Nikon’s Z8 is a phenomenal mirrorless camera for the price

Nikon is arguably the most popular camera brand in the world, but with the decline of DSLRs, it’s falling behind Canon and Sony. In 2022 he released the Z9, a flagship mirrorless camera that can finally hold its own against its rivals, but the $5,500 price tag has put it out of reach for many. Nikon to appeal to a wider audience introduced the Z8 last year It has the same sensor and almost the same features as the Z9 for $1,700 less.

With a stacked 45-megapixel sensor and the latest Expeed 7 image processor, the Z8 can do everything from sports to wildlife to landscape photography. It’s also a powerful video camera that offers 8K RAW internal recording at 60fps.

It’s the only other model that’s really comparable in terms of speed, resolution and video Sony A1, but it costs $2,200 more. To find out how the Z8 stacks up against this model and others, I rented a Z8 and shot it with my photographer cousin in Vancouver, Canada.

Design-wise, you can think of the Z8 as the Z9 with the battery holder cut out. It’s still a hefty camera at 910 grams (2 pounds), compared to 737 grams for the Sony A1. It might suit professionals or those who like a larger camera body, but the size and weight aren’t ideal for travel. By the way, the $346 battery holder (MB-N12) is available for the Z8 with secondary handling, effectively turning it into a Z9 for less money.

The Z8 has a nice big grip and all the controls you’d expect, including a joystick, D-Pad-style menu controls, a toggle for camera/video settings, and front and rear dials. Nikon users will enjoy the design as it is similar to previous models, but everything is so different that users from other brands may find it awkward.

Unlike the A1, the Z8 has a screen on top that shows key settings like shutter, aperture and battery life. While it takes up space that could be used by buttons or dials, it’s a convenient way to see everything at a glance, and I miss it on models that don’t have it now. If you have to dive into the menus, they will take some getting used to, but once you get over the learning curve, it works well.

One of the main disadvantages is the lack of a fully expressive screen. Instead, the rear 3.2-inch 2.36-million-dot display only tilts up and down, left or right. That’s too bad, because the Z8 can be a powerful vlogging camera, and the flip-out display is essential for this type of work (especially since it makes solo shots easier).

The 3.69-million-dot electronic viewfinder is a bit low-quality for a camera in this price range, especially compared to the 9.4-million-dot display on the Sony A1. Even Canon cheaper R5 it has a 5.76 million dot display that makes checking focus much easier.

According to CIPA ratings, battery life is on the weak side at 420 shots (one to two hours of video shooting, depending on resolution), compared to 490 shots for the Canon R5 and 530 shots for the A1. Again, you can almost double that with battery grip. Other notable features include UHS-II and CFexpress B memory card slots, a full-size HDMI port for external recording, and two separate USB-C ports for power transfer and data.

With the fastest high-resolution stacked sensor out there, the Z8 is incredibly fast for a 45-megapixel camera. You can shoot RAW photos at 20 fps, slightly slower than the A1’s 30 fps RAW capability, but the Z8 can shoot 30 fps in JPEG mode. It can handle 40 uncompressed RAW frames before the buffer fills, but if you have a fast CFexpress card, it can handle more compressed images.

Hybrid phase-detection autofocus is Nikon’s best to date, thanks to an improved image processor, a stacked sensor and a large number of AF tracking points. It offers reliable subject tracking, and face, eye and animal detection is also fast and accurate. In fact, the company said it’s almost identical to the more expensive Z9 from the latest firmware.

However, the Z8’s AF isn’t as reliable as Sony’s A1 when shooting at top speeds. It sometimes had trouble tracking subjects, especially those moving toward the camera, resulting in some out-of-focus shots. The Z8 (and Z9) is quite sensitive to setup, so it’s best to fine-tune the AF settings until they work the way you want.

There’s no mechanical shutter, but the Z8’s sensor is fast enough that sliding shutter isn’t a problem, even with fast-moving objects like airplane propellers. 5-axis in-body stabilization reduces shake by six stops, which is enough to capture sharp photos up to a quarter of a second. That’s better than the A1, but well short of the EOS R5’s 8 stops.

The Z8 has the same excellent sensor as the Z9, so of course the image quality is the same in all settings. With 45.7MP on tap, it delivers sharp photos on par with the 50MP A1 and is second only to Sony’s 60MP A7R V in full-frame mode. Dynamic range is also excellent, a touch better than the A1.

JPEG images are bright and impressive straight out of the camera, with the best color results from the natural light auto white balance setting. Colors are accurate, though skin tones aren’t as warm Canon R3 or R5.

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