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Nikon Z9 Review

Nikon Z9 review
Review

Price when reviewed

£5299

€6299
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Our Verdict

The Nikon Z9 offers just about everything professional and enthusiast photographers might want from a camera. It’s big and heavy for a mirrorless camera, but it’s also twin-gripped, weather-sealed and a bit lighter than the Nikon D6.

Its 45.7Mp sensor is excellent and able to capture a high level of detail without over-stretching the camera’s noise control.

There’s also 20fps full-resolution shooting for raw files, 30fps for Jpegs and 120fps shooting at 11Mp, paired with what looks like an excellent AF system with super-sticky Eye-detection.

The Nikon Z9 goes beyond what’s offered by the Nikon D6 while at £5,299/€6,299 it costs around £1,000 less and offers stiff competition to the Sony A1 and Canon EOS R3.

For

  • New 45.7Mp full-frame sensor sensor
  • Advanced AF system
  • Durable, weatherproof build

Against

  • No mechanical shutter
  • Firmware updates to come in 2022 to get the full video feature set

What is the Nikon Z9?

Aimed at professional wildlife, sport and journalist photographers, the Nikon Z9 is a full-frame mirrorless camera that will sit alongside the Nikon D6, the company’s flagship DSLR, and above the Nikon Z7II and Z6 II.

I’ll go into more detail further down this Nikon Z9 review, but the headlines are that the camera features a new stacked 45.7Mp CMOS sensor, an Expeed 7 processing engine and Nikon’s most advanced autofocus (AF) system to date – complete with human, animal and vehicle detection and tracking. It’s also capable of shooting over 1,000 full-frame raw images at 20fps.

You can pre-order the Nikon Z9 from Adorama in the USA.

Specification

  • Camera type: Full-frame mirrorless camera
  • Announced: 28th October 2021
  • Lens mount: Nikon Z
  • Sensor: Full-frame (FX 35.9 x 23.9mm) 45.7MP stacked backside illuminated (BSI) sensor
  • Processing engine: Expeed 7
  • Stabilisation: 5-axis sensor shift giving 6EV shutter speed compensation
  • Sensitivity: ISO 64-25,600, expandable to ISO 32-102,400
  • Maximum continuous shooting rate: 20fps for up to 1000+ raw (high efficiency) files or 685 raw (high efficiency *) files, 30fps for up to 1000+ normal-quality Jpegs, or 120fps normal-quality 11Mp Jpegs
  • Autofocus system: Hybrid with phase and contrast detection
  • Phase detection points: 493
  • AF-area modes: Pinpoint (available in photo mode only), single-point, dynamic-area (S, M, and L; available in photo mode only), wide-area (S and L), and auto-area AF, 3D-tracking (available in photo mode only), subject-tracking AF (available in video mode only)
  • Video resolution: 8K (7680 x 4320): 30p (progressive)/25p/24p, 4K (3840 x 2160): 120p/100p/60p/50p/30p/25p/24p, Full HD (1920 x 1080): 120p/100p/60p/50p/30p/25p/24p
  • Video file format: MOV, MP4
  • Video compression: Apple ProRes 422 HQ (10 bit), H.265/HEVC (8 bit/10 bit), H.264/AVC (8 bit)
  • Viewfinder: 0.5-inch 3.69-million-dot, 3,000-nit OLED viewfinder
  • Screen: 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot 4-way-tilting touch-screen
  • Storage: Dual XQD/CFexpress
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 149 x 149.5 x 90.5 mm / 5.9 x 5.9 x 3.6 inches
  • Weight: 1340 g / 2 lb. 15.3 oz.with battery and memory card but without body cap and accessory shoe cover, Body only: 1160g / 2 lb. 9 oz.

Nikon Z9 price and availability

Nikon officially announced the Z9, its flagship full-frame mirrorless camera on 28th October 2021 with a price tag £5,299 / €6,299 / $5,496.95. It was set to go on sale in December 2021, but very few bodies were actually available at that time. More cameras went on sale in early 2022, but even now, the Nikon Z9 is on back-order in many areas.

Nikon Z9 review

Features

Although it has the same resolution as the Nikon Z7 II, the full-frame stacked CMOS sensor inside the Nikon Z9, which was designed by Nikon’s engineers, is new. It’s also paired with a new processing engine, the Expeed 7.

