Nikon has just recently announced the Nikon Z 9, a flagship camera with some incredible features. The autofocus, high-resolution sensor, and overall speed might put the Nikon Z 9 ahead of the competition. However, the most curious thing about this new camera is the fact that it does not have a mechanical shutter.
Mechanical shutters have been used in cameras for almost as long as cameras have existed. Even when the industry shifted over to digital cameras, mechanical shutters remained. The main reason for this was because cameras just couldn't read data off the sensor fast enough.
Most cameras currently on the market use a rolling shutter system to read data from the sensor. This is essentially a method whereby the sensor will read the data from top to bottom. For many applications, this is perfectly fine. However, if you're shooting a fast-moving subject, the rolling shutter mechanism can introduce distortions.
This is predominantly the reason why camera manufacturers couldn't get rid of the mechanical shutter; until now of course. The Nikon Z 9 might be the first-ever full-frame, professional flagship camera to go without a mechanical shutter. On the spec sheet, it states that the Nikon Z 9 has a flash sync speed of 1/200s. This has been the standard for most cameras therefore there are no compromises with the Nikon Z 9. Some reviews online have described the actual sync speed for the camera to be around 1/260s.
Why This Is Useful
The Nikon Z 9 is the first professional camera to go without a mechanical shutter. The biggest benefit of this is that the Z 9 has fewer moving parts. Moving parts in a device can be prone to failure. And a mechanical shutter is one of the more important elements in the camera that can be prone to failure.
It's for this reason that most professional cameras have a rating for how many shutter actuations they can potentially manage. For example, the Nikon D6, the previous flagship model was rated up to 400,000 shutter actuations. The risk of the shutter failing increases the more you shoot with a camera.
However, the Nikon Z 9 does away with the mechanical shutter altogether preventing this kind of failure. The Nikon Z 9 is likely to last longer and potentially has a lower chance of failure. For customers and professionals alike, this is a welcome benefit.
Nikon Z 9 High-Speed Flash Sync?
Electronic shutters so far have been less capable than mechanical shutters in some key areas. These include the ability to capture fast-moving subjects without distortions and flash synchronization.
Previously, cameras with electronic shutters could not read the sensor quickly enough to sync with flash at reasonable speeds. This is obviously changing now with cameras such as the Sony Alpha 1, The Canon EOS R3, and the latest camera the Nikon Z 9. The Nikon Z 9 is said to be able to read the whole sensor at a speed of around 1/260s. This means it can comfortably synchronize with flash at 1/200s, the industry standard for normal strobe shooting.
However, currently, there's no information relating to the high-speed sync capabilities for this camera. The fact that the Nikon Z 9 does not have a mechanical shutter means that it won't synchronize with flash at faster shutter speeds in the same way. As of right now, there's no clear information on what this means for the Z 9 and whether it can manage speeds faster than 1/200s flash synchronization.
Getting Rid of the Shutter Button Should Be Next
Removing the mechanical shutter in the Nikon Z 9 is definitely a great step forward. Sensor readout speeds are increasing and Nikon is on the right track with how it is developing its camera systems. The next thing that I believe camera manufacturers should remove is the mechanical shutter button. This is the only other moving part remaining in many professional cameras.
The reason I think this is a good idea is that the whole mechanism takes up far too much space that could be better utilized. As of right now, most shutter buttons on cameras only offer two operations. Engaging the autofocus and taking a picture. Replacing the current mechanical shutter with a touchpad or something similar might be a better option.
With a touchpad, there's the potential to add more features. These could include things like being able to move the focus point around, shooting with progressively faster frames per second depending on how hard you press the touchpad, and the potential for programming custom operations.
In fact, Canon has already filed a patent for an electronic shutter button, so this isn't a completely alien concept. It's likely that several of the major manufacturers are already mulling over designs for a touchpad-type electronic shutter button. Something like this may not be immediately popular, however, this has been the case for several new camera features. For example, many photographers disliked the electronic viewfinder when it was first becoming a thing. This has obviously changed as electronic viewfinders have improved. A touchpad shutter button may not be immediately popular, however as new features get added and the technology improves the mentality towards it may change. If the touchpad can produce some haptic feedback then it may make it easier for photographers to adopt.
Moving over to a mirrorless camera design has allowed camera manufacturers lots more flexibility to innovate. Features such as the shorter flange distance which has helped improve lens design. Removing the mirror box has reduced the number of moving parts and also reduced the number of potential points of failure. This has also allowed for electronic viewfinders that offer far more features than a conventional optical viewfinder.
We're seemingly moving to a point when cameras will have absolutely no moving parts. The mirrorless design was just the first major step in that direction. Removing the mechanical shutter mechanism in the Nikon Z 9 is a bold and noteworthy moment for the camera industry. Nikon has done something quite wonderful and this could open up even more innovations from camera manufacturers. Ultimately, this is definitely an exciting time to be a photographer.