Nikon Z9 Hands-On: Jen Pottheiser’s Thoughts on the Flagship Camera

Photographer Jennifer Pottheiser was given the opportunity to use Nikon’s new Z9 camera. She shares her real-world experiences with it and discusses what to expect from the upcoming pro-level powerhouse.

Jenn Pottheiser is a commercial photographer based in New York who has a long list of corporate, editorial, and commercial clients such as JP Morgan Chase, the National Basketball Association, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Walgreens Boots Alliance. She was recently given the opportunity to shoot with the Nikon Z9 and spoke to PetaPixel about the experience and what photographers can expect from the company’s forthcoming professional-level shooter.

Photographer Jennifer Pottheiser photographing a boxer with the Nikon Z9

Photographer Jennifer Pottheiser photographing a boxer with the Nikon Z9

Pottheiser says she comes from a background where she mostly has been shooting with the D6, and from that perspective, the new body just felt comfortable.

“It feels like a pro body,” she says. “It is rugged and stable, balanced, and everything is where I want it to be. The Z9 has the familiarity and muscle memory of the D6, but the body is lighter and has all the benefits of mirrorless. I love that it is everything I want all wrapped up in one. I no longer need to use one body for portraits and a different body for action.”

Portrait of a boxer taken with the Nikon Z9

Portrait of a boxer taken with the Nikon Z9

One of the features Photographers have been most curious about with the Z9 is its autofocus performance. In that respect, Potthheiser says it is beyond expectations.

“The eye-detection and 3D-tracking autofocus is so reliable that I have the confidence to shoot in environments that I never dreamed,” she says. “This allows me to approach my shoots differently and have the freedom to have fun! It also gives my subjects the freedom to move! No more gaffer tape on the floor guiding my subjects to stay in their zone. The camera is unlike anything I have ever used before.”

To really challenge the autofocus, Pottheiser took the camera to a tennis court.

“I had our athlete run the baseline and the autofocus was flawless; but that wasn’t unexpected,” she says. “I then had our athlete run at me for a drop shot. I was using the eye-detection and shooting 120 frames per second and with the athlete running full speed, straight at me, the camera didn’t miss! It was absolutely incredible.”

Below is a sequence from the Z9 of an athlete moving along the baseline:

tennis player chasing a ball along the baseline

And below is a second sequence of another athlete moving towards the camera:

Both of the above sequences were shot at 120 frames per second and compiled from the resulting stills. Below are a pair of example photos taken from the latter sequence (click to see full size):

“When working with multiple subjects or a crowded field, I would also consider using the 3D tracking mode to set my priority on a single player, and continuously track them as they move through the field,” she adds. “I get those frames and then I think, well let’s see what else we can do — and that is fun!”

The Nikon Z9 has a major distinguishing feature that sets it apart from any professional level camera before it: it does not have a mechanical shutter.

“I don’t miss the mechanical shutter at all,” Pottheiser says. “I am so enamored with everything that the camera has, I am not worried about what is no longer there. With the adjustable volume on the shutter, it’s the best of all worlds! Silent if I want it, a shutter sound if I want to feel like I have a mechanical shutter.”

Pottheiser says that when shooting sports, the viewfinder experience, in particular, is extremely important for her. She says that it needs to be comfortable for long periods of shooting but also precise and fast enough to keep up.

“The blackout-free viewfinder is enormously helpful for tracking subjects, and for keeping up with the action whether it’s on the field or in the studio,” she says.

“Every one of the new features in the body makes me more confident in what I do as a professional and allows me to deliver a better image to my client. The autofocus is off the charts, the silent shutter helps in so many situations, the blackout-free viewfinder makes shooting so much easier, the in-camera WiFi is so much more dependable. This camera is everything all rolled up into one and has checked off every one of my boxes for what I want in a body.

“There’s nothing I can compare the Z9 to — it is unlike any other body I have ever used.”

Pottheiser says she is really happy with a lot of the physical design choices Nikon made on the camera.

“Next time I see a Nikon engineer, I need to give them a Covid-safe hug! After a tough 2020 for so many of us, the fact that we can still use our CFexpress cards in the dual card slots, reliably use our F mount NIKKOR lenses with the new Mount Adapter FTZ II, and use our batteries from the D5 and D6, we can save money making the transition to fully mirrorless,” she says.

“The Z9 battery life was exceptional and lasted well beyond its rating — I am confident with one Z9 dedicated battery,” she adds.

“The engineers also made the buttons illuminated so we can see when shooting in the dark and so many fewer button pushes on the camera menu with simple toggles for quick adjustments. I loved the bright and seamless experience with the EVF, but the LCD screen also rotates visible metadata when you orient the camera into a vertical position, which is extremely helpful.

“The only complaint I have heard on the Z 9 is from my digital tech who has had more files than she knows what to do with. The engineers literally thought of everything with the Z 9. I can’t wait to get mine!”

Image credits: All photos by Jennifer Pottheiser and published with permission.