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Nikon Z9 launch: What Nikon means by ‘a D3 second’ (and why it wants one): Digital Images Evaluation

All pictures by DPReview

In our conversations with Nikon representatives, one phrase has come up repeatedly: ‘A D3 second’. The corporate is hoping that the brand new Z9 may have the identical impression on the mirrorless Z-mount lineup because the D3 did for its DSLRs. However what precisely does a ‘D3 second’ imply?

Image this: Nikon is on the again foot. The corporate’s conventional dominance of the high-end digital camera market has been steadily eroded, with the largest risk coming from a hungry competitor with a popularity for technical innovation and speedy iteration. Nikon – an organization as soon as synonymous within the digital camera world with the phrase ‘skilled’ – is liable to showing outdated, and out of step with a brand new and extra demanding era of photographers, tempted by flashy new applied sciences on provide elsewhere.

However all that’s about to alter; not less than that is what Nikon executives hope. And now, within the sweltering Tokyo warmth, the corporate’s leaders, engineers and advertising and marketing groups are making ready with nervous pleasure to launch a digital camera that they imagine will put Nikon again within the recreation, put its opponents again of their place, and restore their firm’s popularity as a producer of world-class skilled cameras.

This may all sound very topical, however I am not speaking about 2021, I am speaking about 2007, and the hungry, technologically-flashy competitor wasn’t Sony, however Canon. And the digital camera that Nikon was making ready in these sizzling, humid months wasn’t the Z9, however the D3: a DSLR that, Nikon hoped, would make the skilled pictures world sit up and take discover.

In 2007, Canon dominated the excessive finish of the DSLR market, in mind-share not less than

The pictures trade (and the world) of 2007 was very totally different to right now. We weren’t struggling to do enterprise within the face of a world pandemic, for one factor, however superb because it might sound, in mid-2007 the very first iPhone had solely just lately come in the marketplace, (so compact cameras had been nonetheless a factor, and a massively worthwhile factor at that), Instagram did not exist, and on the still-nascent Twitter, the primary hashtag had but for use. By odd coincidence, the hashtag was invented on precisely the identical day because the Nikon D3 announcement: August twenty third 2007. Fb had just lately turn into obtainable to most of the people, however it was nonetheless a decade away from realizing its full potential as a mass disseminator of pretend election fraud memes and anti-vaccination conspiracy theories to your dad and mom. It was a extra harmless time, is what I am saying. A time when Tom was nonetheless everyone’s buddy.

Again in 2007, Canon dominated the excessive finish of the DSLR market, in mind-share not less than. Nikon was making made some actually good digital cameras, however it was largely nonetheless counting on CCD sensors, and it hadn’t but cracked full-frame. The D1 and D2-series professional DSLRs had been stable cameras, however they could not compete with Canon’s EOS-1D-series when it comes to both excessive ISO picture high quality or autofocus. The 50 year-old Nikon F-mount too was exhibiting its age, and gave the impression to be approaching the higher restrict of its technical potential. The sensation amongst many fanatic photographers was that Canon’s applied sciences had been simply… higher.

The Nikon Z9 (proper) pictured alongside Nikon’s first true professional SLR, the unique F (left). Mechanically, they may hardly be extra totally different, however the idea behind them stays the identical.

Nikon wasn’t but on the ropes, however it was wanting shaky. Canon hadn’t had all the things go its means, with the unreliable AF of the EOS-1D Mark III (2006) being a notable misstep, however in August 2007, Canon was drawing its arm again, poised to launch its fourth full-frame DSLR (the EOS-1DS Mark III) and like an getting older prizefighter, Nikon actually wanted a win. Even Kodak had introduced a full-frame digital camera to market by that time, as way back as 2002. Admittedly they appeared to not have bothered ending it, however nonetheless. Kodak of all individuals!

I used to be among the many journalists sweating via our fits in a convention room in Tokyo that August, when Nikon lastly made the announcement that it hoped would each win again the hearts {of professional} and fanatic photographers. The primary ‘D3 second’ occurred in that room. Because the presentation acquired underway, it turned clear that the D3 was a genuinely revolutionary product. It might need been Nikon’s first full-frame DSLR, however the D3 did not appear to be a first-generation product: It supplied a strong mixture of helpful decision (12MP wasn’t thought-about superb in 2007 however it wasn’t embarrassingly low both), blazing velocity, really gorgeous picture high quality at medium and excessive ISOs, and extremely superior autofocus. Each earlier professional DSLR had pressured photographers to simply accept a compromise someplace. It appeared just like the D3 did not.

