Being Bold and the Promise of the Nikon Z 9

Being Bold and the Promise of the Nikon Z 9

Nikon has finally officially announced their new flagship mirrorless camera, the Z 9. The long-rumored specs are now confirmed, and the promise of the system has exceeded expectations.

On paper, at least. I haven’t gotten a chance to hold the system in my own hands yet, so I’m not yet in a position to write a full review. But as someone who has gone from not planning on buying a new camera soon to a man whose finger is currently hovering over the preorder button, I wanted to check in to share some items from the launch event that stuck out to me the most and just why the Z 9, assuming these things work out in the real world, might just be one of the best values on the market.

Now, to start the article, I’ll share a short, seemingly unrelated story. For a moment, you might feel as though you’ve traded Fstoppers for ESPN, but stick with me, as I feel as though the theme of the story will further prove my point.

I am a huge soccer/football fan. Specifically, I am an FC Barcelona fanatic. No need to worry if you are a rival fan. This post won’t be bragging about how good we are. In fact, at the moment, we are not very good at all. Like really not good. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one is the loss of arguably the greatest player of all time unexpectedly at the beginning of the season. That doesn’t help. But there are a number of other problems I won’t go into here. Let’s just say that there are a few bright spots.

The one true bright spot is that quiet as it’s kept, we have another player who within the next three to four years could easily become the greatest player in the world. Ansu Fati has the athleticism, charm, and skill set to be great. But, at the moment, he’s only 18 years old. When the hopes of your billion-dollar franchise rest on the shoulders of someone who less than 12 months ago was legally termed a child, it usually doesn’t bode well for the wins and losses column.The other day, we were playing a huge do-or-die game in the Champions League. Ansu makes an amazing play to single-handedly steal the ball from the opposing goalie. He’s then in a position to make a choice. He can lay the ball off to his teammate for an easy goal. Or, he can try some sort of magical flip-up, backflip, bicycle-kick that, if successful, would be the type of goal they’d be replaying at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The kid went for the bicycle kick. The kid was unsuccessful. But, even in that failure, lies the reason why some players have the potential for greatness and some players can only really aim for very good.

Even though the movie didn’t come off, both his willingness to conceive the idea and more importantly, the bravery to attempt it in one of the most important moments of the season show that he was playing for keeps. He wasn’t playing just to be good enough. He was playing to be great. It may not have worked on that particular play. But his willingness to keep striving for greatness despite the odds is the thing that sets him apart from 99.9 percent of the players in the world. It’s one of those human traits that some competitors have and some will never have, regardless of how many hours they spend in training.

Nikon had a lot riding on the release of the Z 9. Though rumors of the company’s imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated by the Twitterverse, there’s no question that, in terms of industry perception, the company could use a big hit. The previous Z 6II and Z 7II cameras were excellent additions to the field and more than capable of keeping up with the competition. But, in a crowded field, they weren’t necessarily the cameras that were going to grab the competition by the neck, drag them out back in the alley, and beat the living daylights out of them. Nikon needed a camera that, returning to sports terms, would quiet the crowd — the type of player that could walk out onto the pitch in an opposing stadium and by the end of the game, the boos would turn to cheers of respect simply because the player’s skill set couldn’t be denied.

I feel like the Z 9 could be that player. At this point, I can only judge what’s on paper. But based on the official specs, the Z 9 should easily be the best mirrorless camera on the market by the time it hits shelves. And the reason Nikon has been successful is the same as why Ansu Fati has the potential to be great. They were willing to think outside of the box, swing for the fences, and take a chance to create something that was not simply good enough, but potentially great.

No Mechanical Shutter

As someone who almost never uses the electronic shutter, removing the mechanical one was not a feature high on my Christmas list. Aside from personally enjoying the loud clatter of a shutter mechanism, perhaps to an unhealthy degree, I don’t have anything against electronic shutters. It’s just that up until very recently, it was not practical to try and use them with flash. As I use the flash of some sort on the majority of my still shoots, electronic shutters are just something I never gave a great deal of thought to. Changing to mechanical-only mode has always been one of the first settings I change when taking a camera out of the box, then never return to that setting again.

