the D6 covered it with minimal effort. D6, 180-400 @500mm, 1/4000th, F/5.6, ISO 800. (Not sure why I didn’t drop the shutter speed a bit – oh well…)
Early in our trip we were lucky enough to find a red naped sapsucker nest. Luckily, they didn’t care about us hanging around one bit and were constantly going back and forth feeding the crying babies. This was also a really high ISO shot – 20,000 (I needed speed and DoF). Some careful noise reduction cleaned it right up. D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, 1/5000th, F/8, ISO 20,000.
We also had a few nice mountain goat encounters as well. I really liked the way the D6 rendered the colors on this one. I also used Recall Shooting with this image since I had the camera’s normal shooting mode set for more action-oriented opportunities. D6, 180-400 @ 400mm, 1/800th, F/4, ISO 250.
Birds flying right at the camera are always tricky for any AF system, but the D6 with the 5×5 Group area did just fine. D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, F/5.6, 1/4000th, ISO 1250
Here’s an example of where I would have preferred the D850 and its flip screen. I love shooting low to the ground, but the lack of a flip screen on the D6 makes it tough. Still, I manage somehow 🙂 I really liked the purple-ish grass mixed in this shot. D6, 600mm F/4 + 1.4TC, 1/1600th, F/5.6, ISO 1100
The 14 FPS offered by the D6 actually helped here. The grass was blowing in front of this little lamb’s face, so I took a longer burst in hopes of catching a few clear shots – and thankfully I did. D6, 500PF, F/5.6, ISO 3200 (recall shooting again – it let me go from action shots to portraits without missing a beat).

PS – If you enjoyed this post, I think you’ll REALLY like my e-books and video workshops! Thousands of pages and hours of videos filled with tips, tricks, and techniques – all my best content! Check ’em out – click here (hey, it’s free to look).

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This entry was posted in Nikon Gear, Reviews, Tests, Using Your Gear, Wildlife.

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Ehud
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Hi Steve,
Thanks for a great video, quite helpful. I used your idea of using the video record bottom for AF-area mode selection. I switch the control to the main command dial since I rather use it (f6, autofocus setting ON), and set the a15, Autofocus mode restriction to disable AFS to avoid switching to it by mistake (from painful experience:)
Thanks again!

Ehud

Bipul
Guest
Bipul

Hi Steve, Thank you for the detail field review. I find the photos are unusable when shot above ISO 6400, the noise are too much even for noise reduction software to fix. Do you think the hypes of high ISO justified? There is also another surprising thing on ISO. I took my D850 and D6 for Milkyway photography. I used ISO 3200 on both camera, but D850 was at 24mm f/2.8 whereas D6 was at 14mm f/2.8. While D850 gave a perfect exposure of the sky for 25 sec, I was not able to use more than 15 sec in… Read more »

Peanut chu
Guest

Hi Steve,
I just wanted to run this by you and if you have suggestions to go about getting a fix for it. It seems like firmware, but who knows. When I shoot D6 with 800mm 5.6 wide open which includes using 1.25x everything works fine, but when not wide open, the fps decreases significantly. This happens with both VR on and off. I am not having issue with 600f4. I have logged issue with Nikon and I am waiting for response. Besides this issue, I really have been enjoying using the D6. Thank you for your insight.

Frank
Guest

Hi Steve, great review! I’m using D850, D500, Z7 – decided to replace my D500 with the Z6… Not a good idea! AF isn’t really exiting using the FTZ-adapter with my 500/5.6, so – after following your reviews about Z-series and D6 decided a few days ago to buy a used D5 (24t shots) replacing the “new” Z6 (wildlife). First time i know what “AF” really means :-))). Next step: Selling the D850 for a D6 :-)). Have a great time!

Hervé
Guest

D6 better than D5
D5 better than D4
D4 better than D3
D3 better than D2
D2 better than D1
But nothing is better than Steve’s techniques nor Steve’s pictures quality 😉

Vincent
Guest
Vincent

Great review. One correction though, you said you can no longer assign metering modes to the custom functions. I was also afraid this would be a dealbreaker for me however, while you canindeed no longer do this the same way as with the D5, using the updated recall shooting function with only the metering mode selected (and the correct one chosen) you can however still assign metering modes this way.

David Linn
Guest
David Linn

Hi Steve, great video. I have been using my D6 for about 2 weeks and just finding my way around it. Your video was terrific and gave me lots of new settings to try. I have one question, I have noticed that the multi-selector button on my D6 seems to have more movement or “play” than the button on my D850. I then noticed at 33:53 – 33:56 of the video, yours looks to have the same amount of movement. Have you noticed a difference or am I imagining things?

