As Nikon fans, we all knew this was coming. A retro style full-frame mirrorless camera! The Nikon Zf follows in the footsteps of the Nikon DF DSLR, the DX mirrorless Nikon Z fc, and of course the company’s legendary, 65-year-old heritage of film SLR cameras. Both the Zf and Z fc beautifully harken back to the days when cameras were elegant pieces of machinery; mechanical, metal, and purpose-built. Today, of course, we’re bringing you our Nikon Zf review!

LEFT: Nikon Zf (2023) RIGHT: Nikon FG (1979)

When I snuggle the relatively large Zf next to the humble Nikon FG that I inherited from my grandfather, (a 45 year old camera; older than me!) …or the legendary Nikon FM2, it is obvious that Nikon has known how to make excellent cameras for many decades. Cameras that just work, so a photographer can focus on their artistic creativity. I’ve tested and reviewed cameras for 20 years now, and that is the one thing I’ve always loved about working with a Nikon camera: it just feels right. The intuitive controls, the comfortable ergonomics, the durable feel; I’ve always appreciated how easy it is to work with Nikon cameras, and how versatile they are.

The Nikon Zf looks the part, and its controls feel luxurious. That stylish retro look, and yes, lots of metal parts. Furthermore, under the hood, this camera packs some powerful specs. The Zf gains some of the high-end flagship features of the Nikon Z8 and Z9, and uses the impressive sensor found in the Z6 II. To get all that for just under $2,000 is a great value, indeed.

All in all, the Zf should be an absolute home-run. But, does it live up to such an honorable legacy? There is a lot to cover, and, suffice to say, it’s complicated. There are reasons why I’d absolutely recommend this camera, but there are times when I wouldn’t. It all depends on the photography you do, plus, your overall reasons for loving photography itself. So, let’s dive in!

Nikon Zf | Specifications

  • SENSOR: 24 megapixel (BSI CMOS) (similar/identical to sensor found in the Nikon Z6 II)
  • LENS MOUNT: Nikon Z (FX Full-Frame mirrorless)
  • VIDEO: 4K 30p (full sensor width) 4K 60p (in DX crop mode, 1.5x)
  • ISO: 100-64,000 native, 50-204,800 extended
  • AUTOFOCUS: Hybrid 273-point AF, 3D Tracking, face, eye, & subject detection & tracking
  • SHOOTING SPEED (FPS): 11 FPS (raw), 14-15 FPS (jpg), 30 FPS (~4K video JPG frames)
  • SHUTTER SPEEDS: 1/8000 sec to 30 sec, mechanical & electrical shutter, bulb & timer mode shutter
  • STABILIZATION: Yes, sensor-based, up to 8 EVs of camera shake reduction
  • VIEWFINDER: 3.69M dot OLED, 0.8x magnification, 60hz refresh rate
  • LCD: 3.2” 2.1M dot LCD touchscreen
  • CONNECTIVITY: USB-PD, (battery charging or camera power)
  • STORAGE: SDXC (UHS-II) & microSDXC (UHS-1)
  • BATTERY: EN-EL15c (2280 mAh)
  • BODY CONSTRUCTION: Magnesium Alloy
  • SIZE: 5.7×4.1×1.9″ (144x103x49 mm)
  • WEIGHT: 1.6 lb (710g) (with battery & memory cards)
  • PRICE:$1996
    (B&H | Adorama | Amazon)

Nikon Zf Review | Who Should Buy It?

Right out of the gate, let’s be clear: this camera is cutting-edge, and it’s an incredible value. HOWEVER, it’s still not for everyone. Here’s the quick rundown on who should consider this camera, and why or why not:

First, the retro style design is important. You have to really like that part of the camera, in order for it to be the best choice. Compared against the budget-friendly Nikon Z5, (currently a mere $996, thanks to an active $402 rebate) and the powerful Nikon Z6 II which comes in at just $1,596, (also thanks to a $400 rebate) …the Nikon Zf is a choice you’d make specifically for the retro style.

To be clear: Yes, the Nikon Zf does offer a few specs that are slightly more modern than the Z5 or Z6II. However, both alternatives have the much more universal, comfortable modern ergonomics and controls, which really does make a difference.

Secondly, you have to be okay with the rather large, heavy body, too. Because, honestly, if all you want is a cool retro-looking camera, the Nikon Z fc is incredibly capable, and it’s significantly lighter (200g lighter, more than half a pound) and far smaller.

For the types of casual photography where I personally found myself appreciating the retro design, portability and durability are huge selling points.

