Beautiful and Powerful: We Review the Nikon Z f

Beautiful and Powerful: We Review the Nikon Z f

Many have been waiting for it ever since the release of the Z fc. Well, it is finally here and it is not just gorgeous, but surprisingly well-built using high-quality materials and impressive tech. The Nikon Z f is partially a Z6 II, a Z8, and a beautiful FM2 and yet it’s its own unique thing.

A Beautiful Outside

The new Nikon Z f takes inspiration from the classic Nikon analog cameras of the 80s most noticeably the aforementioned FM2. We’ve seen this before with the Z fc, which has received mixed reactions. Some love it, some can’t stand it. Many loved the vintage feel, while there were those to whom the camera felt cheap and plasticky regardless of the body actually being made of magnesium alloy. I remember loving the Z fc when it came out, only to be saddened by the lack of a selection of decent DX glass for it.

Well, there is no danger of that in the FX world of the mirrorless Z mount, and as a cherry on top, the full-frame Nikon Z f feels far from cheap and plasticky. Once again the body is made of magnesium alloy but it is slightly larger, heftier, and heavier. It feels like more of a camera in your hand. The dials aren’t plastic, they are made of brass which means they will only look better with time once some patina starts showing. The camera does not have a grip to speak of except for a small protrusion on the front side which does almost nothing with regards to helping you hold the body well. I did not have an issue with the Z fc’s lack of a grip as that camera was fairly light and easy to hold. However, the Z f combined with one of the metal Nikon f/1.8 lenses gets a little too heavy to comfortably hold with just one hand. Nikon’s offer of a free SmallRig grip extension makes perfect sense.

The camera is beautiful and so are the Special Edition lenses. If only the SE lenses weren't so plastic and cheap feeling. Even an aperture ring could make a noticeable difference.

The controls have largely stayed the same as the ones on the APS-C Z fc with a slim selection of customizable buttons, a rather mushy directional pad to choose your focus point, the aforementioned dedicated ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation dials, and a PSAM switch. One new feature did pop up though and that is the dedicated B&W switch hidden under the shutter speed dial. The shutter button now has a thread for all the soft shutter lovers out there. There is nothing on the camera to get in your way of getting a shot. The controls are simple and easy to grasp if you’ve ever held a film camera. Each time I had it out to shoot with I knew where to reach and what to set. My only gripe is the lack of an auto position on the ISO dial. The only way to switch between auto and manual ISO is to either go into the menu or to map one of the few buttons to control ISO whilst you’re holding it down making the dedicated dial redundant which is a shame.

The rear LCD offers the same tilt and swivel mechanism as the Z30 or the Z fc. Many photographers, myself included, are no fans of this way of using the screen. I do however understand the appeal of being able to fully hide the screen and not be distracted by it. One of the nicest features of the Z f is the viewfinder. With a decent resolution of 3.69 million pixels and a magnification of 0.8x, it is clear, bright, and fast. The circular eyepiece is identical to the one used on the Z8 and the Z9 making it comfortable for either horizontal or vertical shooting.

Beautiful brass dials which will only look better with time.

Truly Powerful Inside

When it comes to designing cameras there are always two major players that dictate how well the camera performs. The processor and the sensor. And Nikon knows that the balance is key. Choosing to use the same sensor as the great Z6/Z6 II combined with the incredibly powerful processor from the Z8/Z9 bodies makes the camera sit right in the sweet spot of reliable autofocus performance, great low light capabilities, and a decent price. Many Nikon users are familiar with the sensor already. Its high ISO capabilities are well-known whilst keeping more than decent dynamic range and color reproduction.

Of course, the camera captures your traditional Nikon colors which means natural tones not leaning towards the warm spectrum like Canon users tend to prefer, nor towards the colder skin tones Sony users swear by. Greens tend to be a bit more pronounced when shooting foliage, but color science matters very little to an experienced shooter who knows his way around a raw editor. I can see how this camera could appear to an avid Fujifilm shooter if only it offered some form of vintage and/or legacy JPEG settings. If only Nikon made a deal with let's say Kodak to create film simulations based on their stock for which Fujifilm lacks copyright. That would make the Nikon Z f a serious contender next to Fujifilm’s offerings.

