Nikon Z9 Wildlife Impressions: Libor Vaicenbacher

Just as children look ahead to Christmas, many wildlife professional photographers in 2021 have also been centered on the end of the year. There is no benefits causing all the buzz? It’s exactly the same as it is for the children: Wildlife photographers are looking forward to getting new toys.

Sony already had a gift for their users by means of the A1 camera, that was announced back in January of 2021. Fans of Canon and Nikon have had to await a bit longer but are actually taking their first pre-orders for the Canon EOS R3 and Nikon Z9 cameras.

Most duplicates of the Nikon Z9 never have shipped quite yet, but luckily one demo duplicate of the Z9 arrived in the guts of Europe a few weeks ago. I had fashioned a chance to test it recently plus will  take a closer look at it in this article.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6 + 1 . 4x @ 700 millimeter, ISO 2000, 1/3200 following, f/8. 0

Since my main photographic interest is parrot photography, this first appearance will correspond to that style. Don’t expect an in-depth review just yet, as you are used to on Photography Living, but rather the first observations I’ve gathered during my brief period with the Z9 for photographing wildlife.

And what qualities make a camera the ideal choice for wildlife photography? The perfect camera should be…

Fast as a Peregrine Falcon

Couple of photographic genres put just as much emphasis on the speed of the camera/photographer pair as wildlife digital photography. Perhaps only sports photographers could argue with me which they too need superfast cameras with the fastest lenses. But hand on heart, as breathtaking as it is to watch the human sprinter chasing an Olympic medal, they are only doing a light trot compared to animal athletes.

And what about motorsport? Yes, the speeds there are comparable to those of the fastest animals, but in the case of motorsports, the trajectory of movement is usually quite predictable. When we want to give a camera’s rate a real challenge, we should look among those animal “champions, ” and none are quicker than birds of victim.   It was on 2 such birds that I put the new camera’s capabilities towards the test. A Eurasian Golden Eagle served as my model, and to get some global overlap, an American Harris Hawk also took part.

Nikon Z9 + 400 mm f/2. 6, ISO 3200, 1/2000 following, f/5. 0

I use the word “speed” all the time, but what do I mean by that? It’s one thing for a bird to fly fast, but what about a digital camera?

First of all, it is the autofocus speed and tracking capabilities. And this is the area where Nikon’s mirrorless cameras have been slightly at the rear of the world’s top performers in recent years, such as Sony and much more recently Canon.

In the (now historical) era of DSLRs, Nikon was on the leading edge with its focusing. But the situation changed considerably with the Z system, i. e. mirrorless cameras. Although Nikon’s mirrorless cameras possess dedicated modes for people, cat, and dog eye focusing, it’s not like I focus strictly on these three types of organisms. For parrot photographers like me, what stayed were the standard focusing modes (dynamic area, wide region or 3D-tracking), none of which usually worked quite convincingly.

In fact , I attained significantly higher success rates designed for bird photography with our time-proven DSLR, the Nikon D500. Wherever I placed the focus point (usually the dynamic area), that’s where I focused, and the digital camera tracked it as it transferred. Simple, reliable and mostly effective.

Cut to December 11, 2021. I’m holding the new Z9 in my hand for the first time. The Golden Eagle is flying straight at me with around 80 km/h (50 mph for my American friends). I raise my camera to my eye and aim. Not on the attention, as I’m used to, but… well, just on the novelty helmet. The camera finds the attention by itself! It’s working! Properly, okay, it doesn’t work 100%, but I get rid of at most a few shots through each sequence that are a little out of focus. Plus, I must take into account that I’m holding a pre-production sample with an adapted lens, the Nikon 500 mm f/5. 6 AF-S PF.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6, ISO 2500, 1/2000 second, f/5. six

Going back to the DSLR era, focusing was much more like shooting a moving target. You needed to hold the AF point on the animal’s head, ideally on the eye. If the bird in the viewfinder moved out of the focusing area formed by the main point and its nearest mates (dynamic area), you’d no longer be focusing where you needed. Even if you chose the slower 3D-tracking AF area mode to incorporate all the available focus points, they’d still be centered within the viewfinder.

Nikon D810 Viewfinder
Nikon D810 DSLR viewfinder

A general advantage of mirrorless cameras is that their focus points cover virtually the entire area of the viewfinder. And when those extra points work as they should, it’s seamless. I tested this particular on the Z9 with composing the birds near the advantage of the frame. And their eyes remained as sharpened as their eyes can be! I discovered it helped me be more of the photographer and less of the target shooter.

Nikon Z9 + 24-120 mm f/4. 0 @ 24 mm, ISO 5000, 1/2500 second, f/7. one

On the other hand, we can’t have impractical expectations of the Z9 possibly. It’s not like you can stage your lens into a tangled thicket and the camera will find the animal as easily because the space invader in the film Predator.