But due to the new processing system in the Z 9, they can somehow achieve 1/200th of second flash sync with the electronic shutter. I am no tech guru, so I will not attempt to explain the science behind this. And I’m still curious to see how it works in the field and if there are any limitations. But if losing the mechanical shutter altogether can result in a faster camera that allows me to still accomplish the same tasks, I’m on board. Especially since that new sensor with a faster readout should also do wonders for things like rolling shutter and other issues.

Improved Autofocus System

Autofocus has been the biggest bugaboo for Nikon mirrorless cameras versus the competition, at least according to some, and Nikon knew they had to address it in their flagship camera. This is a professional camera to be used in literally all kinds of situations by experienced shooters used to using autofocus machines like the D5 and D6. Anything not up to that standard could spell major trouble for the brand. But, again, rather than just aiming for good enough, Nikon has aimed to create an even better autofocus system than their previous models.

Since I haven’t tried it myself yet, I can’t give a full review. But from the bits and pieces I’ve seen from other users who have touched the camera, it seems as though Nikon has succeeded wildly in this department. Personally, my own biggest gripe with the previous Z autofocus system wasn’t that it was inaccurate. It was simply that to get that accuracy required you to constantly return to the menu system to change to the right, very specific, focus modes. From the release materials, it seems as though Nikon has addressed this and even improved their eye/object tracking modes by allowing the camera to automatically recognize whether you are shooting people, pets, cars, motorbikes, or even an alien spacecraft. Okay, I might have added that last one myself. But the potential seems limitless.

Internal ProRes 4:2:2

While this camera will likely primarily be used for still shooters, the video upgrades to the Z 9 continue to show that Nikon means business in the realm of motion capture. The Z 6II and Z 7II have always been incredibly versatile video tools. I’ve shot many a motion job using the Z 6. And the options only grow when you attach an external monitor like the Atomos Ninja V to the original Z cameras and can access even more recording formats.

But the one hiccup I always had with using the Z cameras, or almost any other mirrorless camera, is that most of the best features tend to require external monitors. I have several external monitors, so that’s not a problem. But having to add more components to your rig decreases both stability and the value of shooting with a smaller camera in the first place.

Internally, the Z 9 can shoot 8K 4:2:2 10-bit up to 30 fps or 4K up to 120 fps in H.265. Coming soon via firmware updates, the camera should be able to shoot 8K at 60 fps. It will also be adding an internal N-Raw video format as well as potentially ProRes Raw video internally. But straight out of the box, my favorite new option is the ability to record ProRes 4:2:2 HQ 10-bit internally. As many benefits as there are to H.265, I don’t have the best history with playing it back on my computer. When working with H.265 under tight deadlines, I often end up having to transcode or use other workarounds to deliver to my clients. ProRes, on the other hand, plays like butter in almost every editing system. So, for videographers wanting to be able to turn footage around quickly with a minimum amount of post-production, this added format is a real game-changer.

Oh, and I should probably mention that 8K video can record for over two hours without overheating. Kind of a big deal.

Ability to Alter the 'Shutter' Sound

Okay, there is no shutter. So, technically, any sound coming out of the Z 9 would be artificial. But as someone who actively uses the sound of the shutter click to pace both myself and my models during photo shoots, shooting completely silently is not an as big advantage to me as it might be to some. Pressing down on a shutter and getting no feedback just seems weird to me. Not that it is weird. Personally, it just freaks me out. I want to hear some kind of audible confirmation. The rather loud machine-gun sound of the D5 and D6 cameras might have been my favorite feature. I realize I may be alone on this. And I do recognize the extreme benefits of a silent shooting mode. But for me, the Z 9 giving me the option to make the camera louder is, oddly enough, one of my favorite benefits.


There are, of course, many more benefits. I haven’t even begun to talk about the built-like-a-tank body. The built-in vertical grip will be a benefit to many (although I still tend to just tllt my hand in actual practice). While I shoot athletes and athletic people for a living, I do it mostly under controlled environments rather than from a sideline. So, I’m not one who personally needs 20 fps to get a shot. But I’m happy it’s there. And, for real photojournalists who positively need to capture that moment of peak action and whose news outlets don’t need the resolution, being able to shoot 11-megapixel JPEGs at 120 fps is simply mind-boggling.

