Ideas on the Nikon Z9 by Somebody Who Has Used Each Nikon DSLR

In all my years in images, I don’t assume any digicam has had as a lot buzz main as much as its launch because the Nikon Z9. There have been many causes for that, each good and unhealthy, however now that the digicam’s right here, does it dwell as much as the hype? After one week of utilizing it, I feel so.

Full disclosure: I taught Nikon Faculty for Nikon – as a contractor – from 2002 to 2018, and was paid to average certainly one of their Fb teams for the previous three years. Presently, nonetheless, I’ve no reference to them.

I obtained my Z9 the night of December 29 and spent that and the following night time working my method via the digicam’s 900+ web page “Reference Information” PDF, Fortunately, as a life-long Nikon consumer, a lot of the controls and menus have been acquainted to me. So what I used to be searching for have been the brand new issues or enhancements to present options. I discovered loads of these, a few of which I’ll be utilizing instantly, some often, and naturally, some by no means (as a result of the digicam’s not made only for me).

Don’t Decide Z9 RAW High quality with Third-Get together Software program

Earlier than I get into what I did with the digicam, and my favourite options, I’d like to handle one thing many individuals don’t understand, which may have an effect on their opinion of RAW photographs from any new digicam.

A majority of significant photographers use Adobe software program to course of their photographs. Since Adobe (or actually, any third-party software program firm) isn’t part of any of the key digicam corporations, they’ve to attend for every new digicam to be launched earlier than they’ll begin decoding that manufacturing digicam’s new RAW format and growing an replace to handle processing it. The producer will launch an replace to their very own software program on the similar time they launch a brand new digicam (Nikon’s NX Studio, on this case), nevertheless it takes time for different corporations to do the identical.

So after I heard folks saying they have been utilizing Adobe to open Z9 recordsdata, I used to be stunned (some critiques have been even based mostly on these outcomes). I attempted it too, and certainly, Adobe may open a Z9 NEF file. Nonetheless, the end result at excessive ISOs was actually poor. And if you happen to checked Adobe’s launch notes about Z9 assist, there’s an asterisk with the Z9 entry, and this: “Preliminary assist signifies that the picture high quality and RAW format assist for the given digicam mannequin isn’t but finalized and could also be up to date in a future launch.”

Thus, you shouldn’t use third-party software program to evaluate the standard of Z9 NEF recordsdata right now. Should you actually need to see what the digicam can do, attempt the free NX Studio, or shoot JPEG.

Comparison photos of a lady looking down
At left is the untouched JPEG (processed in-camera) of a 20,000 ISO picture from the Z9. At proper is that very same picture, however a NEF opened with Adobe Digicam RAW. From 3200 ISO on up, the Adobe software program leads to MUCH extra noise than what the Nikon JPEG or NEF processed in Nikon’s NX studio offers you.

My Experiences with the Nikon Z9

Okay, now for my experiences with the digicam. Final week I used it for an all-day studio shoot, with fashions, for a neighborhood firm’s promoting marketing campaign. Then two days in the past I used to be at a close-by wildlife refuge, photographing eagles. I do know I nonetheless have rather a lot to be taught in regards to the digicam, particularly with the autofocus choices, however right here’s what I’ve found to date.

A portrait of a woman wearing sunglasses
So far as picture high quality goes, I may have simply carried out this promoting shoot with any of my different Nikon our bodies, from the D610 via the Z 6 II. Nonetheless, with the Z9’s new autofocus system, I by no means needed to fear that the close to eye wouldn’t be sharp – it at all times confirmed me a tiny white field proper on the attention. Nikon Z9, Handbook publicity, Flash white stability, ISO 200, 1/160 at f/5, Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G lens with FTZ adapter.

Large Stuff within the Nikon Z9


I’m a fan of buttons on digicam our bodies. Designed and applied correctly, they let an skilled photographer make adjustments shortly, with out diving into menus. With the Z9, there are three perform buttons on the entrance, (yet another than the Z 6/7), plus a fourth on the again and extra programmable buttons with numerous choices.

For now, I’ve set Fn1 to Playback (and a second press zooms the picture to 100%). That lets me examine what I’ve simply shot with out taking the digicam away from my eye. Fn2 is programmed to open Auto ISO so I could make fast adjustments to these settings. Fn3 lets me shortly change from FX and DX (45MP to 21MP), and Fn 4 (the “Defend” button on the again) opens “My Menu” (certainly one of my favourite options of Nikon cameras for a few years now).

