Nikon in 2023: Cutting-edge flagships to film camera throwbacks

Nikon Z8 vs Z9
(Image credit: Future)

After the launch of the Nikon Z9 in 2022, it was hard to see how it could possibly top that in 2023 – and yet it did. The Z8 borrows a lot of the tech from the Z9, so it’s not exactly a new camera as such, but it’s definitely a new concept – a ‘baby’ Z9 with almost all the power of Nikon’s flagship pro camera.

But that wasn’t the end of. Rumors were also circulating around a ‘full frame Nikon Z fc’ using the same combination of retro Nikon styling and modern digital technologies. The rumors were true. What’s more, the Nikon Zf took a step forward in build quality and finesse, a grown up alternative to the pretty but plasticky Nikon Z fc.

We didn’t just get two new full frame Nikon Z cameras – we also got a positive deluge of new lenses, both from Nikon and from third-party lens makers. We were especially pleased to see Nikon’s Z DX cameras get some support with a new ultra-wide power zoom and a fast prime.

So let’s go on a little trip through 2023 to see how Nikon’s year unfolded…

January 2023

(Image credit: Cosina)

Nikon has been spoiling us with new Z-mount cameras, but what about lenses? 2023 gets off to a fast start for Nikon fans with a development announcement for two new lenses – which could hardly be more different. The Nikkor Z 85mm f/1.2 S will be a hefty portrait prime with a super-fast maximum aperture for pro users, while the dinky little Nikkor Z 26mm f/2.8 pancake lens will be an ultra-portable low cost prime ideal for travel or street photography.

There are more lenses in the pipeline, this time from legendary lens brand Voigtländer. The Voigtländer Nokton 50mm f/1 will be an ultra-fast ‘nifty fifty’, not quite as fast as Nikon’s 58mm f/0.95 Noct but a fraction of the size. The Voigtländer Super-Weide Heliar 15mm f/4.5 Aspherical, meanwhile, looks like a very handy wide prime lens for landscapes and interiors.

Otherwise, it’s a month of firmware updates. With firmware version 2.40, the Nikon Z50 gets eye-detect AF for video, while four of Nikon’s super-telephoto lenses get a version 1.10 update to add control customization features – the Nikkor Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S, Nikkor Z 600mm f/4 TC VR S, Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S and Nikkor Z 400mm f/4.5 VR S. There’s even a Nikon D850 firmware update, six years after this camera was first launched.

Still in retro-land, we publish our Nikon FE review, a classic 35mm SLR from the 1980s and surely the inspiration behind the Nikon Z fc. We also check out the best lenses for the Nikon D800, a ground-breaking camera in its time and still an effective professional tool today.

February 2023

(Image credit: Sigma)

Lenses are still in the news in February as patents emerge for three new Nikon Phase Fresnel lens designs, including a 400mm f/4.5, 600mm f/5.6 and 1000mm f/8. PF lenses use special optical elements to reduce size and weight and control aberrations. A lot can happen between patent registrations and actual product launches, but there’s more definite news from Sigma, which announces Nikkor Z versions of three lenses – the 16mm, 30mm and 56mm f/1.4 Contemporary primes. These are APS-C/DX format lenses, which will be music to the ears of Nikon Z30, Z40 and Z fc owners.

The BIG news for February, though, is that Nikon wants us to save the date – March 25th – for a major announcement? Could this be the much anticipated Nikon Z8? If so, this could be the camera launch of the year, not just from Nikon but from ANYONE.

March 2023

(Image credit: James Artaius)

While everyone was buzzing with rumors of a Nikon Z8, another rumor dropped as a Nikon exec revealed there could be a retro themed full frame version of the Nikon Z fc. Indeed, we hear that this new camera is already in development.

We also get our hands on one of the new Nikkor Z lenses announced in January – Matthew Richards posts his Nikon Z 26mm f/2.8 review and comes away impressed. Editor James Artaius is even more impressed by the 125x optical zoom of the Nikon P1000 bridge camera. It’s a tiny sensor in a huge camera, but you can’t argue with the magnification. Giant US retailer B&H, meanwhile, shares its list of the top-selling Nikon Z lenses in 2022.

