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9 things we know about the Nikon Z9

9 things we know about the Nikon Z9
(Image credit: Nikon)

The Nikon Z9 was announced in March, but the Big N revealed very little in the way of concrete information about the top-line Z-mount camera.

Since it was strictly a development announcement, Nikon essentially revealed that the Nikon Z9 is on the way but gave us next to nothing in the way of actual specifications or details. 

The moment of full launch is edging closer though - with Nikon now releasing video teasers to get us warmed up for the announcement. The first Z9 teaser gave us a better view of the tilting LCD screen round the back, whilst the second Z9 teaser strongly suggests that this camera can record 8K video in a warm climate for long takes without overheating problems. But we still don't know the precise specification.

• Read more: Best Nikon cameras

That doesn't mean that we're flying blind here, though! There is plenty that we do know about the Nikon Z9, both officially and unofficially, despite the dearth of details coming directly from the manufacturer. 

So, from the sensor resolution to the place in the product hierarchy, here are 9 things we know about the Nikon Z9…

1) 8K video

(Image credit: James Artaius)

One of the few details that the Big N did announce is that the Nikon Z9 will boast 8K video capability, putting it in the same league as the Canon EOS R5 and Sony A1

"In response to the growing needs of professionals, advanced enthusiasts and cinematographers, it includes support for 8K video recording as well as various other video specifications that fulfill diverse needs and workflows."

2) Full-frame stacked sensor

Also among the scant announcement info was the fact that the Z9 will, unsurprisingly, have a full-frame FX CMOS image sensor. What is surprising, however, is that this will be a newly developed stacked sensor. 

So, what is a stacked image sensor? It is a fabrication process whereby layers of both sensor and circuitry are be 'stacked' on top of one another, enabling manufacturers to make things like RAM an integrated part of the sensor itself. 

Accordingly, stacked sensors can perform blisteringly fast readout speeds – resulting in the unfathomably fast 30fps continuous burst shooting of the Sony A1 and Canon EOS R3

3) >39MP resolution

So, knowing that the Nikon Z9 is capable of 8K, and that it has a full-frame sensor, we know broadly what resolution it will have – because to output 8K, a requisite number of pixels are required. Indeed, in crude terms, we can look to the 45MP R5 and 50.1MP A1 and say that it's going to be in the same ball park – and a previous report suggested that the Z9 may have around the same resolution as the 45.7MP Nikon Z7 II

We don't just have to guesstimate, though! For full readout 8K on a standard 3:2 sensor, a 16:9 video would require 7,680 x 5,120 pixels – which would require at least a 39MP sensor. However, if the video is DCi then it would require 8,192 pixels – which means at least a 44MP sensor. 

So we can safely say that the Z9 will have at least a 39MP image sensor, and likely a lot higher.

Nikon Z9 teaser trailer screen grab

Nikon Z9, as seen in the second teaser video (Image credit: Nikon)

4) New Expeed 7 image processor

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon has confirmed that the Z9 will possess a brand new image processing engine – which, seeing as the current engine is the Expeed 6 (featured in cameras like the Nikon Z6 II, Nikon Z7 II and D6), will almost certainly be called Expeed 7. 

What do processors in cameras actually do? Well, they're effectively the 'brain' of the camera body. They handle all the complex computations: performing autofocus and subject detection, parsing stills and video data from the image sensor, providing calculations for image stabilization, corrections for lens aberrations, cleaning up noise from high ISO imaging… 

In short, while it's not a very sexy part of a spec sheet, the image processor is one of the most fundamental parts of a camera's DNA. 

5) D6-beating flagship

The Nikon Z9 will be the manufacturer's new flagship camera, replacing the Nikon D6 as the current king of the hill. And as confirmed by Nikon's Keiji Oishi – department manager of Nikon's Imaging Business Unit, UX Planning Department – it "is being developed with the goal of surpassing the D6." 

Clearly, with at least a 39MP sensor that's capable of 8K video, it's going to beat the D6 (with its 20.8MP and 4K) in terms of sheer resolution. However, what about speed? This is, after all, the most important aspect for a flagship camera that's aimed at professional sports photographers. 