Yes, today’s cameras often offer resolutions north of the 30 or even 40-megapixel bar, but not everyone can truly utilize those numbers let alone have any need for them. 24 megapixels is plenty to work with for the vast majority of photographers giving you a perfect balance between enough detail without sacrificing low light performance, storage space, and processing needs in post. You can easily print a 24-megapixel file up to A2 and further which very few unfortunately do so putting a more costly higher resolution sensor in a body such as this would only come with mostly disadvantages. I applaud Nikon for sticking with a more conservative file size.

Everything you need at a glance, no need to have the screen facing outward.

A Mini Z8 or a Z6 2.5?

I’ve called the Nikon Z8 a mini Z9 considering its capabilities. Well, after having enough time to test out the autofocus performance of the Nikon Z f I feel confident calling the camera one of the two titular names of this chapter. The newer EXPEED 7 processor does a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to tracking, subject recognition, and acquisition speed. It goes to show that the sensor does give out sufficient data and all you need is a processor fast enough to keep up with it. Of course, it is not on par with the Z9 or the Z8 due to their stacked sensors with marginally faster readouts, but it is a noticeable improvement over the Z6 II or the Z7 II. I could fully rely on the subject acquisition and the camera’s capability to keep up with the subject in motion. The number of out-of-focus captures was incredibly low. I’d pit it against the likes of a Sony a7R V, or a Canon R6 Mark II and I wouldn’t be able to claim a victor in such a match. Strong words, I know, but the Nikon Z f has truly performed well. Even a simple task such as focusing on an eye obscured by a solid mesh of a few strands of hair was of no issue for the camera. Usually, cameras tend to focus on the hair.

Yes, You’re Not Tripping: MicroSD

When I first saw the spec sheet I had a solid chuckle. By all means a professional camera body utilizing a MicroSD card slot as a backup to its main SD one? This can’t be right. Well, it is and after using it for a while I get it. There were many instances where I reviewed a camera only to scuff at it for only offering a single card slot with no option for a backup. Of course, MicroSD is far from ideal but it is a million times better alternative to not having any backup whatsoever, and considering the amount of space it saves inside of the camera body I’m glad Nikon went with the option. That saved space allows for a full-size EN-EL15C battery which makes life considerably easier compared to the smaller EN-EL25 within the Nikon Z fc. I could easily squeeze north of a thousand captures on a single charge without needing to reach for a USB-C cable. 

We've seen this sensor in the original Z6 and the Z6 II. It is still a great choice today.

It Does Not Look Like It, But It Can Record Solid Video

I see the appeal of the swivel screen for vloggers and YouTubers. So it only makes sense to include some decent video specs into the body. 10-bit N-Log video at 4K does mean plenty of wiggle room for most videographers out there. And there’s no need to worry about card speeds. The maximum bitrate is approximately 340 Mbps, which means you will not need anything faster than a V60-certified SDXC card. The SD card slot is UHS-II compatible allowing for speeds up to V90 so there is no need for the more expensive CFExpress type cards.


What I Liked

Well, regardless of how much I loved the design, the classic look, and the brass dials my favorite part of the camera is the mixture of the 24-megapixel sensor paired with the EXPEED 7 processor. The camera is snappy, reliably fast, tracks well, and produces beautiful files. Combined with the lovely viewfinder, premium build, and dual card slot I can imagine using this for my documentary work, weddings, and/or street photography as it does not feel neither intrusive nor intimidating to your subjects unlike a larger bulkier Z8 or a Z9 would. 

The classic font used on the FM2 mixed with the modern Z f logo feels just right.

What I Didn't Like

I’ve never really complained about a lack of a grip on a camera ever since I shot with my old-school Pentax KM, through the entire X-Pro lineup from Fujifilm, and Leica rangefinders to the Nikon Z fc. But shooting with the Z f it just did not sit well in hand without the SmallRig extension grip. Mainly thanks to the fact that the body with a full frame f/1.8 lens already gets pretty heavy to only rely on your opposing thumb which has no place to lean on the back of the camera. I’m sure someone will make a hotshoe-mounted thumb grip eventually like the ones we’ve seen on the Fujifilm X-Tx cameras which could improve the experience considerably.

Fun To Use, Capable, and a Joy to Look At

The Nikon Z f is overall a truly great camera. Not only is it beautiful, but it is seriously capable in terms of detail captured, color accuracy, signal-to-noise ratio, and autofocusing performance. The viewfinder offers great clarity and magnification whilst the mechanical dials let you be fully in control of the exposure at all times. If only Sigma had released its Contemporary I-Series lenses with their metal bodies and aperture rings. Those would fit the camera perfectly. One can hope.


