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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.