Apr 07, 2023

Nikon z8 Review: The One We've Been Waiting For

The Nikon z8 is a camera that so many photographers have been waiting for. Since the Nikon z9 was announced a bit over a year ago, I’ve wondered when the z8 would arrive on the scene. For the most part, all the rumors were correct. This camera is essentially a Nikon z9 without a vertical grip. That also means that it's more or less already a one-year-old camera. But is it enough to make a photographer want to jump ship to Nikon?

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Table of Contents

The Nikon z8 is a camera that many photographers have been waiting for. In some ways, it feels like a camera that should’ve come out last year. "…all this is a long way of saying that the big three companies more or less do things so similarly," is what we stated in our first impressions report. And overall, I still kind of agree. With that said, you can't really go wrong with the Nikon z8. It's a good old reliable camera that can do a job very well. Photojournalists, portrait photographers, wedding photographers, sports photographers, wildlife photographers, event photographers, and so many others will be very happy with the results you get.

The reasons why I wouldn't buy this camera could be considered very personal. First off, it's the tallest camera that I’ve tested that doesn't have a vertical grip. That's to say that it's even taller than my Leica SL2s though not as heavy and built nowhere as well. I’m also waiting on a Nikon zf, as I really want it to come to the market eventually.

At the higher end, it's almost incredibly difficult to tell Canon, Sony, and Nikon apart. Where this really separates is with autofocus and lens availability. Nikon and Sony have the most available to them if you’re counting third-party inclusions. But if you’re looking at the autofocus performance, Canon and Sony both outdo Nikon, even when photographing darker-skinned POCs in low light. Overall, they all do a terrible job at this, and they all need to work on it.

Where the Nikon Z8 stands out from its competition with the Canon EOS R5 and the Sony a7r IV is with the feeling of the camera. It feels the most like a DSLR without the mirror and pentaprism. This could turn someone off, though, as they’re not looking for that. The Canon EOS R5 doesn't quite feel like a 5D series camera. At the same time, Sony's cameras don't feel like cameras either, but they’re getting closer to it.


With a few weeks separated away from the Nikon Z8, I still think that it's a very good camera. The fact that it doesn't have a mechanical shutter is something worth looking at and remembering. But I don't think that it's enough to draw people away from shooting with Canon and Sony. I’ve also recently been spending more time shooting with Panasonic and Leica cameras — which, overall, I feel deliver much more character to the images and experience than Nikon does.

Make no mistake, I’ve made some beautiful images with Nikon lenses and cameras. But it's still missing some magic to put it over the top and make it stand out above all the rest. This, specifically, is far more important than we think these days. A camera can't just be "a good camera," anymore. They’re all good cameras. But so is every single competitor to the Nikon z8.


The Nikon Z8 receives four out of five stars. It can do everything you really need it to, but it's lacking soul and originality beyond lacking a mechanical shutter. Want one? You can pick it up from Amazon.



The Nikon z8 and 24-120mm f4 lens we used for this review were on loan to us from Nikon. We also used the Nikon 100-400mm and 50mm f1.2 that we borrowed from Lensrentals. It was also tested with a Profoto B10, which is our own unit that we have in-house.

The Nikon Z8 isn't innovating anything here. It's just a Nikon z9 without the vertical grip. With that said, the camera would’ve been introduced last year alongside the Z9.

This section is borrowed from our First Impressions post:

Here's a look at the new Nikon Z8. On the other side of this camera are two programmable buttons. But the really cool thing here is the button on the bottom side that you can use in a similar way to the Nikon D850's autofocus setting button. Even in my hands, this camera looks big. And it surely is.

Take a look at the top of the Nikon Z9. It kept the top LCD screen in the same way that the Nikon Z9 and the Canon EOS R5 has. There's a pretty empty top right but still there's an ISO button, and more controls. The real kicker is the on/off/light up switch. On the other side of the EVF and hot shoe are buttons. Unlike the Nikon Z9, these aren't raised on a massive dial. They’re just buttons that are slightly raised. Granted, they’re very accessible and make using the camera so much better.

On the back of the Nikon Z8 you’ll find the joystick, the D-pad, the LCD screen, and a bunch of other buttons. But you’ll mostly spend time peering through the EVF or looking at the screen. Even without my glasses on, the EVF was interpretable.

The right side of the camera has the storage slots for the cards. Let's move on, there's nothing really new here.

On the other side are where things are a bit weird. There's two USB-C ports. Only one can be used for power. Why? I’m not sure. But it means that you’re probably going to have to bring more cables with you.

And, of course, the LCD screen comes out and tilts for your convenience.