Ondřej Vachek's picture

Ondřej Vachek is a Prague based independent documentary photographer and photojournalist with multiple journeys to war-torn Ukraine where he covered everything from the frontline in the Donbass to the civilian life adapting to the new normal. Avid street photographer with love for writing and storytelling.

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Good overview! i agree with you on the grip but its definitely not a deal breaker. Ive been using it since release day and have to say its one of the best cameras ive used to date. not only is is powerful and looks great. Its a fun camera to use when out and about. Ive already been asked a few times if it was a film camera because I had the screen hidden away.

Thank you! Yeah, it looks more analogue than many Fujifilms which are famous for the classic look :)

Thanks, this is a very well-written review.
I watched several YT reviews, and read a few articles, but I think you basically covered everything that is needed to know about the Zf.

This new Nikon looks really nice indeed. As a Fuji shooter, I feel for the first time interested in a different system, and that says a lot.

Intriguing idea the one about a Kodak partnership! Oh boy, I think that would be the cherry on top, and I'm sure it would trigger the interest of many Fuji aficionados.

Just out of curiosity: are the JPEGS edited?

Thank you for the nice comment!

I was tempted as well but the lack of Classic Chrome, Classic Negative, Provia, ProNeg, and Acros would make me sad. I use those pretty much 100% of the time.

The images are slightly edited raw files to make sure the exposure is right and to not look too flat.

I totally hear you. I use Classic Chrome all the time, and I'm looking forward to the next X-Pro to finally add Classic Negative, which looks beautiful.

That said, I have to admit this Zf still intrigues me quite a lot. I'll check it out once it becomes available at the local store. I do love the colors Nikon cameras produce. Not so sure about the B&W, though.

What it would be difficult to adjust to is the lack of OVF and the weight. And after reading your article, the grip as well.

Classic Negative is already available in the X-Pro3 but I'd still prefer the older X-Pro2.

You're right. I forgot to mention I'm still on the X-Pro2.

I know a few photographers who just would not use anything else but the Df and whenever they see one used available they buy it just to have enough ready as backup if their current one fails. It's a peculiar obsession but I understand it. It is such a unique camera.

It's a damn pretty camera, that's for sure. Hope Nikon makes more of the vintage-styled lenses to go along with it.

Hopefully. Or even a vintage-styled FTZ adapter would be nice.

I wouldn't mind seeing some S-line quality, smaller (f/2.8?) primes. The cameras sure aren't pocketable with the f/1.8 lenses.

Voigtlander make some really nice manual lenses that would pair really well with this camera. They do focus past infinity though which I find annoying.

Yeah. The 40/1.2 might be nice paired with the Z f.

I own the 40 1.2 in E mount and it is a gem of a lens.

I have a Zfc, Z7ii, Z8 and Z9. I have been thinking about something to go with my extensive AIS and D lens selection - about 20 from the 15 3.5 to the 800 8.0. In practice I will probably not use anything faster than my 180 2.8. I think the ZFc will be a perfect manual focus camera for these lenses using the FTZii.

I am taking delivery of a Moss Green ZF on Thursday.

Nice! The green one looks really good!

Wanna see a ZF firmware bug that's driving me nuts:

Please everyone HAMMER nikon about this. When my proposed fix, which is obvious, is implemented, we effectively get our auto iso position on the dial (if you leave auto iso on).

Here’s something to try. If you add ISO to the i menu and use the C setting, the rear dial will set the ISO value and the front command dial will toggle Auto ISO on/off. You don’t need to click on ISO in the i menu, just make sure it is highlighted when you hit the i button. This seems like a quick way to switch between manual and Auto ISO while looking through the viewfinder.

Hope this helps.

Well, that was my main complaint about the dials in the review. Fuji has been doing this since the X-T1 in 2014. But seeing Nikon's firmware update history with the Z9 I think the fix might happen eventually.

As I understand it, Auto ISO is working exactly as it should. Auto ISO means it is automatically selecting the ISO for you no matter where the ISO dial is set. It's the same as when you select Aperture Priority and the shutter dial is disabled. If you want to override the Auto ISO, you need to turn it off. Similarly, when you want to control the shutter speed, you need to be in Manual or Shutter Priority.

