Nikon Z fc Review | Classic Retro Style Digital Camera, Done Right
I once laughed at retro-style digital cameras, because I still had the real deal in my collection: a Nikon FG, and a Nikon FM2. Today, the Nikon Z fc has completely changed my mind! This camera is beautifully designed, stylish yet functional, compact and ergonomic yet packs a punch. In this Nikon Z fc review, I will explain why this is my new favorite APSC compact camera.
There are some drawbacks, and in this review, I will cover all of the pros and cons, as well as which types of photography I believe the “FC” is perfect for. With that said, let’s dive in!
Nikon Z fc Specifications
- SENSOR: 21-megapixel CMOS sensor, APS-C (23.5 x 15.7 mm)
- LENS MOUNT: Nikon Z (Mirrorless)
- STILL IMAGES: 5568 x 3712 pixels, NEF raw, (12-bit, 14-bit) JPG
- VIDEO: 4K 30p, H.264
- ISO: 100-51200 (HI ISO up to 204800)
- AUTOFOCUS: Hybrid AF, 209 points, face/eye detection
- SHOOTING SPEED (FPS): 11 FPS 12-bit raw, 9 FPS 14-bit raw
- SHUTTER SPEEDS: 30-1/4000 sec, Bulb
- STABILIZATION: No (Only with certain lenses)
- VIEWFINDER: 2.36 MP EVF, 1.02x magnification
- LCD: 3-inch, 1.04 MP, fully-articulated touchscreen
- CONNECTIVITY: USB 3.2 (PD power), micro HDMI, Wifi, Bluetooth
- STORAGE: SD (single slot)
- BATTERY: EN-EL25 (300-shot rating)
- BODY CONSTRUCTION: Metal alloy & high-grade plastic
- SIZE: 135 x 94 x 44 mm (5.31 x 3.7 x 1.73″)
- WEIGHT: 445 g (0.98 lb / 15.70 oz)
- PRICE: $956 ($1096 with lens)
(B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Nikon Z fc Review | Who Should Buy It?
The Nikon Z fc is a great camera for any photographer, whether you’re a beginner, a serious hobbyist, or even a professional looking for an everyday camera. It’s not a flagship pro camera, but it’s not trying to be, of course. The Z fc is a lot like the classic Nikon FG etc that it harkens back to: an everyday camera you can take everywhere.
However, there are still two main questions you should ask yourself when considering the Z fc. First and foremost, are you mostly a photographer, or are you more of a vlogger and/or videographer? Because if you’re the latter, you should wait for our Nikon Z30 review to come out; that camera is made specifically for vlogging and video.
Of course, the second question is, how much do you like the retro style? Do you appreciate the nostalgic look and the mechanical operation of a classic camera, or are you indifferent? If the visual appeal isn’t there, then while I would question your eyesight and your taste, I’d also recommend checking out the Nikon Z50, since it is best described as a Z fc with more modern ergonomics.
There’s a lot more to it than that, and we’ll talk about additional alternatives later, but for now, you get the idea.
Travel, Vacation, & Wanderlust Adventure Photography
If you have a big vacation or any type of adventure coming up, you’re probably looking for a camera that can do a little of everything, without being a chore to carry. Therefore, you want it to be compact and portable, of course, yet as capable and versatile as possible. You don’t want to stand out as a typical tourist with a huge (and expensive-looking) camera. Yet, at the same time, you want a camera that looks cool, right?
The Nikon Z fc is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s portable enough that you’ll happily take it everywhere you go, and it’s got a classic look that fits in anywhere. Whether you’re photographing a dramatic landscape, a concert, or just candid snapshots on the beach or around town, you’ll enjoy the experience of having the Z fc with you, and the image results will look highly professional.
Everyday Candid & Street Photography
The Nikon Z fc is the camera I would carry around with me everywhere in daily life, too. Whether it is simply hanging out with friends, family, and/or pets, or if it’s an outing to a theme park or a weekend hike, I once again appreciate the camera’s portability, as well as the physical controls that set it apart from entry-level cameras with limited controls.
My favorite pairing was the Nikon Z fc with the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8, which is a great DX-FX “bridge lens” at a mere ~$275. Personally, just for the sake of aesthetic appeal, I opted for the “special edition” with its Nikkor AIS-like appearance, for $306. With an equivalent focal length of 42mm, it was great for casual snapshots of daily life.
Portrait photographers might instead appreciate the Nikon Z 40mm f/2, another FX lens that is DX budget-friendly at about $275, with an equivalent focal length of 60mm. More on that next…
Portrait & Wedding Photography
Obviously, this is not a professional camera, but its sensor delivers professional-level image quality, and its aesthetic is certainly classy enough to be seen at any event. If I’m not “on the clock” and responsible for guaranteeing certain results, then I would rather be seen with this camera around my neck compared to anything else! For paid wedding photography, however, I do absolutely require a camera with dual card slots, flagship level autofocus reliability, and preferably in-body stabilization to go with a complete arsenal of prime and fast-aperture zoom lenses.
Having said that, I would consider using the Z fc as a professional tool for less critical work such as short portrait sessions, or really anything from product photography to real estate work.
