Nikon already had a long, illustrious history in cameras before its first digital model came off the production line – and its new camera harks back to the 20th century in a bid to stand out from the pack.
The Z fc is technically very similar to the Z50, Nikon’s first mirrorless model, but clads its modern innards in an oh-so-retro coat: the leatherette wrap, circular viewfinder, chunky dials and angular body conjure the spirit of the company’s classic FE 35mm camera, first launched back in 1978. It might be tempting to dismiss this as a lazy ploy to rebadge the Z50 for a new style-conscious market but as we’ll see, the Z fc manages to create its own identity and carve its own niche in Nikon’s burgeoning mirrorless line-up.
Design: Old school, new tricks
Old cameras could be heavy, and thankfully that’s one trait that hasn’t been ported over from the FE. The Z fc’s body is constructed from lightweight magnesium alloy covered in a high-quality metal-effect plastic, and that keeps it surprisingly lightweight: just 445g sans lens.
Speaking of which, we reviewed the camera with a new 15-60mm lens designed specifically to fit in with the Z fc’s styling (you can buy the kit for £1,039), and it’s compact and lightweight too. The portable build makes this an ideal travel or street photography camera, and Nikon has spared some thought for vloggers and selfie addicts too: the fully articulated screen can flip frontwards for easy self-shooting, and that’s a big step up from the Z50’s odd flip-down screen (which got blocked by vlogging handles, tripods and the like).
The camera shape isn’t as ergonomic as modern DSLR-style bodies, but you’d know that going in: this is a retro model, and while it might not have a huge moulded grip for your right hand to wrap around, it feels fine to use. The controls are thoughtfully placed, and there’s even a tiny LCD panel on top to show you the current f-stop setting at a glance.
The viewfinder, despite its round eyepiece, is electronic rather than optical of course. Also up top are the old-school dials that let you set shutter speed and ISO – but do note that if you put the camera in modes like aperture priority or auto you won’t have to touch them. There are also dials on the front and back of the camera for adjusting contextual settings, and another up top for changing the exposure compensation. So despite those old-school dials, it’s pretty standard modern mirrorless stuff.
Features: Good AF
Glance at the feature list and it’s clear the Z fc isn’t the most advanced mirrorless model. There’s no in-body image stabilisation for starters (although you get optical stabilisation via supported lenses, including the aforementioned 16-50mm zoom), and the connectivity seems a little lacking: while there’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, a micro HDMI output and a mic input, there’s no headphone socket for monitoring audio levels – a bit of an oversight considering the generally vlogger-friendly approach elsewhere.
The USB-C port is multi-talented, however. It can be used not only for image transfer and battery charging, but as a constant power supply – another feature likely to appeal to vloggers and those who want to use the Z fc as a webcam.
The hybrid autofocus setup from the Z50 is retained, and it’s mighty impressive: fast and accurate in all but the most challenging of lighting. The real-time tracking works well, and can maintain focus on a person or animal’s eyes even as they shift around the frame; chalk up another vlogger-friendly feature. Continuous shooting speed is also the same as on the Z50: a pretty respectable 11fps.
Image quality: Reliable rather than ravishing
The Z fc uses the same 20.9MP APS-C sensor and image processor as the Nikon Z50, so performance is essentially the same. The Z50 is almost two years old at this point, so we’re not talking the forefront of bleeding edge tech here, but it’s a setup that doesn’t bring any major disappointments to the party.
The lightweight 16-50mm lens we used is a cheap jack-of-all-trades with a small aperture, and that limited what we could do in low light conditions, but overall the colours and detail are still strong – and some sunset photos demonstrated that there’s a decent level of dynamic range at play in the JPEGs. You can, as you’d expect, shoot at 12- or 14-bit RAW if you want more scope to edit your shots in post-production.
Video-wise, you can record 4K footage at up to 30fps, and 1080p at up to 60fps (and 120fps for slow-motion playback). There’s no HDR or colour grading-focussed “log” picture profiles here, so anyone looking for professional filmmaker-level performance is likely to be disappointed, but the straight-from-camera footage is certainly good enough for vlogging (there’s that word again) and casual content creation.
Nikon Z fc verdict
The Z fc isn’t a cutting-edge camera – you’ll find more advanced features and better performance on similarly priced cameras from Fujifilm, Panasonic and Sony – but it doesn’t disgrace itself at all on the image quality front.
At the same time, its retro styling gives it a personality and appeal that far outstrip that of the Z50 with which it shares so much, and the various vlogger-focussed touches show that, despite the old-school looks, this is a camera designed for today’s multi-disciplined users.