Nikon ZF Review: Modern Mirrorless Meets Vintage Style

8.5
Beebom Score
The Nikon Zf is the brand's most vintage-looking modern mirrorless camera at the moment. However, while the camera certainly does look straight out of the 80's, it brings a features like AI subject detection and 90MP resolution capture which hit the spot, big time! The dedicated black and white mode toggle is an absolute treat to the monochrome lovers. While it has its own shortcomings with mostly the design. All things considered, this camera justifies its $1999.99 price tag, and is easily one of Nikon's best premium mid-range mirrorless cameras right now.
Pros
Vintage design is very aesthetic
Incredible build quality
Vari-angle digital viewfinder
AI automatic subject detection
96MP high-resolution shot feature
Solid manual focusing and several AF options
IBIS works very well
Cons
Tedious dial placement
No handgrip for support
Weight balance goes out of the window with an attached lens

While I mostly review smartphones, with an occasional pinch of laptops, I’ll be embarking on a different journey today. Out of nowhere, the Nikon Zf landed at the Beebom office and then, before I knew it, straight onto my lap. I used to dabble in photography extensively, but have mostly used DSLRs anywhere between the Nikon D3200 and the Canon EOS 200D.

Now, the Zf is a premium mid-ranger mirrorless camera that presented a new challenge and opportunity to me. While this may look like it has time-traveled straight from the 80s, don’t let the vintage looks fool you.

I have spent a very memorable week with the Zf and there’s more to it than meets the eye. So, for the first time and to the best of my knowledge, I’m presenting a detailed review of the Nikon Zf. With that being said, let’s get right into it!

Nikon Zf Specs at a Glance

Before I get into reviewing the unit, here’s a quick rundown of the Zf’s technical specifications:

SpecsNikon Zf
Dimensions144 x 103 x 49 mm
WeightOnly Body – 630 grams
With battery, memory and without shoe cover – 710 grams
Sensor24MP Full-frame BSI CMOS, Expeed 7 processor
File FormatsNEF (RAW), JPEG, HEIF, NEF (RAW) + JPEG, NEF (RAW) + HEIF
Viewfinder0.5-inch 3690k-dot (Quad VGA) OLED
Monitor3.2-in., approx. 2100k-dot vari-angle TFT touch-sensitive LCD with 170° viewing angle
Native ISO Range100-64000
Shutter Speed Range900-1/8000 sec
VideoUp to 4K 60FPS
H.265 10-bit MOV
H.265 8-bit MOV
H.264 8-bit MP4
Port Selection1 x UHS-II SD, 1x UHS-I Micro SD, 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 5Gbps, 1x HDMI Micro Type D, 1x Microphone port, 1x 3.5mm jack
Battery LifeEN-EL 15c battery unit (Compatible with EN-EL15b and EN-EL15a units too)
Around 300 shots
Price$1999.99

Design and Build

Nikon Zf Design

When it comes to design, the full-frame Nikon Zf won’t appear modern, and that’s the beauty of it. Nikon goes back to its design roots on the aesthetic appeal of the Zf and I love that. The retro look of the Zf makes it stand out in a sea of mirrorless cameras which all look the same. It looks so ordinarily extraordinary that you can also place it in a showcase as a trophy and stare at it all day. Shutterbugs can relate.

For starters, right off the bat, the brass dials will instantly win you over. With time, these black-coated dials will show the brass underneath, adding to the vintage aesthetics of the camera. But, it’s the feel of the old-school soft-release threaded shutter button that is the highlight. However, this threaded soft shutter also allows cable release, which is great.

Consider this the digital version of the classic ultra-popular Nikon FM2, imitating the heft and in-hand feel of the groundbreaking vintage monster well. If you have used the more casual and beginner-friendly Nikon Z fc, the Zf certainly feels like a badder boy. The camera certainly feels rougher and tougher and is also weather sealed, by the way.

In addition, when you pop off the battery compartment, you will see two SD card slots. While one is a standard UHS-II compatible slot, the other is a microSD card slot. I certainly like that, since it allows me to keep a microSD inserted in at all times as a backup folder.

Nikon Zf Battery and Storage Slots

As for port selection, that’s abundant on the Nikon Zf too. You get to see a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Micro Type D HDMI port, a USB 3.2 Gen 1.5Gbps port, and a microphone port.

However, by the end of the day, the vintage design is a double-edged sword. While I dig the fact that Nikon stays true to the vintage design of the phone, the lack of a solid handgrip unlike the Z6, Z8, or Z9 models, causes handling to take a hit. That’s what I’ll get into next.

Ease Of Use and Handling

Holding the grip of the Nikon Zf with one hand

I received the Nikon Zf’s body along with the Nikkor 24-120/4 S lens, and the body can’t handle the lens’ weight well. See, this is a heavy-duty mirrorless camera we’re talking about, that weighs over 600 grams. So, understandably, if you’re not used to using such cameras, your wrist will start feeling the weight after a while. Mine certainly did.

