Nikon Z9's 'cat meow' shutter makes me wish all cameras were this much fun

A Nikon camera with a cartoon cat on the screen
(Image credit: Nikon)

Cameras aren't exactly known for their humor, but a demo of the Nikon Z9's 'cat meow' shutter sound at CP+ 2022 shows how badly they need more smartphone-style customizability.

As spotted by Nikon Rumors, Nikon introduced a beta firmware for new shutter sounds on the Z9, which included a kitten's meowing sound. Cue lots of heated forum discussions about what sound everyone wants their camera to make (an Austin Powers "yeah, baby!" appears to be the front-runner).

The feature is largely pointless, gimmicky and completely out of step with a professional sports camera. But that's also the point – the fact that it stood out so clearly, and probably generated more discussion than Nikon's new Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens, shows there's an appetite for way more personalization in cameras.

A cartoon cat jumping in the Pokemon Snap game

Camera software and menus feel like a world away from the fun of Pokemon Snap. (Image credit: Nintendo)

My Fujifilm X-T4 contains three electronic shutter sounds, which are all variations on a tinny click. Alongside the Nikon Z9's cat meow sound, the firmware also offers retro shutter sounds for the Nikon D750 and Nikon F4 DSLRs, alongside the option of using a voice recording.

The 'cat meow' sound also shouldn't be dismissed as complete marketing fluff. A family portrait photographer, for example, might find it a useful tool to lighten the mood and get some beaming smiles from kids. The point is that customizations, like we're used to seeing on Android phones, can spark use cases that are unimaginable when everything is locked down.

That's why Nikon says it's actively considering giving its custom shutter sounds feature a wider rollout. It also got me thinking about what other customizations cameras should start offering to give smartphone users a softer landing when they switch to a more 'serious' camera.

Straight shooters

Right now, most cameras – even the latest mirrorless bodies – are about as customizable as a 1980s VHS player. This is partly a result of smartphones hoovering up the beginner and even amateur photographer market, which has pushed standalone cameras further into the professional realm.

But it's also a hangover from the camera giants' past. Neither Nikon or Canon have a long history in software development, and even Sony has only recently tidied up its labyrinthine touchscreen menus. We're not talking a complete camera UI redesign or Android launchers here, though – just some more custom flourishes in the spirit of the Nikon Z9's meowing shutter.

A Canon camera running the Magic Lantern software

Magic Lantern brings slightly more serious custom options to Canon cameras. (Image credit: Magic Lantern)

The frustration with rigid camera software has boiled over in the past. Just over a decade ago, a fan managed to reverse engineer the Canon EOS 5D Mark II's firmware to create Magic Lantern – a software add-on that helped unlock its video-shooting talents and turned it into a classic for amateur filmmakers.

Because Magic Lantern doesn't replace or modify Canon's own firmware, instead running alongside it from a memory card, it's legal and relatively risk-free. But Canon has never engaged with or even mentioned Magic Lantern. While I'm not expecting Canon or Nikon to release an open-source camera, it would be nice to see some more engagement with fans in the smartphone era – and some of that customizable fun baked into their dated, straight-laced software.

Today, it's possible to rejig the order of your camera settings or shortcut menus on most cameras, but that's about it. How about letting camera users rename functions from arcane acronyms like AF-C, ISO and MS to ones that they'd personally remember? Or even choose from a selection of text and graphic styles that fit their taste? That'd be a start, but there's so much more that software could unlock.

Phone-style fun

For example, what if cameras came with a pared-down version of Pokemon Snap that ran in their electronic viewfinders? Sure, it wouldn't be used by pro photographers, but they could pass the camera to family members and help them quickly develop the muscle memory needed to shoot in manual mode.

Realistically, this is probably asking a bit too much of the traditional camera manufacturers. After all, they're a little bit side-tracked with their battle for survival in the professional full-frame space. 

Teak camera shutter buttons next to a camera

Camera fans are used to hardware customizations like these teak shutter buttons, but the software remains rigidly inflexible. (Image credit: Artisan Obscura)

But Nikon's CP+ 2022 demo shows that some simple, fun features can generate debate that puts cameras at least somewhere in the vicinity of popular culture. And new players like Alice Camera and Pixii Camera have an opportunity to innovate in this space, if they can gain a foothold in the market.

I recently argued that the OM System OM-1 could be the world's most fun camera thanks to its software innovations. Cat meow shutter sounds might not win Nikon prestigious photography awards, but features like that could win over fans who are looking for a bit more personalization than third-party camera straps or hand-carved shutter buttons.

Mark Wilson
Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.