The Nikon Z9 might just be Nikon's best camera release ever – even if you can't get one – but it wouldn't have been possible without the insight and feedback of photographers at Agence France-Presse (AFP). For more than 20 years, Nikon has worked closely with the news agency which consists of more than 450 photographers, most of which choose to shoot with Nikon cameras.
As one of the world's leading news agencies, AFP provides global coverage of current affairs, conflict zones, social and environmental issues, politics, culture and sport. So when plans started for the Nikon Z9 three years ago, who better to help with the development of the new camera system from an abstract prototype to an industry-changing, powerhouse of a camera.
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At the forefront of the evolution of the Nikon Z9 were François-Xavier Marit and Antonin Thuillier who are both technical chiefs at AFP. François recounts how the life of the Z9 began. " During our first meetings we were shown just a very abstract model of the camera: a plastic box with false buttons. That was our first view of the Z 9 and it was designed to test our reaction to the early model, how it felt to hold, handle and operate."
From that initial prototype to the final product, the pair discussed the repositioning of the playback button from the top left to the lower right of the camera body. They both agreed they wanted to bring the AF mode button back, a popular feature on Nikon DSLRs as it allows photographers to easily switch between manual and autofocus.
It wasn't just François and Antonin who were fundamental in the development of the Z9 but many AFP photographers who provided feedback, improvements and changes in order for the camera to be the best it could be. Even today, firmware updates are discussed with the AFP team to figure out how they can best improve the user experience.
“We speak with the Nikon engineers and they’re in another world,” says Antonin. “We can come up with the ideas and say what photographers want but the real challenge is for Nikon – how can they actually realize the wants and needs of photographers through the technology they're creating?
While both Antonin and François share a lot of love for the Nikon Z9, its standout feature for the pair is the incredibly high-quality, EVF viewfinder which enables wildlife, sports photographers and photojournalists, to push the boundaries of photo and video thanks to its rapid response time and true to life image.
AFP's relationship with Nikon has meant that the Nikon Z9 has been developed directly with the people who are going to use it most and therefore each and every feature has been carefully considered for use in the field. With special firmware loaded onto François and Antonin's equipment, they are able to put the kit through its paces before revealing the updates to the public a benefit for both AFP, Nikon and Nikon users.
The relationship between Nikon and AFP doesn't stop at the Nikon Z9 but rather extends to come up with ideas on how to make image sharing more efficient. With the Nikon Z9's ability to shoot at up to 120fps, the number of images you can capture is phenomenal and the next challenge is how Nikon can effectively help photographers manage the volume of images.
Opening the communication channels between Nikon and AFP has enabled Nikon to produce an extremely advanced camera that works in a way users need it to. By listening to the feedback of experts in the field, Nikon's engineers in Japan have been able to hone in on the features that make the camera effortless to use. As Antonin says, without the support of NPS they couldn't do their jobs and likewise Nikon couldn't have launched such an important camera without the insight of AFP.