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My Review of the Nikon Z fc: Does the Retro Style Add Any Value?

Nikon asked me to review the new Nikon Z fc. I said yes, and I received no less than two cameras. It’s time to wrap things up and answer the question: does the retro style add any 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 lens and one with the retro style Z 28mm f/2.8. When I asked why, the Nikon representative told me how it would look great for the product photos I tend to make 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 on which the Nikon Z fc is based.

The new NIkon Z fc next to the old Nikon FE.

It Looks Like an Old Camera

The Nikon Z fc is not the first digital camera that looks like an old-fashioned Nikon camera. In November 2013, the Nikon Df was released, a full frame DSLR that took a lot of critiques. It also had a lot of fans. Now, after all those years, Nikon has released the Z fc. This time, it is based on the Nikon FE and FM. If you love those cameras, you will probably like the Nikon Z fc also.

There are differences. Can you spot them?

Of course, the differences are obvious. It lacks the transport handle and returns transport sling (I couldn’t find another name for it). After all, you don’t need these with modern digital cameras. Instead, Nikon added an ISO dial and Exposure Value dial. In a way, the controls have a lot of similarities with Fujifilm X-trans cameras.

The design follows the Nikon FE and FM very closely. The Nikon Z fc also has a pentaprism housing, although it now houses an electronic viewfinder. On top, you find the faux leather just like the analog versions, complete with the hot shoe. The body design is also very similar and thus lacks a proper holding grip. If you’re used to modern cameras, this takes some getting used to.

The 35mm film is replaced by a APS-C sensor.

The Nikon representative told me about an extra grip that will be available, offering more to hold on to. It makes the camera a bit higher, which is good news for the photographer with large hands. But there is one big difference that can’t be ignored when comparing the Nikon Z fc with an older SLR 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.

It Doesn't Feel as Robust

Picking up the Nikon Z fc brings a bit of a surprise, especially when you have the Nikon FE next to it. The new camera is very lightweight. It feels a bit plastic. The Z fc is made of an aluminum alloy that has less weight compared to the metal construction of the FE. Perhaps the lack of a heavy pentaprism also plays its part in reducing the weight. I think the majority of the users won’t notice this difference and perhaps even prefer the reduced weight over a heavy camera.

An overview of some of the features of the Nikon Z fc.

I found the battery door at the bottom of the camera a bit of a disappointment. I don’t know if it's plastic or made out of thin aluminum. It feels like it’s easy to break. If I think about the times I would open this door, not only for charging the battery but also for removing the UHS-I SD card, it worries me.

The battery and memory card door is flimsy. Behind the rubber flaps, you find a micro HDMI, an USB-C, and a microphone connector.

If you’re not happy about the construction of this flimsy door, you can charge the camera through its USB-C connection or you can transfer the data from the card to your computer through this connection.

The lenses that Nikon offers with the two 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, making them very lightweight also. If you choose one of these kits, you will have a camera and lens that is easy to carry with you for a long period. I think that is an important aspect of this camera.

The two available kits: one with a Z 16-50mm zoom and one with the Z 28mm.

Using the Nikon Z fc

I carried both cameras with me for a couple of 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 point, it is not very clear where to align them. The Nikon Z fc only has a small indent next to the lens bayonet, which is a bit strange.

Lens alignment is a bit awkward. The white dot has to be aligned with the small dent above the screw in the bayonet.

The two lenses mentioned are made for an APS-C camera. Because the camera has the Z mount, you can fit any lens that is available for that mount. But I think the camera is not designed for fitting a large lens. It feels like a camera for less conspicuous photography. The first thing that comes to mind is street photography, and that’s what I used it for.

The PASM switch is located next to the ISO dial. If it’s set to the 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. By choosing the 1/3 step setting, the camera switches over to the command dial on the back for setting the exposure setting. Besides the Bulb, the shutter dial also has a Time setting for long exposures. Press once to open the shutter, press a second time to close it again.

The dials on the Nikon Z fc. The quality of the buttons and dials is good.

The ISO dial allows you to set the ISO level in 1/3 increments. I wonder why Nikon neglected to add an auto-ISO setting. It is available, but only if you dive deep into the menu. The only way of setting auto-ISO easily and quickly is by adding it into My Menu. Unfortunately, the Quick menu doesn't allow you to add the auto-ISO function. By activating the auto-ISO, the setting of the shutter dial will be the minimum exposure time, something to be aware of because the dial can’t be locked.

The menu holds no surprises for the Nikon user. It can be operated by touchscreen.

Besides these small issues, 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 so it looked more like an analog Nikon FE. Of course, the electronic viewfinder offers all the information necessary. The command dials and the buttons on the camera have a good feel to them. It lacks a dedicated AF-ON button, but it is possible to assign your function to almost every button. The AE-L/AF-L button is the most obvious one for the AF-ON function.

You have to rely on the electronic viewfinder or back LCD to see the aperture setting. There is a small LCD screen in between the EV dial and shutter dial, but it’s too small and too difficult to read. I rather would have seen an aperture ring on the lenses. If you look carefully, there is also a switch to choose between photography and filming.

The aperture can be read from the small LCD screen, but it's not easy.

The Autofocus of the Nikon Z fc

The ability to use face and eye autofocus on the Nikon Z fc should be no surprise. You can switch between human and animal eye autofocus but only manually. Now, it not only works in the all-area autofocus mode but also in the different focus zones. The Nikon Z fc has 209 autofocus points to achieve focus. Good news: full eye-AF tracking now also works for filming, something the Nikon Z 50 lacks.

Face AF and Eye AF work for both animals and humans, but you have to choose one. (Z 16-50mm at 35mm, ISO 200, f/7.1, 1/125 s, in-camera JPEG)

The focus speed is good, as is AF tracking, as far as I could tell. The eye autofocus works in relatively dark environments, but it still feels less responsive compared to Sony and Canon mirrorless cameras. But don't worry, it won't let you down. With 11 frames per second and full AF tracking, the Nikon Z fc is fast enough for some occasional action photography. With 14-bit raw, the speed drops to 9 frames per second — still fast enough for most photographers and most action shots.

With 11 fps, occasional action photography offers no problem. (Z 16-50mm at 35mm, ISO 400, f/9, 1/200 s, in-camera JPEG)

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 its looks, I’m sure. That doesn’t matter, as the Nikon Z fc produces good 20-megapixel photos with great dynamic range. The three-inch fully articulating LCD screen allows it to be a good camera for content creators also.

Holding the Nikon Z fc, shot with the second Nikon Z fc I received.

I loved using 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 foolish, but it just made using the Nikon Z fc even more fun. Because the raw files couldn’t be read with Lightroom Classic at that time – except with a small change in the EXIF data – I decided to shoot a lot of in-camera JPEG photos. The results were very pleasing, and it answers the question I asked in a previous article.

Both lenses are plastic, small, and lightweight. 

The Nikon Z fc is by no means a perfect camera. There are a lot of small things that could be improved. The implementation of auto-ISO is one, the lack of a good alignment indicator for lenses is another one. Without a proper grip, the camera is less comfortable to hold for an extended period, and as a result, I accidentally pushed the custom button on the front too often.

But these are only minor things that you can grow accustomed to. On the opposite, the Nikon Z fc is a camera that brings back a lot of fun in photography with a vintage look that will get a lot of attention. It's great for a lot of enthusiastic photographers, but it’s not for everyone.

Compared to the 35mm film of the Nikon FE, the NIkon Z fc has an APS-C sensor inside.

What I Liked

  • The looks
  • Compact and lightweight
  • 3-inch fully articulating LCD screen
  • Good quality OLED EVF
  • Full implementation of touchscreen functionality
  • Fast and accurate face and eye-AF
  • Eye AF tracking works when filming
  • UHD 4K filming with use of the full sensor
  • Good quality buttons and dials
  • Can be used up to ISO 6,400 without a problem
  • Offers good ISO invariance
  • USB-C connector can be used for charging, even when the camera is turned on
  • Can be used as a webcam
  • Firmware updates can be done with a smartphone

What Could Be Improved

  • Auto-ISO is not user friendly
  • Flimsy battery door
  • The overall feel is a bit plasticky
  • No automatic switching between animal eye AF and human eye AF
  • No in-body stabilization (only digital IS available)
  • No clear indicator for lens alignment
  • The menu is turned off when the LCD screen is rotated to the front.

Gallery

Z 16-50mm at 50mm, ISO 800, f/6.3, 1/80 s

Z 16-50mm at 16mm, ISO 1,600, f/11, 1/25 s

Z 28mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/250 s

Z 16-50mm at 16mm, ISO 200, f/11, 1/25 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 16-50mm at 36mm, ISO 1,600, f/8, 1/160 s, in-camera JPEG

Perseïd meteor, Z 16-50mm at 16mm, ISO 6,400, f/3.5, 10 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 16-50mm at 48mm, ISO 6,400, f/6, 1/80 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 16-50mm at 16mm, ISO 100, f/22, 4x 4 s, in-camera JPEG, multiple exposure

Z 16-50mm at 16mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/8 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 28mm, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/400 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 28mm, ISO 720, f/9, 1/250 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 28mm, ISO 1,600, f/9, 1/250 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 28mm, ISO 4,500, f/9, 1/250 s, in-camera JPEG

Z 28mm, ISO 800, f/9, 1/80 s, in-camera JPEG

What do you think of the Nikon Z fc? Please share your opinion in the comments below. You can purchase the Nikon Z fc here.

