Nikon’s Decision to Go Retro Could Be a Stroke of Genius

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 Nikon Df. Check out that chunk.

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.

The classic stylings of the Fujifilm X-T4.

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.

Fresh Appeal?

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.

The NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8 S. Unashamedly not retro.

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 Sigma 35mm f/2 DG DN Contemporary.

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.

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45 Comments

00rob00 Rob00Rob's picture

Hopefully they will have matching lenes

Peter Vlutters's picture

only Smart if they launch a lot of lenses....

That's the problem with most APS-c cameras... they always we're merely neglected stepchilds to lure customers

Only Fuji made is a huge success with high quality cameras a vast array of lenses made with love... And a nice nostalgic touch to it

(And maybe Olympus for M43)

Scott Ishiyama's picture

Agreed. Nikon needs to augment their lens road map by adding DX lenses to convince me that the format won't be treated as a step-child as it has in the past, with scads of "me too" wide-to-tele zooms and few if any DX-specific prime lenses.

Thomas H's picture

Either way: Retro is a niche product. Nikon needs now a money bringer, a sub $500 small body for the masses, for travel, city and event photography. Retro will not sell, see Olympus.

Matthew White's picture

Regarding the Df’s “chunk” - I seem to recall it was considered very small for a full-frame body at the time.

Never Mind's picture

Actually no. It was large even for the standards of back then. It was as large as the D600. It was just the earlier advertising that made people expect it would be smaller, but it wasn't.

Check this old but very funny review
(min. 4:08 for size comments):

https://youtu.be/en5z-Q4po4M

And you can compare camera sizes here:

https://j.mp/3gvsJuV

George Malczynski's picture

It was pretty small. Smaller than my D750 at least. I remember the grip being really annoying.

Never Mind's picture

Errrrmmmm....

141 x 113 x 78 mm vs.
144 x 110 x 67 mm

It's actually 3mm wider and 3mm shorter. The difference is just the grip (and the slightly longer flash tip). The body is actually pretty similar in size, even compared to your D750.

Try comparing both side by side on the link I gave you.

George Malczynski's picture

I agree that it is pretty similar. I never owned a Nikon D600 so I can't speak much about that with any experience, but in terms of the D750 and Df they were both lauded as being very small for full frame dslrs. Correct me if I'm wrong but the Nikon Df is both lighter, shorter and thinner than both the D600 and the D750.

Never Mind's picture

The numbers I gave you are D750 and Df dimensions, not the D600. It's not hard to look it up, I'm not Google ;-)

The Df is just ~80 grams lighter than the D750.

George Malczynski's picture

Looks like the Df is not only the smallest FX dslr that nikon ever made, but its also the smallest and lightest full frame dslr ever made by any manufacturer.

Never Mind's picture

If less grip and less protruding flash, and 80g less due to this is what you expect from the advertising, true. The width x height area is the same as others.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

If the sensor is 20MP as reported, I would say this is not genius but madness.

Stuart C's picture

Only if you’re a gearhead. That 20mp Nikon sensor is awesome in the right hands.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

I hope they are enough of "right hands" to keep it economically viable. Gearheads actually keep these companies alive- Not the one who buys one camera every decade.

Morgan Miller's picture

Megapixel idiocy. 20mp will allow dor great light sensitivity for an APS-C, ajd 4 megapixel dofference means nothing, really.

Sridhar Chilimuri's picture

The advances in sensors in not just based on MP. Newer sensors are better in many ways. That is how Sony captured a lot of the market and that is a fact. Nothing idiotic about it.

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

Newer sensor are better in many ways? I don't know why you assume they'd be using an older 20 MP sensor? With all else equal, larger pixels means better in low-light

anthony marsh's picture

True retro would be a the introduction of a film camera to meet rising demand. NIKON is playing the planned obsolescence game. Sucker people into buying the GOT TO HAVE IT latest and greatest all the while having an all new latest and greatest ready for market just about the time the latest and greatest has reached a sales saturation point. My latest and greatest in order of acquisition GUNDLACH 4 X 5 AGFA BILLY COMPUR ROLLEICORD 1A MODEL 3 BRONICA S2A IKOFLEX 1 IKOFLEX 2 and 1955 LEICA M-3 . All of my latest and greatest can be serviced or repaired at relatively modest cost. Try getting digital gear repaired at all.

Morgan Miller's picture

Too many great functioning filmncameras on the market. Not worth it

Nacona Nix's picture

It failed utterly the last time they tried it, and it will again. Nikon seems hellbent on failure.

Andrew Almeida's picture

Interesting product, but I don't think it's what people expect from Nikon. I don't think this would be the right move for Nikon. Only time will tell, but this product will intimately fail. I'm just being realistic.

Troy Phillips's picture

Unless absurdly inexpensive it needs an evf . I’ve been wanting Nikon to make a camera like this forever. When the DF came out I was hoping for it to be mirrorless then . And if a year or so after the Df came out they’d have followed it with an affordable 24mp mirrorless updated df they’d have sold em out .
Nikon should make a camera like this . They have downsized as a company and need to go at things a bit different.
But still need pro super af cameras but now with phenomenal video too .
Less models but more focused to their purpose.

Dave Haynie's picture

The Zfc has an EVF. You can see it in the images. This looks like it's pretty much a Z50 in a retro body. There has long been a rumored EVF-less Z model from Nikon, maybe called the Z30, probablyngoing to $500 or so. Not this model.

