Nikon Shows Sony How It Should Be Done – Z8 Firmware 2.0

I’m currently in California, and while I sip my morning coffee looking out over the SoCal hills, my Nikon Z8 is flashing away next to me, installing firmware 2.0. On this trip, I also have my Sony kit – everything up to a 600mm f/4 GM. But do you know which camera I’m most excited about using? Yes, the camera with the new firmware that now has all the features of Nikon’s flagship Z9 and all the features of the newly launched Zf. It feels like new camera day, and I didn’t spend another dollar for it.

As someone who shoots Sony and Nikon, I have seen both sides of the spectrum regarding camera firmware updates. On the one hand, Sony ignored their customers’ pleas for years and confused their product lineup by refusing to add basic new features to their pro-level cameras that had been introduced in newer mid-tier and low-end cameras. This left people like me, a Sony a1 user who spent $6500 on a camera, looking longingly at simple yet useful features available in $1500 cameras.

After massive online backlash, Sony finally realized how much egg had piled on its face and promised firmware updates for the a7S III and a1. These updates have yet to appear, and how extensive they will be remains to be seen. If the list of improvements is merely what was promised in the press conference, it will be a huge disappointment.

On the other hand, Nikon has repeatedly re-invented current cameras by delivering firmware updates that add significant new features and sometimes almost unbelievable improvements to autofocus performance. This trend continued with the recent Z8 firmware 2.0 update that not only gave their prosumer camera all of the new features recently added to the top-tier Z9 but also added new features, like Pixel Shift multi-shot, that were introduced in the recently launched Nikon Zf.

While some Z8 2.0 firmware improvements, like bird detection and Auto Capture, were likely candidates for a 2.0 update, Pixel Shift and Rich Tone Portrait Picture Control are more surprising. I’m sure these features will come in a Z9 firmware update soon, but they are unavailable now, making the Z8 a more feature-rich camera than its more expensive sibling. At the expense of cannibalizing Z9 sales, Nikon has prioritized customer happiness. What a novel idea.

But here’s the thing: current Z9 users are not even mad because Nikon has repeatedly demonstrated that they won’t leave their users out in the cold, unlike Sony. These features will undoubtedly appear in the next Z9 firmware, so rather than being mad that the Z8 users have a feature they do not, Z9 users appear overwhelmingly excited about the prospect of getting these new features in a future update. A rising tide floats all ships.

As someone who regularly browses right to the very corners of the internet to gauge the temperature of camera users, the narrative I have seen in forums and comment sections from Sony and Nikon users couldn’t be more different in the last twelve months. The effect of Sony’s firmware policy on the professional market should not be underestimated, nor should the broader impact of the bad press be forgotten. Even those that didn’t buy a camera like the a1 were reading the constant online coverage of the issue and seeing the barrage of YouTube complaint videos. Sony users are all left assuming their cameras will never get a meaningful firmware update.

On the other hand, Nikon users feel valued and like their cameras are a worthy long-term investment. Of course, as a Sony a1 and a Nikon Z8/Z9 user, I have felt both things. I have been frustrated at Sony and joyed at the significance of my Nikon cameras’ functional improvements and feature additions since I bought them. Great cameras were made better for free, and I loved it! I cannot deny that its firmware policy has vastly elevated my feelings towards Nikon as a company, and what started as a plan to own a basic 2-lens Nikon kit for me has turned into a $40,000 investment into a Nikon kit that covers everything from 24-800mm.

Perhaps more worrying for Sony is the increased number of Sony Alpha shooters, who I have seen making comments like “My next camera will be a Nikon.” I used to see such things here and there, beginning around the time of the Nikon Z9’s first major firmware update. Now that Nikon’s Z9 firmware 4.0 update has elevated the camera’s autofocus performance to within touching distance of the Sony a1’s AF performance (I can say that since I bought both cameras), and now that the Z8 has received the same update, this sentiment seems to be increasing.

Nikon announced their annual financial results yesterday and posted a massive 27.4% year-on-year growth from their Imaging sector, mainly due to the success of the Z8 and Zf cameras. With the Z6 III just around the corner and rumored to feature some incredible-for-the-price point specifications, these are interesting times for Nikon. Kudos are deserved for the turnaround in fortunes and the gamble that pleasing all customers with such incredible firmware updates and making them feel like they made a good investment would ultimately lead to increased profits, even if it did cannibalize a few flagship camera sales.

