A Real-World Test of The Nikon Z8

I know hundreds of Nikon Z8 camera tests/reviews are out there. So here is the 101st. How is it different? Well, I’ll look at the camera from a wedding photographer’s perspective and tell you what my findings are after shooting 3 photoshoots – one pre-wedding photoshoot in Paris and two elopements in a chateau in France.

Updated 27th Feb, 2024.

Update after the release of Firmware V2.0 – well, this solves my issue with blackout time while shooting in Flicker Reduction ON mode – the blackout was animated and too long, now it’s shorter. Still not as seamless as with a DSLR, but much better. I have to keep it on as LED lights are more common than ever and when shooting indoors, the flicker is there. Other things, like Auto Capture, Rich Portrait Mode, Bird Autofocus, Pixel Shift – thank you Nikon for including them, I’m sure photographers will need and welcome them.

Nikkon z8 sample shot with Nikkor 85mm f 1.2 wide open
Nikon Z8 + Nikkor Z 85mm 1.2 S at 1.2- love how it nails the focus and there is virtually no CA when wide open        

I’ve always believed that there is far more to a camera than the spec sheet – sometimes the sheet is full of bells and whistles, but the camera turns out mediocre as a tool, sometimes the spec sheet is quite modest, but the camera itself turns out to be a fantastic tool in skilled hands.

In this review, I won’t be just discussing the Z8’s features, I’ll be sharing how it felt to work with it, its strengths and weaknesses in real shooting scenarios, and whether it lived up to expectations set by its predecessors, and competition. So if you’re looking for insight from someone who in general doesn’t review cameras, but actually shoots with them (wedding photographer ?), this is the place to be.

My Photographic Background

I began my life as a wedding photographer back in 2004, and since then I’ve had the privilege of capturing moments at over 600 weddings in 35 countries worldwide. Over the years I’ve worked with Canon 20d followed by EOS 5d, EOS 1ds MkII, and EOS 1ds MkIII, then Nikon released the D3 in 2007 and turned everything upside down – suddenly there were usable ISO 6400, 14-bit Raw files at 10fps and large battery – so yes, I switched brands – since then I’ve worked with D3, a pair of D3s’s, D4, D850, Z6II, and the mighty D5.. and now the Z8.

While I’ve explored other brands, testing the Leica S2, M9, M10 (typ 240), medium format digital Hasselblad H3D39II, Pentax 645D, 645Z, Fujifilm GFX 50s, 100, 100s, and Phase one IQ180 – while all are impressive cameras they mostly lacked the flexibility, endurance, size weight to go into my camera bag.

My Mirrorless Journey and Concerns

I was initially excited about the mirrorless in general and traded one of my D850s for the Nikon Z6II thinking it would be a great combo with my other d850 since they shared the same batteries, memory cards, and adding the low light capacities of 24mpix sensor of the Z6II. So, I used the z6II alongside the D850 for a year and found some issues that properly bothered me. They bothered me so much, that I sold the Z6II and bought a used D5 instead.

By the way – here is my real-world test of the Nikon Z6 when I tested the camera ages ago.

So here are the issues with the Z6II:

  1. So 99 % of the time I shoot people at weddings – if it’s a sunny day, I like to shoot against the sun with backlight adding depth to the image – and when I shoot against the sun, if the lens flares or there’s too much of sunlight in the frame, the focus starts to hunt, it just goes back and forth without locking on a face – sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t, a DSLR was more reliable in this scenario.
  2. In a dark, candle-lit scenario, say wedding speeches and candle lights – it switched from phase-detect AF to contrast-detect AF, so a proper step back in technology, which includes more “hunting” for focus and settling for an out-of-focus image. I understand that the face in the dark has way less contrast on it than say, the wallpaper behind, but D850 wouldn’t have any issues at all, it would be just noisy as hell at say ISO 16000.
  3. The handling of the camera in general – I have an “ick” when I turn off the camera when not shooting since the on-off switch is near the release button, if I’m not shooting, it’s off – if I see something, while I lift the camera up to my eye, the z6II was not on yet, yes, count to one and you’re good to go. Sometimes it was just too late. I know, it’s me, not the camera, but still.