I’ve focused most of this write-up on the items that were of most interest to me. But the Z 9 is the type of camera that has a little something for everyone. It’s built to be able to handle any professional task thrown its way. And Nikon seems to have come through in a big way. But perhaps, the biggest way in which they have delivered is on the price. At $5496.95, the value proposition of this camera simply crushes the competition. As someone who is generally more than happy with the feature set in the 800 series of cameras (D800, D850, etc.), I wasn’t seriously considering the Z 9. It tends to have more features than I need. And, based on the competitors' options, I was fully expecting the price of the Z 9 to come in at the $6,500 range. So, when it came in around $1,000 less than my expectations and delivered the specs that would solve issues specific to my own shooting needs, that turned my head. Pound for pound, it might very well be one of the best values on the market, especially if we are talking about the flagship body range.

By swinging for the fences, Nikon has dropped a major gauntlet on the camera market. On specs alone, it profiles as the best camera currently available for working photographers. I can’t wait to get my hands on one to test out if my theory is correct.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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It is a solid option for d5-d6 crowd for sure. Design philosophy is well preserved and expanded upon. Will it attract other users only time will tell and the real world reviews. Can’t wait to rent it and see for myself.

The resolution difference is negligible, initial AF tests indicate that the Z9 is probably ahead, considering that most sport shooters use a monopod the slight overweight of the body compared to an a1 with grip has little impact and most importantly the newly announced 400mm f2.8 with built-in TC is nothing short of a game changer for many field sports.

That is without mentioning the essential value delivered by the Nikon 200mm f2.0, 120-300mm f2.8 and 180-400mm f4 with TC.

Sony has potential but falls short by a wide margin.

Dose the A1 really shoot 30fps ?? It’s pretty well documented that it’s only with a few lenses and with a few other conditions. Where as the Z9 needs a new cfexpress card and it will shoot 20fps with any Nikon lens f mount or z mount. The build quality is everything these cameras are built to be abused they get covered in mud knocked around and keep on trucking. From experience of working along side guys using Sony A9s this is no the case yet with Sony cameras that is the last hurdle they have to get over if they want to steal more market share in the photojournalist/sports/wildlife world. Also a £1200 price difference or even a £1800 with the cost of the grip is a big price differance when you have to buy 2 body’s.

Llist of 29 Sony lenses capable of 30 FPS As of October 14, 2021. The remaining Sony lenses listed fall into 20 FPS and 15 FPS capabilities.

Do you shoot football Brad, I mean the real football you know kicking the ball with your foot. The D3/4/5/6 series off Nikon bodies are solid and tough, as a sports photographer I want a work horse of a camera that will not let me down and can be thrown around without it breaking into pieces and can be pissed on all day and still carry on.
The Z9 is that camera, the FPS @20 RAW is perfect, however I shoot most action shots in jpg which is 30 fps. This thing will also shoot 11Mp at 120 fps and will still calculate AF and exposure.
The FTZ allow me to hook up with 300mm f2.8/400mm f2.8 the announced 400mm Z s f2.8 is going to be an amazing bit of glass,
Can I also say the camera world was never such a toxic place since kiddies started spending their pocket money on sony cameras and straight away started slagging off the old guard. Does my fucking head in.
I don't slag off sony, canon, fuji, olympus, panasonic they all do an amazing job for what the users wants. But hey now if we use anything other than a sony .....

I've won two world cups, what in being an annoying little shit.

Brad, don't drink Sony's marketing Kool-Aid. The 30fps isn't true raw, it's lossy raw with noisier shadows and clipped highlights.
The A1 is a great camera, but let's not spread lies.

Sony Camera Settings Example [required for 30 FPS]

-Focus mode: AF-C
-Continuous Shooting : Hi+
-Shutter Type : [Auto]/[Electronic Shutter]
-Shutter speed: 1/250 – 1/32000
-Aperture value: F22 or smaller (bright)
-Image Size: L
-Images: [Fine] (Set [RAW File Type] to [Compressed] for RAW images.)
-[One of the 29 Sony lenses capable of 30 FPS]
-*[30 FPS applies to lossy compressed Raw, JPEG or HEIF]
-**[20 FPS for lossless compressed Raw]

As I read somewhere: Sony, the king of specs with fine print notes.

As I read somewhere: People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

So then they are the same when the shoot uncompressed raw they shoot 20fps

Yes. The A1 really does shoot 30 FPS all day long if you take a few seconds to understand the few requirements.There are of course "fine print notes" to ALL of these new high performance cameras Sony, Canon and now Nikon. Not one stands "fine print-less" and a little study is required to handle any of these pro bodies, just like it has always been.

