Opinion: The Z8 might be the best camera Nikon has ever made. But I don’t think I’ll be buying one.


This post is by Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com) from Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

My Nikon Z7, still kicking, and still fulfilling most of my photographic needs after almost five years.

The Nikon Z8 may well turn out to be the best camera that Nikon has ever made, but for the first time in my many years of watching the company’s high-end product launches, I’m not sure I need one.

I used to own two Z7 bodies, and last year, I sold one to help fund the purchase of a Z9. I half-expected the remaining Z7 to start gathering dust once I started shooting with the flagship, but rather unexpectedly, that hasn’t happened. I use it at least as much now as I ever did. The reason is simple – the Z7 is a lovely camera. It’s genuinely small, its sensor is great, and it’s built like a tractor. Sure, it can’t keep up with the Z9 when it comes to speed and autofocus (or video… or customization…), but even five years after it was released, it’s still not bad. It’s certainly good enough for most of what I shoot, and for the rest, I have the Z9.

That being said, in my experience, when it comes to cameras, size really does matter, and it’s all about tradeoffs. The Z9 is big, but that’s because it’s a lot of camera. I love the Z9 when shooting with long heavy lenses, where its larger body actually helps. Meanwhile the Z7 is small, unobtrusive, and offers commensurately less functionality. It’s a perfect companion for compact prime lenses and the Z 24-120mm F4, which I use a lot. Sometimes I need big, but most of the time I want small. The Z8 is, undeniably, a very attractive combination of performance and size.

Camera size has been on my mind lately following a recent visit from my family, where we took a road trip around the Olympic Peninsula. Because I had room in the car, I opted to go big and pack my Z9 and several of my longer, faster-aperture lenses.

As Nikon has made clear in the press release, the company sees the Z8 as a true mirrorless successor to the wildly popular D850.

I was able to get pictures on that trip that I know would have been technically impossible on the Z7, and yet the experience was frequently rather stressful. My parents would not stop talking about how big my camera was. Now that they’re safely back home, I know exactly what they’ll be telling their friends about: The Big Trees they saw in the Hoh Rainforest, the Big Seal that they saw near Astoria that I still think was a sea lion, the Big Breakfast Portions at the hotel, and Barney’s Big Camera.

A Z8, while larger than my Z7, would have been the best of both worlds. But tempting as it might be, I’m not sure I could justify spending $4,000 just to avoid being teased by my mum.

As Nikon has made clear in the press release, the company sees the Z8 as a true mirrorless successor to the wildly popular D850. And don’t misunderstand me – as a photographer and Nikon user, I’m delighted that it exists. It’s the perfect companion to the Z9 and a solid upgrade from the Z7 II. But if, like me, you already own both of those cameras, it’s a tough sell.

The new Nikon Z8 looks like it will make a fantastic upgrade from the Z6/7 series or the older D850. It should also be a perfect second camera to a Z9. But it’s larger than the Z6/7 and not that much cheaper than the flagship.

Let’s break it down to the essentials – there are two areas, important to me, where the Z8 won’t do anything more than my current cameras. First, it looks like the Z8 will offer basically the same image quality as both the Z9 and the almost five-year-old Z7. Second, and more frustratingly, it will have the exact same 3.69 million dot viewfinder resolution. Shooting my Z9 and S1R side by side, the live view image from the four-year-old S1R is noticeably more detailed thanks to its 5.76 million dot viewfinder.

Arguably, the Z8 and Z9 make up for it with their lagless, blackout-free live-view experience during bursts, but I don’t shoot much fast action, and for most of my everyday work, boy, I’d sure love some extra dots in there. In fact, the number one feature that I had hoped the Z8 would offer was a higher-resolution viewfinder. If it had that, or if it offered a significant bump in image quality or dynamic range, I’d be tempted, but alas.

If you’re a D850 user and you’ve been holding out for a mirrorless equivalent, this is your lucky day. The Z8 is that camera, and then some.

I’m conscious that this article might be coming off as an extended whine, so I’ll end with some positive thoughts and a reality check. If you’re a D850 user and you’ve been holding out for a mirrorless equivalent, this is your lucky day. The Z8 is that camera, and then some. And if you’re coming from a Z6 or Z7-series camera, the Z8 really offers a fantastic upgrade. It’s more customizable, and if it performs anything like the Z9 (which it should), its autofocus and video capabilities will blow you away.

Meanwhile, if you’re lucky enough to be shooting with a Z9, the Z8 could make a perfect second camera, offering the same image quality, plus almost all of the core functionality and a big overlap in ergonomics, but at a lower cost (although surprisingly not that much lower), and in a more compact body. Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, me. That’s who. But I’m aware that I’m in a very privileged position.

After years of shooting at 12MP, I felt like I needed my D810. Similarly, after years of shooting DSLRs, I felt like I needed the Z7. After years of shooting with the Z7, maybe I didn’t need the Z9, but I wanted it so much that it felt like the same thing. But the Z8? I don’t know. I think I’m good. Not so much because of the cost (as every gear addict knows, the money can always be found, even if it means selling a bunch of other gear / spare organs) but because between them, my current cameras meet all of my requirements. That’s a wonderful, privileged place to be, and I have Nikon’s engineers and product managers to thank. So the rest of you go ahead – I’ll get the next one.

It was definitely a sea lion, by the way.