The Most Versatile Z

The Nikon Z 9 brings confidence in shooting mixed in with the powerful performance and speed that you would expect from a flagship camera.

As an ambassador for Nikon Canada, I was fortunate enough to be able to test out a pre-production model of the Nikon Z 9 mirrorless camera before its official launch. Knowing how versatile of a camera this would be, I took on a more intimate approach to showcasing its many different shooting features through my many outings in the outdoors. This blog post will be of my personal experiences using the camera for a very short period of time, mixed in with some technical specifications of the Nikon Z 9.

You can read the full specifications of the Nikon Z 9 on their press release, here.

FYI

While only a minimal amount of editing was done to these photos coming out of the pre-production Nikon Z 9, it’s the stories behind them that fully capture the strength of the tool being used. All of these photos have been saved as a lower-quality png for the purpose of this blog.

The warm pastel colours of a sunrise over Lake Ontario is just as inviting for photographers as it is for paddlers. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

That Nikon Z 9 EVF (Electronic Viewfinder)

Resolution: 1280×960 pixels = 3.69 million dots; same as the Nikon Z7ii

One of the first things I did when I got the pre-production model of the Nikon Z 9 was head up north to Algonquin Park for some astro photography. The advancements in low-light performance was immediately noticeable, not to mention the surprisingly impressive performance of the viewfinder despite having very similar specs to the Nikon Z 7ii. I was able to see the scene in front of me so much clearer than with my Nikon Z 7ii. Pointing to the sky, I was able to actually see the brightest stars twinkling in the viewfinder, allowing me to directly focus on it with ease.

If the specs are the same with the Nikon Z 7ii, then why is it so much clearer?

This has a lot to do with the improvements made within the camera—not to mention the advancements in the EXPEED 7 processor used in the Nikon Z 9. Nikon uses what they call a Dual-Stream technology to enable a Real-Live Viewfinder. This produces a realistic and naturally looking electronic viewfinder that is a night-and-day comparison to that of the Nikon Z 7ii. Because of the increased processing power of the EXPEED 7, the camera is capable of processing out the digital noise, and making refinements to the EVF to bring you a viewfinder that in many ways surpasses the optical viewfinder. The Nikon Z 9 has approximately 10 times the processing power of the Nikon Z 7ii—which has two EXPEED 6 processors!

Suffice it to say that just reading the specs on paper doesn’t do this viewfinder experience any justice. You have to see it with your own eyes to understand the advancements that went into it.

Is this truly a blackout free viewfinder?

In short, yes. The Nikon EXPEED 7 processor is capable of what is called the Dual-Stream technology. This means there are two separate pipelines of data being transmitted from the sensor. One stream goes to the processing engine to create the image file while the second stream goes directly to the EVF to create the image in the viewfinder. Since the data is constantly being streamed through these pipelines simultaneously, there is no need to black out the viewfinder when the shutter button is pressed.

Most—if not all the—mirrorless cameras (as of publishing this post) only have one stream going from the sensor to the processor while part of that stream is extracted to go to the EVF. This in turn may yield in any one of stuttering of images, repeated frames, and blackouts upon pressing the shutter button.

EVF display

With a 3,000 nits, quad-vga display, the Nikon Z 9 electronic viewfinder is the brightest and most impressive viewfinder Nikon has ever made. There are a number of display options available to the Nikon Z 9 to cater to the needs of various photographers. With complete customization in terms of viewing EVF information on the top, bottom, left or right of the screen.

You also have the option to choose the shutter release notification inside the EVF. You can have a thin white border appear on the left and right, all around, or none at all, whenever the shutter button is pressed. This discrete way of letting you know you’ve taken a photo is especially perfect for when you’re doing burst modes.

That Nikon Z 9 Sensor

The Nikon Z 9 has a 45mp stacked CMOS sensor design. This stacked sensor, in conjunction with the EXPEED 7 processor, is why we are able to get 120 auto focus calculations per second and a blackout-free viewfinder as described above.

The sensor read-out speed of the Nikon Z 9 is so fast that it is almost on par with the speed of the mechanical shutter on the Nikon Z 7ii. This means we get pretty much little to no rolling shutter effect using this electronic shutter.

With no mechanical shutter in the Nikon Z 9, the shutter speed can now go as high as 1/32,000 sec. allowing for use of fast lenses during bright conditions without the use of any filters. Moreover, the shutter count of a camera is no longer a limiting factor in the durability of a camera.

