A real world review on the Nikon Z8 for Wedding Photography
It is an exciting time to be in the Nikon ecosystem and I can honestly say that now, in 2023 that Nikon is well and truly in the game with some amazing releases in the last two years, namely the Z9, Z8 and also the Zf.
I am super excited to own a Nikon after many years of being on the butt end of jokes, ridicule and the saying “who uses Nikon anymore?” or “does it even autofocus?”.
I had someone once tell me that I was not a professional because I didn’t use Sony…..what the heck? Obviously some people need a reality check.
Nikon has well and truly increased their native Z lens lineup with some very useful lenses for every genre from hardcore birders and sports photographers as well as portrait and wedding photographers and started to allow third party manufacturers to use their lens mount such as Tamron and Sigma.
So without waffling on too much, let’s get on to the review. But before I do that, why should you believe what I say?
Why should you listen to me?
So here is a bit about who I am. I actually use the cameras in real world professional scenarios, namely wedding photography and event photography.
My name is Kevin, professional wedding photographer from Sydney Australia. I started my business Images by Kevin in 2014 and I gave up my day job 4 years ago and wedding photography it is now my full time profession.
I normally photograph over 40 weddings a year in any given year, and I have photographed over 400 weddings over 10 years, and have won a few fancy awards in my time too. I have made a really decent living out of photography and I live and breath Nikon cameras.
I have been using Nikon for absolutely forever and I have owned a FM2, F90, D70, D800, D610 and D750 over the years, Z6II, Z5 and now the Z8. I have worked with my assistant shooters who have used the other brands such as Sony and Canon and seen the files that come out of those cameras, namely the R6, R5 and A73, A74 and A7r4.
I had a fortunate opportunity to give the Z8 a real world test for 8 weddings, 1 family session and many times making my kids run up and down the hallway to find out how much better the face and eye detection really is!
After I retuned my loan camera to Nikon I picked one up on during the Black Friday sales, so now I can say I am officially an owner of a Z8 and will be my main camera body from now on.
WHAT DOES A WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER NEED IN A CAMERA?
As a Sydney wedding photographer I need a camera that can keep up with the run and gun action of a wedding day where anything goes and things are unpredictable and move at a fast pace all the time.
I want something that can handle the rigours of hot 40 degree weather, bumps, occasional drops and rain.
Ergonomics and user experience is crucial and you want your camera to make the right decisions for you when you need it most.
It has to feel good in the hand for long periods of time and the button layout to help you and not be a hinderance.
Super reliable autofocus is a must as there are no second chances. There are no do overs for crucial moments so we need things to work first time every time.
Pretty much we need a camera that can do it all really well and not let us down.
I will now summarise each of the positive and negative points in detail based on my real world usage in the field of wedding photography. No, I cannot comment on birds in flight or sports photography at this stage!
What I love about the Nikon Z8
That 3D Autofocus mode is so damn good compared to the Z6II. Yes, it is true. It really is remarkable and it certainly feels miles quicker and stickier than anything I’ve experienced.
The face tracking can pick up faces and eyes about 4 times further than the Z6II. I asked my kids to walk down the hallway and it could accurately pick up my daughter’s eyes from the other side of a 10 metre corridor. The Z6II could pick it up about halfway down the same corridor.
Not only is the acquisition distance a lot further, it is quite a lot sticker on the subjects eyes and face. I asked my daughter to jump around like a monkey and yes, it did a pretty good job of tracking that little monkey!
It also works really well in a real world wedding scenario where the autofocus is far snappier, more intuitive and less prone to back focusing.
I have programmed my FN2 button as a manual override in the event the autofocus becomes too “sticky” so a simple press of that allows me to focus on a particular object if I need to. A good example of this is during a wedding ceremony ring exchange, if you allow the autofocus to work it out it will naturally want to find an eye (the celebrant) instead of what you actually want to photograph (the hands and rings).
