The Nikon Z 8 is a new high-resolution mirrorless camera. You can think of it as the counterpart to the Nikon D850 in Nikon’s Z system, or as a smaller and cheaper version of the Nikon Z 9, which has the same sensor and processor.
TESTRESULTS Nikon Z 8:
The Nikon Z 8 offers the same performance as the Nikon Z 9, in a lighter and more compact body. This makes it a better choice for those who also want to shoot video.
Introduction Nikon Z 8
The number 8 in the name of Nikon’s latest system camera is a clear reference to the Nikon D850, one of the best SLRs ever in the Nikon range. But the Z 8 is much more photo AND video focused than the D850. It is a true hybrid camera for creative image-makers. Ahead of the announcement, there were rumours that the Z 8 would get a 60-megapixel sensor. That turned out not to be true. The Z 8 has the same sensor and processor as the Z 9, the top model in the Nikon Z series. You can therefore think of it as a slimmed-down version of the Z 9. For both photo and video, the Z 8 does (almost) everything the Z 9 can – although the latter got additional features like Auto Capture with firmware 4.0 that the Z 8 does not (yet) have.
Sensor and processor
Like the Z 9, the Z 8 has a 45.7 megapixel full-frame sensor with a so-called stacked design. Such a stacked sensor can be read out particularly quickly. This enables a high frame rate; up to 20 shots per second in raw format, or 30 per second in full-resolution jpeg. With a lower resolution of 11 megapixels, that even becomes 120 shots per second in jpeg format. As with the Z9, the sensor is stabilised (IBIS), which, according to Nikon, should give 6 stops of gain. The Z 8 also offers a pre-burst option, with which it stores photos in buffer memory as long as you keep the shutter button half-pressed. As soon as you press down fully, the shots from the past second are captured on memory card. So you never miss a decisive moment again. Pre-burst is available in jpeg at 30, 60 and 120 frames per second.
The information captured by the sensor is processed by Nikon’s Expeed 7 image processor. This is done in two parallel image streams; one directly for the live view image in the electronic viewfinder or on the screen and one for the image file (photo or video) stored on the memory card. Because of this uninterrupted image stream, the image in the viewfinder never goes black in fast sequence shooting. Like the Z 9, the Z 8 uses only an electronic shutter; in fact, there is no mechanical shutter at all. Because the sensor is read so quickly, the Z 8 has virtually no problems with rolling shutter, where fast-moving objects in a photo or video are distorted. The electronic shutter has a flash sync time of 1/200s. The Z 8 also has the same sensor protection as the Z 9, which looks a bit like a curtain shutter with slats, but is much sturdier.
Externally, the differences between the Z 8 and the Z 9 are greater. The Z 8 has no built-in battery grip and is therefore more compact than the Z 9. The Z 8 is 119 mm high, while the Z 9 is 150 mm high. As a result, the Z 8 fits more easily in a standard photo backpack. The difference in weight is even more striking; the Z 8 puts 910 grams on the scales, compared to 1340 grams for the Z 9. The lower weight and more compact dimensions make the Z 8 easier to use in video rigs and on gimbals and will therefore be preferred more often by videographers. Incidentally, the difference in weight is not only due to the absence of the battery grip. The body of the Z 9 is made entirely of a solid magnesium alloy; more carbon fibre, a lighter material, was used for the Z 8. The Z 8 does have a weatherproof seal that keeps out dust, dirt and moisture, and is just as resistant to cold as the Z 9, according to Nikon: You can work with it in temperatures down to -10°C, according to Nikon. The Z 8 uses the same EN-EL15c battery as the Z 6 (II) and Z 7 (II). According to the CIPA metering method, this battery is good for 340 shots, which is less than half that of the Z 9. In practice, many more shots are possible; Nikon itself lists 2,240 shots in jpeg. The battery can be charged in the supplied battery charger, but also via usb-c while in the camera. Those switching from a D850 can continue to use that camera’s EN-EL15a battery. However, it cannot then be charged in the camera.
Incidentally, the Z 8 has not one but two USB-C ports. One serves for power supply, the second for data transfer. So in a studio, you can simultaneously power the camera and transfer your photos to a computer via USB. You can also connect an adapter to the second usb-c port to connect the Z 8 to an Ethernet network. In fact, unlike the Z 9, the Z 8 does not have a built-in Ethernet port. Nor does the Z 8 have a built-in GPS receiver. However, like the Z 9, it does have a full-size HDMI output. Another difference from the Z 9 are the memory card slots. The Z 9 has two slots for the fast CFExpress-B memory cards, the Z 8 has one CFExpress Type B slot and one UHS II SD slot. The advantage of SD UHS II cards is that they are cheaper than CFExpress with the same capacity; but they are slower. To use the highest range speeds in photo and the highest resolutions and frame rates in video, you need the fast CFExpress cards. With a ProGrade CFExpress card (write speed 1400 MB/s), I could take 61 consecutive raw photos at 20 frames per second before the buffer memory was full and the recording rate slowed down; with a ProGrade SD UHS II card (write speed 250 MB/s), there were only 25. The Z 8’s viewfinder and screen are the same as those of the Z 9, which is a good thing. The electronic viewfinder has a resolution of 3.69 million pixels, which seems low compared to top Canon and Sony models. However, the big advantage of this viewfinder is the total absence of delay; you really see what is happening and don’t miss a moment. That is more important for action than high resolution. The difference with an optical viewfinder is really minimal. The screen can be flipped horizontally as well as vertically, but is not rotatable. That’s a drawback for a camera so heavily geared towards videographers.
