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Nikon D6: everything new in the flagship DSLR sports camera

DSLRs had taken a back seat to mirrorless cameras in the past few years, with many speculating they will not be resurrected by camera makers. However, Canon has put those speculations to rest, having announced the EOS 1D X Mark III in January, after releasing an enthusiast-level EOS 90D in August last year. And that's not even going to be the last if rumors are to be believed. 

Nikon, too, has just released the D780, and quickly followed it up with its professional sport shooter. And the timing couldn't have been better. 2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the Nikon single-digit D series, which launched in 1999 with the Nikon D1. And now, we have what the company calls the "the most advanced digital SLR to date".

With the 2020 Olympic Games coming up this year, we're going to see the professional, sports-focused DSLR flagships from Canon and Nikon face off again, just like the old days. In the red corner, there's the newly released Canon 1DX Mark III. And, in the opposite corner is the Nikon D6, which has only just been announced.

The Canon shooter is pretty much a hybrid of DSLR and mirrorless tech, with some of the best features we've seen from the latest mirror-free models, like advanced autofocus, alongside traditional DSLR traits like the optical viewfinder and lengthy battery life. The Nikon competition also offers similar features, in a very different package.

Nikon D6: release date and price

Like its predecessor, the Nikon D5, and its new Canon counterpart, the D6 is not going to be cheap. It will begin shipping in April 2020 and carry a hefty price tag of $6,500 / £6,299, with Australian pricing yet to come. That puts it pretty much in same territory as its main rival, the just-released Canon 1D X Mark III, which is also vying for the camera bags of professional sports photographers.

Nikon D6: design 

Nikon was kind enough to supply a small picture of the D6 in its development announcement back in September. It was presumably a mock-up, rather than a final rendering but, even then, we knew it would resemble the D5 physically.

The chassis remains that quintessential chunky design to incorporate a big battery and accommodate the dual shooting layout for both vertical and horizontal capture.

The magnesium alloy body is completely weather-sealed, making it "as tough as the professionals who use it". 

It should come as no surprise to see Nikon keep to a very similar form factor as the D5's for the D6 – after all, expecting pros to get used to a drastically new way of working is a big task. The square shape of the D5 allows it to incorporate a battery grip for extended battery life, and we expect the D6 to blow its mirrorless rivals out of the water for longevity by doing the same thing. 

Also announced as being in development at the same time as the D6 was a new 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR telephoto lens, which looks set to be a bit of a beast – the Nikon D6 will have to be large enough to balance well with such lenses, which are popular with sports and wildlife shooters.

Nikon D6: sensor and processor

The beating heart of the Nikon D6 is the 20.8MP full-frame sensor, which is lower in resolution than the D5's although marginally higher than the 1D X Mark III's 20.1MP pixel count. Despite the lower resolution, the new sensor has been designed to deliver high quality images that can be captured at a maximum speed of 14fps when shooting with E-type lenses (those with an electromagnetically controlled diaphragm). Switch to shooting via the rear LCD display – or the silent shooting mode – and you'll get a top of 10.5fps at full resolution with autofocus tracking. 

There are also the options of shooting 30fps which will restrict image sizes to 8MP, or heading higher to 60fps to get 2MP files. This burst of speed has been made possible by a brand new Expeed 6 engine.

Nikon D6: autofocus

Nikon has revamped the autofocus system from the ground up, delivering what the company promises is a much faster, more precise AF system. Instead of the older 153-point array, the D6 now features a 105-point all cross-type system with every single point now selectable individually. Each uses what Nikon calls a "triple-sensor arrangement", although details on how this works is as yet unclear.

While the centre point can focus down to -4.5EV, the others are all good for down to -4EV. With an ISO range matching its older sibling, the D6 seems set to be the new low-light king.

Nikon D6: video features

The Nikon D5 was the first Nikon DSLR to be capable of recording high-definition 4K/UHD movies in-camera, and the D6 carries on in that tradition. However, the camera was built for stills and, like the D5, offers 4K/30p video, albeit with focus peaking and an MP4 recording option.

Nikon D6: card slots and connectivity

Dual memory card slots are pretty much a given. The Nikon D5 can be bought with either 2x XQD slots, or 2x CF slots, but Compact Flash is pretty old hat now, so Nikon has made both slots in the D6 compatible with XQD and CFExpress. This backward compatibility is perfect for those who already have a stack of XQD cards in their possession, considering how expensive CFExpress cards are.

A USB-C port is available for quick wired transfer of files, while Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are also available. However, that's never really quick enough for the pros who need to deliver images with the shortest turnaround time possible. For them, there's a 1000BASE_T Ethernet port for wired transfer which, according to Nikon, is now 15% faster than the one on the D5.

On paper, the Nikon D6 doesn't sound as quick as the Canon EOS 1D X Mark III, however we're yet to test both cameras extensively and see how they do against each other in the real world. We look forward to pitting them against each other in the arena and we'll share our thoughts with your as soon as we've done so.

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