Almost identical to the Nikon Z50 internally, the Nikon Z fc produces the same excellent image quality with noise controlled well up to ISO 6,400. However, its handling is quite different as it has shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation dials which are combined with a PASM exposure mode switch. It takes a while to get used to using this in combination with the traditional exposure controls, but it’s worth the effort.
Traditional exposure controls
No Auto setting on the ISO or shutter speed dials
Traditional exposure controls combined with PASM exposure mode switch
No joystick for setting the AF point
Retro-style meets modern digital camera technology, how does the Nikon Zfc shape up in our full review?
What is the Nikon Z fc?
The Nikon Z fc is an APS-C or DX-format mirrorless camera that has much of the same technology and specification as the Nikon Z50 combined with the design and controls of the popular Nikon FM2. It’s aimed at existing Nikon photographers who want a small light mirrorless camera that they can take everywhere.
It’s not the first time that Nikon has introduced a retro-styled digital camera, in 2013 it introduced the Nikon Df which featured the same 16Mp full-frame sensor as the flagship D4. The Df was capable of producing excellent-quality images, but some of its controls were poorly implemented and its price was way beyond what many photographers were prepared to pay.
In contrast, the Nikon Z fc benefits from all that Nikon has learned in creating its superb Z-series of mirrorless cameras it and retails for less than £900 body-only. It’s also the first Nikon Z-series camera to feature a vari-angle screen.
Nikon Z fc price and release date
The Nikon Z fc price tag starts at £899 / $956.95 / €1,049 for the body only, but the following kits are also available:
Z fc + Z 28mm f/2.8 SE kit – £1,129 / $1,196.95 / €1,299
Z fc + Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit – £1,039 / $1,096.95 / €1,199
Z fc + Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 + Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 kit – £1,249 / €1,439
Autofocus: Hybrid (phase and contrast detection) AF with 209 AF points, Eye AF and Subject Tracking Eye-detection AF for Humans and Animals instills and video
Continuous Shooting: 11fps with continuous AF and exposure metering
Video: 4K at 30/25/24p and Full-HD at 120/100/60/50/25/24p
Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC UHS-I
Connectivity: Snapbridge 2.6; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Dimensions (W x H x D): 134.5 x 93.5 x 43.5mm
Weight: 390g body only
Inside the new Nikon Z fc is the same 20.88Mp APS-C (DX) format sensor and Expeed 6 processing engine as is in the Nikon Z50. Unsurprisingly then, the Z fc has the same sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200 (expandable to ISO 204,600) for stills and ISO 100-25,600 for video, plus the same maximum continuous shooting rate of 11fps.
Like the Z50, the Nikon Z fc has a hybrid AF system with 209 individually selectable points covering 90% of the vertical and horizontal imaging space. In addition, there’s Subject Tracking and Nikon’s Eye detection AF which can be set to detect either human or animal eyes in stills or video.
Firmware updates have improved the Eye detection in the Nikon Z7 II and Z6 II significantly since their launch in October 2020 and it will be very interesting to put it through its paces in the Nikon Z fc.
As you’d expect, the Nikon Z fc is capable of shooting 4K video at up to 30p. If you want to shoot at faster frames rates, you need to drop the resolution to Full-HD (1920×1080) as this enables frames rates up to 120p – perfection for slow-motion playback.
Storage, power and SnapBridge
Matching the Nikon Z50, the new Nikon Z fc accepts the EN-EL25 battery whereas the Z7 II and Z6 II both use the EN-EL15c battery.
Conveniently, the new camera’s battery can be charged via a USB connection and if it runs out of juice mid-shoot, it can be powered via a power bank. Nevertheless, Nikon supplies a mains-power battery charger in the kit.
Nikon has given the Z fc a single SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot that is compatible with UHS-I media.
Further good news is that Nikon’s SnapBridge (version 2.8) is incorporated into the Z fc and as well as simplifying connecting the camera to a smartphone for shooting with remote control, it enables images to be transferred automatically from the camera to the phone for sharing online. In addition, the Z fc’s firmware can be updated via a smartphone running the latest version of Nikon’s SnapBridge app.
While the Nikon Z fc’s specification may be very similar to the Z50’s, its design and control layout is very different. That’s because Nikon has based it upon the Nikon FM2, a film SLR dating from the 1980s. Consequently, the Z fc’s top plate has dials for setting the sensitivity (ISO), shutter speed and exposure compensation. Aperture is set using the front command dial and there’s a small LCD screen on the top of the camera that shows the selected setting.
