The Z9 is Nikon’s first foray into a pro-body mirrorless camera. Unlike the company’s pro body DSLRs which mainly concentrated on speed at the sacrifice of resolution, this is the highest resolution pro body camera Nikon has made to date. It is also the fastest shooting camera Nikon has produced at 20 FPS RAW. Combine that with 8.3K 60p and 4.1K 120p video, and this looks to be a pretty formidably capable camera. Read on to see how it worked out in the water. Nikon,Z9,z,9,z 9,pro,mirrorless,camera,underwater,camera,review,test,footage,scuba

Nikon Z9 Underwater Camera Review

By: Jim Decker The Nikon Z9 is Nikon’s first foray into a pro-body mirrorless camera. Unlike the company’s pro body DSLRs which mainly concentrated on speed at the sacrifice of resolution, this is the highest resolution pro body camera Nikon has made to date. It is also the fastest shooting camera Nikon has produced at 20 FPS RAW. Combine that with 8.3K 60p and 4.1K 120p video, and this looks to be a pretty formidably capable camera. Read on to see how it worked out in the water. The Nikon Z9 is Nikon’s first foray into a pro-body mirrorless camera.IMAGE QUALITYLooks as good as D850 and Z7 II, Which is Excellent The image quality from Nikon since the Nikon D850 was released has been absolutely fantastic. We’ve been singing the praises of the Nikon D850, Nikon Z7, and Nikon Z7 II image quality for years now. High resolution, low noise, and great dynamic range are the hallmarks of these cameras. We see little to no perceptible difference in image quality between the Nikon D850, Nikon Z7 II, and Nikon Z9. We saw some slight banding only in high dynamic range shots from the original Z7, but in almost all areas if you saw an image from any of these cameras, good luck in trying to pixel peep one apart from the other. Even at ISO 640 the dynamic range of the Nikon Z9 looks great. The bottom of the ocean in this picture is about 120 feet.Nikon Z9 | Nikon 8-15mm | 1/125 | ISO 640 | ƒ8Dynamic Range Detail and ISO 64—A Nikon Hallmark The Nikon Z9, like the other full-frame high-end cameras, has a native minimum ISO value of 64, two-thirds of a stop lower than any other current full-frame mirrorless camera with a base value of only ISO 100. This allows it to preserve more dynamic range detail by retaining image quality in the brightest highlights and maintaining low noise in the shadows. Backlit sunball scenes held dynamic range detail extremely well and looked better than similar shots from other full-frame mirrorless cameras. ISO 64 helps with macro shots where a darker background is desired without the need to use higher apertures that increase diffraction.Nikon Z9 | Nikon Z 105mm | 1/200 | ISO 64 | ƒ22Great Color for Underwater Photos The great color reproduction of the Nikon Z9 is essentially unchanged compared to the Nikon D850 and Z7 series, and this is fine just by me. Blue backgrounds are represented very well using auto white balance and a properly lit wide scene rarely needs a re-white balance in post. Color balance looks good with vibrant colors without being oversaturated. The image quality from the Nikon Z9 is awesome. Accurate underwater colors and sharp details are the hallmarks of the Nikon Z9.Nikon Z9 | Nikon 8-15mm | 1/125 | ISO 800 | ƒ8The Return of 3D Tracking Autofocus Nikon’s 3D tracking autofocus really started to shine on the Nikon D850 and from that point on is THE gold standard for tracking AF in the industry which other camera companies have since tried (with some success) to imitate. Unfortunately with the launch of the full-frame mirrorless Z series the autofocus system we all knew and loved disappeared and in its place was a much less familiar AF system that did not include the coveted 3D tracking AF. There was a way to initiate some AF tracking but it's slow and clunky to use and didn’t track anywhere near as good. For the Nikon Z9, Nikon brought back the 3D tracking AF and the functionality is basically the same as it is in the Nikon D850 and Nikon D6. Even when shooting through a +12.5 power diopter was no problem for the 3D tracking autofocus on the smallest critters of the sea.Nikon Z9 | Nikon Z 105mm | AOI UCL-09 Macro Lens | 1/200 | ISO 100 | ƒ22 Nikon made some improvements to the AF system including 2 stops better lowlight sensitivity compared to Nikon D850 and the ability to use subject recognition, which you can set to auto, or for either people, animals, or vehicles. I tried animal which lists dogs, cats, and birds, but unfortunately no fish. Animal resulted in the camera not tracking very well on macro subjects. I switched subject recognition to auto and it worked much better with macro subjects. I never switched it back after that and it behaved more like the reliable 3D tracking I’m used to with previous Nikon cameras for both macro and wide-angle. For those unfamiliar with how 3D tracking works, it basically goes like this: There’s a focusing square in the center of the screen/viewfinder that when pressing the AF-ON button will focus on the subject in the