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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon Z6 - ISO25,600 an HONEST look

All recent cameras (whether DSLR or Mirrorless , whether Crop or Full Frame sensors) promises excellent image quality at ISOs that were previously unheard of.

The new Nikon Z6 , Nikon's latest 24MP mirrorless camera is no different and has an extremely high native ISO range that reaches ISO51,200 (which is higher than that of the 45MP Z7).

Impressive paper specifications are one thing but are these extreme high ISOs even usable ?

Well, I took the Z6 for a spin at the Singapore Zoo. I wanted to seriously test how the Z6's RAW file would perform at the extreme high ISO range. To test this , I specially chose the following:

- a subject that was dark in general , which would show up noise & grain better

- a subject that had lots of textures & fine details to easily show adverse effects if any

ISO25,600 subject of the day - the Female White-Faced SAKI monkey




RAW (32.3MB file size) UNEDITED Image at ISO25,600

At normal magnification , the above UNEDITED image does not look that bad at all with very nice fine details overall. The following screenshots show a totally different story when we zoom into the shadow areas at extreme high magnification.

400% magnification screenshot of different shadow areas

Now we can see CLEARLY , the massive amount of chroma noise (multi-colored noise) the worse kind of noise that we want to avoid in our digital images. As you scroll through & study the images in more detail , you will see that grain is not the main issue at all.

Some of you will be going OMG by now, look at those crazy colored patches. Honestly these artifacts ARE absolutely NORMAL and show up easily in the darkest shadow areas (which is why I chose this subject) because of the 400x magnification !!

it is NOT a Z6 only issue , it happens in the Z7 too and yes the mighty Nikon D850 or even the D5 too but the REAL test on the ISO25,600 digital file are:

1. how these multi-colored artifacts AFFECT the fine details captured

2. how the fine details are impacted after a noise reduction process

My honest (trust me here , I have pixel peeped enough through my years of capturing extreme high ISO images in low light) take of the Z6's ISO25,600 file at 400x magnification are as follows:

- I am surprised at how the fine details & textures have been retained

- the fur details still looks pretty fine (not jagged / or broken)

- the fur strands still have pretty good separation & are still relatively crisp

- no sign of "mushyness" impacting the details that I would be worried about at this high ISO

400% magnification screenshots after a single noise reduction pass

I am going to show the BEFORE and the AFTER a single noise reduction pass with my reference noise reduction filter from NEAT IMAGE.


After Noise Reduction during post production


After Noise Reduction during post production

200% magnification screenshots after a single noise reduction pass

I am going to show the BEFORE and the AFTER a single noise reduction pass with my reference noise reduction filter from NEAT IMAGE.

This time at a lower magnification so that you can appreciate the fine details that are still retained after the noise reduction process.

Before - the multi colored noise easily visible

After - multi colored noise eliminated with almost NO impact to details at ISO25,600


Hopefully after going through the above you have now a good idea & better understanding in determining if an extreme high ISO image is "fit for use".

The Z6's RAW file at ISO25,600 honestly is VERY IMPRESSIVE in it's details retention and as you have seen above with a good noise reduction workflow , grain & chroma noise can be reduced or eliminated with little impact to the precious details captured, in other words - More than fit for use !

The performance above was UNTHINKABLE a few years back , hopefully it gives you the confidence to capture moments with such extreme high iSOs when the need calls for it.

Would I be using ISO25,600 that often ? The answer is ONLY when I need to and this little test also gives me absolute confidence & no hesitation at all in using the slightly lower extreme ISOs between 6400 to 12,800 which would definitely be more common in terms of usage especially for wildlife photography.

So my advise is to go back and relook at your RAW file post-production process and if you do not have one now , go acquire a good noise reduction process which together with the current crop of advanced sensor technologies (like those available in the D5, D850, Z6, Z7) will open up new avenues in your photography journey in capturing moments in ways that were not possible before.

For me the Z6 is definitely up there with the best mirrorless & DSLRs in the market right now. The Z6 complements my Nikon D850 perfectly !

More Z6 Blogs coming soon !

Till Then , wishing everyone a Merry Xmas , Happy Holidays AND a Happy New Year !!

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