Nikon asked me to review the new Nikon Z fc. I said yes, and received no less than two cameras. It’s time to wrap up and answer the question: does retro styling add value?
I was surprised to receive not one but two Nikon Z fc kits, one with the Z 16-50mm f / 3.5-6.3 VR zoom and one with the Z 28mm f / 2.8 retro style. When I asked why, the Nikon rep told me how perfect that would be for the product photos I tend to take of every camera I review. But what he didn’t know was how I got hold of an old Nikon FE, one of the cameras the Nikon Z fc is based on.
Looks like an old camera
The Nikon Z fc isn’t the first digital camera that looks like an old-fashioned Nikon camera. In November 2013, the Nikon Df was released, a full-frame digital SLR that drew much criticism. He also had a lot of fans. Now, after all these years, Nikon has released the Z fc. This time it is based on the Nikon FE and FM. If you like these cameras, you will probably also like the Nikon Z fc.
Of course, the differences are obvious. The carrying handle is missing and returns the carrying sling (I couldn’t find another name). After all, you don’t need it with modern digital cameras. Instead, Nikon added an ISO dial and an exposure value dial. In a way, the controls have a lot of similarities with the Fujifilm X-trans cameras.
The design follows very closely the Nikon FE and FM. The Nikon Z fc also has a pentaprism body, although it now houses an electronic viewfinder. On the top you will find the imitation leather just like the analog versions, with the shoe. The body design is also very similar and therefore lacks a good grip. If you are used to modern cameras, it will take some time to get used to them.
The Nikon rep told me about an additional grip that will be available, offering more to hang on to. This makes the camera a bit taller, which is good news for the photographer with big hands. But there is one big difference that cannot be ignored when comparing the Nikon Z fc with an older DSLR like the FE. Although the size is very similar, the new Nikon Z fc is an APS-C camera with a 1.5x crop. It’s not full frame (35mm film) like the old Nikon FE.
He doesn’t feel so sturdy
Taking the Nikon Z fc is a bit of a surprise, especially when you have the Nikon FE next to it. The new camera is very light. It smells a bit of plastic. The Z fc is made of an aluminum alloy which has less weight compared to the metal construction of the FE. Perhaps the lack of a heavy pentaprism also plays its part in reducing weight. I think the majority of users won’t notice this difference and might even prefer the reduced weight over a heavy camera.
I found the battery cover on the bottom of the camera a bit disappointing. I don’t know if it’s plastic or thin aluminum. It feels like it’s easy to break. If I think about the times I would open that door, not only to charge the battery but also to remove the UHS-I SD card, it worries me.
If you are not happy with the construction of this fragile door, you can charge the camera via its USB-C connection or you can transfer the data from the card to your computer via this connection.
The lenses that Nikon offers with both kits are the Z 16-50mm f / 3.5-6.3 VR with image stabilization and the Z 28mm f / 2.8. Both lenses have a plastic construction, which also makes them very light. If you choose one of these kits, you will have a camera and lens that are easy to take with you for a long time. I think this is an important aspect of this camera.
Using the Nikon Z fc
I took both cameras with me for a few weeks. There was no need to change lenses and therefore the lack of a good lens alignment indication on the camera didn’t bother me. Although the lenses have a small white dot, it’s not very clear where to line them up. The Nikon Z fc only has a small recess next to the lens bayonet, which is a bit odd.
The two lenses mentioned are designed for an APS-C camera. Since the camera has a Z mount, you can install any lens available for this mount. But I think the camera is not designed to fit a large lens. It looks like a camera for a less visible photograph. The first thing that comes to my mind is street photography, and that’s what I used it for.
The PASM switch is located next to the ISO dial. If set to Program or Aperture priority mode, the shutter dial has no function. If the PASM switch is set to Shutter Priority or Manual, you can set the desired exposure time. When choosing the 1/3 step setting, the camera switches the command dial on the back to adjust the exposure setting. Besides the bulb, the shutter dial also has a duration setting for long exposures. Press once to open the cover, press a second time to close it.
