Nikon dropped a surprise bombshell when it announced the Nikon Z9, confirming multiple recent rumors that a new high-end Z-mount camera is on the way.
However, this was strictly a development announcement for the Nikon Z9 – which means that, while Nikon told us that the Z9 is on the way, it revealed precious little in the way of actual specifications or information.
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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 in the announcement.
So here are the 9 things we know about the Nikon Z9…
1) 8K video
"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.
4) New Expeed 7 image processor
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, 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.
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
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…
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 battery – something that mirrorless cameras until now have been sorely lacking.
8) Physical observations
Given that Nikon has released an official image of the Z9 – though it does disclaim that "the appearance of the camera may differ from the photo shown" – we can make some observations based on what we can see.
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.
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… unless, of course, the COVID-caused production problems and supply chain shortages strike again.