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Nikon Z fc review: old-school style meets cutting-edge tech

It's Nikon's first retro-themed Z-mount camera, but this is certainly not just a case of style over substance

Nikon Z fc
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The Nikon Z fc is an unapologetically retro camera with all the mod cons you’d expect from a current mirrorless model. Its aluminium dials are a joy to operate and the body looks so pretty you’ll likely display the camera when it’s not in use. But the Z fc isn't all style and no substance. Thanks to sharing the Z 50's internals, performance and image quality are excellent, so there are few compromises to be made for the extra style. Only the slippery body shape, along with the relative shortage of DX-format native Z-mount lenses, go against the Z fc. But even with these considerations, if you dig the retro aesthetic, the Z fc is still worth every penny.

For

  • Gorgeous styling
  • Solid specs
  • Well priced

Against

  • Compromised ergonomics
  • 'Only' 20.9 megapixels
  • Lack of DX Z-mount lenses

With the likes of Fujifilm, Olympus and Leica cashing in on the retro camera style for years, the time has come (again) for Nikon to follow suit, this time in the form of the Nikon Z fc.

We say ‘again’, as it wasn’t so long ago that Nikon tried the same thing with the Df in 2013. However, where that was a full-frame DSLR camera, the new Z fc is an APS-C Z-mount mirrorless model. The Z fc is also specced to be a better all-round camera than the Df ever was, in an effort to make it just as versatile as it’s conventionally-styled rivals, only with more visual appeal. Let’s see whether Nikon’s efforts have paid off…

Specifications

(Image credit: Future)

Sensor: 20.9MP APS-C CMOS
AF points: 209
ISO range: 100-51,200 (expandable to ISO 204,800)
Stabilization: Electronic Vibraiton Reduction, video only
Max image size: 5,568 x 3,712px
Video: 4K UHD up to 30p
Viewfinder: 0.39-in 2.36-million-dot OLED EVF
Memory card: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC, UHS-I
LCD: Vari-angle touchscreen
Max burst: 11fps
Size: 134.5 x 93.5 x 43.5mm
Weight: 390g body only, 445g with battery and memory card

Key features

(Image credit: Future)

Anyone who remembers the Nikon Df will spot similar styling cues on the new Nikon Z fc. It takes the iconic and achingly handsome looks of the Nikon FM series of 1980’s 35mm film SLRs and wraps them around its latest APS-C mirrorless camera technologies. That’s not to say the Z fc’s tech is all-new though. Rather, this is actually more of a re-skin of Nikon’s existing Z 50 model, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the Z 50 is a great camera in its own right and its technology is still up to date.

The result of sharing the Z 50’s tech is the Z fc packs the same 20.9MP APS-C CMOS sensor with low pass filter and the same EXPEED 6 image processor. That’s around 3MP less than the 24MP sensors in most APS-C rival cameras, while the likes of Fujifilm and Canon can offer even higher megapixel counts in some of their mirrorless models. Even so, 20.9MP is still more than enough resolution, while the slightly larger individual sensor photosites should, in theory, improve the Z fc’s low light performance and dynamic range.

The Z fc also gets the Z 50’s excellent 209-point hybrid AF system, equipped with eye-detection for humans and animals. Nikon has slightly boosted its low-light performance relative to the Z 50, as the Z fc can now focus down to -4.5EV, where the Z 50’s system was sensitive to -4EV.

Both cameras share the same, highly respectable 11fps max continuous shooting speed, along with identical 4K video recording capabilities. That means the Z fc can record UHD 3840 x 2160 footage at a max 30 fps, and does so using the full width of the sensor, so your 4K footage isn’t cropped to a narrower field of view.

While the Z fc inherits the Z 50’s 0.39-in 2.36-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, it does offer something extra when it comes to the rear LCD screen. The Z fc is equipped with a fully-articulating touchscreen display – it’s a tad smaller than the screen on the Z 50 (3-in vs 3.2-in) but massively more practical, especially for selfies and vlogging. This marks the first time Nikon has put a vari-angle screen on one of its Nikon Z mirrorless cameras, and you have to wonder why it’s taken so long.

