What I Wish To See From A Future Nikon Z 8 or Z 9 Mirrorless Camera

What I Wish To See From A Future Nikon Z 8 or Z 9 Mirrorless Camera

Since this is Santa’s week of choice, I thought it might be a good time to put out a wishlist of my own.

As many regular readers might know, I’ve been on a bit of a gear journey over the last year or so. Some of it has been by necessity, like the increased demand of my clients for motion content requiring me to invest more in video capable devices. Some of it has been through artistic craving, like my choice to shoot a good deal of personal work over the last few months with Fuji cameras as opposed to my traditional Nikons. There’s something about changing up your camera system that can help you view the world and your work in a different way. Some of the motivation for my camera journey has just been the result of old age. Not the old age of my cameras, but the old age of my own body. I doubt my Nikon DSLRs are actually much heavier than they were 15 years ago, but they sure do feel heavier in hands with a slight touch of arthritis. With weight in mind, I’ve searched often over the last couple of years to find a mirrorless camera that can perform as well as my DSLRs with varying levels of success.

At the moment, my starting lineup includes a Nikon D850 as team captain and a Nikon D750 coming off the bench as a backup. My journey into mirrorless began in the Fuji world, which accounts for the ever-present appearance of my Fuji X-T3. My love for that camera led me to purchase a medium format GFX 100 with the aim of making it my star player. But, like many high draft picks, the system hasn’t completely fulfilled its promise. It’s a strong performer to be sure, it’s just that the stodgy veteran, the D850, was even more resilient than I had imagined and has instead maintained its place on the throne.

To solve my video needs, I invested in a Canon EOS C200 system. It really is the ultimate video camera for me. It’s got all the connections and ability to scale up when working with a larger crew, but is easy enough to maneuver and operate when shooting as a one man band. My X-T3 has excellent video capabilities as well and serves as a second camera on video shoots, or as a primary camera when bringing a large cinema camera to a location isn’t practical.

Now, many people reading that may think it’s great to have such a diverse set of cameras to comprise my Fab Five starting lineup. I agree. It would be the height of stupidity to claim a grievance for having too much good fortune in the world. I will say, however, that for all the potency of my lineup, it sure is heavy. While each camera excels in it’s category, if I were to bring all of them to set simultaneously, they would represent three different camera brands, four different lens mounts, and each requires its own separate set of lenses and accessories. Good fortune or not, I long for days when I could leave the house with just one camera and three lenses slung over my shoulder in a cheap camera bag and come back home with great images and without a back problem.

As I’ve related some of my gear experiences over the last year, many readers have posed the logical question of why I didn’t just buy one of the Nikon mirrorless systems like the Z 6 or the Z 7. In many ways I wish I did. However, that is only hindsight, first through practicality and second by choice. At the time I was looking for a video solution, an area where the Z 6 truly excels, the Z 6 and Z 7 had not yet been introduced. At the time, I was fully in the Nikon camp and would have loved nothing more than to have been able to stay there. I even upgraded my D800 to the D850 primarily due to the arrival of 4K. It’s video features pale in comparison to the new systems, but at the time, it was a step forward.

When the Z 6 and Z7 were finally released, I could have opted for them instead of my GFX 100. But, I was in the throes of a love affair with Fuji at the time, and fully intended to take advantage of the mirrorless revolution to explore new possibilities.

But, as I mentioned earlier, as extensive, and expensive, as this journey has been, like most journeys it has simply led me back to where I started. My D850 is still the most effective tool in my bag. Like Ross and Rachel after having gone on a break, my bond with my Nikons is as strong as ever. I’ve even begun exploring the idea of selling it all and switching back to a fully Nikon bag. I would take a hit on my investments into the other systems, but in 2020 terms, I would have more money in the bank while still being able to address my client’s needs while carrying far less weight on my back.

To that end, I’ve spent the last several weeks renting a Nikon Z 6 and putting it through its paces. To be fair, because of what I shoot, I would probably opt for the higher resolution Z 7 if I were to go Nikon mirrorless, but since the two cameras are identical other than the megapixels, and my main concern was accessing ergonomics and functionality, the Z 6 was more than adequate.

Short review: The image quality was fantastic, it integrated well with the other cameras I currently own, and the video features really pushed the limits and caused me to seriously consider if I could use it as my primary video camera.  

While I won’t be selling off my current gear yet, I did learn what I liked about the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7, and also a few things I was less keen about. So what about a hypothetical Z 8 or Z 9? What would those cameras need to have in order to get me to make the switch and for Nikon to bring me completely home? Well, here are just a handful of things on my wishlist. Hopefully Santa will bring these in 2020.