I additionally program the pink video document button to let me change AF Space modes on the fly and have reversed how the Principal and Sub-control dials work with AF so I can change Space modes with the thumb dial (as a substitute of the default entrance dial). That provides me a fast and simple method to change these modes with out taking the digicam down from my eye or utilizing my left hand to press the AF button on the facet of the physique.

Additionally, with the built-in grip, Nikon has the same old White Steadiness and High quality buttons there, like on the D3/4/5/6, so I don’t want so as to add them to the “i” menu.

The buttons on the front of the Nikon Z9 mirrorless camera
Not two, however three large, stunning perform buttons. I like the quantity of customization doable with this new digicam.

Excessive ISO Efficiency

I’ve been very impressed with excessive ISO efficiency. The digicam’s vary is 64 to 25,600 (plus “Hello” and “Lo” choices). Whereas I’ve used it on the higher limits, right now I’m planning to shoot it as much as 10,000. At 12,800, noise begins changing into extra seen to me (and noise is subjective, so your expertise could also be totally different). However nonetheless, 10,000 ISO with 45 megapixels? Fairly wonderful.

Autofocus Efficiency

A photo of bald eagles in flight
Even with an extended lens and many erratic flying, the digicam did a tremendous job of “sticking” the main target to the eagles I used to be photographing. I shot this in DX crop mode, then cropped in additional in modifying for tighter framing of the ultimate picture whose completed dimension was 6 megapixels. Nikon Z9, Aperture Precedence, Auto white stability, ISO 720, 1/2000 at f/8 in Matrix metering, +0.7 EV, Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens with Nikkor TC-14e III teleconverter for 700mm.

Autofocus efficiency might be the most important improve from Nikon’s present crop of Z cameras, and it’s actually spectacular. Right here’s why:

3D is again! Nikon shooters who’ve been utilizing lots of Nikon’s mirrored cameras got here to like this mode, nevertheless it didn’t seem in earlier Z fashions. Nikon did add “Topic Monitoring” to these, which was actually good, however nonetheless not 3D. The Z9 lastly has 3D, and in my restricted use to date, it’s wanting nice. What’s 3D? You purchase focus in your topic, then that focus “sticks” to them as they transfer across the body, otherwise you shift framing. A lot simpler than always transferring the main target level to your topic as they transfer, or transferring the purpose for composition.

Talking of “stickiness” (the flexibility of autofocus to stick with a topic, even when it’s transferring quick or erratically), this digicam’s AF system is admittedly good at that in all modes.

“Topic detection” will mechanically search for Individuals first, then Animals, then Automobiles, or you may set it to solely search for a type of topics. However the computerized function means you don’t should always change settings for the topic you is perhaps capturing at that second.

A screenshot of the menu system of the Nikon Z9
You’ll be able to let the digicam detect what your topic is, or restrict it to search for a selected sort.

All autofocus techniques want gentle and distinction to carry out properly, so newer, costlier cameras, paired with quick lenses, usually have quicker autofocus efficiency. The Z9 appears to be like to take this to a complete new degree. You’ll be able to even activate “Starlight view,” which permits it to focus in gentle as little as -8.5 EV. This implies even the dim gentle from a lower than full moon must be lots for the digicam to amass focus.

A screenshot of the menu system of the Nikon Z9
These three choices, Starlight view, Heat show colours, and LCD illumination, are actually loaded in “My Menu,” and can get quite a lot of use throughout my night time shoots.

And taking {that a} step additional, one problem with utilizing teleconverters is that almost all cameras’ autofocus efficiency drops, and even stops, when the ensuing aperture is f/11 or smaller (generally even at f/8). I simply shot eagles in flight with a Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 lens and Nikon 2X teleconverter, leading to f/11, and never solely did I get sharp photographs, however the autofocus did job monitoring them. My Nikon D500 can’t do this, even with its highly effective autofocus system (similar because the D5 and D850).

A photo of bald ealges in flight
1000mm and f/11 with a 2X teleconverter, but not solely is that this full-frame picture sharp, however the autofocus was ready to stick with the motion. I haven’t seen that form of efficiency with that mixture utilizing mirrored cameras. Nikon Z9, Aperture Precedence, Auto white stability, ISO 1000, 1/2000 at f/11 in Matrix metering, 0.0 EV, Nikkor AF-S 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR lens with Nikkor TC-20e III teleconverter for 1000mm.

(To be taught extra about Z9 autofocus choices and talents, take a look at this wonderful technical information to the Z9’s autofocus system by Nikon.)

The Viewfinder

The viewfinder is a pleasure to make use of. One particular person just lately stated that it’s the primary digital viewfinder digicam that didn’t make them miss their optical finder. I utterly agree. It’s shiny and crisp, and the low gentle efficiency must be skilled to be believed.

