As a predominantly landscape and nature photographer I never considered Nikon’s flagship cameras such as D5, D6 or now Z9. The main two reasons are the price and the size/weight of these pro camera bodies. This said, I recently purchased the new mirrorless flagship camera, Nikon Z9. Read on to learn why and what are the advantages over smaller Nikon mirrorless cameras such as Z7 and Z7ii.
Why I purchased Nikon Z9?
When this camera was released I was amazed but I immediately dismissed the idea of purchasing int. This changed when I went to a Bulgaria and Greece bird photography trip in February 2022. Nikon Slovenia were kind to lend me their Z9 for the duration of the trip. The timing was great as I also received the long awaited Nikon Z 100-400mm S lens – a perfect fit for the camera. Needless to say, the camera impressed me and I started to rationalise my purchase:)
So the reasons, right?
Reason 1: The amazing auto focus of the Z9
On the first day of photographing eagles in Bulgaria I struggled with focusing. Totally user error as I didn’t have time to learn the complex AF functions. Luckily, with 5G signal in the eagle hide I watched a few YT tutorials and adjusted my settings and technique. From then on, the AF experience was smooth and I got the shots I would never get with my Z7 or Z6. By the time we got to Greece to photograph Dalmatian pelicans I was already more proficient in using the autofocus. A game changer for wildlife photography!
Reason 2: Video capabilities of the Z9
I enjoy making videos and I create photography vlogs from time to time. Now, I don’t need 8k or Raw video features as I think it is an overkill for my needs. But the excellent video AF tracking, 4k 120fps and 10 bit H265 are what I was looking for. I find these features a good reason to upgrade from Z6 (which was my video camera and I have sold it since…). Here is a short video, recored with Z9 from the pelicans trip to Greece. Note that the video was recored handheld from a rocky boat and in a challenging backlight!
Elephant in the room…
The size and weight of Nikon Z9. The camera is heavy and bulky. It didn’t fit in my camera backpack so I had to order a new ICU. Most of the time I have to unmount the lens in order to store it. The bulkiness is a bigger downside than the weight. When doing mountain hikes and climbs, I opt for the Z7 with 24-200mm lens combo. Much smaller and easier to fit into a backpack.
I really couldn’t find any more downsides of Z9 in comparison to Z7(ii).
Nikon Z9 for landscapes and nature – the cool things
The camera sensor produces the same megapixel (45MP) images as Z7 and Z7ii. The file sizes however are much smaller! The high efficiency* setting delivers high quality files and they are roughly half of the size of the Z7. I haven’t noticed the difference when pixel peeking.
Long battery life. I have yet to drain the battery in a single day! Even when recording a lot of video, shooting long exposures the battery lasts through the day.
No shutter mechanism. Less chances for a camera shake when shooting at certain shutter speeds. This is most obvious when shooting with telephoto lens on a tripod. And also very quiet!
Built-in GPS. So convenient. And nice to see images on the map in Lightroom. This helps me tremendously when I am adding spots and images to PhotoHound.
20 frames per second. I often shoot handheld bracketing and often the subject or things move between the frames. A true PITA to blend later. With such a high fps rate, this problem is minimised.
Time-lapses. Having no shutter is an advantage here. No wearing out the shutter and less chances for flickering. Plus the Z9 has a countdown of the frames left in the sequence which is convenient.
Countdown display. For long exposures and for time-lapses. So simple yet so useful! It could be even better if illuminated at night!
Cleaner display and more custom views. One of the most frustrating things on Z7 is that there is always some camera settings overlay on the back screen. How many times I missed an important detail because of this. With Z9 there is an option to set custom views for viewfinder and back screen. Both for stills and for video shooting.
Screen pops out vertically and horizontally. Some people complain that it does not have full articulation as some other cameras. But i like the sturdiness of the Z9 mechanism. It seems it’s gonna last the lifetime of the camera.
Video capabilities of Z9. As mentioned above, I do not use the pro production settings such as Raw recording or 8k video resolution. And h.265 in 10bits gives a fantastic video quality. All I need for YT publishing. 120fps in 4k is super useful – again – the above pelicans video. Lastly, the AF while recording video is reliable and a huge help.
Ergonomics. Nikon Z9 feels great in hands. Period. Much faster to operate than Z7, more customisation options, illuminated buttons and vertical grip. This all helps to feel more natural when shooting. I added an L-bracket for tripod photography which I always keep on the camera.
Nikon Z9 made my life as a landscape and nature photographer much easier. The little things that I counted above add up and the overall experience with the camera is great. This said, I don’t think it is worth the upgrade from your current Nikon Z camera unless you count the AF performance and video as a high priority. Z7 and Z7ii will be perfectly adequate cameras for landscape and nature photographers for a very long time.
So what are your thoughts about all this? Do you own Z9 or are you considering getting it? Can you share any other benefits or downsides of this camera with me? Thank you!
Read my other articles and reviews on Nikon Z system here.