The Nikon Zf isn't the manufacturer's first attempt at reviving the style of film cameras for the digital age. The Nikon Df came along in 2013, but failed to take off enough to garner any sequels. Nikon dipped its toe in the water again in 2021 with the release of the Nikon Z fc and, luckily, got a very different reaction from buyers.
Nikon has repeated several times that the demand for the Z fc has far exceeded its expectations, clearly showing that there is serious appetite for cameras with a vintage aesthetic.
And the Nikon Z fc was universally fairly well received; we gave it a near-perfect score, enamored with its vintage looks but criticizing its build quality and ergonomics. However, almost immediately after the release of the Z fc, eager users started asking for a full-frame version with the same classic styling, so it seemed almost inevitable that Nikon would deliver just that.
Now it appears that Nikon is fully onboard the vintage-inspired camera train with the release of the Nikon Zf – a full frame version of the Z fc that is finally the true digital successor to the classic Nikon FM2 film camera.
Nikon is hoping to answer the criticisms leveled at the Z fc with the considerably more expensive and larger Nikon Zf, but has it done enough to make this the perfect camera for vintage enthusiasts?
Nikon Zf: Specifications
|Autofocus||299 points, 89% x 96% coverage, -10EV|
|ISO||100 - 64,000|
|Burst shooting||7.8fps RAW/JPEG, 30fps JPEG|
|Video||4K60p, 4K30p, FHD 120p|
|Image stabilization||Up to 8 stops|
|Screen||3-in, fully articulated|
|Storage||1x SD UHS-II, 1x Micro SD|
Nikon Zf: Key Features
Despite its retro exterior, the Nikon Zf incorporates the latest advancements inherited from the company's flagship models, the Nikon Z8 and Z9. Its core features include a 24.5MP full-frame sensor, powered by the Expeed 7 processor, which enhances autofocus performance, expands file format options, improves in-camera stabilization, and provides exceptional low-light capabilities with an extended ISO range of up to 64,000.
The Nikon Zf boasts the same impressive autofocus system as the Z8 and Z9, equipped with 299 focus points that cover a substantial 89% by 96% of the sensor area. This system is adept at subject tracking, including humans (faces, eyes), animals, birds, and vehicles, ensuring precision even in challenging shooting conditions as dark as -10EV.
Unique to the Nikon Zf is the introduction of subject detection algorithms that function seamlessly in manual focus mode or when using adapted manual focus lenses, enhancing exposure accuracy based on recognizing the subject.
The Nikon Zf is capable of achieving up to 8 stops of image stabilization with compatible lenses and offers pixel shift imaging, which combines multiple shots to create even higher-resolution images. Furthermore, in a world first, the Zf introduces the Focus Point VR system, taking stabilization a step further and employing the camera's focus point to enhance in-body image stabilization.
For videographers, the Nikon Zf offers versatile video recording capabilities, supporting 4K video at various frame rates (60p, 30p, 24p) and FullHD up to 120p. Video enthusiasts will appreciate features such as focus peaking, zebra stripes, waveform display in live view, fine ISO control, and an enhanced video information display. The camera can record continuously for up to 125 minutes, making it a viable choice for extended video projects.
Nikon Zf: Build & Handling
It has to be said, if you are a fan of the vintage styling of cameras like the Nikon FM2, you will instantly fall for the Nikon Zf. Where the Nikon Z fc borrowed some of the stylings of that classic camera but cut corners in design and build quality, the Nikon Zf doubles down on copying the FM2 perfectly.
The quality of the body feels exceptional in the hand, using a solid and robust magnesium alloy body, with dials made of brass that not only feel much more secure than the Z fc, but will also wear with use – the same as vintage cameras from the past. However, like the reference camera, the Zf does feature a shallow grip that will make it trickier to hand-hold with larger lenses.
Now, many people will instantly dismiss this camera as a hipster camera – but I don’t know why that is a "dirty" term. I am the type of photographer who not only cares about how my images look but also cares about the look of all the gear that I shoot with. My camera is the most constant piece of technology in my life and gets used for years and years, so I end up seeing a lot of it, so why wouldn’t I want it to look as good as possible?
The camera has manual dials for shutter speed and ISO – although, with no auto setting on the dials, it is not immediately obvious how to put it into these settings without dipping into the menu system (which I was unable to do in my brief hands-on).
The aperture is controlled using the front wheel and is displayed on the small display up top, which is thankfully larger and easier to read than the dial from the Z fc. There is also a switch to flick from stills to video, different shooting modes, as well as swapping the camera from color to monochrome picture styles.
