The result, as we found out when conducting our evaluation of the Nikon Z9, is an exceptionally potent hybrid camera that falls somewhere in the middle of the Canon EOS R3 (which has a 24.1MP BSI stacked CMOS sensor) and the Sony A1 in terms of its capabilities (a 50.1MP full-frame powerhouse).
Those who are graduating from a DSLR like the Nikon D6 or the Nikon D850 will be comfortable with the Z9’s DSLR style; yet, concealed inside are some genuinely contemporary capabilities, like Nikon’s greatest focusing system to date.
The Nikon Z9 joins a narrow club of mirrorless cameras that are capable of recording at that high of a quality thanks to its ability to capture video in 8K at 30 frames per second (and an 8K at 60 frames per second option is on the way). When shooting video, filmmakers may benefit from oversampled 4K resolution as well as capabilities such as eye tracking autofocus, making the Z9 a much more effective video tool than comparable cameras such as the Nikon D6.
The Z9 is capable of meeting the requirements of every kind of picture creator because to its high resolution and lightning-fast speed. However, due to its bigger body and larger battery, it is best suited for heavy use and photographers who employ large lenses.
There are smaller and less expensive cameras available to consider if you don’t require all a camera has to offer. For instance, the Nikon Z7 II is a better option for photographers who take landscape, portrait, or studio photos. On the other hand, the Z9 is available at a lower price point than the Nikon D6 while providing significantly more in almost every category.
It has the feel of a flagship Nikon camera when held in the hand, which is to say that it is rock-solid and ergonomically tuned. It has an outdated look, especially considering that it weighs 1.34 kg, but the body of the Z9 is 20% smaller than the hefty Nikon D6, and the comfortable and deep grip makes it suitable for horizontal as well as vertical photography. It is constructed similarly to bulldozers from the 1980s, like as the Nikon F4, and has a magnesium alloy body that is completely weather-sealed. In this way, it is similar to the Nikon F4. In the realm of mirrorless cameras, only the Canon EOS R3 can make the claim that it offers this level of toughness.
As with the D6, the rear buttons on the Z9 can be illuminated to make them easier to find in the dark. However, this feature can be disabled if you want to be a little less obvious about the fact that you are using a camera with a mirrorless design. Other features that have been borrowed from Nikon’s DSLRs include an AF mode button that allows you to quickly switch between manual and autofocus.
We particularly love a large number of function buttons, notably the three that are located on the front of the camera. These buttons allow for a great deal of customization of the camera, such as a speedy transition between the FX and DX crop settings.
A dual-axis monitor that can tilt 90 degrees in both the horizontal and the vertical directions is one of the extremely useful features that can be found on the rear of the Z9.
Autofocus & high frame rate
The Nikon Z9 needed to make significant improvements in the areas of focusing and burst shooting performance in order to compete with other flagship mirrorless cameras such as the Canon EOS R3 and the Sony A1, and it has mostly achieved that goal.
Even though certain cameras, like the Nikon Z6 II, have good focusing capabilities, such cameras have never been as sophisticated as their competitors when it comes to tracking faces, eyes, and animals. The Nikon Z9, however, not only keeps up with the competition but even surpasses it — Not only does it track people (including faces, eyes, heads, and upper bodies), animals (bodies, eyes, and heads), and vehicles (cars, motorbikes, planes, and trains), but it also performs simultaneous subject recognition. 3D tracking makes its debut in a mirrorless camera (only in photos), and it does so exclusively.
This enables the Nikon Z9 to distinguish up to 10 distinct types of subjects within a single picture and track each of them separately, which is a helpful feature for professionals who photograph settings with a variety of topics. In addition to this, the camera makes the decision between the different types of subjects for you automatically, however with the EOS R3 or A1 you will have to make this decision manually. You will find that utilizing the joystick to switch to tracking another topic in the scene is a really simple process if you ever find yourself wanting to do so.
