Nikon’s Powerful Z9 Helps You Focus on Pictures, Not Specs

Forget about the camera and focus on the pictures

Key Takeaways

  • The Z9 may be Nikon’s best digital camera yet.
  • High-end features are not essential, but help you forget the camera and focus on the pictures. 
  • The Z9 is so fast, it doesn’t even need a physical shutter.
Someone holding the Nikon Z9 digital camera.

Nikon

Nikon's comeback camera, the $5,500 Z9, is insanely powerful, packed with features that might seem like esoteric overkill. And yet pro photographers apparently need them. Just how do they make use of all those high-end capabilities?

Cameras like the Z9 pack in an almost absurd array of options and powerful tools. A camera is no longer a simple box and lens, with a shutter to let the light in. It's a full-fledged computer (and in the case of the Z9, it doesn't even have a physical shutter), with all the complexity that brings. So how do pros make use of these options, and does anyone need them?

"The implicit promise made by modern camera systems with these incredible spec sheets is: what was previously impossible is now possible," professional photographer and artist Henry Detweiler told Lifewire via email. "And while that is extremely seductive, outside of really specific use cases, the majority of these specs will not be particularly useful for most photographers, most of the time."

Finally

DSLRs are essentially film cameras retrofitted to use a digital sensor instead of film. They're a lot more than that now, of course, but the basic design remains. It wasn't until the recent rise of mirrorless cameras, designed from scratch around digital principles, that cameras really leaped forward.

Mirrorless cameras ditch the flip-up mirror that reflects the lens's image up into the viewfinder and replaces it with a live connection directly from the sensor to the viewfinder screen.

It looked like Nikon had completely missed the mirrorless party, overtaken by Sony, then Canon, and then almost everyone else. But here it is, fashionably late, wowing absolutely everyone. "Nikon has released what is without a doubt the most impressive camera that has ever been made," wrote PetaPixel's Jaron Schneider

What Does It Do?

Ok, so let's talk specs. But rather than list all those features, let's dig into a few and see how they may benefit a photographer. 

A camera must do a few things to capture an image. It has to focus, set the exposure, and then snap the image. Focusing is tricky because the camera not only has to lock on, it has to know what it should lock on. The Z9 can detect people, eyes, animals, airplanes, cars, motorbikes, and more. All the kinds of subjects that move fast. This is handy for grabbing shots of active kids, but for pros, if the eyes, or the ball, aren't in focus in a sports shot, they're not getting paid. 

Equally handy is the Z9's low-light capabilities. It can focus down to -8.5 EV, which means "in the dark." That means candid wedding shots in dark churches, the perfect focus at unrepeatable news events, and so on. 

A photographer using the Nikon Z9.

Nikon

Then there's the Z9's speed. It has no physical shutter because it doesn't need one. Instead, it just scans the data off the sensor at the moment of capture. This lets it capture full RAW files at 20 frames per second, and it can pump through 1,000 frames before it has to slow down and empty its buffer. 

Again, not essential, but for the pro, very handy. You can shoot as much and as fast as you'd like, and the camera will pretty much never, ever have to take a breather. 

We're seeing a pattern here. While it's perfectly possible to take any photo with a basic all-manual camera—most historically great photos were snapped on film, with manual focus and manual exposure—these added conveniences make it far easier to capture pictures instead of worrying about the tools. You'll never miss an image because the camera wasn't capable or ready. 

"Sensor stabilization, and the greater usable ISO range available on newer systems, has made more extreme shooting conditions more forgiving," says Detweiler.

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