While March might be a bit early for me to already be filling out my holiday wish list for Santa Claus, the recent announcement that Nikon is developing a Z 9 to be released this year already has me in a festive mood.
Nikon said that the camera should be released sometime this year. I’m guessing they will have prototype units at this year’s Olympics. Then, if I was a betting man, I’d expect them to be on shelves or more likely on backorder by the holiday season. So, here is what I’m hoping to have under the Christmas tree.
Now, I should make clear at the top that I have absolutely zero inside information about what the Z 9 would be capable of beyond the press release suggesting it would be shaped like the D6, shoot 8K, have a stacked sensor, and apparently league-leading autofocus. And those are all good starts. But I think the Z 9 is going to be an incredibly important release for Nikon, and my fingers are crossed that they can knock it out of the park.
If you sense a rooting interest here, you are right. I’ve been shooting with Nikons for nearly two decades since the start of my career. I’ve been in and out of battle with my Nikon DSLR bodies so many times that I feel confident I can operate them blindfolded and still know I’m going to come out of the shoot with a usable image, at least technically speaking.
But the shift towards mirrorless cameras has thrown a big monkey wrench into the gear debate. For a DSLR shooter like myself who has grown to both love and trust my Nikon cameras, there’s never been much of a reason to consider changing brands. One, the Nikon system I’ve been using has suited my and my client’s needs. And two, I’m so heavily invested in F mount glass and Nikon accessories by this point that changing brands is not only risky but ridiculously expensive.
Then came the dawn of mirrorless. If you’re a regular reader, you will know that anytime I mention mirrorless cameras, I am more than likely following up that statement with a reference to how much I love my DSLRs. And while in addition to my DSLRs, I’ve owned or spent a significant amount of time using at least nine different mirrorless bodies over the past few years, I still prefer shooting with a DSLR for stills. But, unfortunately, the market doesn’t base itself around my personal tastes, and the shift to mirrorless cameras is clear. I’m still holding out hope that Nikon will release a D880 update that will bring better video capabilities than my D850 while still allowing me to keep my optical viewfinder. But I am aware that even if they do, it may very well be one of the last DSLRs they design. All of this means that, sooner or later, I am going to be forced into shooting mirrorless if I want to “upgrade” my gear. I still happen to think that day is still a long way away. But, since planning is my spirit animal, I do spend a lot of time thinking about what my future plan will be.
Because I am a Nikonian, my first choice would be to stay within the family. So I’ve dabbled with Nikon’s first generation of mirrorless by buying the original Z 6 mainly for its video capabilities. And I dug even deeper into the newer generation of the Z 6II and Z 7II cameras. I’ve found both to be amazing cameras.
But, as I mentioned in my reviews of both of those cameras, what I’ve found most compelling about the Z system are not the bodies, but the lenses. The Z glass is simply amazing for its performance and ergonomics. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time wishing there was a way to put my new Z lenses on a DSLR body. I realized this is impossible. But a man can dream.
All of which brings me back to the Z 9 currently in development. You probably noticed two things from previous ramblings. One, despite how many mirrorless cameras, Nikon and otherwise, I have put through the paces over the last few years, I have still yet to find one that I prefer to my D850, at least not when I’m working professionally. For walkaround casual shooting, yes. But when my livelihood is on the line, the sheer efficiency and effectiveness of my D850 continue to be first at-bat. That’s a personal choice rather than a comment on any specific mirrorless body. But whether that makes me a Luddite or not, it is still the truth.
The second thing you’ll notice from the preamble is that the key to unlocking the Z system is the lenses. This is great news for Z owners. But it also presents a certain unforeseen hurdle for Nikon as well. Because the lenses are so much of the fun, if I were to switch to mirrorless, I would, more than likely, be looking at replacing all of my F mount glass with Z lenses. Sure, I can use the adapter. But, really, the native lenses are always going to be a better fit for any system, and ultimately, I would be looking at a pretty heavy investment in the future to trade out all the old for the new.
