So I had the first chance to shoot with the Z9 already back in November 21 during the event in Abu Dhabi. It was just about a weak after the official presentation of the camera in the Czech rep when they (Nikon CZ) took the sample and flew with it to UAE and spent a week with us in the desert, so we could test it. At the same time we got Sony Alpha A1 for a test, so we got great opportunity to have both of the flagships together for a week’s shooting in the conditions that are so typical for our work. I can admit that I was thinking about leaving Nikon and move to Sony as I was not 100% happy with the Z6 and Z7 cameras and Z9 was the very last chance to change my mind and stay. Do not take me wrong both Z6,Z7 (I or II) are great cameras, but had some limits for sports photography that I need to use them for. Otherwise the image quality was great and I saw the potential there, but the focusing, etc, that you need the most for action stuff was still not there. Z9 looked absolutely great on paper, but obviously you need to test it properly so you know if what they claim is true. Luckily it was :) and especially now with the 2.0 firmware it got even better, for both photo and video as well. There are several things that I wanted from the camera and that Z9 fulfilled so that It made me stay with Nikon.
Fefinitely the most important thing in sports photography = definitely the most important thing for me as well. That was one of the things that I was not super happy about the Z6 and Z7, as the autofocus, especially the eye/object/3D tracking was not on such a level as I would need and that I would trust so that I would let the camera to do the job. That’s one thing you need to actually be aware of when you start to work with mirrorless. The workflow is just different and to make the most out of the focusing you need to change your “focusing habits” a bit and let the camera to do the work for you a bit more than you were used to with the DSLR. Since I have the Z9 I only use 3D tracking for action (sometimes with the car recognition) or 3D with face recognition or eye tracking within a certain “area” while shooting some portraits. What makes it super easy is that you can have two different focusing setting on different buttons, so you shoot with 3D while working pushing the main trigger and different settings while holding the AF-On button. The AF works really well, now even better after the upgrade to the 2.0 firmware, but it also take some time to know how to work with it and just the workflow a bit. When I compared both A1 and Z9 I believe that it is more or less the same, maybe sometimes the A1 is slightly better/faster, but at the end even though it is really important, the difference was not that big that would make me to go to Sony and that would overpass the other features that were better on Nikon and that made Z9 better camera (at least for me) in general.
Image quality/dynamic range/ISO - that was another really important part of the decision and one that was probably the most decisive one at the end. The resolution is 45,7MPX which is actually (at least for now) just perfect for me. I only shoot RAW, always the highest resolution, most of the time in the sequence (but not the 20fps, but usually 15fps), so yeah, it takes quite a lot of memory to store everything, but on the other hand I do not really get why would you not use all the potential the camera gives you just because you want to save a bit of memory. My workflow is set so that I shoot all in raw, that just mark the edited photos in Lightroom (+ some that I really like and are not of our clients and I would like to edit them/use them in the future) and I can delete rest of the original RAWs later on because I would never get back to them. So it is usually just about the single event - to have enough of space, but then you can just delete the original, non edited, non marked files and have enough space for the next event.
In general the image quality, DR and ISO was the most important part when I decided that I would stay with Nikon. With the same settings on both Z9 and A1, the quality of the image just looked better on Nikon, much less grain (even though I believe someone could like it more), better to work with in post pro, getting the shadows up, or highlights down was just much better with NIKON, same as with the ISO that it could definitely get higher than Sony without seeing it too much. Anyway I am not buying that anyone would ever shoot ISO around 20.000 or even 100.000 as is the extended option (at least for sports when you expect the final look not being grainy - if it is not the aim of the whole shoot) and that it is ok to shoot on 6400 and you can’t see any grain, etc, but you can already see a huge difference on 400/640 ISO. I normally shoot as low as possible and only in Le Mans or any other event where we would need to shoot in the night I would use anything more than 1600. The colours, the details, the sharpness, the combo with the Z-lenses (as the mount is wider than any other on the market) you just get a perfect result and bokeh on 2.8 seems like 1.8 on DSLR.
Even though that one of the advantages of shooting with a mirrorless compare to DSLR is obviously the size and weight of the equipment and it is all getting smaller, I must say that I am happy that Z9 is a bit bigger (with the grip integrated) than any other mirrorless camera (such as Z7,Z6). Of course you can always get a grip with those cameras as well and you is whenever you need it, but especially for the conditions I use it with (sand, dust), it is definitely better to have the body as one piece. Anyway I shoot most of the time with two, sometimes even with three cameras at the same time. The usual situation is that I use one camera with the long lens while the car/bike is approaching, then quickly switch to another camera with the wide lens and then again for the long one when the car is leaving. When you need to quickly grab the camera that is just hanging around your neck/shoulders it is just much better when it is a bit bigger. Also the distribution of the weight and the balance with the bigger lenses is definitely better with Z9 than Z6,Z7.
It is also much better sealed than the other cameras, which is super important for me. You have that “sensor shield” that helps to not to get the sensor dirty while you changing the lens. By the way got saved by that shield on another occasion as well. As if you have the lens on your camera, you do not have the lens cap on it, you have the focus on infinity and you aim it towards the sun, you can get the sensor burnt as it basically works as a magnifying glass. I obviously have the lens almost all the time on without the cap and sometimes it might happen that you set the infinity focus but not on purpose and then again without even mean it, it is easy to leave it on the sun. So it all happened to me and if there was no shield it would have burnt my sensor, but instead it burnt a “tiny hole” into the plastic shield, so the costs were significantly smaller than if it was the sensor. The battery. It is not anything that I would buy/not buy the camera for, it is not the most decisive feature, on the other hand if you have a battery that handles whole day of shooting and you do not need to carry more of them around and change them, it is obviously a huge advantage. And that’s exactly what is Z9 about. I shot with it in an extreme heat, but also when it was minus and it was snowing and I did not experience even once that I would need to change the battery during the day. Whatever I needed to shoot, it was ok and believe me I shoot a lot :)
In general, but that what you can say about all the mirrorless cameras. The Image quality is just better, you gotta love the option seeing the exposure right in the viewfinder/monitor, the option that you can focus all over the photo and so many things that it is a no brainer to get into it. Obviously if you have enough finance to do so. As it is like switching from one to another brand even if you do it within Nikon. You can obviously still you the old lenses with the FTZ, at least for some time, so you do not need to buy it all at ones, but for me you can only take advantage of all the features - the mount being that wide and close to the sensor - with the Z lens. What I love about Z9 is also the freedom of settings, that you can almost set anything to any button and can create your own working space. Great option is having to different focus settings on different buttons - so I usually have the 3D on the shutter release button and a different on on the AF - ON button. There are so many different combinations and settings you can go for.
In general I really love the camera and I can only hope it will be a bit easier for anyone to get one as I know that it is still super difficult as it is being out of stock all the time. On the other hand it is a “good sign” that the camera must be really good as everyone wishes to have one