Today, the Nikon Z9 is getting yet another upgrade and firmware update. The latest one brings with it something that changes one of our major praises to the system — bird autofocus. Now, the Z9 can do bird detection in both animal and bird autofocus detection modes. Similarly, it also now has a dedicated autofocus mode just for planes. From what we’re told by Nikon, birds will still be detected in animal mode — thankfully! This brings it in line more or less with what the Sony a1 does.
The big question then is whether or not this new autofocus upgrade will come to the Z8. We’re told by our Nikon reps in an NDA call that it’s coming to the Z8 next year.
So for the moment, one of the biggest reasons why you’d get the Nikon z9 is the autofocus upgrade and the built-in vertical grip. Otherwise, you’d probably just go straight for the Nikon z8. There’s no word on whether this feature is coming to the Nikon Zf either. Honestly, I’d be fine if it doesn’t come to the Nikon ZF — the one Nikon camera that I’m truly considering purchasing.
The reps were also clear on telling me that it’s not fully taking the bird detection out of the animal autofocus detection mode either. This is quite important. If you’re walking around a forest and trying to photograph birds but a great photo of a chipmunk comes around, then you’re going to take the shot regardless. And yes, you can use an autofocus point to ensure you get the shot, but what if there’s also a bird in the scene? There are lots of scenarios where I really like when bird and animal modes are together.
The idea to offer photographers an animal mode, animal/bird, and bird mode is something that first came to Sony cameras. It can be found on the Sony a1, Sony a7r V, Sony a7c II, and Sony a7c R for example. Now, that’s something that’s coming to Nikon?
Coincidence? I don’t think so. I truly believe that Nikon is looking at the market segments above and below it and trying to inch into both of their markets. The Nikon ZF can challenge the stuff that Fujifilm makes while this new autofocus update will give Nikon photographers a reason to say that they’ve caught up to Sony yet again.
What I’m quite curious about is whether or not the feature will work with 3rd party lenses all that well. We’ve seen that Tamron’s lenses do a great job when being used on Nikon bodies as long as the lens is using a better motor. Nikon also rebrands Tamron’s lenses. It’s an important question as photographers really love what Tamron lenses can do over Sigma’s. Sure, Sigma has nice image quality — but that can be added to in post-production. What can’t be fixed is getting the autofocus right in the first place — and over the years Tamron has consistently wow’d us on that front.
If the new Nikon Z7 III and Nikon Z6 III come out next year, I’m pretty sure that we can expect these features to also come to those cameras.
We’re in the process of updating our Nikon Z9 review right now, and we’ll incorporate this change when we can. Our most recent tests found some very great things when photographing people of color in very low lighting. Want one? check out the Nikon z9 on Amazon.