Nevertheless , I found that the Z9’s customizable buttons helped in these situations. I set Animal Eyes Recognition to a button near my index finger, 3D-Tracking at my thumb, and the old-fashioned Dynamic Area mode at my middle finger. I could after that quickly select between this arsenal of modes based on what my subject necessary.

One setting that surprised me has been 3D-Tracking. In this mode, you select the initial focusing and the digital camera follows that part of the subject matter around the frame. I found that 3D-Tracking was sensitive to the eyes within the viewfinder, so if your subject’s eye is visible, it tends to stick with it.   I never normally used 3D-Tracking mode on a DSLR and always immediately reverted to Dynamic Area. But on my future Z9 (yes, I’m planning to buy one after doing this test) it will require up permanent residence among my main focus settings.   The new rules from the game are compose, allow AF do its work, and wait for something interesting to happen. Wonderful!

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6, INTERNATIONALE ORGANISATION FÜR STANDARDISIERUNG 160, 1/800 second, f/6. 3

So we’re in concentrate. Now we just want to capture the dynamic scene in front of us. My D500 can shoot at 10 fps (FPS). If I were to grab the mirror-equipped flagship, the particular D6, it would already become 14 FPS. The mirrorless Z6II and Z7II offer 10 and 9 frames per second respectively (at 14-bit RAW). And what about the Z9? Prepare yourself for the delete key on your own keyboard to suffer a great deal. A five-second sequence with all the Z9’s 20 FPS filming will write as many as a hundred 14-bit RAW photos towards the card.

Competition (Canon R3 and Sony A1) can do even further, up to 30 FPS RAW files – albeit with some minor limitations in both cases. In case you don’t insist on the particular RAW format, the Z9 can also do 30 FPS in JPEG and up in order to 120 FPS in JPEG if you shoot 11-megapixel reduced resolution. And what is the point of such a high frame rate? A grazing deer or an owl sitting motionless on a branch don’t require such speed. But when photographing a flying bird of prey or a toucan visiting a nest, for example , every single frame per second could be good.

Nikon Z9 + 500 millimeter f/5. 6, ISO 2500, 1/2000 second, f/5. six

An additional part of “speed” to me will be the camera’s viewfinder. Let’s keep aside the Z9’s  resolution and brightness for now plus focus purely on swiftness.

For informal shooting, I had nothing to complain about the display in the earlier viewfinder of the Nikon Z6 and Z7. However , whenever shooting more action-packed moments, I found myself somewhat lost in the jerky and slightly delayed reality when shooting at the maximum FPS. Indeed, it’s something to get utilized to, but the optical viewfinder was obviously a more pleasant alternative for me.

On the other hand, the Z9 viewfinder is exactly as it needs to be. Not only is it beautifully bright and with a resolution that I think is enough, but most importantly it is truly blackout-free.

Nikon Z9 + 500 millimeter f/5. 6, ISO 1100, 1/2500 second, f/6. 3 or more

Should you be concerned that you’ll skip the frenetic slapping of the mirror, it is actually possible to set flashing lines around the edges of the field of look at. And if you’re concerned about missing the traditional sound of the match or shutter (since the Z9 has neither), you are able to simulate those, too, with all the built-in speaker. But in time, I think many photographers may realize they don’t need to hear those sounds to be able to time their photos properly.

And that brings me to another important function of a high-end wildlife device. It should be…

Quiet as a Barn Owl

This owl can glide through the night so silently that its prey would never know. And the Z9 has a similar relationship with its “prey. ”

If you’ve ever worked with the DSLR, you know what I’m mentioning. “Do you take Jane…CLICK! CLICK! … to be your lawfully wedded wife? ” …CLICK! CLICK! … “I do” …CLICK! CLICK! CLICK ON! CLICK! CLICK! …

Now imagine there is no mirror, no shutter, just absolute silence. I love that scenario much more, do not you? And animals enjoy it too.   Unlike the bride, they often run away following the first “CLICK”!

Nikon Z9 + 400 mm f/2. 8, INTERNATIONALE ORGANISATION FÜR STANDARDISIERUNG 1600, 1/2500 second, f/5. 6

The Nikon Z9 may be the first camera of its type to not only have no looking glass, but also no mechanical shutter. It operates in full silence, unless you choose in the menu for the speaker system to produce clicking noises. (Other mirrorless cameras can also shoot in silence in electronic shutter setting, but many have electronic window shutters with slow read rates of speed not intended for photographing quick action. )

There’s another added value of the Z9’s design: The non-existent shutter has a non-existent failure rate. All mechanised shutters will fail eventually and be an expensive repair whenever they do. This might not issue for landscape photographers who all pride themselves on taking only the best few number of photos, but wildlife professional photographers are a bit different!

