Nikon Z 9’s Pre-release feature makes lightning triggers obsolete

Aug 23, 2022

Reed Hoffman

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Nikon Z 9’s Pre-release feature makes lightning triggers obsolete

Aug 23, 2022

Reed Hoffman

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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If you’ve ever tried to photograph lightning during daytime, you know it’s almost impossible. By the time you press the shutter button, it’s gone. That’s why lightning triggers, while no guarantee of success, exist. But the addition of the new “Pre-release” feature in Nikon’s Z 9 cameras now make those triggers obsolete. It guarantees success, as I found out last week.

Over the last half-dozen years I’ve been running small-group photography trips to places around the U.S. Sedona, with many great locations nearby, moderate summer weather (at least by Kansas City standards!) and a good chance for storms has been high on my list of “need to do a workshop there.” Last week I finally did, and it was as good as I’d hoped (I’ll write a blog past about that in the next few weeks). But it was the thunderstorm we watched Thursday evening that resulted in a new “Aha!” moment for me.

Among the many features added to the Nikon Z 9 with the release of firmware 2.0, “Pre-release” was an eye-opener for action photographers. As I wrote in an earlier post, it allows you to wait until you see the action, then press the shutter button and capture the moments before you pressed. It really changes how you work, as I explain in this story. But it wasn’t until I was on my way to Sedona, and thinking about the possibility of lightning, that I realized I could take advantage of Pre-release for that. While we had some lightning the first night, while I was running a low-level lighting demonstration, capturing lightning during a time exposure is pretty easy. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that we had lightning during daylight. That’s a lot tougher to shoot.

This was the night shoot, with low-level lighting, IÕd set up for my group the first night. The storm in the distance was a bonus, but when doing 15-second exposures, capturing lightning is pretty easy. I did turn on the intervalometer feature built into my camera so it would keep firing those long exposures with only .5-second between shots. Nikon Z 9, Manual exposure, Sunny white balance, ISO 200, 15-seconds at f/5.6, two LumeCubes for light, Nikkor Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR lens at 54mm.

Returning to Sedona from another shoot for sunset, I took my group up to Airport Mesa, where there’s a nice overlook. Our goal was to photograph that last hour of sunlight on the mountains across from us, but a storm rolled in. While it blocked most of the sun, it also gave us a lightning show. And that’s when I turned on Pre-release. When you do that, and press halfway down on the shutter button, the camera starts recording images at 30 frames-per-second in a continuous loop to internal memory (not the card). When you see action happen, then you push the shutter completely down and the camera records that last one-second, half-second or one-third second of action from the loop onto the card (you choose the amount). In other words, it goes back in time to capture something that’s already happened. And it made photographing lightning incredibly easy.

See it, then press the shutter button and you’ll have it. Pretty simple as long as you turn on the Pre-release feature with the Z 9. And while the lightning only lasted about a half hour, in that time I made plenty of pictures to choose from. Nikon Z 9, Aperture Priority, Sunny white balance, ISO 500, 1/60 at f/8, hand-held, in Matrix metering, -1.0 EV, Nikkor Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR lens at 65mm.

To do that, I kept the camera up to my eye, and each time I saw lightning pressed the shutter down fully. And each and every time I ended up with lightning pictures. Note the plural. Often I’d end up with several lightning photos from one flash, and one time I even had ten frames. So what’s the catch? I can’t shoot RAW, as the camera automatically switches to JPEG, although still with the full-resolution 45-megapixels. There’s also an option to shoot at 120 frames-per-second, although at a reduced 11-megapixels. But still, wow.

From start to finish, I can see lightning in each image of this ten-frame sequence. Which means that since the camera was shooting at 30 fps, the burst lasted for about a third of a second.

Of course, for now, lightning triggers still have a market, since there are very few cameras that can do this. But for those folks lucky enough to have a Nikon Z 9, that’s one less accessory they’ll be tempted to buy.

About the Author

Reed Hoffman has been a photographer for over four decades and he is currently based in Kansas City. Other than collaborating with a number of newspapers, magazines, agencies, and corporate clients, Reed has also been a photography teacher since the 1990s. Make sure to check out more of Reed’s work and find out more about him on his websiteInstagramTwitter and Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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21 responses to “Nikon Z 9’s Pre-release feature makes lightning triggers obsolete”

  1. BB Avatar
    BB

    Olympus (OMDS) cameras have been able to do that with RAWs for ~half a decade already. :)

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      There’s lots of stuff Olympus can’t do that Nikon, Canon, Sony and Fuji have been doing for longer than that, though, too. It ain’t a competition.

      1. Jim A. Avatar
        Jim A.

        I think he was just trying to let you know this great feature was available for those of us who shoot Olympus cameras. Welcome to the fan club! :) I wish my Canon R5 could do it too… P.S., it really is a competition, that’s what drives all this innovation and copying of other good ideas. We end users get the benefits.

        1. Kaouthia Avatar
          Kaouthia

          It’s only a competition between the manufacturers. Not the users. What somebody else shoots doesn’t affect me one way or the other. Olympus also isn’t the only other manufacturer to offer this feature. :)

          1. Kaouthia Avatar
            Kaouthia

            How is it a bold statement? How does what you shoot or what features your camera has affect me and the images I produce?

          2. Kaouthia Avatar
            Kaouthia

            “I just don’t buy that.”