The Nikon Z9 is also a significant improvement over the Nikon Z7 II in terms of its ability to autofocus, as it offers five times as many auto-area AF points as that camera. Auto-area AF points are the AF points that are able to automatically detect a subject in the frame and acquire focus on that subject.
And according to Nikon, it has improved subject-tracking capabilities across the frame in comparison to the previous flagship model, the Nikon D6. Additionally, the detecting range can go as low as -6.5EV, and in the mode known as “starlight vision,” it can go as low as 8.5EV, which is a truly low-light capacity.
We covered a football game with various subjects using the Z9, actually “ran” some tests in tracking a runner coming towards and away from the camera in low light, and took pictures of household pets and wild animals.
Its 3D tracking AF is reassuringly sticky in all aspects, but the aspect that strikes the most is how sticky it is when tracking distant targets that cover only a little piece of the image field. Additionally, the Z9 consistently maintains its position relative to a subject, even if there are momentary impediments in the way.
The Nikon Z9 is essentially a more powerful version of the Nikon Z7 II due to its stacked 45.7 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. The Nikon Z7 II also has a resolution of 45.7 megapixels, but it does not have a stacked chip for faster read-out rates.
This resolution provides you with a cropping capability that is substantially more than that of the 24MP Canon EOS R3. The disadvantage is that it has maximum burst speeds that are somewhat lower than those of the EOS R3 and EOS R5, both of which are capable of reaching 30 frames per second while taking raw photographs.
However, the Z9 is one of only a limited handful mirrorless cameras that are capable of shooting video at 8K resolution. According to Nikon, it is capable of recording 8K video at 30 frames per second continuously for up to 125 minutes, even without an internal fan. This capability partly puts the overheating limits of the smaller Canon EOS R5 to shame.
We recorded some long-form footage in 8K resolution, and after approximately 45 minutes, the camera displayed a notice that said ‘heated card,’ despite the fact that it continued to capture the video. Even though the temperature of the camera wasn’t exceptionally high, we decided to cease recording so that we wouldn’t lose any of the previous material that was already on the card.
The fact that the Z9’s more outlandish video modes won’t be accessible until sometime in 2022 when a software update is installed is the one minor drawback to an otherwise excellent camera.
A few of the modes, such as the capability to shoot internally in the 10-bit ProRes 422 HQ format as well as the option to record in 12-bit ProRes Raw HQ, were not available at the time of the introduction. Amazingly, after installing the firmware upgrade, the Nikon Z9 will also be able to record raw footage at 8K at 60 frames per second internally.
This would be a first for mirrorless cameras, but it is unclear precisely when the firmware upgrade would arrive next year or how long you will be able to record for in that 8K/60p mode. This would be a first for mirrorless cameras.
Nevertheless, for the time being, you can shoot in 8K at 24 or 30 frames per second and have complete eye recognition AF support across the board for your videos. The Z9 is also capable of shooting in 4K utilizing the entire width of its sensor (which results in oversampled and crisper 4K), and it comes with a 4K/120p mode that can be used for recording slow-motion footage.
Image & Video Quality
You’re lucky to be shooting on a day with good weather or even during the daylight at all when you’re trying to get action photos, which generally take place in shifting light. This is especially true for photographers who focus on sports and animals. When low-contrast light is combined with the high shutter speeds that are required to freeze motion, the Z9 is the kind of camera that is exactly pushed to the boundaries of its image-quality capabilities.
There is no doubt that the stacked 45.7-megapixel full-frame sensor of the Z9 has a great deal of untapped potential. It has a native ISO range that extends from 64 to 25,600 and has the option to increase it further to 32 and 102,400. Nikon claims that the Z9 is equipped with new algorithms that can handle noise more effectively in low-light settings.
In order to obtain the highest possible image quality, we try to avoid using the highest two ISO settings as much as possible. If you followed this approach, the Z9 would be a crisp shooter up to ISO 6400, which is the point at which photographs appear to be sufficiently clean. If you use pixel peeping, you’ll see a small grain beginning at ISO 1600, but because the photographs are so large, it’s not immediately noticeable.