So what about Nikon’s ‘save the date’? We had to wait until the following month to release the news we’d all been waiting for.

April 2023

(Image credit: Nikon)

First, some rumors, leaks and lenses. Speculation about the Nikon Z8 is rife and what looks like a major Nikon Z8 leak reveals some key details. The story about a full frame Z fc isn’t going away, either, though there are other contenders.

While we wait for the Z8, Nikon announces the Nikon Z DX 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ VR, an ultra-wide power-zoom for its APS-C/DX Nikkor Z cameras. About time too, we say. This could prove as important for this end of the market as the Z8 will be for pros. And Matthew Richards’ Nikon Z 85mm f/1.2 S review has the definitive verdict on the pro portrait lens first announced in January. 

But then we get the main event – the Nikon Z8 launch. Or do we? NO! It’s a countdown timer for May 10th. Oh, come ON.

May 2023

(Image credit: Nikon)

At last! The Nikon Z8 is finally, officially, announced. The new Nikon is everything we hoped and more. Nikon says customers wanted a ‘baby’ Z9, and that’s what they’ve got, but packed with power and features, including a stacked 45MP sensor and – amazingly – 8K 60p video. We got our hands on a sample for our Nikon Z8 review and we were not disappointed. The Z8 takes the same bold step as the Z9, already Nikon’s best-selling flagship camera since the D3, in ditching a mechanical shutter completely.

In other news (yes, there was other Nikon news in May), the Nikkor Z DX 24mm f/1.7 is announced as a much-needed fast prime lens for Nikon’s DX format Z-mount cameras, and independent lens maker 7artisans drops a budget 24mm f/1.4 APS-C lens at a hard-to-believe price.

June 2023

(Image credit: Nikon)

The Nikon Z8 launch has had quite an impact. We report how the Nikon Z8 is “is smashing across Japan like Godzilla”, though let’s not forget about the Nikon Z9 either. As we compare the specs of the Nikon Z8 vs Z9 (and the Nikon Z8 vs D850, just to include Nikon’s legendary pro DSLR), Nikon releases a clever Nikon Z9 Auto Capture firmware update with a bunch of other enhancements too.

The speed of both the Nikon Z8 and Z9 makes them top-flight sports and wildlife cameras, so the new Nikkor Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR super-telephoto zoom looks the perfect match, right? Actually, though, this is more of a ‘consumer’ lens priced to be within reach for enthusiasts, not just pros, and it’s been on the Nikon lens roadmap for a while.

If the 180-600mm is just a little too long, Nikon also launches a new Nikkor Z 70-180mm f/2.8 constant aperture zoom that has the same maximum aperture as the S-line 70-200mm pro lens, but is smaller, cheaper and lighter. We also get to review the Nikkor Z DX 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ VR ultra-wide zoom for Nikon Z DX format cameras.

July 2023

(Image credit: Future)

Are we never satisfied? No sooner have we got over the arrival of the amazing Nikon Z8 than we’re looking ahead to the next launch. The rumors of a new full frame Nikon Z fc, reportedly "about as ergonomic as a brick", are gaining momentum. This prompts us to revisit our Nikon Df review, Nikon’s retro-themed full frame DSLR which, in view of today’s resurgence in interest in retro cameras, was probably just a few years ahead of its time. DSLRs do still have a big fan base, including N-Photo magazine’s Mike Harris, who buys a Nikon D850, while the author of this very article (ahem) picked up a used D800 and loves it.

Meanwhile, it seems as if every month brings more Nikon lens news. This time it’s the announcement of a super-fast Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 Di III VXD zoom and a very interesting looking Viltrox 75mm f/1.2 AF telephoto prime. This is an APS-C lens, so it’s equivalent to around 112.5mm in full frame camera terms. It’s not just ridiculously fast, but has autofocus too. Also, we publish our full Nikon Z DX 24mm f/1.7 review, Nikon’s very handy-looking fast prime lens for the Z30, Z50 and Z fc.

