Nikon Zf review: updated with video reel and impressions

Product photos by Richard Butler 90%Overall scoreJump to conclusion Nikon's Zf is a full-frame mirrorless camera with classic styling, built around a 24MP BSI CMOS sensor. It's designed to mimic the look of the company's FM2 SLR from the early 1980s, meaning it effectively becomes a full-frame counterpart to the company's Z fc APS-C camera. Key specifications 24MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor In-body image stabilization rated up to 8EV Dedicated Monochrome mode Up to 14fps continuous shooting (JPEG), 11 fps Raw 'C30' JPEG-only 30fps mode with pre-burst function AF system with tracking and recognition of 9 subject types 4K/30 video from 6K capture, 4K/60 with crop, 10-bit N-Log recording 32-shot high-res mode to give 96MP images SD and MicroSD card slots The Zf sells at a recommended price of $2000, the same as the launch price of the Nikon Z6 II, which gives a reasonable idea of the camera's ambitions. Buy now: $1997 at Amazon $1997 at B&H Photo $1997 kit at Adorama Index: What's new? How it compares Body and controls Initial impressions Operation and handling Image quality Autofocus Video Sample video Conclusion Sample gallery Specifications Press release Sept 20: Initial review published Jan 15: Operation and handling, Image quality, Autofocus, Video, Conclusion and updated Sample gallery published Feb 12: Sample video and video experience section added What's new? Sensor/Processor Nikon isn't making any claims about the Zf's 24MP BSI CMOS sensor being new and, other than wider AF coverage, most of its performance appears to be consistent with the elderly but well-respected sensor in the Z6 II.Recent Videos The adoption of the latest 'Expeed 7' processor brings significant changes, though. For a start, it brings subject recognition to the camera's AF system as well as a Z9-like implementation of the company's '3D Tracking' along with the 9-type subject recognition system. In addition, there's context-sensitive noise reduction that more aggressively smooths areas that appear not to have detail. It's this noise reduction in the JPEGs and HEIF files that convinced Nikon to let the camera's ISO range expand up to 204,800 (the unexpanded limit also rises to 64,000). The move to the latest processor also allows the Zf to capture Raw files compressed with the more efficient High Efficiency compression system we first saw on the Z9. The Zf can shoot at up to 11fps in Raw (in Continuous High Extended mode, that we suspect won't include live view refreshes between shots), and up to 15 or 14fps depending on the use of electronic or mechanical shutter for JPEG mode. There's also a JPEG-only 'C30' mode that uses a video stream to shoot 30fps images, with a pre-burst option like that on the Z8 and Z9. B&W mode Commanding its own position on the control that selects between stills and video shooting, the camera's black and white mode gives a choice of mono profiles, including a low-contrast 'Flat mono' and 'Deep tone mono' that accentuates red details in the scene. These profiles can be applied to both still images and video footage, and emphasize Nikon's focus on the creative process. Video capabilities Unlike the Df, which promised photographic purity by omitting any video features, the Zf is a pretty capable video machine. It can shoot up to 4K/60 from an APS-C (DX in Nikon speak) crop of the sensor or can capture 4K up to 30p from the full 6K pixel width of its sensor. The camera we used was pre-production but the 22ms rolling shutter we measured for 30p capture is consistent with the existing sensor in the Z6 models. We doubt it's a coincidence that Panasonic's S5 II models also have to crop into an APS-C region to deliver 60p capture while showing similar readout speeds. It also adds waveforms, which helps, when trying to assess exposure for video, especially now that we have 10-bit internal capture, allowing Log recording. Multi-shot pixel shift Nikon joins the ranks of camera makers using its image stabilization system to offer a multi-shot pixel shift mode, moving the sensor by precise degrees to ensure the capture of each color at every pixel location or in fractions of a pixel to boost the resolution of the output image. Nikon's system offers four modes, all of which require that Raw files be combined in desktop software: a four-shot mode that captures full color at each pixel, an 8-shot mode that does this twice, to further improve tonal quality and noise, a 16-shot mode that also boosts image resolution 96MP, and then a 32-image version that repeats the process, again boosting noise/tonal performance. Image Stabilization linked to AF point As companies try to maximize the performance of their IS systems, it's becoming more and more difficult to offer further improvements. Nikon says the Zf's performance has been improved by linking the IS system to the chosen autofocus point. The logic is that pitch and yaw movements (tilting up/down and rotation to the left and right) cause greater shifts in the im

Feb 13, 2024 - 04:30
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Nikon Zf review: updated with video reel and impressions
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Product photos by Richard Butler

Nikon's Zf is a full-frame mirrorless camera with classic styling, built around a 24MP BSI CMOS sensor. It's designed to mimic the look of the company's FM2 SLR from the early 1980s, meaning it effectively becomes a full-frame counterpart to the company's Z fc APS-C camera.

