Nikon Z 9 Settings — Initial Setup and Customization

Customizing your Nikon Z 9 settings will enable you to get the highest performance out of this flagship mirrorless camera.

One of the first things that I do when getting a new camera is to start the setup and customization. That's no different with the brand new Nikon Z 9, which is being delivered to retailers this week.

I just received my Nikon Z 9 and I just saw my friend and fellow Nikon Ambassador Moose Peterson share his initial settings. Inspired by his post, I wanted to share some of the things that I choose to change when I'm doing my initial setup in the Nikon Z 9 settings.

Very First Nikon Z 9 Settings

Language: English

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).

Image Quality: RAW

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. This is the very next step I took in changing my Nikon Z 9 settings aside from setting the language and date.

With the Z 9 being so new, you may want to start out with RAW + Fine or RAW + TIFF until RAW processing software is updated to read all Z 9's NEF files. At this time, Adobe Lightroom for example appears compatible with the lossless compressed NEF files but not the new high efficiency RAW format.

That said, updating to the latest Adobe LR and Camera Raw, you can open all NEF files — just note that the exact color matching won't be as accurate as if you're using Nikon's own Capture NX-D software.

Setup Menu

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.

Viewfinder Brightness: Manual

For general photography, using auto viewfinder brightness may be fine and beneficial. For my work and particularly using manual exposure mode, manual viewfinder brightness is ideal and my preference. The reason behind this is that I've found that the viewfinder will compensate for the relative brightness of the scene itself based on the image, even if you're in manual mode.

So for example, viewing a very dark scene, the camera will increase viewfinder brightness or otherwise show more detail in the shadows. Using manual exposure mode, I prefer to have the viewfinder not make these corrections and to present a consistent viewfinder experience as I'm making rough exposure judgements based on the presentation of the scene in the EVF.

Location Data > Set clock from satellite

The Nikon Z 9 features built-in GPS capabilities and one part of this function is the ability to keep the clock updated via satellite synchronization. While the Z 9 features an electronic clock like all digital cameras, there's a minute ability for there to be drift in the clock, depending on batter charge and other factors.

Before important jobs, which I'm often using two cameras, I make sure to sync the bodies internal clocks so that the image sorting will be accurate regardless of filename. This new ability to sync internal clocks from satellite is a very nice feature that'll make this minor chore a thing of the past.

This satellite sync feature will consume power at a slow rate. It isn't a huge amount (1-2% every day). But if it is a concern, you can just turn this feature on a day or two before you need to sync cameras for jobs if you'd otherwise have the cameras sitting around for longer where battery drain is a concern.

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. Read more about the Autofocus modes of the Z 9 in detail.

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.

Unrelated to the ability to customize the viewfinder, I'm finding that the Z 9's electronic viewfinder offers a truly exceptional experience.

f2 Custom Controls — Shooting

  • Fn1: Playback
  • 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

  • Fn1: Rating
  • 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.

Other Controls:

  • 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.

My Menu

  • 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.

Update: Having used Starlight View, I find that boost to mid-tones and shadows is so dramatic that it skews my reading of the scene and the relative exposure. I'm going to up to use Starlight View sparingly when needed, but I don't see this as important to low light action photography in my use.

Nikon Z 9 Settings Summary

There you have it. These are the customizations I've made to the Nikon Z 9 settings, 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 configuring your own Nikon Z 9 settings, I hope the above helps!