As yet, we don’t have any information about how this engine compares with its predecessor, the Expeed 6, but judging by what the Z9 is capable of, and the fact that the Z7 II has two Expeed 6 processors, it must have more than twice the processing power.

Together the new sensor and processor enable the Z9 to have a native sensitivity range of ISO 64-25,600 with expansion settings pushing the range to ISO 32-102,400. It also uses new advanced noise-reduction algorithms that are claimed to enable it to produce better results than the 45.7Mp Nikon Z7 II and Nikon D850.

There’s also a sensor-shifting 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) system that offers up to 6EV shutter speed compensation.

According to Nikon, the Z9 also has the company’s most advanced autofocus (AF) system to date. Like the Z7 II, there are 493 AF points but there are 405 Auto-area AF points, which is five times more than the Z7 II has. There are also 10 AF area modes, incorporating popular options such as Dynamic-area AF and 3D-tracking AF from Nikon’s DSLRs. These allow the photographer to tailor the AF system to suit the subject and shooting situation.

In addition, the Z9 draws on deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) to enable simultaneous detection of up to nine different types of subject including people (eyes, faces, head and upper body), animals (whole bodies and heads and eyes for cats, dogs, birds and ‘other animals’) and vehicles (cars, motorbikes, ‘planes and trains).

Nikon Z9 review

The subject tracking can be customised to suit your subject so, for example, it could be set to detect and track a distant motorbike, then switch to the helmet of the rider when it’s close enough to be detected and then switch to eye-detection if the rider removes their helmet. Alternatively, it could be set to stick with the bike, depending on what’s required.

These impressive autofocusing specifications are accompanied by the ability to shoot full-resolution raw (high efficiency) files at up to 20fps with a burst depth quoted as over 1000 images when an appropriate memory card is used (Nikon states the ProGrade Digital Cobalt CFexpress).

If you’re happy to shoot full-resolution normal-quality Jpegs, the shooting rate can be pushed to 30fps in the new C+ mode. Alternatively, the Z9 can shoot 11Mp normal-quality Jpeg images with full AF and exposure metering capability at 120fps.

These fast shooting rates can be paired with shutter speeds up to 1/3200second. Unusually, the Nikon Z9 doesn’t have a mechanical shutter, it relies solely on an electronic shutter. However, Nikon claims that the sensor has the world’s fastest scan rate for chips with over 30Mp, which means that rolling-shutter distortion (AKA the jello effect) is virtually eliminated.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that the Nikon Z9 doesn’t have the option to shoot uncompressed raw files. Instead there’s 14-bit lossless compression, high efficiency* and high efficiency, with high efficiency* delivering the best possible results.

8K Video

A flagship camera needs to be capable of recording great video as well as superb stills and the Nikon Z9 was capable of recording 8K video at 24p, 25 or 30p at launch but the V2.0 firmware released on 20th April 2022 will add 60p. Alternatively, 4K video can be shot at 24p to 120p. The V.2.0 firmware will also enable in-camera recording of 4K/60p Ultra HD footage oversampled from 8K 12-bit with ProRes RAW HQ (up to 4K/60p).

Thanks to its heat-dissipating design, the Z9 can record 8K 30p video for around 125 minutes at a time.

Further good news is that the Z9 maintains its full autofocus and exposure metering capability while shooting 8K video, complete with Eye-detection AF.

Also, at up to 4K/60p (except for Full HD/24p, 25p and 30p), it’s compatible with 10-bit ProRes 422 HQ format. If you want to shoot 8K video, you have to opt for H.265 10-bit MOV or H.265 8-bit MOV files. H.264 8-bit MP4 recording is also possible for Full HD video up to 60p.

The April 20th 2022 firmware update (V.2.0) will also add N-Raw format recording to reduce files sizes to approximately half that of ProRes Raw files. In addition, it will also give the Z 9 a waveform monitor, a red REC frame indicator and a custom i-menu that displays video settings while shooting will be introduced.

The Z9 can also create time-lapse movies in-camera.

Nikon Z9 review

Storage and battery

Nikon has given the Z9 two CFexpress type-B card slots which are also compatible with XQD cards. In addition, there’s a full-size HDMI port for connecting an external device.

The Z9 comes with a Nikon EN-EL18b battery, which can be charged via USB, but it’s also compatible with the batteries used in the Nikon D4, D5 and D6.