But of course there’s one area where the Z fc is radically different to the Z fc: its controls. Most modern cameras are controlled with a mode dial, with shutter speed and ISO settings set via a digital interface. The Z fc relegates the mode dial options to a small lever under a big external ISO dial on the top plate. On the other side of the viewfinder is an equally big shutter speed dial. The only external control you don’t get is an aperture ring, but as Nikon’s Z lenses aren’t equipped with this feature, that’s a compromise you’ll have to make.

Build and handling

(Image credit: Future)

As you’d hope for a Nikon camera designed to be a thing of beauty, the Z fc feels like a high quality product. The silver top plate is indeed metal, though the matching bottom plate is painted plastic. Twisting and turning each retro-themed dial on the top plate is satisfyingly clunky, and those who experienced the film cameras that inspired the Z fc’s controls will no doubt relish in the nostalgia. What’s more, the front and rear control dials are also comfortably large and have good click feedback with none of the sponginess of many a Fujifilm X-mount camera. The exposure compensation dial is set far enough in from the edge of the camera to prevent accidental rotation, and alongside it sits an unusual LCD display window. The sole function of this is to display the lens aperture f/stop, which gives you a good quick-reference point for lens aperture and does a good job of compensating for the lack of a dedicated lens aperture ring missing from Z-mount lenses.

(Image credit: Future)

Moving to the rear of the camera, we see a feature not present on any other Z camera: an articulating screen. Out in the field it really becomes apparent how useful this is beyond just vlogging. The ability to flip out the camera when shooting at awkward angles can’t be understated, especially when using a camera that’s suited to street photography.

The Nikon Z fc (left) offers a very similar specification to the Nikon Z50 (right) (Image credit: Future)

However, while the articulating screen and direct-access dials are ergonomic highlights, the Z fc’s flat body makes no concession to grippiness. It lacks the protruding grip present on the Z 50, making the Z fc more liable to slip out of your hands. The black leather-look texture around the body of the camera is also much less grippy than it looks, so when carrying the camera around we resorted to holding it via the lens, but would recommend using the supplied strap. It’s also worth noting that the Nikon GR-1 extension grip is available and although we haven’t tested it, it’s designed to provide a more ergonomic experience.

See also: Nikon Z fc vs Nikon Z50

(Image credit: Future)

Alongside the camera itself, there’s also the Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR Silver Edition lens. This is essentially the same kit lens you get with a Z 50, but with a cosmetic makeover, featuring a silver exterior design to match the Nikon Z fc. The lens is compact and lightweight, with a total length of 32mm and weighing in at just 135g, and offers a 24-75mm full-frame-equivalent zoom range.

(Image credit: Future)

The other retro lens available at launch is the Nikkor Z 28mm f/2.8 SE (Special Edition). This isn’t as versatile as the Z DX 16-50mm, but it certainly feels at home attached to the Z fc. Using a prime lens on a camera that’s suited to photo walks and trips away is always a joy, because it forces you to move in search of interesting compositions. The 42mm focal length (in 35mm terms) isn’t as familiar as a 35mm or nifty fifty, but it’s still a very versatile focal length and will serve you well if you leave your other lenses at home. It’s worth noting that the Z 28mm f/2.8’s focus ring is smoother and larger than the Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and boasts a chunky rubber grip. It’s actually been designed using original blueprints, making it an attractive prospect for those wishing to shoot authentically retro on the Z fc with manual focus. It’s also a customizable control ring and can be assigned to alter aperture, exposure compensation or ISO.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

(Image credit: Future)

There are no surprises with the Z fc's performance, as image quality is identical to the Z 50 on which it's based. While this means you ‘only’ get 20.9MP, the payoff is enhanced dynamic range and low-light performance thanks to the marginally larger photosites spread across the same APS-C sensor size, versus a more conventional 24MP sensor.

(Image credit: Future)

Even so, don’t expect perfectly clean shots at sky-high ISO settings. Crank the sensitivity up past ISO 3200 and noise is clearly visible when viewing at 100% image size. It can be smoothed out with the aid of high-ISO noise reduction, but fine textures like fabric weaves can be smeared in the process. But even with noise reduction disabled, grain is fine enough to not be distracting. Dynamic range is excellent, especially with Nikon’s Active D-Lighting dynamic range enhancement enabled, and the Z fc’s default matrix metering mode does a fine job of accurately exposing shots in tricky lighting scenarios.