August 2023

(Image credit: Future)

Everything goes quiet in August. We find out that the Nikon’s full frame retro camera is definitely coming as the Nikon Japan website accidentally listed the Nikon Zf ahead of its launch, and the Nikon Z8 scoops the EISA Camera of the Year award. And remember Nikon’s announcement of its new low-cost constant-aperture telephoto zoom? We get a sample for our Nikon Z 70-180mm f/2.8 review – and we like it a lot. 

September 2023

(Image credit: Matthew Richards)

It’s here! The Nikon Zf is launched, and Reviews Editor Gareth Bevan already thinks it’s the true successor to the Nikon FM2. Key specs include a full frame 24MP sensor, external shutter speed and ISO dials and superior build quality to the Nikon Z fc. But what are the other differences? Our Nikon Zf vs Z fc comparison spells them out.

There’s more. Nikon announces a new Nikon Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena lens, its first ‘signature’ lens since the Noct. So what does ‘Plena’ actually mean? Is it some obscure optical design, a new method of construction, a special physical property? None of the above. It’s kind of based around the idea of ‘plenty’, and for a 135mm lens, an f/1.8 maximum aperture is certainly ‘plenty’.

And swapping plenty of bokeh for plenty of reach, we get to review the Nikon Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR, the first affordable super-telephoto for the Nikon Z system. We say ‘affordable’, but probably only for the keenest enthusiasts.

October 2023

(Image credit: Gareth Bevan / Digital Camera World)

Our Nikon Zf review goes live, and reviews ed Gareth Bevan is smitten by its retro looks and modern specs. It sparks a wave of nostalgia from the DCW crew. The Editor of Australian Camera Magazine Paul Burrows says “the Nikon Zf brings back memories of my love affair with the Nikon FM2… and I am being seduced once again”, but Gareth is more cautious, musing that “testing the Nikon Zf has made me rethink if I want a digital Canon AE-1”. 

Incidentally, if you’re put off by the cost of the new Nikkor Z 180-600mm f/5.6-6.3 VR we reviewed in September, take a look at the new Tamron 150-500mm F/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD. It will offer most of the reach but at half the price. Nikon is watching your cash for you too, by announcing a new Nikkor Z 600mm f/6.3 VR S super-telephoto that’s cheaper and lighter than the f/4 pro version – though still expensive by any ordinary standards.

November 2023

(Image credit: Nikon)

November brought no new launches but an important anniversary – 2023 marks 90 years of Nikkor lenses. The Nikkor brand name actually appeared in 1932, and has since been used across Nikon’s lens portfolio right through to the present day and its Nikkor Z lenses. We reviewed two of its latest offerings. Our Nikkor Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena review confirmed what we expected all along – razor-sharp resolution and fabulous bokeh. Our Nikkor Z 600mm f/6.3 VR S review, meanwhile, left us impressed by its optical quality and light weight, but with mixed feelings about its f/6.3 maximum aperture and stiff price.

December 2023

(Image credit: PCH Pro Shop)

Perhaps we should call this the year of the super-telephoto? We post a story on Nikon's "monster of zooms", its 30-year-old Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED. It’s a five minute walk just to put the lens cap back on!

There certainly seems to have been an explosion of interest in telephotos in and around the Nikon Z ecosystem. But is there a cheaper and more convenient alternative to super-expensive super-tele lenses? We round off 2023 with a review of the Nikon Z Teleconverter TC-1.4x and Nikon Z Teleconverter TC-2.0x, which fit between a (compatible) telephoto and the camera body to provide 1.4x and 2x magnification respectively. What’s more, Lab Manager and lens tester Ben Andrews checks Nikon’s claim that the TC-1.4x and TC-2.0x don’t adversely affect image quality. Can this really be true?

So that’s it for Nikon in 2023. It’s been a wild ride, and we don’t even know what’s round the corner in 2024.

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Rod Lawton
Contributor

Rod is an independent photography journalist and editor, and a long-standing Digital Camera World contributor, having previously worked as DCW's Group Reviews editor. Before that he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar, as well as contributing to many other publications. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more. Rod has his own camera gear blog at fotovolo.com but also writes about photo-editing applications and techniques at lifeafterphotoshop.com