So, when you are using the camera, you will need to provide the lens with all the support in the world to ensure that your shutter hand doesn’t feel the force of gravity too much.

Given the fact that there’s not much of a handgrip on the body, it certainly makes it harder to shoot photos and videos with one hand. As you start using it extensively, it causes quite an inconvenience, especially the lack of a thumb grip at the back as well.

Nikon Zf using the ISO dial

For the most part, I involuntarily used both my hands to use the Zf. Do note that I also have big hands. If you have smaller hands, it will certainly be a bigger task.

The good thing is that Nikon was kind enough to send over a SmallRig external Grip with a quick-release Arca plate, and I never detached it. Just didn’t have the courage to accidentally drop a $2000 camera. So, if you’re like me who’s not used to handling such heavy cameras, get a grip, I’d say.

Nikon Zf with Lens and External Grip Detached

Now, while I do understand Nikon trying to imitate the vintage experience of the Nikon FM2, it was far from being the most convenient model to use. The ISO and Shutter Speed dials in particular always felt uncomfortably out of reach. Not to mention that they also seemed a bit stiff. While it has its own satisfaction, when you want to capture a precious moment, well, have better luck next time.

However, the software is pretty clean, and I like how well laid out the menu is for the most part. The UI didn’t feel cluttered with each of the sections compartmentalized very well. After just about a minute of playing around with the settings, I figured most of the stuff out. So, kudos to Nikon for that.

Viewfinder and Display

Nikon Zf Viewfinder and LCD Display

As for the viewfinder, there’s a central optical 0.5-inch 3.69m-dot OLED electronic one that offers 0.8x magnification. The viewfinder module is also circular, adding to the ‘professional’ feel of the Nikon Zf.

Now, while an optical viewfinder is great for adjusting the focus better and just taking better shots in general, having four eyes, has always given me headaches. That’s exactly why I have developed a soft spot for electronic viewfinders or displays, and the Zf’s 3.2-inch vari-angle TFT LCD touchscreen was a delight!

What makes this display special is that while Nikon has had a vari-angle display on its crop-sensor mirrorless Nikon Z fc, Z30, Z50, and DSLRs like the much older Nikon D5500, this is the first time that a full-frame mirrorless from the brand has gotten this display.

From capturing selfies to shooting from awkward angles, this is one versatile display that gives my weak eyes some solace.

Features

Nikon Zf without lens

Talking about the highlight features of the Nikon Zf, AI-powered automatic subject detection takes the crown. This feature has helped me very easily get back in my game, aiding me throughout the way till I get my hang of it again.

There’s a little focus box that detects subjects in the frame for you to focus on. When a subject is in focus, it turns from red to green, thereby giving you the green light to hit the shutter button. It’s not perfect and you will often find it wandering like a puppy after a butterfly. But, you can easily reposition it on the touchscreen with your fingers and instantly capture a shot in the process.

If it’s misbehaving a tad too much, you can get into settings and move it from auto to specifically People, Animal, Airplanes, and Vehicle. Really makes the Nikon Zf an absolute manual focus master.

While that was it for the manual focus, the autofocus versatility of the Zf is off the charts. You get to see Multi-area focus, center focus, selective single-point tracking, continuous tracking, single tracking, contrast and phase detection, Live View, Face Detection, and even use touch focus via the LCD display. There’s also focus peeking and focus zoom to make use of, which is always welcome.

Another interesting feature of the Nikon Zf is its in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Now, what this does is basically let the sensor negate movement. So, even at very low shutter speeds, you won’t have to reach for your tripod more often to take a decent shot. It will still capture images well, with the subject sharply in focus for the most part.

Then there’s also pixel shift shooting which allows you to take up to 96MP photographs by doing some software-side magic. When you head over to your image settings, you will find it at the bottom.

However, to actually see it work, you will need the Nikon NX Studio software (Download) to combine multiple similar shots and achieve a higher resolution. It can use anywhere between two and ten images to combine for higher resolution.

This lets you get some incredible results and you will see a world of details in these photographs. Also, it works when you capture images in the RAW format. Then, Nikon NX automatically detects such a series of photos and lets you combine them.

Camera Performance

Nikon Zf in hand usage

Being a full-frame sensor, the Nikon Zf’s 24MP sensor is bound to take better shots than any other crop sensor mirrorless out there. But, how good are these shots in the first place? I had to see for myself, so I took it out for a spin, and here are my findings:

Day Time Shots

The Zf is super sensitive to light and offers a whole lot of aperture control (F4-F22, to be precise). So, you can use that to your advantage and deepen the depth of field as per your preference. It took me a few hit-and-miss shots to hit the spot.

Moreover, being a full-frame sensor, during the day, even in darker alleys, I didn’t have to set higher ISO values. It was already bright enough, and higher ISO values would only cause more noise. Nobody wants that. So, you will see very little noise in those photos captured in darker environments.