In dim (or actually, nearly non-existent) gentle, placing my eye to the viewfinder reveals the scene a lot brighter than I can see with out the digicam. As somebody who does quite a lot of night time images, this may make an enormous distinction. Now I ought to be capable of see sufficient via the viewfinder to work extra effectively. Which means I’ll save quite a lot of time usually spent doing check photographs for focus and composition, and get dwelling to mattress sooner!

A photo of a house at night lit with Christmas lights
Not a lot of a photograph, however there’s a lot extra element within the viewfinder and the ensuing picture of this home throughout the road than I may see with the bare eye. And Vibration Discount had no downside with the 1/15-second hand-held publicity. Nikon Z9, Aperture Precedence, Auto white stability, ISO 8000, 1/15 at f/1.8 in Matrix metering, 0.0 EV, Nikkor NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S lens.

Zero Blackout

The Z9 is described as having “zero blackout” whereas capturing, however I feel it’s even higher than that. Most mirrorless cameras have some sort of flicker, even when it’s minimal. With the Z9 nonetheless, nothing adjustments within the viewfinder as you shoot. Nikon goes into nice element explaining how the “dual-stream expertise” does that, nevertheless it actually must be seen to be understood.

The digicam affords choices you may activate to inform it’s truly taking photos when in silent mode (flashing traces on the edges of the viewfinder). More often than not I don’t want silent capturing, so I like turning on the good quiet shutter sound it may well make. However that sound is pretend as a result of there’s…

No Mechanical Shutter

The mechanical shutter lacking from the Z9, and that’s factor. It signifies that lastly you don’t have to fret about rolling shutter or banding underneath synthetic lights, and you should utilize flash sync at 1/200 (or larger if utilizing Auto FP with sure Nikon Speedlights or HSS with appropriate third-party flashes – it really works with my Flashpoint).

And no mechanical shutter means one much less merchandise to fail or put on out over time. The Z9 seemingly heralds the top of mechanical shutters in mirrorless cameras.

Body Charges

The digicam affords MUCH quicker body charges in order for you them, however extra importantly to me, loads of choices to dial these speeds down. Certain, I can see instances the place 120 frames per second (leading to full-frame 11MP JPEGs) can be helpful. Similar for 30 fps with 45MP JPEGs, or 20 fps for 45MP RAWs. However actually, I hardly ever want (or need) that many frames to obtain and kind via. Fortunately, the digicam additionally lets me select 10, 12, or 15 fps, that are the three I’ll use probably the most when photographing quick motion.

FYI, if you happen to set the digicam to 30 fps, you’ll be restricted to capturing at 1/60 second or quicker. At 120 fps, 1/125 second is the slowest you may hearth the digicam.

A screenshot of the menu system of the Nikon Z9
Choices galore on the subject of body charge. And for Steady low, I can alter the digicam to fireside anyplace from one to 10 frames per second.


I’ve by no means been a fan of carrying numerous batteries as a result of which means I always have to observe the battery degree. I’d reasonably have a bigger battery I don’t have to fret about. The Z9 makes use of a giant battery, together with higher battery conservation.

And customers with batteries from their Nikon D4, D4S, D5, and D6 cameras to proceed to make use of these batteries within the Z9 (thanks, Nikon!). Nonetheless, solely the most recent fashions (EN-EL 18b, c, and now d) might be charged with the brand new, a lot smaller charger. These batteries will also be charged in-camera by way of USB-C.

USB-C Charging

And talking of USB-C, the wall plug that connects to the charger isn’t hard-wired to the charger however makes use of a USB-C connection to try this. This implies you should utilize that wall charger to energy or cost the battery within the Z9 or different USB-C units (I may even energy my MacBook Professional utilizing it). And vice versa – my journey USB-C charger for that MacBook Professional may also work with the Z9 charger itself! I feel that’s a pleasant contact.

Excessive-Effectivity RAW

Most individuals received’t consider this as a giant deal at first, however Nikon has launched a brand new excessive effectivity compressed RAW format with the digicam, which implies it may well create 30-33 megabyte NEF recordsdata from 45-megapixel 14-bit RAW captures. Taking pictures highest quality JPEGs at 45MP leads to recordsdata round 20MB in dimension. That compares to lossless compressed 14-bit RAW recordsdata from the 24MP Z6 at round 28MB and about 60MB from the 45MP Z7.

For somebody who has shied away from capturing his 45-megapixel cameras on a regular basis up to now due to file dimension, that is nice information. I can shoot 45MP NEF recordsdata at a dimension not a lot bigger than highest quality JPEGs. And to date, this new format appears to be like to provide wonderful high quality and processing latitude regardless of the a lot smaller file dimension.