            Why don’t you buy it? I’ll ask you again, how does what you shoot affect the images I produce? Also, I shot D300/D300s bodies from release until 2017. It did all I need for stills. It didn’t matter that other people were shooting D3, D3s or whatever bodies. It didn’t affect my needs or what I shot. I only stopped using the D300/D300s bodies because the AF died in one of them. And when it did die, I picked up a pair of D7000 bodies (released in 2010) and a D800 (2012). I bought based on my needs. I didn’t care what other gear was out there that offered features I didn’t need nor what anybody else was doing with cameras that offered features I wasn’t interested in.

            I bought half a dozen Panasonic mirrorless cameras over the last couple of years because I needed something that shoots video. I didn’t buy them because other people were shooting them. I bought them because they offered what I needed at a price I was willing to pay. What features they don’t have that the competition offers is irrelevant if they’re not features I’d use anyway. What other people are doing with them is also irrelevant. Cameras are nothing more than tools to me. It’s that simple.

            My statement is absolute because I’m talking about me. I buy based on my needs and what the gear can give me. I don’t care what everybody else is doing with them. You can believe that or not. That doesn’t affect my gear choices, either. :)

          3. Lawrence Lee Huber Avatar
            Lawrence Lee Huber

            Sour grapes?

          4. Kaouthia Avatar
            Kaouthia

            About what? What do I have to be sour about?

  • BB Avatar
    BB

    LOL. Did I hit a nerve or something? :D

    I was just pointing out that this “amazing, new feature” is old news to the photographing world and it’s not like Nikon invented the wheel but feel free to take it as you wish.

    Of course it’s a competition. The brands are fighting against each others.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar
      Kaouthia

      Hit a nerve? Because I threw what you said right back at you? Nah, as I said in the other comments that you didn’t bother to read, what you shoot or what your cameras can do doesn’t affect my needs. And, as I also said, it’s only a competition for the manufacturers. Unless you work for Olympus and you’re directly responsible for deciding the features that go into their cameras, you’re not a part of that competition. So, no, what your camera can do is not a competition for you.

      You do you. Whatever you need to believe to justify your purchases.

      1. Jim A. Avatar
        Jim A.

        I’m puzzled that you think we’re not a part of the decision tree manufacturers use to decide what features go into new cameras. Or that competition doesn’t matter. We’re not critical that you chose to use Nikon gear, it’s terrific stuff. I am willing to bet that what manufacturers implement into their products is very driven by competition between manufacturers. We benefit from that. If the engineering and marketing people saw a lot of terrific photos being made with the technique highlighted in your article, and then decided, we should implement that into our own products, isn’t that us helping push them in that direction? They want to sell us new gear. Adding features we find compelling is one of the ways to do that. As an individual photographer, you might not matter much to them. But as a group, we matter a lot to them. You shared your experience – with what you identified as a terrific capability. Many of us are completely in agreement with you about how useful that is. Together we do move the market in new directions. You yourself are having an outsize effect in just pointing out the usefulness to others. Lots of people might not be aware of the uses for this technique. You’ve helped inform them. I hadn’t considered it for lightning shots before reading your article, but now I’m looking forward to an opportunity to try it. I think your opinion matters. Maybe I’m naive, but I think it matters to the manufacturers too.

      2. Kaouthia Avatar
        Kaouthia

        Because we’re not part of the “decision tree”. We simply voice our opinion and the company that makes the thing makes the decision. There are plenty of times when every camera manufacturer has released something that is completely different to what its users were demanding (see pretty much every attempt Nikon made at implementing video between 2008 until a couple of years ago).

        The engineering people could’ve seen people taking shots like this two decades ago with the Nikon D100 and decided to do something about it, too. They didn’t. Or all of the times they ignored requests from users to put flippy out LCDs on any camera except the D5x00 series. Or to add High Speed Sync flash to the D5x00 series – forcing users to buy multiple bodies if they wanted both features for different applications.

        “Our competition” does not exist. The only person I’m competing with, photographically speaking, is my past self. Why would I care if you were critical of my gear choices or not? I shoot multiple cameras from multiple brands (Nikon, Panasonic, Sony, Canon, Hasselblad, Mamiya and others) with multiple sensor sizes (MFT, APS-C, full-frame and medium format) in order to get all that I need because no single manufacturer gives me what I need. And I’m not talking about in a single camera (because it’s impossible for any manufacturer to create a single camera that appeases everybody) but even across a single brand’s entire product range.

        So, no, I don’t think part of any “decision tree”. We have no control over what manufacturers do.

        Anyway, given that people seemed to take my original comment FAR too personally, I’m done with this conversation. As I already said, you do you. You can all shoot what you like. It doesn’t affect my needs nor my gear choices. Mine don’t affect you. And none of us have any say in what camera manufacturers do or don’t implement in their gear. :)

  • Lawrence Lee Huber Avatar
    Lawrence Lee Huber

    Nothing earth shattering. Just old tech being added to an obsolete camera, even when introduced, to try to catch up with actual useful features in some primitive form. Now Nikon needs to catch up with Sony and Canon in the AF capability department.

  • Patrick Pedersen Avatar
    Patrick Pedersen

    But only jpeg’s!?!?…HUGE deal breaker!!!

  • DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    My new Canon R7 has the same functionality, they call it RAW BURST MODE in the menu. Half press shutter to add to a circular buffer and then full press to continue taking more shots

  • DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    So the “skill” Is being taking out of photography 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️

  • DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    So the “skill” Is being taking out of photography 🤷‍♂️🤷‍♂️

  • DIYP community member Avatar
  • DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    Pfft. Live Composite and Pro Capture allow that on Olympus OMD bodies.

  • DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    My new Canon R7 has the same functionality, they call it RAW BURST MODE in the menu. Half press shutter to add to a circular buffer and then full press to continue taking more shots

  • DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    I was just thinking, wow photography is too hard these days