As with other Nikon Z-series cameras, it’s also possible to set the aperture using the manual focus ring or dedicated control ring of the mounted lens. I elected to do that as it adds to the retro vibe and seems natural with the Z fc.
Anyone taking a quick glance at the Nikon Z fc is likely to think it’s a film camera. Beauty is subjective, but I think it looks great, very stylish. Its monocoque magnesium-alloy chassis also gives it robust feel while the control dials, which are milled from solid aluminium seem made to last. However, at 390g body-only, the Z fc is actually 5g lighter than the Nikon Z50, so it won’t weigh you down.
Nikon has also weatherproofed the Z fc to the same standard as the Nikon Z5. That means it should be OK in light rain and drizzle, but if there’s a heavy storm then a rain cover would be a sensible precaution.
In keeping with the FM2, the Z fc has a flat front and back. This isn’t an issue with the compact Nikon Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR or the Nikkor Z 28mm f/2.8 (SE) mounted, but a little more grip would be nice with a longer or heavier lens. Nikon has thought of that too as the optional Extension grip GR-1 adds a grip to the front of the camera, fixing on the base plate without blocking access to the memory card and battery ports.
In a break from tradition, the Nikon Z fc has a switch to select the exposure mode which can be set to Auto, program (P,) shutter priority (S), aperture priority (A) or manual (M).
As there’s no auto setting on the shutter speed dial, aperture priority and program mode can only be set by the exposure mode control. Fujifilm X-series cameras like the X-T3, X-T4 and X-Pro3 with traditional exposure controls take a different approach. They don’t have an exposure mode dial, the control lays entirely with the shutter speed dial and aperture ring which have ‘A’ for auto settings that set the camera to select that parameter automatically.
The downside of Nikon’s approach is that you could glance at the shutter speed dial and think that you have a specific value selected, and if the exposure mode dial is set to program or aperture priority, the Z fc will set the shutter speed itself. The upside to Nikon’s approach with the Z fc is that it’s quicker to switch between the exposure modes.
The shutter speed dial has whole-stop markings from 4 seconds to 1/4000sec, but there’s also a 1/3-step setting, that switches to using a command dial to set the shutter speed in 1/3EV steps. In addition, there are markings to set the camera to the flash sync speed (X), time mode (T) and Bulb (B) mode.
Although the Z fc’s shutter speed dial has a lock button, it only operates when the dial is rotated to the 1/3 Step, X, T or B positions. That means you can adjust the shutter speed quickly and easily in whole stops with no need to press the central button.
There’s also a central lock button on the sensitivity dial but it has to be pressed before it can be adjusted from ISO 100 to 51,200 in 1/3EV steps – plus H1 and H2. An optional lock would’ve been nice, but the metal dial is deep and has a knurled edge, which makes it easy to rotate with your left thumb and middle finger while you press the button with your index finger.
It’s a shame that Nikon hasn’t given the Z fc an auto setting on the sensitivity (ISO) dial. Instead, Auto ISO mode has to be set via the main menu. This means that if you’re not alert to the fact that Auto ISO is activated, the camera may use a different shutter speed to the one set via the ISO dial.
Other Nikon Z-series cameras, including the Nikon Z50, have a dedicated ISO button and when this is pressed, rotating the front command dial activates and deactivates the Auto ISO setting. I was hoping that it would be possible to assign one of the options in the ‘i’ menu to adjust Auto ISO, or to customise a button the reach it, but it’s not listed under the customisation options.
Nikon has proved itself a good listener, so I hope that a firmware update will enable the Auto ISO control to be assigned to the ‘i’ menu and one of the customisable buttons. In the meantime, if you like to use Auto ISO sometimes, it’s worth assigning it to the My Menu section of the main menu.
At the far right end of the top plate, the exposure compensation dial can be set in 1/3EV steps from -3EV to +3EV and there’s a ‘C’ option that enables a wider compensation range.
Screen and viewfinder
In a first for the Nikon Z-series, the Z fc has a vari-angle screen on its rear. This is a 3-inch 1,040,000-dot touchscreen that displays the same interface as Nikon’s other Z-series cameras, but it can be flipped out and angled up or down for easier viewing. It can also be rotated to face forwards so it is of use for shooting selfies or vlogging.
I’m a fan of vari-angle screens because they are helpful when you’re shooting in portrait orientation as well as landscape orientation, so I welcome this move from Nikon.
As with other Nikon Z- series cameras, the Z Fc’s screen is also responsive to touch and you can navigate the menu and make setting selections with a tap on the screen. This makes the camera quicker and easier to use than camera’s with less touch control.
