So, I have had the Nikon Z9 for just over a year now (After waiting in line to get one for almost a year). And to be honest, I have loved every minute of the change over from DSLR style cameras to the mirrorless camp. However, there are definitely some things that I love about the camera and some things that I really don't!
In this blog post I will dig into each of these aspects and for those of you that would prefer to watch a short (and not as comprehensive) video of me talking about this subject, just scroll down to the bottom and grab a cup of coffee.
WHAT I LOVE
- The inclusion of 3 Function (Fn) keys on the grip
Having these three "hotkeys" right inside the grip has been a game changer for me. Especially with a camera as advanced as the Z9. This camera has A LOT going on in terms of focusing systems and I have come to learn that there really isn't one focusing system to rule them all. So, being able to quickly switch between multiple systems without removing the camera from my eye has been fantastic!
- The inclusion of a dedicated focusing system button
For many "old-school" Nikon shooters, you will know of the key I am talking about. For those of you that don't, this key was on just about every pro and prosumer Nikon DSLR. However, the Z6 and Z7 didn't include this useful button. Being able to very quickly deep dive ALL my focusing systems with the push of a button is a welcome return!
- Familiar is good
The Z9 has an incredibly similar button layout to Nikons of old and I love that! Sure, there are a few changes but all the buttons are very tactile and the layout just makes sense. Making things much easier to accomplish without removing the camera from your eye.
- That big, beautiful grip
I just absolutely love using a full body camera! I have always used grips on my older Nikon bodies, so to finally have a camera with this included was awesome. It just makes things so much more comfortable and having those useful quick keys (ISO, Fn) built into the grip near the shutter release makes shooting in portrait a breeze!
- The top screen
I know a lot of people don't see the use for the digital screen at the top of the camera, but I use it all the time! It's great to have a little window into the settings and goings on of your camera without having to lift it to your eye. It's also back lit, like many of the buttons, which makes those nighttime shoots far easier.
WHAT I DON'T LOVE SO MUCH
- The exclusion of function keys on the grip
It really is great to have access to no less than 3 function keys when using the camera in landscape but as soon as you turn the camera to a portrait orientation, you suddenly realise that you are a bit hamstrung. Try as you may, you will only ever be able to haphazardly reach just one of those fancy keys. There is however, one function key located close to the grips shutter release. This definitely helps but it would be so much better for muscle memory to have the grip section mirror the main camera grip in this regard.
WHAT I LOVE
- The materials used
As soon as ones picks up a Nikon Z9, you immediately get a sense that you are holding a well put together and tough camera. I really enjoy the fact that Nikon has stuck to their classic grip material, after all, if it ain't broke don't fix it! Other camera companies, we won't mention names but it's Sony, just really don't put very nice materials into their cameras in this regard. The Nikon Z9 is also just built like a tank and I always feel very confident with it in hand, that this thing just won't fail me - similar to the feeling older Nikons used to give one.
- The articulating screen
It really is fantastic to have a screen that can articulate both horizontally and vertically. Not only that, it also just feels very good and well-built when one does articulate it. More on the screen below though.
- Rubberised wheels
This may sound like a silly thing but I can assure you it isn't! Having used the Nikon Z6 extensively, I always hated the hard and not very tactile wheels on that camera. So, as soon as I learned that Nikon was returning to the "old-school" rubberised wheels, I got very excited. And honestly in everyday use this inclusion makes a massive difference to the usability of the camera.
WHAT I DON'T LOVE SO MUCH
- Rubber port covers
In all fairness, the main port covers work perfectly and I love how they click back into place and how easily they come out, when you need to get to a port. What I really don't like though is the cover for the Kensington lock. Once opened, you will never get this cover back in and what's the first thing we all do with our cameras? We play with everything! Well, if you pick up a Z9 rather just leave this alone, there is nothing in there for you anyway. Having done a quick search online - it would seem I am not the only person that has had this struggle.
- The viewfinder eyepiece
I love the round eyepieces that Nikon uses on all their pro or semi pro cameras. Sure, it doesn't offer any benefit but it is distinctly Nikon and well, it just looks cool. In the past, one would need a crowbar to get the thing off of a D850 or D5. Well sadly, the Nikon Z9's is not built to the same quality. For a camera that is meant to be taken into the wilds of the world or on big sporting assignments, where the camera is treated like a tool rather than a fine piece of China, it really does lack in this department. I am constantly dealing with it popping out of its socket and then having to fiddle around trying to get a rubber loop to fit into a smaller metal socket - now trying doing this on the back of a bumpy safari vehicle.