Nikon Z9 Specs
|Body type||SLR-style mirrorless|
|Body material||Magnesium Alloy|
|Max resolution||8256 x 5504|
|Image ratio w:h||1:1, 3:2, 16:9|
|Effective pixels||46 megapixels|
|Sensor photo detectors||52 megapixels|
|Sensor size||Full frame (35.9 x 23.9 mm)|
|Sensor type||Stacked CMOS|
|Color space||sRGB, AdobeRGB|
|Color filter array||Bayer|
|Boosted ISO (minimum)||32|
|Boosted ISO (maximum)||102400|
|White balance presets||9|
|Custom white balance||Yes (6 slots)|
|Image stabilization notes||Synchro VR with select lenses|
|CIPA image stabilization rating||6 stop(s)|
|File format||JPEGNEF Raw 14-bit (Lossless, HE*, HE)|
|Image parameters||Auto, Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape, Flat. Selected Picture Control can be modified, Storage for custom Picture Controls|
|Optics & Focus|
|Autofocus||Phase DetectMulti-areaCenterSelective single-pointTrackingSingleContinuousTouchFace DetectionLive View|
|Autofocus assist lamp||Yes|
|Number of focus points||493|
|Lens mount||Nikon Z|
|Screen / viewfinder|
|Minimum shutter speed||900 sec|
|Maximum shutter speed||1/32000 sec|
|Flash modes||Front-curtain sync, Rear-curtain sync, Red-eye reduction, Red-eye reduction with slow sync, Slow sync Off|
|Flash X sync speed||1/200 sec|
|Drive modes||Single frame, Continuous L, Continuous H, High-speed frame capture, Self-timer|
|Continuous drive||30.0 fps|
|Metering modes||MultiCenter-weightedHighlight-weightedSpotSpot AF-area|
|Exposure compensation||±5 (at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)|
|Modes||7680 x 4320 @ 30p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM7680 x 4320 @ 25p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM7680 x 4320 @ 23.98p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 120p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 120p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 120p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 100p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 100p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 100p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 60p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 60p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 60p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 50p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 50p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 50p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 30p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 30p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 30p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 25p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 25p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 25p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 23.98p, MOV, ProRes, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 23.98p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM3840 x 2160 @ 23.98p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 120p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 120p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 100p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 100p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 60p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 60p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 50p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 50p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 30p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 30p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 25p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 25p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 23.98p, MOV, H.265, Linear PCM1920 x 1080 @ 23.98p, MOV, H.264, Linear PCM|
|USB||USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5 GBit/sec)|
|Wireless notes||2.4, 5Ghz|
|Remote control||Yes (Via app)|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||740|
|Weight (inc. batteries)||1340 g (2.95 lb / 47.27 oz)|
|Dimensions||149 x 150 x 91 mm (5.87 x 5.91 x 3.58″)|
|GPS notes||GPS, GLONASS, QZSS|
The Nikon Z9 represents a significant leap forward for Nikon’s line of mirrorless cameras, bringing them up to par with the company’s flagship competitors from Canon and Sony. The outside of the Z9 gives the impression of a durable DSLR, but on the inside, you’ll find cutting-edge technologies like as sophisticated autofocus tracking, 20 frames per second raw burst shooting, 8K video, and an electronic shutter only.
Additionally, we enjoy how the screen can swivel in both directions. Although it is a shame that key video functions won’t be accessible until a firmware upgrade in 2022, the Z9’s video ability impresses instantly, and we might be looking at a modern-day Nikon classic.
Nikon Z9 Pros & Cons
- Rugged build quality
- Powerful stacked 45.7MP sensor
- Reliable tracking AF
- Flash sync only 1/200s
- Some features need firmware update
- Bulkier and heavier than rivals