Nikon Z System News and Commentary

News and commentary appropriate to Nikon Z system users. Latest post on top.
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Z7 II Firmware Update

Nikon quietly added a 1.31 firmware update for the Z7 II with only one reported change: improvement of Single-point AF in AF-S Focus Mode in low light conditions.

Nikon Launches the 400mm f/2.8

Nikon today officially announced the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S lens that had been previously teased with a Development Announcement. As expected, this is a post-Olympics ship product (late February), as most of the initial production run went towards filling the Nikon Professional Services stock for the Beijing Olympics.

The big news is two-fold: lighter and more expensive. The most recent F-mount 400mm f/2.8E is 134 ounces (3800g) and US$11,200 in price. The new Z version is 104 ounces (2950g) and US$14,000 in price. Of course, you get a built-in teleconverter with the Z version, and Nikon has thrown even more technology into it (a new lens coating, voice coil motors, and more, even a Kensington lock slot). 

Nikon's soon going to end up with a bit of a log jam at 400mm that Z System users are going to have to figure out how they navigate: 

  • 400mm f/2.8 — with the bonus of 560mm f/4, but heavy and expensive
  • 400mm f/4.5 PF? — light, reasonably expensive
  • 400mm f/5.6 — with the bonus of 100-400mm flexibility at a more affordable price


Zfc Gets a Firmware Update

Nikon released firmware update 1.20 for the Zfc camera today. Besides support for the upcoming 28-75mm f/2.8 lens, the refresh of the focus point information in the viewfinder has been increased and two specific bugs fixed. 

Which Z Camera Will Be Next?

The primary candidates: Z30, Z50 II, Z5 II, Z6 III, and Z7 III. The mystery candidates: Z90, Z8, Zf. Anything else seems highly unlikely. So let's consider just the things that would have some likelihood before I present my guess:

  • Z30 — Absolutely prototyped and ready to go into production. The problem is that the supply chain shortages were already appearing when decision time came. The decision obviously was to funnel parts to higher end cameras with bigger profit margins. The problem now is whether the design will age well when Nikon finally feels that they might be able to handle this higher volume camera, or whether they need to go back and tweak/refine.
  • Z50 II — Technically, the Zfc took over the Z50 II release. Timing and feature/performance changes of the Zfc were exactly what they would have been for a Z50 II. So the Z50 II is sitting out an iteration cycle, it appears. 
  • Z5 II — This is a tricky one. The Z5 already had many of the Z6 II changes, but using a repurposed, older image sensor (the D750 one). The one thing that would definitely push a Z5 forward is a new image sensor (and new EXPEED), but those are costly things for what needs to remain an entry camera.
  • Z6 III — With Sony jumping to a 33mp image sensor in the A7 Mark IV, the pressure is on for Nikon to match or leap-frog that in some way. This is a key camera that should have two-year update cycles, so fall 2022 would be the date to watch. The questions are these: what would Nikon have thought needed to be improved with the Z6 II back in 2020 when they started this project, and did the pandemic slow down their ability to do those things?
  • Z7 III — Similar to the Z6 III: With Sony jumping to a 61mp image sensor in the A7R Mark IV, the pressure was already on for Nikon to match or leap-frog that. Like the Z6, the Z7 should be on two-year update cycles that trigger next in fall 2022, so the question again is what did Nikon set to work on back in 2020?
  • Z90 — I keep getting hints that Nikon has looked at making a top-end DX mirrorless camera. What I haven't heard is the commitment to do so. Canon and Fujifilm are going to force Nikon's hand here, and at least one of those will be a stacked-sensor model. Thus, the simple question now that we have a Z9 is does Nikon have a DX stacked sensor source they can use to build the DX sibling to the Z9? 
  • Z8 — While people keep hypothesizing on this model, I haven't heard a peep about it nearing production. Even under the D3/D700 scenario that many envision could produce a baby Z9 in Z8 form, one would expect a significant delay before Nikon would do so. Demand for the Z9 is off the charts, and Nikon isn't likely to produce a lower cost, smaller model until they've extracted a full set of tithe from the Nikon faithful. Moreover, there are three ways a Z8 could go: (1) mini Z9; (2) "h" type version of Z9 (lower pixel count, faster response); and (3) high pixel count.
  • Zf — Unfortunately (that's my view, maybe not yours) the Zfc "success" likely gave added wind towards making a full frame version. It's easy enough to do, as the Z5 would form the base for a Zf much like the Z50 did so for the Zfc. You don't need EXPEED7 or a new image sensor for a nostalgia, casual camera, after all.

