And Here's the Under Deliver...

Nikon today released firmware update version 2.2 for the Z6 and Z7 cameras. 

The basic news: the 2.2 update includes support for CFexpress cards [sic] and the ability to update the cameras to provide ProRes Raw video output to Atomos Ninja V recorders. Both those things need a lot of explaining.

First, CFexpress support. At present, Nikon has only certified Sony CFexpress cards with the cameras. In the US, Sony CFexpress cards are not yet available. This doesn't mean that the Delkin, ProGrade, and SanDisk CFexpress cards that are available today won't work, only that Nikon hasn't certified that they work with the cameras. 

Frankly, Nikon probably should have waited until they could certify more cards (or the card company itself do the certification).There's a bit of a chicken and egg problem with cameras and cards in this case, but I don't see any compelling rush from users wanting to jump to CFexpress. 

Remember, too, that you'll need a CFexpress card reader once you start using such cards. Most XQD readers that you've been able to buy won't work with CFexpress cards. There is one reader that has been available for awhile that does: the Thunderbolt 3 Atech TX-1CXQ [advertiser link]. Talk about being at the bleeding edge. That Atech reader is basically right at the leading edge of card/computer bandwidth.

Second, ProRes RAW. The new firmware doesn't enable you to create ProRes RAW directly. You have to first send your camera to a Nikon service center for "modification", and here in the US there is a US$199.95 fee to have them do that (those that bought the Z6 Filmmaker's Kit can get it done for free). 

Once your camera has been serviced by Nikon, you can record 12-bit 4K ProRes RAW using an external Atomos Ninja V recorder (ProRes RAW can't be recorded internally). That Ninja needs to be on firmware 10.2 or later. As with the CFexpress update, Nikon has only certified one external recorder at the moment (the Ninja V).

Note that a number of features aren't available when recording ProRes RAW, and the camera's Rear LCD will show the scene using the Standard Picture Control (the EVF isn't available). You also can't shoot stills while capturing the ProRes RAW stream. I'll document all this in the next edition of my Complete Guide to the Nikon Z6 and Z7. 

No other changes were listed in the 2.2 firmware. I'll note that this doesn't mean there weren't any. Nikon has long been silent about small changes and bug fixes that they don't see users complaining about on the Internet. 

So, what does this all mean? Should you update?

Generally, I recommend updating Nikon firmware when it is offered. We sometimes get silent upgrades. For example, firmware 2.0 introduced Eye Detect focus, but firmware 2.1 silently made some small changes to how that worked (i.e. Nikon didn't disclose those changes when they announced version 2.1, nor are they mentioned in the notes with the update).

Very few of you, however, would be updating today to get any functionality that changed. I know some of you put off buying new XQD cards because you knew that CFexpress was the future, but because Nikon hasn't certified all the cards that are available today, you're still in unknown territory buying today. 

On the video side, there very well may be some of you who want ProRes RAW. It creates smaller files that are easier to edit—at least with software that supports it, such as Apple's own Final Cut Pro X—than the existing uncompressed stream you could create previously. You'll be without your camera for some unknown amount of time while Nikon does something unknown to it, and you're going to be recording to an external device, so this update isn't for everyone.

I think at this point you know what I mean by under deliver. Basically:

  • CFexpress is still not quite here yet. Nikon's put out a firmware update that either requires users to be their beta testers (e.g. non-Sony cards) or requires users to wait for the card to appear on their market that Nikon has tested. When I wrote yesterday about Nikon not controlling their messaging, this is a very good example of that. The press release really needed to indicate what Nikon (or the Standards Committee) was going to do to certify other cards, and when that might happen. e.g. Nikon should have said: "For those that have Sony CFexpress cards already, the new firmware update allows them to begin using those cards today. For other brands of CFexpress cards, we will continue to test and certify that they work in the Z6 and Z7 as fast as we can and update you as we certify more cards."
  • The ProRes RAW update was mishandled. At first it was implied that it would be free (and yes, NikonUSA folk reading this, I have you on record with statements that indicated this). Then Nikon officials talked about "there might be a shipping fee." That eventually became a US$200 charge to do the update. But no one has any idea what that charge is really for. We don't know if this is to pay the likely royalty fees to Apple (and probably RED), to make a physical change to the camera, or what. To be sure, the US$200 charge isn't the issue; this feature makes the Z6, in particular, a highly compelling choice for videographers. It's the way the whole process was handled. Pre-announcements and promises. Vague details. Slow revelation of functionality changes. Bad timing (Nikon missed NAB New York with this). A press release with almost more footnote text than main text. An incorrect statement ("As RAW video is not subjected to in-camera processing..."; the data is processed, just not with demosaicing). 

So, the good news: Nikon has continued to update the Z6 and Z7 cameras and give them new capabilities. Capabilities that they've been promising for awhile, but still, new functionality that makes the cameras better than they were when they shipped. Bravo.

Is there bad news here? Yep. We've gone from over promise to no promise at all. As of today, there are no additional promised changes with future firmware updates that would continue to improve the Z6 and Z7. Oh, I'm sure we'll get bug fix updates, as needed. But as of today Nikon makes no claims that your Z6 or Z7 will get better with some future addition via software. 

As I and others have outlined, there are a number of areas that Nikon needs to change, improve, or extend in the Z6 and Z7 firmware. The one that would have the most impact on Nikon's (and your) future: fix Tracking Autofocus. 

Let's hope that Nikon changed from Over Promise to Under Promise. 


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