Mechanical Protect

Sensor mud has been an issue from the primary days of digital cameras, so something that may assist scale back that’s welcome. With most digital cameras, if you take away the lens, the sensor is uncovered. With the Z9, Nikon’s added a mechanical defend (not a shutter) which you can set to shut anytime you flip off the digicam.

Since I often do this earlier than altering lenses, this implies much less alternative for mud to get in there, so much less cleansing up photographs in software program and cleansing the sensor itself.

The mechanical shutter shield on the Nikon Z9
Most individuals may very well be forgiven for considering this was a shutter. However no, itÕs a ÒSensor Protect,Ó that may be programmed to shut any time you flip the digicam off, to assist preserve mud off the sensor.


Nikon’s top-of-the-line cameras often retail for round $6,500. This digicam’s rivals are the Sony a1 (50MP, $6,500 plus $400 for the grip,) and the Canon R3 (24MP, $6,000). So Nikon is clearly being aggressive pricing the 45MP Z9 at $5,500, one thing all of us shopping for it recognize. And for everybody else, hopefully this may drive down the worth of the opposite cameras in its class.

Learn extra: Is the Z9 the Least expensive Professional Digicam Nikon Has Launched?

Little Stuff within the Nikon Z9

(I hesitated to name this stuff “little,” as a result of, to me, they’ll make a giant distinction. However they aren’t the forms of options you’ll learn a lot about, though nonetheless essential)

Finder Show Dimension

There’s a brand new “Finder show dimension” possibility that barely reduces the scale of the picture within the viewfinder. As a wearer of glasses, I’ve typically struggled to see the whole body with out transferring my head across the viewfinder. I need to say I LOVE this function!

A screenshot of the menu system of the Nikon Z9
I’d prefer to kiss whoever at Nikon got here up with this. Lastly, we eyeglass wearers can simply see every little thing within the body. And the “small” is a misnomer, it’s solely barely smaller than the common view.

Histogram Plus Horizon

Two of my favourite options with most mirrorless cameras are with the ability to have a dwell histogram (to examine publicity earlier than capturing), and a Digital Horizon indicator (to assist me preserve issues straight whereas capturing). Till now, I had to decide on which one I needed to see with Z cameras. The Z9 lets me have each in the identical show, and made the horizon indicator much less obtrusive. Panorama photographers rejoice!

And taking {that a} step additional, how a lot or little data you see in these shows is sort of infinitely customizable.

Heat Show Colours

I discussed earlier how a lot I get pleasure from doing night time images. One of many challenges when in actually darkish areas is that the brightness of the digicam’s shows (each exterior and inner) can damage your night time imaginative and prescient. Decreasing the LCD brightness and dimming the highest show have been good first steps, however the brand new “Heat Show colours,” is a game-changer. It turns the shows pink (pink gentle protects night time imaginative and prescient), and even offers you the choice of getting the viewfinder show be pink. Now, night time photographers rejoice!

A photo of the red glow of the Nikon Z9's menu at night
Utilizing the “Heat Show Colours” menu merchandise, I can flip the show pink, saving my imaginative and prescient when doing night time images. There are two choices: turning every little thing pink or turning all shows however the picture pink. Paired with “Starlight view,” these two might be killer options for these of us who work in the dead of night. And spot that the autofocus not solely discovered the attention however detects each of them and offers me the choice to decide on which one I need the concentrate on.
A photo in a basement showing the rear LCD of a Nikon Z9
In my basement studio with all lights off save a two-LED Aim Zero Micro Lantern at lowest energy, you may see how shiny the show is with “Heat show colours” and “Starlight view” on. This scene was shot with my Nikon D610 at 2000 ISO, one second at f/5.

Lighted Buttons

Oh, and like some Nikon mirrored cameras earlier than it, the Z9 has lighted buttons, which makes working in low gentle SO a lot simpler.

Picture Transmission

SnapBridge has been in lots of Nikon cameras for years, which lets you “pull” photographs from the digicam to your telephone or pill (utilizing the free app), and even shoot the digicam from these units. The Z9, nonetheless, goes properly past that. Now photographers can transmit on to a laptop computer from the digicam (paired with Nikon’s free Wi-fi Transmitter Utility), and even add on to an FTP website (utilizing an out there community).

It is a function I hope to make use of courtside within the subsequent couple of months protecting faculty basketball.

