The new Nikon Z 9 is nearly a perfect camera for my needs. So how could it get even more perfect?
I’ve made no secret in my writings about the new Nikon Z 9 about how pleased I am with my purchase. I’ve written teasers and in-depth reviews of the system, and it’s safe to say that my words have been almost unanimously positive. This isn’t because I’m a Nikon fanboy. I have been shooting with Nikon for my entire career. So, I do like the brand. But, my gear closet also includes cameras and lenses from multiple other brands, which have also performed valiantly in the field. So, I am under no illusion that there is only one brand that is capable of producing an excellent photographic machine.
Instead, my words about the Z 9 have been so overwhelmingly positive because, despite having shot with it almost non-stop since getting mine at the end of last year, I have yet to find any major issues with the camera that would, in any way, hinder me from doing my best work. This opinion, of course, is highly dependent on my workflow. I am a commercial advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer. Many of my clients are large activewear brands, and I spend a great deal of time creating images of athletes and/or fitness models moving in dynamic motion. I’m not a photojournalist shooting from the sideline. I’m on an organized (or somewhat organized) set that I have lit and have some control over. I need to deliver both still photography as well as commercials, so I utilize both the Z 9’s high frame rate for stills and its high resolution for video. With its size and bulk, I realize the camera isn’t going to be the right tool for every photographer. But, until proven otherwise, it does seem to be the right tool for me.
Yet, because I offer full reviews and have promised you that I would mention the things I don’t like about the camera as well as the things that I do, I have been on the lookout for something less glowing to say. Not sure I’ve found anything to fully satisfy the haters yet. But I have found a few things I wish were better. Yet, as I scratched my brain to write an article about the disadvantages of the camera, I realized that virtually everything on my list was the type of things that could easily be fixed in firmware. For all I know, many of these things may already be on the way. So, rather than frame this essay as a listing of the defects of the Z 9, think of the following points as more of a wishlist for future firmware releases. Just in case Nikon happens to be reading this, hopefully, some of these items will make it into the next round of downloads.
Waveforms and False Color
Shooting in N-log and using the in-camera technical LUT preview, I have had absolutely no trouble exposing correctly in video. Just using the histogram, it is quite easy to nail your exposure. And I’ve found the files plenty malleable to push or pull exposure in post without sacrificing quality. But because, without a line of cinema cameras, the Z 9 is the most powerful video option Nikon makes, I’d love to see them throw in some additional monitoring functions that you would find in most cinema cameras.
Specifically, I’d love them to add a waveform as well as the option to use false color. For those who don’t do a lot of videos, think of these things as different ways to measure exposure. Both are more graphical than a traditional histogram and allow you to be a bit more precise in knowing the exposure of every detail in your scene. When trying to get the most accurate exposure straight out of the camera and manage lighting ratios, these tools can be absolute game-changers.
Updated N-log Profile
Nikon has already announced that an upcoming firmware update will include both ProRes RAW and a newly developed Nikon RAW video format. Until then, I’ve simply been shooting in ProRes HQ 4:2:2 using N-log. As I do post work through DaVinci Resolve Studio, my post-production color process is to use a DaVinci YRGB Color Managed workflow and simply assign the Input Color Space of the Z 9 clips to N-log. This gets me 99% of the way to where I want to be in most cases and ready to edit and/or make more creative color grades. I’ve never dissected the nuts and bolts of the N-log profile. I have neither the interest nor the skills to do so. But as many of the other camera systems I’ve used, including Sony and Canon, have had multiple flavors of the log over the years, usually corresponding with increased levels of dynamic range, I’d be curious to see what an N-log 2 profile might be able to bring to the table.
Don’t get me wrong. The N-log straight out of the Z 9 looks fantastic as is. But, I believe it’s the same log format as the original Z cameras? And I’m curious to know what is possible in terms of dynamic range with an updated edition.
Increased Integration With Post-Production Plugins
Until recently, the idea that Nikon would be a major player in the video market was simply unheard of. Sure, the still cameras have always been excellent. But, until the Z line, Nikon simply didn’t have much of a presence at the high end of the market. As I mentioned earlier, they still don’t have a cinema camera as of this writing. And the Z 9 is the best video camera they produce.
The good news is that they got it right with this camera. There’s a part of me that would love a full-sized Nikon cinema camera, but, in practical terms, I’ve found very little that the Z 9 can’t do. It is every bit as good as the competing mirrorless video options, if not better in many cases, and I plan to use it as much as I can perform my work.
One thing that I have noticed however is that when it comes to post-production, not as many 3rd party applications are set up for N-log as they are for the various flavors of S-log or C-log. It’s not that N-log isn’t included among the majors. As I said, I run it through DaVinci Resolve Studio every day, and it’s supported just fine. But there are some third-party plugins, like ones intended to add more film effects, that don’t yet include N-log as a default in their Input Gamma sets. They tend to include the big ones like Arri and Red. And they include S-log and C-log formats. But N-log isn’t always as well represented as the others.
This is not a surprise. Again, Nikon is relatively new to the game when it comes to establishing itself in the video market. And you can’t expect that every plug-in developer would have the bandwidth to keep up with every log format instantly. But, because the Z 9 has proven that Nikon is not only capable of competing, but also exceeding expectations in the video market, I’d love to start seeing that recognition showing up among all the third-party apps.
This is not a Nikon problem. It’s a third-party app developer problem. And it’s not something that can be fixed with firmware. More like a phone call. So, whoever’s job it is at Nikon to reach out to third-party developers and make sure they integrate Nikon cameras and log profiles into their software, it’s time to take out your Rolodex. Especially with the proposed new N-RAW video format coming. I’m hoping programs like DaVinci Resolve Studio will fully support the format once the firmware is available. I, for one, can’t wait to try out the combination. The Z 9 is a camera that can compete with any other camera on the market. As such, the post-production workflow should be just as fluid.
So, that’s it. Those are the only things I’ve found in my experience with the Z 9 so far that I’d like to add to the camera. My original plan was to include some still features on this list. But, honestly, I haven’t found anything on the photography front that I would change. Even the video features listed above are the type of things that could be fixed easily via a firmware update or a phone call to some 3rd party developers. If Nikon updates the firmware of the Z 9 with the same passion it has issued updates for the original Z 6 and Z 7 cameras, there is no telling what this camera is fully capable of. It’s already the perfect camera for my workflow. Is it possible it could get even better?