Nikon Z 9 Preview Feature Makes Lightning Triggers Obsolete

If you’ve ever tried to photograph lightning during the day, you know it’s nearly impossible. The moment you press the shutter, it’s gone. This is why lightning triggers, although no guarantee of success, exist. But the addition of the new “Pre-release” feature in Nikon’s Z9 cameras now make these triggers obsolete. This guarantees success, as I discovered last week.

For the past six years I’ve organized small-group photography trips to locations around Sedona in the US, with many nearby locations, moderate summer weather (at least by Kansas City standards! ) And good luck for storms was high on my list of “need to do a workshop there.” Last week I finally made it, and it was as good as I had hoped (I’ll be blogging about it in the next few weeks). But it was the thunderstorm we watched on Thursday night that brought on a new “Aha!” time for me.

Among the many features added to the Nikon Z 9 with the release of firmware 2.0, “Pre-release” was a revelation for action photographers. As I wrote in a previous article, it allows you to wait to see the action, then press the shutter and capture the moments. before you pressed. It really changes the way you work, as I explain in this story. But it wasn’t until I was on my way to Sedona and thought about the possibility of lightning that I realized I could use Prerelease for it. Although we had some lightning the first night when I was doing a low level lighting demo, capturing lightning during a time exposure is quite easy. It wasn’t until a few days later that we had daytime lightning. It’s much harder to shoot.

This was the night shoot, with low lighting, that I had set up for my group on the first night. The storm in the distance was a bonus, but in 15 second exposures capturing lightning is easy enough. I activated the intervalometer function built into my camera so that it would still fire off those long exposures with only 0.5 seconds between shots. Nikon Z 9, manual exposure, sunny white balance, ISO 200, 15 seconds at f/5.6, two LumeCubes for light, Nikkor Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR lens at 54mm.

Back in Sedona after another sunset shoot, I took my group to Mesa Airport, where there is a great view. Our goal was to capture that last hour of sunshine on the mountains in front of us, but then a thunderstorm came. Although it blocked out most of the sun, it also gave us a lightning show. And that’s where I activated the pre-release. When you do this and press the shutter button halfway, the camera starts recording images at 30fps in a continuous loop to internal memory (not the card). When you see an action happen, you push the shutter all the way down and the camera records that action for a second, half second or third second of the loop on the map (you choose the amount). In other words, it goes back in time to capture something that has already happened. And it made lightning photography incredibly easy.

See it, then press the shutter button and you’ll have it. Simple enough as long as you activate the pre-release feature with the Z 9. And while the lightning only lasted about half an hour, during that time I made plenty of photos to choose from. Nikon Z 9, aperture priority, sunny white balance, ISO 500, 1/60 at f/8, handheld, matrix metering, -1.0 EV, Nikkor Z 24-200mm f/4 lens -6.3 VR at 65mm.

To do this, I kept the camera in front of my eye, and every time I saw flashes, I pressed the shutter all the way. And each time, I found myself with flash images. Note the plural. Often I would end up with multiple shots of lightning from a single flash, and once I even had ten frames. So what’s the problem ? I can’t shoot in RAW, as the camera automatically switches to JPEG, although still with the full 45 megapixel resolution. There’s also an option to shoot at 120fps, albeit at a reduced 11-megapixel. But still, wow.

From start to finish, I can see flashes in every frame of this ten-frame sequence. Which means that since the camera was running at 30 fps, the burst lasted about a third of a second.

Of course, for now, lightning triggers still have a market, as very few cameras can do this. But for those lucky enough to have a Nikon Z 9, it’s one less accessory they’ll be tempted to buy.

About the Author

Reed Hoffman has been a photographer for over four decades and is currently based in Kansas City. In addition to collaborating with a number of newspapers, magazines, agencies and corporate clients, Reed has also been a professor of photography since the 1990s. Be sure to learn more about Reed’s work and learn more about him on his website, instagram, Twitter and Facebook. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

Robert M. Larson