Nikon Z System News and Commentary

News and commentary appropriate to Nikon Z system users. Latest post on top.
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Where the Z8 and Z9 Still Miss

I've got a ton of Z9 experience now under my belt, and a large amount of Z8 experience, as well. Both cameras have been through significant firmware updates to get them to where they currently are two of the best camera options available from any maker.

That said, Nikon has left a lot of fruit on the tree that needs to be picked and put into the Z8/Z9 pies. What follows is my basic view on the things that are still left undone. 

  • Rationalize the menus. I'm going to start with this one because the firmware updates to the Z8 and Z9 showed just how poorly Nikon is thinking about menus. We have long scrolling lists where we don't need them, modes that set the available other modes, lack of logical grouping, unclear hierarchies, and much, much more. It's not that Nikon hasn't noticed and done nothing: we now have a NETWORK menu instead of jamming all those options into SETUP. We also have seen RETOUCH move to playback only, where it belongs. Still, overall, it doesn't feel like there is a clear, guiding effort being done to clean everything up. Moreover, each new feature that appears seems to just add new clutter where someone had just done a little bit of tidying up and pruning, as HEIF proved. 
  • Complete the customization options. Why subject detection, metering, and a small number of other items don't have an immediate button customization—other than abusing Recall shooting functions for something it wasn't intended for—I don't know. As I've reported to Nikon several times now, these are big items to a working photographer in journalism, wildlife, or sports, and still significant items for everyone else. Look at the Nike logo, Nikon, and Just Do It.
  • Provide a real load/save option. Another item I've reported to Nikon several times. The current save/load (and even U#/Banks) options are badly conceived, poorly executed, and absolute nightmares for users. All of that would be fixed by simply providing named settings files, and then adding a customization option to pull them up via button or button+dial. Indeed, this option would also make banks more useful, as that allows sub-customization within a customization. 10 named settings files and four banks means one heck of a lot of depth to the on-the-fly reconfiguration options.
  • Add a raw Pre-release capture option. We know it can be done. We don't know what the maximum frame rate would be, but it wouldn't matter, we'll still take it. The real issue here is that Nikon is taking a shortcut for the Pre-release option choices, where they reconfigure the camera into a "video" mode behind the scenes. I want FX and DX raw options in the list, and I don't care how they're created behind the scenes. Even 5 fps Pre-release capture would be useful, but I'm pretty sure that Nikon could do 10 fps and even higher if they'd just get their brains around the demand for this function.
  • Better address strobe/speedlight usage. The Z8 and Z9 are professional cameras, which means that a number of us use them in the studio, and in situations where we are trying to control the light. I can't believe someone influential in this respect such as McNalley hasn't behind the scenes chastised Nikon on this and set them to task. Light is one of the fundamental elements of what makes a photo a photo (let alone a great photo). Trial and error coupled with focus misses in strobe managed light is not what we want. Thing is, a modern Nikon camera knows when a trigger or flash is in the hot shoe and active. Why doesn't that automatically reconfigure the camera to be optimally set for that situation (with user customization, of course)?  We know that low ambient studio light might make the focus system struggle, so where's Nikon's solution for that? Is Elvis (that flash-y guy) still in the building?
  • Clean up the multiple image release modes. The options that deal with multiple images, such as Focus shift shooting, Multiple exposure, HDR (overlay), Interval timer shooting, and Auto capture are all a mess of random settings, have no ability to create custom sets you can instantly load, have had features come and go for no apparent reason, and are buggy. These are supposed to be useful shortcuts (tools) to do something beyond a basic image capture. What's happened is that they've become random "almost ready for prime time" thoughts that give Nikon users headaches every time we dip into them.

While I see others asking for things like more EVF resolution, higher frame rates, and global shutter, those things are probably more Z8 II or Z9 II items. Those will come with time. However, the things I list above are clear "misses" with the current cameras. There's no reason why they can't be done with a firmware release to make the current iterations near perfect.

I should point out that we had a total of 36 (!) Z8 and Z9 cameras in Botswana at work during my two recent workshops in April. With that big a sample in a demanding environment, it's pretty easy to see what users are complaining about and struggling with. As it turns out, most of those were things I've been complaining about since day 1 with the Z9. 

Catching Up For The Month I Was Away

Here are the Z System news bits that happened while I was off the Internet:

  • 4/9 — Z30 and Z50 firmware updates. The Z30 firmware is now at version 1.11, the Z50 version at 2.51. The only published change has to do with encryption keys and passwords associated with the wireless connection.
  • 4/11 — 7Artisans 50mm f/1.8 announced. 7Artisans announced their first autofocus lens for the Z System (the lens had been previously available on the Sony FE mount). 
  • NAB — Viltrox 16mm f/1.8 shown. This autofocus lens first appeared for the Sony FE mount, and now will have a Z-mount option available.
  • NAB — Z9 Firmware 5.0 had a secret. The Z9 5.0 firmware update had a function in it that wasn’t revealed until the NAB convention. Basically, this function allows ATOMOS external recorders to create a proxy video via HDMI whose name matches what is recorded internally on the camera in ProRes, ProRes RAW, or N-RAW. Your ATOMOS device may need a firmware update to support this. 
  • NAB — Nikon officiallly finalized the acquisition of RED. This includes appointing Keiji Oishi, formerly of Nikon Imaging, as the new co-CEO of RED. While I still expect Nikon and RED products to be separate for the foreseeable future, the appointment of an imaging-savvy Japanese executive at RED indicates to me that Nikon is very serious about making an impact in the video industry, and consolidating RED under the Nikon Imaging umbrella.
  • NAB — Atomos announced the Ninja Phone. This small, new, US$399 accessory essentially turns your iPhone 15 Pro into an external HDMI video recorder that records in 10-bit Apple ProRes and H.265. The caveat is that it is only records up to 1080/60P. Most of Atomos’s usual Ninja capabilities are present, and Atomos points out that the iPhone’s screen shows essentially zero latency.
  • NAB — New cards appear. A number of new storage cards have appeared, including Lexar’s new Armor series of SD cards (basically their version of Sony Tough). SanDisk, meanwhile, introduced a 4TB Extreme Pro UHS-I card, which pushes the SD capacity bar up one. OWC expanded their CFexpress 4.00 card series to Type A (not important to Nikon Z-mount users, but does show OWC’s full support for the latest CFe standards). ProGrade is also showing off both Type A and Type B CFexpress 4.0 cards with maximum and sustained speeds well above what the Z8 and Z9 require (and are rated VPG 400 for video). These new Type B cards are named Iridium and come in 400GB, 800GB, and 1.6TB sizes. Meanwhile, a new Gold 256GB card also is available with CFe 4.0 support.
  • 4/12 — More High Efficiency raw support arrives. RawDigger and FastRawViewer are now in public beta with support of Nikon High Efficiency raw files (both types). Note that you need to be on a current modern OS. For example, 32-bit Windows is not supported. Also, Nitro (from the makers of Raw Power) now supports HE formats.
  • 4/17 — Z5 firmware updated to 1.43. The only changes apply to Nikon’s updated security keys for wireless communication.
  • 4/23 — Z8 firmware updated to 2.01. The new version applies Nikon’s new security changes for wireless communication, as well as five fixes.
  • 4/25 — Viltrox introduced the 40mm f/2.5 autofocus lens, TTartisans introduced the 50mm f/1.8 autofocus lens for the Z-mount, and Kate introduced the 200mm f/5.6 manual focus mirror lens
  • 4/29 — Zf firmware was updated to versions 1.20. This update forces automatic white balance to remain the same for each image in a pixel-shift sequence, makes the security key changes of the other updates, and fixes three bugs.
  • 5/6 — Nik Collection version 7 was released. Because the U-point technology and Viveza corrections were first part of Nikon Capture, this product still has appeal to Nikon users, even after it first passing to Google and now to DxO. Indeed, it's those two attributes—the full product has many more modules—that have gotten the most attention in the new version.
  • 5/7 — Viltrox announced the 16mm f/1.8 lens for the Z-mount. This lens is now one of two wide angle full frame autofocus lens prime lens available for the Z-mount that go beyond where Nikon has gone.
  • 5/9 — Nikon announced fiscal year results. As expected, Nikon beat the last forecast it made for the complete year ended March 31, 2024, and that was true of the Imaging unit, as well. Sales were up 52.6% and profits up 4.3% year to year. ILC market share finished at 12.9%. The forecast for the coming year is an increase in sales of 7.2% in revenue and an increase in market share by about 1%, but a decline of 5.5% in profit. That decline in profit is partially attributed to the acquisition of RED, for which Nikon paid about US$85m. Be careful of the sites citing the RED purchase as "the deal of the century," as the actual sales, profit, assets, and liabilities of RED are still unknown, and you'd need to know those numbers to make a proper assessment. It's more likely that there was some distress within RED, which resulted in the lowish acquisition price. One likely problem, particularly given the interviews that have been given since the deal was announced, is that the investment cost of future silicon options at RED was starting to exceed their resources. Nikon provides deep pockets and shared tech that would help with that. For what it's worth, Nikon's Imaging forecast seems a bit unusual to me, with a strong year to year increase in sales for the first half of the fiscal year, but a modest increase in sales with a significant hit to profit in the second half. This would indicate a new camera (or more) before October, but some sort of big R&D cost after that. But also note that Nikon, like a number of other camera companies, shows a significant increase in inventory that's built up, too. To Nikon corporate's chagrin, Imaging is still the biggest pipeline of sales and profit at the company (39% of sales, and greater profit than the company overall). I say that because corporate just keeps saying "just sustain the Imaging business" while growing other businesses, with the Precision unit is still "expected" to be far bigger by 2026 (it won't be). R&D is forecast to go up for Imaging and down for Precision next year. Oops. Finally, it's been hypothesized by other sites that Nikon didn't need to release a new camera in Q1 of 2024 because sales were great, so they could delay any new camera. That's not evident in the data: while Q1/2024 sales were above last year, they were weakest quarter of the year, and below those of years where Nikon was said to be "in trouble." The reason Nikon didn't introduce a camera so far this year is that no new ones are ready to release yet. Nikon isn't alone in this; I've now gotten confirmation from three different companies that there is are still parts shortages that are forcing them to choose between producing existing models or new models. Given in Nikon's case that almost any new model they'd introduce this year is going to cost less than a Z8 or Z9, those parts are better used in the higher priced camera, even if you discount them some.