These two factors add up to one conclusion: The Nikon Zf is a niche camera with some universal appeal. It is definitely not a “universally appealing” camera that also happens to attract a niche market.

With that in mind, let’s quickly break down the categories of photography where I would (or wouldn’t) consider the Zf to be a “perfect choice”.

Everyday & Candid Street Photography

Whether you’re going on a casual outing with friends & family, attending a special event, or doing candid photos around home or out on the street, the Nikon Zf is a delight to have in any low-pressure situation. I would absolutely love to have this camera as a serious amateur or hobbyist, for almost any photography subject, really. Its controls are not as optimal in high-pressure professional conditions, but we’ll get to that later.

(The same thing goes if you’re doing lots of video as well, by the way.)

Landscape & Nature Photography

For both serious and professional photographers who do any sort of landscape, nature, or outdoor adventure/travel photography or video work, the Nikon Zf is indeed an elegant yet powerful tool. There might not be anyone else around for miles to appreciate your camera, but I suspect that many landscape photographers are also the types who truly appreciate the craft of photography itself. It’s just a delight to use such a modern camera with such a timeless air to it, when you’re out photographing the calm, quiet moments of nature.

I particularly appreciate the way Nikon has set up their user interface for easy operation and quick access to various features that are relevant to landscape photography; by customizing both the physical controls and the on-screen quick-access menu, I can rapidly switch between various advanced tools such as going from traditional landscape photography to starting/stopping a time-lapse, or jumping to a custom setup that is friendly to astro-landscape photography.

For example, I found the process of creating advanced composite images such as panoramas, focus stacks, and HDR brackets to be incredibly easy and intuitive. Sometimes I even used more than one of those techniques at once, and yet the Zf never seemed to make me fumble. Advanced tools such as focus stacking do require a bit of setup, but the learning curve is honestly one of the easiest I’ve experienced, and before I knew it I was creating all kinds of imagery without thinking twice!

The 24-megapixel sensor might seem a bit limited compared to alternatives in the 40-60 megapixel range, but of course the Z FC does have a pixel-shift high-res mode, for those who are interested.

Personally, if I want “bonkers” resolution, I usually just zoom in a little bit and create a panoramic stitch. Old habits die hard, as someone who has been using digital cameras since the days of 6-12 megapixel raw files!

Nightscape & Time-Lapse Photography

Again, it’s hard to appreciate a retro looking camera when it’s pitch-dark, however, as an astro-landscape and time-lapse photographer myself, all I know is that I appreciate cameras in general, and I have enough nostalgia that I’d absolutely choose the Nikon Zf for any of these specialty types of content. I must give a particularly special nod to Nikon in general, though; they have by far the best implementation of the built-in interval timer feature. While other brand cameras almost completely lock you out of all camera operation once a time-lapse has been started, Nikon has always allowed virtually any camera setting to be changed during a time-lapse, (as long as you can perform the adjustment in between intervals, without bumping the camera!) …and this is a huge help for innumerable reasons.

Speaking of nightscape photography, I also found the Nikon Zf to be an excellent choice for these genres, thanks to its amazing 24-megapixel sensor that offers a perfect balance of amazing image quality at almost all ISOs, including both noise levels and dynamic range.

Professional / Serious Videography

If you primarily do video, you might appreciate the ZF’s 4K specs, as they are decently impressive for the price. It’s not just the spec sheet that makes the camera desirable, of course; once again I have to say that if you’re not specifically looking at this camera because of its retro style, there are probably better choices for videographers.

Having said that, don’t get me wrong, as a landscape, nightscape, and time-lapse photographer who tries to make vlogs of his adventures, I would happily use the Zf for vlogging, nature B-roll, etc.

Wildlife & Action Sports Photography

This is where things get complicated. Partly because of the Nikon ZF’s retro design, and partly because of the actual performance. I won’t sugar-coat it: The body isn’t as effortless to operate as its siblings such as the Z6II or Z8. Yes, the ZF does offer speed, (11 FPS) and yes, it’s got the same autofocus interface as the 3D Tracking on the impressive Z8 & Z9. However, the 24-megapixel sensor means that real-world results are a little bit more similar to the speed and precision of the Z6II.

100% crop, ISO 6400

Furthermore, as I mentioned, the Nikon ZF body is just not as comfortable to hold, if you’re out in the field waiting for hours to get a photo of an elusive creature. Then, when the critical moment hits, I would much prefer to have the dials and controls of a Z8 for any fast-paced action.

