In January 2024, Nikon's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z9, was sent to NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to aid in research and documenting life among the stars. The Z9 was provided to 'capture iconic and breathtaking images of Earth and space in stellar quality and clarity'. The Z9 certainly has the ability to do that job, as not only is it one of the best Nikon cameras, but it is among the best mirrorless cameras on the market.
This marks a significant landmark in Nikon's history, as it is the first Z series, Nikon's mirrorless range, that has been used by the space station crew. The advancement in the Z9's mirrorless technology means that it will replace the existing inventory of Nikon D5 and D6 digital DSLRs previously used aboard. The shipment saw 13 Z9s along with 15 of the best Nikon Z lenses shipped via SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, along with several Nikon FTZ II adapters, for use with the current inventory.
Recently we reported on NASA testing the Nikon Z9 for use on on next Moon landings, with the Artemis III mission which is due to land on the south pole of the Moon in 2025.
For more than 50 years Nikon cameras and lenses have been used by NASA for space exploration on shuttles, ever since the Apollo 15 mission in 1971 and since 1999, they have been used aboard the orbiting laboratory of the ISS.
The Nikon Z series of cameras and lenses launched in 2018, and has been growing in popularity due to its rapidly expanding lineup. Constant firmware updates keep the best Nikon cameras fresh and future-proof, often adding boosts to performance and functionality. An example is a recent major update for the Nikon Z8 that enhances AF and pixel-shifting capabilities.
The Nikon Z9 has established itself as the flagship camera of the company, offering ' an extremely robust build, unwavering reliability for professionals, and next-generation technology'. It ranks extremely highly in our guide to the best mirrorless cameras and is a major workhorse for professionals and enthusiasts alike. The Z9s that have been sent to the ISS are physically unmodified, meaning that the one you can pick up off of the shelf is physically the same as those in space - a testament to its build quality!
Although not physically different, there is a significant change to the software. A custom dedicated firmware has been created by a collaboration between Nikon engineers and NASA to better serve the astronaut's workflow in space. Nikon states, "This includes expanding noise reduction to faster shutter speeds to account for the constant bombardment of cosmic radiation that the crew and gear are subject to about the space station. Additional changes have been made to the file naming sequence, as well as default settings and controls that are optimized for life aboard the orbiting laboratory and when enclosed in the protective covering for exterior missions. Changes have also been made to the in-camera FTP and transfer protocol to simplify the astronaut's workflow, increase efficiency, and reduce power consumption when sending images from space to Earth". Hopefully, non-space-based users can enjoy some of these extended features through a future firmware update!
Overall this is a superb accolade for the Nikon Z series and a testament to its flagship full-frame mirrorless camera.