Photo of author
Professional photographer based in Yukon, Canada, and founder of Shutter Muse. His editorial work has been featured in publications all over the world, and his commercial clients include brands such as Nike, Apple, Adobe and Red Bull.

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7 thoughts on “Nikon Shows Sony How It Should Be Done – Z8 Firmware 2.0”

  1. This is me 100%. I have an a7RV and an a1. They will likely be my last two Sony cameras, mainly because of the firmware strategy. Nikon’s commitment to its firmware and Fuji’s, including film simulations, have my attention. I picked up an X-T5 and love it. In the near future, I can see shooting Fuji GFX for my landscape/travel work and Nikon for wildlife.

    Reply
    • Very interesting, Jonathan. Nikon makes a compelling case for wildlife photographers right now. I absolutely love their lightweight 400mm f/4.5 and 600mm f/6.3. These lenses paired with the Z8 are, right now, the ultimate combination for wildlife for the majority of people. IMO.

      Reply
      • Hi Dan,
        I would love to read your thoughts on comparing the 2 systems, I recall your move from Canon to Sony, and I’m thinking it would be a good read on how the Nikons came into the fray and how the 2 systems in your camera bag complement and contrast each other.
        Just an idea.
        am

        Reply
  2. I regret to say that none of this has stopped snivelling idiots spreading lies about when this update would be released, or even though Nikon never suggested it would be releasing it in 2023, criticising Nikon for not releasing it earlier. And when I tried to correct this “disinformation”, they attacked me like screaming banshees! Absolutely no respect for anyone but themselves.
    Unfortunately people who behave like that can inflict a lot of damage on the companies they are discussing. And the camera industry isn’t in such an iron clad condition that it can put up with too much of that kind of damage. So I wish they would all just grow up and shut up, and leave other companies (and people) alone. I was brought up to be nice to other people – pity these people weren’t, too!

    Reply
    • I don’t quite follow this comment. Who was attacking you, and where? I personally thought that Nikon had been very quick with the Z8 update. Look at Sony, for example. They pre-announced a firmware update 6 months before they said it would arrive, and that was just for basic features. If anyone has been complaining about the speed of the Z8 firmware update, they are delusional.

      Reply
  3. I own a Z9 and the recent firmware update is astonishing for birds which is my main interest (obsession?). I shot a Black-Capped Chickadee with the z 100-400 and 1.4 TC. It covered maybe 10% of the frame and it nailed a black eye on a black background. Who knew they have brown irises maybe 1mm wide? I’m hoping they incorporate some of the new Z8 features in the next update and I would also like to see something on the lines of the software graduated ND feature that OM system just announced.

    Reply
  4. I’m happy I purchased the Nikon Z8 and I’m looking forward to trying the new firmware update. It does feel like your camera is improving and that makes me feel good. I’ve been a Nikon user for many years and couldn’t afford to switch to another camera manufacturer after making a considerable investment in Nikkor lenses. So I’ve been with them through the lows and the highs and it feels good that I’m presently experiencing a resurgence with Nikon or a high. In regard to firmware updates I liked when there was a firmware update for the Nikon D850 that allowed me to use the Sony CFexpress cards and when the Nikon Z8 came out I was happy it took the same Sony CFexpress cards. Sometimes when a new camera comes out it has to use a new kind of storage card. I know, faster writing speeds, advancement in technology, blah, blah, blah, but it results in an additional expense to a consumer as all their previous compact flashcards are now lying in a drawer at home and are obsolete. When I purchased my Nikon Z8 from the camera store I told the salesperson that I was happy my Nikon Z8 would work with my CFexpress cards and if this wasn’t the case I wouldn’t be standing here purchasing a new camera. He just shrugged his shoulders, but not all photographers have huge amounts of money to spend. Right now I’m using my Z8 with the AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/5.6 PF ED VR and the mount adapter. As a wildlife photographer I’m sad I can’t afford some of the new mirrorless lenses because some of them would make Nikon Z8 really sing.

    Reply

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