What I love about conventional cameras in general is that YOU get to decide how accentuated YOU want the shadows and highlights to be. So, the dynamic range is completely in your hands, and the Nikon Zf offers some superior control here.

The ISO can go all the way up to a whopping 64000 (show me a smartphone that can do that), and then if you smartly manage the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture levels, you will barely see any noise in dimly lit environments as well.

Moreover, the shadows and highlights also don’t have to take a hit. In my case, I barely went over ISO 800 and managed the brightness levels accordingly to capture some solid dynamic range in photos.

The Nikon Zf also captures some mind-boggling colors and details. The white balance control is also good enough, and you can go from cloudy to cyberpunk-y in no time at all.

You can check the EXIF data for the shots I’ve added by heading over to the dedicated Google Drive links and downloading the images.

Night Time Shots

Even at night, the image quality can be very easily controlled, thanks to the limitless number of settings. To capture light sources aesthetically well, I kept the ISO at 800, the aperture at around F/5, and the shutter speed at 1/20th second.

Even in these shots, the details are maintained well enough and there’s not much noise to make you frown. You can take some serious shots at night, and I’m all for it. Well, a little bit of noise for the film-grain effect won’t be too bad, eh? You can do that too.

B&W Shots

Coming to my absolute favorite bit, the Nikon Zf’s dedicated black and white mode is like no other. I could go out for a week and only take B&W shots with this. The deep blacks and rich whites are just too addictive. The dedicated B&W toggle at the top right made my day, and I could instantly capture the world around me in vintage fashion.

Videos

Talking about videos, you can shoot at up to 4K 60FPS in the MOV and MP4 formats. For MOV, you can either shoot in the regular H.265 8-bit format or the 10-bit format which the camera lets you know “is for video that will be edited on a high-performance computer.” For MP4, there’s an 8-bit H.264 format. The video quality is really nice and there’s no focus hunting issue.

The autofocus also works very well and you can get pretty creative with it. However, the only downside is that if you’re used to the vlog-ready OIS-backed videos of your phone, the output here will feel rather unstable and wonky. But, in all honesty, this is one of the most stable outputs I have seen on a camera. Once you mount it to a gimbal or tripod, you can capture some solid videos.

You will see some flicker too, but if you adjust the Shutter Speed, ISO, and aperture accordingly, you will easily get rid of it. There’s also video flicker reduction and an Auto ISO control mode to toggle on and get some help in this regard.

Battery Life

Nikon Zf Battery Life

I planned a whole day of photo walk with my friends and captured around 250 shots, and the battery levels had turned red. But, the very next day, I could still manage to capture around 50 shots before the critically low battery levels locked me out. This was after I had mostly used the digital viewfinder to capture the shots.

While it’s not the absolute best, it’s good enough for not-so-serious folks like me. If you are a professional photographer, you may want to stack up on those spares.

Near-Perfect Blend of Style and Substance

Nikon Zf Verdict

Over the years, the joy of capturing photos through a conventional camera just faded away for me somehow. While I have often found myself dabbling and trying to get into the feel of a camera all over again, mobile photography just made it all so very convenient. Not to mention that most cameras I have used didn’t bring a spark to my eyes.

The Nikon Zf reignited that very spark and now, the once overly curious shutterbug got his will back to go out on photo walks and do some serious photography all over again. The feel of turning those dials to adjust the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, to using the physical shutter button, everything made the broke me want to hit the store and get this $1,999.99 beauty right now.

The selling point, however, is definitely the deceptive 80’s look with some solid modern hardware inside. Smartphone sensors may have gotten insanely capable through the years, but once your hands embrace something like the Nikon Zf, there’s no coming back from it.

Another commendable thing about the camera is that, while there are a whole lot of options on it, the difficulty curve is not as steep. The clean and clutter-free UI really helps, and anyone can get the hang of it in a jiffy.

Still, I’m calling it near-perfect, because of two reasons. Firstly, the physical buttons are not at all user-friendly. Secondly, while the design is classy, the lack of any grip to hold on to makes the Zf alarmingly drop-prone.

All things considered, while I’m not well-equipped with camera knowledge to outright call this the best mirrorless camera out there, I can sure say that it’s because of such incredible tech that cameras will never die out.

Finally, thanks to Devinder Maheshwari (CBO) and Anmol Sachdeva (Editor-in-Chief) for handing over such a fun project for me to work on! Also, a massive thanks to Nikon for sending this bad boy over. Y’all rock! This is just the start and we’re definitely going to do more such reviews, so stay tuned.

Beebom Score
8.5
The Nikon Zf is the brand's most vintage-looking modern mirrorless camera at the moment. However, while the camera certainly does look straight out of the 80's, it brings a features like AI subject detection and 90MP resolution capture which hit the spot, big time! The dedicated black and white mode toggle is an absolute treat to the monochrome lovers. While it has its own shortcomings with mostly the design. All things considered, this camera justifies its $1999.99 price tag, and is easily one of Nikon's best premium mid-range mirrorless cameras right now.
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