Nikon Z System News and Commentary

News and commentary appropriate to Nikon Z system users. Latest post on top.
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Z8 Manuals and Software

Besides my Z8 book, you can now get Nikon’s Z8 reference guide online, and a host of other updated software at the Nikon download site:

  • NX Studio — 1.4.0
  • Picture Control Utility 2 — 2.4.15
  • Camera Control Pro 2 — 2.36.0
  • NX Tether — 1.0.4
  • Wireless Transmitter Utility — 1.10.0
  • SnapBridge — 2.10.0

Several software products already support the Z8 raw files:

  • Lightroom Classic 12.3
  • Photoshop 24.4.1
  • Camera Raw 15.3.1
  • CaptureOne 16.2.0
  • RawDigger 1.4.6

The Nikon Z8 Book (Update: It’s Available!)

Earlier this week I wrote that the Complete Guide to the Nikon Z8 was coming soon. Well guess what? Soon is already here. Even though a couple of the supplemental files I supply aren’t ready yet, I decided that so many were asking for the book, that I’d release it at the same time the camera ships! If that describes you, click here to order.

bythom z8 book cover

The final page count, if you’re interested, is 1290. And yes, I slogged through every one of those, which is why a couple of reviews didn’t get posted, including my Z8 review (I usually don’t publish my book until I’ve completed my review). With a short rest over Memorial Day, I’ll get back to working on that ;~).

I’d like to thank Nikon publicly for making a final version of the Z8 mine to play with for the last few weeks. I’ve already reported a couple of oddities in the firmware to them; if things go like with the Z9, those will get over to Japan and be addressed in firmware updates.

The 400mm Conundrum

One of the constant questions I get is “what should I choose for telephoto work on the Z System?” In particular, 400mm tends to be the specific focal length that many mention with this question. 

Well, here’s why I get those questions (green is best case, red is worst case):

bythom 0303

No, you’re not imagining things, there was originally another green cell in this chart; but without having to go into elaboration about that (a topic for another day), I decided to just remove it. 

Nikon hasn’t made it easy: as you can see, every choice has a clear benefit, but every choice has a different clear detriment. While Nikon engineering gets hammered with “why” questions all the time, here’s one place where they were giving you clearly different options that seem to be carefully considered. 

In case you’re wondering, I put the chart in order from optically worst (left) to optically best (right) order. That said, the three rightmost entries have only small differences in terms of center sharpness, as I’ve noted before. The optical benefits that accrue as you move to the right of the table tend to be in something other than central sharpness. 

My obvious response to all the reader questions is simple: what do you value most? Money? Then buy the 100-400mm (green price cell). Flexibility and optics? Buy the 400mm f/2.8 (at far right of table). Travel weight? You should consider the 400mm f/4.5 (green weight cell). Don’t use 400mm much and just want that as a flexibility? Then the 70-200mm with the teleconverter starts to come into play. 

This is the ultimate trade-off test, basically. I’ve always written that lens design is balancing a set of tradeoffs. Well, deciding on which lens to purchase is also about balancing a set of tradeoffs. I can’t make that decision for you, only point to the things you need to consider.

Nikon’s Marketing Problem

Mark Comon of Paul’s Photo called me to talk about this, but I had already noticed it myself: Nikon isn’t exactly making a compelling case with its marketing of the Z8. There’s a heavy reliance upon technical jargon and specifications, but very little emphasis on user benefit. Mark’s comments to me came after his first try-and-buy event at the store, where he found he was answering a number of the same questions from “unenlightened” (by marketing messages) users.

Back in my Silicon Valley days we had a marketing shorthand:

  • Feature : Benefit

Sometimes we reversed that:

  • Benefit : Caused by Feature

But it goes deeper than this. 

A few years ago I began talking about the “best all-around camera.” My reason for this was simple: most of you are only going to buy/own one camera, and it has to be ready for anything you might need your camera for. 

In the digital era, Nikon has made a long sequence of what most anyone would consider excellent all-around cameras: D100, D300, D700, D500, D850. And now the Z8 (and arguably, Z9). 

Nikon’s marketing issue boils down to this:

  • D850 owners: are there convincing arguments that a move to the Z8 is compelling?
  • Z7/Z7 II owners: are the reasons to move to bigger/heavier in a Z8 compelling?
  • D500 owners: can you convince DX users to move to a more expensive FX camera that is also a better DX camera?

A common complaint I get from that group of users is “the Z8 doesn’t solve a problem for me.” First, I’m not sure that’s true—users don’t always recognize their “problems” until they’re solved ;~)—but also that would tend to indicate to me that they didn’t need a best all-around camera in the first place, that their camera use is fairly specific (and satisfied by what they have). 

But the most common comment I’ve been getting is "$4,000.00 plus the other costs that would come with converting is just not in this retiree’s budget right now. I will just slug along for a while trying to make good photographs with the best DSLR Nikon (or anybody else) ever made until I can save up enough to buy a Z8.” Basically, the push back I keep getting is simple: "Nikon already sold me a very good camera; the cost of getting the latest one is too high for what I perceive to be the benefits.” 

My response to most of those talking to me about this is simple: are you starting to grow out of your old camera (e.g. D850)? If so, you should consider a Z8. If not, then continue growing into your D850. 