Key specifications

  • 24MP full-frame BSI CMOS sensor
  • In-body image stabilization rated up to 8EV
  • Dedicated Monochrome mode
  • Up to 14fps continuous shooting (JPEG), 11 fps Raw
  • 'C30' JPEG-only 30fps mode with pre-burst function
  • AF system with tracking and recognition of 9 subject types
  • 4K/30 video from 6K capture, 4K/60 with crop, 10-bit N-Log recording
  • 32-shot high-res mode to give 96MP images
  • SD and MicroSD card slots

The Zf sells at a recommended price of $2000, the same as the launch price of the Nikon Z6 II, which gives a reasonable idea of the camera's ambitions.


Buy now:



  • Sept 20: Initial review published
  • Jan 15: Operation and handling, Image quality, Autofocus, Video, Conclusion and updated Sample gallery published
  • Feb 12: Sample video and video experience section added

What's new?

Sensor/Processor

Nikon isn't making any claims about the Zf's 24MP BSI CMOS sensor being new and, other than wider AF coverage, most of its performance appears to be consistent with the elderly but well-respected sensor in the Z6 II.

Recent Videos

The adoption of the latest 'Expeed 7' processor brings significant changes, though. For a start, it brings subject recognition to the camera's AF system as well as a Z9-like implementation of the company's '3D Tracking' along with the 9-type subject recognition system. In addition, there's context-sensitive noise reduction that more aggressively smooths areas that appear not to have detail. It's this noise reduction in the JPEGs and HEIF files that convinced Nikon to let the camera's ISO range expand up to 204,800 (the unexpanded limit also rises to 64,000).

The move to the latest processor also allows the Zf to capture Raw files compressed with the more efficient High Efficiency compression system we first saw on the Z9.

The Zf can shoot at up to 11fps in Raw (in Continuous High Extended mode, that we suspect won't include live view refreshes between shots), and up to 15 or 14fps depending on the use of electronic or mechanical shutter for JPEG mode. There's also a JPEG-only 'C30' mode that uses a video stream to shoot 30fps images, with a pre-burst option like that on the Z8 and Z9.

B&W mode

Commanding its own position on the control that selects between stills and video shooting, the camera's black and white mode gives a choice of mono profiles, including a low-contrast 'Flat mono' and 'Deep tone mono' that accentuates red details in the scene. These profiles can be applied to both still images and video footage, and emphasize Nikon's focus on the creative process.

Video capabilities

Unlike the Df, which promised photographic purity by omitting any video features, the Zf is a pretty capable video machine. It can shoot up to 4K/60 from an APS-C (DX in Nikon speak) crop of the sensor or can capture 4K up to 30p from the full 6K pixel width of its sensor.

The camera we used was pre-production but the 22ms rolling shutter we measured for 30p capture is consistent with the existing sensor in the Z6 models. We doubt it's a coincidence that Panasonic's S5 II models also have to crop into an APS-C region to deliver 60p capture while showing similar readout speeds.

It also adds waveforms, which helps, when trying to assess exposure for video, especially now that we have 10-bit internal capture, allowing Log recording.

Multi-shot pixel shift

Nikon joins the ranks of camera makers using its image stabilization system to offer a multi-shot pixel shift mode, moving the sensor by precise degrees to ensure the capture of each color at every pixel location or in fractions of a pixel to boost the resolution of the output image. Nikon's system offers four modes, all of which require that Raw files be combined in desktop software: a four-shot mode that captures full color at each pixel, an 8-shot mode that does this twice, to further improve tonal quality and noise, a 16-shot mode that also boosts image resolution 96MP, and then a 32-image version that repeats the process, again boosting noise/tonal performance.