Bruce
Guest
Bruce

Great review and important to have real world use to compare performance. What struck me was the lack of improvement in AF cross sensor sensitivity with the D6. Evidently the technology is lagging behind other electronic enhancements. I need the TC-14 to get the image size with the D6 that I get without the teleconverter with the same lens on the D850, but with the teleconverter on a D6 one loses the autofocus gain potential of this camera. Oddly the sensitivity of the cross AF cross sensors is better on the D850 than the D5 and D6. At f/8 the… Read more »

Venkatesh VT
Guest
Venkatesh VT

Great review again Steve & thanks for the same.I mainly do birds with my d850 & D 500 with 500 pf.I was waiting eagerly for this review & the question that i have is whether i should go for a D6 or a 500 mm F4 (money is not the consideration) for low light bird photography

Marcus
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Marcus

Had been eagerly anticipating this, like many others, when I watched yesterday and have rewatched a number of segments. Your qualified or guarded enthusiasm for the D6 speaks volumes, as does imploring everyone to make their own informed decisions. Perhaps the strongest endorsement for me comes at approx. 42:10 when you say “the D5 and D6 are better suited to photographers who lean more to fast action scenarios and frequently shoot in low light…since I tend to resemble that remark…”. I have no illusions that a D6 would make me a better photographer (your books and tutorials have, though) but… Read more »

Dave Newman (UK)
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Dave Newman (UK)

better than the D500 and D850??

Dale Keith
Guest
Dale Keith

Steve, Your review of the D6 was well done and to the point on features and menus. As a D5 user I was curious about the D6. I appreciate your professional review and you have piqued my interest in the D6. The price tag of the D6 even with an offset of selling/trading my D5 is still considerable. For the time being I will be keeping my D5 as it really suits all my shooting needs and I do have a D850 as my second body. Again, your review was just the type on information I needed to make an… Read more »

Giles
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Giles

Steve

Not in the market for a D6 which is too much camera for me to be honest but always watch your videos and have several e-books, the main draw for me is your wonderful photographs and these are exceptional !

Harry Oehlers
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Harry Oehlers

Steve,
Looking at the comparison in ISO performance between the D5 and D6, it seems to me that the D6 is not as good which is disappointing to me. If this is true, how would you rate these two cameras against each other on other specs and performance? Thanks.

Raphael Kopan
Guest
Raphael Kopan

Steve, a very timely review as I am agonizing over what to choose to upgrade my beloved D500s. Excellent job as always and very insightful discussion. Thanks again for all the hard work… Given the shrinking market share, the reduced market size, and the competition from Sony (which as a chip maker is in better position) do you see a D7 ever? And, if the 850 is the best general wild life camera, how much better is it than the D500 when it comes to low light? I really do not see the point of full frame if many of… Read more »

Ziggy
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Ziggy

My Sony A9 mark 1 and A7R III regularly fail to AF on a small bird in medium ground and others have the same experience. The D500 reliably locks on by contrast. Do you find problems with the A9 II?

ERIC BOWLES
Guest

Terrific review of the D6. As always, not only do you talk about what the setting is, but you put it into real use in the field. Your discussion of the AF system and customization alone is worth watching the entire video.

The D6 has lots of potential customizations. Great job with the review and all the examples.

Bob Werntz
Guest
Bob Werntz

Thanks for the great field review. User impressions supported by the how’s and why’s are far more telling than just a spec sheet.

Randall Ortega
Guest

Greetings from Costa Rica. I watched twice not to miss a thing. Superb and comprehensive explanation of field work. One question regarding the teleconverter. Do they deliver soft focus on a D6 or you did not notice the difference with or without it?

Scott
Guest
Scott

I have the greatest respect for Steve Perry and continue to believe he is the best photography expert anywhere. Certainly the D6 is a technical tour de force. Now, the rest of us should just get back to making great wildlife (and other subjects) with our quite adequate, existing equipment. It’s a breathtaking review, but is more about Steve’s fascination with technical aspects of an expensive camera.

Bob
Guest
Bob

Awesome shots. How do you manage to always get the perfect exposure?

Alan
Guest
Alan

Steve, Great review and beautiful images. I always enjoy your informative and easy to follow reviews.
It looks like you had a wonderful trip to the parks. Nice to hear your +1 for the future of Pro DSLR’s.

Justin Carter
Guest
Justin Carter

Steve,
That swallow picture at 10,000 ISO just blows my mind. My little D7500 has ISO envy.