Bonus: I decided to go back and look at my D850 review to see what I complained about:

  1. The double-sampled Medium and Small NEF sizes to save file space. The Z8’s High Efficiency raw formats do a better job of saving space, and have far fewer compromises.
  2. To get to 9 fps you had to spend US$900 extra. That cost has come down since then, but you spend a lot of money to get 2 extra fps. The Z8 gives you 11 more fps without having to buy anything other than the camera.
  3. The lack of dual XQD slots. The Z8 has the same problem, but at least it can make full use of fast CFe cards in the first slot. Even a CFe card in the D850 is buffer limiting and slow compared to in the Z8.
  4. Focus stack feature. The Z8 has the same issues.
  5. The lack of a true 8K Time-lapse. Yes, you could use interval instead, but the Z8 completely fixes this issue.
  6. The poor focus/crop highlighting, lack of grids. The Z8 pretty much gives me all the fixes I was complaining about, including rule of thirds grids (among more choices) for a change.
  7. SnapBridge connectivity. It improved on the D850 since I wrote my review, and it’s also good on the Z8. But the Z8 goes further with a much more flexible connectivity capability.
  8. Not great bit rates for video. The Z8 fixes all that, gives us much better/friendlier compression choices, raw video, and of course, as much as 8K/60P, which is state of the art.
  9. No pop up flash. The Z8 doesn’t have one, either.
  10. Viewfinder blackout time. Yeah, the Z8 doesn’t have any. The D850’s is significant, and that impacts tracking focus. 
  11. Not state-of-the-art buffer. The Z8 can go to infinity at 9 fps ;~). 

The "Why It’s Not For Me" Posts

For some reason, the Nikon Z8 is generating quite a few “nice camera, but not for me” responses on the Interwebs. I’ve seen multiple photography and tech sites with full articles along those lines (including dpreview), I’ve seen many forum posts saying the same thing, and I’ve gotten a fair amount of email with the same message.

My sense is that there’s more of this happening than ever before with any significant Nikon camera release. Even the Z9 didn’t get this response from D5/D6 users (but remember, it was less expensive)

I believe that this reluctance isn’t an isolated thing. We’re going to see more and more of that type of comment as the camera makers try to push people higher and higher in their lineups. Most of the user complaints are essential ROI (return on investment) laments. The new, higher price model doesn’t do enough for the customer to justify the expense, basically. 

Thing is, on close examination many of the complaints seem shallow (I’m being generous here). The real basis seems to always boil down to “doesn’t do enough to move my photographic bar for the price.” 

Which brings me to the D850 crowd. Those still using a D850 as their primary camera look to be fully locked into the Last Camera Syndrome. (For those that don’t remember, this was a term I defined over a decade ago where a user would stop buying because they reached a camera level that would last them their lifetime.) 

Nikon seems to think that they’ll convert a significant number of those D850 holdouts to the Z8. I’m betting that this will prove much more difficult than Nikon thinks. The only way I believe a D850 Last Camera Syndrome owner will buy a Z8 is if you provide effective, demonstrable, clear marketing of what the mirrorless world provides over the DSLR world. To date, Nikon hasn’t done that, thus my bet. 

Personally, the Z8 is becoming more and more my favorite all-around camera. So I guess that I’m in the opposite position as all those articles and posts: the Z8 very well may be for me.

Continued Z8 Commentary

Let’s step through some of the questions that came up in my presentation, and in both the comments of that presentation as well as on various fora recently.

The MB-N12 “Fiasco”
I put that last word in parentheses because it overemphasizes points that people are trying to make. However, that, said, the primary gripe I see that’s justified is that the MB-N12 is essentially the MB-N11 with some small adjustments that result in something that just doesn’t quite look right. “You could have designed the Z8 bottom to the MB-N11 shape/sizing.” Or "you could have designed the MB-N12 to the Z8 better."

Yes, I believe Nikon is their own worst enemy here. We’ve had this endless stream of grips—and other accessories, for that matter—that really seems unnecessary. Given that the accessories are always lagging the camera intro and often in short supply, Nikon simply isn’t looking at the problem the correct way. I fail to see how their current design scenario for grips is benefiting Nikon. It certainly isn’t benefiting customers. 

That said, the other complaint about the MB-N12 is that it won’t hold an EN-EL18 battery. Personally, I’m over that scenario, where the grips need to support multiple battery types. That means I also have to travel with multiple chargers (though I suppose USB Power Delivery might solve that issue, but not really at Nikon’s max 15W cable negotiation). A single EN-EL18 is 27Wh, the EN-EL15 is 14Wh. In essence, two EN-EL15s, which is what the MB-N12 holds, is near the equivalent of one EN-EL18. There was no way that the MB-N12 was going to hold two EN-EL18’s, so basically you’re getting the same Wh ability with the way Nikon has designed the grip. 

I suppose a Z9 user with a Z8 as a backup might want EN-EL18 conformity. But that would only occur with a grip on the Z8, where the Z8 becomes bigger than the Z9, so why not just a second Z9?

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of the add-on grips in the first place, as they introduce a point of failure that is real in practice. Moreover, given the existence of the Z9, there’s a better solution if you’re always using a vertical grip, and it doesn’t have a point of failure in it. 