Wedding & Portrait Photography

Speaking of holding a camera for hours on end, I also hesitate to call this a “perfect” camera for wedding, portrait, and similar types of professional photography. The comfort level just isn’t the same, if you’re doing a 10-12+ hour wedding, or multiple portrait sessions in one day. The controls make it just a little bit more difficult to easily crank all your camera settings up and down, too.

I also  found it a bit cumbersome to use the dual card slots. The 2nd slot is a micro SD slot which is almost impossible to insert or eject without first removing the battery. Additionally, it’s only UHS-1 speed, making it a slight liability for any highly active conditions. This is admittedly a minor complaint that wouldn’t stop me from using this camera for weddings if everything else about it were perfect. However, in my experience, these “minor complaints” do add up as the hours of a workday drag on.

Last but not least, I cannot stress enough just how much more comfortable it is to hold a Z6 or Z7 or Z8 series camera body for 10+ hours in one day. Even with relatively lightweight lenses, I found myself actually switching hands and holding the camera with my left hand, firing the shutter with my middle finger, towards the end of extremely long days. Maybe I should just remember to take my glucosamine, after 20+ years as a wedding photographer, though. ;-)

So, I’d love to have a ZF as a 2nd camera at a wedding; the style points are great! But I want my primary camera to remain either a Z6 II or a Z8.

Nikon Zf Review | Pros & Cons

That about sums it up; there is not much more to say except to dive into the finer details, the features and of course the image results of the Nikon Zf. It’s a truly impressive camera, with high-performance under the hood of a relatively affordable, moderately portable, and of course very stylish camera body.

Indeed, there is no denying that the camera has “nostalgia” written all over it, and that is both a thing of beauty as well as a bit of a hindrance in certain high-pressure situations. With that said, let’s talk about specific aspects of the camera.

Image Quality

100% Crop, ISO 100

Nikon’s 24-megapixel sensors have been some of the best I’ve ever used; this has been true ever since the Nikon D600 DSLR. I simply love the amazing dynamic range at lower ISOs, as well as the impressively clean results at extremely high ISOs. Even at ISO 6400, there is not much of a drawback in terms of color saturation, and the shadow recovery is also impressive, despite reaching the end of the sensor’s ISO invariance, of course.

The color coming from the Zf sensor are also very pleasing. I greatly appreciate how Adobe has made it so that cameras these days retain their built-in Picture Controls etc; this means that if I set the camera to “Landscape” colors in-camera, the raw file will retain a “Camera Landscape” profile in editing. Honestly, often this can mean that many of my more casual photos require almost zero editing, and even my professional workflow time seems to be reduced if I’m using either ‘Natural” or “Portrait” Picture Controls for various work…

Autofocus Performance

At a glance, it appears that we have gotten the ground-breaking AF system from the incredible Z9 and Z8, both of which offer Nikon’s flagship 3-D Tracking system, which gained fame on DSLRs for its industry-leading accuracy, speed, and reliability.

Of course, on mirrorless cameras, the technical implementation of 3D Tracking is entirely different. It is done on-sensor and uses inherently different detection methods, plus, today’s modern subject detection systems.

The question is, how well does it work? Well, it is very impressive, and I am happy with it for all kinds of challenging situations. However, there is some bit of struggle once ambient light gets truly dark, especially active scenarios such as a wedding reception dance floor.

So, it is clear that because the sensor isn’t the Z8/Z9 sensor, and because AF is done on-sensor, the Zf is  just not quite as good as those more expensive flagship cameras, unfortunately.

In other words, The ZF’s autofocus is a noticeable jump ahead of the Z6 II, and the interface of 3D Tracking in general is highly welcome. But we did not, in fact, get a Z8 camera with a retro-looking shell, in case that wasn’t already obvious.

The same goes for video, by the way; it’s a significant leap forward from the Z6 II, but not exactly on par with the Z8/9. All in all, I’d say it’s absolutely worth the upgrade, but then again, maybe we’ll see a Z6 III soon, and that could be a better choice for some.

Sensor Speed (Readout Speed)

Although the image quality is stellar by itself, I have to make a note of its actual readout speed, and how this MIGHT affect your images, in certain conditions.

Simply put, it’s noticeably slower than the Z8/Z9 sensor, so there wil be a bit of a rolling shutter effect when doing rapid panning for either photo or video.

Also, the flicker that is caused by sensor readout being out of sync with certain artificial lights can get rather severe, too. You won’t notice the banding issues in most images unless the background is a very clean, smooth tone, though. Still, it was a bit frustrating to be “stuck” at 1/80 sec or 1/60 sec shutter speeds in certain light. (And yes, I tried turning on the Flicker Reduction feature; it is only minimally effective.)

