Nikon is to release a pro-spec Z series mirrorless camera in the future – presumed to be called the ‘Z9’ – as confirmed by company President, Mr Toshikazu Umatate in an interview with Japan’s Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun.
Thing is this was inevitable, really, wasn’t it? From the very off, when Nikon launched its brand new full-frame mirrorless line-up and lens mount, debuted by the Z6 and Z7 models, people were wondering ‘but where’s the D5 DSLR-equivalent version?’
Therefore, we wonder, what features should the rumoured Nikon Z9 have to best its competition?
1. Autofocus to better the Nikon D5 & Z6
The Nikon D5, the company’s top tier DSLR camera, was released in 2016 – conveniently just before the Rio Olympics (the D4, prior to that, was release in 2012 just before the London Olympics). Now it’s almost four years later and, lo and behold, the 2019 Olympics is coming around again, this time in Japan. It would be very lucrative for Nikon to receive sideline support from pro photographers on the sporting sidelines using a camera such as the rumoured Z9.
But what would lure such snappers to leave their D5 behind? Better autofocus, that’s what. The D5 is a professional performer in this department, no doubt about that, but there’s always room for improvement. And when the Nikon Z6 hit the market it certainly didn’t better its DSLR cousin, which is exactly what the Z9 will need to do to lure in prospective buyers.
We’re talking autofocus that locks onto fast-moving subjects near instantly; that works in moonlight conditions; that perhaps takes benefit from artificial intelligence (AI) to learn the movements of typical subjects – divers rotating at four times a second is no easy subject – and track them accordingly; that can identify faces, eyes, animals and lock on; that has customisable areas, points and tracking path projections. Basically the most badass focus system the world has seen – which will be needed to keep Sony and Canon at bay.
2. Burst shooting to better the Sony A9
In recent years the almost unthinkable has happened: Sony has bested Nikon and Canon in sales terms by quite a margin. Its A7 III camera, for example, is outselling the two other Japanese makers combined in the mirrorless market. The reason for this is affordability for a full-frame model.
But that leaves an impression with consumers, and with Sony also producing the A9 II, which is capable of shooting 20 frames per second in burst mode with no black-out, there’s a gap here that Nikon needs to meet.
The Nikon D5 can shoot at 12fps. Amazing for 2016, less so for 2020. If we could see 20fps at full resolution with continuous autofocus then, well, our mouths would hit the floor – and the photos that will likely be captured at the Olympics ought to be milli-second amazing moments.
3. Resolution without compromise, sensor stabilisation
Top-tier DSLR cameras have never opted for ultra-high resolution. The reason has been simple: why compromise pixel size and therefore image quality and burst speed for the sake of a really huge image? The Nikon D5 is 21MP, but the company’s D850 is 46MP – more than double! – because the latter is targeting a very different userbase that is unlikely to shoot fast subjects.
Times have moved on, though, and we suspect there’s a greater need for more resolution. Not by much though. We think Nikon could present a 24MP sensor in the Z9 – much like that in the Z6 – to avoid the potential of camera shake, hand shake and subject blur due to motion. Add in a top sensor-based stabilisation system and crisp images are at your fingertips.
As an aside here, there’s likely one thing that will be lacking by launch: a prime telephoto lens in the Z mount line-up. And the 70-200mm f/2.8 hasn’t been especially well received, so trust in existing lenses via an adaptor and faith that the necessary ones will be released in the future is part of the package.
4. A vari-angle LCD screen, unrivalled electronic finder
A potentially controversial one this. No top-end DSLR has a bracket-mounted LCD screen. Which we think is a shame. Sure, many DSLR-based shots are taken by eye through a finder, but if the Z9 adds a 3.2-inch+ LCD screen with touch capability – and the ability to customise touch zones, utilise touch motion as an additional control and, of course, deactivate it as desired – it would open up a whole new world of creative possibilities.
A world-beating viewfinder would also need to be present. The resolution of the one in the Panasonic S1, for example, is mighty impressive. But what the Z9 would need to add is absolute instant use. No hesitation of response. It would always need to be there to work, with no delays or black out issues.
5. Dual card slots and fast, secure wireless connectivity
To be a truly pro-spec camera the Z9 will need to ditch the one slot XQD offering of the Z6/Z7 and double up at the very least. Whether that means dual XQD, or combo XQD & CF slots is for debate – given the legacy of CompactFlash with the Nikon D5, that would soften the cross-over into the new camera, although XQD would take up less space and be more future-proof in terms of reliability. Hey, a pre-order XQD card and reader combo wouldn’t go amiss, eh, Nikon?
In addition built-in wireless control, fast Wi-Fi for image transmission (we’re talking 2.4/5GHz with necessary security protocols met), and in-camera adjustment for image editing, EXIF data settings and such detail would be an essential. Not something every user would need, but an absolute must for those who are used to the D5’s process and Ethernet port for transmission.