Given that the Nikon Z f has the 24.5MP full-frame sensor of the Nikon Z6 and Z6 II, and the Expeed 7 processing engine of the Z8 and Z9, it’s not surprising that that it can produce great images. However, the Z f is about more than image quality. It’s also a tactile experience that’s designed to evoke memories of past film cameras and to put the user back in touch with their photography. The APS-C format Nikon Z fc was designed with a similar ethos, but it seems more fitting with a camera that has a sensor that’s the same size as a 35mm film frame. While I don’t think the Zf is perfect in terms of its control implementation, I like it a lot and thoroughly enjoyed using it.
I like that it has the latest subject detection options combined with its retro styling and robust build. It’s a camera that can be used for a wide range of photography and videography, but it seems best suited to travel, street and documentary photography.
Magnesium alloy body
Expeed 7 processor
No joystick on the back of the camera
No auto settings on the shutter speed or ISO dials
What is the Nikon Z f?
The Nikon Z f is a retro-styled, full-frame mirrorless camera. It has the same 24.5MP full-frame sensor as the Nikon Z6 II and Z6, but in the Zf, it’s teamed up with the Expeed 7 processing engine, that’s the same processor as in the the Nikon Z9 and Nikon Z8. Using this new processor enables the Nikon Zf to have the same subject detection system as the superb Nikon Z8, albeit without the benefit of a stacked sensor design.
Unlike Nikon’s other full-frame mirrorless cameras, the Nikon Zf has a retro design based on the Nikon FM2 of the 1980s. It could be considered the mirrorless replacement for the Nikon Df DSLR that was announced in November 2013. It’s also the full-frame equivalent of the APS-C format retro-styled Nikon Z fc but with better build quality.
Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-II) and microSD (UHS-I)
Dimensions: 144 x 103 x 49 mm / 5.7 x 4.1 x 2 inches
Weight: 710 g / 1 lb. 9.1 oz
Like the original Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z6 II, the Nikon Z f has a full-frame 24.5MP backside-illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensor. This is paired with the Expeed 7 processing engine first seen in the Nikon Z9, Nikon’s flagship mirrorless camera announced in October 2021. This processor is also present in the Nikon Z8, which is often referred to as the ‘baby Z9’ as it has most of the same features as the flagship camera apart from the vertical grip.
While the sensor may be the same as the one in the Nikon Z8, and dates from 2018, the processor significantly impacts the Z f’s capabilities. For instance, the Zf has a top native sensitivity setting of ISO 64,000, 0.3EV higher than the Z6 II. More significantly for many, the Nikon Zf has the improved autofocus (AF) algorithms of the Z8, with the full range of subject detection options (people [eyes, faces, head and torso], animals [whole bodies and heads and eyes for cats, dogs, birds and ‘other animals’], cars, motorbikes, bicycles, trains and aeroplanes) and the AF sensitivity extends down to -10EV.
Interestingly, the Zf’s subject detection system works in manual focus mode to help ensure the subject is correctly exposed.
Another benefit of the powerful processor is the ability to shoot Jpegs continuously at up to 30fps (frames per second), or full-quality raw files at up to 14fps. Alternatively, it’s possible to shoot full-resolution Raw and Jpegs files simultaneously at 7.8fps.
Like the Nikon Z8 and Z9, the Zf has Pre-release Capture. When this is activated, the camera will record up to 30 images at 30fps before the shutter release is pressed. That’s a valuable option for unpredictable action, for example, if you’re waiting for a bird to take off.
Like Nikon’s other full-frame Z-series camera, the Zf has in-body image stabilisation (IBIS), or Vibration Reduction (VR), as Nikon calls it. However, it gains a new ‘Focus Point VR’ feature, which is a World first. Focus Point VR sets the camera to prioritise the area under the focus point for stabilisation. As yet, Nikon hasn’t released any details of this technology, but it works with still or moving subjects and seems likely to be most beneficial when the target is away from the centre of the frame, perhaps towards the edges.
Nikon has also improved the VR system’s performance and claims it delivers up to 8 stops of shutter speed compensation. It’s also compatible with Synchro VR, meaning it can work in tandem with the VR system in Nikon’s VR lenses. There’s also electronic VR for use in video mode.
