The new Nikon Zf is the latest mirrorless camera from the Japanese company that brings a full-frame sensor for high-quality images and a number of retro touches, especially in its controls and knobs.
It’s an upgrade over the earlier Zfc model, which had a smaller crop sensor. Though the new camera comes in a larger body, it sports the same retro design and controls that owners of traditional Nikon cameras will find familiar.
Starting on a good note, the Nikon Zf ticks most of the boxes when it comes to specifications. It has a 24.5-megapixel CMOS sensor with the ability to save 12- or 14-bit RAW images as well as JPEG files as backup with a dual slot configuration.
The Nikon Zf is the first camera body with two memory card slots with a UHS-II SD Card for primary storage and a microSD card for secondary storage. The UHS-II SDXC card may be slower than an XQD or a CFExpress card on the Nikon Z7 or Z8, but the Zf’s modest RAW files should not stretch the memory card’s capabilities.
I did several quick short bursts during my tests, and the SD card kept up without freezing the camera between shots. If the secondary memory card slot is set to save only JPEG files, a capable MicroSD card such as a Sandisk Extreme Pro or a Lexar Professional 1066x with a minimum 90 MB/s write speed should be enough.
That said, Nikon can improve the design for the microSD card slot. As you see in the image below, the microSD card cannot be easily extracted when the battery is in place. This is frustrating for users when they have to change cards in the middle of a shoot.
The Nikon Zf has another surprise up its sleeve. It fully supports videographers with micro HDMI, microphone and headphone ports for shooting videos. The screen can also swing to face forward when doing a selfie photo or video.
Just remember to pair the camera with a 20mm lens to show more of the background. The good news is that the Zf does not crop the image in video mode, so there is no need for a wider lens.
On top of the typical photo or video mode, Nikon has added a third “B&W” in the mode selector lever. This new mode is a nice touch, letting you shoot in monochrome when capturing street shots or moody portraits.
To ensure you still have colour information in the image files, just save them in the NEF RAW format on top of the JPEG image files.
I’m also happy that the autofocus system is right on point, highlighting a subject’s eyes fairly quickly for both humans and pets, even while they are moving. The camera can keep up with the frequent changes to the focusing distance, like from my face to an object right in front of the camera and back.
In terms of usability, the Nikon Zf is similar to the Nikon Zfc. You can change ISO, shutter speed and Exposure Value Compensation using the dials on the top plate.
The Zf also comes with a new camera mode selector on the left that quickly lets you choose automatic, program, aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual. This means you don’t miss shots while fiddling with the controls.
If the Nikon Zf is paired with the excellent Z-mount lenses, the Zf works flawlessly like a modern camera. Yet, you can still turn the dials like old SLR cameras of the 70s and 80s. It’s a retro feel that some like.
What about image quality? Photos from the Nikon Zf are what I would expect from the Japanese imaging company. Images are sharp and have good colour rendition for landscape and still life.
Portraits show good quality without using the “skin softening” and “portrait impression balance” options, so remember to switch them off in the menu before a shoot.
Nothing’s perfect, for sure. Things do get complicated when an old Nikkor F-Mount lens gets mounted on the Zf with the FTZ adaptor. With this, the aperture control is done on the camera body rather than on the lens, which is different from the way I use my old Nikon FM.
Nikon should also allow users to turn off the aperture control warning when using old lenses like the Nikkor 50mm f1.4 D. Do note that some old AF lenses will become manual focusing lenses when using the adaptor.
Changing manual ISO setting to auto ISO requires some menu diving too, as the “C” mode on the ISO does nothing except to switch from dial control to normal digital control. The experience will improve if the Auto ISO can be activated through the dial.
What about ergonomics? The Nikon Zf has a slight bump to act as a grip, but like the old Nikon FM, it does not give users a good hold of the camera. You would need to purchase a handgrip attachment for the camera if you’re worried about your hands slipping.
Another issue has to do with connectivity. The Nikon Zf can send images to a smartphone through the Snapbridge app, or at least when it works. Some phones do not work with the camera, so a test with your phone is necessary before purchase.
The Nikon Zf is not perfect, to be honest. However, the retro controls are a nice touch and will appeal to loyal Nikon users. It would help to make these controls better integrated with new features on modern cameras.
The Nikon Zf costs $3,299 for the body alone. You can pay $4,199 for a bundle that includes a 24-70mm f4 lens, though that’s more expensive than the Nikon Z6II at $3,999 with the same lens.
If the black-and-white mode and the old way of controlling the camera do not appeal to you, the cheaper Z6II is the better alternative. That said, nothing beats the feeling of nostalgia when shooting with the Nikon Zf.