Nikon Z6 II vs Nikon D780

Tips & Techniques

The Nikon Z6 II and Nikon D780 don’t look similar side by side. The Z6 II is a slim mirrorless camera, and the D780 – though not a huge for a DSLR – is still a DSLR. But beneath the surface, the two cameras have a lot in common.

In this article, I’m going to compare the Nikon Z6 II against the D780. We’ve tested these two cameras extensively here at Photography Life, both in the lab and in the field. So, if you’re considering either of them cameras, this article should help you figure out which one to get.

As you can see in the scale image below, the Z6 II (on the left) is smaller than the D780 (on the right):

Nikon Z6 II vs Nikon D780

It’s also lighter at 705 grams (1.55 lbs) compared to 840 grams (1.85 lbs). These differences aren’t as extreme as some mirrorless/DSLR comparisons, like the Nikon Z7 II and the Nikon D850. But if you’re looking for a travel camera, the Z6 II starts off on the right foot.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before diving into the pros and cons of each camera, let’s first take a look at their specifications.

Nikon Z6 II and D780 Specifications

Camera Feature Nikon Z6 II Nikon D780
Announced October 14, 2020 January 6, 2020
Camera Type Z-Mount Mirrorless F-Mount DSLR
Sensor Resolution 24.5 MP 24.5 MP
Low-Pass Filter Yes Yes
Sensor Type BSI CMOS BSI CMOS
In-Body Image Stabilization Yes, 5-axis No
Sensor Size 35.9 × 23.9 mm 35.9 × 23.9 mm
Image Size 6048 × 4024 6048 × 4024
Pixel Pitch 5.94 µm 5.94 µm
Native ISO Sensitivity ISO 100-51,200 ISO 100-51,200
Image Processor Dual EXPEED 6 EXPEED 6
Viewfinder Type Electronic; 3.69 million dots Optical; ∞ dots
Viewfinder Coverage 100% 100%
Viewfinder Magnification 0.80× 0.70×
Built-in Flash No No
Flash Sync Speed 1/200 1/200
Storage Media 1× CFexpress / 1× SD UHS-II 2× SD UHS-II
Max Continuous Shooting Speed 14 FPS 7 FPS mechanical shutter, 12 FPS electronic shutter in live view
Camera Buffer (12-bit Lossless Raw) 124 images 100 images
Shutter Speed Range 1/8000 to 900 seconds 1/8000 to 900 seconds
Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter Yes Yes
Exposure Metering Sensor TTL metering using camera image sensor 180,000-pixel RGB sensor
Autofocus System 273 hybrid AF points Viewfinder: 51 Phase Detection AF points, 15 cross-type

Live view: 273 hybrid AF points

Autofocus Detection Range  (f/2 Lens, ISO 100) -4.5 to +19 EV (-6 to +19 with low-light AF) -3 to +19 EV with viewfinder (-6 to +17 EV in live view with low-light AF)
Internal Video Modes 4:2:0 8-Bit 4:2:0 8-Bit
Video Maximum Resolution 4K UHD @ up to 60p, 1080p @ up to 120p 4K UHD @ up to 30p, 1080p @ up to 120p
4K Video Crop Factor 1.0× (24p and 30p), 1.5× (60p) 1.0× (24p and 30p)
HDMI Out / LOG 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI Output / Yes 4:2:2 10-bit HDMI Output / Yes
Articulating LCD Yes, tilt only Yes, tilt only
Touchscreen Yes Yes
Rear LCD Size 3.2″ Diagonal LCD 3.2″ Diagonal LCD
Rear LCD Resolution 2,100,000 dots 2,359,000 dots
Built-in GPS No No
Wi-Fi / Bluetooth Yes / Yes Yes / Yes
Battery Life (CIPA) 340 shots 2260 shots
Weather Sealed Body Yes Yes
Weight with Battery and Card 705 g (1.55 lbs) 840 g (1.85 lbs)
Dimensions (L×H×D); Depth Excludes Protruding Viewfinder 134 × 101 × 70 mm (5.3 × 4.0 × 2.8 inches) 143.5 × 115.5 × 76.0 mm (5.6 × 4.5 × 3.0 inches)
MSRP $2000 (check price) $2000 (check price)

Key Similarities and Differences

What strikes me the most is how similar these specifications are. Most of the differences are the usual pros and cons of mirrorless versus DSLR: weight, battery life, in-body image stabilization, viewfinder type, and so on. It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that the Nikon Z6 II is a “mirrorless D780,” and the D780 is a “DSLR Z6 II.”

