The Potential of the Z9 and Nikon’s Computer Photography

Nikon recently announcement its new flagship camera, the Z9. This camera represents the first mirrorless camera from Nikon fully geared towards professional photographers and mirrorless shooters, with a huge list of specs Designed for use in the demanding fields of photojournalism, sports, nature, bird watching and any other use case that requires a camera that takes blazingly fast high resolution photos. The $ 5,500 Z9 is also Nikon’s first camera to omit a traditional mechanical shutter, taking it to new levels of autofocus speed and performance.

Faster speed is great, especially for sports photographers. But it’s worth thinking about where this technology could be used to take traditional-style cameras in the future. This could be the first step towards larger format cameras adopting the computational intelligence smartphone cameras have adopted for years.

The Z9 has a 3.2 inch multi-angle LCD display that can tilt in either direction but cannot face forward.
Image: Nikon

Nikon made no mention of things like computer photography for HDR-style photos or the cyclic buffering that smartphones do to simultaneously capture up to nine or 10 images and combine them with each press of the shutter button. But the new 45.7-megapixel full-frame back-illuminated stacked CMOS sensor isn’t far from what’s in phones for years, at least in terms of basic design. This type of build uses a sandwich architecture of sensor, logic board, and dedicated RAM, resulting in blazingly fast read speeds.

Today, this allows the Z9 to use a permanent electronic shutter with the fastest shutter speed of 1 / 32,000 of a second and achieve blazingly fast burst shooting. It can capture 20 frames per second in RAW / JPG at full resolution or as fast as 120 frames per second at 11 megapixels, all without making any audible sounds (optional fake shutter sounds can be enabled for an audible signal) . The new Expeed 7 processor and dual CFexpress / XQD card slots give the Z9 a 1000 full-resolution shot buffer in high-efficiency compressed RAW, but it’s the fast read speed of the stacked sensor that could be the key to the calculation. riddle of photography.

As the first of the major camera manufacturers to abandon the mechanical shutter, it puts Nikon ahead of its competitors in the race for digital photography. Sony’s A1 and A9 series have previously used stacked sensors for fast read speeds, making electronic shutters viable for full-time service, and Canon’s upcoming R3 will use the same technology. Switching to a fully electronic shutter was the next logical development for cameras, although it is up to Nikon to prove that its electronic shutter is up to the daily tasks and demands of professional photographers today.


The Z9’s stacked CMOS sensor is fast enough for seamless shooting while writing images to the card.
GIF: Nikon

To date, efforts by camera manufacturers to implement computer photography have been limited to features such as the Olympus ND live and post-focus and focus stacking in the Panasonic camera. Convenient features, yes, but these are side effects of the paradigm shift that full computer photography could one day be implemented with every shutter press. OM System, the newly renamed Olympus, recently promised to use computer photography technology in its next camera, but we’ll have to see if that’s the primary focus or just some other feature on the side.

Deep Learning, which is used in the new object detection autofocus system of the new Z9, has also been used to some extent previously by Olympus, Panasonic and Canon. It serves to improve AF tracking performance, but ultimately a mirrorless camera always captures a single image limited by the dynamic range of the sensor.

The main obstacle most likely preventing cameras like the Z9 and other pro-level or enthusiast-level mirrorless cameras with stacked sensors from going fully computerized could lie in the data stream and image processing pipeline. Ten images captured simultaneously from a 45-megapixel full-frame sensor and combined into a single file will be exponentially larger than the same collection of images taken from a smartphone sensor at a fraction of the size.

In addition, cyclic buffering is required to constantly write and rewrite images to the camera’s buffer in the background before pressing the shutter button. Even the new Z9 processor might not be up to the task. In the smartphone space, processors are designed to be well suited for this processing, even sometimes using dedicated hardware, but cameras are not built the same. It is possible that more processor innovation is still needed from camera manufacturers.

Processing power may be the last technological hurdle to computer photography in large format cameras.
Image: Nikon

There are obvious advantages to using digital photography. Most modern smartphones can create a balanced exposure with well-lit subjects, shadows full of visible detail, and visible clouds, all in the same frame. Advances like Night Sight and Night Modes let you do things much harder to achieve with a standard camera, while Google continues to bring in new calculation tricks to keep subjects in focus when they’re in motion. and Apple even allows RAW files with compute data.

On the flip side, a photo taken even with today’s most advanced mirrorless camera – albeit superior in sharpness and resolution – comes with sacrifices to be made, like blowing up highlights or crush shadow detail in high contrast daytime scenes. Getting the same look as most smartphones requires at least a bit of post-processing and editing, ideally from a RAW file that needs to be exported as JPG or some other universal format. The arrival of computer photography on dedicated camera systems could re-energize the camera market, although camera makers also need to finally discover some Wi-Fi connected apps that aren’t terrible – of course, another sizeable challenge.

Cameras like the Z9 can be the bridge to this path, something that might be appreciated even by professional photographers who might spend less time editing to achieve the look that many of their clients are craving. This could again make large format cameras a bit more exciting, although it can also further blur the lines of “what is a picture?” “


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