I’ve written before that Nikon is clueless these days about the “system” part of “systems camera.” Not that they’re alone in that. The problem is that we have too many engineers that aren’t photographers designing cameras and particularly accessories now, and they see the “problems” from a different viewpoint than a user. Still, I don’t see how any engineer would see the MB-N12 as a “solution” to a real problem, let alone having a different grip for every body. 

Want a grip? Buy a Z9. Don’t want a grip? Buy a Z8. There’s not much of a use case in between.

8K For How Long?

That’s a good question (what’s the time limit for recording 8K video in the camera?). Nikon’s own material says 90 minutes for 8K/30P internally, but there’s a footnote: using an external battery. 

Heat is the culprit. Running the camera at full blast will start to heat up any internal EN-EL15C battery, and at some point, that internal buildup will trigger a heat warning. Getting a solid handle on the numbers for that is going to be fraught with problems, because ambient temperature will be a strong variable, too. 

I’m not a “long take” kind of videographer. I’ll bet my average recorded clip length is less than a minute. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes position a camera that’s doing a “long capture” of the action, it’s just not something I rely on, and I’m not doing it in 8K in the first place. So I’m probably not the one to ask about maxing out the video record time on a camera like the Z8. Still, I’ll do some investigations that should help give you a better general idea of what to expect.

With a “cool” card, I seem to be able to max out the 90 minutes of recording in my office temp (71°F). But as I noted, this needs more data to be useful. Working on it.

Update: Ricci and Matt Irwin have documented tests online at this point. It’s a reasonable conclusion that at office temps (70°F, 20°C) and card with good thermal characteristics you’re going to fill the card using 8K/60P before the camera shuts down. Remember, Nikon is calling this a hybrid camera, not a video camera. By that you should assume that it’s not the primary camera recording immensely long takes at resolutions higher than those used currently in public distribution. I think the eventual conclusion from any top-end videographer won’t be a lot different than they are dealing with cameras like the RED ones: you have to pay attention to possible overheating if you’re going to run them constantly, particularly in hot outdoor environs. But for shorter, intermittent takes, I don’t currently see an issue. 

Where in the GPS Am I? 

There’s no GPS system built into the Z8 like there is on the Z9. That means no in-camera logging, but it also means that location accuracy is compromised, too. Using SnapBridge on its fastest setting means that you get location updates every 15 seconds or so. Even at my walking pace these days I can move a lot in that amount of time, meaning that the actual location recorded in the frame isn’t at all accurate.

Now, I’m not a big fan of GPS. I use the Z9 logging feature in Africa because it helps me understand my movement through the terrain as I look for animals. It helps me understand where they were and weren’t, and where I might go next. But deadly accurate position? No, I don’t need that, nor do I want to publish images that might reveal the exact position I took a photo at. 

However, you kept asking me questions about GPS, so here goes: connect a GPS to the 10-pin port (I used the low-cost Micnova, available on Amazon), and the SETUP menu suddenly has a Location data section. Here’s the proof:

So the answer you’re looking for is: yes, you can use an external GPS with the Z8. You can even set the camera clock from the external GPS satellite info. 

Also, make sure you read my FAQ about the Z8.

Z8 Presentation Clarifications

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and endured my two hour and twenty-five minute presentation on the Nikon Z8 last Friday. Despite working from a space that needs renovation and isn’t yet ready for studio use, things went smoother than I thought they would. 

That said, there’s one thing I need to fix. At the point where I was trying to demonstrate buffer performance, the camera couldn’t be heard and I was in DX mode, as well. So let me fix that here. 

First, the camera has two cards in it: the slowest ProGrade CFe card (128GB 1700MBs) and the fastest ProGrade SD UHS II card in it (64GB 250MBs). The first audio file below is with the camera set to Lossless compressed NEF and Overflow (only primary card is being used), the second is with the camera set Lossless compressed NEF and Backup (both cards being used):

You’ll notice that with one card active the camera fires off 20 frames per second for about five seconds before we get into a buffer constrained situation. However, note how fast images are still being taken despite the buffer being full.

In the second clip, you’ll notice that you get 20 frames per second for about four seconds before the buffer fills, and then the continued images are taken much more slowly with the buffer full.

My point in the presentation (and here) is that the camera is only as fast as the slowest active card. If you want maximum performance, don’t use the SD slot actively while photographing bursts. 

A number of questions came up during the presentation, most of which I answered quite quickly (and even that took 25 minutes at the end). Some of the more common ones had to do with things I didn’t go deep on in the presentation. Over the next two weeks I’ll try to provide a bit more coverage in those areas here on this site. 

Finally, one thing that didn’t get fully mentioned is that some software already supports Z8 raw files. You can open a Z8 file in Adobe Raw 15.3 for instance. Here’s a couple of quick and dirty images and processing (Z8, 400mm f/4.5 VR S):

bythom US PA LittleLehigh 5-2023 Z8 6568
bythom US PA LittleLehigh 5-2023 Z8 6510

Again, I’ll continue to provide coverage of the Z8 prior to the release of the camera on May 25th.

