Nikon Z9 Review - You can't go wrong with it!
Nikon took a really long time to perfect its professional mirrorless camera offering to the world. Nearly four years after the Nikon Z6 and Z7 came out, it is safe to say that the Nikon Z9 is a contender for the best mirrorless camera title.
The Nikon Z6 and Z7 positioned Nikon as a leader again in the market as many Nikon users got frustrated by the lack of competitive offerings. Some even migrated to Sony and Canon. Eventually, they found success with these mirrorless cameras and the Mark II versions updated the shortcomings. the Mark II versions of both cameras.
Also, the firmware updates improved the camera’s autofocus even further. It solidified Nikon’s hold in the professional and consumer photography market.
Nikon aims to take back its crown in the professional industry with the Nikon Z9. Spec-wise, it is a flagship camera like no other, and it is bang for the buck today. Price-wise, it is a no-brainer. But is it enough to topple the competitors? Let’s find out.
Nikon Z9 Design and Handling
The Nikon Z9 is a beefed-up Z6 and Z7 when it comes to its body size. The camera body is beautifully sculpted and handles great. Of course, its full-size body is much bulkier than the Z7 for example. But some photographers would want that because it is easier to handle.
The notable difference between the earlier Nikon mirrorless cameras and the Z9 is its built-in vertical grip.
At 1.34kgs, it is heavier than modern cameras, but it feels better in hand. That is one downside when earlier mirrorless cameras came out. They are thin, but the ergonomics are bad. That is not the case with the Z9.
The weight is bothersome at first, mainly if you are used to lighter mirrorless cameras. However, the weight adds to its feeling of robustness. You can easily say that the build quality is top-notch just by holding it.
It has a magnesium alloy body with full weather-sealing, which is expected with cameras at this price point.
Handling the Nikon Z9 in portrait mode is comfortable as well. The vertical grip is well-designed, and it is okay to use even in long shooting situations.
Moving on to the buttons, the Nikon Z9 has well-placed buttons. The buttons do not feel mushy, and you can quickly feel and press them even when using gloves.
The button layout on the right side is great for one-handed operation, except for one, and we’ll get to that later. The essentials are on the proper placement, and the camera feels familiar. So if you are coming from a Nikon DSLR, you will feel at home.
The AF mode button, dials, D-pad are all accessible, and you do not need to do thumb gymnastics to reach the basic controls. The illuminated buttons are a nice touch too if you love shooting in the dark.
There is a downside when it comes to button placement, though. The Z9 body is smaller than a DSLR, and it is inevitable to move some buttons to a not-so-ideal place.
Take the delete button, for example. It is situated on the upper left of the camera, so deleting images is not doable by one hand.
One of the main features that the Nikon Z9 teased before is its screen. The screen flips 90 degrees horizontally and vertically. It is a different approach to tilting screens than the usual fully articulated ones.
So does the Z9 flip screen work well in real-life usage? Definitely!
Despite having impressive video shooting capabilities, the Nikon Z9 is aimed at photographers. The screen does not flip out like vlogging cameras.
However, shooting from the hip or s at low angles without lying down is a huge bonus. Tilt screens before can only do this in landscape mode. But now, this screen is not a chore to shoot portraits at a lower angle.
So the screen is TFT, but the viewing angles are not bad compared to TFT computer monitors. It is also sharp and is more than enough to check if your images are in focus or not. For videos, it is still ideal to use an external monitor as the 3.2-inch screen is too small.
Nikon Z9 Performance
The Nikon Z9’s performance is nothing short of phenomenal. As a professional camera, it ticks everything that a pro would need. The autofocus and the burst performance are its main selling points, exceeding expectations.
This camera can easily track the subject, and it nails the autofocus most of the time. As a sports and action-oriented camera, it is easier to shoot subjects such as animals, people, and even vehicles.
But another great feature of the Z9 is the simultaneous subject recognition. Basically, this feature knows different subjects in the frame and can automatically shift from one subject to another.
More on the autofocus prowess, I tested this camera on shooting birds, and tracking is so easy. Once the AF snapped on the subject, all I did was compose and press the shutter.
The 20 fps RAW shooting is also impressive. There is basically no buffer as long as you use a fast memory card. It can shoot forever and good luck culling thousands of images after.
The 30 fps JPEG is another great feature but it would have been better if it had RAW support too. JPEG images may put off some shooters. Once it buffers, let go for a second, and you are back shooting again. That’s how fast the buffer goes when shooting jpegs.
However, I prefer to always shoot RAW because you get the most details and with wildlife photography you only have one chance of getting shot. Quality may be more important than speed in most situations. 20 fps is still enough for my needs.