Here are Issues That in My Opinion are Still Concerns for All Mirrorless Cameras:

  1. The viewfinder – although quick and responsive, I still prefer the optical one, with less contrast and no white balance applied.
  2. Battery life – kind of an issue, yes and no – yes, you can have 2-3 extra batteries with you, that’s usually not a problem throughout the day, but it’s quite often that I have to shoot back-to-back weddings, and, if I’ve gone through say 3 batteries on a day, I have to charge them for the following morning. I travel light and have just one single charger and that means that I have to set the alarm to wake me up after 2-3 hours to change the batteries in the charger. With a D5 – I have two batteries that last 10-12k shots in total, so basically, I’m good for a week! And this back-to-back wedding thing happens more often than one might think – shot 5 weddings in 6 days during September.
  3. This one is tricky – mirrorless focuses with a working aperture. A DSLR looks for focus with the aperture wide open, so it clearly sees if the focus point is in focus or not. With a mirrorless it focuses with aperture stopped down – say 5.6.  – now this is just my opinion, but tell me, how does the sensor see whether the focus is at its sharpest on the focusing point? I believe it receives a reply “good enough” and confirms the focus and lets me trigger the shot. I think that is also one of the issues with point 2 above – when shooting in dark environments, I still stop down my 1.4 lenses to say 2.2, 2.8.. so it means that there’s a full stop or two less light coming through to the sensor for focusing.. one of the reasons why the focus is missed. Then again, in general, I shoot with an aperture pretty wide open, not 1.4 but rarely above f4. But yes, the question had to be raised. A note from our readers – it appears that Sony focuses with fully opened apperture. Nice. Nikon focuses with the working aperture until f/5.6 – then, if you close it even more, it still focuses with f/5.6  – thank you dear readers for pointing this out.
  4. The rolling shutter – I had a second photographer for one wedding, and all his shots during the cake cutting were with a rolled shutter (he shot with another brand camera) – yes, the light there was horrible – all colourful lots of everything, led’s, spotlights and whatever, the full spectrum – but the mirrorless was fooled, photos where fine with a DSLR.

Because of all these issues I sold the Z6II and bought the Nikon D5 – I know, it was an old tech, but I still had a pile of CF cards and it’s an excellent, robust, responsive, low light camera in general, so I still have it!

When Nikon announced the Z9, I was interested, but since there were no cameras to test I was not going to pit 5-6k into something that might work. Of course, there were tons of rave reviews online, as there always are. So this Sept I received a message from the local Nikon rep, that the new Zf is out etc. – told him, please give me a z8 or z9 to test and I might consider buying one after I’ve touched one. Long story short I received a test unit of Z8 and Nikkor S 85mm 1.2 lens to test. I liked the camera in general, so I placed the order and received mine two days later – since I paid the full price of EUR 3600 + VAT here in Europe – I consider this review unbiased. I buy my Nikon cameras here.

Z8 in Use – Camera Design and Functionality

The Z8 is larger than the Z6II and closely resembles the D850 in size. I don’t own any Z glass so I use my existing FTZII adapter which feels way more comfortable than the original FTZ. So the camera feels comfortable in the hand.

The viewfinder displays a highly responsive image, likely due to the dual readout sensor. A notable change is the absence of the mechanical shutter sound. While you can activate the shutter sound through menus, and add the viewfinder blackout for the feedback, I find it “too flashy”, so I have no audio confirmation of the shutter speed and there’s just a little flash on the perimeter of the viewfinder, so you know, the photo has been taken. Sometimes that’s not enough if there’s too much going on in the viewfinder, you just don’t know if you had the shot or not. Have to trust your finger then.

Autofocus accuracu, Nikon Z8 with 50mm 1.4G at 1.4
With the Z8 I can shoot a 50mm 1.4 at 1.4. It focuses quickly and precise.

But, in general, I’ve learned to like it. Since the shutter is electronic only, the max speed is 1/32000 and you can get full-size/quality RAW bursts at 20 fps. Impressive. Do I need that? Not sure, but I feel that this is the place to remind me and others – the camera was not designed for me – it was designed for a very wide audience, so I’m happy some impressive features are there although I might never need them.

FAst motion shooting with Nikon Z8 at 20 fps
Shot at 20FPS, full NEF files

Back to the viewfinder – the image is sharp and well-defined. I always shoot on “neutral” picture control – so the picture in the viewfinder is not too contrasty – I can see the highlights and shadows and there’s less clipping. In high-contrast environments, I still saw faces black, so there is an option to lift the blacks for the viewfinder image only – since it’s the end of October there is not much sun here, so will need to test this out when the sun returns.