One thing I’d like to see, however, is the ability to set the AF point with the screen while looking in the viewfinder.
Like the Z50, and unlike the Z5, Z6 II and Z7 II, the Z fc doesn’t have joystick. This means that when you’re looking in the viewfinder, the AF point is moved using the navigation pad. It’s not a drama, and many photographers are used to that, but a joystick or touchpad control can make it a bit quicker.
Like the Z50, the Z fc has a 0.39-inch 2,360,000-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, however, in a nod to the FM2, the eyecup is circular. If you wear spectacles you may need to move your head to see the corners of the frame. The solution is to either take off your glasses and adjust the diopter or remove the eyecup.
Crucially, the screen and the viewfinder both give a good preview of the images, matching the colour and exposure of the results.
Build and handling summary
While I’ve raised a few niggles with the Nikon Z fc’s handling, overall, using it is a pleasurable experience. It’s especially enjoyable to use it in manual exposure mode, which fits well with its billing as a digital version of the Nikon FM2, while the vari-angle screen proves its worth for low and high-angle photography.
As it has the same sensor and processing engines as the Z50, the performance of the Nikon Z fc doesn’t hold many surprises. It’s capable of capturing good quality, attractive images in a wide rage of situations.
I’ve used the Nikon Zfc in a wide range of conditions and thanks to the accurate preview in the viewfinder and screen, I had no reason to switch away from the default matrix metering in most instances. On many occasions the camera delivered good exposures by itself, but the exposure compensation dial comes in useful from time to time. I mainly used it to reduce the exposure by 1/3 or 2/3 EV.
In nice light, I find the Neutral and Standard Picture Control setting deliver the results I want, but the Creative Picture Controls are useful for creating more interesting images now and then. They’re especially helpful when the light isn’t great because they can create mood or accentuate the atmosphere of the scene so you get an image that you want to share.
Like the Z50, the Nikon Zfc has three auto white balance settings (A0 ‘Keep white (reduce warm colors), A1 ‘Keep overall atmosphere’ and A2 ‘Keep warm lighting colors’, plus ‘Natural light auto’. The latter works well in a range of natural light and it produces results that are often indistinguishable from the Direct Sunlight setting. The Cloudy setting can also be useful under cloud (you guessed it), warming up the scene a little without the strong orange cast that some other cameras produce.
Again, the viewfinder gives a good guide to the colour and can be relied upon when assessing the white balance.
Nikon Z fc image quality
Neither Nikon’s NX Studio nor Adobe Camera Raw have been updated to enable the Z fc raw files to be processed yet, so for now, my assessment of the image quality from the Z fc is based upon the Jpeg quality.
At the low to mid-range sensitivity (ISO) settings, the Nikon Z fc captures a good level of detail up to around ISO 6400 or ISO 12,800 although some areas of ISO 12,800 Jpegs look a little smooth in places. By comparison the ISO 6400 look crisper and a shade more natural.
Even in quite low light the Nikon Zfc’s 209-point autofocus system is responsive and accurate. The Eye Detection AF is also pretty nippy, it spots eyes quickly and stays with them well. It’s also more sensitive than the original system, which means eyes can be smaller in the frame.
My dog’s fuzzy face is challenging for most eye AF systems but the Zfc did a pretty good job of spotting his eyes and focusing on them in stills or video. However, it works best when he’s looking directly at the camera.
Nikon’s Subject Tracking system also works well with moving subjects. When it’s active, you just need to position the AF point over the subject and them press ‘OK’ and it will follow the subject around the frame. It can get confused if there are other similar objects within the frame, but it’s good at tracking an isolated subject and keeping it sharp.
As a rule with fast action it’s best to use a fixed AF area that you can keep over the subject. In Pinpoint AF and single-point AF mode the AF area is very small which means it’s hard to keep the point over a subject. Dynamic-area AF makes a better choice as, although you set a single point, the camera also uses the surrounding points to keep the subject sharp. Alternatively, Wide-area AF (Small) works well allowing you to target the area where the subject is in the frame without being too demanding on your ability to frame the subject.
I used the Nikon Zfc during period of very changeable weather, one minute the sky was blue and the sun was shining, the next there were dark clouds and rain. As I mentioned earlier, the Z fc’s matrix metering takes most things in its stride. In addition, the camera doesn’t burn out the highlights not block up the shadows too readily.
Raw files usually capture a greater rage of tones than Jpegs, which gives them greater latitude for adjustment. Nevertheless, the Nikon Zfc’s low-ISO JPEGs can withstand around 3EV of brightening without noise or colour issues.
