Time Travel

This is a story about a camera manufacturer going back in time…for the most part, it’s a success but there are things that don’t quite hit-the-mark.

NIKON decided to ride the ‘retro’ bandwagon back in 2013 with the full-frame Df, then again in 2021 with the release of the ‘DX’ format Zfc. This was a modern half-frame digital camera using the Z series mount, loosely based on the NIKON FM from 1977.

Available in ‘panda’ chrome and black, black, or in Japan a series of garish colors, the camera has a 20Mp sensor and uses the EL-25 battery.

The camera was/is relatively popular, more for its size than any technology that it brings to the market place. The sensor, however, doesn’t benefit from the 5 axis stabilisation that the most of the other Z series bodies have, which makes it relatively uninteresting to me.

Leap forward two years to 2023 and its bigger brother, the Zf, was announced and launched in October. Sadly this doesn’t seem (yet?) to be available in ‘panda’ form – but to me at least it’s pretty nice in black…but then every NIKON camera I have ever owned has been black…

There’s not a lot to choose from, in these two images, but the Zf is 10mm higher and wider, but only 6mm deeper than it’s half-frame brother.

Sadly, the same fundamental flaw, IMHO has been carried over from one to the other – there’s no GRIP – this is caused by the battery compartment in the Z series camera bodies, but in the Zf the battery is mounted laterally within the depth of the body – oh yes, there’s a slight ‘bump’ to the front right (very slightly deeper on the Zf), but it takes the addition of a SMALLRIG ‘grip’ to actually resolve this error and stop the camera from slipping out of the hand.

The SMALLRIG grip also adds an ARCA style plate underneath the camera for accessories and attaching to a tripod. (Something which needs to be BUILT IN to the bottom plate of ALL cameras IMO) A similar model exists for the Zfc.

The top plate has the same dials on both cameras, but the more recent body has full image stabilization, which makes one wonder why NIKON seem to be leaving the ‘DX’ market a little by the side of the road.

Another strange thing is that while the VR and stabilization system in general has been redesigned, NIKON in their wisdom have decided NOT to lock down the sensor mounting when the camera is turned off – this means that ‘clunks’ can be heard when the camera is being moved around while turned off… only long term use will show if this is a potentiel problem or not. Early days…

A limited series of two ‘SE’ lenses have been produced to match the retro style of the camera – a 28mm f/2.8 and a 40mm f/2.8

Both exist as ‘normal’ Z series lenses as well (slightly cheaper)

The Zf loses a lot of non-menu functionality in that there is only one Fn button (on the front), and no positions on any of the knobs to change user settings (U1 – U3 on the Z6 etc.)This is plainly a photographers camera – not a working pro, but a street, portrait, landscape photographer who uses a similar setup pretty much all the time – having to delve into the menus for any modifications is a total pain – the fact that there are large knobs on the top plate make this an obvious candidate for an experienced photographer who ‘knows’ his camera and doesn’t spend his time changing settings when he’s in any given shooting situation.

The auto-ISO system is up to standard for NIKON and the Zf also has 3D tracking added to the possible AF modes.

Another very nice enhancement is the pivot for the rear screen – this now allows the screen to be turned round on itself which provides a black textured plastic ‘back’ to the camera. The new pivot also allows the screen to be pivoted round and allows it to be seen from the front – a NIKON first !!

I like the idea of hiding the screen – I rarely look at the screen in shooting situations anyway, as pretty much all I need is directly available to me in the viewfinder – why take my eye away when I can check everything anyway.

The shutter release has a threaded hole on top – initially I imagined this was for a cable release (go retro!) but it seems it’s actually just meant for a ‘soft’ shutter button… I think they should have gone the whole way here.

The third knob on the top plate is for exposure correction – something vital for me when I’m out making images, so I’m glad it’s in a prominent place and not hidden as a menu item.

Both cameras are capable of video at 4K or full HD/120p – this all sounds wonderful but I have absolutely no idea what it all means – I have enough trouble with capturing static images, so don’t start talking about video…

There’s a fully mechanical (electronically controlled) shutter with a ‘silent’ mode (which basically just means an electronic front curtain shutter, so the camera can work in ‘stealth’ mode but hasn’t got the same shutter as the Z8 for example.)

Sadly there is no sensor shield, which I’m used to on the Z8/9 and I’m convinced prevent a lot of dust and rubbish getting into the throat of the camera while changing lenses.I can’t help thinking that these evolutions will eventually filter down, but for the time being they’re being kept for the pro range of camera bodies.

Like the Z6lll & Z8 this camera also has the possibility to ‘pixel shift’ which means (for static subjects) images of up to 96Mp can be recorded – details of pixel shift are best found here on the NIKON site or here in my blog .

The Zf does however have the EXCEED 7 processing engine, like the new Z6lll and the Z8/Z9 which means it gets the data off the sensor and onto the card/s pretty damn fast – allowing very respectable ‘rafale’ of 14fps. The storage cards are 1 x SDXC and 1 x Micro SDXC – so get a fast microSD if you use the slot otherwise the transfer times will be slower (even if you’re not using the card – everything is determined by the speed of the slowest card.)

Finally the battery is the EL-E15c which is comforting – particularly when you’ve got a host of other bodies using the same battery ! This can be charged in the camera (useful as a charger is no longer supplied with new cameras here in Europe) More details on how long this lasts/how many shots per charge later…