Myths Sprout Spontaneously on the Internet

It’s just been a day since the Z8 appeared, and already the information is getting a slime on it that needs removing. Let’s see what I can do to correct the spontaneous myths:

  • Weather resistance not as good as the Z9 — Nikon certainly didn’t say that (they said the opposite), so where’s this notion coming from? Indeed, Nikon showed lots of photos, videos, and examples where the Z8 was being used in the rain and snow. I’ve torn apart a Z6 and Z7 at this point. I’m not going to tear apart the Z8 Nikon is loaning me, but I’ll get around to tearing a Z8 down eventually (or someone will beat me to it). The Z6/Z7 models are remarkably weather resistant, but they use a lot of crafty seam overlap to do that. The Z8 uses real weather seals. Here are the ones on the back of the camera:

    That said, on any camera, no matter how weather-sealed, you need to protect against water ingress through any of the connections, particularly the card slots, as they are soldered directly to the digital board. Still, my initial judgement is that the Z8 seems just as well protected against weather as the Z9. 
  • OMG, the chassis isn’t all metal, the camera will break — Nikon uses a combination of materials in the body design of the Z8, much as they have with pretty much all the non flagship cameras in the recent past. On a Z8, magnesium alloy is used in the front body to help align the lens mount and image sensor, which bolt to it. The rest of the body is a carbon-fiber infused material, I believe it’s a form of Teijin’s Sereebo material, which is extremely lightweight without sacrificing any strength or durability. Unlike metal, this material sustains impacts better—up to its breaking strength—as it has no memory. I should also point out that one Nikon camera that did use a magnesium alloy frame, the D800, was notorious for some frames breaking, which allowed for a misalignment of the focus sensor module and essentially totaled a camera when that happened. Metal by itself is not a panacea. 
  • The battery won’t last long enough — An echo of the complaint that happened when the Z6 and Z7 were originally introduced. And then people went out and used them and discovered that CIPA numbers don’t translate into real world experience. CIPA testing these days really tests how long the camera can stay active (Z8 ~2.8 hours without Prioritize viewfinder active). Few of you have photography sessions that last longer than that. It’s too early to tell for sure, but I’m expecting 500+ actual images on a charge, and probably closer to 1000 than 500. True, at 20 fps you can create 1000 images in 50 seconds. But the Z8 will keep photographing at that point. I’ve tried that torture test already, and the results from a full charge were that the battery showed 100% after 1200 images ;~). Yesterday I took over 1300 photos during a walk about photo session at the Little Lehigh River with a Z8, and the battery was still at 35% when I finished up. Obviously, images per charge is going to be above 330 for most of you. You’re better off considering duration of charge (again, max 2.8 hours; it may be less than that with some features active, and it’s obviously less when recording video).
  • It’s not a landscape camera — Again, not what Nikon said. I’d phrase it differently: the Z8 is an all-around camera, which would include travel and landscape. Start with the excellent weather sealing ;~). Add a tilting display for down low verticals. Better gridline choices. More customization (you could have a bank for landscape, one for sports, one for flash, and still have one left over). Heck, use voice memo to annotate your image before you forget why you took it. That’s perhaps not enough to justify the cost of a Z8 over a Z7 II if all you do is landscape photography, but then try getting the Z7 II to capture 20 fps of the rare animal you found while traipsing through the woods ;~). 
  • Too many 45mp cameras — Give users no choice, and they ask for choice. Give users choice, and they ask for less choice. Personally, I think choice is good, particularly since Japan seems to think that 40/45mp is the new 24mp. You can buy in low, you can buy in the middle, you can buy in high. The Z7 II, Z8, and Z9 are different cameras that appeal to different use cases. They also are 1.4x apart in price, so you can indeed get same image quality for less money, or more capability for more money. 

It seems that no matter what a camera maker does, some users will find things to complain about. Frankly, I’m not complaining about the Z8. It appears to be an excellent camera for the price, and is now in the running for my current best all-around camera choice. 

Your Reaction May Vary

Yes, Nikon’s generated a lot of commentary and follow-on activity (including this site’s coverage) with the announcement of the Z8. But I’ve already noticed some differences in reaction. 

Here in the US, for instance, the reaction has been basically “a more compact Z9 for US$1500 less.” Already dealers are getting Z9 trade-ins in anticipation of people switching over to the Z8. Too many people overbought to get a Z9, apparently, though I’m not at all sure that a Z8 isn’t still overbuying if that were the case. At least it’s smaller and lighter ;~). 

What will likely happen in the US is already obvious: Z9 sales will dry up, Z8 sales will take their place (and possibly escalate; again, I’ll have a lot more to say in my presentation on Friday). Used Z9’s will become a thing, though at what price point they’ll lock in I don’t yet know. 

However, this reaction does not apply worldwide. In Canada, a Z9 is CAN$6999 and a Z8 is CAN$5399, a similarly wide price differential as in the US, but high enough in price that I’m seeing a fair amount of hesitation from our Northern neighbors. There’s a particular big drop down to the Z7 II at (currently) CAN$3499, for instance. The slow trend in Canada has been the loonie slowly eroding in value against the greenback.

One Australian reader pointed out to me that a Z8 with an extra battery and grip is going to retail at ~AUS$7800, while a Z9 is currently AUS$7800. Hmm. That is a Hobson’s choice if I ever saw one. 

In much of Europe we see something similar: the Z8 and Z9 are closer in price to one another at retail than they are in the US. 