Update: Added some lenses to the database that were shown in Asian countries but haven't yet been officially announced in the US, yet (e.g. Laowa). 

Thom's First Software Product for the Nikon Z9

As many of you know, I have a software developer background that dates back to 1976, including a number of sophisticated things that have been built into today's modern OS's (e.g. Ram Doubler's memory encryption trick is now adopted by macOS; Microsoft bought Virtual from my company). Along the way I've created a number of software products that needed to exist, but at the time weren't available in any form (you have me to thank for true table making features as well as linking spell and grammar checks into word processors, for instance). 

If you know my Silicon Valley background, it's probably been surprising to you that I haven't yet created (or helped create) any software product for digital cameras, particularly the Nikon ones that I spend most of my time with. 

Frankly, the software business is treacherous, and I was glad to leave it behind after the turn of the century. Still, as you've probably noted I've been critical of a lot of digital software features, including those built into cameras. A couple of times recently I've tinkered with ideas with some of my developer friends, including an unreleased monochrome-only raw converter program we called RawTriX (pronounced raw tricks). I also often suggest (and test) things for my friends who are still putting out products of their own. 

Well, today I get back in the software game. 

In a big and highly unexpected way.

Ever since the introduction of the Nikon Z9 I've been digging into the physical aspects of that camera as I tried to understand what Nikon had actually designed, and how it was different. The quad-core nature of the EXPEED7 processor seemed underutilized, and as we've seen from subsequent firmware updates, the original firmware left a lot off the table. 

My work on the Z9 firmware included disassembling and using customized test equipment to monitor what was happening on the main digital board within the camera, and in particular, how the EXPEED7 processor was utilized. That led me to a couple of surprising revelations. It turns out that there is a way to pass new processes into the ARM processors within the EXPEED7 chip and have them execute; the trick was to not step on what Nikon was doing. However, I found that I could easily piggy-back on what Nikon did. As it turns out, I couldn't decipher all of Nikon's "black box" API (Application Programming Interface), but I did crack enough to be able to get the EXPEED7 chip to execute code I sent to it, as well as get access to the menus and information advisories.

Once I figured the control bits out, the real issue became getting past the encryption and verification procedures Nikon uses in creating their firmware files and the individual modules within them. As others before me have discovered, you not only have to be able to understand the instructions and data registers used in the various computing components—there's more than just the ARM cores in an EXPEED7 chip—but you also have to figure out how to add your code into the camera's firmware without the camera's built-in self-protection systems kicking in and bricking the camera, and also not stepping on privileged processes as you do it. Moreover, you also have to hook into the menu and control response systems, though as it turns out, Nikon left those hooks exposed.

One thing that I was able to isolate and understand early was how the Voice Memo system got invoked and interacted with the other hardware in the camera (e.g. microphone and speaker). This led me to one of those Aha! moments: back in the early 90's a friend shared with me a small speech recognition process he created (which was being tested on the old EO 440 PenPoint machines I helped design and evangelized, which were also ARM-based). What if I could stick that routine into the Voice Memo hooks? 

And thus was born Hey Nikki.

Yep, just like Apple's Hey Siri, only you say Nikki (neek-ee in Japan ;~) to invoke the system. With my mods in place, you will now see a new Voice memo option of Hey Nikki appended to the voice options menu. It uses the simple Z9 toggle on/off construct.

bythom heynikki menus

When you use Hey Nikki via a button programmed for Voice memo, this is what you'll initially see:

bythom nikkiinprogress

...and after a brief moment, you'll briefly see the following message:

bythom nikkicomplete

I'm still trying to figure out a better way of doing this. There's a brief delay between the messages as I try to get my displays into Nikon's usual sequences, and the final completion message is actually happening a fair amount of time after the change has already been made. I also use a generic error message should Nikki not understand what you said, and I'd like to make that more specific in the future. Also in the current implementation it's possible to press the shutter release before the second message appears, and it will be indefinite as to whether the change was actually made or not: too close to the original message and it wasn't, but closer to the second message and it was, but you won't know which is which at the moment. Yucky. I'm working on another approach that should fix this.

So, starting today, Just talk, say the magic words, and your Z9 will change its settings! At least the ones I've deciphered and added so far.

Yes, I know all you Z8 users are at this point saying "but what about me, can I use Hey Nikki, too? 
The answer today is no. Nikon made an interesting change in the way the Z8 firmware package works that I need to figure out before I can make the software work for the Z8, too.

This first version of Hey Nikki will probably seem a little strange and toy-like. That's because I'm still trying to figure out what things I can control and which things I know the Nikon API for. Here are the very first words that Hey Nikki understands:

  • Hey Nikki 15 frames (or 10, 12, 20) — sets the Continuous High frame rates (camera must be set to CH to work, otherwise in the current implementation nothing happens; I'll work on that ;~)
  • Hey Nikki Luxos — turns the AF Assist Lamp on or off ;~) (Yes, a Harry Potter reference. Imagine your child learning that your camera understands wizardry!)
  • Hey Nikki mark 5 (or delete, protect, mark 1, 2, 3, or 4) — tags the currently displayed image with the desired rating; if in composing mode, nothing happens (at the moment Nikki doesn't provide feedback, but I'll work on that, too)
  • Hey Nikki send — marks the currently displayed image for Send to smart device
  • Hey Nikki Aperture (or Manual, Shutter, or Program) — sets the Exposure mode (MODE button equivalent)
  • Hey Nikki SHOOTING A (or B, C, D, or CUSTOM A, B, C, D) — changes the camera to the named SHOOTING menu bank (or CUSTOM SETTING bank) This was the big win on this first iteration of Hey Nikki: you don't have to dedicate a button to banks; I'm now working on allowing the combo you can't do with buttons, e.g. Hey Nikki SHOOTING A CUSTOM A

(Full documentation comes in a Read Me file with the installer. You'll need a copy of Nikon's C5.00 firmware to create the full Hey Nikki install binary.)

Yeah, not a lot of meat on the bone in this first version. But as I discover and understand more of Nikon's API and add that to my code base, I'll be updating the program. Uh, firmware. At least until we hit the second full version of Hey Nikki, updates will be free.

Right. That brings me as to how you load Hey Nikki into the camera. 

I'm piggybacking my code onto a copy of Nikon's current firmware binary (fortunately, there's plenty of space in the camera for my routines, at least so far). Which means that you get it in the camera by installing the Z_9_0511.BIN file you create from my installer (I'm using 5.11 as the version number because Nikon might update firmware files again for the Z9, and I don't want to use a number they're likely to use soon). Unfortunately, the camera only recognizes Nikon's own firmware file name specification, so I can't rename the file something like Z9_HeyNikki_0511.BIN.

bythom nikkiinstall

The drawback to the firmware installation is that if Nikon updates the Z9 firmware, you'll have to wait for me to convert Hey Nikki to the new firmware binary. (Interestingly, you can install a new Nikon firmware update over mine, which I was just able to test with several of the recent Nikon updates, but it will remove Hey Nikki.)

As many of you know, one of the my long-standing requests for digital cameras has been programmability. I'm still trying to figure out Nikon's Z9 Menu Settings file (NCSET010.BIN [sic]). I have hope that I can fully decipher that file soon so I can create a computer-editable version that Hey Nikki can then trick the camera into loading instead (e.g. Hey Nikki load BIF). But the other thing that would be interesting is to string multiple commands together (e.g. Hey Nikki Lossless compressed Auto ISO Incandescent), or to set all the options for one of the more complex methods (e.g. Interval timer shooting, Focus shift shooting, or Auto capture) without dropping into the menus. Yeah, this sort of extension would be geeky, but I'm looking for rapid camera reconfiguration methods, not simplicity. So Nikki is a geekess. Don’t expect her to chat with you (that would be a possible future software product, NikkiChat ;~).

Okay, by this point you're either in for some geekdom or not (hey, you bought a Z9, which has hundreds of geeky settings to start with!). Price for Hey Nikki is for a limited time just US$19.99 for all 1.x versions I come out with (long term the price needs to be higher to support all the iteration work and support that needs to be done, so get it at this price while you can). 

If you'd like to purchase the 1.0 version of Hey Nikki for your Z9, use the following link to start the purchase process: 


Nikon Introduces a New "Travel" Lens (so does Tamron)

Nikon today announced the 28-400mm f/4-8 VR lens, a 14.2x superzoom, which they're promoting as a travel lens. At 1.6 pounds (725g) in weight and 5.6" (141mm) in length, it's a bit on the large side, though Nikon press release points out makes this new lens is the lightest 10x+ superzoom currently available for full frame (FX) sensors. 

The lens will be available in mid-April for US$1300.

Commentary: This lens is a bit big and ungainly on a Zf, and it's not exactly the spec level the serious Z7 II, Z8, or Z9 user is likely to be interested in. So that leaves you Z5 and Z6 II folk looking for an all-in-one solution. The problem with that is that it is not quite "all-in-one," as the 28mm wide side leaves you a little short for a lot of travel situations. 

While Nikon plays up the close-up ability (8", or 0.2m), they do so at 28mm, where they also note that you should beware the lens hood hitting the subject. In the initial material there's no real indication of how maximum magnification works at the longer focal distances, nor is there any data supplied that would allow us to calculate focal length breathing (the fact that the close focusing distance is 48" (1.2m) at both 300mm and 400mm suggests the lens focal length breaths, though. 

While it may sound like I'm being harsh here, I'm not trying to be; I'm just trying to set some expectations. I actually find it good news that Nikon is continuing to avoid clear lens duplication for the most part, and instead continue to broaden the range of choices as they add new lenses. I do have to wonder whether or not there was a body pairing Nikon had in mind for this lens, say a budget FX body with a hand grip, as I suspect that most readers of this site and a majority of the existing Z mount owners probably would be better served by other two lens solutions (I'm a little surprised Nikon didn't mention the 14-30mm f/4 in conjunction with this lens. That would be a natural two lens travel solution with a broad range. The fact that they didn't seems to indicate that they think this lens is the only lens that goes on some bodies. So the question then becomes, what bodies will you be able to get it in a kit with?)

Meanwhile, in a bit of a surprise, Tamron introduced their 28-75mm f/2.8 G2 lens for the Z-mount. The surprise here is that Nikon licensed the earlier model to create the Nikkor 28-75mm f/2.8, and now Tamron is bringing the newer model to market under their own name at a lower price than the Nikkor (US$999 for the G2 versus Nikon's US$1199 price for the original design.

There are differences between the two: Nikon opted to let their version focus a little closer at the long end and is using a stepper motor, while Tamron has a variable close focus distance and uses a voice coil focus motor. 

Commentary: This appears to answer a question that came up back when it became clear Nikon was talking to other companies about mount licensing, which is whether Nikon would allow third party lenses on the mount that competed with their own offerings. The answer is a clear yes (now waiting for you to get off the pot, Canon). Frankly, if this is where we were always headed, I'm not sure what the real benefit to Nikon was to license the three f/2.8 Tamrikon zooms in the first place. Are we now going to get Tamron's own versions of the trio?

It's also unclear to me why Tamron would pick the 28-75mm f/2.8 to be their next Z-mount lens. The 20-40mm f/2.8 seems like it would be a more unique offering to pick from the current Tamron lineup, and would slot in nicely for the Zf through Z6 II crowd who wants to stay compact and light. 

Meanwhile, where is Sigma? Tamron now has four Z-mount full frame lenses, while Sigma is still just fiddling with their original mirrorless APS-C trio when that's not the strong portion of Nikon's Z System camera lineup. 

Who's Writing Nikon's Technical Guides?

Sometimes I just don't get Nikon. They don't appear to be getting information from the right users, let alone be able to relate it back to other similar users. This has been true in the past, and now we have another example. 

The previous problems had to do with Nikon's Professional Setting Guides as they pertained to sports, all the way back into the DSLR era. There was also a marketing brochure on how mirrorless AF-area modes mapped to DSLR ones. I ended up having to write my own "corrections" to what Nikon put in those documents. 

Now we have a new one to contemplate: Z9/Z8 Professional Setting Guide — Wildlife Edition. After using almost half the pages talking up their lenses, we get to the "nitty gritty"—I'm tempted to write s**** gritty—and boy are most of us working wildlife photographers going to not only ignore Nikon's advice, but we're going to have to now teach people why Nikon's "advice" is mostly wrong.

On page 16, Basic Camera Settings, we start to get our first taste that whoever wrote and edited this document doesn't actually use Nikon gear to take wildlife photos: White balance of Auto. First of all, it almost certainly should be Natural light auto, since very little wildlife photography is done under artificial light. But if it's going to be Auto, which version of that should it be? It's kind of important to get animal colors correct, after all ;~).

Next up we have the recommendation of RAW + JPEG normal. Hmm, are they not aware that there's a perfectly usable JPEG basic image already in the raw file, or that the camera can squirt over a JPEG automatically to SnapBridge if all you want to do is have something to share quickly? Again we're missing useful detail, such as whether that should be optimal quality (star) or size priority (no star). In essence, Nikon is saying here to "just use a slightly better compression if you're going to add a JPEG image." I'd argue that if you're going to go to the trouble of using something other than what's already in the file (again, JPEG basic), you need to swing further. It should probably be RAW + JPEG fine (star), otherwise you're not achieving much. 

Nikon also recommends 3D-tracking. I guess building subject detection into the camera was a waste, eh? Hybrid button focus techniques, which most of us are using in some form or another aren't even mentioned. Oh, but wait, they suggest you use subject detection after all! This gets a little tricky with 3D-tracking, which is why most of us use a Hybrid button method. I suspect they're trying to avoid the multiple subjects problem. But the way the wildlife pros do that is with a custom Wide-area AF box. Later on, Nikon suggests you add AF-area mode > 3D-tracking to a custom button. What? You want me to override 3D-tracking with 3D-tracking?

Next up, we're told to use Auto capture. I guess the new feature gets all the attention, but the guide really should have spending time on suggesting some Pre-release capture uses and issues. I did particularly enjoy the phrase "This allows the photographer to capture the natural expressions of wildlife without having to be present at the shooting location." Got it, Auto capture is necessary to capture "natural expressions," and I don't need to go out in the field any more except to set up the camera once. By the way, Nikon, do you know what happens if you set up an unattended camera in lion territory? 

I'm not going to tear every word to pieces, it's just not worth it. My suggestion is you ignore this new PDF from Nikon. It doesn't teach you anything, it has misguided, misleading, and inconsistent info in it, and I fail to see how it's going to make you a better wildlife photographer. Oh, it's a long way from "technical." 

Nikon is Out of Sync With Itself

I mentioned it in my previous commentary on software updates, but during my revisions of the Z8 and Z9 books for recent firmware updates I'm noticing that Nikon is creating branches of change that are out of sync with one another. 

For example, I had complained about the use of the word Start in the Auto capture function when it appeared in the Z9. It's the same in the Z8, but then a few days later, it appears that someone in the Z9 firmware update chain got my message and changed it to the more appropriate Set. If you look carefully at the history of Auto capture you see an original option, a Z8 2.0 fork, and now a Z9 5.0 fork. This function isn't the only place I've noticed the problem, too.

I'm a little worried about this as functions get added to or changed in various cameras. From a product management standpoint, you don't want forked code like this (even if it's just things like labels, though it's more than just labels in the recent updates). 

I catch these things because I have to do a deep dive that moves word by word, menu item by menu item, screen by screen as I update my books. I usually have them open side-by-side because I sometimes find that in updating one I want to "fix" some wording, grammar, or structure in others. Thus, I immediately see forks. What's worrying is that Nikon themselves is not seeing them (or is ignoring them). That means that they're either in too much of a hurry, or they don't have someone carefully watching and managing differences. 

Oh, and another thing: can we please stop using Type A and Type B as options? Even Nikon recognizes that this isn't useful, as they're now adding automatic "help" to functions that have those option names. Unfortunately, whoever's writing the help—remember, it has to be done in dozens of languages—isn't helping ;~). For example, the new High ISO NR mode function gives you two choices: Nikon's traditional noise reduction; and some new, undefined noise reduction routine. So why wouldn't Original (or Traditional) and New work as mode names? That would tell users a lot more than what they get from the menu system right now. 

One of the things I did in Silicon Valley through almost all my career is write the manual for a product before we developed it. If during development we found that something couldn't be done or needed to be changed in the manual, we discussed it, resolved the difference, and I updated the manual. Help and documentation are being done well after the fact at Nikon, and it doesn't seem as if there's a useful feedback loop to catch these silly bits. I'm almost surprised that the Z8 wasn't called the Type B and the Z9 renamed to Type A. /SARCASM OFF

Meanwhile, you can see how Nikon has tied themselves into a pretzel with something as simple as Image quality. With the Z8 2.00 and Z9 5.00 firmware things are being renamed and the consistency of those setting options is a mess. Let me try to fix it for Nikon. Here are the Menu Items and Options as they should be:

     Image quality
         JPEG (forces Tone mode change to SDR, maximizes Picture Control choices)
         HEIF (forces Tone mode change to HLG, minimizes Picture Control choices)
         RAW + JPEG
         RAW + HEIF
     Image size
         FX image size
          DX image size
     Image compression 
             Optimal quality
             Size priority
             Lossless compressed
             Optimal High Efficiency
             Standard High Efficiency

No scrolling menus, no extra menus, clarity. And this ain't rocket science. Image quality isn't the only place in the menus where we're now seeing unneeded scrolling, extra unnecessary options, disorganization, and lack of clarity. Instead of someone in design enforcing rationalization and hierarchy, it appears that engineers can just willy-nilly add (and name) things. I'd like to sneak into the automobiles they drive and do the same thing to their controls and see what happens ;~). The problem is simple: the folks making these things up simply can't be using the cameras themselves. 

And while we're at it, if you're going to grey out a menu item, tell the user why. I've discovered a few more of those recently (which I document in my books), and it took me a while to figure out why. For example, it turns out that using Creative Picture Controls can do silly things like turn off Auto capture

Yes, I get in a sour mood when I'm going through hundreds of Menu Items and thousands of pages trying to find all these anomalies and documenting them. Okay, I'm going to my happy place now...

The Curious Case of Nikon Updates

As everyone is just now figuring out, the recent Z8 2.00 and Z9 5.00 firmware updates still don’t conform the two cameras to the same exact configurations, options, or functions. The Z8 now has Pixel shift shooting, the top-of-the-line Z9 does not. The Z9 now has High frequency flicker reduction presets, the Z8 does not. The list of differences goes on, and on, and on. 

Many years ago I used to believe that Nikon’s firmware updates were constrained by some internal memory constriction. That belief stemmed from my knowledge of how the film SLRs used a form of EEPROM, and then later how Nikon sometimes took a feature out of a DSLR to put a new one in. I suppose it’s possible for some form of memory limitation still to be in effect, but I no longer believe that’s the driving issue for these differences.

Nikon uses an independent team approach to cameras. It’s not the same team working on all cameras, it’s individual teams for each camera. These teams cycle and hop scotch. For instance, many from the D3 team including the leader went on to be the Nikon 1 team. That was partly because Nikon back in 2008 already knew that the future of autofocus was centered on the image sensor, not a separate component, and they wanted a top team working on that. 

Each camera team within Nikon seems able to make many of its own design decisions, which explains some of the odd things and differences that have happened along the way. 

I don’t have any issues with a team approach like this. However, this does bring into play how the teams are managed. Who’s doing the work trying to keep the teams on the same basic path? 

At Nikon, that management tends to be financially driven, not customer driven. The management above the teams is more worried about costs and profit margins, which suggests part reuse and rationalization, then they are customer-driven choices, which suggests function/UX reuse and rationalization. 

As I’ve written before, I was trained for and performed product line management for most of my career, and I believe that this requires more attention to the customer side. Products need to be clearly defined and organized, otherwise customers get confused. 

Should you buy a Z8 or a Z9? I don’t know. The dynamics of that choice seem to vary with firmware update! Even with both cameras now recently updated, I don’t understand why a Z8 user would need HEIF and Pixel shift shooting over a Z9 user. And why would a Z9 user need the Profoto A10 support and high-frequency lighting presets over a Z8 user? 

The devil’s in the details, too. The Z8 firmware added programmability to a lot of extra buttons. The Z9, not so much. I’m still trying to figure out if I can make my Z9 controls exactly match my Z8 ones. There seem to be some key differences, still. 

While making all these significant firmware updates is getting Nikon a lot of props from its users, at the same time it is also introducing questions that don’t seem answerable, and which also confuse those same users. Moreover, it makes marketing more difficult. Quick question: what’s Nikon’s best mirrorless camera? Well, that would be a Z9. Unless you need Pixel Shift Shooting or HEIF. Uh, what? Aren’t those things I’d expect in the “best” camera and not so much lower in the lineup? 

So I have a question: does Nikon even have a chart somewhere that tracks all of the features they do on one axis and cameras that have those features on the other? Yes, I know it would be a whopper of a chart. But it would quickly point out the issues from the marketing/customer side with the current situation. To me, what I see is a somewhat random jumble on that chart, not a logical progression. Even accounting for differences in model age, the chart is a mess right now. 

Bottom line: only Nikon knows why they’re making these seemingly random feature choices. Except I’m betting that they don’t actually know why they’re doing it. Which would be a problem, right?

The Z9 Gets Another Major Firmware Update

Nikon today released firmware C5.00 for the Nikon Z9. As the big number suggests, a number of new features have been introduced in this release:

  • Auto capture now allows you to use the DX image crop.*
  • Auto capture now can be started at a specific time and date.
  • Airplanes have been added as an AF subject-detection mode in Auto capture.*
  • The detection range for distance has been increased for Auto capture
  • A yellow frame can be shown in Auto capture to indicate that the camera is in standby.
  • Pre-Release Capture options now adds a C15 value.
  • Pre-release capture can now capture to different Image quality settings (it was fixed before).
  • High-frequency flicker reduction now has preset values for some common LED lights and displays. 
  • Live View display can now zoom into 400%.*
  • The Rich Tone Portrait Picture Control was added.*
  • The Skin softening function has been added.*
  • Portrait impression balance has been added.*
  • Auto image rotation has been added.*
  • Added a new choice of how High ISO NR is applied (another Type A, Type B).
  • Profoto A10 users can use the continuous LED on the front for AF-assist illumination. (Must update A10 firmware.)
  • Prefer focus point [face priority] is now an option for frame advance during playback with zoom active.
  • Extended Menu Banks now has separate values for photo and video use.
  • The box for autofocus positioning can now be widened for easier view (new #A11).*
  • Format memory card options have changed in how they're selected.*
  • Manual focusing in Live View can be done at maximum aperture.
  • Zoom can be cancelled in Manual Focus via a half-press of the shutter release.
  • Hi-Res Zoom has been improved, and also now confirms focus by changing brackets from red to green.
  • Numerous new customizations have been added for Custom Setting #F1, F2, F3, G1, G2, including Cycle AF-Area Mode*
  • Changed RGB histogram display when Warm Colors are selected in #D12.*
  • Customize Retouch options allows you to reduce the Retouch menu choices to those you use.
  • New playback options for continuous series of photos: Loop playback, Wait before playback, Auto playback speed.*
  • Playback speed for videos can be Original Speed, 1/2x Speed, 1/4x Speed.
  • Wi-Fi station mode has been added (requires SnapBridge 2.11.0).
  • GNSS will be updated to G.017, which requires you to return to Firmware Version and complete the instructions there. Firmware Version now shows GNSS version
  • Fixed several operation anomalies. 

Interestingly, Nikon has improved the information about installing the update, including an advisory to save your IPTC Presets first (though the English version has an error in it [can instead of cannot]). As with other recent firmware updates, the .BIN file is downloaded directly to your computer, and does not have to extracted from a file.

The new version of SnapBridge also allows an Easy Shooting Setup option (Zf, Zfc, Z5, Z30, and Z50 only). The NX Ready app that was available in some regions is now discontinued, as that function is now done via the new SnapBridge.

Commentary: Many of the new features bring the Z9 into conjunction with the Z8 (marked above with *). Curiously, Pixel shift shooting was not added, though. I also see nascent HEIF support in some of the docs, so I’ll need to investigate that more fully; the camera doesn’t take HEIF images, but apparently can convert to them when connected to a network. Also surprising is that we didn’t get the Content Authenticity Initiative function that was demonstrated last year at Adobe MAX on a Z9. 

The Second Safari Lens

Nikon has a pretty incredible telephoto Z-mount lens lineup already. Unfortunately the lineup is incredible enough to provoke a lot of buying angst among users. There’s a lot of nuance that has to be juggled to make good buying/using decisions. 

I’m a wildlife photographer much of the time. I’ve already written several times that the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S is my choice for “long lens.” Given my usual access to animals and my extreme travel, I find that lens is the best choice for me in balancing a lot of different variables. For others, the 600mm f/4 TC VR S might be the better choice. But the 400 gives me 400/560/840mm at the flip of switch or button on the Z8 or Z9 (the longer lens provides 600/750/1125mm). 

The question then becomes what do I use at the “short end” for my second body on safari. Most recently, that’s been a Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8, though that leaves me a gap from 150 to 400mm. However, I tend towards favoring subject isolation capability and edge of day light needs, thus my two fast lens choices. 

If you’re picking a 400mm or 600mm lens as your primary lens for safari, you have quite a few options for a secondary lens. Some users tend towards only using one body, or not having a Z8 or Z9 in the first place, thus have very different needs (which are likely completely filled by the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S or 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR). Either way, it’s important to understand what we have that’s native Z-mount that’s available as a second lens for your second body.

I assume that if you have an F-mount lens, you can already evaluate how that works; it would be rare that a Z System user buys a new F-mount lens these days: (1) you end up extending the length of the lens via the FTZ adapter; (2) the F-mount lenses other than the PF lenses tend to be heavier; and (3) the F-mount lenses are not holding vaue at all, due to how many are being traded in. If you already have an F-mount lens, great. If you want to dip into the used pool to pick up a fantastic F-mount exotic at a low price, that’s great too. But for the purposes of this article I’m going to stick to Z-mount lenses, and in particular, FX ones.

I make the assumption that you want flexibility in your second lens on safari. Normally, this lens is on your second body, and ready for when the action gets closer to you. Or when you're dealing with large mammals, such as elephants or giraffes, at modest distance. Some also want this lens to be useful for potential scenic imagery, as well. 

Here are the primary second lens choices for safari in the Z-mount:

  • Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 S — My teaching assistant uses this and is happy with what it provides (his primary lens is a 400mm f/4.5 VR S or sometimes 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S). One aspect of the 24-120mm f/4 S lens that isn't often mentioned is its ability to focus close (15", or 35cm). That provides another sometimes useful aspect on safari, for instance when you're in a mokoro photographing reed frogs. My only comment is that you wouldn't pair this mid-range zoom lens with a 600mm or longer primary optic, as that just leaves you too much “focal length gap." 
  • Nikkor 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR — This superzoom sounds like a good choice at first glance, but it is clearly the worst possible choice once you're in the true telephoto range. Moreover, like all superzooms, the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR loses some focal length as you focus closer. You'll also note that the f/6.3 side is slower than the other lenses I put in this group. One reason you sometimes pick up your second body and lens is because the light is disappearing at the end of the day and you're not able to hold subjects with your long lens due to aperture. 
  • Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 — This is my usual second lens (again, my primary is the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S). I'm less worried about the wide scenic, but more worried about subject isolation, which is the reason why the previous lens isn't the one I carry. I've never been unhappy with the results from the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8, and now that we have a native Z-mount version of it—the original was a Sony E-mount one that I used on a Megadap adapter—I can heartily recommend it to all.
  • Nikkor 70-180mm f/2.8 — On my last trip I brought this lens with me (as a second to the 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR), and I'm going to say something bold: it's a better choice than the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S. No, it's not sharper in the corners. Yes, it can flare more. No, the bokeh isn't quite as well handled. But those aren't the big things you're typically worried about on safari. Here's the reason why I give it a strong nod: it focuses down to essentially macro levels (1:2; though don't place focus in the corners; keep focus centered). It travels smaller and lighter, it has perfectly fine DX-boundary sharpness, and it has that close focus ability. The "drawback" that keeps some from this lens is that it doesn't have VR. Frankly, the sensor VR is good enough to handle 180mm decently, and you're not likely pushing down into slower shutter speeds on safari, anyway.
  • Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S — Absolutely nothing wrong with this lens. As 70-200's go, it's right there at the top of the heap. But it's surprisingly the size and weight of the F-mount version, and the thing we're all clamoring for these days is to make our overall kit smaller and lighter. The 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S doesn't do that ;~). I'm perfectly happy with the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S, but for the size and weight I like the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 better. And if I need smaller/lighter, the 70-180mm f/2.8 is the clearer choice for me. 
  • Tamron 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 — Price and focal length made you look. It's not a terrible lens, but this falls into the 24-200mm type classification: you can do better. 
  • Nikkor 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S — If you're using a really long primary lens such as the 600mm or 800mm, you might want to give up a bit on the wider side and get something that covers more of the telephoto focal lenth gap. The 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S would be that lens. We were all excited and happy when this zoom came out, though it's been a bit eclipsed by subsequent offerings in different ways. Still, it focuses close and it's still remarkably good. 

As you probably noted in those bullets, a couple of things come up: (1) what lens are you pairing the second one with?; and (2) does your second lens have more flexibility or a downside? 

I'll get to some pairings in a moment, but it's worth spending a few more words on the downside/upside equation. Things that are upsides include: smaller, lighter, closer focusing, longer focal range, faster aperture. sharp in the DX boundary. Things that are downsides include: larger, heavier, poor close focus, minimal focal range, slower aperture, lack of sharpness compared to the alternatives. Flexibility has to do with both focal length range (more is better, plus less gap to your primary lens), and perhaps also with faster apertures should you wish to go for subject isolation. Make sure when you pick a lens you're considering the balance of all these things. 

As for pairings, here are two I currently favor:

  • 35-150mm f/2-2.8 with the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S. Top level optical results, with strong ability to isolate subjects. Yes, I have a gap in the 150-400mm range, but I tend to control that with my position relative to the animals (safari) or players (sports). I can also flip to DX crop and get 225mm out of the second lens, if necessary. This is what I refer to as a "luxury pairing."  I'll just say this: I'm never unhappy with the results when I'm carrying that duo on my Z9's. 
  • 70-200mm f/2.8 with the 600mm f/4 TC VR S. Another luxury pairing that’s scaled upwards for more reach. This tends to be a little too much lens for my style of wildlife (and sports) work, and it’s a heavier and larger kit to carry. 
  • 70-180mm f/2.8 with the 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S. If you’re looking for reach but going for smallest and lightest kit, this would be my choice, though some of you might consider using the 100-400mm f/4-5.6 VR S as the second lens if you’re worried about the focal length gap. That doesn’t give you a low light option, though.
  • 70-180mm f/2.8 with the 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR. No gap! Close focus supported. Solid optical performance, particularly in the DX boundary. This is the best "budget pairing" for sure. Send me to Africa for a season with these two lenses and I'll be happy enough (and yes, I have experience with doing just that). I'd even go so far as to say this: if you think you need more than this combo, you need to explain the reason why to me carefully and get that validated before buying a more expensive option. 

I will point out a bit of a dilemma for those who favor really long primary lenses (e.g. 600mm f/4 TC VR S, 600mm f/6.3 PF VR S, or 800mm f/6.3 PF VR S): it gets tricky to pair a second lens with the long primary primes. Indeed, I'd tend to say that the first lens this group should probably consider is the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. One problem with such “long reach pairing" is aperture: best case is f/4 or f/4.5, which starts to have significant impact as the light wanes. Given that the animals on safari are most active and interesting at first and last light in the day, you need to be careful that you're not locking yourself into high ISO values all the time. 

Nikon could improve the long pairing by introducing a 100-300mm f/2.8 or f/4, but remember one of the other drawbacks that you need to consider: size and weight. 

There's no one right choice in safari lens pairing. It's all about tradeoffs and balances. For my workshops, I'm generally "negotiating" with students prior to the workshop trying to figure out what the right combo they should bring is from the gear they have (or are willing to add). These discussions are sometimes fraught with FOMO (fear of missing out). 

Let me try to clarify that FOMO worry a bit. Here's my thought: I miss out on something all the time while on safari. I'm not always in the right position, I don't quite have the lens I need, I wasn't there at the right moment, and much more. Don't worry about that. What I want you to worry about is: do you have the right gear for when things are right and aligned for what you want to accomplish?

If subject isolation is "your style," then a 300mm f/6.3 aperture—see Tamron—probably isn't going to help you. If isolating small birds mid-day is your game, you want long focal length choices, or you'd better be spending your entire day in a well positioned hide (maybe both!).  

By my calculations I've now spent over a year in the bush in just Botswana. Why do I return? Well, there's a lot I haven't seen, a lot I haven't photographed. I don't think of my trips from the standpoint of "what did I miss," but rather from the standpoint of "what did I capture?" That starts with, while still back home, figuring out what I want to capture, and that's where my lens choice comes into play. 

This is the way you should think of it, too. Don’t get into the “I must be ready for absolutely any possibility,” because there’s no such combination of lenses that will cover everything. Instead, find a combination that has the best likelihood for bringing back the type of images you wish to capture.

This article has also been published to the Z-Mount Lenses/Nikkor Lenses/Z-Mount Lens Articles folder.

Zfc Gets Minor Firmware Update

Nikon today has updated the firmware for the Zfc to version C1.60, as was hinted at the recent CP+ show in Japan. The changes are minimal:

  • SETUP > Information display now allows color options that echo the colored body choices.
  • SETUP > Welcome screen was added, which will provide a welcome screen when the camera is turned on.
  • CUSTOM SETTINGS > g Video > Red REC frame indicator was added to provide a tally light frame on the Rear LCD while recording video.
  • An issue with the Fn button not properly adjusting Release mode while the camera was set to Auto exposure mode was fixed.

As usual, the new firmware is available at Nikon’s central download center.

Apple Updates NEF Support

For macOS Monterey, Ventura, and Sonoma implementations that have been updated to the current version, the Z8 is now one of the cameras whose raw files are supported. However, only Lossless compressed raw files are supported; High efficiency raw files for both Z8 and Z9 are not supported. 

Curiously, Apple seems mighty slow on getting these updates into their system. The Nikon Zf raw files are still not supported, for example. The fact that the Z8 was finally recognized in this latest round suggests that Apple can be a year or more behind on camera support. 

“Support” means that thumbnails show up correctly, and that Apple Photos—and any other converter using Apple’s routines, including products such as Raw Power—can now edit Lossless compressed raws from a Z8 (and Z9). 

The Problem With Restrictive Mount Licensing

As you're probably aware, Sigma just launched a US$2995 500mm f/5.6 lens that's relatively small (9", or 234mm) and light (3 pounds, or 1400g). (It also has an Arca-Swiss compatible foot, but that's another story for another day.) In some ways the new Sigma reminds me of the 400mm f/4.5: shorter in overall length due to a somewhat different optical design, and use of materials to keep it light, as well. 

Until recently, Nikon had a pretty clear lead in the quality mirrorless telephoto choices. Two zooms, two 400's, two 600's, and the 800mm PF all made for a healthy set that already has everyone confused as to which one to buy (hint: if you can't articulate a specific reason, the lenses to buy are the 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR or the 400mm f/4.5 VR S; anything else and you must need ridiculous reach, have perfected pixel peep, or are a bokeh buff). 

Sony, meanwhile, had basically two zooms and a single 400mm and 600mm choice until recently, when they added the 300mm f/2.8GM OSS. Now with the Sigma addition, another spot in the lineup is filled, and it's a spot Nikon doesn't have covered. Okay, you could use the 500mm f/5.6E PF VR on an FTZ adapter, but people aren't buying that new to use on a Z body that I can see. 

Sigma almost certainly could have made a Z-mount version of their new 500mm f/5.6, but the fact that they didn't seems to indicate that Nikon is still being protective of their mount. Perhaps even protective because they have future plans to bring their own 500mm f/5.6 PF over to the Z-mount. 

The problem is simple: if you have multiple choices in another brand and more companies filling out the lens lineup, the bodies become more desirable. Sometimes I think that Nikon doesn't actually want to sell more bodies. They make system mistakes that put a ceiling on their potential. This isn't anything new, it's been a fundamental problem with Nikon for decades. Long gone are the days where Nikon actually had a full system. It might go all the way back to the F3 or F4. 

Also, as usual, the problem is that Nikon isn't actually fully connected to its customers. What would its customers want? 

More choice, basically, even though they already are confused by the choices they have ;~). They want to know that that little box they paid US$4000+ for (Z8, Z9) can do anything. Even if all they ever put on it is the 24-70mm f/4 S. Instead, Nikon paternalistically tends to keep saying "you can do this, and only this, because that's all we'll allow."

Imagine for a moment that the new Sigma was available for the Z-mount. You'd have a choice of two lenses at about the same price, that were the same physical length, with the shorter 400mm f/4.5 being faster and lighter than the 500mm f/5.6. Some people would pick the aperture (and Nikon reputation), some might prefer more reach at the expense of light. But both those groups would need a Nikon Z body to put it on ;~).

It's interesting to me that Nikon allowed the Tamron 150-500mm f/5-6.7 onto the mount. That gave me hope that Nikon wasn't playing too restrictive with the mount. However, it does still seem that Nikon is trying to play the middle of the protectionist road with the mount. Sony's over off on the left shoulder letting anyone play; Canon's over on the right side saying "nobody gets to do anything."  The irony is that everyone can understand Sony's and Canon's positions. Nobody can understand Nikon's ;~). Another irony is that because the Sigma 500mm f/5.6 is also available in the L-mount, that makes the Panasonic full frame bodies a bit more competitive.

High tech firms seem to always want to micromanage and "own" their customer base. This works if you have a monopoly, or perhaps even an oligopoly. But it doesn't work well in a competitive market, as customers eventually become smart enough to figure out when you're placing too many restrictions on them and opt for more "open" choices. Anticompetitive behaviors then ensue, and the market doesn't grow naturally. Eventually, closed systems become disruptible. 

So, a few messages to Nikon:

  • Put Arca-Swiss compatible edging on your lens plates.
  • Bring out a 500mm f/5.6 PF VR S in the Z-mount, stat.
  • Protect your lens lineup by making all of them even better. Best products win.
  • Open the Z-mount if you want to sell more cameras (and lenses ;~). 

Nikon Z-Related CP+ News

Just a compilation of things that were announced just prior to or at CP+ in Japan that relate to the Z-mount:

  • NikonZ8 firmware C2.00 — added Birds, Auto capture, Pixel shift shooting, and much more. And yes, I'll update my book on the Z8 soon. The Zf section of the booth is a cafe-based photo stage experience, the Z8 section is a portrait stage experience. There's also a section of the booth dedicated to experiencing all the telephoto lenses.
  • Laowa: 10mm f/2.8 Zero-D autofocus lens. Laowa's first autofocus lens is a full frame wide angle lens with nearly no linear distortion. 
  • Voigtlander: 75mm f/1.5 manual focus lens. Another Cosina-produced manual focus lens with electronic contacts.

Beyond the actual products, there's a demonstration of an upcoming Zfc firmware update. Nothing major other than a video tally frame, though you can now also see the Shooting Info screen in a color that matches your body color. Yeah, we needed that. Plus the Viltrox 27mm f/1.2 Pro lens (DX) may be about to finally appear.

I continue to hear background discussion that there will be a post-CP+/WPPI announcement, but details are scarce, including the actual planned date. It's becoming increasingly likely that I'll be offline for my usual annual month away from the Internet when the next Z camera is announced. 

The NX MobileAir Mess

Yes, NX MobileAir is (still) a mess.

What should be a solid and useful tool is one of the biggest software cluster f**** I've seen. 

Let me point out some of the (current) problems:

  • You're charged for storage on your own mobile device. That's right, the program is free and works right up until you try to take a 1000th image or create a new album. For the lovely price of only US$4.49 a month (US$53.88 a year) you can "unlock" the storage on the phone you already paid Apple for. I'm sure Nikon will call this approach Trialware, but the problem with that is that in your "trial" you'll discover all the other problems with the program ;~). 
  • It doesn't work with USB-C devices. That's right, the USB-C on your Z8 or Z9 can't speak to the USB-C on your iPhone 15 Max Pro or your iPad Pro (post 2018). Brilliant. So for that US$4.49 a month you get software that hasn't been updated to perform on the platform it was programmed for since 2018 (iPad) or September 2023 (iPhone). Gives you a lot of confidence that the crack team that needs that monthly tithe is working hard to make things work for you, doesn't it? If you've got a Zf, Z8, or Z9, you can sync NX MobileAir by making sure that NETWORK > USB data connection > iPhone is set.
  • High efficiency raw doesn't display. Nikon's notice sent to the NX MobileAir app says "We are currently confirming the details." Uh, nothing needs to be confirmed. It doesn't work. And it doesn't work because Apple apparently doesn't have a license to use the IntoPix SDK. All those coders you hired with my US$4.49/month are not going to be able to fix this on their own. Someone has to call Apple and convince them to license the IntoPix intellectual property. Good luck with that.
  • It gets interrupted. I'll quote Nikon: "Launching other applications or using network connections for other purposes may interrupt picture import and FTP upload. Consider investing in a smart device for use solely with NX MobileAir." Oh, and make sure it's an iPhone 14 or earlier, because USB-C doesn't work; you need a Lightning cable ;~).
  • It's not really supported. It's right there in the License Agreement: "No support services, including, but not limited to repair or replacement of and answer of any inquiry whatsoever by any means about the APPLICATION, is provided by Nikon, its employees, distributors, dealers, and agents." 

At its core, NX MobileAir is simply a repackaging of an Apache 2.0 server behind a minimum of user interface, plus a few other bits, like filtering and IPTC data entry. It's very tightly focused on a specific problem (getting images from camera to a remote FTP server) and not much else. You'd think that with such a narrow focus the programmers could create a better product ;~).

NX MobileAir needs some love. Or a third-party alternative.

Will the Triplets Get a Sibling?

We'll likely know by the end of the year, but more and more I'm getting the vibe that Nikon is going to get out of the DX business.

The downplaying of DX started in 2009 in Europe, with the test of an ad campaign trying to persuade early DSLR buyers to upgrade to FX. That escalated to a global (and successful) effort in 2012 with the introduction of the D600. By 2014 Nikon had a full(ish) FX lineup with the D610, D750, D810, and D4s and the efforts intensified. We've had only seven DX DSLRs since then, and five were extremely modest changes (D3xxx and D5xxx "iterations"), one was a downgrade in a number of ways (D7500), and only one (D500) was something catering to a long-term DX crowd.

As those of you reading this know, I've long been contemplating the meaning of the Z DZ triplets (Z50, Zfc, and Z30). That's essentially the same camera in three different guises. What was behind the idea of putting the same guts in three very different body styles? 

I'm beginning to think it was a test to see what style resonated in the entry market. 

Consider for a moment that the "entry" FX model has the number 5. And that there are only 9 numbers available with the current naming scheme. I'm probably giving Nikon too much credit here for forethought, though. After all, the DSLR full frame lineup started with a 6 ;~). But it could be that they wanted a dual pointer towards where something fit in the lineup. For example, a Z30 is less than a Z5 because it has the zero, but also because 3 is less than 5. But it could be that Nikon always planned a truly entry Z3. 

Which leads me to writing about "Nikon planning." One reason why it's so difficult to predict from existing patterns with Nikon is that they plan over a huge time period, and then adjust. At least 8 years of plan-ahead, but I believe their product tactics really extend to at least 12 years, as I once saw a chart at Nikon HQ that suggested that. As many of you know by now, one of my chores in Silicon Valley was trying to keep track of technology that was five to ten years out and what it could do for our products. Nikon engineering does pretty much the same thing. So it's not unreasonable to assume that Nikon Imaging has a rough sketch of what they think changes in their model line over a 10 year period. 

Other than some tinkering work in the labs, actual product development is generally a two-year (consumer/prosumer) or four-year (pro) process at Nikon, sometimes with external events or "tech misses" upsetting that schedule. Also, remember that the camera side has to coordinate with the lens side if there are going to be any ground-breaking changes. 

Don't worry, I'm getting to my point now ;~).

So if we were to walk into Nikon R&D today we'd find a small number of products that are in their two-year process, at least one that's in its four year process, and a general road map for how everything fits together through the next decade. The question I have is "where is DX in any of that?" 

I don't know. I've received no hint of anything DX for awhile now other than a possible lens rebranding. I do continue to get hints and bits and pieces about things progressing in FX, so this is puzzling me. There is precedent at Nikon for a group working on a specific line of product to be in Silent Running mode. But why would the DX group be doing that?

What I do know is this: with Nikon's financial year coming to an end in a little over a month and the near final data being looked at closely as to how it worked out (or not) to plan—short, medium, and long term plans, that is—Nikon is right now headed into their yearly review period where top management is evaluating everything, and about to decree what needs to be done next and what doesn't. Everything in progress gets a close examination and a yay or nay from the Big Buddhas sitting at the top of the management chain. As a result, short term plans will get redone, medium term plans will get some revisions, and long term plans are at least re-evaluated and perhaps redrawn. 

On occasion, this "year-end" analysis has upset the product plans within the Imaging group, particularly when something that was expected to work didn't, or some tech that was expected to be available wasn't. I suspect that the reason we didn't get a Z6 III in fall of 2022 as expected is that something wasn't working out as originally planned and during one of those year-end evaluation meetings upper management dictated "push it to the next cycle and make it better." 

If you think about what Nikon's top management might be saying right now about recent products in their year-end meetings, I think you'd get something like this:

  • Lenses. Really nice job with the telephoto team hitting it out of the park.
  • Z9. Great job.
  • Z8. Another great job.
  • Zf. Really, another great job?
  • Z30. Uh, what's happening there?

Yes, the Zfc would also have likely still have gotten a thumbs up, but then the Zf came along and eclipsed it on the bottom line. Moreover, the Zfc was just a very mild change to the now five-year old Z50 on the inside. It may look different, but it's essentially the same camera.

Thus, I worry about DX. The Z50 won't survive past the end of the year due to Europe's new charger regulations. The Zfc still needs appropriate lenses, which haven't appeared (at least from Nikon). The Z30 has only one lens suitable for vlogging and really didn't add anything else that hadn't already been said in Z DX.

So I think you can see why I'm worried about the DX vibe I think I'm picking up.

It isn't that you couldn't just stick the EXPEED7 and the Zfc's USB-charging in the Z50, call it a II, and not have a remarkably good camera to sell. You can. That's really low-hanging fruit, and both things would be big improvements for the aging Z50. The real question is "why wouldn't you do that?" The longer it doesn't happen, the less likely that DX has a future in the Z System.  

Of course, I see problems with DX going away, if that's where we're headed. First, Nikon needs more than the Z5 for the entry level, and whatever that is has to be smaller and lighter. The precedent would suggest to create a Z3 from the Z5, akin to the Z30/Z50 relationship. But then we need a wide angle zoom that's small and compatible. Why create a Z30 and 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ DX lens when you're going to do that all over again in FX a couple of years later?

DX has been rudderless at Nikon since the D300 (2007), basically. Sure, the underling cameras were nicely proportioned into D3xxx, D5xxx, and D7xxx models and continuously "iterated" starting in 2009, but that's about it. Everything since, other than the D500 and the Z50 have been tinkering, not elaborating. 

So, do we get another elaboration, or is the tinkering now done? I don't know. But again, I think we'll have a good idea of which by the end of 2024.

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