The auto white balance is so damn accurate compared to the Z6II. During a wedding I never felt the need to change it once compared to the Z6II where I had to change it several times a day, especially on a cloudy day where it would make things quite dull and unexciting.
The Z8 accurately picks up the lighting scene and just does a better overall job of white balance, even in dark wedding reception venues where lighting is often extremely variable.
Skin tones straight out to camera look amazing without any effort. It also makes editing a breeze with little to no adjustments needed.
Blackout free shutter
I never knew how much I liked having a blackout free shutter until I used one. It really is nice to not have the screen go black everytime you take a shot so you can keep seeing the action through the screen even though I am shooting at 20 frames a second! It allows you to keep an eye on the action at all times without the constant blacking out every time you press the shutter.
1/32000 shutter speed
Again, you never know how much you like a certain feature until it is there in front of you. This certainly is the case with a 1/32000 shutter speed. I can shoot a 50 f1.2 fully open at 1.2 in the middle of the day and the results are WOW!
Who needs more megapixels right? Coming from a 24 megapixel camera to a 45 megapixel means that you can take the same photo and crop it in several different ways and not lose the quality. I am now able to crop in on the file and go from a horizontal framed shot to a vertical crop without any issues. Quite the revelation actually and again, I never knew how much I loved 45 megapixels until I used it.
If you want your files to be 35 megabytes instead of 70 megabytes without losing any noticeable quality then you can select the High Efficiency * mode and save around 50% file size per shot. For me this is pretty amazing as I can still have a 45 megapixel photo at around the same file size as the Z6II shot at lossless compressed at 24 megapixels. Gamechanger really!
Amazing Lag Free Viewfinder
The viewfinder is brighter, larger, sharper and crisp compared to Z6II. I can definitely notice the difference in quality despite having the same 3.69 million dot screen which I can put down to the dual stream technology used in the Z8.
What does that mean? Well, simply put it has a dedicated output solely for the viewfinder and the other for recording the image so that it does not affect the display you see while shooting.
No blackout. No Lag. The viewfinder is quite simply, the best I’ve come across. It also claims to have the world’s brightest monitor panel so everything just looks really good. I can honestly say it’s wonderful.
Expeed 7 Processor
According to Nikon the Expeed 7 is 10 times faster than the two processors in the Z6II, and I can certainly agree with this claim. It allows for far quicker response time, switching between photo and video mode and turning on and off the camera faster.
It responds quicker to focus, detects eyes further away than ever before and even accessing the menus are faster.
Overall, it’s just quicker to do anything. A big win for Nikon and the Expeed 7!
Power on speed noticeably better compared to Z6II
This is certainly noticeable as I am able to start shooting before the camera reaches my eye. I normally turn it on when the camera is at my hip, bring it up and it’s ready to go. The autofocus starts immediately whereas on the Z6II it took a while to wake up and start autofocusing.
Low Light Autofocus is much better
Low light autofocus was something that was not that good on the Z6II and the Z8 has certainly addressed that problem. This was particularly bad during the dance party part of the evening when the lights are dimmed right down. The autofocus was left hunting and you would have to go into manual focus mode to get anything.
I can use continuous autofocus during the dance party now if I wanted to, but I also like to use focus peaking and setting a manual distance on the focus ring so I don’t have to worry about focusing. In other news the focus peaking is so much more easier to see and use in the dark. YAY!
Switch between video and photo is much quicker
As a hybrid wedding photographer who does both photo and video on any given wedding day, switching between photo and video mode has to be as quick as possible. The Nikon Z8 does a far better job than anything I’ve ever used. You can record a a short video clip, switch to photo mode and start firing right away. No waiting for buffer to clear or lag.
4K 50p with 10bit RAW without crop factor
This point is huge for me coming from a Z6II which only had 4K 8-bit with a 1.5x crop with 4K 50p. Now I can natively record 10bit movie files in slow motion all the time without an external monitor. The difference in quality between 8bit and 10bit is so much greater, especially in post where you can notice how much tone and dynamic range the extra 2 bits of data provides.