The ISO dial allows you to adjust the ISO level in 1/3 increments. I wonder why Nikon neglected to add automatic ISO adjustment. It’s available, but only if you delve deep into the menu. The only way to set auto ISO easily and quickly is to add it to My Menu. Unfortunately, the quick menu does not allow you to add the auto-ISO function. By enabling auto-ISO, the shutter dial setting will be the minimum exposure time, which one should be aware of as the dial cannot be locked.
Besides these little glitches, the Nikon Z fc is fun to use. It’s very tempting to use it in manual mode, and I even rotated the LCD screen on the back to make it look more like an analog Nikon FE. Of course, the electronic viewfinder offers all the information you need. Command dials and camera buttons give them a good impression. It lacks a dedicated AF-ON button, but it’s possible to assign your function to almost any button. The AE-L / AF-L button is most obvious for the AF-ON function.
You have to rely on the electronic viewfinder or rear LCD screen to see the aperture setting. There is a small LCD screen between the EV dial and the shutter dial, but it is too small and too difficult to read. I would rather have seen an aperture ring on the lenses. If you look closely, there is also a switch to choose between photography and filming.
The autofocus of the Nikon Z fc
The ability to use face and eye autofocus on the Nikon Z fc should come as no surprise. You can switch between autofocus for human and animal eyes, but only manually. Now it works not only in autofocus mode on all areas, but also in different focus areas. The Nikon Z fc has 209 autofocus points for focusing. Good news: Full eye tracking AF now also works for filming, something the Nikon Z 50 lacks.
Focus speed is good as is AF tracking as far as I know. Ocular autofocus works in relatively dark environments, but it’s still less responsive compared to Sony and Canon mirrorless cameras. But don’t worry, it won’t disappoint you. With 11 frames per second and full AF tracking, the Nikon Z fc is fast enough for occasional action photography. With 14 bit raw, the speed drops to 9 fps, which is still pretty fast for most photographers and most action shots.
My conclusion after using the Nikon Z fc
Photographing with the Nikon Z fc was a lot of fun. It’s a great camera to use, and its similarity to the Nikon FE and FM makes it a stylish camera. And people will choose this camera because of how it looks, I’m sure. It doesn’t matter, because the Nikon Z fc produces good 20 megapixel photos with great dynamic range. The three-inch fully-articulated LCD screen also makes it a good camera for content creators.
I loved using the manual mode just because it’s fun to use the dials. As said, I also closed the LCD screen a lot. I know it sounds silly, but it made using the Nikon Z fc even more fun. Because the raw files could not be played with Lightroom Classic at that time – except with a small change in the EXIF data – I decided to take a lot of JPEG photos in the camera. The results are very satisfactory and answer the question I asked in a previous article.
The Nikon Z fc is by no means a perfect camera. There are a lot of little things that could be improved. Implementing auto-ISO is one, the lack of a good target alignment indicator is another. Without a good grip, the camera is less comfortable to hold for an extended period of time, and as a result, I accidentally pressed the custom button on the front too many times.
But these are only minor things that you can get used to. On the contrary, the Nikon Z fc is a camera that brings back a lot of fun in photography with a vintage look that will attract a lot of attention. It’s great for a lot of keen photographers, but it’s not for everyone.
What I liked
- The looks
- Compact and lightweight
- 3 inch fully articulated LCD display
- Good quality OLED EVF
- Full implementation of touchscreen functionality
- Fast and precise AF for the face and eyes
- Eye AF tracking works while shooting
- UHD 4K shooting using the full sensor
- Good quality buttons and dials
- Can be used up to ISO 6400 without problem
- Offers good ISO invariance
- USB-C connector can be used for charging even when the camera is on
- Can be used as a webcam
- Firmware updates can be performed with a smartphone
What could be improved
- Auto-ISO is not user-friendly
- Fragile battery cover
- The general feel is a bit plasticky
- No automatic switching between animal eye AF and human eye AF
- No stabilization in the body (only digital IS available)
- No clear indicator for lens alignment
- The menu is disabled when the LCD screen is facing forward.
What do you think of the Nikon Z fc? Please share your opinion in the comments below. You can buy the Nikon Z fc here.