Nikon Finally Wakes Up, Releases Juggernaut Z9

Nikon Finally Wakes Up, Releases Juggernaut Z9

2000 1125 Jeb Inge

Remember the days of the Nikon 1? It was just ten years ago, but also a lifetime. A literal lifetime as the mirrorless marketplace as we know it is only about 13 years old.

It’s an epoch that has seen cameras develop from the initial Micro Four Thirds and APS-C pioneers to the full frame professional machines of today. It’s the biggest shift in the camera industry since the adoption of autofocus more than 35 years ago. And just like in the late eighties, the release of mirrorless cameras has challenged the status quo with increasingly rapid success.

The mirrorless vs. DSLR argument is one of the dumbest civil wars ever fought. For years any article about mirrorless gear or camera gear in general has been the scene of this war, with comment sections of dubious intellectual quality serving as the battlefields.

But with clicks and passion usually follows sales, and mirrorless pushed through the initial skepticism to become a major player in the camera market, and is now arguably numero uno.

Some camera companies saw the writing on the wall and jumped in early. Still riding the waves as an “upstart challenger,” Sony dove in early on mirrorless development for consumers and professionals alike. Panasonic was the first through the door and pushed the envelope with each new camera. Even Olympus used the opportunity to carve out a slice of its shrinking relevance. The old school stalwarts, Canon and Nikon came in late — Nikon seemingly the last to arrive at the dance. 

Kind of. The Nikon 1 was a legitimate mirrorless camera, it just wasn’t a legitimately useful one. The 1 series was meant to compete with the mirrorless leaders at the time, seemingly Olympus most of all. That was a really short-sighted approach. Instead of pushing the mirrorless camera to the next level (which Sony would soon do with the A7), Nikon played it safe. It’s not what you would expect from a company that often leans on its heritage as an innovator and class leader.

It was the same story when autofocus came out. Canon completely overhauled their entire mindset, while Nikon played it conservatively. At the same time, Canon’s carpe diem-ing with EOS took them to the forefront of the industry. 

Decades later Nikon still hadn’t learned the lesson. While other companies were taking the lead on mirrorless, Nikon released the D850 (admittedly the greatest DSLR ever made). When they finally released the full frame Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7 in 2018, they were playing catch up. This time it wasn’t just with Canon, but also with Sony and Fujifilm. It wasn’t whether Nikon was first or second, but just how far behind in third place they were, and whether they would ever rise higher.

To many of us, it seemed that the once-invincible giant was trending toward paper tiger status.

Then COVID-19 hit and the company faced issue after issue that threatened their bottom line. In November 2020 the company fired 20 percent of its international workforce as the pandemic created a decrease in demand. 2021 was looking even worse as Nikon posted its highest ever loss — $720 million — in the first half of this year. Suffice it to say that many companies would struggle to survive that kind of loss.

I’m not trying to be dramatic or belabor a point, but I think it’s fair to say that Nikon’s back has been up against a wall since the summer. When anything gets backed into a corner, it can do one of two things: give up, or use all of that deep-down “fight or die” strength and survive.

Yesterday, Nikon telegraphed very clearly that they are not giving up. 

Here I’ll pause and be transparent about some stuff. Most of my cameras have the word Nikon on them. Admittedly, they are all dinosaurs and I’m not someone that buys a lot of gear every year. But I’ve been a Nikon shooter since I was a kid and that’s never changed. It’s not coming from a place of brand loyalty, just the sunken cost fallacy. 

Second, is that I have an extremely low interest in mirrorless cameras. I have not one iota of passion to the argument of DSLR vs. Mirrorless and my personal opinion is that mirrorless cameras remove me even further from a connection to the photos than a DSLR does. People can shoot whatever they want, I couldn’t care less. I’ve never been in a gallery and thought “what a great photo, what camera and lens took this?”

Okay, so I shoot with Nikon equipment and mirrorless isn’t my cup of tea. 

Having said that, I watched yesterday as Nikon released the most capable camera ever made.

The Z9 is a flagships of flagships. A camera that isn’t just the best camera you can buy, but also one that expands the boundaries of what you should expect from the best camera you can buy. Nikon held a virtual release event for the camera, but all the hype and marketing around this camera is just window dressing. With or without it, it’s an incredible machine and that it comes from a company that people were starting to write off is all the more exciting.