Testing the articulate screen of the Nikon Z8
Now the screen articulates also for vertical shots, this is handy, love it.

The white balance in the viewfinder is good, I mean I have the AWB on all the time, so it is good during the daylight, not with the bluish tint I’ve seen on some Sony and Fuji cameras, it gets tricky in tungsten + LED or mixed light in general – this is the moment I miss the optical viewfinder.

Focusing – it has no issue focusing with a very bright/sharp (sun) light in the background – no issues whatsoever. I was a bit curious about this face/eye recognition. It works fine if you’re working with one or two people. I happened to have it on in Paris, in Trocadero – a place of thousands of people – and the camera kept picking up random faces for me, everything apart from the ones I needed. So I returned to my central and focus-recompose mode. I know, there is an option to reduce the area where to look for faces and I most likely had it on wide area AF.. but there are so many AF modes both on Single and Continuous focus. I know that I can remove the unnecessary ones through the customization option in the menu. Will have to do this.

eye auto focus test on Nikon Z8
An example of eye AF – the camera finds the face, then the eye in the scene, and keeps focus on it.

The camera is quick in general – finds focus, locks on it, and fires. There’s virtually no lag when you turn the camera on, it’s ready to shoot, so that’s all fine there.

The focusing in the dark – well, if the object doesn’t move, it’s good, it can find focus in near-dark situations as long as the object doesn’t move. It’s impressive – you don’t see the thing with your eye, but through the viewfinder, you can see it like in a night vision. Then again, focusing on faces is still an issue – say people reading/speaking a speech in candlelight – it comes out soft, and the D5 takes care of that shot.

Speaking of candle lights – the image stabilizer works well – I found one shot that I’ve handheld with a 50mm lens at 1/10 of the second. Impressive – I know, the image stabilizer is not there to save every shot, but hey, I’ll have it.

in body image stabiliser 1/10th
Here is an example of a body image stabilizer – shat at 1/10th, 50mm, handheld.

The battery life – the original battery lasts a full day and a little bit on day two. For day one, I did 1300 shots throughout the day, day two was 400-500, so yes, it’s good. I still have two spare batteries from the D850, less mAh, so the batteries lasted about 1000 shots each., while not the numbers that I’m used to, but still find it workable.

I appreciate the Z8 ‘s power-saving mode – when you’re not actively shooting, it keeps the camera awake, with a reduced frame refresh rate in the viewfinder or on the screen, so it’s ready to shoot when you are.. and it has some juice in it.

File Quality

The Z8’s image quality is on par with the D850. While the D850 is older, its performance between ISO 65 and 800 is still amongst the best there is for a 35mm camera.. and the Z8 matches it adding some serious speed. The Z8 seems to have a slightly finer rendering, which might be due to more precise focusing or just a different processing style. It’s not necessarily better or worse, it’s just a bit different when examined really closely. I took a shot at ISO 36.000 with the Z8, it’s noisy but manages color noise better than the D850, likely because of the updated sensor technology and processing. Then again, I don’t know why I did this shot at such high ISO, usually I have it capped at 20,000 at Auto ISO settings. Since the Z8 has the same pixel count as the D850, their file sizes are similar, I shoot in RAW lossless compressed and the files average at 50-60 Mb.

Low light shot, love how it renders the image in low light
A general nightscape – I like how the camera renders moderately high ISO images.

Features and customization

As expected, this is the most fully packed camera I’ve tried – I mean there’s a setting for everything, if there are too many options, you can remove them and leave the ones you use.

An interesting one – HDR, yes, it does take two shots in a row and combine them – you can choose whether you want this for one shot only or a series. I needed to 3-4 shots, so left it on for the series. Oh well forgot to turn it off, now I have a series of shots with doubling faces.. as this option is not usable on moving subjects.

The High-Frequency Flicker reduction – I believe this addresses my concerns about banding with flickering lights, say LEDs – oh well, it gives you the most absurd shutter speeds, like 1/50.2 or 1/100.7 (random numbers), but, to scroll from 1/250th to 1/30th takes some time with all the decimals in between. So I have it OFF.