In other words, the “value proposition” of a Z8 compared to a Z9 is something that has a great degree of regionality to it. 

I wouldn’t get too locked into that: the world economic situation is such that currency valuations are highly likely to move at little notice. If I’m not mistaken, Nikon costs many of their production bits using the Thailand Bhat, which has (had?) a relatively stable relationship with the dollar (e.g. narrower range). Since the start of this year, the yen has depreciated about 5% against the dollar, while the Bhat has gained about 3% against the dollar. This is probably one of the reasons why prices for Nikon products in Japan are being raised. 

But the real point I want to make is that any significant currency market changes could very much change what happens with worldwide Z8 prices. While I risk dropping into politics, the lack of agreement on the US debt limit at the moment has the chance to escalate into real pricing changes for goods. That US$4000 price on the Z8 looks good now, but a dollar devaluation of any significance will raise that price pretty rapidly. 

Thus, while Nikon is riding a high in the US at the moment, I see clouds on the horizon. We may or may not get a storm. 

Nikon Introduces the Z9 Light…uh…Z8

If all you want are the full specifications of the Z8, you can get them by clicking this Z8 link. While I’ll cover some key specifications in this article, I mostly want to try to try to position the new camera in Nikon’s lineup and against the competition.

It’s raining Z9’s! [NikonUSA supplied photo to illustrate weather resistance]

Nikon today launched the Z8, the fifth model in their lineup of full frame mirrorless cameras. Before we get to the specifics, I want to once again write a bit about the three mule/prototypes that circulated during the last 18 months:

  1. 61mp existing Sony sensor.
  2. New Nikon sensor. It might have been 67mp (certainly 60mp+).
  3. 45mp existing Nikon sensor.

We now know Nikon’s decision was #3, but I think it important to consider why. 

Nikon’s been in a following position for awhile. Essentially, Sony has been first mover in full frame mirrorless for some time. Canon and Nikon were both slow to start their full transition from DSLRs. Sony’s decade of mirrorless iteration has created a wide variety of full frame models: A1, A7 Mark IV, A7C, A7R Mark V, A7S Mark III, A9 Mark II, plus three video-specific cameras (ZV-E1, FX3, and FX30). 

While it won’t have perfect row alignment, let’s put the current full frame mirrorless lineups into a table to illustrate the point we need to get past to understand the Z8 announcement:

bythom fullframe competition

*Indicates a completely less-than-perfect fit for the categorization, but rather best current interpretation

In the run-up to the Z8 announcement I saw quite a few different interpretations of where Nikon's new camera might fit into the competitive landscape. Here are the four that kept getting repeated:

  • The Z8 competes with the Canon R5
  • The Z8 competes with the Sony A1
  • The Z8 competes with the Sony A7R Mark V
  • The Z8 replaces the Z7 II

If Nikon had used a higher-pixel-count image sensor, then the third bullet would have been correct. But they didn’t. In essence, the Z8 turned out to be basically a Z9 in a body that loses the vertical grip. Where does that fit in the competitive landscape?

In order, I believe the Z8 competes first and foremost with the Z9 (!), and secondarily with the Canon R5. Because the Z8 inherits all the “speed” from the Z9, many will also consider that it is also a new competitor to the Sony A1.  

Is that a useful and relevant product position? We’re about to find out. 

Here’s what I believe: Nikon originally intended the Z8 to be a high-pixel count camera that competed with the Sony A7R Mark V and would give Nikon D8xx users a very clear upgrade path into mirrorless. Probably because of sensor offload speed (can’t drop the mechanical shutter without it) and the appearance of being late to the game with the same sensor, Nikon didn’t really want to use the Sony 61mp sensor. Unfortunately, getting a completely new sensor with Nikon’s desired attributes on fab and in production proved to be impossible in the time frame Nikon wanted, thus they picked #3.

Which gives us a strong Z9 competitor at a US$1500 discount. 

On other pages I provide the short list of the things that are missing from a Z8 that the Z9 has, and the shorter list of things the Z8 has that the Z9 doesn’t. When you stack those lists up against the full set of specifications, you'll find that the Z8 is indeed basically a Z9 inside a smaller body. While they will disclaim it because it’s not the official marketing message, I’ve heard Nikon executives talking about “mini Z9.” 

So let’s talk about that body. Nikon picked a size that slots in between the Z6/Z7 and the Z9. Many have been referring to it as D850-sized. The D850 is 5.8 x 4.9 x 3.1” and 915g without battery (for some reason, Nikon has been insistent upon using the without battery number for the D850). The Z8 is 5.6 x 4.6 x 3.2” and 910g with battery. So somewhat lighter, ever so slightly narrower and less tall; I’d still effectively call the Z8 D850-sized. The Z9, by comparison, is 5.9 x 5.9 x 3.6” and 1160g without battery.

bythom z8 top.jpg

Is the Z8 the “right” size? That’s an excellent question. One of Nikon’s goals clearly was to provide a mirrorless camera that D850 users could transition to mirrorless with (the press release had the words “true successor to D850” in a sub-head). But those users will get basically the same image sensor (pixel count) and basically the same body size if they do. Thus, the primary things Nikon can say to a D850 user is: faster frame rate, better video, and the new autofocus system. Is that enough to convince D850 owners to give up their DSLR? Personally, I believe it is; but that’s from a “marketing sense” not a pragmatic sense talking to users. I see a lot of resistance among D850 owners not wanting to give their camera up, particularly because they believe the optical viewfinder and battery capacity myths (I’ll have more to say about that in my talk on Friday night).