Summing up my preliminary impressions of the Nikon D3 again in 2007 (for my employer on the time, Newbie Photographer Journal) I wrote “with the D3 comes the primary signal that Nikon has spent the previous few years not panicking, however planning”. Greater than a decade later, I’ve the identical feeling concerning the Z9.

The D3 appeared prefer it had been despatched from the long run. A future, apparently, the place synthetic lighting had been outlawed

It is exhausting to think about now, in a market the place each producer affords expertise that will have appeared space-age even just some years in the past, however the D3 was an enormous leap ahead. And never only for Nikon, however the entire trade: Everyone was impressed by the D3, even tech journalists – and we are the the toughest individuals to impress on earth. Nikon knew it had one thing particular – alongside the D3, the corporate unveiled a assured new promoting slogan in Asia: ‘Nikon is nice, is not it?’

It was the D3’s autofocus and low-light imaging capabilities which turned its most celebrated characteristic, and on this respect Nikon opened up a technical lead that it maintained for a few years. I used to be moonlighting (generally actually) as a dwell music photographer once I first acquired my fingers on a D3. Abruptly I may get photos in situations that had been merely past the capabilities of every other digital camera, which gave me a significant benefit over the photographers taking pictures beside me. In comparison with the Canon EOS-1D Mark II I had been utilizing as much as then, the D3 appeared prefer it had been despatched from the long run. A future, apparently, the place synthetic lighting had been outlawed.

That was my D3 second, however it appeared like everyone who used one had their very own. Nearly in a single day, the D3 turned the brand new benchmark for skilled DSLR imaging. Numerous photographers (myself included) even switched programs, so as to benefit from the D3’s distinctive mixture of options and efficiency.

Externally, the full-frame D3 (left) regarded loads like previous-generation skilled Nikon DSLRs just like the D1H, however it was lightyears forward when it comes to functionality. The leap from APS-C to full-frame alone made the D3 a considerably extra succesful – and enticing – digital camera to many professionals.

After the D3 got here the D3X, which supplied extra pixels (however much less velocity), to compete with the Canon EOS-1DS Mark III. Then the wildly standard D700, which featured the identical sensor because the D3 however in a smaller and extra reasonably priced physique, and which competed immediately with the Canon EOS 5D. The D3S launched some small however welcome tweaks (and have become the topic of my first in-depth evaluation for DPReview) after which got here the D4, the tremendous high-resolution D800-series, and the remainder. Nikon might need taken a very long time to get to full body, however thereafter it moved rapidly and confidently.

The Z9 is a big leap ahead for Nikon’s Z mirrorless line, and with its revamped 3D AF Monitoring and far greater decision, it even eclipses the D5 and D6

It is going to be some time earlier than we all know whether or not the Z9 really does symbolize a ‘D3 second’ however from our impressions to date, it does not appear to be an unreasonable comparability. The Z9 is a big leap ahead for Nikon’s Z mirrorless line, and with its revamped 3D AF Monitoring and far greater decision, it even eclipses the D5 and D6. It additionally seems not less than aggressive with the Sony A1 – at the moment the best-in-class mirrorless digital camera for autofocus in our opinion – and affords a mixture of velocity and pixel depend (and doubtlessly additionally effectivity) which the Canon EOS R3 cannot match. Fourteen years in the past I wrote concerning the D3: “It appears that evidently, in Nikon’s eyes, the corporate has crossed an essential threshold. Compromise […] ends right here”. It is early days, however I believe the identical could be stated now concerning the Z9, particularly given its aggressive price-point.

Nikon is hoping that the Z9 may have the identical energizing impact because the D3 did, again in 2007, altering perceptions of the corporate, and reassuring skilled and high-end fanatic customers that the corporate can nonetheless compete on the prime finish of the ILC market. At $5,500, the Z9 is priced fairly aggressively, too. In actual phrases, the Z9’s MSRP is 17% much less than the D3 was at launch.

Nikon has seen its market share steadily eaten away in recent times, and the Z9 will not flip that round in a single day: it is nonetheless a giant, heavy professional-level digital camera in any case, geared toward a comparatively small base of customers, and and priced past the attain of most. And the challenges that Nikon is going through now appear extra existential than these of 2007: The once-profitable markets for entry-level DSLRs and compact cameras are a fraction of the dimensions they as soon as had been, for instance, eradicating a serious supply of R&D income. That individual challenge is not distinctive to Nikon, however of all of the producers, Nikon appears additionally to have been hit notably exhausting by ongoing COVID-related supply-chain issues, which have coincided with a tough transition interval when the corporate has been consolidating its major manufacturing effort in Thailand.

However whereas Nikon has been knocked down a couple of instances of late, the Z9 exhibits that it is emphatically not out. And if, for its subsequent trick, Nikon can pull off a D700 second… effectively, would not that be one thing?

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