For years, the industry has laughed at Nikon cameras and their abilities to do autofocus and even anything right. But the latest firmware updates to the Nikon z9 are positively shocking to us. We’ve preached the importance of inclusivity for a long time, though other outlets and influencers don’t. We actively test for it — and in this case, the Nikon z9 is excelling and blowing the rest out of the water.
Update October 2023
On October 4th, Nikon announced yet another firmware update for the Nikon z9. This update brought more autofocus improvements and a change in how it works.
Firstly, Nikon has announced that in low light situations, the Nikon z9 should be able to autofocus on low contrast subjects better than it did previously. This is a subtle way of saying that it should be able to autofocus on people of color with lots of melanin in their skin in low light situations. In other words, anyone with darker skin is who this autofocus update is targeted to.
To put this to the test, we headed to Fotografiska in NYC to check out an event for their latest exhibit. The exhibit it called Best in Show, and that meant that people brought their dogs to the low light environment. Further, people of all backgrounds were present at the event.
The results? Well, it was able to autofocus both on people of color and those with lighter skin better than I’ve seen with comparable Canon and Sony cameras. What’s more, it did this in the auto autofocus mode — specifically where the system tries to figure it all out itself. Based on the compositions, I was able to have the camera easily focus on people or dogs, even in low light.
By all means, the Nikon z9 is the top performer when it comes to shooting inclusive events in low light.
Of course, at fast shutter speeds, the electronic shutter can still give you issues around banding. That’s surely a problem of not having a dedicated shutter unit.
For those curious, we tried this with the Tamron 35-150mm f2-2.8 lens. So, if you’re curious if it will work with 3rd party lenses, it will work just fine.
Beyond that, firmware 4.1 for the Nikon z9 adds the ability to separate planes from vehicles and birds from animals. We tried it with the Tamron 150-500mm lens. When we pointed the camera and lens at birds, it wasn’t able to easily find them in the trees, with branches and leaves obfuscating the birds when the autofocus was set to full auto. When we set it to animal mode, it found the birds with some assistance using the selective autofocus area modes. When we switch it to bird mode, it works in the exact same way.
To ensure that there was no funny business happening, we switched it to human detection, and the autofocus didn’t work in quite the same way.
In this way, the Nikon z9 works in a comparable way to the Sony a1.
Since its launch, the Nikon z9’s autofocus has majorly improved to where it’s arguably the best camera on the market for low light autofocusing on people of all shades. Inclusivity is huge for us — especially when it comes to autofocus tracking. And in this case, it did an incredible job.