According to rumors, Nikon’s next Z-mount camera will feature retro styling with a choice of three different looks. For a manufacturer whose mirrorless cameras have often been overshadowed by releases from Sony and Canon, rediscovering a feature that makes a product distinctive could be a smart move from Nikon.
A new APS-C camera from Nikon has been slated since February, with early rumors suggesting that it will be an even slimmer version of the Z 50 with the lack of an EVF as its defining characteristic. While Sony has been busy eliminating EVF bumps from its line of late (see the a7C), Nikon seemed set to take this one step further by doing away with it completely.
The New Rumor: Retro APS-C
A new rumor — complete with an array of alleged images — has emerged in the last couple of weeks that suggests that Nikon’s next Z-mount camera will indeed be APS-C, but its selling point will not be the lack of an EVF; instead, it will be embracing Nikon’s history and deploying some retro styling, complete with chunky dials. Its slim, gripless body throws back to Nikon’s classic FM and FE film cameras, and rather than being dubbed the Z 30, this bold design will be called the Zfc, with the f potentially referring to the Nikon Df, retro-styled DSLR with a 16.2-megapixel FX (full frame) CMOS sensor released back in 2013 and still available on B&H Photo for a little under three grand.
The curiously titled Df was a bold move from Nikon, catering to a dedicated and yet very narrow slice of its customer base. It’s not unusual to find photographers moaning that the hybrid aspects of a camera are wasted on them and the Df perhaps had this in mind given that it didn’t offer any video options whatsoever. “Timeless Design with Contemporary Performance” read the marketing blurb, emphasizing that the classic way of setting the exposure allowed “contemporary precision to enable simple and direct handling of all exposure features of the camera.”
Taking on Fujifilm?
The Zfc seems to take this idea and set off in a new direction: APS-C and potentially, affordability. Instead of a high-end, professional-level body, the Zfc might be geared more towards consumers and make an attempt to eat into a section of the market that has to date been almost exclusively dominated by another Japanese manufacturer. Fujifilm is the obvious choice for those who want classic styling and a tactile shooting experience that taps into the analog ethic.
It seems unlikely that Nikon will remove the video options from the Zfc, however. If a manufacturer could save money by not including video features, it might work, but given that the sensor and processor are already capable, it would be a strange decision to unnecessarily cripple a camera. Plus, the leaked photos of the Zfc show a big red record button and a camera symbol next to the speed dial.
Many hardened professionals — Nikon die-hards among them — will roll their eyes and question why a self-respecting photographer would opt for something so unashamedly hipster, but that would be missing the point. There’s a huge market of enthusiasts out there who appreciate the tactility of the Fujifilm shooting experience along with the film-era stylings and who may never get paid to shoot professionally (and not forgetting that Fujifilm's analog dials are favored by countless professionals). And for those who wish to move on from APS-C, there’s the option to switch to full frame without having to shift manufacturers — a luxury not available to Fujifilm owners.
How much of a draw that is to consumer camera buyers remains to be seen. Fujifilm’s ongoing success shows that APS-C is a more versatile format than many like to admit, but this era of retro styling has with it another undeniably marketable fetish: bokeh. The 50mm f/1.8 portrait lens that gives those gorgeous out-of-focus backgrounds will work brilliantly on a Zfc, and then fare just as well if and when you decide to bump up to something like the Z 7II along with a sensor size that offers even more of that much-hyped creaminess.
What About the Glass?
This is where the Fujifilm comparison starts to become problematic, however. Fujifilm has a wide array of compact lenses built specifically for its APS-C sensors to suit a wide variety of budgets. Right now, the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S may be a fantastic lens, but the equivalent lens for Fujifilm, the XF 35mm f/2 R WR, is cheaper, smaller, and significantly lighter. At 6.6 oz (187 g), even the XF 35mm f/1.4 is under half the weight of the Nikon.
Perhaps more importantly, all of the Fujifilm lenses match the stylings of Fujifilm’s cameras. While the NIKKOR 50mm looks fantastic on a Z 5, it will probably feel a bit out of place on the Zfc, potentially undermining the package and making that body seem out of place in Nikon’s lineup of cameras.
In short, the lens choice simply isn’t there to match the design of the Zfc, and the two kit lenses for the Z 50 didn’t offer any suggestion that Nikon’s range of DX (APS-C) lenses was gearing up for a retro-styled APS-C camera. This might all change, of course; Nikon’s choice to split its Z mount gives it advantages and disadvantages, offering an easy transition between crop and full frame sensors that Canon lacks but also meaning that its product range is going to take even longer to fill out. As usual, time will tell whether this is a smart move, but I suspect that many Nikon shooters would be delighted to see compact lenses with faux-vintage aperture rings similar to those seen on the Sigma I-series of lenses released for E- and L-mount cameras.
The Right Move?
I certainly hope that these rumors are true, and I think the introduction of a DX mirrorless camera that harkens back to Nikon’s rich history is a positive and courageous move for the manufacturer. A small selection of cameras that blend contemporary technology with a classic feel could give it a distinctive position within the market and draw in customers.
Does a retro-styled APS-C camera have a place in Nikon’s lineup? Will Nikon release more APS-C-specific lenses to match this new direction? And of course, is this a camera that you would buy? Let us know in the comments below.