I’ve written in the past that the D850 was the best all-around camera you could buy. That’s no longer true. Several mirrorless cameras would now take that position. And the Z8 will be right there with them, if not once again the best all-rounder. Indeed, because the Z8 is essentially a speed camera as well as a high pixel count one, it certainly has the attributes to justify that (the Canon R5 and Sony A1 would tend to be my other current candidates). 

Nikon appears to have very high hopes for the Z8. They’d better, since they’re undercutting their own Z9 with this new camera. At a price of US$4000, here in the US that means that you can get a “Z9 equivalent” camera for US$1500 less now. That extra US$1500 is a lot of money just to get a vertical grip, a larger battery, built-in GPS, and a few other things. Thus, I believe that we may see most Z9 sales simply transition to Z8 sales now. The question thus becomes whether or not the supply of Z8’s will satisfy the demand. 

The Z8 will start shipping on May 25th. Thus we’ll discover whether the demand exceeds supply very soon. That tight announce-to-ship timeline is a bit unusual for Nikon. Coupled with the late government registrations (for the communication aspects of the camera), I wonder just how long the Z8 has been being built in Thailand.

One thing that echoes what Nikon has done in the past is the “start at the top and deploy downward” philosophy of the engineering teams. I’m sure that has some Z System users a bit baffled, but it’s been Nikon’s basic modus operandi since forever. It’s been true of the F4, F5, D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5 generations. The lingering question that the Z8 launch raises is “how fast will that Z9 tech tickle down to the rest of the lineup?

To be specific, the Z9 pioneered a number of things on the tech side:

  • Stacked image sensor
  • Dual-stream image sensor
  • Removal of the mechanical shutter
  • EXPEED7 with way faster processing and additional IP in the chip (e.g. IntoPix core, additional GPUs, maybe a neural core?)
  • New raw image formats (HE*, HE)
  • New video capabilities (N-Raw, HLG, etc.)
  • New autofocus system (Subject Detection,
  • Faster CFe slots

You can expect EXPEED7 in future full frame cameras, for sure. The questions are which of the other tech also makes its way downward, and how fast. 

Z6 and Z7 users right now are in a holding pattern. Dual EXPEED6 (Z6 II, Z7 II) didn’t seem to add all that much, though those second models did clean up a number of small details, and are quite good cameras. The fact that we didn’t get III models at the two-year anniversary seems to indicate that Nikon was waiting for this new tech to get fully fleshed out and established before iterating those models. The fact that the Z8 went mini-Z9 also seems to indicate that a Z7 III would now become the most logical candidate for the higher-pixel-count image sensor that didn’t make the Z8 schedule. Of course, that could also turn into a Z8x, given Nikon’s previous patterns. 

The big question mark, though, is now with the Z6 III. To truly take advantage of all that new tech, I’d guess that a Z6 III needs a new image sensor, too, which makes predicting when it might appear almost impossible. One glitch in producing a new image sensor and the potential launch date rapidly crumbles into fantasy. 

I keep hearing that Nikon is working on two new sensor technologies (which would give them three new image sensors, the last one being a DX derivative of the high-pixel-count FX one). Tell me when those resolve into “available” and I could tell you a lot more about Nikon’s future lineup and when those models will appear. Unfortunately, I keep hearing “sensor delayed,” so we get interim product decisions that might not be what everyone expects (exhibit 1: the Z8).  

As the rumors started to clarify about what the Z8 actually was, I saw a lot of disappointment in the discussions. That disappointment has a tendency to fan boi into “Nikon is no longer competitive” wails, though many of those are from folk who don’t own Nikon gear ;~). 

I don’t buy that. Nikon is clearly competitive in full frame mirrorless:

  • The Z5 is peerless as an entry camera, the Canon R8 included when specs and price are considered.
  • The Z6 II is the most price competitive entry prosumer camera you’ll find. Highly capable still.
  • The Z7 II is a really solid landscape, architecture, travel camera at again a very competitive price.
  • The Z8 is now arguably one of the best all-around full frame mirrorless cameras available, also at a competitive price.
  • The Z9 still sits as the solid pro camera that’s nearly indestructible (I know, I’ve tried ;~). 

I can see now how a Z5 II will use (mostly) the current Z6 II tech and keep its position defended. And if there isn’t too long a delay, I can see how the Z6 III and Z7 III will defend their positions, as well. No, Nikon has a solid full frame lineup, with an interesting set of price points (see this new camera pricing article).

As many moans as I heard today from grumpy “want it all” folk, I’ll bet that the Z8 will prove to be a popular and widely used camera. 

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The Comparison Between the Nikon Z7 II and Z8

A lot of folk were hoping for a Z7-sized Z9. They didn’t get it.

The Z8 is about a quarter inch wider, a half inch taller, and a bit thicker than the Z7 body. The Z8 also weighs 910g, which is about 200g heavier than the Z7. (For you Americans, that’s 7 ounces heavier, or a bit under half a pound.)