Nikon Z9 review

Build and handling

While it feels robust and has two comfortable, deep grips, the Nikon Z9 is 20% smaller than the Nikon D6, the company’s current flagship DSLR. It’s made from magnesium alloy and has extensive weather-sealing.

At 1160g body-only, it’s also 70g lighter than the D6 (110g lighter if the battery and memory card are in place), but there’s no getting away from it, it’s a big heavy camera. Interestingly, ‘is it heavy’ is the question I’ve been asked most about the Z9.

Having used the Nikon Z6 II, Z7 II, Z6 and Z7 in heavy rain, I’d have no qualms about shooting with the Z9 in bad weather. It’s built to last in the hands of professional photographers who need to shoot in all manner of conditions, including at temperatures down to -10°C.

Having used the Nikon Z6 II, Z7 II, Z6 and Z7 in heavy rain, I’d have no qualms about shooting with the Z9 in bad weather, it’s built to last in the hands of professional photographers who need to shoot in all manner of conditions, including at temperatures down to -10°C.

Nikon Z9 review

Nikon has given the Z9 a sensor shield, which looks like a shutter, but that is designed to protect the sensor when lens lens or body cap is removed. There’s also a conductive coating that creates a magnetic field to repel dust from the imaging sensor.

Nikon Z9 review

Screen and viewfinder

On the back of the Z9 there’s a 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot screen that can be tilted in four directions to enable it to be helpful when composing portrait or landscape orientation images from above or below head height.

When vari-angle screens seemed like the only alternative to tilting screens, I preferred them, but a dual-tilting mechanism gets my vote. It means that the screen can be moved to give a clear view whatever orientation you’re shooting in without swinging to the side and getting in the way of any of the ports or connected cables. Crucially, in the case of the Nikon Z9, the mechanism also feels durable and the screen gives a clear, detailed view.

As usual now, the screen is touch-sensitive. It’s also possible to select the main and i-menus options with a tap or using the physical controls, making the camera that bit quicker and more intuitive to use.

Helpfully, the information screen can rotate when the camera is in portrait orientation. Occasionally, this happens when you move the camera and you’re not planning to shoot in upright orientation, so there may be times when you want to turn off this functionality.

Indoors, the screen provide a very crips, clear view with plenty of detail visible. Outdoors, the screen also works well, but as usual, the viewfinder is preferable in bright sunlight.

Naturally, the Z9 also has an electronic viewfinder and according to Nikon, at 3000-nits, it’s the brightest of any current full-frame mirrorless camera, which should prove helpful in very bright ambient light. Also, because the Z9 has dual-stream technology which transfers data from the sensor to the viewfinder and for storage simultaneously, the viewfinder is black-out free and there’s a continuous real-time view so even fleeting moments aren’t missed.

As I raised the camera to my eye when shooting a rugby match, I sometimes noticed that the viewfinder image was a little jerky, but as soon as I half-pressed the shutter button, it came to life properly, delivering a wonderfully smooth, natural viewing experience.

Nikon Z9 review

Control arrangement

Unlike Nikon’s earlier Z-series mirrorless cameras, the Z9 is a dual grip camera which means you get the same solid hold whether you’re shooting in portrait or landscape orientation. The front and rear command dials, shutter button, power switch, AF-On, i-menu and joystick controls are also replicated so that there’s a set dedicated for use with each grip. This makes switching between the two shooting orientations almost seamless.

Unsurprisingly, the record button that’s near the landscape-orientation shutter release isn’t replicated on the top of the vertical grip.

All three of the buttons around the shutter release on the horizontal/landscape grip have a slightly different profile but I’d like the difference between the feel of ISO and exposure compensation buttons to be a little more marked. You get used to their location after a while, but a bobble on one of them would make them slightly easier to tell apart.

Nikon Z9 review

There are three function (Fn) buttons on the front of the camera between the horizontal mode grip and the lens mount that can be customised to give access to three of the features you use most often. I found these within easy reach of my fingers when they’re around the grip and they’re spaced far enough apart to make it easy to distinguish between them.

On the other side of the camera, alongside the HDMI and USB ports, there’s a button with a stippled texture that makes it look a bit like a joystick. This is the AF-Mode button and it works in combination with the command dials to enable the focus mode to be changed without having to remove the camera from your eye. We’ve seen a similar button before on some of Nikon’s DSLRs and its a great addition to the Z9.