Image Stabilization linked to AF point

As companies try to maximize the performance of their IS systems, it's becoming more and more difficult to offer further improvements. Nikon says the Zf's performance has been improved by linking the IS system to the chosen autofocus point.

The logic is that pitch and yaw movements (tilting up/down and rotation to the left and right) cause greater shifts in the image away from the center, particularly when using wide-angle lenses. The Zf's IBIS system can use the chosen AF point as the central point of its corrections, rather than the center of the image, helping to provide more effective stabilization when using off-center AF points with wide lenses. This approach should help maintain sharpness at the point you're focused on, helping the camera to its 8EV stabilization rating, when tested to the CIPA standard.


How it compares

The Zf arrives in the hotly contested ∼$2000 corner of the market, where there are plenty of very capable full-frame options available. What's interesting to note is that, while its styling brings something you won't get from its immediate rivals, Nikon hasn't used this as an excuse to offer a lesser specification.

Other than the space-saving decisions around card type and their location in the camera, the Zf appears perfectly competitive.

Nikon Zf Sony a7 IV Canon EOS R6 II Panasonic Lumix S5 II Nikon Z6 II
MSRP at launch $2000 $2500 $2500 $2000 $2000
Sensor size Full-frame Full-frame Full-frame Full-frame Full-frame
Resolution 24MP 33MP 24MP 24MP 24MP
Stabilization (up to) 8EV 5.5EV 8EV (with lens IS) 5EV (6.5EV with lens. IS) 5.5EV
Burst rate 11 fps Raw
14 fps JPEG
(15 e-shutter)
30fps in C30 JPEG mode
10 fps 12 fps (40 fps e-shutter) 7 fps (30 fps e-shutter) 14 fps
Viewfinder res / mag 3.68M dot OLED
0.8x
3.68M dot OLED
0.78x
3.68M dot OLED
0.76x
3.68M dot OLED
0.78x
3.69M dot OLED
0.8x
Rear screen 2.1M dot
fully articulated
1.04M dot fully-articulated 1.62M dot fully-articulated 1.84M dot fully-articulated 2.1M dot tilting
Video 4K/30p full width*
4K/60p APS-C
4K/30p full width*
4K/60p APS-C
4K/60p full width*
4K/60p APS-C
6.2K/30p (3:2)
5.9K/30p
4K/30p full width*
4K/60p APS-C
4K/30p full width*
4K/60p APS-C
10-bit modes N-Log, HLG (HDR) S-Log3
HLG (HDR)
C-Log2
HDR PQ
V-Log
HLG
Over HDMI
Rolling shutter (4K/24) 22ms 27ms 17ms 21ms 22ms
Storage 1x UHS-II SD
1x UHS-I Micro SD
1x CFe Type A / UHS-II SD
1x UHS-II SD
2 x UHS-II SD 2 x UHS-II SD 1x CFe Type B
1x UHS-II SD
Battery life
LCD / EVF
380 / 360 580 / 520 580 / 320 370 / 370 410 / 340
Dimensions 144 x 103 x 49mm 131 x 96 x 80mm 138 x 98 x 88mm 134 x 102 x 90mm 134 x 101 x 70mm
Weight 710g (25.0oz) 659g (23.3 oz) 670g (23.6 oz) 740g (26.1oz) 705g (24.9 oz)
*Oversampled, using all horizontal pixels to produce 4K footage from 6K capture (7K on a7 IV). The Canon EOS R6 II offers oversampled 4K at up to 60p.

Body and controls

The most obvious thing to say about the Zf's body is that it very closely resembles the Nikon FM2 film camera from the 1980s. Placed side-by-side it's apparent the new camera is larger but the proportions have been kept, so it still looks the part.

The Zf has primarily magnesium alloy construction (with some plastic panels to act as a radio window to let the Wi-Fi work), which Nikon says is 'dust and drip resistant.' Its adherence to the traditional look means that there's no protruding hand grip yet, like the FM2 and cameras of its vintage, it can be used quite comfortably. The few millimeters of added depth don't make it hard to grasp and the dials feel well-positioned such that they can be operated without feeling like you're going to drop the camera.