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. six + 1 . 4x @ 700 mm, ISO 2500, 1/1250 second, f/8. 0

Exactly why, you may ask, didn’t some manufacturer decide to remove the mechanical shutter sooner? The reason is that will conventional sensors suffer from image distortion (rolling shutter effect) when combining an electronic shutter with a fast-moving subject. It is because the camera does not read the entire scene as a whole, but in the same way as we read through a book. That is, rather slowly from top to bottom. The difference is that when reading a book, the story at the end of the page does not transformation as we read. But the picture in front of the camera cannot be ended. The result will then be, for instance , a stampeding cheetah along with crooked legs or a hovering hummingbird with wings within an arc. The stacked messfühler in the Z9 can read the scene so quickly that I couldn’t conjure up the previously mentioned deformities.

Nikon Z9 + 500 millimeter f/5. 6, ISO 560, 1/2000 second, f/6. 3 or more

I discovered the Z9’s silence – combined with no rolling shutter – to be a great feature for the wildlife photos in this article. But there are other features that issue in a wildlife camera, too.   One of the reasons I’ve tied to my D500 so far continues to be its battery life. I just need my camera to be…

Persistent as being a Bar-Tailed Godwit

The bar-tailed godwit is a record-holder among migratory wild birds. It managed to cover 12, 000 km / 7500 miles in a single flight with no “recharge” during its journey from Alaska to Brand new Zealand. Meanwhile, as a professional photographer, I’m satisfied if I could possibly get through a single day of intense photography without recharging my camera! That was a challenge also for the Nikon D500.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. six, ISO 2500, 1/2000 second, f/5. 6

In this case, the those who win for photography have been the best flagship DSLRs like the Nikon D5 and D6. As for mirrorless cameras, during my last workshop in Ecuador, there were the Z6 II plus Z7 II to test. They will held up valiantly (and better than their specifications would suggest), but we still had to carry three batteries for each camera.

I haven’t had a chance to take notice of the Z9’s behavior long-term, but I find the result of 65% battery after about 5000 shots and GPS completely on very promising. Of course , I shot in quick bursts, which is relatively battery power friendly. If I were to make use of the camera for landscape pictures, for example , the ratio of power ingested per frame would be a lot less favorable.

Nikon Z9 + 500 millimeter f/5. 6, ISO 640, 1/1250 second, f/5. 6

So , the Z9 may not be seeing that persistent as the Bar-tailed Godwit, but I can certainly picture shooting all day with one particular battery. The pro Digital slrs still hold the crown here, but the Z9 appears to last longer than my D500 on a single charge.

And that provides me to the next feature I actually look for in a wildlife digital camera. Many of the best photos associated with animals are taken in great weather conditions. A camera that I bring to such conditions need to be…

Challenging as an Emperor Penguin

Well, I wouldn’t work in minus 70 degrees Celsius like an emperor penguin, so I’m not really inquiring that of my camera. Yet I do expect it to work in very cold conditions and also be dragged through moist tropical vegetation.

I treat my gear fairly. I want it to withstand the same conditions as I do, and I try not to plunge it into  the mud or else physically torture it.

This is one area that really needs long-term screening to determine for sure. As it has been, I used the Z9 in the snow and cold of the Czech Republic in December – which is to say, cold, but not emperor-penguin-level cold – also it kept working without a hiccup. Hopefully that remains true in conditions worse compared to this.

Nikon Z9 + 24-120 mm f/4. 0 @ 24 mm, ISO 5000, 1/1600 second, f/8. 0

But the camera is first and foremost a good artistic tool, so it ought to have…

Colors like Wilson’s Bird-of-Paradise

The beautiful Wilson’s bird-of-paradise is more than just radiant tones of red, blue, and yellow. It also provides thousands of earthy shades associated with brown, grey, and environment friendly that our eyes are sensitive to – and that is analogous to what I want to catch with my cameras.

When it comes to color, I’ve never complained about the Nikon palette, and I’ve frequently appreciated the high dynamic variety. As for the Z9, I’m still waiting on my normal software to support the 14-bit lossless compressed RAW documents I’ve captured. But the current impression is that the 45. 7-megapixel quality here is not really a revolution over the D850, Z7, or Z7 II. Nevertheless , it is substantially better than the 20. 8-megapixel Nikon D6.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6, ISO 2500, 1/2000 second, f/5. 6

Over the last fifteen years or so, Nikon’s range topping cameras have had pretty shy resolution increases. That is no more true. The Z9 handles to achieve high resolution and the higher speeds of a flagship simultaneously. So , while I are brave enough say the Z9 is no better than the Z7 II in image quality, the particular Z9’s high speed is more than enough to justify the new camera sensor style to me.