Geodata and Time

The digicam has built-in GNS (which implies GPS, the Russian GLONASS, system, or Japanese QZSS). There’s a further battery drain in fact, nevertheless it additionally makes it straightforward to set time appropriately when touring and avoids having to deliver alongside one other accent.

A screenshot of the menu system of the Nikon Z9
No must deliver alongside a separate machine to document GPS knowledge, or fear about conserving the digicam set to appropriate native time.

AF Mode/Space Mode

Nikon has returned the devoted AF Mode/Space Mode button to the physique of the Z9 (like its mirrored counterparts), however I now favor programming the video document button to let me change these (as talked about above).

Versatile LCD

Whereas the LCDs on Nikon’s Z cameras have at all times been adjustable, the design on the Z9 permits larger freedom of motion, and extra importantly, may even be tilted out when the digicam is in a vertical orientation. I’ll make nice use of that.

The LCD screen tilted on the Nikon Z9 in vertical orientation
Not solely does the Z9 LCD tilt out additional horizontally than earlier Z cameras, however it may well additionally now be tilted to work vertically. As somebody who likes to get his digicam low to the bottom, I’ll use this function rather a lot.

FTZ Adapter

There’s a brand new, slimmer FTZ adapter that’s been launched concurrently the Z9, however the unique FTZ adapter additionally works. Nonetheless, the unique has a bump on the backside which may cramp your fingers a bit when the digicam is used vertically.

Opposite to some studies, it doesn’t pinch them (no less than not my fingers), and I can nonetheless deal with the digicam comfortably like that. Additionally, I’m most definitely to make use of the FTZ with my lengthy telephotos, and since I often have them mounted on a monopod, that grip turns into much less essential.

How the old FTZ adapter fits on the Nikon Z9
Sure, the unique FTZ adapter suits near the vertical grip. But it surely’s nonetheless doable, no less than for me, to grip the digicam with my fingers there. And I recognize not being pressured to purchase one other adapter.

Clear Show

Whereas Nikon’s Z II cameras provided the flexibility to have a show with simply the picture – no different data – doing that meant giving up different choices. With the Z9, you may simply change to that clear show with out sacrificing the rest. That may actually assist me in night time images, in addition to when doing cautious framing of panorama photographs.

Combined Stuff with the Nikon Z9

Dimension and Weight

I had hoped Nikon would design the Z9 as a digicam with the choice of including a grip, just like the Sony a1. Nonetheless, now that I’ve acquired it, I understand that making the grip integral to the digicam affords a number of benefits as properly. It may be extra ergonomic, supply extra controls (buttons and dials), and be higher weatherproofed. In fact, on the draw back, it does make the entire digicam bigger and heavier.

The Nikon Z9 next to the smaller Nikon Z6 II
In comparison with the Nikon Z6 II, at proper, you may see the scale distinction. However you too can see how the built-in grip is sculpted in a method that wouldn’t be doable with an adjunct grip.

Menu Banks

I’m nonetheless making an attempt to determine if the Menu Banks can be utilized like the wonderful U1/2/3 choices on different Z cameras (and the 7XXX collection and D780 mirrored cameras). With these your default settings may very well be locked in, that means adjustments you made whereas utilizing that set wouldn’t be made everlasting. That’s not how Nikon’s Menu Banks have labored up to now, however there are such a lot of methods to customise this digicam I merely might not have found out the way to set them that method but.
And the longer term?

Seeking to Future Nikon Cameras

Now that I’ve acquired the Z9 and seen all that Nikon’s carried out with it, I’m keen to listen to what their subsequent digicam bulletins might be. Clearly, there might be a Z8, or a few them (Z 8 S, Z 8 II?). Maybe a smaller physique sharing a few of the options of the Z9 (just like the D700 was)? Or a “pro-level” DX digicam, just like the nonetheless standard D500? Time will inform. For now, the Z9 pairs properly with my smaller Z6 and Z6 II for multi-camera work.

I don’t shoot a lot video, so haven’t put aside the time to work via all the brand new and – typically superior – options provided there. Nonetheless, from what I’ve been studying, Nikon’s set a excessive bar for different corporations to match in video efficiency.

In order that’s it for what I’ve seen and discovered in only one week utilizing the Z9. Now I’m actually wanting ahead to what extra I’ll be taught within the weeks and months forward!

Concerning the creator: Reed Hoffmann is a photographer and images teacher who has been within the picture business for many years and who has used each Nikon DSLR (and taught most of them). The opinions expressed on this article are solely these of the creator. Comply with together with Hoffmann’s newest workshops right here. It’s also possible to discover extra of Hoffmann’s work and writing on his web site, Fb, Instagram, and Twitter. This text was additionally printed right here.

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