While the Nikon Zfc’s emphasis is on stills photography, it also performs well in video mode. It doesn’t have in-body stabilisation (IBIS) but I found I got steady footage when shooting with the stabilised Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR mounted.
In AF-F mode, the camera also responds well to changes in subject distance, adjusting smoothly in the default settings. The Eye detection system also works well with animals and humans. Arguably, the vari-angle screen makes the Z fc a better choice for vlogging than the Nikon Z50 which has a flip-down screen and requires a special adapter plate if you want to mount the camera on a tripod while you’re in front of the camera.
There’s also a 3.5mm port for connecting an external microphone, which I recommend if there’s a breath of wind as the internal mic pics up wind noise.
Detail levels are as you’d expect at the highest resolution (3840 x 2160) and the footage looks natural with the colour and exposure replicating the results I’ve found when shooting stills.
This 4K (3840 x 2160) 25p MOV file was recorded on the Nikon Z fc mounted on the Zhiyun Weebill 2. The Z fc was set to Auto-area AF (animals) in AF-F mode. The lens was the Nikon Nikkor Z 28mm f/2.8 SE.
The 4K (3840 x 2160) 30p MOV file below was recorded on the Nikon Z fc handheld with the Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR mounted.
While the components that make up a camera are important, its build and handling play more significant roles in determining how much pleasure it brings and whether it’s a camera that you want to pick up and use. The handling of the Nikon Z fc is a big improvement upon that of the Nikon Df but there are still a few niggles. The ISO dial needs an auto setting for example, and the same would be nice for the shutter speed dial.
In the absence of an aperture ring on the lens, aperture is adjusted via a command dial by default, but there’s also the option to use a control ring on the lens, however, these also don’t have an auto setting. Hence the PASM switch is required.
That said, many photographers tend to stick to one exposure mode and only change occasionally when the situation demands it. This means that the majority of users will become accustomed to how the camera operates and (hopefully) won’t do things like adjust the shutter speed setting when they’re in aperture priority mode.
Niggles aside, the Nikon Z fc is a camera that puts the fundamentals of photography first to enable you to focus on capturing the moment. It’s also backed by good autofocusing, metering and white balance systems, while the range of Picture Controls help you capture share-ready images. Plus, the vari-angle screen also makes it easier to shoot from creative angles in portrait as well as landscape orientation.
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Very fair review. I have a Z7 and a Z6 but love the Zfc for every day photography. Also, the 16-50 mm DX lens works a treat with the Zfc. An excellent camera at a good price.
Thanks, glad you like the review. I agree about the lens!
The review is very fair indeed. There are issues to be critised about the Z fc, no two ways about that. The biggest issue I have with that camera isn’t the camera itself, it’s rather the lack of dedicated DX lenses. Even three years after Nikon launched the first DX Z camera body, there are only three cheap and cheerful, very slow all-plastic kit zooms available, with only two more, probably also all-plastic lenses in the pipeline according to the official lens roadmap. That’s a tad too few to be really attractive for demanding photographers. And no, the fact that there’s a good choice of (quite heavy, expensive and mostly non-VR) lenses for the FX Z cameras doesn’t make the lack of DX Z lenses much better.
Having written that, however, I’ve had my Z fc (with the double lens kit) for a while now and I don’t regret the purchase at all, although I’m (already somewhat impatiently) waiting for the advent of the announced DX Z 24 mm prime, hopefully a fast (f/2.0 or better) lens with VR.
The Z fc with its very traditional dials has put back the fun into photography for me. The Z fc has helped me focus on what you might call “the very essence of taking good pictures.” And the quality of the straight-out-of-camera JPG files is nothing short of amazing. If I were a pro photographer and/or videographer, the Z fc would probably not be in my bag, at least not for mission-critical tasks.Since I’m a fun-loving hobby photographer, I just enjoy walking around with this light, compact and traditional looking camera. People obviously don’t consider that little beauty as intimidating and/or intrusive (paparazzi style!) as those big black bulky pro or semi-pro DSLR and DSLM.
There are two little errors in the review that I’d like to mention, perhaps they can be rectified:
Beside that, I share most of the verdict on the Z fc and find it fair in comparison to other cameras, mainly Fujifilm’s excellent X-T3 and X-T30/X-T30 II. I just enjoy taking my photos with that beautiful retro-style camera and recommend it to hobby photographers who want a high-quality yet compact and light system camera but don’t mind the lack of IBIS and dedicated lenses too much.
Thanks for your comments, I will correct those typos.