A Beast for Serious Photographers: We Review the Nikon Z 8

A Beast for Serious Photographers: We Review the Nikon Z 8
Many of us have been waiting for it for years now. A serious and capable mirrorless successor of one of the best DSLRs ever, the brilliant Nikon D850, has finally been unveiled and it comes packing a serious punch. How does it feel to use one? And is it worth the upgrade? Well, I’ve had it for a week and I love it.

What Is Nikon Z 8?

Nikon released their first full-frame mirrorless a few years ago with the duo of Z 6 and Z 7. Well-built cameras with great image quality and decent ergonomics but a disappointing autofocus performance and only a single card slot; Not the best option for a working professional. Nikon tried stepping it up a few years later by releasing the second generation of these aforementioned bodies. They featured dual card slots necessary for backup as well as a doubled-up processor to help with the focusing. It clearly made the cameras more suitable for serious photographers, but there still were those who stuck to their “old guns” and kept the trusty DSLRs. 

The release of the Z 9 was, however, a bit of a game-changer. It featured a brilliant 45-megapixel stacked sensor paired with the Expeed 7 processor which allowed it to work at incredible speeds when it came to autofocus and continuous shooting. The complete removal of a mechanical shutter mechanism showed how much Nikon trusted the speed of the new sensor whilst making the camera completely silent when needed. A strong and rugged body with a large battery was necessary for sports and wildlife shooters but it was a bit too much for many who didn’t need the integrated vertical grip. So where to go next? Z 6 II and Z 7 II are still too slow and small for some whilst the Z 9 is on the other side of the imaginary field being too large, heavy, and expensive for many. And what about the ones who still swear by the D850? This is where the Z 8 comes in.

Nikon Z 8 top view

Camera Body Worthy of a Demanding Professional

Take the large and heavy Z 9 and remove the vertical battery grip. There’s your Z 8. This is as simple as I can make it, but there is a bit more to it. The body is considerably larger than the Z 7 II. It feels like it was made for larger hands. None of that “pinkie stuck under the battery door” stuff can be found here. Your entire hand is holding the camera and it feels like it will get the job done. Ergonomics are pretty much identical to the Z 9 which can only be a good thing as I still struggle to find something bad about that camera. 

The button layout is nearly the same as well with a few differences. The drive dial on the left side is gone so your drive controls are now encompassed into a single button on the top plate. A few of the buttons found below the LCD screen of the Z 9 are also gone due to the body not being as tall. The voice note button is gone for example which is understandable. The Z 9 voice note button is even disabled by default. I can’t name a single person I know using that feature. I am sure it has its fans, but there are plenty of other buttons to map that feature too. 

Nikon Z 7II, Z 8, and Z 9 size comparison

The last difference is the weight. Whole 250 grams lighter than the bigger brother due to the fact that the Nikon Z 8 uses a smaller EN-EL15(a/b/c) battery compared to the larger EN-EL19 battery of the Z 9. This does result in a shorter battery life but it really isn’t something to lose sleep over. I’ve currently got the camera next to me with 745 shots taken and 45% of battery life remaining. An added bonus is the fact that if you plan on upgrading from a D850 which the Z 8 is meant to succeed you can still reuse your older batteries.

The same three-way tilting screen we’ve already seen on the Z 9 is present allowing us to frame comfortably from most angles. The hinge mechanism is built like a tank with minimal risk of breaking. I much prefer this style of screen compared to the single hinge fully-articulating Canon-esque screens which I’ve seen snapped off many times in my career. 

Control scheme is near identical to Nikon Z 9

It's a 'Mini' Z 9 Considering the Internals

Many were speculating what the internals would be. Well, I think we got the best possible result we could have hoped for. The sensor, as well as the processor, are the same ones we’ve already seen in the Z 9. This means we get the exact same 3D tracking of multiple subjects with minimal out-of-focus throwaways. The camera can also capture at the same speeds of up to 20 raw files per second or up to 120 JPEGs per second. All of that without viewfinder blackout and whilst fully utilizing tracking autofocus. And if you disable the speaker the camera is completely silent. 

The only two differences here are the card slots and the lack of a GPS module which explains the lack of the drive mode dial on the top of the body. It is used to house the module on the Z 9. The card slot difference means you do not need to shell out extra money for a CFexpress Type B card if you do not need the nearly 2 GB/s speeds. The Z 8 features a combination of a UHS-II compatible SDXC card slot and an aforementioned CFexpress Type B slot. The only disadvantage to consider is if you are planning on using the cards in backup mode and you plan on shooting in the faster burst modes in raw your write speed will be limited by the slower SD card bottleneck.