I put "Auto ISO sensitivity control" at the top of "My Menu" and use the OK button to quickly toggle it on/off. I also programmed my video button to go to the top of My Menu for quick access to this setting.

The "C" position seems to be for changing the ISO using the menus (or programmed controls) instead of the dial, but again with Auto ISO enabled they do not function. However, the ISO dial will take precedence over the menu settings once you move it off of C (as long as Auto ISO is disabled, of course).

Hope this helps.

Yes, that is exactly how it works. But it would make much more sense to either allow for the C position to stand in for the Auto mode, or to have a dedicated A position so you would not need to go into the menu. Look at how Fujifilm has been doing it since almost a decade ago. Their aperture dials have an A position enabling the auto mode mechanically. Once you move the dial out of A, you're manually changing it. No need for menus or wasting FN buttons for ISO. The way Nikon does this on the Z fc and the Z f makes the dial redundant.

I don't have a camera with dials but when I use auto ISO, sometimes I need to quickly select a manual ISO on the fly to get the desired exposure. I use the control wheel for ISO but if I had to go into a menu to turn off auto ISO, that would be so inconvenient. Seems odd and disappointing that Nikon don't make it easier for potential Zf purchasers.

I was responding to the video posted about the firmware “bug”. My point was that it is not a bug, but operates as intended.

I was a Fuji user for many years (XT1, XPro2, XE3), but I switched back to Nikon when the Zfc came out for various reasons. There are pros and cons to both systems. Having the A setting on the ISO dial is not necessarily optimal for all use cases. For example, if I want to switch back from Auto to Manual ISO, the dial can slow you down as you have to move it back from A to the desired ISO. The way Nikon has implemented it, the ISO dial is ignored when in Auto ISO. That means when I switch back from Auto to Manual ISO, I'm automatically back at the same ISO setting (since I have not touched the ISO dial). The same is true for the PASM switch as I can switch between Shutter and Aperture priority much faster than with the Fuji system.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there is more than one valid way to implement these things. Just because one system implements it differently, does not mean that is necessarily incorrect or makes less sense.

Just my $0.02.

That is interesting. I've only used Fuji, and not the new models with the PASM system, so I never fully understood how that would be efficient.

Thanks to your explanation it actually makes sense.

Im so stoked i created a site just for the zf.

I should have mine by next week

Thanks for doing that!
I'm super curious about this camera, I'll check your website quite often I guess.

Great pictures. Well-written article that is clear and shows the capabilities well. Plus, the pictures of the most amazing city in the world, Prague, are always inspiring to see.

Thank you!

Good review. I've been using the Z6 for several years. I like it despite some of it's limitations. I've been looking to move up to another model, but Z8 is not in the budget any more. As someone that did a lot ot shooting with 35mm, the Zf definitely has an appeal, not to mention more capability than the Z6. This may be the one I'm looking for. Thanks for a great balanced review!!
Bill G.

Thank you for the nice comment! Make sure to try it out before you buy it though. The lack of a grip might be a big step backward from a Z6 for you. That one is ergonomically great whilst the Z f is truly flat. It can be fixed with the SmallRig grip though :)

Lot’s of comments about ISO. I don’t worry about that. I have about 15 professional grade AIS lenses. I shoot in complete manual mode with those and I just received my ZF, an upgrade to my broken ZFc, a week ago. I turn the aperture ring and shutter dial to where I want it and then all I have to worry about is the focus ring and aperture dial.

If it is to bright for ISO 100 I usually increase the shutter speed.

PS: My ZFc was broken because it came with a cropped sensor. Very annoying because the focal lengths are not what I expect. Also, only half the resolution and double the DOF of full frame. I am sure glad Nikon fixed that!

"My ZFc was broken because it came with a cropped sensor. Very annoying because the focal lengths are not what I expect. Also, only half the resolution and double the DOF of full frame.”

ZFc and ZF are basically the same in terms of resolution. And if you don't know how to multiply by 1.5 to get the crop factor then that's your problem. Don't call the camera 'broken' just because you don't know how to use it.

I started my career with the F2. 40 years later, I left my Z7 to take this Zf. Maybe it's nostalgia, but it's surely the combination of the tradition of 1980 and the technology of 2023.

What lens is used for photo of the person in the red sweater and person in front of the windowed building? 28mm SE?

Both were shot with the 50mm f/1.8