The position of the controls is similar to that of other Nikon Z cameras, so Nikon users will quickly become familiar with the Z 8. The camera has a large number of buttons and dials for direct access to key settings, including three programmable function buttons. The camera also has a joystick for selecting the focus point.
The main differences with the Z 9 are the absence of the transport mode dial on the top left, and – due to the absence of the battery grip – of the extra shutter button, second joystick and AF-ON button to control the camera in portrait mode. If you would like to have those controls for vertical orientation, there is the separately purchased battery grip MB-N12 (€399) that also fits a second EN-EL15c battery. Mate with that battery grip, the Z 8 again comes close to the Z 9 in weight and size.
Like the Z 9, the Z 8 has an AF mode dial at the bottom left of the front, exactly where the traditional MF/AF-S/AF-C switch on Nikon’s SLRs sits. Holding the button down and turning the front dial changes the AF mode, while turning the rear dial changes the AF area.
The Z 8 contains the same sensor and image processor as the Z 9, so it is no surprise that it delivers the same, outstanding, image quality as its more expensive big brother. The Z 8 produces photos with great detail and natural colours. Its outstanding autofocus system and real-time viewfinder make it suitable for sports and fast-paced action. For portrait and wedding photographers, the Z 8 also has some assets that the Z 9 does not (yet) have. The Z 8 got the same Portrait Impression Balance features as the Z6II and the Z7 (and the D850, with the latest firmware).
Allows the creation of three presets that adjust the colour tone (more magenta or more yellow) and/or brightness of skin tones. As a result, less post-processing is needed to get the desired skin tones. In addition, the Z 8 also has a function to automatically soften the skin. There are three settings; low, normal and high. With a jpeg file, the result of that softening is clear, but subtle; there is still detail visible in the skin. If you shoot in raw, skin softening is visible in Nikon’s own raw developer NX Studio, but not in Lightroom and Camera Raw.
Like the Z 9, the Z 8 has impressive video capabilities. The Z 8 can capture 12-bit raw video recordings on a memory card, so without having to use an external recorder. In Nikon’s own N-RAW format, it can do so up to 8.3K/60p. That yields huge files, count 45 gigabytes per minute. In 4K resolution, you can also use ProRes RAW HQ. Besides these two raw formats, the Z 8 can also film with 10-bit or 8-bit H.265 in up to 8K/30p and in ProRes 422 HQ 10 bits in up to 4K/60p. For slow-motion, the Z 8 goes into 4K resolution at up to 120fps in N-RAW and H.265. When filming in 4K, you can also zoom in digitally. In all 12-bit and 10-bit video formats, you can film with Nikon’s N-Log profile. This gives a flatter, contrast-free image with maximum dynamic range, which does need extra colorgrading in post-processing. The 3D LUT for that can be downloaded from Nikon. One difference with theZ9 is that the Z8 n 8K/30p resolution can record a maximum of 90 minutes uninterrupted internally, on the Z 9 it is 125 minutes. The reason is that the Z 9’s larger body dissipates heat better. Longer recording times are possible with an external recorder.
The Z 8 has the same autofocus system as the Z 9, with phase detection pixels on the sensor. This is good news, as the Z 9’s autofocus system is one of the best on the market. Thanks to deep learning-trained algorithms, it recognises people, dogs, cats, birds, cars ́s, motorbikes, bicycles, trains and planes. The Z 9 could already detect planes as part of its vehicle detection mode, but on the Z 8, this subject was given a separate setting – plane spotters will be happy. According to Nikon, subject recognition for people was also improved: faces are recognised more quickly when they are only small in focus, and face recognition is said to work better in backlight too. Perhaps the Z 9 will soon also get these improvements via a firmware update.
Relative to competitors
In almost every respect, the Z 8 can be considered a slimmed-down Z 9, with all the features and capabilities of that larger camera in a smaller and lighter body, with some newer features like HEIF, a more refined autofocus and skin enhancement. The €4,599 price tag puts the Z8 in direct competition with the Canon EOS R5, the Sony A7R V and the Sony A9 II, and by comparison it doesn’t look bad at all.
|Nikon Z 8
|64-25600 (32 – 102.400 extended)
|max. series speed
|20 (RAW), 30-120 (jpeg)
|1 x CFexpress, 1x UHS II SD
|144 x 119 x 83 mm
|weight (incl battery)
|€ 4.599,- (body)
Conclusion test Nikon Z 8
In almost every respect, the Z 8 can be considered a slimmed-down Z 9.
In almost every respect, the Z 8 can be considered a slimmed-down Z 9 with almost all the features and capabilities of that larger camera, only in a smaller and lighter body. In addition, the Z 8 has also gained some new features, such as a more refined autofocus and skin enhancement. Priced at €4,599, it is competitive with the Canon EOS R5, the Sony A7R V and the Sony A9 II, but the Z 8 can easily handle that comparison.