Rear LCD screen tilts horizontally but also vertically

There is not much to be said about the image quality that has not already been said in the Z 9 reviews and the subsequent firmware updates. The 45-megapixel stacked sensor is not as clean at higher ISO values as the Z 6 II or the R6 II, but it still delivers great image quality, plenty of detail, and a ton of dynamic range. The color is rendered beautifully and honestly. Each brand has its own signature when it comes to color. Canon has warmer skin tones, Sony is the opposite, and I find Nikon to be the most neutral. I’m sure I’ve already angered some of you but this is just a personal preference. Don’t take me too seriously in that regard though, I’m a Fujifilm shooter at heart so I don’t really know anything.

The same sentence as the first one in the previous paragraph can be said about autofocus. It is just simply brilliant. The subject tracking is near flawless. I’ve never come across a situation where it has failed me. You just need to know how to set it up correctly for whichever situation you find yourself in and it will just work. Even with the beautiful 50 mm f/1.2 S lens shot wide open. The only difference from the Z 9 is the new ability to track airplanes which I am positive will be retrospectively added to the Z 9 with yet another firmware update. 

Dual USB-C port for power delivery whilst tethering. One port can be converted to LAN RJ45.

A Must Mention: The Video Specs

I am a photographer at heart and I do not delve into video much, but there is so much to be said about the video capabilities of this camera body. Because apart from the Z 9 there is no other mirrorless as capable as this one. The fact we can record full-frame 8K footage at 60 frames per second not just in 10-bit but also in raw is just incredible. And thanks to the recent court ruling allowing Nikon to keep using internal compressed raw despite RED trying their hardest that feature is here to stay. And do not worry. If 8K is a little too much for you, you can lower the resolution to 4K which gives you an option of up to 120 frames per second.

Thanks to the stacked sensor the rolling shutter effect is basically gone. Apart from when you are shooting 8K raw footage. For some reason, the readout speed slows down at that resolution giving the footage a bit of wobble when panning side to side fast.

Notice the speaker holes. Your only shutter sound emitter.

What I Liked

The rugged body of a perfect size felt in my hand just right. The shape of the grip is very well done and fits large palms as well as smaller hands. The autofocus system is nearly flawless. I cannot think of a single occasion where it has failed me without my own mistake. The viewfinder is large, bright, clear, and fast. Even though the resolution is not nearly the highest on the market, the view is still great, blackout-free, and pleasant to look at. It clearly is not just about resolution, but about the optics covering the viewfinder screen. The lack of a mechanical shutter and the inclusion of an already well-tested stacked sensor makes the camera incredibly silent in all situations. However, the visual feedback of taking a picture is clear and non-intrusive.

The fact that we still get nearly 20 megapixels (19.4) in DX mode makes this camera an absolute must for a wildlife shooter or for a D500 lover. The capture speeds combined with the pre-capture feature ensure you almost never get into a situation when you just do not have a shot. When shooting at full FX resolution of 45.4 megapixels you capture a wonderful amount of detail when the subject is well-lit. 

What I Didn’t Like

I do not consider myself a noise/grain hater, but once you reach five-digit ISO levels the grain can result in a noticeable loss of detail. This is to be expected at such a resolution so it really is not much of a complaint but it would be wrong to say the image was clear as day. Something to consider before you make the purchase. However, the image quality was still top-shelf.  

I really wish I could have mapped one of the lens Fn buttons to be able to enable/disable subject detection on the fly. A toggle like that would have helped tremendously when I did not want the camera to recognize a face because sometimes it was a little too good at it and focused on faces I did not want to.

The shutter sound was the first thing I disabled. Sure you can change the volume of it and even the pitch, but I just could not tolerate it for some reason. It felt off and sounded tiny and annoying at times. It would be nice to be able to change it to a light click or a similar sound instead of a fake shutter slap. The tiny speaker did not help at all. Luckily the sound can be completely disabled.

Top left controls lacking the drive dial housing the GPS module. This feature is replaced by a Snapbridge connected phone.

I Did Not Want To Give It Back

As I said in the beginning, I’ve been using the camera for a week since the day of the announcement. In that week I’ve been compelled to go out with it every single day from early morning to late night. I used it to shoot anything I could. Some basic tourist snaps of Prague, street photography, studio shots using strobes, wildlife in the local parks, and at the zoo. I wish I had more time with it to shoot a wedding, take it with me on a documentary trip to Ukraine, or just enjoy the autofocus for a little longer. It was nice not having to think about it whatsoever. 

If I were a Nikon shooter the Z 8 would be a serious contender to grab as my main camera. Let’s have a look at the reasons. The autofocus is so far ahead of the Z 6 II, and Z 7 II lineup it’s not even close. The speed compared to those two is not even in the same ballpark. The ergonomics are just that much better unless you want your camera to be small and travel-friendly. And the overall capabilities of the camera are much more professional-oriented. On the other hand, the Z 9 is considerably larger, heavier, and more expensive. Internals-wise you pretty much get the same exact camera for $1,500 less.


