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Why Nikon’s Hybrid Z 8 Hits the Sweet Spot for Video and Stills

Z 8 exceeds expectations for wedding and portrait photographer Jerry Ghionis

© Jerry Ghionis

Z 8 Video - A real couple in a beautifully made, deeply-felt portrayal of milestones in a life well-lived. 

Going in, Jerry Ghionis had great expectations for the Z 8’s capability to handle the video he was going to make—the video we hope you’ve just seen, the one for which he was writer, producer, director and videographer. 

“I considered the Z 8 a smaller version of the Z 9,” Jerry says, “so, from the start, my expectations were high—and then the Z 8 exceeded them.”

Jerry Ghionis Z 8 photo of a dog running towards the camera

© Jerry Ghionis

That’s Zoe, one of Jerry Ghionis’s Goldendoodles, in an image that he felt would challenge the Z 8’s capabilities. It was no contest. “I love this shot,” he says. “Ears popping, tongue going, air under her paw. This’ll be a 40 by 60-inch print in my house.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S, 1/12,800 second, f/1.2, ISO 200, manual exposure.

Jerry Ghionis photo of a couple, with the female model on a swing, and the male model next to her

© Jerry Ghionis

“I’d shot their wedding and cast them for the video because it was important to have a real couple for the real chemistry and energy. Here I wanted a formal portrait and f/1.2 was perfect for the dreamy background suitable for a bride and groom.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S, 1/500 second, f/1.2, ISO 100, manual exposure. 

A video sequence and a series of stills best tell that story. “The true test was Zoe, one of my Goldendoodles,” Jerry says. “I had the 70-200mm f/2.8 on the camera for the video, and she’s going to run straight at me, at speed, and I’m thinking I’m going to have to film this maybe five times to get it perfectly sharp the whole way through—but I got it, at 120 frames per second, in one take.”

Which led to the second part of the true test. “So, when I’m doing stills of her, I’m thinking, Okay let me shoot with the 85mm f/1.2, wide open, 20 frames per second, and let’s see if I get every shot completely sharp. It was like a challenge to the camera, and every shot was sharp at 100 percent magnification. An animal, running toward me, full speed, with eyes perfectly sharp—I’d never done that.”

And that phrase—“never done that”—indicates an ongoing story of artistic challenge. 

Jerry Ghionis photo of two males, one in a black suit, the other in a white suit, each set against the opposite color background.

© Jerry Ghionis

“I got a Yin-yang vibe from this couple. They have very different personalities, so I set the camera for black and white to play off that element and still make a classic portrait. I always decide ahead of time on black and white, I don’t take color out later. Color is mood for a photo from the start.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 24-120mm f/4 S, 1/200 second, f/8, ISO 100, manual exposure.  

Action Figures

“Creative reinvention—that’s happened many times in my career,” Jerry says. “It’s never been driven by a business angle; it’s very much been a creative choice.” Simply, he doesn’t like to repeat himself. “When I entered competitions, every year I would try something different. It wasn’t for validation—I’m very competitive, but against myself: I can do better, I can do different.”

Jerry Ghionis Z 8 photo of a male model, using the Sepia Picture Control

© Jerry Ghionis

Jerry used the Z 8’s sepia Picture Control for this image. “It’s helped define my career for the last few years—I like the tonal effect, and that you can’t quite tell if it’s color, black and white or split tone. It has its own look and feel. The negative space behind him represents mystery, and his gesture and expression suit that negative space.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S, 1/250 second, f/1.2, ISO 500, manual exposure.

One of his biggest reinventions happened years ago when he made a significant detour around burnout. “I took a break from bookings—no weddings or portraits, no teaching gigs, workshops…nothing. And then I just played.” Over a summer, “played” meant working with a fashion house and a few modeling agencies. “I developed a massive body of work you’d swear was done over a decade.” And maybe not done by Jerry. “I’m always pleased when people say, “That can’t be your work.” 

Jerry Ghionis Z 8 portrait of a female model, taken with the Noct lens

© Jerry Ghionis

“To get both eyelashes in focus she had to be completely parallel to me. Zoom in and at 100 percent you’ll see the plane of focus is so shallow it makes all else drift off—and I love the dreamlike look of the image.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, 1/250 second, f/0.95, ISO 400, manual exposure.

The summer’s experience was total creative fun, and he realized it was time to widen his lane, to do something different. The change in attitude led to a change in latitude—from Los Angeles to Las Vegas—and new areas of interest. “In Las Vegas I developed a whole new body of work with performance artists,” he says, “many of whom are gold medalists and Cirque performers. They’re very inspiring because of what they can do, and for their commitment to their craft, and that makes me want to be better at my craft.” His craft included video, which he’d begun years before with behind-the-scenes commentaries for his educational efforts and grew to include music videos, small productions and a Nikon mentor series educational course. 

