The Nikon Z Series, comprising the Z6 and Z7, are already Nikon’s best ever cameras for video production — and two of our favorite cameras of 2018 — but they’re about to get even better. At CES 2019, Nikon demonstrated upcoming firmware that will, among other things, allow the cameras to output RAW video over HDMI. The announcement was made jointly with Atomos, maker of external video recorders, which has partnered with Nikon to provide its Ninja V HDMI recorder as part of the new Nikon Z6 Filmmaker’s Kit.
Like a RAW photo, RAW video preserves more data and means filmmakers will be able to capture footage that is more representative of what their camera’s sensor can actually see compared to compressed video. RAW files record more color and greater detail in the shadows and highlights, which is particularly useful for high dynamic range (HDR) workflows. The footage can also be pushed further in color grading, and offers greater flexibility to fix white balance and exposure issues. It’s a feature that sets dedicated cinema cameras, like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K, apart from the likes of mirrorless cameras and DSLRs. Or at least, it was.
The RAW video feed from the Z6 or Z7 will be recorded in the new Apple ProRes RAW format, a video-specific RAW filetype announced last year that previously only worked on select high-end cinema cameras. At that time, it was speculated that such a feature could allow compact mirrorless cameras to shoot RAW video and thus rival the image quality of cinema cameras, and Nikon has now become the first mirrorless manufacturer to allow its cameras to do so.
ProRes RAW offers the image quality of a RAW file with the ease of use that ProRes is known for in the postproduction world. With 12-bit color, it surpasses even the 10-bit N-Log footage the Z6 and Z7 can output currently. It also yields a manageable file size that brings the option of RAW recording to more users, with a choice of data rates ranging from 80 to 140 megabytes per second. And unlike CinemaDNG — a competing RAW video format — ProRest RAW has full metadata support, saving information about the camera, lens, and exposure settings.
We were already impressed with the video capabilities of the Z Series, but the addition of RAW video could propel Nikon ahead of its full-frame mirrorless rivals Canon and Sony, which have both dominated the video market in the past.
The firmware update, which does not have a release date at this time, will also bring eye-detection autofocus and CFexpress card support to the Z Series.