The Nikon Z f also introduces Pixel Shift shooting. This enables the camera to take a series of 4, 8, 16 or 32 images (raw files), shifting the sensor between shots. Used in conjunction with Nikon’s NX Studio software, it enables images of up to 96MP to be created, however, it’s only suited for use with motionless subjects and the camera needs to be on a tripod.
As is becoming more common, the Zf can be set to record HEIF files rather than Jpegs. HIEF files can capture a wider range of tones than Jpegs, but they’re not widely supported or compatible with many image-editing software packages.
Nikon’s Picture Controls are available on the Zf, adding two black and white Creative Picture Control options to the line-up, Flat Monochrome and Deep Tone Monochrome. Flat Monochrome produces low-contrast images suitable for post-capture processing while Deep Tone Monochrome produces higher contrast images similar to those shot using a red filter so that blue skies look black.
The Zf also has a new Picture Control called Rich Tone Portraits that’s designed to enhance skin tones. There’s also Nikon’s Portrait Impression Balance that enables adjustment of the hue and brightness of skin tones, and the Skin Softening feature seen on the Z8.
While the Nikon Zf is likely to appeal primarily to photographers, it’s also capable of shooting 4K 30p video, and for slow motion video, there’s the option to record in 4K 60p or Full HD at up to 120p. Those looking for the highest quality results can shoot in 10-bit H.265, but 8-bit H.264 recording is also possible. According to Nikon, Zf can shoot 4K video for up to 125 minutes.
Conveniently, the ISO sensitivity can be adjusted in 1/6 EV steps in video mode. A red frame display is also available to make it very clear when the camera is recording, and there’s focus peaking, zebra and waveform display. In addition, the Zf is the first Nikon camera to support video recording in shutter priority mode.
Nikon has made a surprising choice of memory cards for the Zf. The camera has two slots, one for SD-type media and the other for microSD. MicroSD cards are commonly used in drones like the DJI Mavic 3 Pro and action cams such as the GoPro Hero12 Black, it’s not something I recall seeing before in a full-frame camera.
In the Zf, either card can be used for overflow or backup storage, for separate storage of NEF (RAW) and JPEG or HEIF pictures, or for storage of duplicate JPEG or HEIF files at different sizes and image qualities. The pictures can also be copied between the cards.
Build and handling
The Nikon Z f looks like a bigger version of the Nikon Z fc, but it also feels more robust and better made. While the body is made from magnesium alloy, the dials on the top plate are made from brass and they feel more solidly mounted than the Z fc’s. Over time, we can anticipate that the black paint will rub off the edges of the dials on the Zf to reveal the brass, which will develop a patina that adds to the vintage look.
The Nikon Z f is weather-sealed, and the sensor has a fluorine coating to help repel dirt.
While the Z fc has a flat front, the Nikon Z f has a slim grip on its front. This provides just enough purchase to make it feasible to hold the camera hanging down from your hand, but I’d always use a strap to ensure the camera is safe. If you want something more pronounced, Nikon has commissioned an additional (non-battery) grip from SmallRig that should make the camera feel more secure and retails for £44.99. After using the Zf without the extra grip for a few days, I’d be inclined to order one for longer-term use. Nikon UK has a launch deal that includes the grip with the camera.
Nikon Z f controls
The control arrangement really distinguishes the Nikon Zf and Zfc from the company’s other mirrorless cameras. That’s because the retro Zf cameras have three dials on the top plate as well as the front and rear command dials.
On the right of the Zf’s top plate there’s a large dial to set the sensitivity (ISO) value with numerical markings for the ‘whole’ stop settings running from ISO 100 to 51,200. There are also dots that denote the 1/3-stop settings. In addition, a C setting enables the ISO value to be adjusted using a command dial.
Beneath the sensitivity dial, there’s a switch to set the camera to Auto, Program, Shutter priority, Aperture priority or Manual exposure mode.
Over on the right side of the top plate, there’s a shutter speed dial with value markings running in whole stops from 4 seconds to 1/8000 sec. Additional settings are marked ‘1/3 Steps’, ‘X’, ‘T’ and ‘B’. The 1/3 Steps setting allows you to use a command dial to set the shutter speed while X sets the flash sync speed, T sets the camera to Time mode, and B sets it to Bulb mode.
The ISO and shutter speed dials have a lock button that can be used optionally – you can choose to lock the dial.
