Nikon Z9 Update is So Big, It Could Have Been a Whole New Camera
The Nikon Z9 is about to get a lot more powerful thanks to a free firmware update that adds in-camera 12-bit RAW video at up to 8K at 60 frames per second, oversampled 4K at 60 frames per second, a pre-release photo capture button, and so much more.
The updates to the Z9 are so substantial that it could easily have constituted a Z9 Mark II (just look at the minor differences between the Sony Alpha 9 and Alpha 9 II). Instead, Nikon is sending them to all Z9 owners for free later this month.
Taking Video Capture Seriously
The updates to the Z9 make Nikon’s flagship camera a serious video powerhouse. With the new Firmware 2.0 update, the camera can capture 12-bit internal RAW video in a range of frame rates and resolutions as well as will add functions and interface adjustments that are tuned specifically for videographers.
Footage can now be captured at up to 8.3K at 60 frames per second in Nikon’s new N-RAW format, or up to 4.1K at 60 frames per second in ProRes RAW HQ. N-RAW footage is captured at up to 8.3K (8256×4644 pixels) which allows for export in UHD or DCI 8K aspect ratios. Nikon says that N-RAW (which appears as a .NEV file) contains all the depth and detail of a 12-bit RAW video and crams it into a file that’s half the size of equivalent ProRes RAW HQ files. This capability is likely made possible thanks to Nikon’s integration of TicoRAW.
Nikon says that this upgrade gives the Z9 the ability to capture the largest possible color depth (with a range of more than 68 billion colors) and a huge amount of dynamic range, which is extremely useful to colorists and editors. N-RAW footage can be recorded in 8.3K 60p, 24p, or 4.1K 120p, 60p, 30p, 24p while in full-frame/FX mode, 3.8K 120p with a 2.3x crop, or 5.3K 60p, 30p, 24p with a DX (1.5x) crop. Anything shot in N-RAW is accompanied by an MP4 proxy file.
4K footage is also getting improved, and 4K 60 frames per second footage can now be oversampled from 8K footage. In addition to these improvements, Nikon is releasing a set of other upgrades for the flagship camera.
Firstly, a Red “REC” frame indicator on the monitor and viewfinder will be added during recording to easily identify when a video is being captured.
A Waveform monitor is coming that allows shooters to confirm the brightness levels and position of the subject while recording.
A new dedicated video info display gives various video recording settings at a glance, such as frame size and rate, audio settings, codec, bit depth, and HDMI output settings, all of which can be confirmed on a single screen. Additionally, a frame rate/size display on the top control panel helps to confirm when the rear monitor is difficult to view.
Four other video features are also coming to the Z9:
- A “Fine ISO control (Mode M)” enables exposure adjustment in increments of 1/6 EV for ultra-precise and smooth changes in exposure.
- The Fast AF-ON function allows a user to assign different AF speeds to separate controls. From a slow rack focus to a fast transition, two speeds are now assignable on customizable buttons to improve video shooting efficiency.
- To enable slow shutter video recording of extremely dark scenes or intentionally introduce blur when shooting video in M mode, the shutter speed can be set at a slower than 1/frame rate.
- With select frame rates and resolution settings, the user now has the ability to save consecutive frames in a selected section of video footage as a series of JPEG images while the playback is paused.
But it doesn’t stop with software improvements. Nikon has also revealed that it plans to release a new camcorder-style grip for the Z9 and a new first-party CFexpress card.
The company is developing the MC-N10 Remote Grip, which controls Nikon Z-mount mirrorless cameras via a wired connection. Nikon shows the grip attached to a fluid head arm which provides many of the buttons found on the camera itself but is positioned in a more advantageous location for use in professional video workflows. While primarily for video shooters, Nikon stipulates it also will work for still shooting.
Nikon’s MC-CF660G CFexpress Type B memory card will come in the unconventional capacity of 660 GB and promises a maximum read speed of approximately 1700 MB/s and a maximum write speed of approximately 1500 MB/s. The card is, unsurprisingly, designed to work well with the Z9 camera.
Nikon did not provide pricing or availability for the MC-N10 Remote Grip as it is still under development, but the MC-CF660G CFexpress Type B memory card is slated for release in June for $730.
Updates for Photographers, Too
Nikon’s Z9 updates feature huge performance gains for video shooters, but photographers haven’t been forgotten. To start with, Nikon is adding a Pre-Release Capture feature that it says will make it easier for photographers to nail fast-moving subjects that are hard to predict. The feature allows the Z9 to capture a burst of images up to a second before the shutter is fully pressed.
“Imagine trying to anticipate the most decisive moment of a game or action sequence,” Nikon explains. “When shooting at 30 or 120 frames per second in High-Speed Frame Capture+, the camera starts capturing up to one full second before the shutter is fully depressed, giving the photographer extra time to trigger the camera and still capture the most impactful shot. From the instant a receiver jumps for a pass in the end zone, or a bird dives into the water for a meal, the fastest fleeting frames will be captured before a human can physically react. When half-pressing the shutter, the camera can record frames up to one full second before and up to four seconds after the shutter is fully pressed, all with no viewfinder blackout or distractions that would otherwise interrupt the action.”
Nikon has also added a new menu option called Motion Blend. This feature, which will be found in the Retouch menu, creates an in-camera overlay from a series of subject movements from continuous shooting into a single picture in-camera.
Nikon is also adding 20 types of Custom Wide-Area AF selection patterns which gives photographers more control over what part of the frame they want to focus on. As shown below, this is useful for a variety of sports and situations such as volleyball or a finish line. 12 of these patterns are available for video capture.
Firmware 2.0 also enhances AF stability, tracking performance, and subject detection in low-light situations. Additionally, when reviewing images, users now have the option to skip to the first shot in a given burst. Finally, for capturing star trails and long exposures, Firmware 2.0 enhances the Z9’s Long Exposure display to include a live count of the exposure time. Users also can now dim the viewfinder further and with greater precision to preserve power and their night vision.
Nikon has a large number of other general functionality updates that round out the large number of changes coming to the Z9:
- Optional increase to 120 frames per second on the electronic viewfinder
- Auto Exposure (AE) has been enhanced to have more stable exposure with human faces, such as when a subject turns away from the camera and then faces it again, or when the composition changes.
- Improved “Prioritize viewfinder” monitor mode gives a familiar shooting and review flow.
- “Prefer sub-selector center” has been added to the custom menu, improving the operability of the sub-selector.
- Improvements in AWB even when the scene changes rapidly and adjustments to “Choose color temperature” and preset manual WB.
- A new custom setting: Focus Point Selection Speed allows users to adjust the speed that AF points can be moved through the frame.
- For confirmation of high-speed shooting, visual shutter release indicators appear clearly on the display and the Real Live Viewfinder.
- Enhanced memory set/recall function enables instant recall of several focus positions.
- “Recalling shooting functions (hold)” has been added to the conventional “Recalling shooting functions,” enabling the users to maintain the recalled function without continually pressing a button.
- The option to switch focus/control ring roles helps photographers who don’t need manual focusing employ the control ring.
Pricing and Availability
Altogether, Nikon’s Firmware 2.0 is a huge update for photographers and filmmakers with a ton of new features and several notable improvements to existing ones. The firmware update is free and can be downloaded on April 20 from Nikon’s website.
Nikon is also updating both the Z7 II and Z6 II with better autofocus performance in firmware version 1.40, available on the same day, which enhances the stability of the autofocus and prevents the focus point from unintentionally moving to the background.
Image credits: All photos courtesy of Nikon.