This is an important step — one of the very first things I do immediately with a new camera is to set the image quality level to RAW. And then I leave it there for the rest of the life of the camera as far as I own it.
With the Z 9 being so new, you may want to start out with RAW + Fine or RAW + TIFF until the RAW processing software is updated to read the Z 9's NEF files.
The first thing that camera asks you to do when you turn on the Z 9 is to choose a language preference. Simple enough.
Time and Date: Current location
From there, I set the time and date immediately. My preferred date format is YYYY/MM/DD, while the standard is D/M/Y (Day / Month / Year).
Sensor shield behavior at power off: ON
The Z 9 is equipped with a new feature for a Nikon mirrorless camera, a sensor shield. This is a physical barrier that expands to cover the sensor when needed. By default, the sensor shield is off. Turning on this setting will have the camera's sensor shield come down whenever you power off the camera.
Copyright Information: ON
Always a good thing to write copyright info to your files in-camera. As a bonus, add in your relevant ITCP metadata, but at the very least adding your name as the copyright holder by default is a good step for all photographers.
Photo Shooting Menu
File naming: Custom
I prefer to use two cameras, and custom file naming helps me avoid potential confusion there. I also like to name the files by camera model for archival purposes, so I'm naming this first Z 9's filenaming to “Z9A.” When I add a second Z 9 to my kit, I'll have that camera's filenaming as “Z9B.”
Color Space: Adobe RGB
Adobe RGB will give you the widest colorspace. While the output of your images will likely be sRGB (the default), setting the camera default to Adobe RGB is a must have for me.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto ISO OFF
I prefer to use manual exposure mode and have full control. As such, I also turn auto ISO off. For my photography, I find that auto ISO is essentially another program mode that changes the ISO instead of other exposure variables. Due to the variability of concert photography, I prefer to have control over that as I'm already weary of auto modes for this type of photography.
Set Picture Control: Standard
The default picture control is auto. While I'm using RAW as a default, I still want to have a consistent baseline for image review in camera. I'm setting the picture control to standard with the assumption that the built-in JPG used for fast previewing in programs like Photo Mechanic may have the picture control baked in (along with other variables related to in-camera processing like noise reduction).
High ISO NR: Off
The high ISO noise reduction is set to high by default. Due to the image smoothing behavior of noise reduction, I prefer to see a little more detail when I check focus at 100%, so I prefer to set noise reduction to off. When I process images in Adobe Lightroom, my default setting is zero luminance noise reduction, so this is a more parallel experience for me (I do use a small amount of chroma noise reduction in LR).
Active D-Lighting: OFF
Similar to the above, I prefer to see the image without additional processing, so I opt to have Active D-Lighting turned off by default.
Focus Mode: AF-C
I use AF-C (continuous autofocus) mode essentially 100% for my work. The only time I switch to AF-S (single) is working in the studio for portraiture with still models.
AF-area mode: 3D
3D Tracking is my favorite AF mode of all time. It was present in the Nikon D750 and D850 that I have used and I am thrilled to see it back with the Nikon Z 9.
Custom Settings Menu
a12: Built-in AF-Assist illuminator: OFF
As a music photographer, I am generally trying to be as discrete as possible, whether I'm photographing a concert or doing back stage reportage. So, while the built-in AF assist lamp is handy, I always turn it off to be able to work as invisibly as possible.
d11: LCD Illumination: ON
Working in dark environments like a photo pit at a concert, I'm happy to use the illuminated button function of the Z 9. The backlit buttons are a welcome feature to have in a flagship like the Z 9 to be sure.
d16: Virtual Horizon Type: B
By default, histogram and the virtual horizon are coupled with one another as a display option. I've opted for the more minimal Type B leveling that is on the extremes of the frame, rather than the horizon being shown over the whole of the image.
Update: Using the below d18 custom viewfinder display, it is possible to remove the virtual horizon from the display, showing only the histogram. As such, this change to virtual horizon isn't necessary, it's just up to your personal preference.
d18: Custom shooting viewfinder display
For my work, I rarely need the virtual horizon, so I've customized my EVF display options to remove the virtual horizon from Display 3 under this setting. Easy.
f2 Custom Controls — Shooting
Fn2: 100% (1:1) Magnification
Fn3: Shooting menu bank
AF-ON: Preset focus point
Video record button: Live view info display off
My shooting mode customization is largely setup to enable quick image review and rating, which aids me in faster processing (I can rate images in-camera on the fly)
Otherwise, the AF-ON button resets my focus point to center in my preferred 3D Tracking mode.
f2 Custom Controls — Playback
Fn3: Filtered Playback
For playback, my very few custom settings at this time are dedicated to in-camera rating and filtering to accommodate that view. Again, this is to aid in my ingest workflow, where using Photo Mechanic by Camerabits, images that are protected or star rated will be downloaded first. For event photography (including concerts) this is a huge boon.
Exposure Mode: Manual
Drive mode: Continuous High (20fps)
AF-Area mode/subject detection: People only (turning animal and vehicle detection off)
These are not customizations so much as my preferred settings. I use manual mode 100% of the time and always use continuous high with AF-C. I find it's better to have the option for speed when I need it, rather than need to change settings back and forth.
With my music photography work, I am limited to just people, so that's my default for subject detection.
A9: Starlight view
Photo flicker reduction
I'm sure that I'll add to the My Menu items, but these are the first couple items that I've added. The new Nikon Starlight View is quite interesting — it seems to preserve highlights, but boost the shadows and midtones visibly in the display/EVF. It is almost like a live view mode of high D-Lighting activation. In addition, the Z 9 has increased sensitivity in even lower light in this mode. While I'm not yet sure if this mode is super useful for action, I can see the need to access it quickly.
Similarly for flicker reduction, I have yet to see how the Z 9 handles variable light sources that are prone to flicker.
There you have it. These are some of the very setting and customizations I've made to the Z 9, which setup up the camera in my preferred way of use. Many of the buttons and controls share a very similar layout to the Nikon Z 7 and Z 7II that I've been using for the last several years exclusively, so the above settings give me that baseline and now even more customization options.
I'm sure that I'll continue to tweak the custom button assignments and to explore the new features of the Z 9. If you're setting up your own Nikon Z 9, I hope the above helps!