While the Z6 II has a few more points in its column than the D780, that’s not always a sign of the better camera. For example, if you prioritize the D780’s long battery life or optical viewfinder, the advantage can start to shift toward the DSLR instead. Given how close most of these specifications are, the choice is definitely a dilemma.

Unfortunately, even if you ignore all the features above and just pay attention to image quality, the choice doesn’t get any easier. Both of these cameras use the same sensor and have indistinguishable image quality. They also cost the same (at least at the time I’m publishing this article), so you can’t just pick whichever is cheaper.

As I see it, there are two major advantages to the Nikon Z6 II and two for the Nikon D780. These are the differences that I would suggest basing your decision upon:

  1. The Nikon Z6 II has access to Nikon’s excellent lineup of native Z-Series lenses, while the Nikon D780 does not. Both cameras have access to Nikon’s huge lineup of F-mount lenses, although the Z6 II can only use them with an adapter (and doesn’t always have full compatibility).
  2. The Nikon Z6 II is smaller, lighter, and more portable than the D780. The D780 isn’t a huge camera, especially for a full-frame DSLR, but the difference isn’t subtle if you’re bringing along your camera all day.
  3. The Nikon D780’s 51-point viewfinder autofocus system is a better tracking system for fast action like sports and wildlife photography compared to the Z6 II’s hybrid PDAF system. The Nikon Z system gets more flack online than it should, and it’s certainly still possible to photograph action with the Z6 II, but the implementation is smoother on the D780. That said, the Z6 II does a great job autofocusing on people thanks to its stellar eye-tracking AF.
  4. The Nikon D780 has a much longer battery life (at least when using the optical viewfinder) for all-day shooting.

I’m not saying the other differences don’t matter, but for most photographers, those are the four things I would think about the most.

Nikon Z6 II Image Sample #16
NIKON Z6 II + AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR @ 500mm, ISO 140, 1/1000, f/5.6
Tamron-17-35mm-f2-8-4-21
NIKON D780 + 17-35mm f/2.8-4E @ 25mm, ISO 100, 1/400, f/9.0

Which Camera Should You Get?

For wildlife and event photographers, I recommend the Nikon D780 because of the autofocus system and long battery life. For travel and landscape photographers, the Z6 II is the way to go thanks to the Z-Series lenses and the more portable form factor. Even for portrait photography, I lean toward the Nikon Z6 II; its eye-tracking autofocus system is amazing for photos of people, and you get the other mirrorless benefits like weight and in-body image stabilization along the way. (The D780 also has eye-tracking AF, but it’s only in live view and not through the viewfinder.)

If you’re a long-time Nikon shooter with a large lineup of native F-mount glass, I’d say to stick with DSLRs for a bit longer. The Nikon Z6 II works reasonably well with the FTZ adapter for adapting F-mount glass, but not as well as a DSLR like the D780. (Just to name one example, the FTZ adapter can’t be attached or removed when your camera is on a typical tripod head.) You may eventually decide to switch to mirrorless, but if you have a great F-mount lineup already, there’s no need to rush.

On the other hand, first-time Nikon photographers who aren’t sure should go with the Z6 II. Nikon – like most other camera companies – is clearly putting more effort into mirrorless than DSLRs these days. I have mixed feelings about that myself, but it’s hard to deny that’s the direction they’re going. I therefore recommend starting your Nikon journey with the camera system that Nikon is prioritizing rather than phasing out, all else equal.

Naturally, the Z6 II and D780 are both fantastic cameras, and you can’t go wrong either way. I know that I say something like that every time I write one of these comparison articles, but it’s true. Practically every modern DSLR and mirrorless camera is amazing, and they’re usually priced where they should be, too. That’s doubly true in the case of the Nikon Z6 II and Nikon D780, which are as similar as a mirrorless and DSLR can be. You’ll be able to take equally amazing photos with either camera, so pick whichever one sets your heart aflutter and don’t look back.

Nikon Z6 II Image Sample #6
NIKON Z6 II + NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S @ 14mm, ISO 100, 1/10, f/11.0
Tamron-17-35mm-f2-8-4-26
NIKON D780 + 17-35mm f/2.8-4E @ 17mm, ISO 100, 1/640, f/16.0

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