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26 Comments

J.d. Davis's picture

Q:? So I'm more valuable because I'm good looking? COOL!

Zobeid Zuma's picture

The question on my mind. . . Do you want a fully modern camera with a superficial skin of retro styling, or do you want something that actually functions more like a film SLR? I feel like I get the latter from my Sony A7R2 and adapted vintage lenses, plus a couple of new Voigtlanders.

Sam Sims's picture

I bought an A7III and Voigtlander 40mm f1.2 back in 2019, due to the quality of the Voigt lenses and the manual lens experience I wasn't getting from any DSLR. Even though I like the idea of manual dials, I'd rather have my setup than a retro style camera with only native autofocus lenses and no aperture ring.

Nando Harmsen's picture

The Z fc is not only a retro style skin. It functions like such a camera upt to a certain degree.

Doug Blake's picture

I have had my Ffc for a month and love the camera. The manual dial controls add value for me because that is the way I learned (on my old Canon AT1) and still love to shoot. I waited for this from Nikon and it does not disappoint. Great handling and great files. I do not miss a big grip which I had on a D700.
This camera with the two Z mount zooms (18-50 & 50-240) is very sharp in its resolving ability.
The color depth is very nice and files easily convert to B&W. Mono works well also. PASM switch is easy and convenient. Aperture is easily controlled on front command dial and clearly seen in view finder or on LCD. Auto ISO, once assigned, is easy to access. The menus are easy to access and clearly laid out. There will be very little menu diving once one becomes familiar with the camera and set it up the way you like. The rest is nitpicking, really. This is a great walking around camera. And it is Bayer array (thank you Nikon). I am also considering available primes, probably a macro, to use with it.
Naysayers have other options to please them but I would be loathe to give up this camera.

Doug Blake's picture

This really is more than retro window dressing. It does function like a film SLR of old. And for those worried about auto ISO, in the film world you load your film, set the ISO to match and go your merry way.
I haven’t really needed it. As you get familiar with any digital camera you learn to target ISO for the lighting conditions and control exposure parameters with shutter speed and aperture. Slight exposure adjustments through small shutter adjustments and exposure compensation will usually do the trick.
You might often need to do that with auto ISO anyway.

Nando Harmsen's picture

For those who don't use auto-ISO, the fact it is burried inside the menu is no issue. For those who want to use it on a regular basis it's another story. Why not add the auto-ISO ability to the ISO- dial?

Jan Holler's picture

Nice review. Thank you, Nando. I would love a digital back for my Nikon FA (bought in 1986 in La Jolla, CA) or I would love to see a full frame digital body like this. If I could deposit one wish with Nikon:

Build a camera like the Zfc, but full-frame and F-mount (or Z-mount with a nicely designed FTZ adapter that can accept screw-drive AF lenses). Maybe also leave out the monitor and just put in an EVF.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Without a monitor, such a camera would be useless for video. Also not much fun for shooting small children. In the bad old days photographers spent a lot of time rolling around on the floor trying to get low angles which are easily done now with tilt screens. That part of photography I don't miss.

But for the days where one wants to pretend that it's really a retro camera then turn the screen face in and roll with it. I'd also prefer full frame as shooting 35mm vintage lenses on the format for which they are made is more satisfying. Z6 resolution is enough as vintage lenses fall apart after 20 MP for the most part (I have a large collection of Leica, Pentax, Minolta vintage glass – even the Leica Elmarit 90mm starts to just show extra glass grain above 20 MP). I would still like to keep the great Z6 II video upgrades though as the ability to shoot video just as well as stills is a real blessing.

In Z6 II fc version it would also be nice to keep the IBIS. But now we're in a different price class and it will be a struggle to keep the package small enough.

Jan Holler's picture

Of course you are right in every aspect. But imagine: A stripped down camera, reduced to the bare minimum. Leave out everything which raises the price but for the rest, use good quality material with a good (established) FF sensor around 16-24MP. I would be very tempted to buy one. - I am just dreaming.

