Nikon launched a long-promised firmware update for its Z series cameras on Monday, December 16, bringing two high-end features to its full-frame mirrorless models. Firmware 2.20 brings support for CFexpress cards, a relatively new type of memory card that promises incredibly fast transfer speeds. Additionally, RAW video output is now an optional add-on for both the 24-megapixel Z 6 and 46MP Z 7 — but you’ll need to fork over $200 for it and you can’t install the update yourself.
Customers interested in the RAW video update will have to send their cameras in to a Nikon service center. Nikon did not provide a turnaround time for this service. While the cost and hassle will undoubtedly prevent some people from installing the update, RAW video is not a feature that the average photographer or videographer needs. It produces huge files that require massive amounts of storage space and a powerful computer to process them. As such, only a certain level of professional is likely to take advantage of this upgrade, for whom the $200 cost may be a non-issue.
The advantages of RAW video are essentially the same as with RAW photos. It preserves more detail that offers much more flexibility in post compared to lossy formats like JPEG (stills) or h.264 (video). But because video is running at 24 or 30 frames per second, the file sizes can quickly balloon out of control. As such, the Z 6 and Z 7 will not be able to record RAW video internally, but rather will output an uncompressed feed over HDMI which can then be recorded by select Atomos recorders, like the Ninja V, into a fast SSD. These devices save the video in the Apple ProRes RAW format, which offers a few different levels of compression.
For an idea of the type of hardware required to edit RAW video, look no further than the new Mac Pro and Apple’s optional Afterburner card, which is purpose-built for accelerating ProRes RAW workflows. That’s not to say lesser machines won’t handle the footage (the Afterburner is specifically designed to handle up to three simultaneous 8K streams; the Z cameras only shoot 4K) but the average customer won’t want to bother with RAW video.
Despite its focus on pros, RAW video continues to grow more accessible. The Nikon Z cameras are the latest “inexpensive” cameras to get the feature, joining the likes of the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and Sigma Fp. It’s still probably not something you need, but it’s a unique feature that sets Nikon apart from competitors Canon and Sony, neither of which offers RAW output.
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