The Nikon Zf styling isn’t all vintage; there are a few modern twists as well. It has a fully articulating screen on the rear, so you can vlog or shoot from awkward angles, and there are all the modern ports present for charging the battery in-camera via USB-C or connecting headphones or microphones.
One confusing addition to the Nikon Zf is its microSD card slot, which sits alongside the single SD UHS-II slot. I am not entirely sure why the camera was not given two standard SD card slots – I would suspect it must be down to fitting everything into the camera body, although much smaller cameras have dual SD card slots.
The other alternative was just to include one slot, and I suppose if given the choice of just a single SD card or both an SD and microSD combo, then the latter is evidently the better proposition. But microSD is just not fast enough for many applications that the camera can be used for, like 4K video or fast burst rates with long buffers. Nikon suggested that the microSD would make a good backup card, although currently it is not exactly sure how this would function without further testing.
One of the most significant downsides to Nikon’s new vintage-inspired cameras is that they have relatively few lenses that are designed to match. Unlike rivals like Fujifilm, where all its lenses walk the line between classic and modern design to work on all its body styles, most Nikon Z lenses are styled to match the modern Z system cameras. Currently, there are only three lenses that will complete the look of your Nikon Zf – and while you can, of course, use any Z lens on the Zf, I would struggle to buy into a camera with this design if I can’t get the lenses I want with the same look.
How many SE lenses Nikon is planning to make in the classic style is anyone's guess, as I am sure Nikon won’t waste resources on creating duplicate lenses – and its modern-looking lenses are going to take priority. This confusion has led to issues like the retro-inspired Nikon lenses bafflingly not having manual aperture rings, and when such careful consideration has been taken to offer the most film-camera-like experience possible in the Zf (and Z fc) body, it seems like an odd choice to not include aperture rings on its lenses.
Nikon Zf: Photo Performance
In my hands-on time with the camera, I was unable to save any images to take away with me, so stay tuned for the full review when I get the chance to really put it through its paces.
However, with the Expeed 7 processor used to great acclaim in the latest Nikon Z8, and a 24.5MP sensor similar to that in the Nikon Z6 II, I have high expectations for this camera to be a great blend between those two models.
One of the most exciting new features of this, or any camera, is Nikon’s new VR system, which promises to offer steadier footage by locking the image stabilization to the focus point rather than just using the normal pitch and yaw of the camera, it will also try to match the movement and positioning of the subject. It sounds as interesting as it does confusing, and I am really looking forward to putting it into practice to see if it offers comparatively better footage than other systems.
Nikon Zf: Video Performance
While the Nikon Zf isn’t being positioned as a true filmmaker’s camera, it has respectable video specs and it looks like it will be a very capable body for anyone creating video content for YouTube or social media, topping out at 4K 60p video, and employing the latest in Nikon's subject recognition and tracking autofocus technology.
Also now with a fully articulating screen, the camera also looks to be a great choice for vloggers who also care about how their camera looks.
Nikon Zf: Verdict
The Nikon Zf is sure to steal the hearts of vintage camera enthusiasts. From the moment I laid my hands on this camera, it stirred up a wave of nostalgia for the bygone days of shooting film. The camera's body represents a significant upgrade from Nikon's first attempt in this segment, the Nikon Z fc, with the Zf body boasting a more substantial presence with its robust brass dials and a weighty feel reminiscent of the iconic Nikon FM2 that served as its inspiration.
Although I haven't had the opportunity to capture any images or video with the camera just yet, the anticipation of what it offers is compelling. With its 25MP full-frame sensor and Nikon's cutting-edge Expeed 7 processor, this camera promises enhanced subject tracking, higher ISO capabilities, and superior video performance to match the best of Nikon's cameras. This camera feels like the vintage-inspired camera Nikon should have made all along.
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If you want a camera that offers the same classic retro styling and excellent build quality as the Nikon Zf then look no further than the Fujifilm X-T5. Both cameras are built around the same concept of manual dials, however, Fujifilm one-ups Nikon with its wider selection of lenses with matching classic styling and manual aperture dials. The Fujifilm X-T5 does only have an APS-C sensor, but honestly, you won’t be able to tell the difference, and at 40MP, it bests the Zf’s for resolution.
The Nikon Z fc might not have the same build quality as the larger Zf, but it still looks pretty much the same with its pretty vintage design. The important difference however is the Z fc can be had at significantly cheaper. You will miss out on some of the very best technology offered by the Zf, but if you aren't planning on using this as a professional camera then the Z fc will be perfect for your needs.