After nine years of occasionally chasing the retro camera unicorn with modern features, Nikon may have finally got the formula right.
The Japanese camera maker is announcing the Nikon ZF, a modern mirrorless camera equipped with quite high specifications, such as a 24.5-megapixel full-frame sensor, 299-point tracking autofocus with subject detection, built-in image stabilization and dual card slots (of sorts), in a body that looks like one of the ancestors of the analog camera. Nikon may have done this dance before with its puny ZFC and forgotten Df DSLR, but it’s righting its biggest mistakes with those cameras by giving the ZF a full-frame sensor and a competitive $1,999.95 price when it launches in mid-2019. October.
While the Df may look 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 Z8 cameras. Z9 cameras, along with much of their equipment. The ZF has five-axis in-body image stabilization, which Nikon says is good for eight stops of correction, 3D tracking autofocus, 4K H.265 10-bit video with up to 60 frames per second cropped or 30 fps full-width , an articulated 3.2 inch touch screen and continuous burst shooting up to 30 fps. But what most separates the ZF from the Z8 and Z9 is its vintage look with classic dials, a dedicated switch for monochrome mode, and an audible mechanical shutter with KACHUNK sound (the Z8 and Z9 only use electronic shutters).
It’s those looks, sounds and feels that really give the ZF its greatest charm, as my colleague Becca Farsace got to experience in her brief hands-on time in the video above.
The ZF seems to be aimed primarily at photographers who idolize the cameras of yesteryear but want the latest technology and features for image quality superior to what film can provide. It’s basically Nikon’s best response yet to Fujifilm (which built its super high prices. The ZF isn’t as powerful a camera as the black-and-white-only Leica M11 Monochrom, as its monochrome mode is simply a software filter rather than part of the sensor’s hardware design, but it dabbles in the vibration-based world of Leica. with its appearance and magnesium alloy construction.
The façade starts to crumble a little once you put a Nikkor Z lens on it that doesn’t look vintage. There are only two older-style “SE” lenses in Nikon’s lineup, a 28mm f/2.8 and a 40mm f/2, so most of Nikon’s current lenses will break up your Steve McCurry cosplay a bit. You can mount real vintage glass on the ZF, but that makes it awkward an adapter in the way. And speaking of awkwardness, while it’s great that ZF supports two card slots, it’s an SD and microSD tandem, which is a bit strange, even if I take what I can get.
I bet a lot of the ZF’s quirks can be forgiven by photography fans who love a camera that looks and acts like a camera more than a laptop. I can remember the hype behind the Df in 2014, when Nikon first announced a return to the good old days. That camera might have had some success if it weren’t so expensive and a relocated Nikon D600 body with a big sensor, but video fell apart. And when the ZFC came out in 2021, the collective groan from many of us was essentially: “Good job, Nikon. Now try again and don’t make it out of cheap plastic or give it a cropped sensor that you’ll probably ignore with lens support.” The ZF appears to be exactly that: a full-frame metal camera that honors Nikon’s roots and uses its best glass.