Whether you prefer to let the Nikon Zf focus automatically or use old-fashioned manual focusing, the Zf has a lot to offer. I’ll start with the autofocus innovations.
Nikon has worked on increasing the AF sensitivity with the Zf, and according to the specs, it should be able focus from -10 EV with an f/1.2 lens. (At Photography Life, we normally standardize to f/2 lenses when reporting this stat from different cameras, which is still a very impressive -8.5 EV.)
This is dim enough that you’ll almost have trouble seeing the subject you want to focus on. The reason for this exceptional light sensitivity is a combination of larger AF cells and the EXPEED 7 processor in the Zf.
At least on the specs table, the Nikon Zf should outperform the Nikon Z8 by 1 EV in this regard, and even outperform the Z9 by 1.5 EV. What about in reality? I used the Nikon Zf in parallel with the flagship Z9, and to be honest, I didn’t notice any major differences in low-light AF sensitivity.
Disappointing for the Zf? Not at all! We’re comparing cameras in completely different price ranges, and the Z9 was already capable of focusing on the stars at night, so I am not disappointed with the Zf’s performance here at all.
The autofocus of the Nikon Zf promises another advantage. According to Nikon, it can detect “the world’s smallest face in the frame.” To be precise, the Zf can detect a face that occupies only 3% of the longest side of the frame.
Before taking the Zf into the field, I hadn’t calculated how small a face would have to be in the viewfinder for the camera to recognize it as a face. But I can confirm that the camera’s detection capabilities are truly remarkable. It can recognize a human face from a long distance.
This brings me to the next bar that Nikon has raised. And by a lot. Until now, the cheapest Nikon camera whose AF could detect a bird’s eye was the Nikon Z8. The Nikon Zf does it almost exactly as well and costs half as much.
No, the Zf is not a bird photographer’s dream come true. This is mainly due to its ergonomics, which are not optimized for use with long telephoto lenses or fast custom controls. Nevertheless, the camera can 100% be used for sport and wildlife photography, and for the price, it autofocuses exceptionally well.
The traditional look of the Nikon Zf is just begging to be used with the good old manual-focus lenses of the AI or AI-S series. Too bad they can’t be mounted on the camera without an FTZ adapter. But there’s nothing we can do about that. Let’s put aesthetics aside and focus on function.
In fact, Nikon has developed another interesting feature just for the use of manual focus – Automatic Subject Detection for MF lenses. How does it work?
In short, the Nikon Zf links together automatic subject detection with manual focus. Once it finds the subject’s face, it frames with a box. It’s still up to your fingers to move the focus ring, but the box turns green when you are in focus.
The Nikon Zf has another trick for precise focusing. If it detects an eye in the scene (it doesn’t have to be in focus), you can zoom in on the eye in the viewfinder with a single click. The OK button works well for this.
The Touch Fn Option
The Nikon Zf doesn’t have a joystick, which can be disappointing for wildlife photographers. However, it has something else that you can use for a similar purpose: the touchscreen itself.
This feature, called Touch Fn, is not new. Essentially, you are able to use the rear LCD’s touchscreen to adjust certain controls while you’re looking through the viewfinder – including focus point.
Nikon had this feature with the D5500 back in 2015. However, this is the first time we see Touch Fn on a Z camera. And it’s a welcome addition indeed.
To enable Touch Fn, the “f4” option in the custom settings menu lets you assign different functions to the rear display. Some of the options include switching between eyes in the frame, using virtual horizon, activating the framing grid, or zooming on/off.
However, by far the most interesting option is to move the focus point. With the camera pointed at your eye, you can move the focus point quickly and easily with a flick of your thumb. It’s a great replacement for the missing joystick, and I got used to it very quickly.
I briefly wondered if something similar would be useful for cameras like the Z9. However, after holding the Z9 in my hands, it was immediately clear that a similar feature would only make sense for cameras of the Zf’s size or smaller – possibly the Z8, but definitely nothing heavier than that. Cameras with massive grips don’t allow your thumb to reach the rear LCD, and even if you can, they are imbalanced when you try to do so.
The final page of this review sums up my impressions of the Nikon Zf. Click below to go to Verdict.
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