Alec Kinnear's picture

Apart from the sensor size, this Z fc looks to be that camera once we turn the monitor face inside. Hopefully Nikon will make a full sensor version. I'd like one too.

S Browne's picture

I like that idea.

Stuart C's picture

Looks cool, if you enjoy using it then why not. Its better these things are released than not released.

mark evely's picture

Re ----- It lacks the transport handle and returns transport sling

Film Advance lever, Film rewind lever

Doug Blake's picture

Seriously? I have seen this kind of nonsense before. Why would anyone insist on such things in a digital camera just because it has manual dials. It totally misses the point of the camera. It is not a museum piece, it is a functioning modern camera with old school manual controls.

Nando Harmsen's picture

I don't know if you're referring to the film advance lever and film rewind lever, or the camera design itself.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Ah, that is the name for it. I couldn't find the proper translation ;)

jim hughes's picture

In answer to the original question: in any manufactured case object, good visual design IS value.

S Browne's picture

More important than the good visual design, however, is the handling and haptics -- putting the controls in just the right places with the right feel and tactile feedback makes a camera pleasurable to use. Simplicity is also a virtue.

jim hughes's picture

Maybe these are not 2 separate things. Or do not have to be.

Jesus O. Beristain's picture

Nando, thanks for such great article. I am trying to get back to photography, and back in time I used to shoot with an Nikon FM. Times have changed dramatically and now we have wonderful technology at our hands but would be foolish of me to get the Z 7II at once. Although my eyes can't wait for to see and read about the coming Z 9.
I do agree in the points you mention that Nikon could improve. The day I received my camera the first thing I notice was the plastic battery door. In my opinion a aluminum bottom would add more character to the camera. In any case I do love the camera. The one I bought as a kit comes with 16-50mm special edition lens (Silver). Here one small correction: the NIKKOR Z 28mm f/2.8 (SE) is not a DX lens. It is an FX. Probably the reason Nikon send you two cameras; one with a native DX lens, and the other with an FX lens. So you could see the capability of the Z fc of using both lens formats.

I love the pictures you are showing us. You are the first reviewer who uploads great pictures that show the Z fc potential. I feel that I can take great pictures.

I bought also the FTZ adapter and I am using it with the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 D. I do have to lock the lens at F22 otherwise it won't work. But I read in someplace else that Nikon is working in a new adapter; FTZ2. I hope, as many of us, the new adapter will bring full functionality to the F lenses. That would be fantastic!!!

I also got 3 mabual lenses from TTARTISAN; 17mm f1.4, 35 f1.4, and 50mm f1.2. They are not as fancy as the voigtlanders, but not that bad.
In the way is the 50mm f.95 from 7ARTISANS.

Thanks again for the great article.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Thank you for the correction about the Z 28mm. And thanks for the compliments

Daniel Ostler's picture

Very nice, but I'm still looking for in-camera VR (Fuji claims up to 6 stops!!) and a lens strategy that is better than a FTZ whoops! FTZ2 adapter.

M C's picture

I'll stick with my Fuji X-T3 thank-you.P.S. From a former Nikon user.

Kenneth George's picture

Good article and very thorough. I've had at least one Nikon since the early 70's. I love the retro look of the camera. I went digital and updated from a D50 to D70 to D7100 and finally the D850 in 2018 before a big vacation. I loved the photos, but hated the heavy camera and lenses when on vacation. Last Thanksgiving, I opted for the Z50 only with the 16-50, because I wanted a walk-around camera that was more capable than my cell phone for a vacation. I fell in love with the size/weight. Knowing I would probably go Full-Frame mirrorless one day, i got an FX 24-200 before another vacation. That combo made more sense than the 50-250 DX because my normal lens on my old Nikon F2 was a 35mm f/2. I NEED a wide angle on my zoom. I write all this to make a counterpoint... Having a lightweight body makes a huge difference in travel photography. I am able to carry a tiny camera bag with those 2 lenses and I don't get a sore shoulder, nor am I very conspicuous. I'd tell anyone considering this lightweight DX, that you don't need to be stuck with the kit lenses, nor should you only buy DX lenses. Take advantage of the FX lenses and enjoy the lightweight combo. The 24-200mm gives me a 36-300mm equivalent, a great reach. I will get the 40mm/f2 as soon as I can, for the same reason. What a dynamite walk-about portrait combo for an old guy who used to do all portraits with an 85mm/f1.8.
So in summary, go for the body with 16-50 now and build an FX future system around it. Get the 24-200mm. If I didn't already have the Z50, I'd go out and buy the retro Nikon. Get one and enjoy the capabilities of a small package!