Like modern cars, I rarely apply the word “exciting” to cameras made in the last 30 years. But this camera makes me excited.

The Z9 brings us back to the question that must have been asked when the F5 and the EOS-1D X came out: “What else could you possibly want in a camera?”

Without wanting to regurgitate the camera’s spec sheet, a few things stand out: 

  • 45.7 MP stacked sensor
  • A new processor that is 10 times faster than that in the Z7II
  • “High-efficiency RAW” files that (allegedly) retain all detail at one third the size
  • An autofocus system that can automatically track nine different moving subject types (at 120 autofocus calculations per second)
  • Abiity to autofocus as low as -8.5 EV
  • Dual CFexpress Type B slots
  • VR with forgiveness of up to six stops of compensation
  • Blackout free viewfinder
  • 20 fps RAW shooting
  • 30 fps JPEG shooting  (120 fps JPEG shooting at 11 MP)
  • Also releasing alongside the new Nikon FTZ II Mount Adapter expanding compatibility with more legacy lenses

Then there’s the fact that this is the first professional mirrorless camera to completely do away with the mechanical shutter. That’s a bold move not just for a brand with Nikon’s history of reluctance, but also for a camera that is geared specifically toward the professional market that hates to jump without looking. And not for nothing, you can shoot this camera silently at up to 1/32,000 of a second.

But that’s not all. 

Nikon’s approach to video over the years has been so bad you almost think they hate it and only included it in their cameras begrudgingly. Well, them days is over. How about 10-bit 8K UHD video at variable frame rates for more than 2 hours without stopping? How about 33 MP stills you can take from the footage. How about greatly improved handheld shake reduction? You get all of that and a lot more with the Z9.

There are impressive design elements as well, which is really notable as I think cameras have suffered greatly from a lack of inspiration over the last year. The Z9 is more robust than Nikon’s other mirrorless bodies, offers button support for vertical shooting, is specially designed to dissipate heat (especially valuable for that 8K video) and is 20 percent smaller than the Nikon D6. With this camera you seem to somehow get the best of both worlds: substance and a svelte form factor.

The Z9 is a bonkers camera. Absolutely everything else is below this camera in averaged specifications. Take my money. Well, first let me take out a small business loan to pay for what I assume will be an insanely expensive camera.

Only. Not. Because. It. Costs. $5,500

That’s less than the Nikon D6. It’s $1,000 less than the Sony Alpha 1, and $500 less than the much less impressive Canon EOS R3. So it’s an industry leading camera that’s somehow cheaper than the competition? Now this is podracing. 

Half a T-Note is still a ton of money, and likely beyond the pockets of most of us. And in my case (assuming I was in the market) it’s still a tough sell considering that Fuji seems determined to make medium format cameras cheaper than a well-used jetski.

I don’t want to go too far here. Nikon has had a few rough years, and a camera with, shall we say a “limited consumer market,” isn’t going to be the cure all for their economic woes. But that’s not the point of the Z9, the point is that Nikon used this camera to show its willingness to innovate again. 

The best part of the Z9 isn’t the camera, but what it says about the company’s mentality. It seems Nikon is tired of being an afterthought. A distant third place is a tough pill to swallow for a company with Nikon’s legacy and ego. Finally they seemed to have woken up and found themselves behind in the count. Instead of trying to get on base, they swung for the fences and ended up crushing it.

Everyone should want something like the Z9, whether they shoot Nikon or not. There’s not a lot of camera companies, and the industry tends to slag on innovations and rely too much on incremental improvements to keep the cash flowing. (If you doubt that, just look at the last 30 years of DSLR product design.) The more companies pushing the envelope the better, if only because it forces them to give more to photographers and hopefully for less money.

The Z9 isn’t made for someone like me, but it still makes my mirrorless-ambivalent mouth water. It makes me want to give mirrorless a shot, or at the very least test out something modern that’s made with passion and ambition. (Also, that new lens mount adapter expands lens compatibility to my beloved AF-D lenses, so I’m running out of excuses here.) Conversely, I assume the Z9 has also been the reason for dry mouths in boardrooms elsewhere in Japan.