It also features N Log, H.265 ProRes RAW if I ever want to go down the path of colour grading. But for me, 10-Bit H2.65 4k footage is more than enough.
I cannot comment on 8K video, honestly no wedding videographer would in their right mind as it is way too data hungry to be practical!
Top screen is really handy and looks great
I love being able to see all my settings on one handy screen. It is larger than the one on the Z6II and very handy to see if I have any memory cards in my camera and also if I am in AFC and M mode.
Most other manufacturers do not even give you a top screen (Not even on a flagship Sony A1 and Canon until you get to an R5)
Viewfinder cover is round like the D6, and will never tear or fall off ! (Rejoice Z6II owners)
You would not believe how happy I was to see a round, solid eye cup on the Z8. I cannot tell you how many times I have lost the eyepiece on the Z6II and also the D750. I am sure those of you who own those cameras can relate to my pain! I had to purchase a pack of 10 eye pieces on amazon.com to ensure I always had one when I lost it.
If I did not lose the eye piece, it always would rip during everyday use and storing it in my Lowepro backpack which is a bit of a tight squeeze.
The Z8 eyecup is made out of solid rubber, will not tear or fall off and I won’t have to ever buy another one again REJOICE!!!
Articulating Rear Screen
Compared to the Z6II, you can flip the screen out, to the side and into portrait mode. It is particularly useful when shooting video as you can put your screen around for easier viewing while filming. The portrait flip mode is good for getting low down to the ground. It also feels very solidly built and durable.
Plenty of FN buttons and all buttons can be customised
One of the drawbacks of the Z6II and a smaller body is having less buttons which are available on the camera. With the Nikon Z8 you have 3 x custom FN buttons which you can program to whatever you want but also the other buttons that you can customise to pretty much anything you need and personalise your camera to suit your line of work.
You can also set custom banks for certain scenarios, say if you’re a landscape photographer and a wildlife photographer who need different functions in the one trip.
As a Sydney wedding photographer you need quick access to certain functions such as changing focus modes, manual override of eye tracking and being able to switch from photo to video mode as quickly as possible.
I use the FN3 button as a quick access to My Menu so I can change things that I cannot assign to a button such as the video file type, starlight mode or high flicker reduction mode.
More buttons the better I say!
FX to DX Crop with a touch of a button
This alone is a lifesaver, especially for wedding photographers who sometimes need a bit more reach from the lens you have attached so you don’t need to crop in post production (which saves a heap of time).
I can simply program one of the function buttons, or even the record button to go from 45 megapixels to 19 megapixels with a single press. It allows you to add 1.5x your focal length and still have 19 megapixels to work with.
DX crop also works in video as well. Brilliant!
Grip feels incredibly solid in hand
Anyone who has used a Nikon DSLR such as the D850, D750 , D5 will be right at home with the Z8. It has a deep, comfortable grip which has a little bit of give for your fingers to wrap around but has a large enough length so your pinky finger has a place to sit happily without dangling off the bottom.
It feels great compared to other brand camera grips I’ve felt (Canon R5, R6II) and way better than anything Sony can produce. Some people might argue otherwise, but this is my personal opinion which I stand firm on. I even gave the camera to my photographer friends who uses Canon and the have told me it’s a pretty comfy hold.
Shutter shield is really handy to prevent dust on sensor
I love this feature and so glad I never have to worry about sensor spots on any of my photos or videos. Especially in video mode where you are more likely to use higher f stops than you would in photo mode. It keeps your sensor clean and you do not need to worry about where you change your lenses, how you change it and how often you need to take it in for a sensor clean at Nikon. LOVE THIS!
Operation is very similar to other Z cameras
Coming from a Z6II it did not take long to figure out how to use the camera, the buttons are mostly in the same place except the play button which is moved to the bottom. It is very familiar to a Nikon Z user so it makes it easy to use 2 different cameras side by side on a wedding day. There are however a few extra function buttons which you need to get used to but other than that it’s all very much the same.