In essence, the Z8 slots in size and weight between the Z7 and Z9, which is going to please some and displease others (you can see the relative sizing in the camera banner at the top of this site; from left to right it’s Z9, Z8, Z7 II…).

A few things that make the Z7 II the better camera for some:

  • Less expensive (US$1300 buys a lot of lens)
  • Slightly better dynamic range from ISO 64 to ISO 500 (same dynamic range above that)
  • Smaller size and weight
  • Somewhat better battery life (440 images CIPA versus 330)
  • Less expensive MC-DC2 remote

The things that will make the Z8 seem “better” to some over the Z7 II:

  • New autofocus system
  • HEIF and HLG support
  • Near infinite buffer
  • Better video capabilities
  • More button customization
  • Voice memo
  • IPTC captioning
  • Skin softening
  • Electronic shutter with extended speeds, true silent ability (even with flash)
  • High-frequency flicker reduction
  • Sensor shield can be deployed when changing lenses
  • Extensive USB and networking capabilities
  • 8K video, including raw and ProRes codec

What Does the Nikon Z8 Have the Z9 Doesn’t?

A very short list, which may disappear with firmware updates. These are the things that were added to a Z8 from the Z9 design:

  • 10-bit HEIF support
  • New Tone mode menu item (SDR/HLG, plus Set Picture Control (HLG))
  • Portrait impression balance
  • Skin softening function (both still and video)
  • AF improvements (dedicated Airplane detection, silhouette focus, smaller face detect)
  • USB LAN capability (two USB-C ports: one for USB Power Delivery, one for USB data)
  • 30% lighter, smaller than Z9
  • With HLG video, Z8 has base ISO of 400, the Z9 at 800 (NLOG both are 800)

Nikon Z System Lineup Commentary

In the last two years, we’ve had four new Z cameras introduced: Z30, Zfc, Z8, and Z9. You’ll note something about that: (1) two top-end cameras; and (2) two rebrandings of the lowest camera.

In the middle of the Z lineup we have three cameras:

  • Z5 — 3 years old with 12 year-old sensor
  • Z6 II — 2.5 years old with 5 year-old sensor
  • Z7 II — 2.5 years old with 6 year-old sensor

We also have DSLRs that weren’t replaced in this “middle”:

  • D7500 —5 years old with 6.5 year-old sensor
  • D500 — 6.5 years old with 6.5 year-old sensor

I get it. The DSLR-era product update cycles for Nikon were basically one year for bottom consumer products (D3xxx, D5xxx), two years for middle lineup products (D7xxx), and four years for the top pro products. But that was back when Nikon was selling over 3m units a year. Today Nikon is selling ~700k units a year. R&D expenses have been cut proportionally, too. 

The problem is that the middle of the Nikon lineup is aging, while the top two competitors (Canon and Sony) are iterating their mid-level product. To some, this makes Nikon look non-competitive in the sweet spot of the market (US$1500-3000, basically). Sweet spot in that the products in that realm are solid performers with extended features people can grow into, at a price point that many can afford, and a price that also allows for strong profit margins for the manufacturer. 

As much as others keep harping on “Nikon needs a higher resolution camera”—e.g. a Sony A7R Mark V competitor—I actually see Nikon’s primary “needs” as being different: We need a D7500/D500 equivalent camera in DX, and we need a more competitive Z6 III. Slot a competitive DX camera at US$1500 and a solid Z6 update at US$2500, and Nikon suddenly is fully back in the running in the sweet spot. 

Someone recently anonymously sent me a set of specs they claim were from a Nikon prototype of what they claimed would sit in DX at US$1500. If those specs are correct, then Nikon will still be lagging some at that price point. Particularly so when you consider that by the time Nikon fills that spot, Fujifilm will have started discounting their recent T and H models, Canon will be discounting the R7, and Sony will likely be iterating in that arena, as well. But I don’t think those specs or pricing were correct. However, it does show that rumors are starting to trickle, and you need to be careful what you do and don’t believe.

Unfortunately, new models for Nikon all comes back to image sensors. Other than the Z8/Z9 image sensor, Nikon no longer has an image sensor that could really be called state-of-the-art. 20mp DX is now fully aged. 24mp FX is also fully aged. Nikon needs to migrate to newer image sensors for the Z5 II (e.g. just use the current Z6 II one), the Z6 III (needs something beyond just the tweak Panasonic got from Sony for the S5 II), and especially for DX. That’s a lot of sensor development cost for what probably is ~500k units/year in Nikon’s lineup.

Sometimes you have to put the money in to get a payback out. Right now, Nikon still seems to be riding cost reduction to get profitability back. You can’t ride that horse forever; it wears out with time. 

Nikon Rumors is currently predicting that an FX Zf legacy-inspired camera will be the next product launched by Nikon (in fall). Think about what image sensor would go into that camera: the 24mp or non-stacked 45mp existing one, right? Think also about how the similar Df and Zfc were short-term hits, not long-term ones. To me, launching a Zf at a time when the Z6 III, Z7 III, and DX all need attention is a holding action, at best. In other words, produce something new that will win a few sales to keep the financial numbers looking okay. That’s not engineering, that’s bean counting. 