Dual Sensor Coatings

The sensor now has a shield to cover it when a lens is removed from the body. We also have two special coatings applied directly to the front element of the sensor:

  1. Fluorine coating that allows for easier cleanup of the sensor
  2. Coating to reduce dust and other particles from sticking to the sensor

The sensor does not have an Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF), making this camera a desirable one even for landscape, astro, and wildlife photographers!

RAW Files

Nikon simplified their RAW file output for the Z 9, and this is one area that shouldn’t be overlooked. No matter which RAW mode you choose in the setting, you are still getting the full 45mp, 14-bit file. Let’s take a look:

  • Lossless Compressed RAW | 45-60mb | Your typical 45mp RAW file, similar to that of the Nikon Z 7ii
  • High Efficiency* RAW | 25-30mb | Similar to RAW M file size on the Nikon Z 7ii
  • High Efficiency RAW | 15-30mb | Similar to RAW S file size on the Nikon Z 7ii

Why Is This Important?

Traditionally when we had different RAW formats, the resolution of the file changed as well as the accompanying file size. This was a welcome option for many photographers out in the field who needed to take their photos and send them to their agencies immediately after taking them. The smaller file size meant faster editing and transferring times.

The Nikon Z 9 changes this mentality by allowing photographers to retain the full 45mp resolution of the camera but still reap the benefits of a smaller file size.

This now allows for more editing flexibility by allowing the photographer to crop in on their photos as needed, and still output a respectable resolution for print usage.

Nikon Z 9 Autofocus

Solidly tracking the red squirrel across the ground and on to the tree, this little guy finally stopped on a branch as he enjoyed his findings from down below. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

No doubt one of the most eagerly anticipated feature of the Nikon Z 9 might have been the improvements made in the autofocus department. Not to say the Nikon Z 6ii and 7ii autofocus system is bad by any means, the Nikon Z 9 improves on it in many ways.

While we have the same settings as the Nikon Z 7ii for AF-S, we have some improvements when it comes to the AF-C options:

  • Single Point
  • Dynamic—S, M, L
  • Wide Area—S, L
  • Auto
  • 3D Tracking

With the ability to seamlessly identify and focus on the following, it was so convenient to simply set the focus to auto, letting the camera decide what to focus on:

  • People
  • Animal (Dog, cat, bird)
  • Vehicle (Plane, train, motorcycle/bicycle, car)

The above modes can be used in Wide Area modes as well.

In the above photo of the squirrel, I was tracking the squirrel as it ran through branches and leaves using Wide Area S. The focus was spot on as i was able to take a pin-point sharp image of the squirrel even with very little ambient light. The squirrel was about 20 feet away up high, hiding behind branches and leaves but the Nikon Z 9 had no issues tracking the eye as it moved about.

Capturing Modes

In-camera composite of 10 60-second exposures. The only editing done in this photo was in Photoshop to edit some lights down below from cars passing by. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

What’s truly exciting about the Nikon Z 9 is that using the advanced autofocus methods, taking advantage of its low-light capabilities, and using the powerful EVF, you’re able to shoot in so many different ways. While these may not be specific to the Nikon Z 9 as they have been around on the earlier Nikon Z cameras, I am truly glad they kept these shooting features on the flagship camera, bringing in an element of fun in photography.

Multiple Exposure Image

The image above was created in-camera using the multiple exposure feature. It was created by stacking (Lighten mode) 10 60-second exposed images all done internally. The resulting JPG image takes on the characteristics set in the Picture Control setting—in this case I believe it was set to Landscape. What a great way to get instant star trail images right from your camera! And as always, finding focus at night wasn’t an issue at all as I was able to clearly see the night light and stars right within the EVF.

An in-camera three-exposure composite of Niagara Falls. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

This photo above of Niagara Falls at night is the in-camera JPG created by the HDR mode of the camera. It brackets three photos and automatically blends them together in-camera, resulting in a JPG using the Picture Control setting. It’s a much quicker way to create an HDR image than having to work with luminosity masks in Photoshop. But as always, if you wanted to tweak the image afterwards, the camera will save the individual RAW files so you can further edit them to your liking.