The power switch has always been in the same place. Unlike Canon which changes its mind where the power button lives every time they got it wrong!
Illuminated buttons make working at night easy
Not a massive good point for me but I am sure there are those who work at night more than I do such as astrophotographers who would love this more than I do. Other brands don’t even offer this so this is pretty handy.
What I do not like about the Nikon Z8
Heavy and bigger compared to Z6II
As you can see in the picture above the size difference is quite apparent compared to the Nikon Z6II. It feels heavier, more substantial than the featherweight older cousin and you can notice it during a wedding day I can assure you! Not only is it heavier, it is also a lot taller and wider so make sure it fits into your current camera bag with your go to lens mounted on.
When I had the Z8 with the 50 1.2 lens I could just squeeze it into my Lowepro Freelance 350 backpack with the Z6II and a 85 1.8S and 24 1.8S with a bit of readjustment of the dividers and placing it differently.
If you are OK with a bit of extra weight and size or coming from a Nikon D850 (which was heavier) then you’ll be just fine!
Really heavy if mounted with 50 or 85 1.2
The Nikon Z8 Camera body alone weighs in at just over 900 grams with a battery and cards, plus the Nikon Z 50 1.2S lens weighs 1090 grams, so it is nearly 2 kilogram of hefty weight. Compared to the Nikon Z6II which comes in at 700grams with battery and cards it is 22% heavier.
I was fortunate enough to have Nikon Professional Services in Australia lend me this setup for 3 weeks and I used it over 6 weddings. I can honestly say that my hands were cramping up after I finished a wedding day due to the weight and being top heavy it puts extra strain on my wrist after many hours of hand holding.
Don’t even ask me how it would feel with a huge telephoto lens ( I wouldn’t know I am no sports photographer!)
Using smaller lenses such as the 50 1.8S or 24 1.8S it feels really nicely balanced and great in the hand.
Fn1 and Fn2 button access
For those with smaller hands like myself I personally find the Fn1 and Fn2 buttons a little harder to press down than say those on my Z6II. They are round and rubbery as opposed to flat, so to me it is harder to press down accurately. If I forgot to cut my fingernails before a shoot then it’s even harder!
This may not be a problem for those with larger hands or those with longer fingers so only for us smaller people!
Autofocus still does get confused at times especially when there are a lot of eyes in the scene (ring exchange)
Scroll wheel is a bit “clicky” and not as quick to move and precise as the one on Z6II
I can say with some authority that you must carry spare batteries with you at all times when using this camera. On any given wedding day with a Nikon Z6II I would shoot about 2000-4000 photos and I would change my first battery just before reception.
Using the Z8 I would change my first battery just after the ceremony and go through 2.5 to 3 batteries for a wedding instead of 2. I have an average of 800-1000 photos per battery over 5 weddings.
The battery life is of course, not as good. This is to be expected due to the fact it is running a more powerful processor with incredibly fast readout speeds, running a lag free viewfinder without blackout with the same battery capacity as a second generation Z camera. Unfortunately Nikon did not release a EN-EL15 high capacity battery specially for a Z8.
Yes it is a negative, but I can easily buy a spare EN-EL15C battery for $80 brand new and keep it in my pocket when I need it. Problem solved!
Shutter sound could sound better
I would love to see in a future firmware update actual recorded sounds of a D6, FM2 or D850 shutter instead of what is currently used in the Z8. It sounds a little tinny and could be a bit beefier and there are options.
Loud, soft or none at all.
Give me a choice of D700, D850, D6 or Film camera slap any day of the week.
Expensive at nearly $7000 AUD
For the same money I could buy 2 x Z6IIs and have some spare change to buy a spare battery. I did pick mine up during Black Friday sale for a great price but it is still a lot of money. Thankfully you do get one heck of a camera for your money and if I was not a professional wedding photographer making decent money from my work then I would definitely look into something cheaper.
