With Sony and Canon dominate the headlines, Nikon has become the forgotten company in the mirrorless race. However, that is set to change with the launch of 45.7 megapixel Z9. It’s an innovative professional camera that delivers incredible speed, incredible detail, and unsurpassed 8K video recording.
Nikon is also making some new breakthroughs with this camera. It was the first mirrorless model to not have a mechanical shutter, relying instead on a fast sensor to minimize the jello effect that can happen with an electronic shutter.
- Fast shooting speed
- high resolution
- reliable autofocus
- good handling
- 8K video does not compromise.
- No flip-out screen
- Main features are not available yet
However, the Z9 is not without some flaws. It’s quite heavy compared to rival models like Sony A1 and the lack of a fully articulated monitor makes it a tough sell for videographers. In $5,500 body onlyit’s quite expensive – see how it compares to the competition.
Design and handling
Honestly, the Z9 is a premium camera. It weighs around 1,340 grams, or just 60 grams lighter than Nikon’s D6 DSLR. Opposite, Canon EOS R3 weighs 1,015 grams and the Sony A1 weighs only 737 grams. A heavy camera can be tiring but again, many professional photographers prefer large and heavy cameras for stability.
The large size means that Nikon was able to include a nice large grip that feels secure, especially with a large lens attached. Like Canon’s EOS R3, you can rotate it 90 degrees and get the right controls and grip, allowing for easy operation in portrait mode.
The Z9 has a decent range of manual controls, but I’m not a fan of layouts. The AF button is located on the left side next to the lens, which I find awkward. The top screen also takes up space that could be used for more buttons. On the plus side, it has a large number of programmable buttons, so you can set it up however you want. If you are a longtime Nikon user, you may prefer the composition to me.
Compared to Sony and Panasonicof the latest cameras, the menu system is a bit too complicated. Instead of dividing everything into subcategories, you have to scroll down for a while on certain menus to find what you need. Your best bet to avoid any hassle is to program custom menus and buttons to do what you need.
With 2.09 million dots, the 3.2-inch touchscreen is relatively sharp and bright, but still has a few limitations. As mentioned, it only tilts up and out to the right, so self-portraits or vlogs are impossible unless you have an external monitor. The Sony A1 also doesn’t have a fully articulating display, but Canon has finally included one in its professional EOS R3 model.
The resolution of the EVF is a bit disappointing for a camera this expensive, at only 3.69 million dots, compared to 9.44 million on the Sony A1. Considering the high resolution sensor, that seems like an understatement. On the plus side, it uses “Dual line“The technology sends data to the sensor and the EVF simultaneously. As a result, you get loss-free performance in all shots, and according to Nikon, that comes with no looping or skipping frames. It can be a flare in some Sony cameras, reducing EVF resolution under certain shooting conditions.
Nikon has fully developed CFexpress for the Z9, with two CFexpress memory card slots and no SD card. This is smart for a few reasons. There are no speed compromises for continuous shooting or video recording, which is important for the high frame rates required for ProRes HQ and RAW video. It also means that professional shooters can record two cards at once for backup without sacrificing speed. Of course, the downside is more CFexpress and XQD cards expensive than SD card.
Other features include a massive EN-EL18D battery that delivers 740 continuous shots on a single charge and over two hours of 4K video, as well as backward compatibility with the D6 and other Nikon professional DSLR batteries. It also comes with a USB-C 3.2 slot for transfer and storage, mic and headphone jacks, an Ethernet port for remote photography, and a full-size HDMI jack. While the Z9 doesn’t have a mechanical shutter, it does have a cap to protect the sensor when you’re changing lenses.
The Z9 is Nikon’s fastest mirrorless camera to date. You can shoot up to 20 RAW frames per second at full resolution, a dizzying 30 JPEG or 120 JPEGS per second at the lower 11 MP resolution. Again, all of those speeds are in electronic shutter mode, since there’s no mechanical shutter. Of course, you can shoot in silent mode or activate a simulated shutter sound if you really need to hear that “click”.
It was fast, but I managed only 40 lossless RAW images with a very fast CFexpress card before the buffer filled up. However, if you’re okay with using the “high-performance” modes, you can take anywhere from 70 to almost limitless photos without stopping.
Hybrid phase-detection autofocus is also a big improvement over the last model. Nikon has brought 3D tracking up from its DSLRs, but it’s much better in the Z9 because it has 493 AF tracking points, far more than the others.
It provides very reliable object tracking most of the time. Normally, you just need to set the tracking point on an athlete or other fast-moving subject and AF will keep them in focus. Sometimes it will drop the subject and focus on the background or something else, especially with birds or other fast objects. All in all, it works just as well or almost like the subject-tracking AF on Sony’s latest A1 and A7 IV models.
The new face, eye, vehicle and animal detection is also incredibly fast and accurate, even when the subject is far away. In fact, the Z9 can automatically recognize nine types of subjects: human eyes, face, head, and upper body; eyes, head and body of animals; and cars, planes, trains and motorcycles. I didn’t get a chance to test all of that, but for a number of different subjects, even at fast shutter speeds, most of my shots are in focus.
Without a mechanical shutter, a fast readout is key to reducing skew and other problems. Happily, the Z9’s stacked back-illuminated CMOS sensor performs well. I never saw any rolling shutter unless I actually panned the camera around. So even when photographing sports or birds, you won’t have any problems.
At the same time, 5-axis in-body stabilization reduces blur caused by camera movement or hand shake. However, the six stops of shake reduction is a lot lower than the Canon EOS R3’s eight stops.
Gallery: Nikon Z9 . review sample images | 34 Photos
Gallery: Nikon Z9 . review sample images | 34 Photos
With 45.7 megapixels on board, the Z9 delivers sharp images with very high dynamic range. In fact, next to all the competition, it’s second only to Nikon’s Z7 II, which is the current dynamic range champion and has a similar sensor. All RAW images are now captured with 14-bit color depth, giving you plenty of room to fine-tune them in Adobe Lightroom or Nikon NX Studio.
Color accuracy is better than I’ve seen on previous models, possibly thanks to the Nikon Z9’s new Exspeed 7 processor that delivers improvements to white balance. However, skin tones aren’t quite as warm as Canon’s R3 or R5. JPEG images look good straight out of the camera, although they can be over-sharpened with default settings.
The Z9 has a wide ISO range of 64-25,600, expandable to 32-102,400. The low 64 setting is great in bright sunlight if you want to avoid completely closing the iris (which can degrade image quality). It also performs quite well in low light. Grain is well controlled up to about ISO 6,400 and images can be used at ISO 12,800. Also, the noise starts to distract. Z9 is like Canon’s R5 in that respect, but not to the extent Sony’s A7R IV or A1.