Upon the arrival of the unstoppable Nikon flagship mirrorless camera, we took the liberty of sharing some notes on what we've found under its $5,499.95 body. By definition, we can agree that this is the latest and greatest camera built by Nikon.
In short, we can only compare this launch to what Nikon D3 meant to the photography world, a truly iconic landmark for the professional photographers worldwide. And according to Nikon, they are sure high end professionals will find this to be true.
Here's a brief yet sufficient mention of highlights that will make you consider the idea of at least renting this proficient tool.
The incredibly powerful Auto-focus in the Z9 is capable of detecting eyes on very distant subjects and tracking fast action from far to near. Also interesting about focusing capabilities, it features the first 3D-track in a Nikon mirrorless camera capable of tracking moving subjects in a whole new way. And there is one setting that detects 9 different subject types including animals like cats and dogs. It reaches up to 120-fps of continuous shooting to capture key moments in a scene.
The Real-Live Viewfinder brings uninterrupted contact with every motion, so expect no loss of visual image while shooting fast bursts. This is capable thanks to the dual-stream technology, which happens to be Nikon's most powerful image-processing engine EXPEED 7 processes live-view and recording data in parallel to achieve the smooth Real-Live Viewfinder.
Get High-performance video, up to 125 min. nonstop 8K UHD video in-camera recording:
- 8K UHD video for high-res detail
- Astonishingly sharp 4K UHD/30p
- Full-frame 4K UHD/120p great for impressive slow motion
It features the world's fastest scanning speed, capable of minimizing distortion and eliminating the need for mechanical shutter. And if you are well-known on the benefits of using NIKKOR optics, Nikon has also announced the new Mount Adapter FTZ II compatible with approximately 360 NIKKOR F lenses.
Alright, Let's Take a Closer Look at the Nikon Z9
And what a better way to start than the full-frame sensor, or shall we say "stacked-CMOS Sensor"? Just developed, and clearly state of the art, Nikon's Z9 features a stacked-CMOS 45.7Mp sensor worth a closer look. The pixel count quickly resonates with that found on Z7, Z7 II and even the almighty D850 DSLR. With the same pixel count, but a different and improved chip offering some serious performance.
According to Nikon, this new sensor is the world's first combination of electro-conductive and fluorine coatings, designed to prevent dust and grime from gathering on its surface. And according to the information we've been able to revise, we can expect this camera to deliver the same impressive photographic results as both Z7 Mark I & II at several ISO settings.
File-wise, the Z9 entirely delivers uncompressed raw at lossless compressed and two 'high efficiency' raw options. These new raw options give image quality equivalent to uncompressed Raw, in files just 1/3 of the size. Although some further tests have to be done so we can all know if this benefit comes with a price or not.
The Z9 is Insanely Fast
In a bold move, Nikon got rid of the mechanical shutter for this brand-new camera. So, what does that give us? Exactly! An electronic shutter only camera. The results of such a decision translate into a readout speed of ~1/270 second (~3.7ms) paring it with Sony's α1. And the fastest shutter speed, 1/32,000sec. And if you find the entirely silent shutter a bit odd, you can always activate the simulated shutter sound (which comes with volume increments as well).
With the stacked-CMOS sensor, the Nikon Z9 achieves high-quality images with extremely low rolling shutter even at high speeds. The Z9 captures full-resolution JPEGs at up to 30fps, and JPEG/RAWs at up to 20fps with a 1,000 image buffer. And as mentioned above, you can push the frames per second up to 120, but the files will be 11MP JPEGs so take that into account.
And someone finally did it! Nikon Z9 features something we all have been thinking about since mirrorless debuted for the first time. A sturdy metal curtain system covering the naked sensor activates when the camera is powered off helping to protect the sensor from dust when changing glass.
Quick Notes on the Blackout-free Real-Live Viewfinder
Highly long gone are the days in which mirrorless cameras gave laggy electronic views through the viewfinders, but Z9's takes the experience almost back to the optical experience from DSLR days.
Thanks to Nikon we now know better how blackout-free views are produced in previous mirrorless camera systems. Achieving such an experience required repeating certain frames within the viewfinder. The brand-new Z9 is the first camera with an electronic viewfinder that reveals every single moment, including those traditionally blocked by conventional electronic view-finder systems, not to mention DSLRs. So even when shooting at 120 frames per second, we'll be getting smoothly follow ups.
And for the geeks, this EVF offers the same Quad-VGA 3.69m-dot resolution as the one in the Z6/7 II. Although, brightness has been considerably improved to a maximum measured brightness of ~760 nits. And while the resolution might sound short when compared to some other cameras, the Z9's EVF resolution doesn't drop at any point.
Professional Focusing Capabilities
Such fast shooting rates require fast focusing indeed and Nikon knows that. By using deep learning. The stunning focusing algorithm developed by Nikon enables this camera to automatically detect and track the world's largest range of subjects. The 9 categories include people, dogs, cats, birds, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trains and planes.
Auto Focus and Auto Exposure computations are made at 120 cycles per second with an accelerated and constant communication between the lens and the camera through the Z mount. Even small, erratic subjects like birds in flight get tracked with ease.
Also, Nikon's famous 3D Tracking is now available with deep learning subject detection. Effortlessly lock onto fast-moving subjects and track them moving away or toward us, and everything in between. And if that doesn't trigger your curiosity, then this will do it for sure. Precise focus in the dark by going down to -8.5 EV. Well, subject detection and Autofocus works down to -6.5 EV. And by activating the Starlight Mode, focus drives down to -8.5 EV. Oh, and what a nice touch to have while shooting in such low-light situations, Z9's buttons are back-illuminated.
