The recent announcement of the Nikon Z8 (buy here) has caused quite a bit of buzz. And for good reason. Even before the official announcement, it was expected to become the true successor to the Nikon D850 (buy here), not just in specs but in workflow and how it feels to shoot with it. The Nikon D850 was considered the best all-rounder Nikon DSLR for many different uses. So, the Z8 had some pretty big shoes to fill.
In a recent interview with Adam Waring at Digital Camera World, Nikon said that they had a lot of different options to consider when it came to developing the Z8, but that ultimately, its customers wanted what amounts to a “baby Z9”. Amongst other things, Nikon also says that the electronic shutter used in the Nikon Z9 (buy here) and Z8 are so fast that they keep up with the mechanical shutters of their predecessors.
Electronic shutter as fast as mechanical
The interview sheds much light on how the Z8 came to be and Nikon’s thought processes in general. One of the things that particularly stuck out to me about the Z8 (and the Z9 when that was announced) was the entirely electronic shutter. No mechanical shutter whatsoever. However, Nikon Manager of User Experience Planning Keiji Oishi says that the electronic shutters used in the Z8 and Z9 are as fast as their past mechanical counterparts.
Generally, mechanical shutters tend to have a faster scan speed than electronic shutters – that is a fact – and this means that rolling shutter distortion can be suppressed.
However, the adaptation of a stacked CMOS sensor for the Z8 and Z9 enables a high-speed scan rate that offers the same advantage as a mechanical shutter. This time the Z8 uses a stacked CMOS sensor and, because it can output the image at high speed, it eliminates rolling shutter distortion.
The new electronic shutter technology isn’t likely to be coming to every future Nikon mirrorless camera, although they say they’ll be treating new bodies on a case-by-case basis. Like most companies, they’ll have to face the constant inner struggle of giving their customers what they need vs the needs of planned obsolescence. After all, mechanical shutters have moving parts that wear out and die. Electronic shutters do not.
Optimised for 8K video
While the Nikon Z8 isn’t the only camera out there that shoots 8K video, even within Nikon’s own lineup, the Z8 is very capable when it comes to video. In fact, it’s one of only a handful of cameras on the market that seems to be as focused towards video as it is towards stills. It’s not a cinema-oriented version of a stills camera like the Canon EOS R5c (buy here) or Panasonic S5 IIx (buy here), but it is still very capable.
As a “baby Z9”, the Z8’s video features are pretty comparable to the Nikon flagship. It sports internal 12-Bit 8K N-RAW and 4K 60fps Apple ProRes RAW, with a decent autofocus system – when required. The form factor of the Z8, however, is much more suitable for video rigs and gimbals. Nikon expects it to be “used extensively” for video, particularly 8K as a result.
The D3x00 series is dead
Over the last few years, one of the big complaints about not just Nikon but other manufacturers, too, is that there’s no real entry-level APS-C mirrorless camera at a reasonable price. And by “reasonable”, I mean the $300-500 price tag often associated with past DSLRs like the Nikon D3x00 series. In the interview, Nikon suggested that there isn’t likely ever to be another successor to the Nikon D3x00 product line, and we may not see a Z30 Mark II.
So, the lack of more lowest-level DSLR successors is not a surprise, and it seems Nikon may not be producing a mirrorless replacement for the Z30 (buy here), either. The Z50 (buy here) – the successor to the D5x00 series – is the new entry-level, with a price tag much higher than we saw from either the D3x00 series or the D5x00 series DSLRs. When asked about a D3500 successor, Nikon said:
Now that smartphones have become very popular as a method of image expression, especially for the younger generation, we believe that the needs of people who are interested in photography as a hobby for their first camera, their demands are changing compared to the past.
For those who are looking for the next model from the smartphone, we have captured the needs of the target audience and support for video is one example, which has become increasingly important.
Nikon says this is mostly due to the development of smartphones. Their response suggests that an entry-level model below the Z50 – the Z30 – just isn’t selling in the numbers that the D3x00 series did and that the numbers Nikon would require. So, they’re not going to make another one. Those planning to switch from smartphones to interchangeable lens cameras demand more than they used to, and they’ll also have to pay more than they used to.
A valuable insight
It’s a fascinating interview into the mindset of Nikon, which has been struggling over the last decade or so to keep up with the onslaught of mirrorless cameras from Sony and the rapid release schedule of Canon’s EOS R system. Nikon’s releases looked fairly slow for a while, producing bodies with fairly limited appeal overall, lacking some significant features. They’ve caught up in the last couple of years, and it looks like they’re ready to compete again.
Many might argue that the Nikon Z7 and Z7 II (buy here) were the D850 successors. And in the early days, that seemed true. They offered similar capabilities to the D850, but they weren’t so much “upgrades” as they were just mirrorless replacements. With the release of the Z8, it looks like the Z7 line turned out to be the D780 (buy here) successor, and the Z6 line is the D610 successor. The numbers of the product lines all now match up.
And it’s not much of a surprise that Nikon says their customers wanted the Z8 to be a “baby Z9” as the Nikon D850 was largely considered a “baby D5” on its release, too. Probably the biggest question right now – that wasn’t addressed in the interview – is probably, what, if anything, is Nikon planning to release as an APS-C D500 replacement?
Check out the complete interview on Digital Camera World. It’s well worth a read if Nikon’s either in your current workflow or a potential future consideration.
[via Digital Camera World]