Nikon Z9 review

Unlike the Z7 II and Z6 II, which have an exposure mode dial, the Z9 has a mode button that must be pressed while a command dial is rotated to set the exposure mode. This button is grouped with buttons to access the continuous shooting, bracketing and flash mode options. Underneath it, there’s a switch for setting the drive mode.

While a continuous shooting rate of 20fps is more than enough for many shooting situations, the Nikon Z9 can shoot at 30fps or 120fps, but it’s not immediately obvious how to select these options. Perhaps in recognition that the file format switches automatically to Normal-quality Jpeg when the camera is set to shoot at 30fps or 120fps, Nikon has put these options in a different area. Instead of selecting H on the drive mode dial, you need to select C – the customisable option. Then, while pressing the drive button on the far left end of the top-plate of the camera, rotating the rear command dial takes you through the available options, including C30 and C120.

Nikon Z9 review

Performance

As I held the Nikon Z9 to my eye and shot outdoors with it for the first time, I was struck by how natural the colours look with the Standard Picture Control. The colours aren’t in your face but somehow they still look vibrant. I’ve never been completely happy with the way that Nikon cameras handle some greens, a lush lawn, for example, can look to vivid. The Z9 however, nails it and there’s a nice level of micro contrast.

There are effectively five auto white balance settings available on the Z9. In addition the regular Auto, there’s also A0 [Keep white (reduce warm colors)], A1 [Keep overall atmosphere] and A2 [Keep warm lighting colors], plus A [Natural Light Auto]. They’re all handy but I noticed that the colour of my images sometimes changed as I changed the composition with one selected, in which case, it’s advisable to set a fixed white balance value using either a preset or setting a manual value.

I shot with the Z9 exclusively in its default Matrix metering metering mode and it performed well throughout, never requiring an excessive level exposure compensation to get the result I wanted. The viewfinder provides an excellent preview of the image so you can rely on it to guide your exposure settings.

Nikon Z9 image quality

As it has a 45.7Mp sensor, the Z9 makes a considerable step up in resolution from the 20.8Mp Nikon D6. Canon and Nikon have previously favoured modest pixel counts in their flagship cameras to help keep noise under control while still capturing images large enough to make the front cover of newspapers and magazines. However, the market and technology move on, and many photographers now want to be able to capture larger images.

While it might not match the resolution of the 61Mp Sony A7R IV or even the 50Mp Sony A1, the Nikon Z9 can still resolve an impressive level of detail. Noise is also controlled very well with just a hint of luminance noise appearing in the lighter shadows of ISO 800 images and some chroma noise being visible in ISO 1600 raw files when they’re examined at 100% on a computer screen.

As usual, the amount of noise climbs with the sensitivity (ISO setting), but the image quality remains very good up to around ISO 6400. Even ISO 12,800 images look good but you’re likely to spot chroma noise, especially if you pixel peep. I’d aim to make ISO 12,800 the maximum value I use, but I wouldn’t be too worried if I had to use ISO 25,600 to get a particular shot. I’m looking forward to seeing what DxO PureRAW makes of the Z9’s high-ISO images once its profile is available.

The extended values of ISO 51,200 and ISO 102,400 could be useful on occasion but the images are pretty noisy and lack both saturation and shadow detail.

Nikon Z9 dynamic range

Nikon’s Z-series cameras have impressive dynamic range and in its recent test of the Z9’s sensor, DXO Mark found that at its lowest native sensitivity setting (ISO 64), the Z9 has a dynamic range of 14.4EV. That’s a fantastic value, but it’s actually a little lower than the maximum ranges of the Canon EOS R3 and the Sony A1. Nevertheless, the Z9 captures an impressive range of tones so that highlights don’t burnout too quickly and shadows don’t become deep black too readily.

A wide dynamic range also translates into ‘elastic’ raw files that can withstand substantial post-capture adjustment. This is most useful when you’re shooting high contrast scenes because you can reduce the exposure a little to preserve the highlight detail and be confident of being able to brighten the shadows. The degree to which you can brighten the shadows depends to a certain extent on the scene, but I’d certainly expect to be able to brighten an ISO 200 image from the Z9 by 3EV or more. Pushing very dark areas any further starts to make coloured speckling visible.

Nikon Z9 review

Nikon Z9 autofocus performance

AI subject detection is big news in photography at the moment and it has the potential to be incredibly useful. One of the nice features of the Nikon Z9’s version of subject detection is that you have the option to specify whether you want it to look for humans, animals or vehicles, or you can set it to look for any of those subjects at the same time. If the camera sees a subject, it puts a box around it. If it sees more than one subject, it highlights them all and you can select the one you want to follow using the joystick on the back of the camera.