The camera’s ability to find the proper focus and exposure when there is high dynamic range is incredible. With the long exposure I created with this, I was afraid the highlight of the falls would blow out. I simply set it up for one shot, took the number of photos needed, and the camera did the rest producing this shot with all the details intact in the waterfall.

You can easily create in-camera timelapses up to 8K resolution. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

Timelapse

Another mode that I am excited about is the timelapse mode, which allows you to create individual RAW files, or an in-camera timelapses up to a resolution of 8k.

While I’m unable to show the actual timelapse, the above is just one of the images created for the timelapse. Focusing in near darkness was a breeze with the Nikon Z 9 and the resulting timelapse was pure goodness. You’ll just have to take my word on it. 🙂

Nikon Z 9 Burst Performance

Burst mode is used to capture a great blue heron just as he was taking off from the river. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

One of the standout feature of the Nikon Z 9 is its burst mode capabilities. Here’s a summary of what it can do:

  • 20 FPS full resolution 14-bit RAW files
  • 30 FPS 45 megapixel JPG files (C30 mode)
  • 120 FPS 11 megapixel JPG files (C120 mode)

With an incredibly fast readout of the entire sensor, the Nikon Z 9 can churn out so many images in such a short time. When I first tried this out, I had forgotten I was in Silent Mode, so I had continuously pressed the shutter button for about three seconds wondering why it wasn’t taking any pictures. I soon realized it was in fact taking 120 frames for each second I had the shutter button pressed. Oops!

The speed is quite impressive: I was able to produce a one-second video of a heron flying using the 20-some-odd photos it took during burst mode—and it really looked like a video of a heron flying away. Wow!

Nikon Z 9 Low-Light Performance

The Nikon Z 9 allows you to focus on objects in the shadow areas, improving its performance over the Z 7ii. This allowed me to compose and choose my focal point in more situations during a sunrise shoot. Shot with the pre-production version of the Nikon Z 9.

For anyone that knows me, I love photographing the sunrise here in Toronto. This means getting out while it is still dark, so I am very happy with the improvements in the low-light performance as well.

Nikon Z 9 ISO

Base ISO: 64

The ISO range of the Nikon Z 9 is the same as that of the Z 7ii: ISO 64 – 25,600.

However, don’t let that fool you. With Expeed 7 and the algorithms developed for the Nikon Z 9, I noticed an immediate improvement in terms of being able to focus on subjects hidden in the shadows of my frame. These were elements even my Nikon Z 7ii had trouble finding.

Nikon Z 9 Video Performance

If you appreciate the ability of the more recent cameras to offer video capabilities, you will definitely appreciate the video capabilities of the Nikon Z 9. Here are some of the key video modes on the Nikon Z 9:

  • 1080p 24, 30, 60, 120fps
  • 4K 24, 30, 60, 120fps
  • 8K 24, 30, 60* fps

The Nikon Z 9 is capable of filming all of the above modes—with the exception of 8K 60fps—for longer than two hours in length—you are pretty much only limited to how large your memory card is.

I absolutely loved having the ability to shoot in 4K 120fps as it allows for buttery smooth slow motion video. If you’re outputting to 1080p, you’ll have even more flexility to pan around within the 4K video footage, allowing for even more creativity in your final video.

RAW Video

RAW video capabilities can be a terrific feature for a camera—if you’re prepared to edit these files yourself. With a future firmware update, the Nikon Z 9 will enable internal RAW video recording! The Nikon Z 9 will allow for PreRes RAW or the new Nikon RAW video format, which will enable 8K 60fps, 12-bit RAW internal recording for an extended period of time.

Just like RAW images though, be prepared to contend with large file sizes and do all the video editing yourself. I suspect you will need a very powerful computer to process any length of 8K 60fps RAW video footage.

Final Thoughts

There are so many new and improved features on the Nikon Z 9 that I couldn’t test them all out in the short period I had the camera. It is safe to say though, that given its diverse number of feature set in concert with improved low light and autofocus capabilities, the Nikon Z 9 is by far Nikon’s most versatile Z camera. I feel that whether you are a sports, photojournalist, wildlife photographer, wedding photographer, event, or even landscape photographer, the camera is capable of handling anything you put it up against.

The Nikon Z 9 is a worthy camera to be considered a flagship camera and I look forward to adding this gear to my camera bag.


Questions?

Let me know if you have any comments or questions on the Nikon Z 9 and I will do my best to answer them for you.

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