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

All photos by DPReview

In our conversations with Nikon representatives, one phrase has come up many times: ‘A D3 second’. The corporate is hoping that the brand new Z9 may have the identical influence 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 digicam market has been steadily eroded, with the largest menace coming from a hungry competitor with a fame for technical innovation and speedy iteration. Nikon – an organization as soon as synonymous within the digicam world with the phrase ‘skilled’ – is susceptible to showing old-fashioned, and out of step with a brand new and extra demanding era of photographers, tempted by flashy new applied sciences on supply elsewhere.

However all that’s about to vary; no 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 digicam that they consider will put Nikon again within the sport, put its opponents again of their place, and restore their firm’s fame 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 digicam 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 images world sit up and take discover.

In 2007, Canon dominated the excessive finish of the DSLR market, in mind-share no less than

The images trade (and the world) of 2007 was very completely different to in the present day. We weren’t struggling to do enterprise within the face of a worldwide pandemic, for one factor, however superb because it may appear, in mid-2007 the very first iPhone had solely just lately come available on the market, (so compact cameras have 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, but it surely was nonetheless a decade away from realizing its full potential as a mass disseminator of faux election fraud conspiracy theories and anti-vaccination memes to your dad and mom. It was a extra harmless time, is what I am saying. A time when Tom was nonetheless everyone’s pal.

Again in 2007, Canon dominated the excessive finish of the DSLR market, in mind-share no less than. Nikon was making made some actually good digital cameras, but it surely was principally nonetheless counting on CCD sensors, and it hadn’t but cracked full-frame. The D1 and D2-series professional DSLRs have been strong 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 seemed to be approaching the higher restrict of its technical potential. The sensation amongst many fanatic photographers was that Canon’s applied sciences have been simply… higher.

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

Nikon wasn’t but on the ropes, but it surely was wanting shaky. Canon hadn’t had the whole lot go its manner, 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 forth full-frame DSLR (the EOS-1DS Mark III) and like an getting old prizefighter, Nikon actually wanted a win. Even Kodak had introduced a full-frame digicam to market by that time, as way back as 2002. Admittedly they appeared to not have bothered ending it, however nonetheless. Kodak of all folks!

I used to be among the many journalists sweating by 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 grew to become clear that the D3 was a genuinely revolutionary product. It may need been Nikon’s first full-frame DSLR, however the D3 did not seem to be a first-generation product: It supplied a strong mixture of helpful decision (12MP wasn’t thought of superb in 2007 but it surely wasn’t embarrassingly low both), blazing velocity, really beautiful picture high quality at medium and excessive ISOs, and extremely superior autofocus. Each earlier professional DSLR had compelled photographers to just 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 longer term. A future, apparently, the place synthetic lighting had been outlawed

It is arduous to think about now, in a market the place each producer gives expertise that will have appeared space-age even only a few 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 folks 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 grew to become its most celebrated function, and on this respect Nikon opened up a technical lead that it maintained for a few years. I used to be moonlighting (typically actually) as a dwell music photographer after I first acquired my arms on a D3. All of a sudden I might get photos in situations that have been merely past the capabilities of another digicam, 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 longer term. A future, apparently, the place synthetic lighting had been outlawed.

That was my D3 second, but it surely appeared like everyone who used one had their very own. Virtually in a single day, the D3 grew to become the brand new benchmark for skilled DSLR imaging. Plenty of photographers (myself included) even switched techniques, with the intention to benefit from the D3’s distinctive mixture of options and efficiency.

Externally, the full-frame D3 (left) appeared rather a lot like previous-generation skilled Nikon DSLRs just like the D1H, but it surely 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 engaging – digicam 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 common D700, which featured the identical sensor because the D3 however in a smaller and extra reasonably priced physique, and which competed straight with the Canon EOS 5D. The D3S launched some small however welcome tweaks (and have become the topic of my first in-depth assessment for DPReview) after which got here the D4, the tremendous high-resolution D800-series, and you understand the remaining. Nikon may need taken a very long time to get to full body, however thereafter it moved shortly and confidently.

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

It will likely be some time earlier than we all know whether or not the Z9 really does signify a ‘D3 second’ however from our impressions thus far, it would not seem 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 increased decision, it even eclipses the D5 and D6. It additionally seems no less than aggressive with the Sony A1 – at present the best-in-class mirrorless digicam for autofocus in our opinion – and gives a mixture of velocity and pixel rely (and probably 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 necessary threshold. Compromise […] ends right here”. It is early days, however I believe the identical may 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 high 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 an enormous, heavy professional-level digicam in spite of everything, geared toward a comparatively small base of customers, and and priced past the attain of most. And the challenges that Nikon is dealing with now appear extra existential than these of 2007: The once-profitable markets for entry-level DSLRs and compact cameras are a fraction of the scale they as soon as have been, for instance, eradicating a significant supply of R&D income. That individual problem is not distinctive to Nikon, however of all of the producers, Nikon appears additionally to have been hit notably arduous by ongoing COVID-related supply-chain issues, which have coincided with a difficult transition interval when the corporate has been consolidating its predominant manufacturing effort in Thailand.

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

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