I can only hope that a Z8 and a rumored Zf aren’t the only cameras we see from Nikon this year. On the other hand, if that’s the full extent of this year’s introductions, you can bet the Z30, Z50, Z5, Z6 II, and Z7 II will all be on serious discount come the holiday season. 

Just prior to and early on in the COVID pandemic, Nikon Imaging executives were making the rounds continuously saying that they were going to step on the gas in terms of new product launches. That did not happen. Indeed, the opposite happened: 2020 produced three launches, none particularly unique; 2021 gave us two, one unique (Z9); while 2022 gave us one that was not at all unique (Z30). Here in 2023 we’re back at one (Z8), and I’d again say that it’s not all that unique, as it’s basically a body redesign when you look at it carefully. 

Let’s hope that something else is happening under the covers where we can’t see (e.g. image sensor development). 

Bonus: not that Sony is doing all that much, themselves. Since 2020 Sony’s mostly been throwing vlogging at customers, with the A1 being the only truly interesting new still camera recently. The A7/A7R iterations were nice, but mostly cleanup, in my opinion. Curiously, the A7 update was not on the usual two-year cycle (ala what Nikon and Sony had been doing previously), and even the A7R update wasn’t exactly on cycle, either. Perhaps three years is the new mid-line cycle length.

What Does the Z9 Have the Z8 Doesn’t?

It’s a somewhat short list, but an important one for some. 

These are the things that were left out of a Z8 from the Z9 design:

  • No built-in vertical grip and controls (instead: optional MB-N12 battery grip)
  • No built-in GPS and logging (instead: use SnapBridge from your phone)
  • No built-in Ethernet (however, dongle can unlock Ethernet connectivity and Network settings)
  • No Kensington lock
  • No dual CFe slots (instead: one CFe, one SD)
  • No lock on the card slot door
  • No Fn4 button (Fn3 button moves to the Protect button)
  • No extra button row below the Rear LCD
  • No CSM #D3 (Limit release mode)
  • No PC Sync socket
  • No flash button on top button cluster (WB instead)
  • No full magnesium frame (instead: partial carbon fiber coupled with magnesium alloy)
  • Slightly shorter video recording time (90 minutes on Z8 versus 125 minutes on Z9)

1.4x Works For More Things Than You Think

You probably already know that apertures are 1.4x apart (f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, etc.). Light also falls off one stop at 1.4x distances. But did you notice that Nikon is very close to using 1.4x as a pricing differential? Take a look at the FX lineup list prices at introduction:

  • Z5 = US$1400
  • Z6 II = US$2000 (1.4x difference)
  • Z7 II = US$3000 (1.5x difference)
  • Z8 = US$4000 (1.33x difference)
  • Z9 = US$5500 (1.38x difference)

Had Nikon priced the Z7 II US$200 less and the Z9 US$100 more, we’d basically have a perfect 1.4x ramp (using CIPA style rounding ;~).

The real question is whether those are “real” price points or made up ones. 

Back when the Osborne 1 was being introduced I had a huge argument with Adam Osborne about pricing. Adam absolutely insisted that the price be US$1795, but there was absolutely no reason to put the price at that number—and why not US$1799 if there was?—as there wasn’t anything comparable under about US$2800 (and that didn’t include significant software, as the Osborne 1 did). I argued that you could put the Osborne 1 price at US$1999, keep the extra US$140 (factoring dealer discounts), and not have any noticeable change in volume. That volume was about 50,000 units the first year, meaning that the difference between Adam and my pricing would have changed first year results by US$7 million dollars. Since Osborne eventually died due to cash flow issues, one wonders what might have happened if I had gotten my way on pricing.

But the question I want to ask is simple: are there specific camera price points that are well established? I’d say yes. US$2000 is where the camera makers first put down an anchor for significant digital camera price points (e.g. D100, which was announced slightly higher but quickly dropped to US$2000 along with its direct competitors). Not a lot has changed since. It’s the price point at which you still get a lot of volume, but you can also build a strong performance product that still nets you lots of profit margin.

However, as I was editing this article, the following became the actual pricing of the Nikon lineup:

  • Z5 = US$1000
  • Z6 II = US$1700 (1.7x difference)
  • Z7 II = US$2600 (1.5x difference)
  • Z8 = US$4000 (1.5x difference)
  • Z9 = US$5500 (1.38x difference)

There’s certainly a price point at US$1000, and the Canon RP and Nikon Z5 are the only full frame cameras there. There’s also been another price point for a long time at US$1500, which is where the Canon R7 and R8 are. From there it gets trickier, but I’d argue that US$2000 and US$3000 are also critical points. Price elasticity of demand tells us that as you move higher, unit sales begin to exponentially fall off. Given how many cameras you can find at more than US$3000 today, I’d have to guess that the camera companies are fully happy with the volume produced by those higher priced products, and simply use them to goose their overall profit margin, a common Japanese consumer electronics approach. 

The real volume that is worth discussing is between US$1000 and US$2000. The camera companies are no longer really trying to obtain volume via <US$1000 product, other than perhaps Canon, who is market share driven. But everyone has products in the US$1000 to US$2000 realm. 

So here’s a question: do you believe there are specific price points between US$1000 and US$2000, and if so, what are they?

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