How Pro Photographers Helped Make the Z9, from Prototype to Flagship

The development of a new camera system does not happen quickly. Agence France-Presse (AFP) reveals that it worked with Nikon for several years to develop the Z9, from its abstract prototype stage until today, where it equips its staff with the flagship camera.

AFP says it plans to equip all of its staff photographers with the Z9 in the future alongside other mirrorless cameras. The agency has a network of more than 450 photographers, including 190 permanent photographers, who report in 151 countries, the majority of whom choose to photograph with Nikon.

The agency says it has worked closely with Nikon for more than two decades and provides the company with a direct line of communication between photographers in the field and engineers developing cameras behind the scenes. This close relationship continued with the development of the Z9 and it was perhaps this contribution that made it the best-selling camera in its segment.

Hands-on with the Z9 in its early days

“The first conversations about the development of the Z9 began more than three years ago,” said François-Xavier Marit, one of AFP’s technical editors.

“During our first meetings, we were shown just a very abstract model of the camera: a plastic box with fake buttons. It was our first look at the Z9 and it was designed to test our reaction to the first model, how it felt to hold, handle and use.

Italian actress Matilda Lutz poses during a photocall for ‘Final Cut (Coupez!)’ during the 75th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 18, 2022. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

Marit says the initial feedback she shared with Nikon was about the positioning of some of the buttons.

“Some of the very first changes we discussed with Nikon were the repositioning of the playback button from the top left to the bottom right of the camera body. This was very important to us and was the subject of many of our early conversations,” says Marit.

Photo credit Sébastien BOZON, AFP

“In addition to that, we’ve worked together to bring back the AF mode button — something that’s prevalent in Nikon’s DSLRs. This allows photographers to quickly and easily switch between manual focus and auto focus.

Antonin Thuillier, another of AFP’s technical editors, says he and Marit were in regular communication with Nikon engineers and provided constant feedback from AFP photographers in the field. This included suggestions for improvements, feedback on features, and what these pros felt needed to change to deliver the best photos.

A guest arrives to attend the screening of “Final Cut (Cut!)” ahead of the opening ceremony of the 75th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 17, 2022. (Photo by Antonin THUILLIER / AFP)

“We’re talking to Nikon engineers and they’re in another world,” says Thuillier. “We can come up with ideas and say what photographers want, but the real challenge is for Nikon: how can they actually fulfill the wants and needs of photographers with the technology they create?

AFP photographers have been involved in more than the Z9, but in the features of Nikon software and other cameras. Thuillier and Marit joined AFP over 10 years ago and worked over the years with Nikon to help produce cameras that professionals really wanted to use.

Pushing Nikon to grow beyond the camera

“We first worked with Nikon to introduce voice tags in the Z 6II, a camera that many AFP photographers shoot with. It is important to remember that photojournalists are never alone, they work as a team. Being able to provide additional information and color to an editor or press team is a crucial step in the workflow,” says Thuillier.

“On top of that, I often compare a photographer to a conductor and an orchestra, as there are a lot of cameras to coordinate. We worked closely with Nikon to develop NX Field, a software solution that redefined remote shooting. This technology enables synchronized shutter release of multiple remote cameras while accelerating the image transfer workflow,” he adds.

Photo credit Tobias SCHWARZ, AFP
Photo credit Manan VATSYAYANA, AFP

“It’s not just super-fast autofocus; the nuances of function are what’s important to photographers — and that’s what’s great about our relationship with Nikon. We’re able to feed it all back in and they’re able to make small changes that make a huge difference,” he says.

AFP says focusing on these details and providing this information to Nikon engineers allows the company to ensure that certain features are not forgotten and that future updates continue to support photographers in a meaningful way.

“Real-time feedback from photographers in the field is continually reviewed as part of the ongoing development process and incorporated into future firmware updates when possible,” AFP explains. “Not only does this benefit early product development, but it strengthens and improves the product throughout its lifecycle, allowing the kit (and the photographers) to evolve with technological advancements.”

AFP adds that its photographers, including Thuillier and Marit, are focused on how Nikon can help them manage the photos they take, which plugs the camera company much more into software than it does. is usually the case.

Photo credit Gabriel BOUYS, AFP
Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic competes to win the women’s downhill event during the FIS Alpine Skiing World Cup in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, on February 26, 2022. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

“The next challenge for Nikon and the industry as a whole will be how to help photographers manage image volume efficiently,” says Marit.

“[Camera] the templates are getting more and more sophisticated and the number of images you can take with just one click is mind-boggling. Today’s fast news cycle means photographers need to be quick to send the photos, so helping them edit those images will be key.

Picture credits: Photos courtesy of Agence France-Presse.

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