Two Card Slots

Okay, to be fair, this one doesn’t affect me at all. I shoot tethered, so the images never make it to my memory card most of the time to begin with. I don’t shoot events or weddings where I might be worried about losing a file of the bride and groom’s first kiss. And when I do have two cards slots, I’ve always simply used the second for overflow as opposed to a backup. But I understand why it's an issue for other shooters, and it seems like an easy fix. In fact, given all the online blowback for the single card slot in the Z 6 and Z 7, I’d be pretty surprised if this wasn't the first issue Nikon would fix with the new bodies.

I love the ubiquity of SD cards and their easy availability when you need one in a pinch. But, I could see it having dual XQD slots with the option for CFexpress cards to take advantage of the Raw video recording capabilities.

Raw Video Included

Picking up on that last point, the Z 6’s ability to record Raw video should be a game changer for the company. At least temporarily until Sony and Fuji catch up. Being able to record Raw video with my C200 is a major plus. Like stills, the idea is to get everything right on set. But, also like stills, sometimes you just have to grab the camera and start recording. I’ve made a number of documentaries this year and when things are happening too fast for you to have time to adequately dial in your settings, being able to make adjustments to the Raw data after the fact is a big advantage. Being able to do that in a small mirrorless body that can double as a still camera would give a new Nikon system major appeal and make me seriously consider if it might actually be a more cost efficient solution than my Canon.

Right now, the Raw firmware for the Z 6 and Z 7 costs an additional $199. I think that’s well worth the investment. But, if they were to include it for free with the Z 8 and Z 9, that would make the choice all the more tantalizing.

Battery Grip

This might sound counterintuitive. The promise of mirrorless is that it can provide image quality equal to a DSLR but at a much lighter weight. So, the idea of adding additional weight doesn’t seem to make sense. Especially considering that the Z 6 battery life has been quite sufficient so far in my tests. But, I actually would like a battery grip option for a less obvious reason. Length.

I remember the very first time I picked up a full frame mirrorless camera, the Sony a7R III, I was shocked by how light it was. I knew it would be lighter than my Nikon D800. I just didn’t know it would be that much lighter. When I rented the Z 6, I was expecting to have the same reaction. But, perhaps due to the fact that I’ve held a great many mirrorless camera in the interim, while it was lighter than my DSLR, it wasn’t shockingly so. Oddly enough, despite the objectively lighter weight, my fingers were actually cramping up more when shooting with the Z 6 than with the D850 or D750.

It took me a while to figure out why that was, but I realized it was not a matter of the weight of the camera, but the height. Of course this is entirely dependent on the size of one’s hands, but what I discovered was that when holding the Z 6, there was really only room on the grip for my middle and ring finger, while my pinky finger would float or land underneath the camera for support. With the slightly taller D750, there was just enough height that all three fingers would have a place to wrap around the grip itself. So, while the Z 6 was lighter, I was only able to support it with two fingers, whereas the marginally heavier D750 was being supported by three fingers making it feel lighter.

I realize that would only apply to people with large hands, but the difference, to me, negated the advantage of the slightly lighter camera size.  If there were a grip available, it might add to the weight, but it would also make it even more comfortable to hold for people with larger hands.

3D Tracking

I shoot fitness and activewear advertising campaigns. So I shoot a lot of fast moving people. Getting a chance to test out the system while shooting with a model on the beach, I was especially interested in how the Z 6 focus system would hold up.

Coming from a DSLR, I am used to using either a single point focus and recompose method or the excellent Nikon 3D tracking focus to keep moving subjects in focus. The Nikon mirrorless systems add face and eye detection to the mix and these features worked great. At least they performed well up close, but the eye detection seemed to be less effective the further the subject was from the camera. That may just be me though. So, those who have owned the system longer have probably found a workaround.

The mirrorless cameras also have a nice tracking system where you can select your subject and tag them with a tracking box and it will follow them through the frame. The process of choosing the tracking point itself is unnecessarily complicated and could be worth rethinking, but I found it to be effective. Yet still, it wasn’t quite as effective as the 3D tracking available on my DSLRs. Don’t know if there’s a way to include both options in a future model, but that would be great.

Optical Viewfinder Option

Speaking of impossible requests, this is also the one that would make my money jump out of my pocket on its own. One of the big advantages of mirrorless cameras is the electronic viewfinder. It allows you to see the end result of what your shooting and afford the ability to layer more and more information right there in the viewfinder.

There is no question that, objectively speaking, this is an advancement. But, as I’ve talked about in the past, I still prefer an optical viewfinder.  I’ve been shooting long enough to know what my image will look like without the preview. And I am easily confused by too much information. So, for me, the cleaner the viewfinder the better.

It’s subjective and I realize this isn’t a viewpoint shared by all. But, for still work especially, I really prefer looking through the glass rather than seeing a computer rendering. That’s no knock on the Z 6 EVF which is spectacular. And I’m happy to say that blackout is not a significant problem (as it was the fatal flaw of my GFX 100). But, I still prefer an optical viewfinder. It’s one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, I still prefer shooting stills with my DSLRs instead of mirrorless.

I understand that people buy mirrorless cameras for the EVF, so I don’t expect Nikon to eliminate it just for me. But, is there a way to do both?

One of the most beloved aspects of the Fuji X100 system is the hybrid viewfinder. You can choose to either look at the EVF or look through an OVF with the flip of a switch. I don’t know exactly how that works; I’m a photographer, not an engineer. But it is a prime advantage. That may only be possible because the X100F and it’s sibling X Pro bodies are rangefinder style cameras. But, if there were a way to build a Z 8 or Z 9 where you could toggle the EVF on or off, that would take away the primary advantage of a DSLR and motivate more people like me to buy into the mirrorless system.

Higher Resolution

Remember when we all thought the megapixel wars had come to an end? Boy, were we wrong about that. The race to increase megapixel count has renewed with the mirrorless wars with Sony currently being the champ in the full frame space with 61MP in their a7R IV. I’ve heard rumors of 75MP in a future Canon. And I, of course, own a 102MP Fuji GFX 100 medium format system.

Owning that system has taught me two things. One, high megapixel count really does make a difference. And two, a lower megapixel count can sometimes be an advantage too. Like I said, I rented the Z 6 instead of the Z 7 because I could save money, rent it for longer, and I knew I wouldn’t be using it to shoot a major global campaign. In fact, the benefits of smaller file size often outweigh the benefits of higher megapixel count if you are doing anything that doesn’t require making very large prints.

So, if a hypothetical Z 8 were to stick in the 24MP range, I think that would make a lot of sense. The Z 9, however, even if only for the sake of marketing, needs to come in around 75-80MP. I think that, by the time it would be released, that will be seen as the high megapixel standard for full frame, and Nikon will need to hit that mark to be competitive.

Summary

I heard someone reviewing the Z 6 and Z 7 in comparison to the D850 the other day and they made a really good point. I haven’t switched from the D850 to the Z 7 simply because, at the moment, I still feel as though the D850 is the better camera for what I do. That’s not a critique of the Z 7, but rather a testament to how good the D850 is. But the review pointed out that the Z 6 and Z 7 are only Nikon’s first forays into the mirrorless full frame market (we will ignore the Nikon 1 for the moment). The D850, on the other hand, is the pinnacle of decades worth of camera improvements in the DSLR space. So, it shouldn't be surprising that the D850 has mastered it’s craft.

With that in mind, I think Nikon did an admirable job with it’s first round of mirrorless cameras. And while I don’t expect to make the change over with this generation, I am anxiously awaiting the release of the next generation to see how they develop. They have the opportunity not only to attract new customers, but also to retain long time customers like myself. They just have to take the next forward and bring a few advancements, while not completely losing sight of what made the brand great to begin with, as they continue their own journey to building the best system possible.

So what would you like to see in a future Nikon mirrorless release?

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24 Comments

Kurt Langer's picture

Wouldn't it be great and normal if Nikon read your article and went for it! Instead of a new D6 or D760 they absolutely need to put all efforts into the mirrorless systems..

Motti Bembaron's picture

When was the last time Nikon actually listened to its clients?
Sony on the other end...

still has overcomplicated menus and inability to use touch screen for menus on their 4th generation mirrorless camera - something I see complained about ever since the 1'st generation. Was the increase in size, weather sealing on the A7RMkIV really due to listening to customers or competitive threat from Nikon and Canon ? Seriously, this idea that Sony somehow listens to customers while other companies don't is fanboy material. All companies do extensive market research and prioritise their development based on this and a multitude of other factors. Sony however do seem to be masters at managing social media.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Sony had to listen and give their all out because they were trying to go toe-to-toe with the camera giants. And now they have secured a good spot, they have to maintain it... for a while.

They don't listen that much. Their back LCD still sucks, their touch controls still don't help, ergonomics has a lot to improve on, A7s III(or IV), and there's more. Sony is just the leader for full frame mirrorless. Give it time, Canon and Nikon will catch up or maybe surpass Sony.

Motti Bembaron's picture

"...Give it time, Canon and Nikon will catch up or maybe surpass Sony..."

Not so sure about Nikon.

Fritz Asuro's picture

I won't really give up with Nikon yet. I'm one of those who took the risk with the Z series. There's always adjustment period, there will always be stuff that you wish the camera has or will do, but I took my time and learned how to use it well to its capabilities and now I'm really glad I shifted to my Nikon Z6s. Produced really good images and videos with it. I actually trust it more than my other cameras (I use a lot).

Motti Bembaron's picture

I am still with DLSR's but who knows :-). Let's see what they come up with in the future versions.

The Fuji X100 cameras can have both an optical viewfinder and an EVF because they're rangefinder cameras. The optical viewfinder is a fixed focal length and does not look through the mounted lens like SLR cameras do, so I'd argue they're not really preferable to a proper DSLR OVF. If you're using a zoom lens, figuring out where the borders of your frame are is going to be needlessly more difficult with a rangefinder OVF than with an EVF or a SLR OVF.

The other requests in this article all seem pretty reasonable, but wanting an optical viewfinder in a mirrorless camera seems a little silly and is inherently counter to the design of mirrorless systems. Maybe you really want a DSLR with an EVF option for use during Live view mode (when the mirror is locked up).

SCOTT WILSON's picture

They did release a battery grip for both the Z6 & 7. You have a lot of great points and thanks for your post.

Fritz Asuro's picture

As Nikon said, it's a battery pack.

SCOTT WILSON's picture

You’ve right it has nothing but batteries. Missed that. Thanks for pointing it out.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Good points.

Jordan McChesney's picture

Honesty, if they just made the D850, but mirrorless, I’d be over it like peanut butter on my breakfast toast. I love my D850, but it can be a pain when I’m traveling. I personally don’t want more than 48mp, as my D850 fills up my hard drives fast enough, as it is.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Uhm, the Z7 is a D850 without a mirror. I used to have the D850, and the files from the Z7 are very similar. Significant features the Z7 doesn't have compared to D850 is higher FPS, Dual card slots, 3D tracking.

Jordan McChesney's picture

The imaging aspect is very similar, however when I was comparing I read that it doesn’t have illuminated buttons and it has a much shorter battery, which would make it nearly unusable at the fireworks festivals that make up the bulk of my summer shoots. I was on the fence when making the decision for a Z7 or D850, but those two were deal-breakers for me. If I had the extra cash, I’d be more than happy to pick one up as a travel camera, though, it’s still pretty darn good.

Felix Valeri's picture

Battery life is only bad if you use the screen all the time, you can turn that off and only use the viewfinder which will increase battery life

Jordan McChesney's picture

During the fireworks festivals, I exclusively use the screen, because I like to watch the show while I keep my eye on the exposure and change the composition throughout the show. I also look at the shots in the back of my screen during the short breaks or less picturesque fireworks. So it’s on for upwards of an hour and a half straight, and I take upwards of 500 pictures. Perhaps it could last that long, but it’s not something I was willing to risk. In most situations the battery would be fine, but I needed something to suit all my needs all year round.
I should also point out I got my D850 for around $2350 when it was still selling for over $3300 over here, so that affected my decision as well. If I can find a used Z7 for that price I might pick one up.

Fritz Asuro's picture

Though I completely understand that the light up buttons are not in the Z7, a lot of DSLRs don't even have this feature. The shorter battery is not that big of a deal. It's not like it really runs out of battery that fast. If you use the back LCD a lot with brightness all the way up, sure it will. But what I like with Nikon's EVF is the "Prioritize Viewfinder" mode. Switch it on and EVF only switches on if you put your eye on the viewfinder, plus it just really gives the DSLR feel.

Michael Dougherty's picture

They also moved some buttons around meaning I have to be cognizant of button placement when I'm using my D850 and Z7 at the same time. At least they use the same style battery so I only have to carry one charger on trips.

John Koster's picture

What I wish for is just a decent AF system on the Z7. Is that too much to ask? I bought the Z7 and thought I was buying a polished system, only to find their autofocus unreliable, quirky and just plain fucking stupid. Sony and Canon deserve to eat Nikon's lunch. I've been shooting Nikon for 20 years, and wanted to make the jump from DSLR to Mirrorless for all the advantages. Screw it. Sent the Z7 back, gonna stick with my D4S and my D850. If I didn't have so much great F glass I'd be done with them.

bought a Z6 it was okay, have a lot of lenses and a D750 + D850. but for further investments i might switch to sony A7-4 or even a A7r-4. i use the Z6 only for video at this time.

its going to be a Sony 61mpx sensor in a Nikon body which raises the question why not buy sony. as a Nikon shooter i will buy a sony A7-4 when it comes out but i will hang on to my D850. it can do things sony's cant.

Thank you! This is all we ask for. It’s not like it’s rocket science either, Nikon. Give us a true competitive professional featured mirrorless option. It’s not like all of us will abandon DSLRs.

Robert Teague's picture

I have the Z7 and like you found it a bit too small for my hands. However, after adding the Lim half-case, I no longer feel that way; it adds a small amount of height, but it's just enough. I've never had an issue with the focusing; it's different from a DSLR, so I needed to learn how it focuses. I'm looking for a Z9 at around 60MP.