The Latest on Upcoming Z Bodies

Because rumors are flying freely at the moment, I'm getting more questions about where the Z System is going and what to expect. Some things are reasonably predictable, some are less predictable, some are still speculation.

Let's start with the predictable:

  • Z30 — Not only was this camera prototyped, but it went to certification worldwide. As best I can tell it's basically a Z50 without an EVF and is targeted as the entry Z camera to compete with the likes of the M50's of the world. Given the recent Zfc, I would guess it likely that some of the Z50 II type things might have made it to the Z30, such as USB power/charging. Launch imminent, dependent upon parts.
  • Z9 — As I've said pretty much from the beginning: a 45mp powerhouse all-around camera designed to supplant the D6. Why did I lock in on the 45mp resolution? Because of Nikon's continued use of a particular sized photo diode over time (D850, Z7, Z7 II) coupled with the apparent switch of that technology over to Tower Semiconductor. The only question I've had is what's in the stacked layer of this new sensor: is it just DRAM/output, or is it DRAM/processing/output? The latter would allow the expanded DR Nikon demonstrated in a 1" chip in January. We also don't know if this sensor can go completely global shutter or is just fast rolling shutter ala the Sony A1/A9. But it's clear that it can run at 30 fps full frame, provide 8K video, and drive the EVF without blackout, so it has to be one or the other stacking approach. The focus system is completely rewritten and object aware. The menus get a refresh. The rest is what you'd expect from a D6. Launch in November, dependent upon final testing.

The less predictable is also starting to come into focus, though some details are missing:

  • Zf — Probably the future entry full frame model. Making it is easy enough to do. Making it succeed long term is a little more difficult for reasons I've cited before: while the buzz is highly positive on the Zfc's retro styling and dials before anyone starts to use it, in practice a lot of folk won't be using those dials, so the buzz may fade. A Zf would also need full AI-S indexing on a new FTZ adapter to really resonate (and pull a lot of MF lenses out of the closet). Likewise, the manual focus helper tools need to be improved. Possible in 2022.
  • Z50 IIWith the Zfc in the bag, Nikon now needs to push the Z50 II forward. The Zfc got all the most likely Z50 II additions: USB power, better AF, articulating LCD, 900-second exposure capability, and a few other minor things. What the Z50 II additionally needs is sensor-based VR. Possible in 2022, probable in 2023.
  • Z6 III — Because this is the popular model in the Z lineup, it is absolutely guaranteed a III update. People are questioning what that would be. I don't see Nikon making substantive changes to the body, so once again the change is likely to be internal. New image sensor (30-33mp?), new EXPEED, some Z9 focus additions, firmware/UX updates. This camera just has to keep its competitive place (against Sony A7 Mark IV, Canon R6), and I don't see any problems in Nikon doing just that. Probable in late 2022 or early 2023.
  • Z7 III — The Z6 and Z9 bracket this camera and you have to leave room for what might be a Z8. Thus, there are only two likely options Nikon can pursue: (1) the Z7 III gets a higher pixel count sensor (80mp), or (2) it stays 45mp. If the Z6 III bumps resolution and the Z9 comes in at 45mp, this effectively means that people would look to a Z7 III either as the baby Z9 or the resolution champ. Either is possible. The baby Z9 option would be easier to do, but in the current Z7 body that means it would be button/control starved, which some wouldn't like. I think the Z7 III would more likely to be pushed upwards as the resolution champ, with added features tailored to that (pixel-shift photography, for instance; in-camera image stitching would be nice, too). Probable in early 2023. (I suspect the Z6 and Z7 lines will separate in announcement dates.)
  • Z90 — I continue to hear snippets about development of a top DX camera that would be a Z9 baby (which is another reason why the Z7 III would go the resolution champ route). While before what I heard was just internal debate residue, now I'm hearing enough to suggest to me that something along these lines is in the engineering process (i.e. went from R to D). That still doesn't mean a Z90 will appear, but it does mean that design and feasibility work is being done. What I haven't heard is anything about a new DX sensor (other than stacked 20mp, which would be the easiest thing for Nikon to create [proven top layer]). Possible in 2023.

Which leaves us the speculation (I've heard virtually nothing about the following):

  • Z1 to Z4 — Why did Nikon leave these numbers open? The implication is lower-end FX, but four possible models? Don't think so. I'm not hearing anything in this realm, though the Z30 opens up the possibility of a low-end EVF-less FX body with the Z5 sensor appearing as a Z3 model. Unlikely at the moment.
  • Z5 II — The original Z5 already received much of the II changes by the time it appeared. Moreover, if Nikon makes a Zf as is now being rumored, the 24mp FX position would get quite cluttered (Zf, Z5, Z5 II, Z6, Z6 II). I suppose Nikon could swap the old D750-style image sensor for the newer Z6-style image sensor, which would provide some video and speed gains. But I'm not hearing anything about a Z5 II so I'm in total speculation mode here. Unlikely at the moment.
  • Z70Trickier than you think if a Z90 is actually progressing and a Z50 II is also in progress. Another 20mp DX camera in between those two would be a tough finesse and sell job, as it has to have features that lie between what is essentially a near D7500 and a near D500. Nikon never defined that position, and I don't think they will define it in the short term future. Unlikely.
  • Z8 — Nikon likes pairs, not trios (though they've done trios (D100/D1h/D1x comes closest). Most important pairs: D300/D3, D800/D4, D500/D5, Z6/Z7. There's an engineering organization reasoning behind this, as it's two teams working (usually) in slightly timing-offset parallel (one team leads, the other closely follows). I'm hearing Z90 tidbits but not Z8 tidbits at the moment, which would lead me to believe that a Z8 isn't imminent and wouldn't be a baby Z9 as many desire. I think Nikon wants to have the US$6500 body have some time of its own in the best all-around FX spotlight, and not dilute that by coming out with the same camera in a non-vertical grip body at a lower price. Unlikely for now.

You'll note from my timing suggestions that I would expect seven bodies in the coming two year period. That's a full plate for Nikon. Thus, the speculative models aren't likely to show up in that period, if at all. 

So, if you're following along, that would make the lineup:

  • DX — Z30 (entry), Zfc (entry retro), Z50 II (midpoint), Z90 (high-end)
  • FX — Z5 (entry), Zf (entry retro), Z6 III (midpoint), Z7 III (high resolution), Z9 (high-end all-around)

That's nine models, with some reasonable spacing. I could market that lineup. It would hold up pretty well against Canon and Sony, I believe. And yes, we need more DX lenses (buzz, buzz).

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Please note this is speculation based upon bits and pieces I hear from within Nikon and parties close to Nikon. Nikon Imaging is a very self-examining organization, and they often make course changes based upon their latest assessments, or, in the case of some emergency conditions that have happened over the years—earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and now pandemic—they shift product development and manufacturing based upon what they can actually get parts for. Still, I'd be surprised if the lineup at the end of 2023 isn't close to the nine cameras I list above.

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