There was some criticism of the smaller Z fc, that its light weight made it feel flimsy, an impression compounded by rather plasticky dials. The added heft of the Zf avoids this problem: it feels more substantial and the feel of the controls is consistent with that.

Card slots

Perhaps the most baffling decision on the Zf: two card slots hidden in the battery compartment, one of which is a UHS-I Micro SD slot.

Nikon has given the Zf two card slots, but to keep its size under control, has opted to make the second card slot a MicroSD type. These are pretty small and can be fiddly to insert and remove from the camera, so it might make sense to leave a fast microSD card in the camera at all times as overflow, rather than planning on removing it too often. That said, while the SD slot is UHS II compatible, the Micro SD is only UHS I.

The slots are positioned next to one another in the battery compartment, adding an extra layer of inconvenience, especially for tripod users, though the speed of the USB-C port means it's easy enough to get data off the camera or power into it, without accessing the underside door at all.

Viewfinder

The Zf has a 3.68M dot EVF, which is not especially high by today's standards. Without the super-fast dedicated readout path that the Z8's sensor offers, it can't match the near-zero-lag experience that that camera does. Overall, it's a pretty middling viewfinder experience, but one definitely improved by the pretty good 0.8x magnification.

Screen

The Zf's rear touchscreen is fully articulated: a choice that made more sense on the more video and social media-focused Z fc. It's a 2.1M dot LCD that we found to work well even in bright light, but I suspect we won't be alone in having preferred the two-way tilt arrangement of the Z8's screen, which could potentially have made the camera a fraction slimmer.

Battery

The Zf uses the same EN-EL15c battery as the majority of Nikon's mid-range cameras, which powers it to a respectable rating of 380 shots per charge (LCD) and 360 shots per charge (EVF). These numbers rise to 430 and 410 shots per charge if you turn energy saving mode on. It's rechargeable over the camera's USB C port, of which, unlike the Z8, there's just one.

Unlike the Z6 II, there's no option to mount a battery grip to the Zf.


Initial impressions

By Richard Butler
Published Sept 20 2023

When Nikon introduced the smaller-sensor Z fc model, it made very clear that it was a camera designed for social media content creators, hoping to attract some of the younger photographers who've perhaps learned the craft on second-hand 70s and 80s film SLRs. But Nikon can't have missed the number of established photo enthusiasts who said they wanted a full-frame version.

That said, Nikon is also likely to remember that the initial buzz generated by the teaser videos for its last retro full-framer (the rather half-baked Df) didn't turn into the sales success it was hoping for.

However, where the Df was a rather misproportioned lump that commanded a significant premium over the D610 on which it was heavily based, the Zf is an altogether more handsome affair (and if you're aiming to attract a style-conscious audience, that matters), and one that out-specs the Z6 II while selling for the same price.

In fact, in the absence of a Z6 III, the Zf becomes the company's best-specced camera around the high-contested $2K price point. It still seems to use the same image sensor as the previous Z6s but features the newer Expeed 7 processor from the Z9 and Z8, which brings updates such as the mirrorless camera implementation of the company's '3D Tracking' system.

"In the absence of a Z6 III, the Zf becomes the company's best-specced camera around the high-contested $2K price point"

These days we can simply call it 'tracking,' as the majority of brands have now adopted a comparable approach of simply following whatever is under your chosen AF point (or near to it, in the case of most subject recognition systems). It's such an obvious approach that, for once, the term 'intuitive' might almost be appropriate, but the idea of integrating tracking into the main AF interface really started with Nikon, so it's great to see the Zf catch up to the 'best practice' approach that Nikon itself pioneered.

Multiple multi-shot modes

In a more reactive manner, Nikon has also become one of the last brands to add a multi-shot high-res mode to its camera. Multi-shot modes that try to cancel out the effect of the Bayer filter or oversample the scene to produce more detailed images have become increasingly common as engineers look for ways to exploit the presence of in-body stabilization mechanisms.

In many instances, they're not terribly useful: often requiring tripods and near-static subjects, with a combination of images often requiring proprietary desktop software. There are clearly lots of patents protecting different implementations, as almost every brand appears to take its own approach (in terms of the number of shots and degree of in-camera processing).