Real sports photographer do not care about these things, only hobbyist do.

"loud machine-gun sound of the D5 and D6 cameras... I realize I may be alone on this." No, you are not. I do very much like the sound of my D4 too. To me it sounds like the camera feels: compact, rigid, powerful. Prices are higher in Europe. The Z9 is more expensive here in Europe than a D6 or D5. The US prices are without tax, aren't they?

FC Barcelona: great team, but one of these clubs who destroy football with too much money. It is insane! Koeman did not have a real chance to deliver. Football clubs today are more like shark tanks.

I paid slightly over 7000€ for a D5 when it came out. The Z9 is 5998€. So at market start the Z9 is much cheaper.

Here around the camera costs more than the D6: Z9 CHF 6800.00, D6 CHF 6600.00 (EUR/CHF = 1.08)

Yes, the US price I quoted doesn't include tax. I know a lot of countries include VAT within the quoted price. Here it's different based on what state you are in. And I agree we, being FCB, have spent way too much in the last few years :-)

Prices quoted are with VAT (7.7%) included for Switzerland. In the EU VAT is between 17 and 25%, most of them over 20%.

So lets make the calculation:
6800/1.077=6313 CHF which is (CHF/$ = 0.9) the equivalent of 7015$ (without VAT). Way more expensive here then. :-(

I am in Abu Dhabi filming another UFC event and press conferences and this time I get to play with a Z9.

Currently I have 2 R5's one with a Ninja V and one with a Ninja V+ then we have an A1 on the opposite side of the octagon and we also use it for BTS stuff. Firstly the R5 4k HQ is what we deliver/use mainly as it is simply the best 4k no question and with a Ninja V over heating is not an issue and it never happens...ever. I get through 6 x 190wh Vmount batteries and and terabytes of SSD with no issues per event normally and that includes gimbal work. The A1 performs fantastically as well and we also use it the most for B-Roll and moving around.

When it comes to 8k I think maybe 20% of the stuff I film is in 8k so not a lot really. I do more extreme sports than MMA but I generally do the main events every month. I will say this both the R5 and A1 deliver outstanding 8k footage and really if you took some shots from each and then compared them to say a RED, unless you were pixel peeking in the shadows the difference is very slim. Performance from these cameras are so good. The R5 has to have a ninja v+ to avoid overheating and this pretty much brings it inline with the cost of an A1/Z9 so really if filming is mainly your thing and you insist on a mirror-less then just pick the one with your favorite glass and you'll be super happy.

We had the Z9 set up at the ceremonial weigh ins and after checking the footage the 8k is fantastic and doing a side by side with the R5/A1 I wouldn't be able to tell you which was which really , not consistently anyway. I'll have a few more hours with it tonight but that will mainly be for video stuff and not actual photos.

Like Christopher said above, the price is set really well with the Z9. An R5 and a ninja v+ is pushing through 6k but you get amazing autofocus top spec IBIS and the best 4k out of the 3 with 4k HQ, but, a ninja v is a must for long shoots and to avoid overheating (also Proress and DXN codecs). The Sony is 6.5k and delivers us incredible footage and performance for it's size and that sweet G Master wide angle.

The Z9 will defiantly be added to the army and being able to get quality footage in Proress with out the need for a monitor is very helpful to me when I am filming Skateboarding/BMX/Surfing. Lets not forget the need for no additional grip!

In terms of photo power I can't really give an opinion because I haven't used the Z9 for actual photos yet and to be honest I never really missed a shot when using a Nikon D850 let alone an R5 20fps and A1 30ish FPS and I don't think I would ever need that kind of speed. Autofocus on both these systems is outstanding and I see the Z9 performing just as well. Outside of filming MMA and Extreme Sports I don't do photography as a 'hobby' so obviously my mileage will be totally different to other users.

However you look at it the Z9 is what Nikon needed and they did an awesome job. All 3 brands have killer cameras no need to fanboy out here.

*Left out the R3 4k quality because mine isn't here for another month and I never really played much with one to actual compare*.

Anyway enough mindless off topic waffle from me only a couple of hours before show time! Think I'm more excited to shoot than actually watch the fights this time around.