The quality of the lenses acts as an incentive to choose the Z system. But the eventual financial outlay removes the cost-benefit of staying within the Nikon family. In other words, assuming you eventually change your lenses, you are no longer saving money on glass by going from a Nikon DSLR to a Nikon mirrorless versus any of the competitors. In either case, you’d have to rebuy your lens lineup. So, it puts Nikon DSLR users considering making the switch to mirrorless back in the position of first-time camera buyers who don’t yet have money invested in a particular brand. You can literally choose from any mirrorless camera on the market, and the relative costs are going to be the same as migrating from Nikon DSLR to Nikon mirrorless.
Of course, there are other things to consider like brand loyalty, years of positive experience with a brand, and so forth. So, it’s not all about specs. But it does put a lot of pressure on the bodies themselves to match the capabilities of their closest competitors. I haven’t shot with every mirrorless camera on the market, but I’ve definitely spent a fair amount of time shooting non-Nikon cameras as well. And, as you might expect, while Nikon’s new mirrorless cameras are superb, there are areas where the competition excels as well.
So, I thought, what better time than now to put out my wishlist for the things I’d like to see in the new Z 9 that will not only keep it on par with the competition but make the decision to finally make the switch to mirrorless all the more attractive? I realize I have absolutely no sway over Nikon. I also realize that many of these things may already be in the development plan or have already been ruled out of the development plan. But I hope that if I put some of these ideas out into the universe that maybe one or two might come to fruition.
So, without further ado, here are a few of the things that I would really like to see in a Nikon Z 9 that would make it the camera to finally replace my D850.
Be Better Than The D850
“You step to the king, you best not miss.” I have owned the D850 for around four years now. In that time, I have either owned or operated a vast cornucopia of mirrorless cameras professed to be the best thing since sliced bread. And many of them have been amazing cameras with major technological advancements. But, each of them, one-by-one, has, in the end, not been able to match up to the efficiency and effectiveness of using my D850. That’s totally subjective, and your results will no doubt vary. But, as of yet, I have yet to find something in the mirrorless world that is a clear advantage in a real-world application. For a long time, I’ve been hoping that a mirrorless camera would come along that I could at least feel was the clear equal of my D850. But with Canon and Sony really stepping up their offerings in the recent months, I’m starting to feel like I need something that is not only as good as my D850 but far exceeds it, not just in terms of sheer specs, but in ergonomics, dependability, and speed of use.
As an example, I am currently doing some testing with the Canon EOS R5. I have a client who has their own studio with Canon 5D Mark IVs in-house, so I’ve shot a number of jobs using that system. And I feel like shooting with the R5 is much closer in experience to shooting with a Canon DSLR than the Z 7II, for example, is to shoot with a D850. I don’t know if that makes sense. But because of the similar feel with the added features, the upgrade from Canon DSLR to Canon mirrorless seems clear cut to me. I want to pick up the Z 9 and immediately feel as though it’s not only a great mirrorless camera but a clear upgrade, regardless of the DSLR versus mirrorless debate, to shooting with my D850.
8K Raw Internal
Pretty much any mirrorless camera is a major upgrade on my D850 in the video department. While the first item on my wishlist was centered on still photography, the Nikon Z system has already pushed the boundaries in the video world. I’ve shot dozens of short films by this point using Z cameras, and they offer Nikon users a massive upgrade in the video department.
There is only one gripe I’ve ever had with the Nikon Z system in terms of video, and that is that in order to shoot a 10-bit log (or raw video), you need to attach an external recorder. I already own a Ninja V, so it’s not a cost issue. But the main reason I got the Z 6 in the first place was to have a super-compact video option to get really high-quality footage without the bulk and attention that my cinema cameras attract. The 8-bit internal video looks great, and I find it quite suitable for vlogging or general-purpose video work. But I make more narrative films, and my own personal workflow is very much based around more robust codecs, log, and color grading. So, I find that when I do shoot with the Z 6, because it’s not capable of shooting log or raw video internally, I am always attaching the Atmos. The resulting footage is excellent. But it does defeat the purpose of having a smaller camera in the first place. And, as a result, I then end up having to choose between the Z 6 with the monitor attached or a slightly larger, but understandably far more video-centric, cinema camera that can record everything internally and provides the extra necessary ports, cooling system, and battery life to make my life easier on set. In that scenario, I am usually going to go with the cinema camera, as it is purpose-built for motion. But if I could record at least a 10-bit internal log with the Z 9, then its size advantages might make it a better option.