The Zf offers a range of modes, including one that takes a staggering 32 images, collected in around four seconds, to deliver a 96MP final image. That's a long time during which your subject might move, which undermines its usefulness, but there are at least other options if your subject doesn't include much motion. So, perhaps primarily in the interest of people who like to wage brand wars over the obscure ends of the spec sheets, Nikon now offers the feature.

In use the Zf was enjoyable during the period I got to use it. The distinctive styling was something of a curse, given Nikon's concerns about it being seen out in the wild, but from today onwards, it's more likely to be an asset. The camera I used was the all-black version, but six other leatherette color schemes will also be available. There's no news of a silver/black version. It's not clear whether this is because of the challenge of delivering matched silvers across different materials to maintain the camera's premium character or because Nikon plans a special edition at some point in the future.

The pre-production camera I was using started to show temperature warnings after around two hours of stills shooting, but it should be noted that I was shooting in 32°C (90°F) conditions, often in direct sunshine. It didn't get warm enough to start a countdown to auto shutoff, though.

AF tracking isn't as sticky as with the Z8 and Z9. This isn't a huge surprise but, for instance, when I tried to pick out a particular part of a flower, the Zf's tracking target would sometimes wander off the specific detail I'd been wanting it to track. Performance with a recognized subject appeared excellent, though, with seemingly unerring tracking of eyes, for instance.

Ultimately, though, the Zf moves things forward from the Z6 II and finally seems to deliver the camera that so many people hoped the Df would be. Now if only the barriers to Sigma introducing its compact, aperture ring-sporting i-series primes for Z-mount could be overcome, then things would get very interesting indeed.


Buy now:


Operation and handling

It's been interesting to encounter such a squared off camera after decades of increasingly large stick-out grips. The Zf's weight and squareness meant I found it would cut into my little finger if I didn't make a conscious effort to maintain most of the weight using my left hand, supporting the lens. This was particularly acute when the Zf was combined with a heavier lens, such as the 24-70mm F2.8.

We also found the Zf offers a little less customization than we'd expect of a camera at this level. The Zf appears to have five customizable buttons, as the Z6 II does, but one of these is the Playback button, effectively leaving you with four if you actually want to be able to review your images. Similarly, the Zf includes the usual options to change exposure comp without pressing a button, and letting you choose whether the front or rear command dial changes the setting, but these only have any function if the dedicated exposure comp dial is deactivated by turning it to its 'C' position, so for much of the time one of the camera's command dials has no function. No one has considered letting you assign ISO to a command dial, for instance, so quick access to ISO requires a button press and takes up one of your precious custom buttons, and again this button stops working if you select a specific ISO value from the dial. Oddly, this means you also lose the ability to disengage or engage Auto ISO, if you turn the ISO dial. The overall effect is quirky, to say the least.

The dials play a central part in the camera's retro appeal but the way they interact with some button and dial functions takes some getting used to.

Unlike previous Nikons, there's no way to quickly access the 'minimum shutter speed' value if you use Auto ISO. Some previous models let you assign this option to the camera's My Menu list, meaning you could gain quick access by setting a custom button to 'Access top item in My Menu,' but the Zf doesn't allow this. Overall it feels like no one has really thought through the full impact or opportunity of adding the dedicated shutter speed and exposure comp dials to the camera.

Combine all this with the lack of AF joystick – the four-way controller defaults to AF point positioning but isn't as quick or as well-positioned – and the Zf is not as fast or fluid a camera to use as the Z6s were, nor the likes of Panasonic's S5 II, its most closely-priced competitor.

It gets a lot right, though: its on-screen interface is relatively clean, in an era succumbing to increased clutter, and the menus are pretty well laid out, albeit very, very long. It's hard to escape the suspicion that the same components in the form of a Z6 III would be a much more effective photographic tool. Albeit one that's nothing like as pretty.


Image quality

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

The Nikon Zf is based on the widely-used 24MP BSI CMOS sensor, so there are no great surprises to its image quality. In terms of detail capture, it does exactly as you'd expect a 24MP sensor to. And the performance both at moderately high and very high ISO is very good, as you'd expect.

Nikon's default JPEG sharpening is very large radius, so it appears to be capturing much less detail than its peers (even though we know from the Raws that this isn't the case). Color exhibits standard Nikon response with lots of punch and saturation. Yellows are vibrant with no green or orange tint but the pink closest to a generic caucasian skintone is notably brighter and more pink than either the Sony or Canon renderings. We tried to include plenty of portraits in the gallery so you can decide what you think of this.