I haven’t tested the 120 fps burst mode because it reduces the resolution to 11 megapixels only. However, it is a good backup solution for whenever the need comes.
Nikon Z9 Image Quality and Video
The 45.7-megapixel stacked sensor provides stunning image quality. The colors are accurate, especially with the skin tones - something Nikon has been known for years now.
The white balance out of the camera is spot on most of the time. However, as most photographers do, white balance is usually tweaked in post-processing.
When it comes to noise and ISO performance, the Nikon Z9 has a native ISO of 64 to 25600. Shooting up to ISO 6400 is workable with visible noise when pixel peeping. Anything lower than that, and images turn out spotless.
Another benefit of the large megapixel count is that the noise is barely noticeable. ISO 12800 and even higher is possible if the situation calls for that setting.
There is a problem when shooting JPEGs, though. There is a little bit of noise reduction at higher ISOs. It is not bad and too obvious, but it is there.
I have not tested the video quality of the Z9 thoroughly. It has 8K, 4K, and full HD recording capabilities, and it is expected to produce excellent video quality. 4K is the sweet spot, though, as it oversamples the footage.
Shooting videos is one thing; editing them is another.
If you’re planning to use the Nikon Z9 for videography, then you are covered. Because of the electronic shutter, there is very little rolling shutter when shooting moving objects. The fast shutter speed and quick processor take care of it.
Shooting extended footage is not an issue too as Nikon claims that it can go up to 125 minutes of continuous recording at 8K.
Just to add, editing the videos will not be easy for the average user. The 12-bit ProRes footage requires a powerful computer for a smooth editing session. However, if you are a professional, then this is not a concern.
Also, prepare many memory cards as the huge file sizes will eat up your storage quickly.
Who is the Nikon Z9 for?
With this kind of performance packed in an exquisite package, it is undoubtedly a camera that is not for everyone. So who is this camera for?
The Nikon Z9 is a reliable camera with great resolution, excellent color science, super-fast AF speed, and a rugged body. Going by specs alone, this camera can tackle tough jobs without a problem.
That being said, the Nikon Z9 is aimed at photographers who are into action, sports, wildlife, or bird photography. This camera is feature-packed and will not back down in these situations.
But that does not mean that it will not work with other photography genres too. If you are shooting landscape, portrait, or even product photography, the features will benefit you a lot. Take, for example, the eye-tracking AF - this keeps you locked on to your subject while shooting portraits.
If you are a videographer and you are contemplating getting one, it is a tough choice. Sure, the Z9 has impressive video capabilities, and it can rival the likes of the Sony A7 series.
But, there lies the problem, for videography, the Sony A7S III is $2000 cheaper than the Z9 and is already tried and tested when it comes to video. The 2K savings on the camera body could be used on better glass or lighting setup.
Now, if you are a hybrid shooter, meaning you shoot both photo and video professionally, then the Nikon Z9 is a plausible choice.
Why you should not buy the Nikon Z9
After testing the Nikon Z9, there are minor reasons why it is not the one for you. These reasons are very negligible and do not dismiss the Z9’s prowess.
The Nikon Z9 is a rugged camera that weighs a lot. It is around 1.4kgs for the body alone. Nikon Z lenses with weather sealing have a lot of weight too. It gets tiresome when shooting handheld for long hours.
For those who are not used to heavy setups, the Z9 will tire you out quickly. You may use monopods or tripods, but that does not remove the fact that it is a chore when shooting handheld.
The Z9 is indeed feature-packed, but you need to make sure that you can maximize these features before you get one. There might be instances wherein a Nikon Z7 II or the Z6 II are a better fit for you.
The Nikon Z9 was Nikon’s best attempt at the professional mirrorless camera market. It is the culmination of research, testing, and feedback from the previous generation of cameras. And Nikon did everything well with the Z9 - not perfect, but enough to make it a contender.
The 45-megapixel sensor is no slouch, and so it has a reliable AF. Build quality is top-notch, and the screen is perfect for hybrid shooters. The battery life is also excellent by mirrorless camera standards.
This camera is an all-rounder with its mix of photography and videography features. Surely, the high price tag might turn off some buyers. However, compared to the Sony A1 or the Canon EOS R3, the Z9 is a steal as it is the cheapest among the three cameras.
It is up to you whether you would go for the Nikon Z9 because you need to consider lens options and usability. It is for sure, though; it is Nikon’s best camera to date.
Thank you for reading our Nikon Z9 review. Do not forget to check the comparison between the Nikon Z9, Sony A1, and Canon EOS R3 here. Read about the best Nikon Z9 Accessories through this link.