Thoughts on the Z8

I ordered my Nikon Z8 last week and now there is little I can do but think about it until it ships. I ordered within the first 15 minutes of availability and feel like I have a good chance to be part of the first shipment on Thursday, but there’s no way to verify that. I’ve read that Nikon was making 12,000 units a month, but I have no idea what the total number of preorders is. Members of Nikon Professional Services also get priority access even if they order late, I believe.

Regardless of when my camera actually ships, I can spend plenty of time learning about it in the interim. It’s an interesting release because it’s so exciting but at the same time so well-known. Based on everything I’ve read it really is a Z9 without the vertical grip. That means that I can (and did) buy Thom Hogan’s excellent Nikon Z9 Guide and have already studied it extensively. From reviews I know that the two cameras match all the way down to the menus and custom settings, so nearly any review, manual, or book about the Z9 applies 95% to the Z8.

There are no questions about how its sensor performs, its autofocus capabilities, stabilization, frame rates, viewfinder, control layout, or customization. It’s all the same. That differs from a typical camera release where I’m scouring the internet for early reviews of all of those components to make my conclusions. With the Z8, nearly everything is known. The lack of newness, so to speak, is making the internet hyper-focus on the few things that differ between the two. I’ll discuss those here.

Wow, it’s a Z9 / It’s only a Z9

There are two general opinions about the Z8: that’s it’s a cutting-edge camera at a significant discount, or that it’s a repackage of a camera from 2021. Both opinions are true, but the perspectives differ. On one hand, Nikon has never stuffed that much of its pro-level tech into a mid-level body. Previous cameras like the D850 / 800 / 700 have been similar to their pro counterparts in build, sensors, and features, but not nearly as the same as the Z8 and Z9 are. The Z9 is still very competitive with the Sony A1 and Canon R3 and already undercuts them in price. Putting all of that tech into a camera that’s $1,500 cheaper than that (U.S.) is pretty amazing. That’s exciting and that’s what drives the “Wow, it’s a Z9” positive opinion.

It’s this camera with the bottom cut off

On the other hand, the Z9 tech is 1.5 years old and Nikon has barely changed it for the Z8. There’s a new dedicated Airplane mode, it can find smaller faces in the image, and it has a dedicated port for USB power. That’s it. There’s also a feeling that the Z9 never quite matched its competitors, so its tech was already “old” when it was introduced. It’s true that the Z9 never equaled the A1’s maximum RAW fps, has a lower resolution viewfinder, and is still criticized for its autofocus as compared to Sony and Canon. Its sensor is the same resolution as 2017’s D850, 2018’s Z7, and 2020’s Z7II.

The famous 45.7 MP sensor from the D850

All of that is true and I’ve already talked about how competitive the Canon R5 is, especially at its discounted prices, but a lot of that doesn’t matter to a Nikon user like me. While 30 fps RAW would be awesome, many people don’t use it often because it generates so many images. Sony also limits the lenses that can achieve that number: the third party Sigma super zoom I have, for instance, is only allowed 15 fps. I’ve read and watched as many reviews stating that the Z9’s autofocus is lacking as I have that call it as amazing or better than the competition. I’ll have to try it myself but I expect it to be generally great and allow me to get shots I otherwise could not.

In terms of the sensor there is very little difference in usable resolution between a 45 and 50 mp sensor, and the lineage of the Z9/Z8 sensor is one of image quality and post-processing flexibility. It’s actually a tiny but less flexible than it’s predecessors (and the Sony A1) in order to allow its speed, but I don’t think that will affect me that much. I expect to have better luck with it than I did with the R5.

I’m squarely in the “Wow, it’s a Z9” camp. I find the Z8 to be an incredible value. I considered buying a Z9 several times last year but didn’t pull the trigger because it’s just too large for a main body. Even at $5,500 a Z9 is significantly cheaper than switching brands and repurchasing all of my lenses. The Z8 is an incredible value and I’m excited for it.


The Z8 has the exact same buffer as the Z9 (source, source, source). With a fast CF Express card, the buffer can hold 79 lossless compressed RAW files, 683 High Efficiency Star RAW, over 1000 High Efficiency RAW, and over 1000 JPEG at 20 fps before slowing down. These are the numbers from Nikon’s Z9 manual, but they apply in the same way to the Z8.

There has been a bunch of panic on the internet because of this video from Matt Granger, where he talks about buffer performance when writing to two cards simultaneously. The reason is that the Z9 has two CF Express card slots and the Z8 has one CF Express and one SD slot. If you want to write your images to both cards at the same time for backup or RAW+JPEG separation, the camera can only write as fast as the slowest card. In the Z9, the two cards can be matched as can their 1500+ MB/s write speed. In the Z8, that configuration limits you to the 300 MB/s write speed of an SD card, cutting the buffer down significantly.

People are freaking out on the internet about how “terrible” the buffer is, but it’s only for these dual-card situations. I don’t shoot with dual cards in a backup scenario, so I’ll get the full Z9-like buffer experience. I rarely shoot more than 4 seconds of continuous images anyway and bought a super-fast Delkin Black card. The buffer won’t be a problem for me. It does make me curious, so I plan to test my various CF Express and SD cards as the primary card to see how long the buffer lasts in each case.

Battery Life

The Z8 doesn’t have a vertical grip and can’t take the 3300 mAh EN-EL18D battery that nets 700 CIPA rated / 2500 real world shots on the Z9. It uses the same EN-EL15C as the Z7II (compatible back to my D800) pumping out 2200 mAh. That’s about ⅔ the capacity of the Z9, and CIPA rates it at about 330 images; lower than the Z7 and Sony A1, but on par with the Canon R5 (which I complained about). The reality seems to be a bit better, with reports of getting over 1300 images during regular photo sessions.

No mirrorless camera can match the battery life of a DSLR, so I’m going to get less out of the Z8 than I’m used to. That said, I can use my Sony a6100 for half to most of a day without replacing its tiny little battery. I still bring a couple extras with me and it’s taught me the value of multiple batteries. I’ve already purchased two extra EN-EL15Cs so that I won’t have any issues. They’re small and easy to tote around and are also compatible with my D800, D750, and D500. I can plug a USB battery into the Z8 to power it if I really need it too.

Firmware Updates

Thom Hogan believes that the Z9 was released before its software was completely ready and uses its three major firmware updates and significant features and bug fixes as evidence. I agree with him. Nikon has never introduced so many new features through firmware updates in its history. Some expect something similar for the Z8, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

Remember, the Z8’s v1.0 firmware is based on the Z9’s v3.0 firmware. Most of the features are already there! I think we might get pixel shift and some additional refinements to the autofocus algorithms, but I don’t envision much else. While I’d love RAW pre-burst or 30 fps RAW, I think those might be limited by hardware and would be saved for a Z9 II anyway.

Maybe there won’t be any updates. It wouldn’t be the first time – I just learned today that the v1.0 firmware in my Nikon D2Xs is the only firmware ever released. I guess that camera was perfect.

Still Excited

All-in-all I’m very happy with the Z8. No camera is perfect and I can easily mitigate the buffer and battery “issues”. I expect this to be a great camera.

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