The Z9’s subject detection works very well and it’s quick to spot eyes in the frame. However, having used the Z9 and the Canon EOS R3 to photograph rugby matches, I think the R3’s system is a little better as it tended to stay with the player I was interested in more readily.

The Z9 also offers a host of other autofocus modes, including 3D-tracking for stills and subject-tracking for AF for video. These both work extremely well and the camera does a great job of sticking with the selected subject.

While the Z9’s AF system very works well straight from the box, the challenge for pro sports photographers is going to be working out which of the AF modes work best in specific shooting situations and tweaking the ‘Focus tracking with lock-on’ setting. That’s a challenge I would relish spending time on.

Nikon Z9 CFexpress card slot and Lexar card

Nikon Z9 continuous shooting

Achieving the Z9’s claimed maximum shooting rates and burst depths requires a fast memory card, a sensitivity setting of ISO 100 and the Auto Distortion correction set to ‘Off’. I tested the Nikon Z9 with a 512GB Lexar Professional CFexpress Type B Gold Series card (maximum read/write speed 1750/1000MB/s) and was able to capture over 1200 full-resolution Fine-quality Jpegs at 20fps.

Switching to shooting raw (high efficiency*) files, I was able to shoot at 20fps for around 6 seconds (capturing around 120 images) before etc rate dipped to about 16.5fps. And when shooting raw (high efficiency) files, I got around 300 images in 15 seconds at 20fps before the rate dipped to between 18 and 19fps.

In most real-world situations, shooting for more than a few seconds feels pretty excessive. Even when photographing the fast-paced action of a rugby match, I rarely shoot in bursts longer than 2 or 3 seconds.

You can find Lexar CFexpress cards at Wex Photo Video in the UK and Amazon.com 

Nikon Z9 review

Nikon Z9 video performance

Nikon hasn’t yet unleashed the Z9’s full video potential, that is set to come with firmware updates. However, at launch it’s possible to shoot 8K (7680×4320) video at up to 30p and the quality is superb. Naturally, it requires a suitable memory card, and the Lexar Professional CFexpress Type B Gold Series card is up to the task.

The level of detail is, as you would expect, excellent and the focusing, colour and exposure are inline with what’s seen with the stills.

Also, I was unable to see any issue with rolling shutter when shooting moving subjects or panning the camera.

You can order the Nikon Z9 from Adorama in the USA and Wex Photo Video in the UK..

Nikon Z9 sample images

Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images from the Nikon Z9.

Nikon Z9 image gallery

Nikon Z9 sample video

This video was shot as part of our test of the Nikon Z9. The camera was set to record in 4K 60p. The built-in mic was used for the audio, so there is some wind noise and the creaking/chatter sound you can hear is the autofocus system of the AF-S Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR lens. It did a great job of focusing when it was on the Z9, but it’s not the quietest!

Verdict

Although Nikon took its time about getting serious about mirrorless cameras, the Nikon Z6 and Z7 avoided that ‘first-generation’ feel and put the company right in the game. The Z6 II and Z7 II didn’t make many changes but corrected the main complaint raised against the original cameras with the addition of a second memory card slot. Their extra processing power also enabled Eye-detection AF for both humans and animals in video as well as stills mode and successive firmware updates have seen its performance improve.

Similarly, while an excellent DSLR, the Nikon D6 doesn’t make many upgrades on the D5 and it doesn’t benefit from the improved Live View system that the Nikon D780 got on the back of what Nikon learned from creating the Z6 and Z7. Compared with the Canon EOS-1DX Mark III, it seems behind the curve.

Now the Nikon Z9 has arrived and it’s clear that Nikon has the vision that appeared to be missing with the D6. It reaps all the benefits of mirrorless technology and has huge processing power to deliver a camera that’s designed to get fast-paced action sharp as well as capturing fine-details.

Noise is controlled well, the focusing system is very sophisticated and there’s 8K video capability, with more video options to come soon. Nikon has also priced the Z9 very competitively in comparison with the Sony A1 and Canon EOS R3.

Nikon Z9 FAQ

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Robby Bernstein
Robby Bernstein
11 months ago

Does the Nikon Z9 have IBIS?