After nine years of occasionally chasing the unicorn of the retro camera with modern features, Nikon may have finally found the right formula.
The Japanese camera maker announces the Nikon ZF, a modern mirrorless camera with some pretty high specs, like a 24.5-megapixel full-frame sensor, 299-point tracking autofocus with subject detection, camera stabilization. Built-in picture and two card slots (of a kind) – in a body that resembles one of the camera’s analog ancestors. Nikon may have done this dance before with its insignificant ZFC and its long-forgotten Df DSLR, but it’s correcting its major mistakes with those cameras by giving the ZF a full-frame sensor and a competitive $1,999.95 price tag. when it launches in mid-October.
Although the Df looks a lot like an old Nikon FM2 or FE2 film camera, it has the same Expeed 7 processor found in Nikon’s high-end Z8 and Z9 cameras, as well as much of their equipment. The ZF features five-axis in-body image stabilization, Nikon says, for eight stops of correction, 3D tracking autofocus, 10-bit H.265 4K video with up to 60 frames per second cropped or 30 frames per second at full width, an articulated 3.2. 2.5-inch touchscreen and continuous burst shooting up to 30fps. But what differentiates the ZF the most from the Z8 and Z9 is its vintage look with classic dials, a dedicated monochrome mode switch and an audible mechanical shutter with a KACHUNK sound (the Z8 and Z9 only use electronic shutters).
It’s these looks, sounds and feels that really give the ZF its greatest charm, as my colleague Becca Farsace was able to experience during her all-too-brief hands-on time in the video above.
The ZF seems to be primarily aimed at photographers who idolize the cameras of yesteryear, but want the latest technology and features to achieve higher image quality than film can provide. It’s essentially Nikon’s best response to Fujifilm (which built its justify their extremely high prices. The ZF isn’t as hardcore a camera as the black-and-white-only Leica M11 Monochrom, as its monochromatic mode is simply a software filter rather than part of the sensor’s hardware design, but it dabbles in the based world on Leica vibrations. with its look and magnesium alloy construction.
The front starts to fall apart a bit once you put a non-vintage looking Nikkor Z lens on it. There are only two old-school “SE” lenses in the Nikon lineup, a 28mm f/2.8 and a 40mm f/2, so most current Nikon lenses will break your Steve cosplay a bit McCurry. You can mount real vintage glass on the ZF, but that awkwardly puts an adapter in the way. And speaking of clunky, while it’s great, the ZF supports two card slots, it’s an SD and microSD tandem – which is just a little weird, although I’ll take what I can get.
I bet many of the ZF’s quirks can be forgiven by die-hard photo enthusiasts who like a camera that looks and acts like a camera more than a laptop. I remember the hype behind the Df in 2014, when Nikon first announced a return to the good old days. This camera might have had some success if it wasn’t so expensive and it wasn’t a rehoused Nikon D600 body with a great sensor, but the video was removed. And when the ZFC came out in 2021, the collective groan from many of us was basically, “Nice job, Nikon.” Now try again, and don’t make it out of cheap plastic and give it a cropped sensor that you might ignore with the lens mount. The ZF looks exactly like that: a full-frame, metal camera that honors Nikon’s roots and uses its best glass.