- The screen
How can a camera that costs twice as much and be several years newer than the Nikon D850, have a worse back screen? To me one of the biggest deal breakers when buying a camera is the quality of the back screen. There are few things worse than going to review your images, only to find that as you zoom in things quickly become pixilated. On top of that the colour representation is just not up to scratch. This very quickly makes you think you didn't do very well capturing the image, when in fact you did just fine. I don't know about you, but this is one aspect that sharply destroys my photographic inspiration and desire to take more shots. Do better Nikon.
PHOTOGRAPHY & VIDEOGRAPHY
WHAT I LOVE
- The focusing systems
The various focusing systems on offer are fantastic for wildlife photography. Being able to make use of varying "box" sizes for your tracking system to make use of, is really quite nice. I have found great uses for just about every aspect of the focusing system. It does need to be said though. If you are a Nikon Z9 user, don't just settle into 3D focus and leave it there. You will find yourself more frustrated than impressed with the results. It definitely has its place but it is not the be all and end all of focusing systems. Explore all the settings and eventually hotkey the ones that work best for your use cases.
All the veteran Nikon shooters will know just how bad Nikons used to be at filming things. It wasn't so much the picture quality - that was amazing on the models that could record at 4k. It was rather, the focusing or lack thereof. Well, with the Nikon Z9 and the Z range in general, Nikon really has upped their game tremendously in this department. Tracking just works, tap to focus just works and to top it all off the IBIS (in body stabilization) is just a joy to work with! Allowing one to, for the most part film while hand holding the camera. I also love the inclusion of 4k120p, allowing me to shoot high quality footage with the option to convert it to smooth slow motion. To be honest, light allowing, I mostly just shoot everything in this setting these days. I am then able to decide later what I would like to make slow motion and what I would prefer to keep as regular footage. The Z9 is great in this regard as it doesn't automatically change the footage and accompanying sound to slow-mo, as with other camera manufactures. The inclusion of 8k is also a breath of fresh air, for those super high-profile moments where just getting the most gorgeous high-resolution footage is a no-brainer.
* please note: IBIS doesn't work while recording in 4k120p
- Memory card slots
It's simply really, having two card slots of the same format and that can easily accept XQD or CFExpress cards, is a wonderful inclusion!
WHAT I DON'T LOVE SO MUCH
- Image quality
Even with the very top quality selected with as little compression as possible selected, the image quality is not as good as the venerable Nikon D850. There I said it! Don't get me wrong, the Z9 still shoots incredibly detailed and stunning images but there is just something about the way it processes images, from the colour representation to the sharpness that causes me to not like it so much. Therefore, I still have a D850 with me on all assignments and truth be told, it is my main photographic device. Whereas the Z9 tends to take on more of a filming device for me.
- The need for speed
This is not such a gripe I have with the Nikon Z9 but rather one I have with the photography world in general. At what point in time do we acknowledge that "X" number of shots per second is enough. I say this because, new photographers or people that maybe aren't too experienced, tend to think that more is better and so they immediately set their camera to the maximum possible frame rate and forget about it. Sooner or later, they have umpteen memory cards, dozens of hard drives and photos everywhere. What I find this creates, is a feeling of being overwhelmed and that leads to a lack in desire to even go through your images, let alone edit them. Be cautious folks, typically speaking 8-14 shots a second is all you need. Sure, there are special use cases where 20 or 30 frames a second can be useful but that really isn't the norm. Take it from me and look after your photographic stamina and mindset.
Well folks, there you have it! At the end of the day, I have loved using my Z9 but there are definitely somethings that need improving. Luckily, Nikon has been simply stunning with their after-market support of the camera and the firmware updates to date have all taken this camera to new heights time and time again. Sadly though, a firmware update can't improve the build quality issues.
None the less, should you be a legacy Nikon shooter looking to upgrade, it really is a no-brainer. Bite the bullet and jump head-first into the Z9 (or Z8, avoid the Z6 and Z7), you really will not be disappointed, and these cameras will not fail you!
As always thanks so much for checking out this blog post and happy snapping!
Join us on safari and learn from the best
Wild Eye has a comprehensive calendar of scheduled safari's, that take our guests to many stunning places across the African continent and the world at large. Whats more, is that these tours are hosted and guided by a Wild Eye photographic guide, ensuring you not only have the experience of a lifetime but also learn a whole lot!