Another one – silent mode. I like my camera silent, but I couldn’t figure out why my flash was off – turns out there is no flash available when the camera is in “silent mode”, so I have this on and off and made my camera silent by addressing this issue in “shutter sounds” section.

Spot metering for highlights – had this in other cameras as well, but it was more easily accessible on the Z6II, where I had it under the custom fn1 button. Here, I can’t program it to be under one button – here I can program only the full spectrum of exposure metering options under the custom function button.. so whenever I need it (not often) I still need to press the button and then select. Or, perhaps this is a thing I still have to look into.

firework photography with Nikon z8
Fireworks – usually short bursts with not much time to adjust.

As I said this camera is highly customisable, so I will be adding new findings here as I stumble upon them.

Toggling between the rear display and viewfinder – I don’t know what they’ve done there, but with a z6 it was an issue, z8 it’s not, hasn’t pressed the display button once, it just knows, that I want to take my photos through the viewfinder, sometimes through the rear screen and I want to review them on the rear screen.

So all in all I am satisfied with the camera – I had my hesitations but have mostly found my way around them, so I believe it is a proper tool and will serve me for some years to come. I’ve been researching moving images lately and this camera is perfect for that, as it has no mechanical shutter, so all cool there. The batteries – will learn to have spares with me, maybe need to buy multiple.

Tryoing to focus through strings of a harp - Manual focus for Z8 here
Used manual focus here, as AF didn’t work through the harp’s strings. Manual focus is easy with focus peaking enabled.

As I said, the test unit I received came with an impressive 85mm 1.2 S lens. A comment on the lens – it’s a beautiful piece of engineering – it’s big, heavy, expensive, and good. The chromatic aberrations are better controlled than my 85mm 1.4G, but the size and weight are considerably bigger.

I also believe this is the place to comment on why I don’t own any Z lenses – it’s because I shoot with two cameras, a DSLR and a Z series, so they are not interchangeable. I tried to mix when I had the Z6, not a good idea, always at the wrong time the adapter would be back in the bag or just the z lens would be better on the f body.. too much hassle, so F it is.

In general, I love how the camera handles, I love how it focuses and responds to my half and fully-pressed shutter, and the files are beautiful. Since it rained for two out of three shooting days, I properly tested the weather sealing, all good there, Weather wise the next challenge is winter, we get to -20C now and then, I’m sure I’ll be able to report on this in February.

It’s a good camera for a wedding photographer, highly recommended.

Autofocus accuracu, Nikon Z8 with 85mm 1.4G at 1.4
Another one with AF working perfectly at F 1.4. You can see chromatic aberrations of the 85mm f1.4 G, would have preferred the Nikkor Z 85mm f 1.2 S

Here are 10 FAQs that I hope I’ve answered with my review:

1. What is the Nikon Z8?

  • The Nikon Z8 is a high-end full-frame mirrorless camera that serves as a successor to the D850. It’s much faster than the D850.

2. How does Z8’s sensor compare to other cameras?

  • The Z8 features a 45.7 MP Stacked CMOS sensor with dual readout – this enables fast readout of the sensor, so the sensor works as a global shutter allowing very high shooting speeds.

3. What is the shooting rate of the Nikon Z8?

  • The Z8 can shoot at up to 20fps full-size raws and up to 120fps jpegs. The bursts are fast so be sure to get a fast card.

4. How does the autofocus system of the Z8 perform?

  • The Autofocus system is advanced and fast – the system is also highly customizable – so you can tune it to work the way you want.

5. Does the Z8 support video recording?

  • Yes, the Z8 offers 8k video capabilities. No word on this here as I haven’t checked it out yet.

6. How does Z8 compare to the flagship Z9?

  • The Z8 offers similar features as the Z9 but comes with a smaller battery in a smaller body.

7. Are there any concerns about the size and weight of the Z8?

  • No, none, for the camera it is, it has to weigh as it does.

8. How does the Z8 fares in terms of image quality?

  • The image quality is excellent and might be one of the best in the 35mm digital world.

9. Is the Nikon Z8 suitable for professional photographers?

  • Yes, the Z8 is highly recommended for both professionals and amateurs due to its versatility and powerful features.

10. How does the Nikon Z8 compare in price to its competitors?

  • The Z8 is pricey but then again, very functional –  it’s all relative – as a tool it’s priced all right.

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