The third dial is on the far right end of the top plate and is used to set the exposure compensation value with settings running from -3EV to +3EV. There’s also a C setting that enables a command dial to be used to set the exposure compensation.
The shutter release is a silver dome with a leaf switch for a traditional feel. This has a threaded hole to attach a traditional screw-in remote release.
Unlike Fujifilm, Nikon doesn’t produce lenses with a dedicated aperture ring, but some have a control ring that can be customised to adjust the aperture value. It’s also possible to set the focus ring to adjust the aperture value on those lenses that don’t have a dedicated control ring. However, the aperture control is lost when the camera is switched to manual focusing. As you’d expect, the aperture can also be set using the front or rear command dial.
However the aperture is set, the value can be seen in the small screen next to the exposure compensation dial on the top plate.
As on the Zfc, there’s no ‘Auto’ setting on the Zf’s shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation dial.
Unusually, in addition to flipping between stills or video mode, the switch beneath the shutter speed dial on the Zf’s top plate has a B&W option. When this is selected, the camera is set to one of the three monochrome Picture Control modes. It defaults to whichever monochrome mode was last used. When the switch is set to B&W, only the monochrome Picture Control options are available in the menu.
The back of the Zf is similar to the Nikon Z6, Z7 and Z8 cameras, and almost identical to the Zfc. The information menu is accessed by pressing the ‘i’ button to the left of the thumb rest. Below the ‘i’ button, there’s a navigation pad that surrounds the ‘OK’ button, and beneath that, there’s a cluster of four buttons that let you zoom in and out of the image, toggle through the display options and access the main menu.
While I’m disappointed that there isn’t a mini joystick on the back of the Nikon Zf, the navigation pad is well-positioned and within convenient reach of my thumb. It takes a fraction more time to use than a joystick, but it’s responsive.
Nikon Z f viewfinder and screen
Nikon plumped for a 1.27-cm/0.5-inch 3690k-dot (Quad VGA) OLED electronic viewfinder on the Zf. That’s the same as on the Z6 II. That’s a standard size and resolution viewfinder for a full-frame mirrorless camera in this class and it does its job well. There’s plenty of detail visible and the exposure and colour are a good match for the captured image.
While the screen on the back of the Nikon Zf is the same 3.2-inch 2,100,000-dot touch-screen as is on the original Z6 and Z6 II, it’s mounted on a vari-angle hinge rather than a tilting bracket. This means that the screen can be angled to give a clear view, whichever orientation you’re shooting in. The screen can also be flipped out and rotated to face forward, which is handy for selfies and vlogging. That’s a first for a full-frame Z-series camera.
Both the main and Info menus can be navigated and items selected by touch control on the screen. That speeds setting selections and adjustments.
Nikon Zf memory card
As I suggested earlier, Nikon’s decision to make the second card slot in the Zf for microSD cards seems a strange decision. It’s likely to be card that many of its intended users won’t have. They are also fiddly and have a tendency to ping out at speed if (when) your finger slips as you push one home. In the Zf, I found it easier to remove the battery to before popping the card in or out as the slot is between the SD card and the battery.
Nikon states that UHS-I microSd cards should be used, but it also recommends that SD cards with a maximum transfer rate of at least 250MB/s should be used for recording high frame rate videos. That should rule out UHS-I microSD cards. That said, I was able to record over 12 minutes of 10-bit 4K video at 30p to a microSD card in the Zf. I didn’t record until the camera stopped as it seemed to be coping and would only stop when the card was full. Switching to shoot 10-bit 4K video at 60p, I was able to record just over 10 minutes of footage before the card was full. The camera warmed up a little but I wouldn’t describe it as hot.
As the Zf has the same sensor as the Nikon Z6 II and the same processing engine as the Z8 and Z9, it should be capable of producing high-quality results. With 24.5-million-pixels at is disposal, detail levels are good rather than exceptional, but images look great when set to fill a 27-inch screen. Even at 100% on screen, the low-ISO results look very good and human skin appears natural with fine hairs and texture being reproduce extremely well.
The Nikon Zf keeps noise under control well. At the maximum native setting, ISO 640,000, the Jpegs look at little smoothed when viewed at 100% on screen, but the raw files are sharper. Reducing the noise reduction applied in Adobe Camera Raw from its default settings reveals significant chroma noise (coloured speckling) and fair amount of luminance noise, but the results look good after a quick tweak.
