The wait is over! The moment Nikon shooters have been waiting for has finally arrived and it’s likely even better than many could have expected.
I was a D850 shooter. I still maintain that it’s the best DSLR ever created. Before that, I owned the D800. The Nikon “8” numbered cameras have always seemed the perfect fit for my needs as a professional photographer. They have offered the highest resolution in the brand’s lineup. They have not been the most expensive camera in the lineup. That title understandably belongs to the ultra rugged D6 or now Z9 level products. But the “8” cameras always come in just below that with many of the bells and whistles but at a lighter weight and lower cost.
As I am hardly the only person to have fallen in love with the D850, I am also hardly the only person to have immediately thought about a mirrorless version once the industry began to change over from DSLRs into a mirrorless world. I searched far and wide, both inside the Nikon ecosystem and outside of it for a camera that could provide me with the same user experience of the D850, but with all the benefits of mirrorless.
After an embarrassingly large number of my own missteps in that direction, I finally found the perfect camera for my needs when Nikon released the Z9 in late 2021. It was the first mirrorless camera that could legitimately beat my D850. It allowed me to go all-in on the Z system and never look back.
Yet still, as I mentioned earlier, that camera belongs in the flagship category of the camera market. There was still room for another mirrorless body that would fall into that segment which the D850 occupied within the DSLR lineup. The camera that has it all, but comes in a more manageable form factor than the larger built-in-grip pro bodies and at a more manageable price tag as well. It was always built right into the naming scheme for the Z system. We had a Z5, Z6, Z7, and Z9. So, where was the Z8?
Ask that question no more, as Nikon today has announced the brand new Z8 mirrorless camera. Speculation has been rife on the internet for years. I myself started using the term “the mythical Z8” in an article three years ago. Would it be a super high-resolution beast? Would it be a cinema camera? Would it be a mini-Z9? Well, for those of you who picked option C, you win the jackpot.
The Z8 has basically all the same features as the Z9. So much so that to repeat all the specs feels a little like rehashing my Z9 review. But here are the essentials that you will want to know right off the bat.
The camera has the exact same 45.7 MP stacked CMOS sensor as the Z9. Like the Z9, there is no mechanical shutter. Also, like the Z9, it has the sensor cover that automatically comes down to protect the sensor from dust when changing lenses. It has an identical autofocus system, right down to the super handy dedicated autofocus mode button on the lower left-hand corner that is present on the Z9 as well (one of my favorite features). Same EXPEED 7 image processor. Same ability to shoot up to 20 fps raw or 30 fps JPEG. And, yes, it does have the same option to shoot 11 MP JPEGs at 120 fps. The Z8 even adds the ability to shoot in the HEIF format. It also has the same pre-release capture capabilities which can be so helpful when shooting sports or wildlife.
It sports the same blackout free live viewfinder system that is in the Z9. This is actually one of the most valuable parts of the Z8. Especially for those who are switching over from a DSLR. The one thing I always absolutely hated about the mirrorless experience was having to lose my optical viewfinder in favor of an EVF. EVFs have a lot to offer in terms of exposure previews and other features. Yet, personally, I just didn’t like the experience, especially the blackout, as compared to an optical experience. The dual flow system introduced with the Z9 fixed all of that. It is simply the best viewing experience for a mirrorless camera on the market. Very close to an optical viewfinder with the added benefits of mirrorless. And the new Z8 has brought in the exact same system.
As someone who spends even more time as a filmmaker than as a still photographer these days, I was particularly interested in knowing what video features would make it to the Z8. Would Nikon hold back some features and reserve them for its higher end system? I am extremely happy to say that the exact same video features in the Z9, including 8.3K N-RAW at up to 60p, ProRes RAW HQ, ProRes 422 HQ, 10-bit N-log internally, and all the other formats available to filmmakers in the Z9 are available in the Z8.
So, yeah, basically it’s a mini-Z9. Oh, and all of this comes in at an incredibly competitive price of $3,999.95.
But what isn’t there? Obviously, there has to be some difference to separate this camera from its big brother and allow it to come in roughly $1,500 less. And if you are deciding between the Z8 and Z9, there are some minor tradeoffs. For one, the camera uses the same battery form factor, the EN-EL15c, that has been around with all the D850/Z6II/Z7II bodies. This is actually good for D850 shooters, as you will likely already have a bunch of spare batteries which you can use with this camera. And, for the vast majority of photographers, this battery is all you will need. The Z9, on the other hand, comes with a significantly larger battery. Hence, the built-in battery grip. That battery can pretty much run forever, whereas you would need to change the D850 battery more often. Then again, Nikon has also announced an optional battery grip, the MB-N12 ($349.95), which will work with the Z8 and extend battery life even further. So, you get a more compact body with the Z8 by default, but the option of more battery life when you need it.
The Z8 also features two card slots. However, whereas the Z9 has dual CFexpress Type B card slots, the Z8 features one CFexpress/XQD slot and one SD slot. Again, for the majority of use cases, this is more than adequate. And the SD option gives you a choice of using less expensive SD media if you don’t need the speed of CFexpress. The only limitations come in when it comes to dual card recording. For instance, on the Z9, you can record 8K N-RAW to both cards simultaneously so that you have a backup. On the Z8, you would only be able to record the 8K N-RAW to the CFexpress card and not to the SD card. That’s not to say that you can’t record to both cards simultaneously. There are just some limitations when using things like 8K. This is to be expected though and not something that is going to be a practical detriment for the majority of use cases.
