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Landmark Nikon Z9 is the leap forward Nikon's mirrorless cameras needed

The Nikon Z9 camera on a green background
(Image credit: Nikon)

Mirrorless cameras have come a long way in the last few years – and the Nikon Z9 is the latest flagship to push them forward into exciting new territory. (Looking to jump to our first impressions? Check out our hands-on Nikon Z9 review).

A 45.7MP full-frame camera that can shoot 8K/30p video, the Nikon Z9 is packed with innovations that we haven't seen in any Nikon cameras before – or, in some cases, any cameras at all. 

The big news on this front is that the Nikon Z9 is the first pro camera to arrive without a mechanical shutter. That's right, all of its photos and video are taken using its electronic shutter, which is a bold statement of intent from Nikon about its new stacked sensor.

Nikon claims the Z9 has the "world's fastest sensor scan rate", and this has lots of knock-on effects for its performance. The Z9's electronic viewfinder, for example, offers blackout-free performance, which means sports and wildlife shooters will get a continuous view of a scene even while burst shooting.

The Nikon Z9 also brings significantly boosted autofocus powers compared to previous mirrorless models like the Nikon Z7 II. It can track people, animals and vehicles (including cars, motorbikes, planes and trains), and also follow up to ten different types of subject throughout a frame simultaneously.

While the Nikon Z9 doesn't quite hit the claimed 30fps raw burst speeds seen on the Canon EOS R3 and Sony A1, it can still rattle off full-resolution raw files at 20fps. And more impressively, you can apparently keep shooting at these speeds for over 1,000 frames, as long as you're using a CFexpress card. That's a huge and effectively unlimited buffer for sports and wildlife shooters.

The Nikon Z9's body is based on old-school DSLRs like the Nikon D6, so boasts a similar level of weather-sealing to that camera thanks to its magnesium alloy construction. But it does also bring new touches like a 4-axis monitor that tilts up 90-degrees in both horizontal and vertical orientations, which is handy for shooting from high or low angles.

The rear tilting screen of the Nikon Z9 camera on a green background

(Image credit: Nikon)

Despite its old-school looks, the Nikon Z9 is also a powerful video camera. For now, it's a capable of shooting 8K/30p and 4K/120p video, and can apparently keep shooting 8K video continuously for up to 125 minutes at a time. That's significantly longer than rivals like the Sony A1. 

On the downside, there are quite a few video features that will only be available via a firmware update that's coming sometime in 2022, which is a little vague. These include the ability to shoot 10-bit ProRes 422 HQ video internally, along with 12-bit in-camera ProRes Raw HQ recording. That firmware update will also bring the ability to shoot 8K/60p video and a new N-Raw format that promises to half the size of ProRes Raw files.

Still, despite the unknown date of that firmware update, the Nikon Z9 is shaping up to be one of the most powerful cameras ever – and its price tag is a bit lower than expected, too. You'll be able to buy it for a body-only price of $5,499 / £5,299 / AU$8,999 when sales start in December.


Analysis: The Nikon Z9 shakes up pro mirrorless cameras

The Nikon Z9 camera on a green background

(Image credit: Nikon)

Nikon needed to produce a bombshell mirrorless flagship to compete with the likes of the Canon EOS R3 and Sony A1 – and on paper, it looks to have done that.

The Nikon Z9 blends many of the latest camera advances – intelligent tracking focus, speedy 20fps burst shooting and 8K video recording – with Nikon's tried-and-tested designs for its flagship pro bodies.

For anyone who's been clinging onto their old Nikon DSLR and waiting for the camera giant to produce a pro mirrorless trailblazer, the Nikon Z9 looks like a no-brainer. Particularly as its price tag ($5,499 / £5,299 / AU$8,999), is significantly lower than the Nikon D6 at launch and its main rivals.

Still, it remains to be seen how many Nikon Z9s will be available to buy by the end of the year, and it's a slight shame that may of its video features will only arrive via a firmware update that has the very vague arrival date of '2022'.

Those doubts aside, the Nikon Z9 is the mirrorless camera than many photographers have been waiting for – and very much spices up its high-end camera battle with Canon and Sony.

Mark Wilson

Mark is the Cameras Editor at TechRadar. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won the Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.