Jerry Ghionis profile portrait of a model, taken with the Z 8

© Jerry Ghionis

“This is a totally different feel and a different, pensive look, which is what I was looking for: a moment between moments. Eye AF gave me pinpoint focus on the exact part of the eye I wanted—the catchlight in the eye socket.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S, 1/250 second, f/1.2, ISO 400, manual exposure.

Jerry shot every second of the Z 8 “life well lived” video. “Part of that was, Okay, let’s get hands on with this smaller camera, but most of it was, let me do what I enjoy doing—and that’s making videos.” He was able to use the Z 8 as the hybrid camera it was, quickly switching from video to stills, and for the motion part of the project using it hand-held, tripod-mounted, on a gimbal and on a slider. No matter if he shot video or stills, he had a few overall and consistent judgments on the Z 8: versatility, reliability and files that were “predictably amazing.” 

Jerry Ghionis portrait of a model, taken with the Z 8, with a high style look

© Jerry Ghionis

“Same model, but here I wanted to show other photographers, and prove to myself, that this is what we can do in one session—multiple, varied looks. Here I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to show a gentle-to-dramatic difference with the precision of the Z 8.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S, 1/250 second, f/1.2, ISO 100, manual exposure.

…this camera is a tool that’s taken the barrier to good photography out of the way.
Jerry Ghionis Z 8 photo of a model dressed in black on a black background, with smoke coming through her black hat

© Jerry Ghionis

We asked, “Where’d you get this idea?” and Jerry answered, “I was thinking of something dramatic with smoke and beams of light, and it just came to me: get a wide-brim hat, an arts-and-crafts blade, cut some holes. I used a continuous light with a focus-beam attachment to make the light even more dramatic.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S, 1/250 second, f/1.2, ISO 800, manual exposure.

The Tech Connection

In the behind-the-scenes video, Jerry says, “The camera is a tool—and you make the difference.” How that played out in his photography with the Z 8 highlighted both parts of the sentence. “I looked at making the video as, okay, let me get my hands on this smaller camera and see what it can do, but honestly, most of it was, how cool is this? I get to do what I most enjoy doing—making videos.”

Jerry Ghionis Z 8 photo of a model, close up, covered in peacock feathers with peacock feather design facepaint

© Jerry Ghionis

And then there’s this idea. “It was, Let’s go to extremes—face paint, peacock feathers, hide one eye, be colorful, be dramatic. Think about color and you think about nature and animals and there you go: peacock feathers. Get me 20 of them, frame her in them, use one as an eye. I wanted the red to pop, but having the lips in focus didn’t feel right—vivid was strong enough, so let me shoot at f/2.2 for the eye perfectly sharp [with Eye AF] and let the feathers and foliage drift in and out of focus as they would. She’s lying down, I held the camera over my head and used the flip-out screen.” Eye AF. Z 8, NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.2 S, 1/400 second, f/2.2, ISO 160 second, manual exposure.

Jerry Ghionis Z 8 photo of a model, taken close up, with part of her head in the image along with red fabric, against a yellow background

© Jerry Ghionis

“I’m very aggressive when it comes to composed cropping—I know the things that work and those that don’t, and this works. I love that the little piece of fabric acts as a sort of platform.” Z 8, NIKKOR Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S, 1/160 second, f/3, ISO 160, manual exposure. 

Ultimately, the Z 8 made it even more enjoyable because as an artist, Jerry pretty much intuitively, and certainly creatively, connects technology and imagination. “Shooting the Z 8 with the 85mm f/1.2 [for the Zoe stills] and getting every shot perfect opened up my mind,” he says, “because I’d never been aware of that kind of efficiency and accuracy. Throughout the video I was constantly playing with colors, skin tones, movement, with light and shadow, and I was getting incredible results. At one point, for still photos, I had a ballerina doing all kinds of crazy movement, forward and back. I had smoke going, she was twirling and it’s like, this is ridiculous. So, when I say the camera is only a tool, well, this camera is a tool that’s taken the barrier to good photography out of the way. I think of the Z 8 as the sweet spot of Nikon mirrorless—the power of a Z 9 in a smaller camera, and that’s why the Z 8 is now my exclusive camera.” 

© Jerry Ghionis

BTS - Behind the scenes the Z 8 is everything you’d expect from a professional-level, hybrid still/video camera. The bonus: the fact that Jerry Ghionis’ ability to communicate is equal to his ability to create.

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