8K is really not necessary for 99% of people.
I do think the 8K video is overkill but it is great for bragging rights against those Nikon haters who love to hate on anything Nikon. You need the fastest CF express cards to use it and you can burn though them in a matter of minutes. Not something I would ever use on a wedding day but I’m sure others would love 8K footage for commercial work.
You can’t tell when you are shooting at times
With no mechanical shutter you do not get the feedback that you are often used to using a mirrorless camera, which means you can easily overshoot and take 10 more photos than you actually need. I would take roughly 20% more photos than I usually would on any given wedding day so that means more work for me culling in photo mechanic and use more space on my memory cards as a consequence.
You can see through the viewfinder and screen white flashing lines that indicate you are shooting, but when you are in a noisy environment and you can’t hear the shutter sound going off you just do not have a second confirmation of shutter release.
But it means I would take more photos and perhaps get a better shot if I didn’t shoot as much. So horses for courses on this one.
No medium or small size raw like you used to with a D850.
You cannot select medium or small size raw like you used to with a D850, so you’re stuck with 45 megapixels all the time whether you like it or not. I know that some wedding photographers used to switch to small size raw for getting ready photos, switch to medium raw during ceremony and go large during couple portraits based on what they thought their clients would print therefore saving memory card capacity.
These days memory cards are a lot more affordable so I would suggest buying the biggest size card you can afford and use high efficiency *mode to save file size instead.
Camera gets hot
I have seen hot card warnings appear after heavy usage especially after shooting 4K video and extended burst rates. It seems to appear more when I am using my Sandisk Extreme 128gb compared to my Delkin Power cards.
I am not going to hide the fact I love this camera. It is truly a magnificent effort from Nikon and I highly recommend it for anyone who is a wedding photographer, or anyone who needs a camera that needs super reliable autofocus, faster burst rates and a more robust camera that can take a beating.
Past efforts from Nikon have been a bit lacking in terms of the autofocus area and the Z8 has addressed the real elephant in the room. The Expeed 7 processor makes everything faster than ever before and ensures that you can rely on your camera to do its job 98 percent of the time.
Nikon has created a mini monster, a mini Z9 in fact that is just as capable albeit a little smaller at a much attractive price point. It is a camera that Nikon needed to produce to not only match the competition but beat it in some ways.
Yes it is quite expensive to buy compared to cameras such as the Sony A74, Canon R6 Mark II but it is far more camera than those ever will be in every way. It is very cheap in comparison to the Sony A1 and Canon R3 which have more comparable features. It is a flagship camera with flagship features but not at a flagship price point.
There are clearly some negatives, such as weight, size and battery life but the positives I have spoke at length about in this review of the Nikon Z8 for wedding photography outweigh the negatives in my honest opinion as a working professional Sydney wedding photographer.
If you compare it to those cameras then the Nikon Z8 is incredible value and has everything you need and more for a lot less money.
A working professional can justify spending an extra few thousand more on a camera that can handle everything you throw at it, and that is why I have invested into the Nikon Z8 as my main camera I use for wedding photography in Sydney.
I am proud to be on team Nikon and I cannot wait for the Z6III to come out so I can buy myself a second camera body to replace my ageing Z6II.
I’d love to help you with your next camera purchase
I hope you like my review of the Nikon Z8 for wedding photography, if you have any comments or questions I’d be happy to answer them, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you with my honest thoughts.
If I can help someone who is thinking about buying a Nikon Z8 or any other gear, feel free to reach out.
Here’s my review of the Nikon Z6II from a few years ago
Many reviews are super technical, so I didn’t repeat most of it here if it wasn’t crucial to the user experience. Here’s some of the reviews I used when deciding to buy the camera and confirming the specs.
A detailed overview of all Z8 technical specifications is on Nikon’s website.
DPReview did a nice preliminary review of the Z8 here.