The D6 boasts a top speed of 14fps burst shooting, which is barely worth a second glance when the Sony A1 hits 30fps and the Canon EOS R5, Canon EOS R6 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark III all hit 20fps. 

Given that the Nikon Z9 features a stacked sensor, it's reasonable to assume that it will hit at least the 20fps benchmark set by Canon – if not the lofty 30fps of the A1.

6) 'Pro DSLR' body

Nikon Z9 - as seen in the first official teaser video (Image credit: Nikon USA)

Traditionally, flagship cameras have featured an integrated vertical grip with mirrored controls for seamless switching between portrait and landscape shooting. 

Currently, the only other full-frame flagship mirrorless camera is the Sony A9 II, which eschews this 'professional DSLR' form factor in favor of a standard-sized body (with the option to add a vertical grip). However, the Z9 will follow in the footsteps of the D6 and 1D X Mark III with a larger body featuring the integrated grip and dual-control inputs. 

While this will no doubt add to the price, it should also afford the camera greater ruggedness, better handling and something else that's hugely important for the best professional cameras… 

The first official picture just showed the Z9 from the front (Image credit: Nikon)

7) Larger battery

One of the most important aspects of a flagship, professional camera isn't the resolution or even the speed – it's the battery life. Wildlife photographers can sit out in the field for days on end, and sports photographers gobble up power in a hurry when shooting at maximum burst modes, so battery life is important – and this is even more true when it comes to mirrorless cameras, which are much greedier than their DSLR counterparts.

The fact that the Nikon Z9 possesses the pro DSLR form factor means that it will also accommodate a huge, professional camera battery – something that mirrorless cameras until now have been sorely lacking. 

8) Physical observations

Nikon Z9 as spotted in use at the Tokyo Olympics (Image credit: Digital Camera Info / Twitter @Photolari)

Nikon has only released official images of the front of the body (though it does disclaim that "the appearance of the camera may differ from the photo shown"), but in July the Z9 was spotted being used at the Olympic Games in Tokyo – giving us a good look at the back of the body as well. And now we have seen a better view of the back in the two teaser videos that Nikon has recently released.

The Mode dial is replaced by a bank of buttons – the bracketing button is visible, there will likely be a Mode button to cycle between PASM, metering and WB functions. There's seems to be a locking knob next to it, suggesting that the bottom portion rotates – which could be for quick selection between single / continuous / self-timer / M-Up shooting modes. And the rubber hatches on the top will be for flash, and possibly Nikon's 10-pin interface.

Nikon clearly knew that the photo industry paparazzi would spot the Z9 at the Olympics, because all the leaked photos of it have what looks like a strip of duct tape on the hinge of the rear LCD – disguising whether or not it's a tilting or fully articulating screen (though the two finger tabs at the bottom-left and right suggest that it may only tilt). However, that aside, there's plenty of other takeaways from these glimpses.

The Z9 differs from the pro DSLR equivalent D6 in numerous ways, not least the omission of the smaller, secondary rear LCD screen. The button placement has also been significantly rearranged, and has more in common with the layout of the Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7.

9) 2021 release

Nikon announced that the Nikon Z9 is scheduled for release this year. Previous rumors have suggested that it will be in the hands of professionals shooting at the Tokyo Olympic Games in July, so that seems like an obvious time for a full announcement if not immediate availability. Either way, the Z9 is coming in 2021… and now the teaser videos have started we feel certain that the full announcement must be coming soon. 

Read more: 

Nikon D6 review
Nikon Z6 review
Nikon Z6 II review
Nikon Z7 review
Nikon Z7 II review
Nikon Z6 II vs Z7 II

James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a magazine and web journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients as diverse as Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photographic and lighting tutorials, as well as industry analysis, news and rumors for publications such as Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-PhotoDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and demonstrations at The Photography Show. An Olympus (Micro Four Thirds) and Canon (full frame) shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a particular fondness for vintage lenses and film cameras.