The Zf's noise reduction at high ISO smooths away noise pretty well but takes a lot of the fine detail with it. Overall it's a very similar performance to the Z6 II, which we really liked.

Dynamic range

Again there are no surprises from the Zf's sensor. It's been around for a few years, but we've not encountered any chips that are significantly better in a mid-priced camera. At base ISO the camera adds very little noise, so there's scope to reduce exposure to protect highlights, with the reduction in exposure being the main source of noise and the limit on how far you can push things. Its dual gain design means there's even less shadow noise from ISO 800 upwards, and minimal benefit to increasing the ISO above that point. In low light scenes with bright highlights, underexposing ISO 800 by three stops and then brightening should give similar noise to ISO 6400 but with three additional stops of highlights preserved in the Raw.

White balance in the real world

Auto WB (Keep overall atmosphere) Reprocessed in-camera: Natural light Auto WB

The camera’s auto white balance lets you decide how completely the camera tries to cancel-out the effect of the color of the light you’re shooting under. It defaults to ‘Keep overall atmosphere,’ with a more extreme ‘Keep white (reduce warm colors)’ option or a less severe ‘Keep warm lighting colors’ setting. We found the last of these to give the nicest results: even the default middle-ground setting can tend to render subjects a little cold/blue. There’s also a ‘Natural light Auto’ mode that works better for outdoor shooting. It’s definitely worth switching to this mode when you know you’ll be shooting outdoors, but it’s bit of a disappointment that the standard auto mode isn’t as set-and-forget as you might hope.


Autofocus

The Nikon Zf is the first mirrorless model to include 3D Tracking autofocus but not have a super-fast readout Stacked CMOS sensor to drive it. The distinction between this and the tracking on previous models is twofold: firstly it's an AF area mode, just like any other, rather an optional feature engaged separately from area modes and, secondly, it doesn't need to be disengaged once initiated: release the AF-On or shutter button and the AF point reverts to wherever it was originally placed: no 'cancel' required and no resetting to the center of the scene.

The Nikon Zf’s AF tracking is generally very good and noticeably improved, compared with the previous generation models, such as the Z6 II and Z5. The 3D tracking mode does a good job of staying on the target you’d pointed it at. The performance improves still further if you select one of the camera’s subject recognition modes to run alongside it.

In our basic AF tracking test the basic 3D tracking mode would tend to lose track of the subject as it passed through one of the corners (where the subject’s approach rate changes, as well as its direction). It would typically find the subject again when it returned near to the center of the frame, where the AF was initially placed. This was a somewhat surprising result, as we didn't encounter this often in our more general shooting. The camera gave the same result repeatedly, though, which suggests performance can vary with subject.

However, engaging human/face detection ensured the camera didn’t ever lose the subject. It continued to work, regardless of whether the subject was wearing dark glasses, obscuring part of the face.

However, it’s also noticeable that portraits taken with face detection aren’t always perfectly focused on the eye itself. The camera’s detection and the persistence of its tracking is very good but the precision isn’t always as high as some of its immediate peers, with a tendency to focus just in front of the eye itself. That said, eye detection and the way it respects the selected AF point make it a really valuable feature on the camera, meaning you can focus on the camera’s other settings and on interacting with your subject, rather than having to think about focus.

The improved AF tracking extends to video mode, where it was recognizably weaker on previous models. Overall we got the sense that the Zf’s autofocus doesn’t quite match the pro-level performance of the Z8 and Z9 but brings Nikon’s AF behavior and handling to the point it’s very competitive with its rivals.


Video

Despite the 80's styling, the Zf has mic and headphone sockets to support its pretty capable video feature set. The HDMI socket is of the rather sensitive 'micro' variety, so we wouldn't plan on making it the center of our workflow.

The Zf's 24MP sensor was one of the first full-frame sensors from which manufacturers squeezed 4K footage. It reads out quickly enough that the Zf can deliver 4K video derived from 6K capture at up to 30p or it can shoot 60p if you crop into an APS-C region of the sensor ('DX' in Nikon's terminology).