Dropping down to ISO 32,000 produces better Jpegs that look more natural at 100% on screen. There’s still something to be gained from shooting raw files and giving them a bespoke noise reduction treatment, but the difference between them and the Jpegs is less apparent.
Like Nikon’s other recent cameras, the Zr has good dynamic range so highlights don’t burn out too readily and shadows don’t quickly become deep black. I found that even an image of the interior of a church captured at ISO 1600 could withstand around 2EV brightening to bring out some shadow detail without introducing lots of noise or false colours.
The Nikon Zf also delivers nice colours in the default settings. As is often the case now, there’s a collection of Auto White balance settings with options to reduce warm colours and maintain white objects as white, a setting to keep the overall atmosphere and another that keeps warm colours. Plus there’s a natural light auto setting. All four have their uses and if you’re not getting quite the look you want, it’s worth switching between them.
In addition to the regular Monotone Picture Control, the Nikon Zf has Flat Monochrome and Deep Tone Monochrome. Of the three, I prefer Deep Tone Monochrome, although it tends towards dark images. As usual, the colour settings are ‘baked-in’ for Jpeg files, but they can be changed for the raw files. This can be don’e using Nikon’s own software or using Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom which have the in-camera colour options.
Shooting with the Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S, I was able to get sharp shots handheld at 1/6sec, indicating that the in-body image stabilisation puts in a decent shift.
Nikon Zf autofocus performance
One of the exciting features of AI-based subject-detection systems is that they can be improved as more images are analysed and firmware updates are rolled out. The Nikon Z7 II and Z6 II both received firmware updates that improved their ability to detect and focus on human and animal eyes, and the Nikon Z9’s subject detection system has been improved over time. All of this learning will have informed the Zf’s AF system.
The Nikon Zf’s AF system copes with low light well and is usually quick to spot human eyes in the frame. It also detects other subjects well, but it’s not quite as sensitive as the Z8 or Z9 – probably because it doesn’t have a stacked sensor. Nevertheless, it’s a major step forward upon the subject detection in the Nikon Z6 II and Nikon Z7 II. It’s got me thinking about what the Nikon Z6 III and Z7 III might have to offer.
Nikon Zf video performance
Although the Nikon Zf is pitched towards photographers with a love of retro, its also a decent video camera. I think it’s unlikely that it would be purchased be someone who is more interested in video than stills, but if you should wish to shoot movies, it is more than capable of delivering decent results.
Getting the best quality video from the Zf requires shooting 4K video at 30p as this sets it to downsample from 6K.
As with the stills, the video exposure and colour are very good while the autofocus system usually keeps the subject sharp. The subject detection system is especially useful, but it can sometimes help to tap the screen to give it some direction.
The Nikon Z f looks and feels great, it’s a camera you want to pick up and use. I like its combination of traditional controls with modern features such as a vari-angle screen and AI-based subject detection. It’s also good that Nikon has given it a grip, albeit a small one, where the Z fc has none. And if that needs to be bigger, there’s always the optional one made by SmallRig. I think that’s a worthwhile investment for a camera that weighs 710g.
I wasn’t initially convinced by the B&W setting on the Zf, but I grew to like it. However, I also came to realise that I’d like to have the freedom to set the switch to activate any of the Picture Controls rather than just the monochrome options. I like Bleached, for instance, and use it quite a bit, so it would be nice to able to switch quickly between than and a more standard style. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter hugely as there’s the option to adjust the raw files, but I also like Nikons’ SnapBridge system which can send images straight to your phone as they are shot. It makes sharing images very easy and it makes more inclined to use the Picture Control options to get my images looking closer to what I want in-camera.
I like the Nikon Zf a lot, but ultimately, I wish that the controls were a bit more like Fujifilm’s, making the Auto, P, A, S, M switch redundant. The lack of a dedicated aperture ring on Nikon’s lenses makes that trickier, but I would at least like to see auto settings on the ISO and shutter speed dials.
Although it has a raft of advanced features, including a vari-angle touch screen and the tripod-only Pixel Shift shooting that can only be used with motionless subjects, it’s a camera that cries out to be handheld, and held to the eye. It could be used for photographing sports, but I think it’s more likely to be used for travel, adventure, documentary and street photography.