Why is the Z9 Going to Sell Out?

Very few have had any real experience with the Z9 so far, myself included. That’s because it isn’t shipping yet, and you basically have to pry the camera from the hands of a Nikon employee to even handle one. Most of those who’ve had any extended experience with the camera are either Nikon Ambassadors, or a few carefully chosen others who are giving positive affirmations at Nikon-sponsored events. 

Yet despite the ability to actually do more than touch and handle the camera briefly, the orders for this camera have piled up so high that dealers can’t see over their counter to see if someone else has come in the doors to order it for themself. (Disclosure: I had to order the camera, as my customer base expects me not only to exhaustively review it, but to document it thoroughly via a book. Without that inducement, I probably would have waited a bit to order a Z9, as I already own several incredibly competent cameras.)

So why are people ordering this camera in record numbers? And yes, every dealer I’ve spoken to claims “record numbers of preorders.” 

I’m going to get on my soap box and make a claim. 

/Climbs Up

People are ordering the Z9 because they’re convinced just from marketing that it will solve a user problem they have.

/Climbs Down

Nikon’s marketing, for once, has managed to hit the nail on the head for a number of these perceived problems and can point to the Z9 as the answer.

  • Autofocus woes? Nikon says the camera recognizes everything—okay, nine things—and just does the right thing. That’s exactly what many want, but I’m pretty sure the final answer will be more nuanced. I don’t just set my Sony A1 to auto-everything and photograph. To get best focus results on an A1, you need to be quick to adjust the focus system to what your subject is doing, just as we’ve had to do with every autofocus camera since day one. The same will be true of the Z9, otherwise there was no need to add all those other AF-area modes and customizations.
  • EVF angst? No lag! No blackout! Brighter! Let’s see: matches the DSLR, solves a DSLR problem, solves a DSLR problem. Personally, I don’t have issues with the current EVFs (except in Continuous H (Extended)), and have more problems with DSLR viewfinders.
  • Can’t get the right moment? At 120 fps you will. And 119 other moments ;~). Right. I’ll be using far lower frame rates, I’ll bet. 
  • Build worry? It’s the return of the brick. Solid build, all around. Use it to hammer nails ;~). The D5 worked well at hitting stray attacking dogs, so it’s nice to have a mirrorless camera that does the same thing.
  • Not enough customization? Fn4! More options. Configurable viewfinder overlays. Of course, I’ve found constant fault with how much customization Nikon actually allows on their cameras—it’s not been close to what Sony is now offering—so I’m waiting to see how this works for me (or doesn’t).
  • Display can’t orient the way you want it? Two-way tilt to the rescue (sorry selfie shooters). I consider this a nice touch, but not one that would make me buy or not buy a camera.
  • Getting images off camera? FTP. A WT-6 like Wi-Fi instead of the consumer version. Ethernet. USB-C 3.2. It’s the software, dummy. I already have these things on several of my cameras. It’s the software that integrates with the hardware that’s far more important. Thus, I’ll be looking closely at NX MobileAir, not the connectors I have available.
  • Power woes?. Bigger Battery, USB power. I’m not having power woes with any camera I own, DSLR or mirrorless, indoors or in the wilderness. Some of you are leaving cameras sitting on shelves for several months and then wondering why your battery is dead.
  • Nothing to brag about? 8K60P, 120 fps, smaller raws, bigger buffer, no shutter to break, lower price, it’s the start of the future. Seems more likely that you should brag about the images you’ve taken, not the thing you’ve got stored in your backpack because it’s too heavy to carry on a neck strap.

Potential danger lies ahead for Nikon. While I’m confident that the Z9 will mostly live up to the expectations I just listed, the devil is in the details. When dynamic range turns out to not match a D6 at very high ISO values, a few will be disappointed. When you have to buy expensive top-end cards and High Efficiency* raw to get the buffer up to unnoticeable levels, a few will be disappointed. Indeed, for almost every point listed above, I can think of something that will tamp down the enthusiasm a bit. How much tamping down happens and how loudly the disappointments get amplified on the Internet will ultimately determine just how popular the Z9 turns out to be. 

Don’t get me wrong, nothing I’ve seen so far says I’ll be disappointed in the Z9. But it’s not going to be perfect, and people are buying it without fully understanding just how good it is or isn’t. Which has the potential for one of those sine wave inflections I’ve written about before, where attitude swings swiftly from peaks to troughs: the Z9 is better than sliced bread, the Z9 is an awful pile of magnesium alloy and fake leather, the Z9 is really good bread, the Z9 isn’t as good as we expected, and so on.

Initial data seems to suggest that the Z9 announcement has had a positive impact on Z6/Z7 and Z-mount lens sales. So the halo effect is working so far. But if opinion swings too far down once Z9’s are in users’ hands, the demon effect could reverse that.

At this point, if you haven’t ordered a Z9—for whatever reason you determined that was worth doing—I’d say it’s time to just sit back and wait for all the real world experiences with it to get fully described and challenged. 

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