But the Zf does more with the sensor than the Z6 or Z6 II did, gaining internal 10-bit capture with Log and HLG recording, giving more flexibility to the editing and output options. It also gains waveform displays for helping you expose your Log footage, making it a much more usable video camera.

The Zf's 24p footage is more detailed than it was from the Nikon Z6 II, but it becomes noticeably less sharp in its 60p mode. You probably wouldn't notice this difference, intercutting between footage from the two, but the smaller capture region used for 60p will mean it gets noisier, faster, as will the need to use shorter exposures, so for indoor shooting, expect cuts to slowed-down 60p to have a little extra graininess to them.

Rolling shutter for the full-width footage measures around 22ms. This is reasonable (Panasonic's high-end, video-centric S1H from a few years ago gives a very similar performance), but it's not great. 22ms is slow enough that attempts to pan the camera or capture fast movement across the frame will see vertical lines become horizontally skewed, and this distortion can interact badly with the camera's attempt to shift the sensor to stabilize its footage, causing slight jitter in the footage.

The use of a relatively slow UHS-I Micro SD card as the camera's second memory card slot means it's not really practical to leave a card in the smaller slot and use it as internal memory for shooting video to. You can shoot video to the SD slot and stills to Micro SD but you risk blunting the camera's performance that way.

Image stabilization

The camera's image stabilization is pretty good, with digital stabilization applying a 1.25x crop that gives the camera room to move that crop around within the video capture region in order to cancel out unintended motion. The stabilization is quite smooth, gently drifting around rather than trying to maintain a tripod-like lock on proceedings. But, as mentioned, there is some vertical jitter introduced when stabilization is active, presumably as the camera moves the region its capturing while the existing area was still being read-out.

Sample video

We shot this video entirely handheld and you can see the camera does a good job of stabilizing the image. However, you can definitely notice the jitter that gets introduced by eVR in the clips where we're moving the camera to keep pace with our subject.

All shots in the video were also taken using autofocus, using custom-shaped AF areas and, where appropriate, human detection. We reduced the AF speed and nudged the AF target box to conduct the far-to-near focus pull in the middle of the video, but most other shots were left at the default focus speed, and the camera did a good job of maintaining focus without drawing attention to any changes in focusing distance.

The camera's waveform monitor was particularly useful for exposing the N-Log footage used on the ferry, where there's a vast difference in brightness between the overcast grey outside and the low-lit interior. Nikon hasn't yet published a LUT for the Zf's implementation of N-Log, so we had to use the one for the Z6 II, which pushes the highlights very bright and the shadows quite dark, so it's hard to assess how well exposed these clips are, but the waveform display meant we were able to protect the highlights from clipping.

Overall the Zf was a more capable video camera to shoot with than its retro styling might suggest.


Conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Excellent image quality
  • Very good autofocus
  • Very strong video feature set
  • Classic styling
  • Dedicated controls whose setting can be read even with the camera switched off
  • Reasonable level of direct control
  • Decent battery life
  • $40 SmallRig grip (initially bundled in some markets) improves handling
  • Good set of features (time-lapse, focus bracketing, pixel shift high-res, multiple exposures...)
  • Interaction between dials and button functions often peculiar
  • No quick access to Auto ISO settings
  • Use of slow Micro SD reduces the value of second card slot
  • Body becomes uncomfortable with large lenses
  • Limited choice of small lenses or options with aperture rings
  • Cards in battery compartment are inaccessible when on a tripod
  • Some vertical jitter in video footage with electronic VR engaged
  • Multi-shot high res combined off-camera with no motion correction

The Nikon Zf looks a lot like the camera everyone was hoping the Df would be: a cutting-edge camera styled to look like one of Nikon's classic models from the early 80s, without too much additional size or weight. And I think most people would agree it succeeds spectacularly from an aesthetic perspective.

We're a little less convinced when it comes to the camera's handling. Even compared with the cameras it's modeled on, the Zf can become uncomfortable to hold after a while, and we found it hard to shake the perception that Nikon's engineers hadn't really thought-through the full implications of having dedicated dials when they copied over most behaviors from their other cameras.

The Zf is a lovely camera to sling over your shoulder when you're out for the day. Until you mount a heavy lens on the front.

