The launch of the Nikon Zfc was met with a mixed outcry of love for the retro-inspired design and disenchantment over the camera’s crop sensor and single card slot. But that outcry fueled rumors that the company would craft a similar camera with a full-frame sensor someday. That day is finally here. The new Nikon Zf (or Nikon Z F) brings a full-frame 24.5-megapixel sensor to a classically inspired design. But, while a full-frame variation of the Zfc has been high on Nikon fans’ wish list, the camera’s gorgeous exterior — in six different colors — isn’t the best thing about the new camera. The most exciting thing about the Nikon Zf? The list of features, from major flagship features to nuanced details, suggests that Nikon is listening to what photographers are asking for.
The Nikon Z f doesn’t just put a full-frame sensor in a body inspired by the brand’s film cameras. The camera, set to ship in mid-October for around $2,000, snatches some of the biggest features from high-end bodies like the Z9 and Z8. That trickle-down feature list includes the Expeed 7 processor, an autofocus system capable of detecting nine different types of subjects, and a 14 fps burst speed. Yet, despite sitting at a lower price than a flagship, the Nikon Z f also has several Nikon firsts, including Nikon’s best image stabilization system yet at up to eight stops, pixel shift shooting for up to 96 megapixels, and a physical monochrome switch that also comes with two new color profiles. But, as long as the new feature list is, the Nikon Z f has a few notable oddities for a camera of this caliber — including the apparent lack of a joystick and the concession of a microSD for the secondary card slot.
Nikon Zf key features
- A 24.5 megapixel, full-frame sensor that’s also backlit
- The EXPPED 7 processor with 14 fps bursts, or up to 30 fps with JPEG only, and a standard ISO range from 100 to 64,000
- A 299-point autofocus system that’s rated down to -10 EV and includes 3-D tracking
- Subject detection for people, dogs, cats, birds, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trains, and planes
- A 5-axis in-camera stabilization system rated for up to 8 stops, including focus-point VR
- Pixel shift shooting for images up to 96 megapixels
- Two new monochrome color profiles
- A tilting touchscreen, a first for full-frame Z series cameras
- Two SD card slots, one supporting UHS-I and UHS-II, the other microSD UHS-I
- Magnesium alloy frame with dust and moisture seals
- Portrait features, including skin softening, portrait impression balance, and a new Rich Tone Picture Control
- Available in six different color options, including black, blue, brown, red, orange, green, and gray, though some colors are $100 more and only available through the Nikon store
- Prices at around $2000
Nikon Z f: A classic body — but what’s still missing?
Like the Nikon Z fc, the new Nikon Z f is inspired by Nikon’s F series film cameras. That classical inspiration means the top has a shutter speed, ISO, and exposure compensation dial, along with a little screen displaying the selected aperture. A leather-like wrap and classic Nikon logo on the front also build up that classic look. At first glance, the body appears to be everything retro fans asked for, especially factoring in the lovely new wrap colors. But a closer look shows a few potential sticking points.
Like the Nikon Z fc, the Nikon Zf doesn’t appear to have a joystick to make quick focus point adjustments. I know many photographers (myself included) won’t consider cameras without a joystick because adjusting the focus point is that much more ergonomic. Once your fingers get used to a joystick, it’s hard to go back.
But, Nikon did listen to the photographers that said they wouldn’t buy the Z fc because of its single card slot — sort of. The Nikon Z f has two card slots, but one is a microSD. This is a minor annoyance, as microSD needs an adapter to be read by most computers. But, the second card slot is meant for creating in-camera backups, and high-capacity UHS-I microSD cards are widely available and reasonably priced, with 128 GB available for around $25.
Another potential point of contention is the battery life, rated between 360 and 410 shots per charge, depending on the use of the viewfinder or monitor and energy-saving modes.
What the Nikon Z f lacks a few key ergonomic features, the retro body does offer the first vari-angle touchscreen to come to Nikon’s full-frame Z series.
More color profiles, with tools for complexions
While much of the design borrows from the Z fc, the new full-frame body does have a new control — a dedicated switch to quickly move from color to monochrome profiles. That includes two new options: a Flat Monochrome for smooth transitions from light to dark and a softer look, and a Deep Tone Monochrome made for high contrast. If Fujifilm’s popularity is any indication, the photographers who love retro camera bodies also love good colors. Nikon isn’t adding new color options, but the new monochromes are at least a step in the right direction. Being able to ping a beautiful black-and-white image from a retro-styled camera straight to a smartphone via Wi-Fi for Instagram sharing mixes the best of both modern and classic.
Nikon also gave the Zf a new color feature designed for portraits. Rich Tone Picture Control, Nikon says, is a setting for capturing more details within the subject’s complexion. Nikon didn’t divulge more details, like if the feature is JPEG only or how, exactly, it works. But, capturing the subject’s skin tone without washing out light skin tones or without losing details and warmth of darker skin tones is a common issue. Modern camera technology is sorely behind in being able to focus on and render darker skin tones — hopefully, the new feature is a step in the right direction.
A trickle-down autofocus System but an even better VR
Looking through the spec sheet for the new Nikon Zf, one of the most stand-out features is the autofocus, which lists a detection range down to -10 EV. Early Z system cameras struggled in low light, but the system has made some pretty big steps forward. That low light rating is for a system with up to 299 autofocus points.
The Zf gains subject detection similar to the Z 8 in that it’s capable of detecting people, dogs, cats, birds, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trains, and planes. Nikon is also claiming that the Z f can detect distant faces that are just three percent of the frame.
While the autofocus system borrows from existing models, the stabilization system does not. With up to eight stops, it’s the highest-rated system for Nikon’s mirrorless cameras yet. Nikon is also introducing a feature called focus-point VR, designed to minimize blur at the focus point rather than at the center of the image.
Is the Nikon Z f enough for retro fanatics?
The Nikon Z f is, in a lot of ways, the camera that Nikon fans have been asking for. And, even across other brands, there are few options for a retro-inspired body with a full-frame sensor, outside of the rangefinder Sony a7c.
Both the a7C and the new Nikon Zf lack a joystick. As a former Nikon shooter, I could feel the envy building up with each specification of the Nikon Z f that I read. Looking at the images of the camera only fueled that, until I spotted the empty space at the back of the camera where the joystick should be. But, where both the a7C and Z f both lack joysticks, the Z f’s list of features has more high-end features—the a7C lags behind with a stabilization and autofocus system that isn’t as robust as other Sony bodies.
The Nikon Z f is leaps and bounds ahead of the Z fc in what photographers are asking for. By bringing more advanced features to a retro body, the Z f feels as if Nikon is listening to what photographers want. But, the lack of a joystick, limited battery life, and microSD secondary slot suggests selective hearing — and could still be big sticking points for would-be buyers.