Unlike the Z9, the Z8 does not have an Ethernet port. In its place, it offers dual USB-C jacks. This is a blessing for studio photographers who may now use one connection to tether while still having a free port to use for powering the camera over a long shoot. This is one of those small additions that I suspect will add up to big dividends for working photographers.
If you are a D850 owner and considering whether to switch to the Z8, this seems like a clear upgrade. The Z9 was already the mirrorless camera that convinced me to switch to mirrorless and is arguably the best camera I’ve ever owned. The Z8 is essentially the Z9 but smaller and less expensive, with the main trade-offs being the battery life and the card slots. So, if the Z8 is anything like the specs suggest, it will be a clear upgrade over the D850 for all users.
I’ll give you a full review once I’ve gotten a chance to take the camera out in the field. I’m trying to get my hands on one as quickly as I can and will come back to offer some of my thoughts.
But what are your thoughts? Does this product announcement scratch your itch? Is this what you always wanted from the mythical Z8? Will you be the first in line? Nikon has announced that they have put all their resources into making sure there will be as many cameras available as possible once they start shipping. But, we all know that these will sell out fast. So, if you want one, now is the time to place your order. The camera begins shipping May 25th.
I’m excited to see this in person. Maybe I should have tried the Z9 but I had the Z7 for a few months and just didn’t fall in love with it over my D850. My biggest issues were switching between live view exposure modes when shooting natural light (with EVF set to what you see is what you get) and strobe shooting (EVF set to bright mode).
I know Canon and maybe even the Z6 have a mode that flips the EVF into different modes automatically when the hotshoe flash trigger is turned on but I could never get that to work. To be fair I’ve had the same frustrations with our Sony A7siii cameras.
The auto focus was better than my DSLR and I’m looking forward to diving deeper into the AF modes in video. If it has competitive stabilization to our Panasonic GH5/6 cameras and the AF and focus pulling of the Sony in video mode, this could be my dream camera for stills and video.
Oh but wait, does the screen flip all the way around for filming YouTube content and gimbal shooting? Damnit Nikon!!!! That’s a deal breaker for me along with limitless record time for interviews.
It wasn't until the Z9 that I finally gave up my D850. So far, at least, seems as though the Z8 is basically like the Z9 in regard to speed and features, but the same size roughly as the D850. The Z6/Z7 have always been a bit too small for my hand size. The Z8 is slightly bigger so it's easier for me to personally hold. The screen doesn't flip all the way around though. It's the same setup as the Z9 as opposed to the fully articulating screen. My Z9 has the awesome function where it automatically switch the EVF live view mode when I attach my Profoto trigger. I'm guessing the Z8 will do the same, but don't know yet. The Z9 also has limitless record time. I think this also applies to the Z8, but will have to check that out as well.
Are your flashes/triggers specific to your brand. For instance, for Sony, you'd need the Sony specific flash/trigger. I have a7iii and the live view automatically switches.
Here's a vid of a a7iv:
I mostly shoot Profoto and have Nikon and Sony triggers. That said, I've never really tried our Sony cameras to see if they switch with the trigger on them.
The Z9 only has one usb c port but with the right cable it charges and tethers simultaneously. I never have to change batteries on my corporate headshot shoots because of this. A standard usb-c to usb-c cable by tether tools does the trick.
I’d imagine will be the same on the Z8. Where I see the advantage of the two usb-c ports on the Z8 is if you have trigger of some shot that requires usb-c. That’s definitely been an issue, albeit a very rare one, where I want to tether and use certain triggers simultaneously. Perhaps this is the solution I need for certain focus stacking rails that I’m looking into for when I want to tether.
A lighter weight Z9, what else can I ask for?
I switched from Nikon to Sony for the A7siii. I'm glad to see Nikon killing it with the z8 and z9, I just wish they came out in 2020.
This announcement makes me think a Z9ii is coming soonish. At a glance the z8 effectively is going to be the better choice for almost everyone now. You get just as much camera in a smaller package and for $1500 less. Z9 sales are going to plummet.
Big win overall for Nikon though. The Z8 feels like a homerun.
"So, if the Z8 is anything like the specs suggest, it will be a clear upgrade over the D850 for all users." Not ALL users.
I ordered one to replace my fist generation Z7. I really wanted a higher mp body, but I have a Fuji GFX 100s to fill that role.
"For instance, on the Z9, you can record 8K N-RAW to both cards simultaneously so that you have a backup."
Really? Since when? I thought the Z9 did not have dual card video recording? Only overflow.
I switched to mirror less using a Z6ii. It was ok filled most requirements but it’s lacking a superb autofocus system. Tried the Z9 loved the autofocus but the form factor is what held me back
Now this issue is solved I’ve just preordered the Z8
The Z8 will simplify my life! I currently have a D850 and Z6. Both great cameras, but having to maintain both F-mount and Z-mount lenses was a bit much. I now have the Z8 on pre-order and will transition over to all S glass when it arrives. The fact that the Z8 is also a bit lighter, faster and smaller doesn't hurt either. I also think some of the Z9 technology will show up in crop sensor versions this year. Just a personal prediction.
It was going to take something special to pry the D850 from my hands, but Nikon did it with the Z8!