A little knobbly button gives direct control over AF modes in a place exactly where a Nikon photographer would expect to find it. It looks like a joystick, but this is a simple button replicating the same control on the D6 and D850. When pushed in, one can scroll between AF modes and AF area modes using the front and rear control dials respectively.
And if you don't like scrolling through AF & area modes, and rather directly engage them, the Z9 sees the return of a nice feature from Nikon's DSLRs, the capacity for assigning custom buttons to 'AF area mode + AF-ON' in order to switch to and engage any AF area mode, instantly. Meaning that 3D Tracking could be set as default focus mode engaged by the shutter button, while AF-ON or a Function button could be assigned to instantly engage Single Point or Auto Area AF for those moments one doesn't need subject-tracking AF.
Wait a Minute, 3D Tracking?
Nikon says that this camera features the first 3D track in a Nikon mirrorless, but what does that mean exactly? Previous mirrorless cameras like the Z6 and Z7 aren't particularly famous for their autofocus capabilities. Nikon's Z9 promises to pay that debt to professional shooters in need of reliable focusing for their work.
Tracking is now possible over 90% of the entire image area, using data captured and processed at 120fps. Subject detection is now integrated into 3D AF Tracking, and the Z9 uses machine learning-trained algorithms to detect humans, animals and automobiles. The system is intelligent enough to switch between eye, face, head, body tracking as needed to keep the focus on your subject even if it looks or walks away.
A prioritization for faces and eyes helps us to precisely focus where we want and not where our hands fall while aiming in the frame. The magic happens thanks to quick separation between stuff so that it doesn't involuntarily focus on the wrong places. And of course, we can always turn the subject recognition portion of 3D Tracking off, to track objects only by using color and distance information.
Physically, the most notorious feature of the Z9 is its integrated grip. The Z9 is similar in size to the D6 in height and weight (150 x 149mm) but lighter at 1,340g. Presumably, in terms of its relative volume, Nikon states that the Z9 is overall 20% smaller than the D6. Needless to say, the Z9 is way larger and heavier mirrorless cameras from the Z6 and Z7 series which came before it.
Not too many vertical controls but one still gets essential front and rear wheels, plus ISO and one custom button. The large rubber cap behind the control cluster covers a Kensington security lock socket for showcasing purposes.
And with such power, a greater view thanks to a multi-angle articulating 3.2" rear LCD screen offers first-time touchscreen experiences. The 4-axis horizontal and vertical tilting touchscreen goes up, down, left and right enabling us to shoot from nearly any angle. High, low or sideways, you name it. Don't miss a thing and keep a bright view of your frames when rotating the Z9 for vertical shooting. And along with the user interfaces within the monitor, the Real-Live Viewfinder also rotates to a vertical orientation.
Some Notes on that Great-looking Body
Filled with several pro-usage input and output ports, the Nikon Z9 meets the most demanding requirements for working on the field. The ones that caught our attention the most are:
- LAN/Ethernet socket for reliable and more practical image transferring, great for shooting at large events where wireless connection could get a bit bumpy.
- Full-size HDMI port with a useful screw-thread for lock-clipping purposes.
- USB-C for in-camera charging and mobile tethering via NX Tether.
Also worth noticing, the battery pack with 36Wh of capacity with a rated battery life of between 700-770 images. Of course this will depend on the EVF/LCD usage, and whether the camera is used in Eco Mode or not. In normal conditions like when shooting stills, the Z9 energy capabilities simply can't cope with Nikon's D5 and D6, something which isn't a surprise either since we know mirrorless camera systems use more power to feed their electronic viewfinders. The solution? Carrying some extra batteries with you.
And for the needed file recording tasks, Z9 comes with Twin CFe/XQD slots. Both compatible with CFexpress (type B) and XQD cards. The slots can be set up in several ways like overflow storage, backup, or keeping separated stills and movies.
Precisely engineered for stils and 4K & 8K video, the stacked-CMOS Sensor along with Nikon's most powerful image-processing engine EXPEED 7 deliver us with video recordings up to 8K/30p. There are some interesting video specs:
- 8K/30p capture and 4K-from-8K, with ProRes 422 HQ option
- 8K/60p, 12-bit 8K N-Raw and 4K ProRes RAW to be added with f/w
- Internal 10-bit N-Log and HLG capture
- 24-bit audio capture
- 4K capture is possible up to 120p.
Thanks to 8K oversampling, 4K24p and 4K30p are both extremely detailed, but they experience slightly rolling shutter effects when compared with the slightly less detailed 4K60p and 4K120p modes.
Nikon promises over 2 hours of recording is possible at 8K/30p in normal temperatures. This seems sufficient since one unusually takes a single scene for over 2 hours. Also be cautious when pulling the cards out since, as one can see from the official images, cards could get hot while recording our beloved files.
Who Needs to Buy the Nikon Z9?
At $5,499.95 body-only, we know this is no camera for everybody out there. Renting it would be nice, but we do consider that high-end shooters, especially those whose income depends on high-quality action photographs and video, should buy this beast.
Along with all the NIKKOR lenses available out there, Nikon plans on releasing a 400mm ƒ/2.8 TC VR S Lens. And we mention this just to affirm our position that this camera will reach its highest potential when photographing and filming both sports and wild-life. And if you are doubting this, take a look at their promotional vid.