Geoff Hudson's picture

Almost... Then they pulled a Google. Dx. If the retro Fx was a hard sell... Imagine trying to sell a premium Dx. Bonne chance.

Charles Mercier's picture

Even as a former Nikon film camera, I'm more partial to modern styling rather than the retro styles. But that's a bit secondary to me. A good camera is a good camera.

Lukasz Braszka's picture

I would be an interesting camera if it had winding lever, just like the film cameras or Epson RD-1. Leica teased us with M10-D but it turned out to be just a thumb rest and it was kind of disappointing. Then put the 18 MP low light monster monochrome sensor in for a special edition, and if done right, people will use these cameras till all the dials will fall off.

Mike Shwarts's picture

The RD-1, if you can find one, is a camera loved by those who own it. On the rangefinderforum, there is a thread dedicated just to RD-1 photos.

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Poor Nikon. Or maybe they are predicting that hipsters will start photographing birds.

Matthew White's picture

The “hipster” labeling is just getting out of hand.
Why should every modern camera follow a specific design for controls?

I currently own a z7, Df, and X-E4.
Each has its use case for me, be it situational or mood.

I’m no a pro, nor a hipster. Most cameras are not targeted at the professional. I just appreciate the experience of dials at times, and modern controls at other times. Choice is good.

This camera will hopefully challenge Fuji in the APS-c market and drive innovation. Nikon may fail with this endeavor, or this new line could be a great sales boost for Nikon. I hope for the latter.

Tim van der Leeuw's picture

Well you own an X-E4 _and_ a Df.

By definition you are now a Hipster, like it or not. Modern Marketing has you nailed down and pigeonholed!

(only joking of course ;) )

Dan Gamache's picture

Like many others, my first real camera was a Nikon, the FE back in 1980, my first year in College, then the F3HP. I shoot all Fujifilm now, XPro3, so I would love Nikon to come out with a rangefinder style similar to the SP perhaps, more than SLR style. Yeah I would certainly go for that!

Mike Shwarts's picture

I really like the idea of an SP style rangefinder. The closer in appearance, the better.

Alex Galimov's picture

Hmm... my almost 10 year old 2012 Olympus OM-D had this EXACT retro design, which Nikon is just now embracing. Truly sad. I also recall Canon's CEO dismissing mirrorless cameras entirely calling it "it's for losers" Guess who's got the last laugh.

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

Well, Nikon did have the Nikon Df back in 2013, though. But Nikon never made a successor to the Df. I really hope they are indeed "embracing" this, and continue to release some cameras with a retro design

Jay Mason-Burns's picture

The first genuinely exciting news from Nikon in years. I confess I quit Nikon because I fell in love with (and still love) Fujifilm cameras, their film sims & their lenses. How they look and feel in the hand is every bit as important to me as the quality of the images they produce (and boy howdy do Fujifilm deliver). Fuji get that photographers not only want great cameras but great looking, tactile cameras that offer brilliant customisable options & the joy of knobs & dials. So, Nikon could produce the best cameras on the planet but if they're not easy on the eye (sorry Z series users) then that's a whole potential market of photographers they're missing out on. When I saw the Nikon Vfc pix I immediately thought, "Oooooh hullo, that's a bit sexy". I'm not looking to move from Fuji but let's face it, photographers are visual people. We enjoy how things look, so, if this camera is on the market soon - backed up with similarly sexy lenses, then Fuji may have genuine competition in the retro APSC market 📸

Andy Day's picture

Yup! I hope so.

Les Sucettes's picture

Nothing Hipster about a design that works. I recently switched to Sony more out of need than want, and the PSAMC1C2ScnAuto dial is just a freaking joke.

With Fuji you set whichever dial you want to be Automatic on “A” and it’s done. By setting any 2 dials on Auto you can have Aperture, Shutter, ISO priority … and even crazier, you can have dual priorities by just having one dial on Auto: Aperture/Shutter, Aperture/ISO, Shutter/ISO priority just like that. It’s hardly “Hipster” and simply functional.

Sure you can sort of do it with the PSAMC1C2ScnAuto… but I’d hardly call that a pro dial. It’s missing Landscape and Portrait Mode (lol)

Daniel Curtis's picture

I’m a D7100 owner with 3 lenses and would like a fourth. However, I’d like to go APS-C mirrorless and save my neck and spine (issues at age 62) when hiking with a bag. If I’m gonna stay with Nikon, retro style or not, they need to commit to a decent lens lineup.

paul aparycki's picture

Will it be available in an argyle pattern? otherwise, there is no point . . . like this article

Kim Jensen's picture

Sure that is a good move. Fujifilms style lured me back into photography last year. I managed to get 3 Fuji cameras before I discovered it was crap compared to my old Nikons. They are sold now, and I am a Nikon shooter again.

John Tal's picture

Time to rename the site as f-rumors.

Charles Mercier's picture

Meh, this site just cranks out tons of articles, even repeating same subject articles over again. Anything and everything, constantly.

Michael Piziak's picture

Seems like at one point, Full Frame was the thing. But a lot of this camera companies keep making an APS-C. I wonder what the future holds.

Oshin Baroyan's picture

Simple business decision. They can’t compete with Sony and Canon so they are going after Fuji for the 3rd place.