Okay, that's the likely potential cameras Nikon might introduce in 2022, but what are the odds, and why? I'll outline this in the likely probability they'll happen in 2022. I'll use a straight odds here, e.g. 4:1 means a 80% chance of happening, as there's four chances in five it will happen:

  1. Z6 III is 9:1 (90%) — The Canon R6 and Sony A7 Mark IV just make this a must do on Nikon's part. The only question I'd have is whether we get the announcement on the two-year boundary in fall, or if this product slid a bit in development due to the pandemic issues and becomes a late 2022, early 2023 launch. I'd guess 24mp stacked (or improved readout) before 33mp, but either is possible.
  2. Z7 III is 6:1 (85%) — Likewise, the Canon R5 and Sony A7R Mark IV (and likely Mark V in 2022) make this another must do on Nikon's part to stay competitive. There's the easy path (just add EXPEED7 and all it provides) and the less easy path (new image sensor). It's the less easy path that lowers the odds, as any new sensor juggling in this next round of releases could get tricky for them due to fab availability. Sensor cost is a little less a factor on the Z7 III, so there's the possibility of it simply using the Z9 sensor but with a performance scaled down due to the body limitations (power and heat, basically).
  3. Z30 is 1:1 (50%) — Nikon still needs volume to be truly competitive, and with their current "entry" camera holding at US$850 (body), that's not likely going to get them there. That said, there is an alternative to a Z30: just lower the Z50 price significantly, which is why, coupled with the supply chain issues, this camera isn't a lock for 2022. It's really tough to call this one from outside Nikon, as the Z30 is essentially a bean counter decision, and bean counters don't leak information.
  4. Zf is 1:1 (50%) — The highish odds are solely because of the ease in producing it. There are no technology innovations here, it's basically a design problem, and one that Nikon's solved twice in the past and is getting better at. On the flip side, this is not a volume launch, or a critical competitive product, it's a "milk some profits out of the legacy" product, something Nikon likes to do from time to time. As such, this kind of product gets done and approved through a different mechanism than the competitive analysis driving the main line. However, I think the "success" of the Zfc coupled with the fact that the Df continued to be sold in the DSLR line tells us that Nikon likes having this kind of camera around. It's not a camera that goes on sale, but one that produces a modest, predictable, profitable volume.
  5. Z90 is 1:4 (20%) — A Z90 fits nicely into all the themes of Nikon's current strategy (even lenses, as the primary driver of this camera will be wildlife ;~). The big question is whether the D300/D500 crowd would move over—remember, there's a 400mm PF lens coming—and whether there's an image sensor that can be put in place that has the necessary performance this model would need to have. Does Fujifilm have an exclusivity lock on the upcoming APS-C stacked sensor from Sony Semiconductor? That's one of the reasons why I rate the odds so low. 

The rest of the candidate cameras have such low odds that I just don't consider them likely in 2022. So let's examine why I think those cameras are misses for 2022:

  • Z50 II — The big issue here is that this camera really needs sensor VR. And maybe a new image sensor. Otherwise I can't imagine much in the way of performance/feature tweaks that would make a new generation worthwhile over just some firmware improvements. Nikon has plenty of other big technology needs in the lineup, and I doubt that they'd be spending their biggest efforts on this model. This is the D5xxx all over again: small iterations over time to hold a position.
  • Z5 II — I suspect that the reason Nikon placed this entry camera so high in capability in the first place is that they needed it to be on the market for a long time, much like the D600 and D750 strategy were in DSLRs. Even if Canon targets an RP replacement against the existing Z5, the Z5 should hold up fine. A few firmware tweaks would hold its position. Sony seems reluctant to put a new full frame camera near the US$1000 price point, as Nikon clearly has shown they're willing to do.
  • Z8 — Here we have model proliferation problems. The full frame lineup is currently Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9, with the Z6 and Z7 as holdovers establishing middle price points. That's six models, and more than enough. If a Zf shows up, it becomes seven models (Zf, Z5, Z6 II, Z6 III, Z7 II, Z7 III, Z9), which is as broad a line as Nikon's going to want until the volume rises significantly above where it is. One could argue that the Z7 III and Z8 live in somewhat the same position under some scenarios, so a Z8 could replace a Z7 III, but I think that just updating the Z6/Z7 body and including newer technologies in it is probably the right approach for now, and the one Nikon would likely have taken. I'm guessing that the Z8 would be a new image sensor (either the Z9 one or a high-megapixel one) and that adds a complication to let it happen in 2022.

Surprisingly, there are a number of different ways Nikon can move next. How they move will tell us a lot about how aggressive they're being. A Zf is not an aggressive move. But a Z8 or Z90 would be definitely aggressive moves. And then there's exactly what the Z6 III and Z7 III end up being. Are they just EXPEED7 in the current bodies with some other modest improvements, or (my hope) are they improved bodies and performance, as well? Or are they both those things plus new image sensors? Again, Nikon had choices, and it will be interesting to see which ones they made.

______________________

Just a reiteration: camera makers generally aren't reacting to a competitor's most recent model introduction. Because of the long lead times on many things, they're targeting where they think the competition will be, and typically two to four years in advance. Moreover, each camera company is trying to build out a line of products that allows them to up sell, or in a few cases, side sell from a competitor. Because of the coopetition notion that reigns in Japanese consumer electronics, most of the camera companies have some inkling of what the others are doing, though they might not know specific details. 

I do know two things: (1) Nikon wishes to be aggressive and faster at iterating than they have been (but the pandemic intruded); and (2) they really do wish to get to shutterless throughout the lineup. Put those two things together and one could see them centering on three sensors: 20mp DX stacked, 24mp FX stacked, and 45mp FX stacked. I don't know that's what they'll do, but the only way you'll achieve #2 and keep costs down is to push the entire manufacturing volume to stacked.

Finally, note one thing: I've written that the Z9 is a transformative camera, much like the D1 over 20 years ago. The problem, however, is that this transformation probably requires that you use stacked image sensors in order to get the performance necessary to remove the mechanical shutter. At least in the short term. Converting an entire line to shutterless is going to take some time (and R&D expense). That said, the handwriting has been on the wall for some time regarding mechanical shutters, so I see the removal of mechanical shutters as inevitable. Next up: mechanical sensor image stabilization. You could do 3-axis today simply with oversampling, though this increases the sensor size and cost. But we're going to see it, it's just a matter of when. 

What You Want in Future Lenses

Last week I casually asked what lenses Nikon Z users were interested in seeing Nikon produce. I knew from experience that I wouldn't get any of those outlandish 10-1000mm f/1.8 type requests, but that the responses would be fairly practical. I ended up with several hundred responses, which I then collated and will summarize below.

What I was really interested in was how many of the F-mount lenses would be requested in Z-mount, and what real gaps existed in Nikon's current Road Map. Nikon could be either (1) getting closer to a full lens lineup; or (2) still a long way from a satisfactory lens lineup.

Let's start with the F-mount lenses you wanted in Z-mount. It's a surprisingly short list:

  • full frame fisheye*
  • 19mm tilt-shift*
  • 24mm tilt-shift
  • 105mm f/1.4*
  • 200mm f/2*
  • 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor
  • 500mm f/5.6 PF*
  • 16-80mm DX
  • 70-180mm Micro-Nikkor
  • 70-200mm f/4
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6*
  • 120-300mm f/2.8

I have to say, that list squares up with my gear closet fairly well. The lenses with asterisks are ones that I keep around and use with an FTZ Adapter (though the 70-300mm is likely to go away now that the 100-400mm is here), and the bold-faced lenses are the ones I'd be most interested in seeing Z-mount versions of.

In terms of lenses that are in some way different than the available F-mount variants, we get another reasonably short list (again, what I want most is in bold):

  • f/2.4 to f/3.5 compact, high quality prime set
  • 10mm
  • 12mm f/3.5
  • 14mm f/2 or f/4 or DX
  • 15mm
  • 16mm f/2.8 compact (ala Canon)
  • 20mm f/2.8 macro 
  • 70mm f/1.4 DX
  • 135mm f/1.8 or f/2.5
  • 150mm f/4 macro (2:1)
  • 16-35mm f/2.8
  • 18-35mm f/1.8 DX (ala Sigma)
  • 20-50mm f/2.8
  • 20-100mm
  • 24-35mm f/2
  • 40-100mm f/2.8
  • TC1.7x

What struck me overall was that much of the "lens wish energy" could be simplified to:

  • More and longer macro
  • More and faster wide angle
  • Faster zooms that aren't the usual trio
  • A few well-considered F-mount conversions

If I had any advice for Nikon it would be that the first list (F-mount conversions) is probably more important long-term than the second list, particularly since I suspect many of those new lens requests are likely to be identified and filled by third party lens makers. For me, there are probably only 10 or so lenses in the lists that would interest me in Z-mount (and I've identified the five I'd most consider adding to my gear closet), and I suspect many of you would say something similar. 

Put another way, Nikon's done a good job of building a decent lineup in three short years without a ton of perceived holes. At the current run rate of about eight new lenses a year, Nikon could probably satisfy most of you in two to three more years. That's not to say that there wouldn't be new ideas or lens demands in the future, only that the majority of the lens demand could have products sitting in those positions by the end of 2025. 

Z9 NPS Shipments

NikonUSA just sent out email saying that:

  1. All NPS Priority Purchase orders for the Z9 made by December 19, 2021 will be delivered by next week.
  2. All NPS Priority Purchase orders from December 20, 2021 through January 3, 2022 will be processed the following week.

The good news (for most of you) is this will unclog the queue and let NikonUSA start delivering uncommitted units to dealers, probably by the end of the month. 

Even Execs Like to Overstate Things

The quote from dpreview's interview with Naoyuki Murakami of Nikon: "The Z 9 is the most powerful Nikon flagship ever, and it will exceed expectations for every genre of photography and video, even surpassing the performance of the D6."

I've been using the Z9 for the past several weeks thanks to a loaner from Nikon Inc., plus the early unit I bought that replaced it. Do I think that quote is accurate?

No.

I'm still only starting my full-on testing of the Z9, but just from my initial use I can say that the Z9 falls short of the quote in several ways:

  • For landscape work, the Z7 II is about a third of a stop better than the Z9 at base ISO (64). Expectations were that the Z9 would at least equal the Z7 II.
  • For indoor event/sports work, the Z9 is about a half stop worse than the D6 starting around ISO 3200. Expectations when Nikon started using sports examples were that the Z9 would match the D6. 

Obviously, expectations weren't met for both those things, and I'm pretty sure we'll find more. And that's just speaking about dynamic range, basically. (Note: we're not talking about my personal expectations here, but the general Nikon communities' sense; a lot of those NPS Priority Purchase orders were placed based upon those expectations, and I know that because I talked this over with a lot of pros who were trying to figure out whether to jump or not.)

For portrait work in the studio, where's the Portrait impression balance setting on the Z9 (the Z7 II has it)? For sports/event work where's the committed closest subject priority focus mode? Moreover, the JPEG+JPEG buffer isn't as good on the Z9 as the D6 for some reason.

"Every genre"? No.

"Surpassing...the D6"? Not in all things, for sure.

Now, could Nikon make the Z9 exceed expectations across genres? Probably. While I don't think they can do anything about the dynamic range as that's pretty locked in by the image sensor, nevertheless I'd be fine with the dynamic range if everything else were addressed. 

I've outlined 30 things that can/should change in firmware. I'm sure I'll find more as I continue my testing and work through every feature for my eventual book on the Z9. It's actually in those "smaller" things that I think Nikon needs to address to truly make the Z9 a flagship that's truly memorable. 

_______________________

It's amazing to see how many people read the above article and then attempted to prove me wrong because what I wrote doesn't agree with their world view of the camera overall. As I've outlined in many places in many ways, the Z9 is a fine camera, arguably the best in an all-around sense that Nikon has made. However, it does not exceed some other Nikon models in some attributes, and it's important to understand that. I only pointed out two items that I keep getting feedback on from others as they have started using their Z9s. I'm sure we'll find more. 

First Z9 Firmware Update

Nikon today dropped the first firmware update for the Z9. The primary changes for version 1.10 are:

  • Increased buffer at 20 fps for images taken with both NEF (High Efficiency*)+JPEG and JPEG+JPEG photography. 
  • Made Filtered playback criteria options into multi-selector toggles instead of requiring check marks.

An issue involving SB-5000 flash not firing was also fixed.

Note that the Filtered playback criteria change is part of my firmware wish list (#11), but there still are plenty of other menu options that need the same change.

Nikkor Rumblings

Just a reminder up front. As of today we have 24 shipping Z-mount Nikkors, 2 additional lenses that have had development announcements (and thus more details revealed), and 7 other future lenses seen on the latest Lens Road Map. 

I was a little surprised by the end-of-year rush that netted us the 18-140mm DX, 24-120mm f/4 S, and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S moving to shipping status, a previously undisclosed 28-75mm f/2.8 being announced, as well as Nikon managing to get some of the previous lenses a little more out of the "back-ordered" realm. Nikon clearly is putting lots of energy into lenses at the moment. 

And this extends to the back-channel information I hear. It's a little early for full commitments—Nikon tends to lock in those as they're doing their top management meetings in Q1 in anticipation of their year-end results—but I'm hearing about quite a few other lens ideas percolating in the Nikkor kitchen.

I've already noted that the previously unannounced 28-75mm f/2.8 came from licensing the Tamron lens (G1 version). One rumor behind that licensing is that Tamron over-produced a number of lens elements to what they could sell themselves, and basically offered Nikon a sweat deal to pick up already-produced glass. Another part of that rumor was that the 28-75mm wasn't the only lens in the deal. So there's some interesting energy there.

But on top of that, I'm hearing multiple threads about other new lenses. In particular, I'm hearing rumblings about new "lines" of lenses as well as expansion of existing lines. Remember, we basically have an S-line and a non-S line right now. NOCT, macro, consumer, DX, and PF all seem to have multiple design projects going on beyond what's on the published Road Map. Some of the proposed lenses are quite intriguing, and would represent new "firsts." 

Now, as usual, not all those design projects will actually make it past the marketing and bean counter departments. We've seen many ideas work through patent into prototype and not get to public sale in the past. But my sense is that the gates of lens development are wide open at Nikon right now, with much more being pursued than we're likely to see. 

Remember, Nikon's stated goal is to get to two lenses sold for every camera body sold (it was 1.7x for the first half of their current fiscal year, so they have a ways to go). The only two solid methods to get to the goal are (1) discounting and (2) more lens options that attract users. We've seen the former (and I'm sure we'll see more), and I believe we're going to see (and hear about) more of the latter as we move forward deeper into 2022. 

__________________

So this may be a good time to ask the question: what Z-mount lens are you hoping to see produced that isn't on the Road Map? I can already guess that a 70-200mm f/4 is high on your list, but what are the others?

Random Z9 Notes

  • The Kastar EN-EL18 battery (3200mAh) does not work with the MH-33 charger. The Kastar battery used in the camera produces the following message: "The battery is unable to provide data to the camera and cannot be used. For safety, choose a battery designated for use in this camera." I've updated the Z9 battery page with this information. I've heard from others that the Wasabi version has the same problem.

  • The original FTZ adapter is now listed as "discontinued" by B&H, though refurbished ones are still available. Many other sites, including NikonUSA's, list the original adapter as "back-ordered" or "out-of-stock." The FTZ II adapter is in short supply, and also listed as "back-ordered" or "out of stock." 

    I've bemoaned Nikon's inability to appropriately supply accessories many times before, and this is just another example. One reason why we don't have a special "discount with FTZ adapter" offer in place for new Z cameras as we used to is that Nikon simply can't supply the adapter. Exactly how is it that you expect to transition DSLR users to mirrorless when you can't supply a key part, let alone offer a special price for it?

    Nikon needs to completely rethink the whole DSLR/mirrorless transition thing (some aren't going to transition!). They're getting it wrong, and the supply chain and shipping disruptions in the market are going to make their results worse than they could be. I've got a series of articles appearing on dslrbodies last week that deal with this.

  • Photonstophotos has published their Dynamic Range chart that now includes the Z9. As expected, the sensor is dual-gain (bump at ISO 500). While most are getting caught up in the "better/worse than X" debates, there's nothing particularly problematic with the results. What's more interesting are some of the sub-elements that aren't being discussed. The lower gain slope is different than I'd expect and more noticeably offset than I'd have expected, as well. 

  • More interesting is that I'm finding that the Adobe converters consistently set the White level far too low for Z9 raws (note today's blog entry). There's something I'm still not fully understanding about the way DNs (digital numbers) are being placed by the Z9. It took me awhile to find the non-linearity of highlights on the D850, for instance, and I'll bet I'm going to find the opposite on the Z9 based upon my preliminary evaluation and data now coming from elsewhere. A full report will have to await my full review of the camera.

Volume is not Equal to Success

Really? "The Z9 Will Be a Sales Flop"? 

I'm not even going to link to the click bait article that claims this; it's not worth your time to read. When the article claims that the D1 was a hit (and the Z9 is going to be flop), I think you have all the data you need to dismiss it. (The D1 sold in modest quantities and had clear UX issues. It was a statement camera, but not a sales hit. The D1h and D1x "fixed" that. I don't think there's anything other some firmware updates that need to be fixed in the Z9.) 

The same article goes on to claim that the D4 and D800 were the "high point" for Nikon, but that's not exactly what the data shows. D4 sales were considerably less than D3 sales, though the D800 ultimately ended up selling more than the D700. 

No doubt flagship cameras sell in lower volume than consumer cameras, but Nikon has a long history of "resets," and the Z9 is another reset. And already a successful one, at that. It's difficult to say something is a flop when it appears to have sold more than US$50m worth on day one of availability, with hundreds of millions of dollars of orders still outstanding. I doubt there's anyone in Tokyo thinking the Z9 is a flop. Certainly not at Nikon headquarters, and I'm pretty sure not at Canon or Sony headquarters, either.

I expect Nikon Imaging to report better than estimated results for the quarter that's about to end. And profitable results, at that. 

The real question that needs to be answered isn't whether the Z9 will be a success, but how fast will Nikon push stacked image sensors and EXPEED7 into the rest of the lineup? Because that's the way they'll thrive on this nth reset of their camera lineup.

_______________________

It's ironic. About fifteen years ago I started covering the business side of cameras, and I wrote quite a few articles pointing out an upcoming "volume change" that was going to change the business. After that change happened, I noticed more and more sites trying to provide the same sort of analysis I had been, but not understanding what a volume change really meant. Tracking volume for a business only is instructional when there's a strong change in volume occurring. I.e. rapid expansion, a flip from expansion to mature or decline, or a strong decline. And even then you have to account for change in strategy. The Japanese are particularly good at changing strategies based upon market conditions.

Anyone trying to assess where Nikon Imaging is today and how successful they are or will be shouldn't be spending much time looking at volume. Nikon made the choice to get out of the chasing volume business and rebuilt the business on a different strategic model. So, to all those sites that keep picking up (too late) on things I write about: where's you article on the "new Nikon model" and how successful they are at that? Right. Isn't very click-baity, is it?

More Misinformation, Disinformation, and Misquoting

When several of the Japanese camera stores put a "next stock date" for the Nikon Z9 of October 2022, the fanboys went wild. Nikon is dead. Of course, Sony isn't selling six of their current cameras because they can't make them, but that doesn't seem to bother them as much as Nikon having too much demand for their new camera.

A couple of things need to be said. First off, Nikon, as usual, seems to be targeting different subsidiaries with different release numbers. North America got at least an entire month's worth of production, but there are other regions that got only a handful of cameras this month. I've long been a critic of Nikon's release patterns, and I have no idea why they do what they do. It has to involve yen optimization of some sort, given Nikon's bean counting ways.

When a dealer, US, Japanese, or otherwise, doesn't get a firm delivery date from a camera company—and they rarely do—in order to seem competitive and timely, plus to take pre-orders, they'll put a dummy date in their listing. B&H, for instance, had the date of 12/15/2021 listed for Z9 availability, which, of course, turned out to be wrong. Yodabashi and the Japanese camera stores who are saying October 2022 for Z9 deliveries will turn out to be wrong, too.

Meanwhile, I'm amazed at all the ways people are able to fool themselves. "It's taken Nikon 3 years to make a mirrorless with usable AF." Nope. They did that back in 2011. I'm pretty sure that someone writing something like this on the Internet has not had the chance to actually use a variety of cameras and see exactly how they perform.

People are even misquoting me. Apparently I wrote that the Nikon Z9 doesn't focus as well as the Sony A1 (I didn't). My actual position is that the Sony A1 AF system lies about when it is in focus, while the Nikon Z9 AF system lies about when it isn't in focus. Neither is what we want, but in my book not showing the right focus position in the viewfinder while nailing the focus (Z9), is better than showing the right focus position in the viewfinder but not nailing the focus (A1). 

Don't get me wrong, both cameras do better than most previous cameras I've used, and I've used most. To totally nail focus 100% of the time, you need to carefully study both the Sony and Nikon, customize the cameras for overrides, and practice using them. No one has done that yet with the Z9. Not even me. Two weeks in Africa was not enough for me to dial in the camera exactly the way I want to use it. However, I should note of the 11,000+ images I took, very few are out of focus ;~). By "very few" I mean maybe 300. So a ~97% hit rate, which is probably double the hit rate any of the Internet naysayers can get with any camera. Oh, wait, they count "close" as "in focus." 

The thing I miss with the Z9 is Group AF, where I define the area looked at and the camera applies closest subject priority (ala the Nikon D6). I also want more native Z-mount lenses, because it's clear that those do acquire initial focus a wee bit faster than the older AF-S lenses mounted in an FTZ adapter. (Note the "initial focus"; tracking seems to work fine with any autofocus lens mounted on the Z9 after acquisition, it's only that few milliseconds to initial focus that is different.)

"Missing focus half the time." Someone doesn't know how to count, and is just making a number up. Especially true because they haven't used one. That's not how the Z9 works. "Misses focus rarely" would be the correct wording.

"The end of Nikon." Highly doubtful. The days of volume push of consumer DSLRs is over for them, but in terms of prosumer and pro sales, they are actually doing quite well. I expect that they'll report higher-than-expected profit for the quarter (in Imaging). Indeed, that may have been part of the reason why they pushed so much Z inventory into the US in December: those units all went right out the door to dealers, which means it's booked revenue, not anticipated revenue.

The Latest on the Z9

Let's start with some positives. The Z9 manual and supplemental material are on line, should you wish to read them. As with much of Nikon's documentation (and help system), there's a lot of "the X function does X," without a lot of meat, but at least you'll see the depth and breadth of this pro camera, as even cut down to the basics the manual is over 900 pages long. The Setting Guide (Sports AF Edition) contains some more beefier content, though I'll point out right now I don't agree with some of Nikon's recommendations ;~).

Also, the so-called DigiTutor is now active for the Z9 (though why we need 30+ second intros to concise content I don't know). Nikon calls this Tips and Tricks, but it's really more basic things that augment the few words in the manual. It's a way to learn about some key things on the camera quickly.

So, let's talk about the elephant in the room...

How many Z9's did Nikon drop into stores this week?

Not enough to fulfill all the existing NPS Priority Purchase pre-orders. If I'm reading the anecdotal tea leaves correctly, I'd say that a little over half the NPS PP pre-orders have been fulfilled so far. Now, that's not as bad as it sounds. There were a lot of pros I know who ordered multiple bodies and only got one. I ordered only one, and I got one (well, it's on a UPS delivery truck somewhere at the moment, as is the pre-production unit I used in Africa and just sent back to Nikon). 

The questions still needing to be answered are: (1) how often will we get shipments of Z9's? and (2) when will the NPS PP list clear and the predominance of orders begin going to non-NPS members? I can only guess at this based upon some hearsay. For #1, I suspect we'll get drop shipments every two weeks until the NPS PP orders clear. So start of the year and mid-January if I'm right. For #2, based upon information I'm getting from multiple sources, the NPS PP orders should clear by mid-January and subsequent shipments will be going to the rest of the pre-order crowd.

And crowd it is. I'm stunned by the number of pre-orders I'm hearing about from dealers I talk to (in confidence, so, no, I won't provide actual numbers). Nikon has to be really happy right now, but also really nervous. We're going to see just how fast they can ramp up production (which originally was assessed as being 3500 units a month, a number way too small for initial demand on the Z9). 

But demand isn't going to go down any time soon. As people start seeing me and others talk about our experiences with the Z9, we're going to see more orders coming in, is my guess. And speaking of that, don't forget about my upcoming FREE Zoom presentation on December 27th on the Z9 in Africa. Yes, it's at 8pm EST, which will be inconvenient for you Aussies and Europeans (and a host of others), but those that sign up will have access to a recorded version of the presentation, as well. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what I'm going to present and say, as I literally just got back and still haven't unpacked, but I'll figure that out over the weekend ;~). 

Some Comments on Z9 Commentary...

Now that I have almost three weeks experience with the Z9 and am home reading what others are writing, I think we need some clarification of a number of comments I've seen.

  • Can't tell when camera's photographing — The Sony A1 has a similar problem when set to silence. No one's figured out the best possible "I took a shot" indicator yet. However, the Z9 has three different choices, one of which is "blackout." The viewfinder doesn't actually black out, but it imposes a very brief darkening between frames. It's impossible not to know the camera is photographing with this setting enabled. 
  • Nikkors focus more slowly — Pretty sure this isn't a lens issue, if it is an issue at all. Nikon cameras have always had a bit of a hesitation to obtain initial focus (compared to Canon in DSLRs, and Sony in mirrorless). But they snap to focus fine once they have figured out what they are doing. I'd tend to say the Z9 has less hesitancy than any previous Nikon, but I need to perform more tests to verify that. Moreover, you can help the system by making wise autofocus choices. Leaving "all subjects" enabled seems to hesitate a bit more than choosing the proper subject. But when I say hesitate, I'm talking about something that happens so fast that it can't reliably be measured. Microseconds.
  • Sony's AF sensors update faster — Probably true, but not the right thing to assess. The Z9's focus sensor updates, while much faster than the Z6 II and Z7 II, still aren't 100% accurate to what the camera is doing. I'm going to have to do a side-by-side battle on this one to very, but here's my initial assessment: The Sony A1's focus sensors update faster but the camera doesn't necessary focus dead-on in some cases. The Nikon Z9's focus sensors actually sometimes lie to you because they lag slightly, but the focus is dead-on. I prefer the Z9 to the A1 in this respect.
  • The speed of a bird flying is a key determinate of focus performance — No, not really. We've long had focus systems that could keep up with even peregrine falcons flying full speed. The real issue with tracking fast moving birds has much more to do with how well you can keep the bird framed to what the focus system is looking for. It's one reason why VR (IS in Canon-speak) was such a big thing. What the Z9 does is compensate (some) for poor camera/lens handling. That's particularly true with birds against sky, where if you're using Auto-area AF with Animal subject detect the camera will track the bird well over about 80-90% of the frame. 

I’m Back

I’ve just returned for three safaris and a wedding, all in Botswana. I’ll be cranking up my Z9 blog again, as I had a pre-production unit on this trip. 

While I was away, the FTZ II adapter shipped, as did the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 S VR lens. The Z9 is supposed to have its initial shipment just prior to Christmas. If Santa has a rocket-powered sled and you’re up front in the pre-order list, you might be able to photograph Christmas morning with it. 

Nikon also introduced one new not-on-the-roadmap lens and provided a development announcement for a lens that was. Surprisingly, Nikon introduced a US$1200 28-75mm f/2.8 lens, while the development announcement was for the 800mm f/6.3 S VR PF lens.

Speculation is that Nikon licensed the old Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 G1 design (both it and the new lens are 15 element, 12 group designs and near-as-identical specs). I’m pretty sure the speculation is true, and Nikon is rumored to have licensed some other Tamron lenses, as well. What I don’t understand is why Nikon licensed the G1 version optics and then priced their version higher than the Tamron G2 version. The newer Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 G2 is far better optically. I’ll have to look into the origins of this new lens a little more and see what I can find. Someone sent me an explanation that the licensing deals were done outside the main Nikkor lens design group. 

Nikon has licensed lens designs from Tamron before. A long history of such licenses exist, and KonicaMinolta has been another source of optical designs Nikon has used. So a Nikkor-branded Tamron design isn’t anything new.

But 28-75mm f/2.8 isn’t a necessary lens in the lineup from a placeholder standpoint, though it might be in the competitive landscape. The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 E-mount G2 version has proven to be a highly popular lens because of its aggressive price and very good optics. We’ve known for some time that Nikon wants to sell as many Z lenses as possible and keep the third-parties at bay for as long as possible, as it pays back the Z System investments faster, and with good margins. Nikon’s shoring up the 24-200mm focal range as fast as possible, as that’s where most of the buying action is. Still, I don’t get this decision on Nikon’s part. 

We’re still missing the “value” 70-200mm lens (or 70-180mm in Tamron’s world). And it wouldn’t hurt to have another wide angle zoom, too (e.g. 16-28mm). 

Meanwhile, the 800mm now has something besides a silhouette. The development announcement tells us this is an f/6.3 S lens, with built-in VR and PF optics, plus a drop-in filter slot. Personally, I wanted the 400mm PF before the 800mm, but with the recent shipment of the 100-400mm, it looks like Nikon is trying to make sure that the telephoto options are first balanced and spaced (e.g. 70-200mm, 100-400mm, 400mm with 560mm via built-in TC, 800mm). 

What happened to older content? Well, it's now in one of the archive pages, below:

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