But this faster processing does result in a bigger camera entire body than usual for a mirrorless camera. Remember, the best camera is the one you have along with you. So , the optimal camera regarding wildlife photography shouldn’t be unnecessarily heavy, and rather should be…

Light as a Bee Hummingbird

Okay, I may have slightly exaggerated right here. The Nikon Z9, in 1340 g / a few. 0 lbs, actually weighs about the same as 750 bee hummingbirds!

Compared to its predecessor from the older era, the D6, it offers lost 100 grams (a full 55 bee hummingbirds). But it’s still a heavy camera that you can feel on your own neck.

With its built-in vertical grip, the Z9 has the build of the pro camera at first glance. I might definitely refrain from adjectives like compact or tiny, although it fits great in the hands. Sony bet on a various concept with the A1 and left the vertical hold as an optional accessory.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6 + 1 . 4x @ 700 mm, ISO 2500, 1/3200 second, f/8. 0

Individually, though, I like the monoblock more. What makes me believe so? The beefier entire body forms a more balanced unit with the heavier telephoto lens. The monoblock also provides more robust and durable impression. I do occasionally put the camera down on wet ground, and I view the battery door or the connections between the grip and the entire body as a possible gateway to wetness, dirt and thus problems.

But the main advantage is in vertical shooting, that is seamless on the Z9. The particular vertical shutter is accessible at any time, as are all the other controls. Perhaps you have tried to compose handheld inside a portrait mode with a weighty lens? Without the vertical grasp, it’s an agony with little chance of a good ending.

Nikon Z9 + 70-200mm f/4 @ 200 mm, ISO 560, 1/1000 second, f/4. 0


After reading everything above, you may have got the impression that I feel uncritical of the new Z9. But it’s very hard to be critical of a camera straight into which Nikon has place the best of what it currently offers available. It took a while for the developers to achieve this, but at the same time they were able to prevent the mistakes for which the Z6 and Z7 models are actually criticized in the past.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6 + 1 . 4x @ 700 mm, ISO 1600, 1/3200 second, f/8. 0

It’s the little easier to surpass the particular bar set by the competitors than to set a completely new one. The Z9 is an amazing camera but is no doubt learning from the Sony A1 and the Canon EOS R5 (as well since the EOS R3).   It is a classic example of healthy competition that all parties benefit from.

Is there any room left for criticism? The most common criticism associated with the top types of all brands is their own price. Yes, it’s not low here either. But despite this, the Z9 isn’t since expensive as many expected, and it also costs less than similar versions from Canon and Sony. With a price of $5, 497, it is actually $1, 000 lower than the current price of its old sibling, the D6.

But the cost does not end with the purchase of the camera. The huge amount associated with data flowing out of the Z9 in continuous shooting (not to mention 8K video) locations unprecedented demands on memory space cards. Did you think you needed the fastest ones? With the Z9, you may have to rethink your opinion expensively. The between the “very fast” and “super fast” cards We used for the test was noticeable.

Nikon Z9 + 500 mm f/5. 6, ISO 2500, 1/2000 second, f/5. 6

Another minimal negative is for those who want to work with flash in daytime. The fastest shutter synchronize time on the Z9 is usually 1/200 second, which is not as fast as on most cameras of the level (which are usually 1/250 or 1/320 instead). I personally also find the protruding fittings a bit ergonomically inconvenient. Earning the lens release button harder to reach for the index finger. I guess I’ll have to learn to release the lens in a different way. But that’s where my criticism ends for now.

Nikon Z9 + 500 millimeter f/5. 6, ISO a thousand, 1/1250 second, f/5. six

So , what can I look forward to whenever it’s my turn in the long line of people interested in the Z9? I’m looking forward to a body that includes tremendous speed with first-class image quality. It also finally has focusing at the level that the excellent Z system lenses deserve, especially sports-oriented lenses like the Z 70-200mm f/2. 8. It’s the top-notch camcorder if that is your style.

Nikon Z9 + 400 millimeter f/2. 8, ISO 3200, 1/2000 second, f/5. 0

Primarily, though, the Z9 is really a camera body that places Nikon back in the game, Artist style. It seemed as though Nikon’s hopes looked grim in the face of the competition. A few punches to the viewfinder, a leg kick to the screen, a left hook to the shutter release area. Competition almost everywhere you looked. But on the last moment, Nikon obtained up and struck back again at everyone in what, depending on my impressions, is a great comeback.

Editor’s note: Thank you to Libor for sending us all his impressions of the Nikon Z9 for wildlife picture taking! He also shared with us some full-resolution RAW files that you can download, which we have uploaded to a Google Drive folder here . We’ve also added DNG versions of each image in case your software doesn’t currently support Nikon Z9 NEF files.

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