square, and as long as the AF-ON button is being pressed, the camera will track the movement of that subject through the frame and update focus continuously. Put the focus squarely on the eye of a subject either by moving the focus point around, or just move the camera to put the square over their eye, press and hold AF-ON, and it will track the eye of that subject. In the rare instance of the focus point slipping off the subject, just release the AF-ON button, repoint and engage again. Once you use 3D you’ll never go back again. The practical reality in underwater photography is we don’t have a giant range of different types of subjects that occur topside. Although there are significant improvements in what Nikon has developed for the Nikon Z9 autofocus system, with the limited range of subjects I was shooting underwater, I felt the Nikon Z9 was at least as good as the Nikon D850 autofocus system, not that there was some big need for improvement. With such high-resolution cameras, nailing focus is an absolute must and the autofocus system on the Nikon Z9 will ensure tack sharp shots. Subject recognition surprisingly picked up this manta as it swam towards me before I pressed the AF-ON button.Nikon Z9 | Nikon 8-15mm | 1/200 | ISO 400 | ƒ8VIDEOThe Best Spec’d Camera Yet...With a Caveat Just about all of these new video features are available with the 2.0 firmware update that came out after our field test trip. While I didn’t get to try out the new 2.0 firmware in water, I will talk about the new features it brings. The Nikon Z9 is the best spec’d camera we’ve seen yet for video in a mirrorless/SLR body. With the recent firmware update, it will shoot 8.3K 60p and 4.1K 120p direct to a card with no external recorder needed. It will also do so with no practical limitation on shooting time as it will go over an hour at the top resolution and frame rate. The larger battery that comes along with a pro-level body will make sure you don’t run out of juice on a dive. Shooting at 8.3K or 4.1K allows some flexibility in post to stabilize the footage or do some push-ins without sacrificing resolution at the final output stage of the edit. Image stabilization is a given in mirrorless cameras these days and the Nikon Z9 is no exception. When image stabilization, good shooting technique, and a 120p frame rate that can be slowed down are combined, the camera will produce some pretty stable-looking footage. White Balance Performance The caveat is the ambient light white balance capability at depth. Unfortunately, this is basically unchanged from previous Nikon cameras. Custom white balances look pretty good up until the 40-ish-foot range. After that depth, the water would come out a little strong on the magenta side, but can still be corrected in post in the 40-50 foot range. The camera refused to execute a custom white balance past 50 feet, it would just give an error message. The Nikon Z9 has good white balance performance at shallower depths, but will need some correction in post for depths approaching 50 feet. The clips in this sample reel are straight out of camera with no color correction in post. In previous white balance testing, Nikon cameras tend to lean more towards magenta which helps out in greener waters, since magenta counteracts green. For shooters in more temperate waters, we expect the Nikon Z9 to perform a bit better than in blue tropical waters. It’s rather simple to execute a custom white balance with an easy to reach dedicated button on the back of the camera. When in a custom white balance preset (there are 5 banks), press and hold the white balance button, then press OK, to execute. For those who really want to take advantage of the top-line video specs, one could use a red color correction filter like a Keldan spectrum filter or Magic filter. Either of those will get the camera back into a range where the custom white balance would be more usable. However, filters do cut out light in the range of multiple stops, which will require the usage of higher ISOs to compensate. For those shooters that use video lights, the camera will balance to the lights. Nikon RAW Video Format—All the Resolution, Half the File Size Nikon’s new N-RAW video format is a 12-bit RAW format that is about half the size of a comparable ProRes RAW HQ file. The N-RAW file format is available at every resolution and frame rate the camera shoots. ProRes RAW HQ can be shot at up to 4.1K 60p 12-bit in-camera. With the higher 12-bit file it will be easier to color grade in post with less of an image quality hit. While I haven’t been able to dive with the new 2.0 firmware yet we did play around at the shop with bringing in the new N-RAW format into DaVinci Resolve to see what the RAW editing panel looks like. In the N-RAW panel, there is an adjustment for color temperature and tint. The color temperature tops out at 50,000K and the tint at 150. These are the same maximum values as there are in the Lightroom develop panel. I know from experience that 50,000K and 150 tint is good for approximately 50 