It’s been a long time since Nikon’s fired a shot like this one, but it’s about time they did.

Get your Nikon Z9 from B&H Photo here.

More opinion articles can be seen here.

And everything Nikon can be found here.

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has previously worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge
  • Great post, but the new FTZ II adapter doesn’t have full compatibility for AF-D lenses; autofocus still won’t work on AF-D lenses because there’s no AF motor in the adapter. You’ll still have to manually focus these AF-D lenses. Bummer…. Auto exposure and full EXIF data is supported, though.

    I’m not a Nikon digital guy (I’m a Canon-Sony digital shooter), but this camera has me seriously considering making the jump to Nikon and selling all my Sony and Canon gear. Maybe….

    • Interesting, maybe that’s wrong then. The product listing on B&H says that it maintains AF/AE with E, G, D Lenses. It might be back to the waiting room for me then.

      • Jeb, the B&H website doesn’t say the FTZ II maintains AF with AF-D lenses. It says it maintains AE only. From the B&H site:

        Enabling the use of nearly any Nikon F-mount lens on Z-mount mirrorless camera bodies, the FTZ Mount Adapter is a sophisticated means for expanding the range of usable lenses. While compatible with approximately 360 distinct F-mount lenses, this adapter is especially ideal for use with over 90 E, and G-type lenses, where it fully maintains autofocus and auto-exposure capabilities for seamless use of the SLR lenses on the mirrorless body. The adapter fully maintains auto-exposure function for D-type lenses, but autofocus is not supported. The adapter is built from magnesium alloy and is weather-sealed, and also incorporates a 1/4″-20 mount on the base to provide a more balanced means for working on a tripod with longer, heavier lenses.

        NOTE: Autofocus not supported on D-Series lenses.

        Lens Compatibility
        Full AE/AF supported when using:
        AF-S type G/E lenses
        AF-P type G/E lenses
        AF-S / AF-I teleconverters

        Full AE supported when using:
        AF-S type G/D/E lenses
        AF-P type G/E lenses
        AF-I type D lenses
        AF-S / AF-I teleconverters

        • I’m definitely not trying to make it a thing, but I think you’re reading the description on the product page of the original FTZ.

          Here’s a link to what I’m seeing.

          • It specifically says AF Type G and D lenses are manual focus only, You’re misreading the first description line, which is admittedly confusing. The original AF-D lenses we’re talking about aren’t “AF-S Type D.” Not sure what an “AF-S Type D” lens is, but I do know that AF-S lenses have the autofocus motor built into the lens.

            AF-D lenses, which don’t have the AF motor built into the lens, are not supported because the FTZ II (like the original FTZ) doesn’t have an AF motor and screw drive to autofocus the D lenses:

            Lens Compatibility

            Autofocus Lenses

            AF-S Type G, E, and D; AF-P Type G and E; AF-I Type D: Full support of autofocus, MF (with electronic rangefinder support), full auto-exposure modes, and exposure metering

            AF Type G and D: Manual focus only (with electronic rangefinder support), full auto-exposure modes, and exposure metering
            Other AF Lenses: Manual focus only, full auto-exposure modes, and exposure metering

          • Oi Vey, right you are! I think I’ll just crawl back to my Pentacon Six and pretend its still the eighties. 😉

  • As someone who picked up a Z7 and has really, really come to love it, I think an overlooked but great part about the whole Z9 launch is that it has generated so much positive press for not only the Z9 but the Z system as a whole.

    Nikon has spent too little time advertising themselves and this new system. They’ve let too many talking heads on YouTube slag the earlier Z cameras without learning how to use them. The Z cameras do *not* have substandard autofocus. They just have an AF system that requires a bit more understanding and a bit more input from the photographer to operate well. The best thing that any Z camera user can do is pick up a ByThom guide, spend a little time reading it and incorporating Thom’s tips and advice into their use of the camera and the Z5/6/7 will match or beat the results from a Canon R5/6 or Sony A7 series. The talking heads on YouTube are more interested in generating click bait and don’t put the time into learning the system. It’ll be interesting to see their responses to the Z9…

    And then there are the lenses. Nikon has really, really started to once again show that they know optics with the Z lenses. Even kit lenses like the Z 16-50mm on the Z50/Zfc are optically pretty good. Lenses like the f2.8 zoom trio redefine their class. There are lenses like the Z 50mm f1.8S which is an affordable option that delivers something nearing Zeiss Otus results. I’m blown away every time I use that lens and start pixel peeping.