Carrying this around isn't all that bad. In fact, it's very lightweight, and this is a result of the Nikon lens design. Canon's lenses are huge and heavy — which is a huge advantage that Nikon has over Canon. Further, the Nikon z8 is weather resistant as well. Of course, it also has a shutter shield for when you need to change lenses and power the camera down.

What's really nice is overall how lightweight the package can be. When I spent a few hours shooting a high school baseball game with the camera and lenses, I was amazed at how light the 100-400mm and Nikon z8 felt in my hands. However, that doesn't mean that it felt balanced. In fact, the Nikon z8 is so light that I think it might be better suited for Nikon's smaller prime lenses.

Of course, the camera is also weather resistant.

I had a few oddities around the Nikon z8's ease of use. For example, a photographer can't wire the subject detection to a dedicated button. There are a few suggestions here: first off, subject detection should be on the top LCD screen. And to get something close to allowing the Nikon z8 to have subject detection set to a button, you need to do a workaround. Said workaround for subject detection to be fast is the following: set the function button to my menu's top item. Then set a button to access the top menu item there. When you do this, you can access subject detection. However, it shouldn't be this much of a pain to do it.

A long-standing complaint I’ve had about Nikon cameras has to do with visual impairment. If you are visually impaired, the autofocus points are very difficult to see. I wish that they had customizations the way OM system cameras have, where I can set the grid markers and thickness of the lines to different settings.

Where Nikon makes the z8 easier to use is with the touchscreen interface. This is better than the interface that I’ve seen with the Z9. That's not to say that it's a different menu. It's just the way that it actually works is different. It's not as simple as Canon's menu system still, but it feels easier to work with than Sony's.

Something that photographers might find odd is the lack of a raised dial to the side of the viewfinder. Instead, there are just a few buttons. Those buttons would’ve felt truer to Nikon's identity if there were a dial like there is with the Nikon z9.

Besides all this, the Nikon z8 works flawlessly with Profoto lights.

Even better, I didn't see a lot of issues with rolling shutter that would make me want to throw the camera away.

Typically when we test the metering on cameras, we rate it against the Sunny 16 metering method. And if you’re doing that, know that the sensor in the Nikon z8 has a variation between being overexposed and underexposed by 1/3rd of a stop. Most cameras underexpose a scene by a bit, but the Nikon z8 goes either way. We’ve asked tech reps about this in the industry for years, and this is also one of the reasons why you don't get the same reading necessarily when shooting aperture priority or another mode.

I’ve been reading photographers speaking on social media about how much better the autofocus is on the Nikon z8. And indeed, it really is compared to previous Nikon cameras save for the Nikon z9. It's about right on par with the Nikon z9. So that also means that while it has the Nikon z9's strengths, it also inherits its quirks.

I truly want to start with what I spoke of earlier. Nikon's autofocus points are very difficult to see because they’re just so thin. They nearly blend in with the background, and you can't change them into a variety of colors. You, with your wonderful gift of perfect eyesight, might be saying that this is such a small thing. However, it's truly not — and I’m inclined to say that dismissing a claim like this is borderline discriminatory. Visually impaired people use cameras all the time — and though the Nikon z8's viewfinder is nice, it could be much better compared to the competition. Nikon should work on a way to make their autofocus points and the grid lines easier to see, as adjusting the contrast or other settings of the viewfinder don't work.

A workaround for this would be to use the different zones or the entire scene in combination with subject detection. However, these provide situational problems.

When photographing an adorable long-haired chihuahua, I asked the owner if I could take a picture of her dog. The Nikon Z8 detected the dog's face and selected its right eye. It didn't give me the option to select the other eye at all. Strapped for time, I had to just take the option and leave. If the system were working, then it would’ve offered my a yellow square around the dog's other eye. But it didn't — and even if it did, I wouldn't be able to see it very well.

For autofocus, Nikon should have an eye priority detection instead of making me choose the point myself. Canon, Nikon, Leica, Panasonic, Sony, and Fujifilm all have this feature. They all let you choose whether you want a body, face, or eyes in focus. Even when consulting with our staff — who are all current or former Nikon shooters — they couldn't figure this one out.

Autofocus tracking in very low light is the best I’ve seen on any Nikon camera. It's still slightly unreliable compared to Canon and Sony. But it's ahead of everyone else, including the Leica SL2s, by a bit. Essentially, what we’re saying is that it's in 3rd place. However, autofocus tracking of people of color in low light is just as bad as all the other brands.

In good lighting during a baseball game, the z8 did a terrific job overall at tracking subjects. Where it slacked a bit is with tracking running subjects. For something like this, Canon has always done the best job.