feet. There are other color adjustments available in DaVinci and it remains to be seen if the footage can be color graded to an acceptable level after we do more in water tests. The Nikon N-RAW video format will allow for color temperature adjustments up to 50,000K and 150 tint, which from experience is equivalent to about 50 feet of depth.Waveform Display to Judge Video Exposure One of our biggest pet peeves for shooting video with a Nikon camera is the lack of an exposure meter in video mode. Our favorite technique is to shoot 1/3 to 2/3 stop underexposed on the meter. This helps with better contrast and color saturation, especially when viewing on a 4K TV, which tends to over sharpen and over contrast the video. Without a meter on the camera, I’ve resorted to using Auto ISO and exposure compensation along with an AE lock when I start shooting so the exposure won’t vary during the clip. The 2.0 firmware update includes a waveform display for judging exposure. With the waveform, it is easy to see where you need to be on the exposure to prevent clipping in the highlights. I think waveform is good to use for video shooters working in the RAW workflow environment where to maximize the amount of highlight info in the file before clipping, which will give the most latitude for color grading in post. I think shooting 1/3 to 2/3 on the meter is still probably the best way to shoot if using a standard picture profile with the aim of nailing the color and exposure in camera with little to zero color grading in post. With the new firmware update, we look forward to further testing the camera in video mode and see if we can have an improvement in the white balance rendering and color correction in post. While I would have preferred to have a meter in video, a waveform display can help with exposures in video, especially when shooting in RAW or Log profiles for color grading in post. There are 2 differrent waveform sizes available for display.A Completely Electronic Shutter With Sync Speed of 1/200 In place of a shutter, it does have a sensor shield that protects the camera sensor when the camera is turned off to prevent dust bunnies and other debris from collecting on the sensor during lens swaps. An advantage of a purely electronic shutter is no mechanical shutter to wear out. Mechanical shutters are usually rated to a maximum number of shutter actuation in the neighborhood of few hundred thousand. While a few hundred thousand actuations might sound like a lot, a typical user for a camera such as the Nikon Z9, especially shooting 20 FPS, could find themselves hitting that in a couple of years or sooner. I would have liked to have seen a faster flash sync speed than 1/200. A faster speed would help with controlling ambient light with the shutter speed rather than ISO or aperture, and allow the strobes to overtake the ambient light better. Now that there is no mechanical shutter, and hopefully, sensor readout speeds will increase, allowing for faster sync speeds in future models. A faster sync speed makes it easier to get darker backgrounds when snooting larger subjects.Nikon Z9 | Nikon Z 105mm | 1/200 | ISO 400 | ƒ16No Viewfinder or Screen Blackout While Shooting Another benefit is no viewfinder or screen “blackout" when shooting. This happens with cameras that have mechanical shutters. The shutter, by definition, blocks the sensor, and in the case of an SLR, the mirror is moved out of the way during shooting. Not a big deal when shooting slowly, but it’s a much bigger deal when shooting fast bursts. Since there is no physical shutter to get in the way, nothing is blocking the sensor, and therefore no blackout. The Fastest Shooting Nikon Ever Speed and resolution used to be 2 things that were diametrically opposed. Sony pretty much killed that idea with the A1, and Nikon has stepped up to the plate with a really fast camera. The Nikon Z9 will shoot 20fps in RAW with a buffer of 1000 shots. It will also do 30fps in JPEG and 120fps at 11MP. For most underwater shooters this is overkill as most underwater shots are done with strobes, and strobes can’t keep up on the recycle time shooting that fast. It does come in handy for moving subjects without strobes, such as sardine runs, bait balls, and split shots. There are options to slow the frame rate down a little bit so as not to fill a memory card too quickly, but it is nice to have performance in excess of what is needed for underwater work. There are plenty of uses topside for 20fps such as sports, wildlife, and stuff blowing up at heavy metal concerts. Pro Size Body, Pros Size Ergonomics, Pro Size Battery Some shooters may be put off by the larger size of the Nikon Z9 body compared to either the smaller Z series bodies or one of the D series DSLRs. Something you get with a pro-size body is really good ergonomics and a really good control set, which is even more evident when shooting topside when gripping the camera. Pro bodies have a second shutter button, shutter speed and aperture dials to be used when shooting vertical shots. With the larger size of pro bodies, housings are larger as well. In the water I really didn't notice a difference in handling or swimming around. With the larger size housing and more air space, there is an improvement in buoyancy compared to smaller cameras/housings. The Nikon Z9 is a really easy camera to shoot with a well-organized and easy-to-use menu system and great control placement and ergonomics. Nikon Z9 | Nikon Z 105mm | 1/125 | ISO 200 | ƒ16 The battery is significantly larger than the EN-EL15 batteries in use by the smaller mirrorless and DSLR Nikon cameras. I was able to shoot multiple days without changing the battery. This thing will take many thousands of shots without the need for a battery swap. Smaller bodies with smaller batteries would sometimes make me nervous to push 3 dives. If you are in a situation like hunting for whales, rays, bait balls, etc. on a skiff all day on the water with no opportunity to crack the housing open safely for a battery swap, you’ll be glad to have the Nikon Z9. I was three days into shooting on the same battery charge with still half a battery left when this shot was taken.Nikon Z9 | Nikon 8-15mm | 1/60 | ISO 800 | ƒ20CONCLUSION You may notice a theme in this review comparing the Nikon Z9 versus the Nikon D850 and Z7 series. Those cameras are fantastic benchmarks to be compared against, with the Nikon D850 being the house favorite of the Backscatter staff for still photos since it came out. We still recommend the Nikon D850 to customers every day even though the camera is over 4 years old. In coming from a DLSR like the Nikon D850, the Nikon Z9 represents the most familiar user experience transition from DSLR to mirrorless for a Nikon shooter, and probably from any brand DSLR to mirrorless transition. Anyone who felt at home on a Nikon DSLR will find it pretty seamless to move over to the Nikon Z9. This definitely was not the case for the Z7 series, with the biggest glaring problem being the completely foreign AF system and substandard AF performance. The autofocus in Nikon Z9 now feels the same as the excellent AF systems of Nikons’ past with even better AF than the Nikon D850. As for the rest of the camera? In use, it just feels like, and the images look like, just about anything that would come from the Nikon D850. It’s easiest to think of the differences between the Nikon Z9 and Nikon D850 as the Nikon Z9 has faster shooting, a bigger battery, slightly better AF for underwater, much-improved video spec versus 4k 30p of the Nikon D850, and the biggest difference of all, an electronic versus optical viewfinder. I’m very happy that these are all improvements while maintaining a familiar, and in my opinion, the best user interface compared to its peers from other brands. All that being said the biggest and pretty much only beef with the Nikon Z9 is the same lackluster ambient light custom white balance at depths approaching 50 feet and no meter in video mode that has plagued Nikon for years. Improvements in this area are long overdue and is frankly the only reason I could not recommend this camera to a pro level underwater video shooter. Sure one could use video lights and balance no problem to the lights, but it takes away the very popular ambient light only shot from a shooter's toolkit. While color can be corrected in post to a certain degree to remove the magenta tinge that creeps in after 40 feet, other cameras from Sony and Canon frankly just don’t have this problem and can execute custom white balances at over 90 feet that look spot on. But I haven’t given up hope yet. I’ll be testing the 2.0 firmware soon with the claimed improved white balance and N-RAW video format to see if we can get some good color out of this thing at depth. Stay tuned for an update. Who is this camera for? The argument for the Nikon Z9 is a rather simple one. Excellent image quality, a well-known superior autofocus tracking system, super-fast shooting from a camera with a battery that will last for days, and a user interface that doesn’t get in the way of shooting. It is the best camera Nikon has made yet for still photographers. ProsExcellent image quality and colors that we take for granted from NikonStupid fast 20 FPS in RAW with an essentially bottomless buffer3D Tracking autofocus returns and works even better than beforeA video shooters dream of 8.3K 60p and 4.1K 120pNikon RAW video format option for all video resolutionsBattery lasts for days shooting stillsConsNo meter in video mode, but the new firmware has a waveform for judging exposureWon’t execute a custom white balance past 50 feetWhy buy direct from Backscatter?Free lifetime tech support with every purchase. We will beat any advertised price. Free shipping to USA and Canada and low-cost international shipping. Nikon Z9 | Nikon 8-15mm | 1/200 | ISO 400 | ƒ11CAMERA & HOUSINGSNikon Z9 Camera $5,499.95ORDER NOWAquatica AZ9 HousingORDER NOWNauticam NA-Z9 HousingORDER NOWSeacam Z9 HousingORDER NOWSubal NZ9 HousingORDER NOW


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