The following samples were taken using the Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens and the Nikon NIKKOR Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S Lens at various aperture values, shutter speeds, and ISO values between 64 and 18,000.

Ondřej Vachek's picture

Ondřej Vachek is a Prague based independent documentary photographer and photojournalist with multiple journeys to war-torn Ukraine where he covered everything from the frontline in the Donbass to the civilian life adapting to the new normal. Avid street photographer with love for writing and storytelling.

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Took FStoppers long enough to post a review of the Z8

Well, I did want to use the camera for at least a week before I reviewed it. Otherwise it would've been just a first impression.
Thanks for reading it!

Far too many reviewers want to be the first to publish, and many end up repeating parts of the press release, so kudos to you for a review that is helpful in understanding what it's like to own one.

Thank you, Paul! Nothing wrong with writing about announcements and talking about the specs on paper. But reviewing without actually using the product for some time is just silly.

Now I just need to hold on and not buy one. It's the first camera ever since I went Fujifilm a decade ago that made me even consider having it as my main. I just need to repeat to myself that I'm happy with my X-T5 and it'll go away.

Even if the specs are incredible, and the camera is a beast, I would say that for Landscape photography Z7 II would possible be a better deal, with significant less weight on your bagpack.

I would agree. The Z7 II, Z8 and Z9 all have a very similar capability for great landscape photography. I believe that the Z7 II also has a slight edge in dynamic range over the Z9 (and therefore the Z8). If landscape is your primary focus, the Z7 II would be the best return on investment. Since I do a wider range of photography including action-oriented, the Z8 will replace my D850 in a couple of weeks. Really looking forward to it!

True. I do agree with both of you regarding the Z 7II for a landscape shooter. They do not need the fast 3D tracking, silent shutter, or fast framerates for that. In exchange you get a much smaller and lighter body. It’s one of the reasons I’ve included the size comparison of the three cameras in the article. Z 8 is not by any means a small camera.
But for anyone shooting subjects in motion, weddings, reportage, or sports the 3D tracking is a lifesaver. Ergonomically it is also a lot more comfortable at the cost of taking up more space in the bag.
Bonus for the absolutely silent shutter and dual stream from the sensor meaning I never lost sight of what I was capturing. Not even a hiccup. Just a constant preview. Nikon says its streaming the sensor data to two outputs at the same time. One to the card, one to the viewfinder so you don’t get the split-second freeze frame or a blackout like you do with other mirrorless.

For a lifetime I've shot the large Nikon DSLR cameras, then bought a D750 and have loved it ever since. I have no desire to switch to "mirrorless", but did buy the new Nikon D780. For me, and my needs, the D780 represents "the best". Next time I'm at B&H I will certainly check out this new camera, but regardless of what the rest of the world does, I plan to stick with DSLR. I do have a Fuji X100f and a Leica M10, and love both, but the D780 is the best camera for me. There are advantages to many types of cameras, along with disadvantages. The combination of D780, M10, and X100f gets me everything I want and/or need.

To be fair with that combo of cameras there really is no need to get anything else at the moment. Each of those is a great piece of kit and each is perfect for very different occasions.

Nice real-world review, Ondřej. As an X-T5 user, how did you find the visibility of the focus box on the Z8 compared to your FujI when using the LCD on the street? I have a Z7ii and I find that it is really difficult in Single AF mode (and worse in Pinpoint AF) to actually see the focus box compared to my Fuji cameras.

Thank you for the comment, Doug!

I’ve never had any issues with the AF indicator visibility. To be fair though, 99% of the time I just used the 3D tracking mode either with subject detection on or off. Once I placed the point onto anything it just held onto it once I half pressed the shutter and did not let go regardless of how I reframed the shot. I just knew that one highlighted spot is in focus and I don’t have to worry about it anymore. And that goes for shooting throught the viewfinder as well as the LCD.

The tracking point is about half the size of the one on the X-T5 so it is considerably more accurate to pick what you want to focus on.

I’d suggest picking your specific preffered subject type or disabling subject detection at times instead of using auto detection, because the camera is sometimes too good at detecting subjects and focusing on them even though I sometimes didn’t want it to do so.

A little puzzled by lack of GPS these days (yes, you can use snapbridge, but that's an unnecessary complication that requires the phone to be present).

Certainly is a cheap enough capiblity

That is true. But if it helps keep the cost down from the Z 9 even a bit it does make sense. Thanks to Bluetooth 5.0 the consumption is minimal on both devices.

I have personally never used GPS tagging on my photos and never really intend to. Many people are like that so why pay for a feature you don't use. Now we've got options with both of the bodies.