    Cameras like the Z9 are halo products that should show the more pedestrian offerings in a good light. I think the Z9 has the opportunity to do just that. It’s certainly off to a good start

    • I certainly agree that the advertising could have been better the last years. But I have enjoyed the release of this camera taking some of the really clickbaity articles and videos out behind the woodshed.
      You’re definitely right about the halo product point. I think the Z6 and 7 are both excellent cameras that will benefit from having the Z9 above them.

    • Christopher, I am in total agreement. I used Sony mirrorless cameras for years for my work on this site. When the Nikon Z5 released last year as the new “full frame entry level” model in the Z series, I bought it with the 24-50mm kit lens. The camera is the best camera I’ve ever used, and the kit lens, which I am sure everyone would think to avoid due to the slow aperture, is amazing. I’ve used it exclusively for countless situations and it just works!

      The Z series is surely overlooked right now. Maybe the Z9 will help. And maybe our upcoming articles on the Z series will help a little bit, too!

  • Haha, I hear you. I prefer shooting film, anyhow. It’s more satisfying, albeit less convenient. Digital is too “easy” and disposable, although necessary in the current time.

    I remember seeing a YouTube video with the Hong Kong camera store guy where he compared digital to McDonald’s and said “real” photography is on film. (He also said Nikon’s best SLR is the F3, which I’d agree with if they didn’t botch the LCD situation in the viewfinder – IMHO, it should’ve been an LED, like the Canon A-1. I have a hard time seeing the F3’s LCD in lower light – and sometimes I can’t even see it properly in decent light…)

    • Chris that little detail about the F3 is truly tragic. I end up just relying on the AE and hoping the shutter speed is above the minimum I can handle with my focal length 🙂

    • > Digital is too “easy” and disposable

      Are you one of those people who defines real photography as whatever it is that you do personally?

      • Are you one of those people that is threatened by other people expressing their opinion in a comment section? Are you that insecure in your own opinions about photography? Just wondering.

  • It’s absolutely absurd, and I love it. 🙂

  • It’s very strange that Nikon botched this on the F3 (as well as the FA). All the engineering and design genius to come up with these cameras, but they screw up one of the most important details…

    Nikon had been incorporating LEDs in the viewfinder since the FM and F2AS came out in 1977, although it was just the “+ -“ indicator. And Canon had full LED aperture and shutter speed in the A-1 since 1978. This wasn’t a new and revolutionary concept.


  • Given Nikon’s emphasis on heritage and maintaining a degree of backwards compatibility, I wonder why they’ve so stubbornly refused to release an FTZ with compatibilty with screw-drive AF lenses (or even an aperture feeler ring for AI/AI-S lenses). Sony did it – they sell an adapter that permits full use of screw-drive A-Mount lenses with their mirrorless bodies. Seems a bit out of character for Nikon.

  • Like said Goethe “Mehr Licht !”
    Angela Merkel returns home, and now the air is breathable.
    I have just read and love the article and the images from Danielle post the same time without any comments!!!
    I am a Leica, Nikon, Contax, Rollei guy. I like Nikon. I am happy Nikon is on the board again. But I have a Sony, which is good, but if I sell it his value now is so low, and I don’t want to invest on digital, despite I hate this Sony for the programs, and I should prefer the Nikon. But I see the light : does my images will be better with the last new gear ?
    Who is totally sure?
    I return on film, and my best images, now, are from my film cameras ! I am pretty sure If I will have the Z9 it will not improve my images.
    But this is the market : pushing, pushing, pushing, pushing. I am still surprised and pleased by the results some of may friends get with a D700 or a Leica M9. Why?
    SONY ANNONCED THE SONY XPERIA 1 III FEW MONTHS AGO, and now the Sony Xperia PRO-I for next year, and next, next.
    Yes, this is a nice camera, yes I am happy that my favorite brand takes the challenge, but is it intelligent to invest many thousand dollars in all these gears ? seriously ? And please, have a look to the images from Danielle, often she post something great for us. Yes it is not about the new gear, but this is really photography not about material, and the point is here. The legend of the Leica M3 of HCB have been made by the environment, but do you think HCB care too much about it, it was especially reliable, at the and it used a Contax T and a Leica CL 😉 and still made du HCB
    By the way I am happy to see gears made in the free world, because I do not by anything from dictatures, for example my soya sauce is from Japan or Malaysia 😉 I don’t finance weapons by my buyings to the first country which pollutes the world and play with us, included Covid19.

