The Nikon Z9 Is Sure to Be a Professional Mirrorless Beast

Combining and improving upon the best of the D850 and the D6, Nikon is going all-in with their upcoming flagship model.

A new report says that the upcoming Nikon Z9 is likely to have the 45-megapixel resolution of the D850. If the Z9 can beat the low light performance of the D850 by at least two stops, then we’re looking at a real game-changer here. The D850 is easily Nikon’s most sought after camera in recent times and one of their all-time best cameras. Nikon was the company that didn’t give you everything in their top models. You either had to make do with high frames per second or high resolution, but not both in a single model. Then, the D850 came around. It was consistently on backorder due to its unprecedented demand worldwide. Can the Z9 become another best seller for Nikon?

The D850 isn’t the only camera whose soul is being ported over to the Z9. The best features of the D6 will be improved upon and added to the Z9 as well. I couldn’t understand why the Nikon D6 didn’t have a bump in resolution from the D5. Twenty-four megapixels, at least, was something that I really hoped for. Even if we walk around with super-telephoto lenses, sports photographers do crop (more often than you think we do). So any increase in resolution is always an added bonus. In many ways (on paper at least), the D6 felt more like a D5s. The specs upgrades felt incremental. The autofocus tracking and accuracy of the D6 are on a whole new level, though. I didn’t think Nikon could improve much upon the D5’s AF accuracy, but it did supersede that quite impressively.

If the Z9 can better the D6 in this department and keep its high ISO performance, coupled with the high resolution of the D850, then they’ve got a real flagship in the making. The competition is tough to beat. As we’ve reported many times before, Nikon needs to stop playing catch up. Hopefully, the price point of the Nikon Z9 will be competitive with Sony’s A1 and the upcoming Canon R3. Hopefully, they’ll also manufacture enough units to avoid repeated backorders. And hopefully, we won’t have to wait until firmware 3.0 to see some stunning AF performance.

Why Sports Photographers Love the Olympics

The Olympics excites sports photographers for more than one reason. The endless stream of top quality sports imagery is always something to look forward to. But what we look for even more are field testing reports of cameras to come. The Olympics have been the absolute best place in recent decades for manufacturers to test prototypes of flagships. There were confirmed sightings of what looked to be the Nikon Z9, seen at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Z9 would have gone through extreme tests in Tokyo in the hands of some of the best sports photographers on the planet: their feedback is absolutely vital to the finishing of this product. Any unforeseen errors, bugs, suggestions, and the like are what Nikon expects from these pros.

Since they’d be under a strict NDA, we haven’t seen any images shot from the Z9 yet. There’s bound to be improvements and changes from the feedback of these field tests. Barring any major issues encountered during these tests, which could delay production, it will probably be in stores before the end of the year.

Screenshot from Nikon Rumors

What Does the Report Say?

Nikon Rumors (who’s always first to report on anything Nikon related) states that the Nikon Z9 will have:

  • A 45MP (they’ve even listed the dimensions in pixels as 8256 x 5504px). At this point Nikon has probably realised they aren’t losing customers to Canon in the pro journalist and sports photography segments. It’s Sony who’s been cutting into that cake with it’s A9, A9 II, and now the A1 models. This could be one reason why they opted out of using a 24MP sensor like the Canon R3 has.
  • Top speed framerate of (in photo, not video) 120 fps. As incredible as this sounds, it’s also a feature that currently exists in the Nikon Z6 and Z7 series. However it’s at a much smaller resolution (about two megapixels) and is termed as “Split Second Shots“. Even if the Z9 bumps up the resolution a bit, what everyone is more keen on knowing is the fps rate at full resolution. The D6 and Z6II are currently Nikon’s fastest stills bodies at 14fps. The Sony a1 however can do 30fps at full 50MP resolution. Nikon has a lot of catching up to do in this department if it is to be a serious competitor.
  • “Multi leaf blade protective shutter that auto covers sensor when switched off/changing lens” – I wish Nikon would have introduced this ages ago. Living in a city surrounded by a desert, changing lenses outdoors is something I dread. This addition should alleviate some of my worries.
  • GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) aGPS. No more having to rely on add-on modules or the Snapbridge app for location embedding into image
  • Car autofocus. Makes sense as sports photography involves automobiles too
  • A whole new design of articulated LCD
  • Improved 3D AF tracking
  • A third joystick to use more easily while your face is close to the camera? Could be something for portrait mode shooting

In addition to this, let’s not forget Nikon has announced that the Z9 will support 8K video filming. Huge file sizes in this resolution are going to need an excellent cooling system. They’ve previously said that the Z9 will be better than the D6, so they’ve got a lot to live up to with this release.

What Else Do We Wish It Will Have?

This isn’t a nice-to-have wishlist of some sort. These are specs I genuinely think the Nikon Z9 needs to have to match the competition.

  • 30fps for stills photography (both NEF and jpeg) – at least for a burst of 200 photos in one go.
  • 4K video at 120 fps. Sony’s got it (A7s III). The Canon R3 probably will have it. Nikon desperately needs this or better. As much as the availability of 8K sounds good, if 4K can’t shoot slowmo video in at least 120fps, it’s going to be really disappointing.
  • Bluetooth 5.0 support (at least)
  • An improved version of Snapbridge that doesn’t take close to a minute to connect to your camera each time. A super fast camera deserves an equally fast mobile app companion.
  • Eye AF firmware and logic made especially for sports photography. Athletes move quickly and erratically in some sports. It’s time for firmware that can understand the sports and match AF tracking (especially Eye-AF) accordingly.
  • Improved AF support (than the existing Z line) for F-mount lenses when used with FTZ. The Z mount line of telephotos are still a long way away. Until the 400 and 500+ mm lenses are launched, it goes without saying that the pros will continue to use their trusted F mount versions of these lenses. As good as the FTZ currently is, the Z9 needs to work with it better to convince pros to add this body to their kit.
  • Improved IBIS for the same reason as the previous point
  • Zero blackout EVF at high fps values
  • Body weight under 2lbs. Flagship bodies don’t need to be bulky or heavy – the Sony A9 series has proven this.
  • A Nikon manufactured sensor. It’s time to take control of this line of manufacturing too now.

Nikon has only recently announced their 2021 Q1 financial results. They’ve done hugely better than 2020. With the recent Zfc going on backorder just four days after its release, Nikon seems to be back on track, in sales at least. While they are still behind Canon and Sony in sales figures, their forecasts for the rest of the financial year look positive. Should the Z9 launch with the aforementioned specs, Nikon will probably be surfing a wave of profits come 2022. As a sports photographer who’s used every Nikon flagship since the D3, I’m counting on Nikon to roll out a real winner with the Z9. Let’s just hope it performs like a champion from day one.

Feroz Khan

Never seen without a camera (or far from one), Feroz picked up the art of photography from his grandfather at a very early age (at the expense of destroying a camera or two of his). Specializing in sports photography and videography for corporate short films, when he’s not discussing or planning his next photoshoot, he can usually be found staying up to date on aviation tech or watching movies from the 70s era with a cup of karak chai.