Heck With the Z6 III, What About the Z10?

(Or is it Z1, Z9 II, Z9h, or Z9x? ;~)

For some reason, I keep getting asked questions about the Z9 followup. Now I see that this same question is being discussed on various Internet fora, as well.

One genesis of these queries is the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics. Another is the impending Canon R1 and Sony A9 Mark III models (or is it A1 Mark II? ;~). In both cases, there's an implied FOMO component to the questions. Everyone seems to want to feel assured that Nikon is competitive. 

To which I'd write: have you actually tried a Z9 with the C4.00 firmware? 

It's pretty darned good. If I were covering the Paris Olympics, would I need more? Absolument pas. A couple of new, useful lenses would be more interesting.

As I've written several times, I believe the Z9 was a bit rushed to market. As we've seen with the three major firmware updates (and several minor ones), there appears to have been a lot of not-yet-completed software projects associated with the Z9 hardware. It's quite possible that there's a C5.00 in progress, too. 

Many readers also ask about what I'd like to see in the Z9 followup. My answer tends to disappoint them: clean up. We've got a ton of new capabilities, and a lot of awkwardness in their implementations. Recall Shooting Settings, for instance, is standing in for dedicated customization of metering and subject detection. The new Auto Capture function is a UI mess. We don't yet have the Z8-added functions, such as HEIF and Skin Softening, and the way HEIF is implemented by Nikon is confusing and could be simplified. The menus have sprawled with features, and need more hierarchy and rationalizations. The list of things I'd want the engineers to be doing if I were the Product Manager for the Z9 is pretty extensive, but doesn't necessarily add things to the camera, just improves how the user interacts with the camera.

But you'll just hound me more about the hardware, so...

The Z9 is the seventh iteration of the digital pro body, and it shows. I'd delete the Release Mode dial (ala the Z8) and redesign the card slot door lock mechanism, but really, is there anything else worth touching? Oh, right, a slightly bigger, sturdy thumb stick (or a replacement thumb pad). Some might ask for more resolution in the EVF. 

Which means that any real change is likely to be inside, not visible on the outside. That narrows us down to pixels, speed, accuracy, and feature set:

  • Pixels — Only two logical choices exist: Z9h (24mp), or Z9x (60mp+). The former makes the Z9 less of a video camera and more of a speed stills camera. The latter makes the Z9 more of a studio camera, which isn't really where the demand is, IMO, though DX crop suddenly starts to be a more useful size (26mp+). EXPEED7 would be better suited to Z9h, I think, as it would produce higher frame rates, including for pre-release capture.
  • Speed — One question everyone has is whether or not 20 fps raw is the real limit, or not. Moreover, we've seen some subject detection speed improvements in firmware, so are we at the limit of what EXPEED7 can provide there? I'll bet that there is more that can be done with the current hardware (sensor, processor) than we already have. So double down on that.
  • Accuracy — Metering, white balance, autofocus, and much more all could get accuracy tweaks. These are all algorithmically controlled things, and good software organizations are always looking for optimizations in algorithms. It's a way of squeezing more out of what you already have. But there's one thing that hardware still needs to provide here: short axis focus enhancement. Plus I note at least one company who's added an IR sensor to help with white balance determination.
  • Feature set — Considering just how much is built into the Z9 now, amazingly you can find omissions! That's true on both the still and video side. The obvious one for still photography is pixel shift. Focus shift could also be extended in useful ways. But I'm sure we can all think of others. OMDS has live capture, for instance, which is really not a lot different than the old Multiple Exposure function Nikon used to provide in how it's done; only different in how it's displayed. (A longer list of feature improvements is on my Wish List page.)

The important question to ask is this: what are the working pros telling Nikon about the Z9? For the most part, that seems to be "awesome, love it." And then they follow that up with a request for a different button customization option ;~). 

The top pro camera design has always been about responding to a small subset of the user base. At one time, that was agency-biased, though today it's a little more spread through a recognized group of independent working professionals. It's what those folk are telling Nikon at the subsidiary level that gets back to Nikon corporate and which then passes down to Nikon R&D to produce a different pro product at the top of the lineup. 

To further answer the question I keep getting, I don't see Nikon changing the Z9 for the Paris Olympics other than with firmware, for the most part. Nikon's pro body designs produce new technology that trickles down, and we haven't seen the trickle down yet (other than the mini Z9, the Z8). This is generally done on four year boundaries, and the Z9 was pulled up a bit from that (again, rushed). I'd guess that the next major reworking of the platform would not be until at least 2026, though again, a Z9h might be possible in the interim if an image sensor exists for it.

It is possible that Nikon would stop the major firmware iterations and produce a Z9 II from the next big set of additions to the firmware and a couple of minor hardware tweaks. They'd do that mostly to have something new to announce in the pro realm, not so much that they need to. We saw that with the D3s and D4s, for example. 

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