Going back to the R5 example, it is not a perfect camera by any means. And its issues with overheating are well documented. But the option of being able to throw it into 8K raw mode and shoot everything internally while maintaining the small form factor is a big benefit. I may still opt for my cinema camera for bigger shoots. But, if I am out with just the R5, I know that I can still shoot footage internally that will integrate seamlessly into my color grading process and workflow.
I don’t know what all the technical requirements are for a camera to be able to record 8K internally. But, I’m hoping that the presumed larger body of the Z 9 would provide better cooling options to be able to avoid the overheating issues and shoot without needing to mount a monitor. Speaking of raw video, Nikon leads the field by allowing you to add ProRes RAW video shooting with the Atmos and with the recent generation, added Blackmagic RAW video as well. That was a very good move. Not sure if there is a way to record both of those internally on a Z 9, but that would make me very happy.
The Z 9 development announcement stated that the autofocus on the new camera would be best in class. And, having shot with excellent autofocus on Nikon DSLRs over the years, I do have faith in them to pull it off. So, this point is not so much a wishlist item as it is my having my fingers crossed. I’ve written a lot on how improved the Nikon autofocus has been on the Z 6II and Z 7II. And I’ve written about how you can get similar results to shooting with a D850 once you wrap your head around the new focusing system. But, since the Z 9 is technically in the D6 category, I would be hoping that its autofocus won’t only match that of my D850 but exceed it by leaps and bounds both in accuracy and, more importantly, in ease of use.
Fully Articulating Screen
Put this in the category of things I never thought I would like but was surprised to learn that I actually do. Having shot with a couple of cameras now with fully articulating LCD screens, I’ve found two main benefits.
As a photographer, director, and cinematographer, my goal is to be behind the camera and not in front of it. But, as times change, I do find myself in front of the camera more and more, quite often filming myself as a one-man band. I can always mount the monitor to the top of my camera and swivel it around so that I can see myself while filming. But, piggybacking on my earlier point that the point of mirrorless cameras is to be compact, being able to just flip around the LCD screen so that I can see myself is a massive time-saver. I am not trying to become a YouTube celebrity anytime soon. But even I need to tape myself from time to time, even if just during lighting practice sessions when I am trying to explore the effects of moving a fixture one way or another. The articulating screen is a small thing, but has a big benefit.
That benefit is mainly for video as I don’t use the LCD screen to shoot stills. But there is a less obvious thing I really like about a fully articulating screen while shooting stills as well. This absolutely goes into the category of me just being strange. But, as I like to reveal all my strangeness, I thought I’d share. The fully articulating screen can flip around to the front so you can see yourself when standing in front of the camera. But, you can also flip it around and completely hide the screen on the back. What I mean is that you can flip it around so that the screen side faces into the back of the camera with the hard plastic back facing outwards. In essence, you can make believe that the LCD screen doesn’t exist at all.
I know what you’re thinking. Why would you spend all that money on a camera with a top-quality LCD screen then want to hide it? Well, for a couple of reasons. As a clumsy person, I like turning the LCD screen inward when not in use so that I don’t accidentally crack the screen somehow. It also prevents me from smudging it with my face when I press my eye to the back of the camera. Two, because I hate screens to begin with, not seeing the screen is no detriment to my shooting ability, but it is a psychological boost. I am one of those strange people who really liked when Fuji came out with the X-Pro3 with the hidden LCD screen. A lot of folks laughed, but to me, it was great. I want to remove as many distractions as possible when shooting and just engage with my subject. Hiding the LCD screen is another small thing that can have a big subconscious effect. I realize I’m in the minority on that preference, and that isn’t the main benefit of a fully articulating screen, but I still enjoy it nonetheless.
This one also falls into the likely category. From the product mockup photos, it seems clear that the Z 9 will be a bigger build. But, as someone who is used to shooting with DSLRs all these years, I can often miss the more significant grip of my DSLRs when shooting mirrorless. The size of the Z 9 will hopefully bridge that gap by being larger and more substantial in the hand, while still having some weight savings as a result of being mirrorless.
So, there you have it. Not such a crazy wishlist, I think. Who knows if any of these things will actually come to fruition. I just wanted to put a few thoughts out into the world to see if anyone’s listening. What do you want to see in the Z 9? This is just my list based on my own particular shooting style. What would make you happy?