For the record, this was the case with and without the live view preview enabled. We didn't have any Tamron lenses on hand to test the Nikon Z8 with, but I’d assume, given previous testing, that it wouldn't perform as well as Nikon's native lenses.

With all this said, I still felt as though the Nikon z8 could tackle nearly any situation I threw at it. If the tracking wasn't as good, I’d still be able to bring back a few usable photos realistically. But I would possibly miss "the shot" that would haunt many photographers less senior than I am. It performed very well when tracking birds in good lighting — though I’m sure that once the light starts to go down in a forest canopy the autofocus performance would degrade. That's when Canon and Sony really show how much better they can be.

Do you like the Z9? Well, this Z8 is essentially the Nikon z9 when it comes to the sensor. That's to say that the image quality is incredible. Nikon shooters will all really like what this camera produces. The colors from this sensor simply pop in a way that Sony only wishes that it could do, and the high ISO output is exceptionally clean. In some ways, this camera reminds me of the Nikon D3, D700, and D300-era of photography.

Truly, if I had posted the JPEGs of birds and sports shot on the Z8, people would’ve loved it on social media. Said people aren't necessarily photographers — those are the people that matter. With that said, the Nikon z8 produces nice JPEGs, especially with certain image setting modes and even the portrait impressions settings.

High ISO output right out of the camera is the best I’ve ever seen. But when it comes to editing those raw files, they fall apart in Lightroom for color editing. If you’re looking to get details, though, then Lightroom does a good job. Combined with the AI denoise feature, it does a decent job.

The Phoblographer typically tests RAW files in Capture One. However, Capture One support for the z8 came when we basically had our review all polished and painted. When we ran the images through Capture One, we found that Adobe did a slightly better job comparatively. The colors straight out of the camera looked better in Adobe Lightroom Classic — and though noise handling was better by default with Capture One, it could be made much better in Lightroom in the end. To us, this is quite shocking considering the nearly past decade of software performance.

The Phoblographer's high ISO tests involve printing images at large sizes. We printed an unedited ISO 6400 photo from the Canon Prograf 1000 printer using Canson paper at 17×22 inches. It resulted in one of the cleanest high-ISO photos I’ve seen from a sensor in the 45-megapixel range. Considering that the photo was unedited, this means you’ll get a much better image once you edit it.

These RAW files are pretty much as versatile as the Sony a7r III, which is considered to be the best Sony camera on DXO Mark. The sensors in the Nikon z9 and the Sony a7r III are very similar. So that just makes a whole lot of sense.

From day one, The Phoblographer has been huge on transparency with our audience. Nothing from this review is sponsored. Further, lots of folks will post reviews and show lots of editing in the photos. The problem then becomes that anyone and everyone can do the same thing. They’re not showing what the lens can do. So we have a section in our Extra Image Samples area to show edited and unedited photos. From this, you can make a decision for yourself.

There are a bunch of photographers that would do very well with the Nikon z8. In fact, quite honestly, it couldn't do a bad job for anyone.

With all that said, the Nikon z8 is a very good jack of all trades, but a master of none. Portrait photographers might very well wish for either more megapixels, the look of Fujifilm's film simulations, or native lenses with character. Sports photographers and event photographers have access to more lenses and better autofocus with Sony. They’ve got access to better lenses via Canon. Anyone that needs better durability might be better served with Leica. And if you want great video, it's hard to beat Canon, Sony, or Panasonic.

The Nikon Z8 finds itself cemented in the same stalemate we’ve had for a bit over a decade. That is, the best cameras for photography and made by Canon, Sony, and Nikon. The best cameras for video are made by Canon, Sony, and Panasonic. Despite this, Nikon leans harder into the video side to appeal to more creators. However, I think Nikon should’ve leaned harder into an audience that they’re more likely to get: photographers.

Tack onto all this that the Nikon Z8 is a good camera that should’ve come out last year. Before the end of 2023, we’re bound to see a bunch of new things that will supersede the Nikon Z8. Who knows; we could have a new Sony a9 III or the Canon EOS R5 II. For video, the Panasonic S1H Mk II could be coming as well.

These are the things that I’d have in my mind if I were to purchase the Nikon z8. Despite my thoughts, none of this could stop me from making great photos with the Nikon z8. If you look at my personal website though, you’ll see that the deepest sides of my creativity are best serves by Fujifilm, Leica, and Canon. Though the Nikon Z8 is a good camera, it doesn't do enough to make me want to jump ship to another camera system.

Keep all this in mind before you make a purchase.


These specs are taken from the Adorama Listing



Sensor Size Resolution Lens Included Edition Lens Mount Video Resolution EXPERIENCE: