Nikon Z8 Review

The camera we've all been waiting for...
By Nirupam Nigam


If you're a Nikon shooter, now is the perfect time for an upgrade. The Nikon Z8 has been making waves with underwater photographers. Often referred to as the 'mini Z9,' this camera offers nearly all the incredible features of Nikon's flagship model but at a lower price point, and it comes in a smaller, more dive-friendly package. This is a game-changer for Nikon underwater photographers, as it finally puts them on par with Sony and Canon with an offering of a serious professional full-frame underwater mirrorless camera.

One of the significant improvements in the Nikon Z8 is its autofocus capabilities. While the autofocus on the Nikon Z7 II and Z6 II is already excellent, it doesn't quite match up to the more modern systems from Sony and Canon. However, the Z8's new autofocus algorithm, coupled with deep learning technology, subject detection, and 3D tracking (including animal eye autofocus tracking), solves this issue. It even outperforms its competitors by offering autofocus in lower light conditions, down to -9 EV. Though our underwater tests showed that the autofocus is slightly less responsive than the Sony A7R V, it's still a significant improvement for Nikon DSLR shooters transitioning from the Nikon D850.

Nikon Z8 underwater review

But the Nikon Z8 offers more than just autofocus. With a price tag of $4000 for the body, it boasts impressive video capabilities, including the ability to record 8K/60p and 4K/120p video in N-RAW, ProRes RAW, and N-Log formats. This makes it a top contender for the best underwater video camera of the year - with one Achilles heal...white balance. While we loved the quality of the underwater video, it was difficult to achieve a manual white balance below 50ft, as we explain below.

Additionally, both the Nikon Z8 and Z9 have done away with the mechanical shutter, thanks to a stacked sensor and ultra-fast readout speeds. This almost amounts to the coveted 'global shutter' in terms of performance. Underwater photographers can now take photos entirely using the electronic shutter, with minimal rolling shutter effect, zero wear-and-tear, and incredibly fast RAW burst speeds of up to 20 fps.

Burst shooting allowed us to captured this grouper with the Nikon Z8 in an Ikelite Z8 housing.  f/13, 1/160, ISO 200

With a 45.7-megapixel sensor, the Nikon Z8 offers ample resolution for most underwater photographers, including those who love macro photography and desire extreme cropping capabilities during post-production. Could the Nikon Z8 be the ultimate camera of 2023? Is it enough to propel Nikon back to the forefront as the world's leading camera manufacturer? Fortunately we just got back from an incredible trip diving in Cozumel, Mexico with the Nikon Z8 in the first prototype housing from Ikelite. So read on for our full Nikon Z8 review with specifications, features, and our thoughts on the Nikon Z8 for underwater photography.

We would like to thank Bluewater Travel and Pro Dive International for sponsoring this review! Bluewater helped us book our itinerary and Pro Dive supplied the beautiful diving, wonderful crew, and fun times in Cozumel!

Nikon Z8 Key Specifications

  • 45.7 megapixel full-frame stacked BSI CMOS Sensor
  • 20 fps (RAW) - 120 fps (11 mp jpeg) burst shooting
  • Updated AF system with 3D tracking on par with other flagship models
  • AF detection down to -9 EV
  • ISO range of 64 - 25600
  • Flash sync speed - 1/200 sec
  • 5-axis in body image stabilization
  • UHS-II SD, CFexpress (type B) and XQD memory compatible (dual card slots)
  • 8K/60p video recording and 4K/120p recording
  • N-Log  picture profiles and N-RAW (12-bit) recording
  • 3.69 million dot EVF
  • Weight: 910 g
  • Size: 5.7 inches x 4.7 inches x 3.3 inches

The Nikon Z8 Full-Frame Mirrorless Camera After Two Weeks of Diving

Nikon Z8 Key Features

Z8 Build & Body Size

The Nikon Z8 might be a mirrorless camera, but it is not significantly smaller than a DSLR body at 910 grams. While it is still smaller than the Nikon D850, it is noticeably larger than the Z6 II and Z7 II. Above water, this makes the ergonomics a bit nicer as the Z8 is easier to hold than the Z6 II and Z7 II. Underwater, this does make it a slightly heavier system, but not necessarily larger, depending on the housing manufacturer. For the most part, we felt like the underwater shooting experience was similar to other Nikon mirrorless cameras like the Nikon Z7 II. 

While the button layout may take some getting used to for DSLR shooters upgrading to the Z8, it is very familiar to Nikon mirrorless shooters. Our two favorite controls - the video/photo switch and EVF/monitor button - have been carried over from the Nikon Z7 II. The electronic viewfinder has been enlarged somewhat with a new eyepiece and is a pleasure to use. DSLR shooters looking to upgrade will be happy to know that you can review all your settings and images in real time with the EVF. 

If you are new to Nikon or Nikon mirrorless cameras, fortunately Bluewater Photo has released a full underwater settings guide for the Nikon Z8. 

Nikon Z8 underwater photo

The Autofocus System We Have Been Waiting For...

It's no secret that Nikon has lost market share in the mirrorless camera market due to its relatively poor autofocus performance in the Z7 II and Z6 II cameras. The announcement of the flagship Nikon Z9 introduced Nikon's first autofocus system that is on par with competing cameras like the Sony A1 and Canon EOS R5. With the Nikon Z8, this same autofocus 3D tracking system has carried over from the Z9. While it's not quite as "sticky" on subjects in our initial tests as the Sony A7R V, the autofocus in the Z8 is leaps and bounds better than the Nikon Z7II. Overall, our "hit rate" in tracking mode increased by about 30% from other Nikon mirrorless models. The Z8 also features a 3D tracking mode with subject detection that can detect humans and animals. Unfortunately, animal eye autofocus tracking only worked for a few macro fish subjects and not with and wide angle subjects. It is not yet reliable and Canon & Sony cameras tend to perform better with animal eye autofocus underwater.

Nikon Z8 underwater autofocus

But perhaps more importantly - the Nikon Z8 can autofocus in low light down to -9 EV - making it a perfect camera for underwater shooters that shoot in low light conditions. We found that the Z8 focused well in dark conditions, even without a focus light (unless it was a night dive, of course). 

Z8 Autofocus and Z Mount Lenses

For our underwater review, we paired the slow-focusing Nikon Z 105mm macro lens with the Z8 to see if the autofocus improves beyond the old F mount 105mm macro. While the Z 105mm macro is possibly the sharpest macro lens on the market, autofocusing speed is its Achilles heal. Our tests indicated that the Z 105mm macro lens's autofocus speed has improved significantly from its performance on the Nikon Z7II. However, it is still slower than the Nikon F 105mm macro.  The Nikon Z8 does works seamlessly with the Nikon FTZ adapter and the F mount 8-15mm fisheye. For those considering moving to the Z8 from a DSLR camera, it will be welcome news that F mount lenses can be used with the FTZ adapter with little affect on the autofocus of these lenses - especially with a camera that focuses faster than older DSLRs. 

There is one caveat however. The Nikon FTZ adapter is not compatible with old Nikon AF-D lenses which can be an issue for shooters with older glass.

Nikon Z8 fish photo with the Nikon Z 105mm macro

A 45.7 MP Stacked BSI CMOS Sensor

The sensor integrated into the Nikon Z8 camera is a remarkable feat of engineering, boasting a stacked design that places it among the most high-performing imaging sensors worldwide. Stacked sensors will likely become a standard feature in many top-tier mirrorless cameras going forward as they allow cameras to process images much quicker.

Beautiful colors captured on this parrotfish feeding on the reef. 1/160, f/13, ISO 200

The Z8's sensor is truly impressive due to its incredibly rapid readout speeds, almost achieving the coveted "global shutter". When using the electronic shutter to take a photo, there is practically no rolling shutter effect because each pixel is captured nearly simultaneously. In fact, Nikon has capitalized on this advancement by completely eliminating the mechanical shutter from the Z8. Every photo you capture with this camera is now done with a silent, electronic shutter. This not only reduces wear and tear on the camera but also minimizes rolling shutter issues and enables burst shooting speeds of up to 20 fps for RAW photos and an impressive 120 fps for 11-megapixel JPEGs.

A lack of a vibration from the mechanical shutter increases sharpness in photos captured with the Z8. It's difficult to tell if it improved our underwater photos in a side by side comparison, but it is an interesting benefit of the electronic shutter.

We found the image quality from the Nikon Z8 to be fairly similar to the Nikon D850, at 45.7 megapixels of resolution. Even the most avid macro photographers will be satisfied with the cropping ability of this camera. We did notice that the dynamic range was slightly reduced and it was a tad more difficult to get details in the highlights of our sunballs. Initial online assessments do indicate there has been a very slight reduction in dynamic range, but most photographers would not notice it. 

Sharp details on a stand of sponges captured with the Nikon Z8. 1/200, f/16, ISO 200

The Sound of Silence

One anecdotal benefit of the Z8's silent shutter was that is seemed as though the fish would allow us to approach closer. Initially, I thought that this couldn't be the case as the sound of a shutter is very slight compared to the bubbles from our regulators. However, I realized that a mechanical shutter also sounds like an aggressive damsel fish grunt. Perhaps fish are afraid more from the vibration of a mechanical shutter than strobes lights. It's difficult to tell. It could have just been the friendly fish of Cozumel. 

A beautiful school of blue tang surgeonfish photographed with the Nikon Z8. f/16, 1/125, ISO 200


A Top of The Line Underwater Video Camera

Nikon hasn't always been known for its video features, but on paper, the Nikon Z8 is mind blowing. It is capable of 12 bit N-RAW, 8K/60p & 4K/120p recording. Higher resolutions like 8K allow you to crop video considerably as long as the final product is a lower resolution. A high frame rate of 120 fps, combined with 5-axis in-body stabilization, makes it easy to stabilize even hand-held macro video. For those that don't want to commit to RAM-intensive RAW video, the Nikon Z8 is also capable of shooting N-Log footage that allows you to pull more dynamic range and detail from your footage using video editing softwares. 

Overall, we found the Z8 to be an amazing camera to film with underwater. The color science in the built-in standard picture profile is excellent and it's easy to adjust your white balance and other camera settings. A tally light around the screen makes it easy tell when you're filming. We also noticed that in an Ikelite housing, the camera didn't overheat after a full dive at filming in 4K, 8K, and 4K/120p. However, aluminum housings may have larger problems with overheating. It is clear that the Z8 does better than the Sony a1 and Canon R5 when it comes to shutting down due to overheating. 

However, for those who rely on manual white balance - there is an issue with the Z8. Below 50 ft, the camera cannot capture a manual white balance. This was rather frustrating, but it's also another argument for shooting with an underwater video light for better colors. 


Nikon Z8 Underwater Housing Options

Given how many dedicated Nikon DSLR shooters have been waiting for a suitable mirrorless camera to upgrade to - we expect that every underwater housing manufacturer will have a Nikon Z8 underwater housing available. Nauticam, an anodized aluminum manufacturer, has already has a head start with their Nauticam Z8 housing - released just a few days after the Nikon Z8.  Right on their heals, Aquatica has announced an affordable anodized aluminum Aquatica Z8 underwater housing, on special through July. Ikelite, a polycarbonate housing manufacture, is not far behind. In fact, we are already taking the Ikelite Z8 housing on our upcoming trip to Cozumel! Marelux has confirmed that they will be making a Z8 housing and we expect housings from Sea & Sea, Isotta, and Aquatech.

Nikon Z8 underwater housing


Nauticam Nikon Z8 underwater housing

Nauticam Nikon Z8 Housing

The Nauticam housing designed for the Nikon Z8 is a meticulously crafted aluminum enclosure with an anodized finish, engineered to accommodate the Nikon Z8 camera seamlessly. This housing is meticulously designed around the versatile N120 port system, offering photographers an extensive array of lens choices. Additionally, it seamlessly integrates with Nauticam's specialized underwater optics, such as the WACP-C, WWL-1, and WACP-1, enhancing your underwater photography experience.


ikelite Nikon Z8 underwater housing

Ikelite Nikon Z8 Housing

Unlock the full potential of your underwater photography with the cutting-edge Ikelite Nikon Z8 underwater housing. Renowned for producing top-tier underwater camera housings, Ikelite once again sets the bar high with the Ikelite Nikon Z8 Housing. Its compact, lightweight design makes it the ideal companion for dive expeditions, while its robust ABS-PC construction ensures durability with minimal maintenance requirements. The ergonomic layout of buttons and levers has been meticulously crafted to enhance your shooting experience, even when wearing thick gloves. Dive into a world of unparalleled underwater photography with the Ikelite Nikon Z8 housing, designed to complement the game-changing capabilities of the Nikon Z8 mirrorless camera.

Aquatica Nikon Z8 underwater housing

Aquatica Nikon Z8 Housing

The Aquatica Nikon Z8 underwater housing boasts a sturdy and reliable design, exuding a sense of durability thanks to its premium aluminum construction. Sea & Sea's reputation for top-notch strobes carries over to their housings, ensuring seamless compatibility with TTL flash triggers. This unique pairing of Sea & Sea housings and strobes sets a new standard for precision in strobe systems. With a generously sized LCD screen at the rear of the housing and a convenient viewing window on top, you'll enjoy unhindered access to your camera's settings and menu options while submerged. This particular feature sets the Aquatica Nikon Z8 housing apart, making it an enticing choice for underwater enthusiasts. Moreover, a standout characteristic not commonly found in other housings is the inclusion of glow-in-the-dark buttons, providing invaluable assistance during night dives or in low-light underwater conditions.

Marelux Nikon Z8 underwater camera housing

Marelux Nikon Z8 Housing

Marelux's rapid ascent within the underwater housing industry shows no signs of slowing down, and the forthcoming Marelux Nikon Z8 Underwater Housing represents yet another stride in their evolution. Building upon the success of their previously acclaimed housings tailored for diverse camera models, Marelux's latest offering maintains its commitment to excellence.

Crafted from the highest quality anodized aluminum, these high-end housings not only exude luxury but also deliver unparalleled durability and resistance to scratches. These attributes cater particularly to adventurous photographers seeking gear that can withstand rugged conditions. Plus, for a mere $200 extra, you have the freedom to personalize your housing with a selection of custom color options, adding a dash of individuality to your underwater photography experience.

Sea & Sea Nikon Z8 underwater housing

Sea & Sea Nikon Z8 Housing

The Sea & Sea Nikon Z8 underwater housing stands out with its robust, high-quality aluminum construction that exudes durability and reliability. Sea & Sea, known for their exceptional strobes, seamlessly integrates their housing with a TTL flash trigger, ensuring a perfect match for underwater photography enthusiasts. This unique synergy between Sea & Sea housings and strobes sets the gold standard for precision in the strobe system market.

What truly sets this housing apart is its thoughtful design. A generously sized LCD screen graces the rear of the housing, accompanied by a convenient viewing window on top. This combination offers an unobstructed view of your camera's settings and menu options while submerged, a compelling selling point that enhances your underwater photography experience. Additionally, a feature that distinguishes this housing from many others is the inclusion of glow-in-the-dark buttons. These luminous controls prove invaluable for night diving or exploring in dark, murky waters.

Isotta Nimkon Z8 underwater housing

Isotta Nikon Z8 Housing

"Discover Unrivaled Excellence with Isotta's Nikon Z8 Underwater Housing. Precision-crafted from premium aluminum, the Isotta Nikon Z8 Underwater Housing stands as a testament to extraordinary design, featuring both a featherlight build and unmatched durability. Seamlessly combining style and function, this housing showcases an advanced dual o-ring seal system, ensuring not only your camera's safety but also providing robust protection against potential flooding.

Experience innovation at its finest with the groundbreaking single-handed locking mechanism, setting new standards for both convenience and security with a single motion. Ergonomically designed handles redefine comfort, enabling extended underwater adventures without compromise. Even when wearing thick gloves, our meticulous button, lever, and dial placement ensure effortless access to controls."




Purchase a Nikon Z8 underwater housing at Bluewater Photo:

View All Nikon Z8 Underwater Housings

Order an Ikelite Z8 Housing

Order a Marelux Z8 Housing

Order a Sea & Sea Z8 Housing

Order a Nauticam Z8 Housing

Order a Aquatica Z8 Housing


Read Bluewater's Top Underwater Settings for the Nikon Z8


Nikon Z8 Underwater Lenses

Because the Z lens mount is so new, there are only a few Z mount lenses that could be viable for both wide angle and macro underwater photography. Z mount lenses are superior to F mount lenses because the shorter flange distance of the Z mount allows for sharper corners in an image with less diffraction and ghosting. However, when it comes to lens focal lengths available for underwater photography, there are more available F mount lenses with the FTZ adapter - particularly when it comes to fisheye lenses. We are excited to see many more Z mount lenses arrive in the near future.



Teeth of a parrotfish captured with the Nikon Z 105mm macro and the Nikon Z8. 1/160, f/25, ISO 200


Wide Angle Fisheye

A puffer playing with a shell photographed with the Nikon 8-15mm fisheye lens and the Nikon z8. 1/160, f/16, ISO 200


Wide Angle Rectilinear

  • Nikon Z mount 14-30mm f/4.0: Great for large animals and extremely sharp lens, but requires a larger dome to get sharp images
  • Nikon F mount 16-35mm 4.0 w/ FTZ adapter: Great for large animals and extremely sharp lens, but requires a larger dome to get sharp images
  • Nikon F mount 20mm 1.8G w/ FTZ adapter: Small, compact, sharp, doesn't need as big a dome as the 16-35 mm

For further reading, check out Bluewater's guide to the best Nikon lenses for underwater.


If you have been waiting for Nikon to come out with a mirrorless camera that's worth the upgrade from your DSLR, now is the time. With the Nikon Z8 you have flagship level features packed into a body that's $1500 less than other flagship cameras. In many ways, the Nikon Z8 is a camera that should be on everyone's radar. With novel technology like a lack of a mechanical shutter and a stacked sensor, the Z8 represents the future of photographic engineering. But perhaps most importantly, it represents a travel-ready Nikon mirrorless camera with exceptional autofocus. 

A jelly captured on a blackwater dive with the Nikon Z8 and the Nikon 60mm. 1/160, f/20, ISO 200


The Top Nikon Z8 Underwater Settings

If you've decided that the Nikon Z8 is the camera for you, then check out these top Nikon Z8 underwater settings from Bluewater Photo


Nirupam Nigam is the Editor-in-Chief of the Underwater Photography Guide and the President of Bluewater Photo - the world's top underwater photo & video retailer. While growing up in Los Angeles he fell in love with the ocean and pursued underwater photography in the local Channel Islands. After receiving degrees in Aquatic and Fisheries Science and General Biology, as well as a minor in Arctic Studies, Nirupam worked as a fisheries observer on vessels in the Bering Sea and North Pacific. Since then, Nirupam has been a full time underwater photographer and photo gear head. Check out more of his photography at!


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