Build Quality / Durability

Physically, this camera is built rock-solid. It feels like a tank, which is both a good and bad thing, depending on what you’re looking for. The top dials are metal, and they don’t just look cool, they feel professional and nostalgic when you’re operating the camera.

The subtleties of this physical design do have some caveats, though, which we’ll get into next. The important thing to remember is that Nikon builds rock-solid cameras, with mostly metal parts/framework, and flagship-level weather sealing, of course.

Viewfinder (EVF)

Visually, the Nikon ZF viewfinder is a key part of the nostalgia here; harkening back to the utterly beautiful, iconic Nikon FM2. Technically, the resolution and framerate make this EVF a pleasant experience, though not necessarily as cutting-edge as other flagship options. (Some which cost 2-3X more, of course!)

I also want to note that I appreciate how Nikon has implemented the EVF/LCD switching options. As a bit of a nod to the days of DSLR optical viewfinders, where images would (of course) never play back in the viewfinder prism, Nikon has the option to only do auto-playback of images if you are using the rear LCD, and not the EVF. I really like this option because it allows me to trust that if my eye is to the viewfinder, I’ll never worry about being distracted by image review when I’m in the heat of a candid moment.

However, I would suggest one slight change to the Nikon engineers: To make a mirrorless camera  behave really and truly like a DSLR, there should be an option that operates as follows….

  • As long as my eye is to the viewfinder, I can click photos and never be distracted by images playing back, not in the EVF nor on the rear LCD.
  • If I click a photo while my eye is up to the EVF, yet I pull my eye away from the viewfinder within, say, 2-3 seconds, …the most recently captured image will pop up on the rear LCD!
  • Lastly, of course, if I click photos via the rear  LCD, they will auto-play.

…If Nikon can be the first (?) to create this mode, I would be thrilled. I think Fujifilm may already be close, or may have already implemented this, but I know for sure that Canon and Sony have not yet done this. It would be a HUGE advantage for me as a working portrait/wedding photographer.

Stabilization (Sensor & Optical)

100% Crop

Nikon’s sensor-based stabilization technology is some of the best in the industry, and apparently it gets even better with the ZF. Not only does the camera claim to be capable of 8 EVs stabilization, (with just the sensor only, not including an optically stabilized lens!) …there is also a new feature that enhances stabilization even further: AF point linked stabilization. It was hard for me to quantify its effectiveness, but the technical description states that stabilization can get wonky (that’s a technical term) when using focus points in the image corners. So, this new technology allows the ZF to use whatever AF point is currently active as the center point around which all the axial corrections happen to correct for camera shake.

In plain English: In my experience, it works very well, and it’s yet another reason why I like Nikon cameras; I just seem to be able to trust them.

Battery Life

Thanks to the standard EN-EL15c battery, the Zf enjoys both a decently long battery life, and the ability to charge very rapidly using USB-PD power. You can even operate the camera directly from USB power, as long as you keep in mind that the USB charging/power requires USB-PD, and not just any USB-C power source. As my personal form of measurement, I’d say that about two full batteries will get me through one entire (rather long) wedding day.

Ergonomics & Controls

The heart of my complaints with the Nikon Zf, indeed. It’s honestly not that bad; really just a mild frustration and discomfort when hand-holding the camera all day long, and trying to adjust multiple settings at once in high-pressure situations.

I would gladly put up with these issues for the beautiful styling of the camera, for almost any form of photography, aside from high-action wedding or sports photography.

Here’s my main complaint: The beautiful control dials for ISO and shutter speed may be very fun to use, but they are a little less practical. If you’re constantly changing those settings, and especially if you’re frequently changing related settings or modes such as Auto-ISO, or jumping between manual exposure and shutter and/or aperture priority, then it’s a little less effortless and intuitive to operate the ZF compared to a Z8 or Z6II.

It’s not just the physical location of these two dials, of course. The shutter speed dial only offers whole stops, while the ISO dial offers ⅓ stops; this is usually the opposite of what most people will prefer to have easy access to. Furthermore, both dials have a locking option, at which point you’d be switching to the modern control dials to change either setting. This can cause moments of frustration if you’re freely turning those dials up and down a lot in an active environment, and suddenly the dial locks itself.

I wish Nikon had instead implemented a simple lock/unlock mechanism that would allow users to either lock the dial in ANY position they want, or allow it to always spin freely.

Last but not least, I must gripe about the omission of a dedicated AF point control joystick. I’ve grown accustomed to these as a full-time wedding photographer; I fell in love with it on the Nikon D850, and yes, the Sony 7-series and 9-series pro bodies.

(I’ve tried using the touchscreen to control AF points many times, and I love that system in theory, but being a left-eyed photographer, my large nose always inevitably moves the AF point on the right edge of the touchscreen, or my cheek/thumb always seems to accidentally bump the AF point in the lower left.)

 Menus & Customization

The more complicated that modern technology kits, unfortunately, the more Nikon seems to lose its advantage over competitors that have a longer history in the business of consumer electronics.

I’ll just come right out and say it: Sony’s decades of experience at designing TV remotes, gaming consoles, all manner of digital device user interfaces, …has indeed paid off.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am very happy with the user experience of the ZF. With any Nikon camera, you just pick it up and start taking pictures or videos, and virtually every control will feel intuitive and make sense within a few minutes or hours of familiarity.

By comparison, picking up an A7IV or similar makes you feel like you have climbed into the cockpit of a fighter jet. Literally everything you could possibly do on the camera has its own menu item, and almost everything that is in the menu can be customized to almost any one of the buttons on the camera.

To some, this may sound like an absolute nightmare. However, to those who are total gear nerds, this is an amazing playground of customization and the ultimate in personalized functionality.

With all of that in mind, I have to say that there are quite a few functions that I wish Nikon had allowed to be programmed to physical buttons, but they are not. I can’t list them all here, but there’s at least 5-10 examples of controls I wish could be more easily customized.

Value

On the one hand, the Nikon Zf is literally the only camera of its kind. That is, it’s the only choice if you want a full-frame mirrorless camera that is retro style. Well, it’s either this $1,996 camera, or a $4K-7K Leica. From this perspective, the Zf is obviously a valuable item, and well worth the price.

While the Nikon Z6 II is indeed currently on sale, and therefore a bit more affordable,

Nikon Zf Review | Compared To The Competition

As I mentioned already, there is no direct competition to the Nikon Zf. It stands relatively alone, especially at the $2K price range, and all competitors have to be compared with this grain of salt regarding the retro style.

Having said that, the Zf still holds its own very nicely against all competitors, both Nikon and other brand. My recommendations

Last but not least, what if you’re thinking of holding out to see what the inevitable Nikon Z6 III might offer? That would indeed be a very wise choice, especially for portrait, wedding, action sports, and wildlife photographers. However, for anyone who is not interested in such high-pressure environments, I think it’s safe to say that the Zf is a beautiful balance of performance, affordability, and style.

Nikon Zf Review | Conclusion

There you have it, folks! I really loved working with this camera. Nikon made a camera that is classic and stylish, yet intuitive to use, and powerful too. There is not much else I can say besides, I expected this camera to cost a lot more, and I am highly pleased with its ultimate value. Even after considering the drawbacks and minor quirks, it’s still one of my all-time favorite cameras now.

If you appreciate the craft of photography itself, then I think you owe it to yourself to take this camera for a nostalgic test drive someday soon!

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1-10 RATINGS 1-10

  • Image Quality (Stills)
  • Video Image Quality/Specs
  • Build Quality
  • Speed & Responsiveness
  • Autofocus
  • Features & Customizations
  • Menu Layout
  • Battery Life
  • Ergonomics/Portability
  • Value

 

PROS and CONS

  • Image Quality (Stills)
  • Video Image Quality/Specs
  • Build Quality
  • Performance & Speed
  • Autofocus
  • Features & Customizations
  • Menu Layout
  • Ergonomics/Portability
  • Value

8.8
Score

Pros

  • Excellent image quality
  • Good video specs & excellent video sharpness
  • Fast, reliable autofocus
  • Professional build quality
  • Elegant, nostalgic, legendary styling
  • Intuitive, user-friendly interface
  • Excellent value

Cons

  • Ergonomics not as comfortable as modern designs
  • Sensor speed not on par with Z8/Z9
  • Larger, heavier, and more expensive than equally beautiful Nikon Z fc
Image Quality (Photo)
10
Image Quality (Video)
8
Build Quality
10
Speed & Responsiveness
8
Autofocus Performance
9
Features & Customization
9
Menu Layout
9
Battery Life
9
Ergonomics & Portability
7
Value
9

Final Verdict

The Nikon Zf is elegant, stylish, and powerful. It's not as ergonomically comfortable and effortless as modern options such as the Nikon Z8, but it's a perfect camera for many types of photographers.