  • Only because it’s directly below a beautiful baseball photo (I’m guessing single over shortstop) and today is a World Series day, it’s “behind ‘in’ the count”. Your other baseball metaphors are fine.

  • the bipolar baker October 29, 2021 at 7:41 pm

    I would love a new Z9 but wow that’s a lot of money. I’d like to get into a mirrorless as a second camera to my D500 that I love. Maybe a Z6ii or Z7ii? I’m having a hard time justifying new lenses

    • My D500 is my primary sports camera. If I wanted another body, I would get a D750. Maybe a D780. Are they mirrorless? No, but they do support every single one of my lenses. For me, the FTZ is pretty limiting and the lens support for the Z platform is absolutely not there. Until the likes of Sigma and Tamron get in the game, I am simply not interested. The D500 does every single thing that I need it to do and does it shockingly well. This is the hurdle with the newer Nikons. Their lens back catalog is massive and the price of entry for a limited amount of native lenses is quite high. There are advantages to mirrorless to be sure. Are they worth the extra cost? Usually not.

      • Thanks for taking the time to respond. Aside from the weight advantage of mirrorless I kinda wondered if it’s worth it to get a full frame as second camera. The FTZ and having to buy more lenses is definitely a negative. I’ve been leaning towards the z7ii for the higher pixels for landscape etc. So many options and so difficult for a beginner hobbyists like me to work through

  • Good article and comments. Anyone like/use Nikon 1?

    • I have a V1. Its ok, small and heavy but no good for legacy lenses. I have a chipped adaptor which allows auto exposure and focus confirm but the camera is limited. So I only use it with my microscope now. Its fold out screen is perfect.

      Over all though my experience with the Nikon V1 and N1 is pretty negative.

  • I’m generally shy about commenting on something I don’t own and haven’t used, but I’ll make an exception in this case. When many of us first got into the mirrorless thing (way back in the early 2000s) one of the central ideas was . . .compactness. Compact meaning something significantly smaller and lighter than the boat-anchors that DSLRs and their lenses had become. So what do we have here? Sure, there are some technical advantages to not having a mirror flapping around at whatever-frames-per-second your heart desires, but beyond the internal processing refinements (which are certainly available in high end contemporary DSLRs) I don’t see much meat, except for the fanboys that have to have a Nikon mirrorless to keep up with the Sonys and Canons. I hold no ill will for Nikon and hope this keeps the boat floating but I’m definitely more excited about shooting analog these days than sinking the price of a new car into the top-of-the-line mirrorless market.

  • Complete piece here, Josh.

    Z9 is setting a high mark and, along with the brands, redefining «  camera ». The « camera » is a computer dedicated to high-quality image-processing with, most importantly, a range of lenses and sensors. Concurrently the smartphone has coopted the « snapshot » market (aka point and shoot.

    Problem: the market for « cameras » is becoming increasingly niche and unprofitable. Brands have to rely on expensive products and the upgrade treadmill. Smartphones and, soon, camera brands need to make customers to crave the next « release ». Just like cellphones, camera brands will continue to die. Think film. Nikon may drop cameras, stick to accessories. They have enough other imaging products.

    ¿How many features are enough or actually used [feature bloat]? ¿How much resolution is enough? ¿How « smart » does a phone have to be? ¿What will happen with legacy image formats [think floppy disk]?

    ¿Why are the z9 and all the other camera] so clunky/ugly? ¿Where’s an Apple aesthetic?

  • Nikon is finally serious about video, yet the LCD is useless for it. I’ll pass with flying colours. Let’s see about the Z8.

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has previously worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge