A Z9 Does Appear to be at the Olympics

Photolari has published photos of what looks to be a Z9 prototype in use at the Olympics, which has now been picked up by many Japanese and US photo sites. Now everyone is asking me for my opinion on what can gleaned from the photos ;~).

I'm reluctant to say much, as there are plenty of clues that this is an early body prototype, not a finished sample. But since everyone keeps asking, I'm make a couple of comments.

First off, it appears that the Z9 will be for the most part indeed a mirrorless D6 equivalent/replacement. Besides having an Fn4 button, LAN support, and voice annotation, pretty much all the other things you'd expect from the marquee camera are present. That's pretty much as all of us expected when Nikon made the original development announcement.

A few points are going to get considerable discussion, though, if things stay the same in the final body: 

  • The playback button and zoom buttons are separated from the function buttons you'd use during playback (protect, delete), making image review a two-handed operation. I'm sure this would have been debated ad infinitum internally, but there's some significant moving of the cheese, so it's going to cause some to grumble. Personally, I'd need to see what image review workflow changes Nikon has implemented overall. The D6, for example, is a somewhat better camera to use in sports review than the D5, even though the buttons are in the same place. So small things and menu/review changes do come into play.
  • The Rear Command dial went back to being embedded in the rear face rather than a bigger dial extending over the upper right side. Thus it appears that the top plate on the right only has a smallish top display and considerable real estate not being used. That doesn't seem quite right to me, and I'm hoping that this is a "prototype" thing and not final design. Given how tightly grouped the controls are on the rest of the camera, having a "blank" area seems odd, particularly as it is easily accessed by the primary control hand. It appears that there's a piece of tape on the right top plate that identifies this camera as #2, so there's likely more than one body in use in Tokyo.
  • The inclusion of a second i button in the vertical grip position seems to indicate that Nikon is doubling down on "quick menu" changes. I'm hoping there's more to it than that, though. I want to be able to quickly change the quick menu (e.g. a button pressed changes what's on the menu to an alternate set I've defined, ala Banks of menus). And having now used the Sony A1 for awhile, where virtually every customizable button supports virtually every menu option, I'd also hope that Nikon promoted more things to be assigned to the customizable buttons in the first place. 

But...all that is total speculation at the moment. Both the Rear LCD and the lack of an obvious card slot door (with lock) pegs this as an early prototype body to me. 

To clarify an earlier comment: these images present a camera that is "beyond mule." The sequence generally goes (1) test bench; (2) mule; (3) early prototype; (4) pre-production; (5) production. The Photolari images appear to be #3 to me. It's possible that this body is somewhere in the #3 to #4 transition. I don't think it's a solid #4, thus my reluctance to infer anything substantive.

The good news in all this is that Nikon is at the stage where they're trying to get practical field testing under heat of battle done. That's exactly where we'd want them to be at the moment, and the fact that the photographer who had the Z9 prototype appears to also be using a D6 would allow him or her to give direct commentary that's useful to Nikon. 

Update: two things didn't seem to be revealed in what we saw of the Z9 in Tokyo: the new fully articulating screen, and the new focus area pad. After looking at all the images, I'd judge the units we saw to be clearly pre-production. We could still see small changes in the final model that appears. 

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