(Image credit: Future)

While the unusually low 20.9MP sensor resolution does of course mean images are physically smaller at 5568 x 3712 pixels, that’s not a huge reduction on a typical 6000 x 4000MP shot from a 24MP sensor, and consequently the Z fc is more than capable of resolving a great deal of fine detail, albeit not quite as much as you’d get from a 24MP APS-C camera such as a Fujifilm X-T30.

(Image credit: Future)

The Z fc’s autofocus capabilities are a slight step up from those of the Z 50. The Z fc boasts additional Wide-area AF L-people and L-animals settings for both stills and video. Plus, you can now use full-time Eye AF when shooting video. In general shooting we found the AF to be extremely fast and reliable when shooting with the bundled DX 16-50mm kit zoom lens, whether that be shooting in low light or when capturing fast-moving subjects.

(Image credit: Future)

In fact, the only annoyance when shooting with the Z fc comes down to the aforementioned ergonomic shortcomings. At 575g ready to shoot, with the DX 16-50mm lens attached, the Z fc is heavy enough to make its lack of a sculpted hand grip noticeable. And with no rear thumb rest either, we found ourselves needing to support the camera with both hands for it to feel secure. That’s fine for an occasional shot, but for a solid day’s shooting, it’s enough to make the camera feel awkward to use, especially when compared to the Z 50, which sits effortlessly in one hand, with no danger of slipping.

(Image credit: Future)

Lab data

For our lab data comparison, we compared the Z fc to two of its main retro-styled mirrorless camera rivals: the Fujifilm X-T30 and Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. And if you're prepared to sacrifice looks, there's always the APS-C Sony Alpha A6400 that can be had for a similar price as the Z fc.

Resolution:

(Image credit: Future)

Resolution is measured using standardized text charts which give results in line widths / picture height, which is independent of sensor size.

The relatively low 20.9MP pixel count of the Z fc means that in spite of its APS-C sensor size, it roughly matches the Micro Four Thirds Olympus E-M10 IV when it comes to resolving fine detail. Meanwhile, the 24.2MP Sony a6400 and 26.1MP Fujifilm X-T30 capture marginally more detail at lower sensitivities than the Z fc, but at ISO 3200, the difference is much more noticeable.

Dynamic range:

(Image credit: Future)

Dynamic range is a measure of a camera's ability to record extreme brightness ranges and still retain detail in the brightest and darkest parts of the scene. It's measured in EV (exposure values, or 'stops').

The Zfc, E-M10 IV and A6400 are all closely matched in terms of dynamic range. The Nikon isn't quite class-leading at lower sensitivities, but it performs strongly at higher ISOs.

Signal to noise ratio:

(Image credit: Future)

This test compares the amount of random noise generated by the camera at different ISO settings as a proportion of the actual image information (the 'signal'). Higher values are better and we expect to see the signal to ratio fall as the ISO is increased.

Usually a lower megapixel count helps reduce image noise by virtue of larger sensor photosites being more light-sensitive. However, Nikon's 20.9MP sensor is a relatively old design now, debuting in the Nikon D500 DSLR back in early 2016. The Z fc therefore generates more image noise than the X-Trans 4 sensor in the Fujifilm X-T30, though the gap narrows at higher sensitivities.

Verdict

(Image credit: Future)

The Nikon Z fc is everything the Nikon Df should have been. It’s an unapologetically retro camera with all the mod cons you’d expect from a current mirrorless camera. The aluminium dials are a joy to operate and the body looks so pretty you’ll likely display the camera when it’s not in use. The fully articulating screen won’t just please vloggers – there’s an argument all future Nikon Z cameras would benefit from having one. It’s a pity the Z fc lacks an in-built flash, especially when one is present in the cheaper Z 50, but that would have likely compromised the gorgeous looks, and there’s still a hot shoe for mounting a separate flashgun.

Style doesn’t come cheap, and the Z fc was always going to cost more than the Z 50 on which it’s based, but the price difference is actually not as painful as we’d first expected, and is unlikely to be a deal-breaker. What is harder to live with are the Z fc’s compromised ergonomics from its slippery body shape, along with the relative shortage of DX-format native Z-mount lenses when compared to the far more comprehensive Fujifilm X-mount system.

But even with these considerations, the Nikon Z fc is a camera oozing with both style as well as substance. If you dig the retro aesthetic, it’s worth every penny.

Read more:

Best Nikon cameras
Best Nikon Z lenses
Best cameras for video
Best mirrorless cameras