Nikkor Z 24-70mm F2.8 S @ 40mm | F5.6 | 1/100 sec | ISO 100
Processed in Adobe Camera Raw: straightened, highlights reduced, white balance adjusted
Photo: Richard Butler

The Zf works less and less well, the larger the lens you mount on it, and Nikon's range of lenses doesn't have many small, light options. Worse still, there's plenty to suggest that it's blocking third-party makers from filling that gap. Relatedly, Nikon's Z lenses tend not to have aperture rings, but the Zf mimics the control layout of cameras from a system in which they did, which isn't ideal.

So, while the Nikon offers a distinct image quality benefit over the likes of Fujifilm's X-T series, the Fujifilm cameras have size, weight and a wide choice of small lenses with aperture rings on their side. This and a higher level of operational consistency has the unfortunate effect of showing how this concept can be delivered more successfully.

Improved autofocus tracking and subject recognition give the Zf a distinct edge over previous mid-range Z series cameras.

Nikkor Z 85mm F1.8 S | F8.0 | 1/160 sec | ISO 720
Photo: Richard Butler

The Zf's performance is very good, though. It's built around a excellent, well-proven sensor and delivers very good autofocus performance, particularly with subject recognition engaged. It's also a remarkably capable video camera, providing a level of flexibility and capability that its classic styling might otherwise disguise. Again this was supported by its much-improved autofocus.

We're sure a lot of enthusiast photographers will happily work around the Zf's quirks and oddities, in return for getting to own and use a camera that has so much character to it, and they won't be let down by the photos it produces. But having used Fujifilm X-T cameras so much, and knowing what the likes of Sigma's i-series lenses would add, it's hard not to contemplate what might have been.

Speaking as someone for whom the Zf's styling has a powerful resonance, I thought I was going to love this camera. But having used it for several months, my head says Silver, even though my heart says Gold.


Scoring

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category. Click here to learn about what these numbers mean.

Nikon Zf
Category: Mid Range Full Frame Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Nikon Zf is a camera whose image quality and performance live up to its stylish looks, but its handling and operation isn't always quite as slick. Paired with smaller, lighter lenses, it's a joy, but your Z-mount options are somewhat limited at present.
Good for
Enthusiast photographers for whom style and design matter
Not so good for
Photographers using longer lenses or needing constant quick settings changes
90%
Overall score

Compared to its peers

The Canon EOS R6 II is still the camera to beat in this class. It's more expensive than the Nikon and no longer offers such an advantage in terms of autofocus, but it can shoot full-width 4K/60p, can capture faster bursts and is simply nicer from a handling and operation perspective. Both cameras are restricted to relatively limited lens ranges, with Nikon at least allowing some third-party options in, but it's worth checking that the lenses you want are available at reasonable prices before opting for either camera.

The Sony a7 IV is another strong contender at this price. It offers slightly higher resolution (and more sophisticated JPEG processes emphasize the difference) and slightly more dependable autofocus than the Nikon. It's not especially strong as a video camera, though, and costs more than the Zf, making it a slightly less capable all-rounder. The wider choice of lenses comes out clearly in favor of the Sony, with the likes of Sigma's affordable i Series optics making a great match.

The i Series lenses are also available for the L-mount used by Panasonic's S5 II and S5 II X. The operation and handling of the Panasonic pair are also significantly nicer than those of the Nikon. However, even with phase detect AF having been added to the S5 II, the Zf has a simpler and more dependable AF system than the Panasonics. And, perhaps unexpectedly, the Nikon's video capabilities are a good match for those of the S5 II, so overall we found the Nikon to be that bit more usable.

Finally, it's worth considering the comparison with Fujifilm's similarly-styled X-T5. The Fujifilm is based around a smaller sensor, giving the Nikon an immediate image quality advantage and greater flexibility in terms of depth-of-field. The X-T5 is also arguably less good at video: it seems to offer better specs on paper but varying crops and rolling shutter means that advantage disappears when the bits hit the memory card. But the Fujifilm is nicer to use, despite its ostensibly similar control ethos, and the smaller size, lighter weight and slight front bulge make it more comfortable to use. And, of course, the X-mount offers many, many more lenses, including a vast range of primes, that work well on the X-T5. On balance it's a more difficult choice than it might initially seem.


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