Even when sales of the best DSLRs flat-lined, Nikon took a long time to put its bread-and-butter audience on the back burner and throw its weight behind a newer camera market that was actually in growth; namely the best mirrorless cameras.
The same slow-to-react criticism could of course be levelled at its long-term competitor in Canon. Both manufacturers watched passively as Sony took the lead with its A7 series, eating into the market share of both. While Canon eventually got off the fence with the launch of its EOS M and then EOS R mirrorless series, Nikon’s eventual fightback began with its Z6 and Z7 cameras in 2018. Two years later these full-frame mirrorless cameras aimed at enthusiasts and semi-professionals were succeeded by the second generation ‘Mark II’ versions, but this year’s Nikon Z9 outguns them both and is being pitched as a professional model from the outset.
Unsurprisingly it shares some technology, expertise and, if Nikon is to be believed, boasts an even more robust build quality than its current D6 flagship DSLR. The impression given by the Z9 is that professionals thinking of making the swap from the DSLR format to ostensibly smaller and lighter mirrorless cameras should be able to do so without feeling in any way they are compromising performance and image quality.
Not only does the Z9 feature all the up-to-the-minute specifications we’d expect, it’s also built like the proverbial brick outhouse. A sturdy construction and high-quality lens mount also mean that professional-grade lenses, such as the whopping Nikkor S series 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR telephoto zoom we were sent to test alongside the camera body, can be screwed onto its front without unbalancing the whole set-up.
Here's T3's Nikon Z9 review:
Nikon Z9 review: Design & Handling
Like the existing models in Nikon’s mirrorless ‘Z’ series, the newly range-topping Z9 looks like a professional-grade DSLR that has dropped down a dress size. Heft the body from its box and just from feel alone we have the impression this is a serious contender.
In addition to the familiar vertical camera grip, there’s a battery grip permanently affixed to the base of the camera, making it easier to maintain a tight hold if turning the Z9 on its side to shoot in an upright, portrait ratio.
A full-frame mirrorless camera of course also needs to be a certain size to accommodate the larger format 35mm film frame sized sensor and bigger lenses required to make the most of it. But, even so, the Z9 is one of the chunkier mirrorless examples we’ve played with. It comes close, in fact, to the medium format mirrorless cameras of the Fujifilm GFX range.
On a positive note, there will be those who are reassured by the extra weight and heft on display here – especially those who have parted with the sizeable asking price to buy it. Here it literally feels like we’re getting our money’s worth. Plus, while it is indeed a chunky example of a mirrorless camera, Nikon insists its body is 20% smaller than its own D6, while, incredibly, exceeding that self-same DSLR’s robustness.
As we’d expect, this Nikon Z9 is feature-packed and as button festooned as they come, but the slightly smaller size, when compared to a pro DSLR, does at least help avoid the reach for certain controls being a bit of a finger or thumb stretch. With the Z9 gripped in both hands, most of the essentials are within reach and will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s making the switch and has previously handled a pro, or even semi-pro DSLR.
The tilt and twist LCD screen, at one time only really found on mid-range and amateur targeted models but which has now become something of a standard feature for most cameras, also aids creativity and operability.
Nikon Z9 review: Features
The full-frame CMOS sensor at the heart of the Nikon Z9 offers a generous 45.7-megapixels. So who needs such a large resolution? Commercial photographers expecting their images to be reproduced up to billboard size aside, that’s who, along with wildlife and landscape photographers looking to sell gallery prints. Included in its possible audience are, surprisingly, photojournalists and sports photographers, who wouldn’t typically need such a high resolution. For them, speed of capture is more of a priority.
However these self-same photographers may occasionally get called upon to record moving footage, and here the Z9 steps up to the plate in being able to record 8K 30P footage for up to 125 minutes at a time, which at the time of writing is currently the longest duration available via mirrorless cameras.
Even the ‘basics’ here include the ability to shoot full-frame 8K video at between 24fps and 60fps, or 4K video at 24fps to 120fps. Creative options include the recording of time-lapse movies in-camera. For content creators, this camera is potentially, as they say, ‘the bomb’.
Nikon Z9 review: Performance
As this is a pro-targeted mirrorless device, it’s no surprise the Nikon Z9 is lightning fast as regards performance, whether we’re talking autofocus acquiring its target or the camera actually taking a shot.
This ably proves its worth for wildlife and sports photography, where a fraction of a second can make all the difference between capturing our intended shot, or not. Here autofocus proved faster than human users attempting to make adjustments manually, especially for a subject on the move.
This is to a large extent down to the Z9’s generous 493-point autofocus system with 3D tracking, claimed by Nikon as its most sophisticated implementation to date, gifting us capture speeds of up to 120fps with full autofocus and exposure metering.
It’s clear this camera is a veritable powerhouse from the fact that more than 1,000 full-resolution Raw images can be captured at 20fps in one burst. This is the kind of camera you can imagine going down very well with photographers covering the Winter Olympics; or any sort of fast-moving subject matter.
Nikon Z9 review: Image samples
If we’re being picky, and this being a Nikon camera, when we don’t have blue skies and bright days images straight out of the camera can look a little dull and flat at times. This means that they can really benefit from a subtle adjustment of contrast and saturation. Of course, there is the option to do just that in the image editor of our choice, and Nikon will be expecting photographers and picture editors to do so; so in fairness, it is only minor tweaks that are needed to come up with a pleasingly punchy result.
That’s down to the fact that the image files we have to work with cram in shedloads of detail, thanks to a sensor with a larger surface area being able to handle the large amount of pixels we’re gifted, plus the high-quality premium zoom we were provided with being able to ably resolve them.
Nikon Z9 review: Verdict
Though Nikon has been a relatively late convert to the full-frame mirrorless camera format, the flagship Z9 coming hot on the heels of the Z 6 and Z 7 Mark II shows that it’s quickly making up for lost time, now that professionals are demanding it does just that. Given that this camera offers commercial stills photographers a whopping 45.7MP resolution plus 8K-resolution video with it, even what would be considered a high price tag to most of us mere mortals could be considered something of a bargain. Plus, from construction quality alone the Z9 is a workhorse capable of putting many miles on its clock, so can be viewed as a long term investment as much as the latest must-have piece of tech.