Nikon has an impressive family tree that includes a number of iconic cameras. If you started out in photography during the analog film era, you’ll be familiar with classic cameras like the Nikon F3 or Nikon FM2. These manual cameras – with their simple controls, unbeatable reliability, and precision – represented the pinnacle of technology at the time. Now Nikon is drawing upon these cameras for its latest retro-looking mirrorless cameras. And so the Nikon Zf was born.
About This Field Review
The field review you’re reading is my first look at the Nikon Zf while our team continues to test the camera in preparation for our upcoming full review. Detailed image quality and lab tests are their domain, while I am focusing on what it’s like to use the Nikon Zf in practice, how it handles, and what surprises it has to offer.
Most of the sample images you’ll see are photographs I took on the northern border of the Czech Republic. The ridge of the local mountains, the Jeseníky, forms a natural ecological barrier. Many animals have to cross the Jeseníky every year during their migrations. It is also a hotspot for biologists studying the migrating birds, bats, and insects.
This year, I joined the project – partly as a photographer to test the new Nikon Zf, partly as an ornithologist to help release captured birds from the nets. Once released, thousands of birds flew to their wintering grounds with a small aluminum ring on their feet. The next time they are recaptured, that ring will tell the story of their journey.
Nikon’s Digital Retro Cameras
The Nikon Zf is not the first retro-themed digital camera that Nikon has released. Their first such camera was the Nikon Df, which debuted almost exactly ten years ago – November 4, 2013 to be exact. The Df had an attractive design, a sensor identical to the then-flagship D4 and the ability to use a wide range of Nikon F-mount lenses without any restrictions.
Nikon’s second digital retro venture took place on the platform of the new Z mount. Those who were looking forward to a Z-mount version of the Df in June 2021 were probably a bit disappointed, since the Nikon Zfc was a crop-sensor APS-C camera rather than full-frame.
As much as I think the Zfc is a good camera, it wasn’t love at first sight for me. Aside from the aforementioned sensor size, the lightweight Zfc didn’t evoke the same feelings in my hands as my FM3a once did. But the biggest issue is with lenses. If you want a lightweight lens for the Zfc, you only have a handful of decent DX and FX options (the FX lenses tend to lack image stabilization, and the DX lenses tend to have limited maximum apertures).
Cut! Two years and several months later, Nikon introduces its third retro camera with the Nikon Zf. The “c” has disappeared from its name, and the sensor inside has been enlarged to full size.
Although it is extremely similar in control layout to the Zfc (which is just fine), it has a larger form factor, and there are a number of important changes on the inside. Some of the new features are very innovative and first-time additions to Nikon’s camera lineup.
On the same day that the Nikon Zf was announced, I met with our team at Photography Life, and it must be said that the camera stirred up a lot of emotions in us. Let’s take a closer look. You can click the menu below to go to any page of this field review, starting with the next page, Build and Controls.
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