As long as the Z fc is paired with the right lenses; that is key. Currently, there just aren’t many DX_specific f/2.8 zooms yet, nor any DX-specific fast-aperture primes, but as I mentioned earlier, lenses such as the (FX) affordable 28mm f/2.8 and 40mm f/2 pair beautifully with Nikon DX bodies. Alternatively for professional portrait work, I would absolutely consider the (FX) Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8 to be a great choice as long as your portraiture style can afford the working distance to accommodate 28mm on a crop sensor.
Wildlife & Sports Photography
For active outdoor nature photography subjects in general, the Nikon Z fc is a delight to use. If you’re a photographer who simply loves the craft of photography and the operation of a classic camera, then you’ll have fun. The Nikon DX MC 50mm f/2.8 is an excellent macro lens, and relatively budget-friendly. Autofocus at 1:1 macro reproduction is possible, by the way.
On the other hand, for high-speed wildlife imagery, the Nikon Z fc is not a replacement for Nikon DX flagship bodies like the Nikon D500. The D500 is a legendary APSC camera for any type of high-speed action photography.
So, if you’re mostly interested in challenging subjects such as birds in flight, or team sports, or racing sports etc, then I’d recommend waiting for Nikon to make a flagship-level DX mirrorless camera, similar to the Nikon D500 DSLR. (Imagine a beefed-up Nikon Z50, throw in the autofocus of the flagship Z9, and price it around $1,800. Hopefully, Nikon hears my wishlist!)
I had a great time using the Nikon Z fc for various types of landscapes, including hand-holding some blue hour cityscapes and suburban landscapes in low light. The 16-50mm kit lens is a fantastic complement to the Z fc in its silver form, plus, it also delivers incredibly sharp results both optically and in terms of stabilizing your handheld images.
All in all, I would love to take the Z fc on any hiking or backpacking trip for serious landscape photography, with the only caveat being that I would have to bring an FTZ adapter if I wanted to use an ultra-wide lens such as the lightweight Nikon DX 10-20mm.
Nightscape & Astrophotography
I didn’t get a chance to take the Nikon Z fc out to photograph the stars. However, the sensor is as good as (or better than) Nikon’s other 20-megapixel DX sensors; therefore, I can tell you with confidence that this is one of the best APS-C sensors around for astrophotography and nightscapes.
Your limiting factor will, of course, be the lenses; Nikon’s Z mount does not yet have any native wide-angle fast-aperture lenses, so you’ll be relying on the Nikon FTZ adapter and DSLR lenses.
Nikon Z fc Review | Pros & Cons
To summarize this entire section, if you like spoilers: The Nikon Z fc is well-built, intuitive to use, and the images are excellent. Its main drawback is simply that Nikon’s Z-mount DX lens lineup is not yet as well established as some other APS-C mounts. Therefore, a complete kit will require either using FX (full-frame) Z-mount lenses, or the Nikon FTZ adapter with Nikon DSLR F-mount DX/FX lenses.
Other than that, there’s a lot to like, and not much to complain about. The Z fc is a wonderful photography camera and a decent video camera.
The Nikon Z fc images are beautiful right out of the box. Although I recommend shooting in raw NEF mode and processing images in Lightroom, the in-camera JPG results are beautiful, especially when you take the time to switch the “Picture Control” to an appropriate setting, such as Landscape, Portrait, or Vivid. Nikon has a trick up their sleeve in this regard, however, so be sure to read this whole section!
As you can see in the above sample images and crops, the overall image quality is superb. I am most impressed by the relatively low noise levels at ISO 6400, even in the shadow areas. This was impossible even for full-frame sensors, in the early days. To get these professional levels of image results in such a relatively affordable, portable camera, is truly a sign of how far digital cameras have come in the last decade.
Nikon In-Camera Picture Controls + Adobe Lightroom
It is very important to note that Nikon has teamed up with Adobe in recent years, so if you are shooting raw NEF files, and you designate, say, Vivid Picture Control in-camera, then Lightroom will recognize and automatically set your raw processing color profile to “Camera Vivid” as well!
This is also a huge leap forward, one that all recent Nikon cameras have enjoyed, compared to previous NEF file editing results in older Adobe software. All new Nikon NEF images now look absolutely better than any other raw image format!
So, if you spend just a little extra time to make your photos look good on the back of the camera, even when shooting RAW, then your un-edited results will look about as good as, or even better than, if you had shot JPG! Even the in-camera B&W images look gorgeous.
This is one area where Nikon’s earliest mirrorless cameras didn’t perform up to par with the highest level of competitors, at the time. (~4 years ago) However, as one of Nikon’s newest cameras at present,the Z fc is a reliable performer for most subjects, in most lighting conditions.
It is certainly not on the same level as the likes of the flagship Nikon Z9, but I would trust the Z fc in most casual conditions. I would also recommend it over any of Nikon’s similar DSLRs, such as the D3000-class and D5000-class cameras, for the simple reason of autofocus especially when it comes to faces/eyes in portraits.
Overall Performance & Speed
The Nikon Z fc is pretty impressive in terms of its overall speed and performance, especially compared to any entry-level DSLR that you might be upgrading from. It achieves 11 FPS, albeit in 12-bit NEF and with a buffer that won’t last forever if you want to just “smash” the shutter. I always use 12-bit NEFs to maximize my buffer and memory card space, however, if you want 14-bit NEF files you will be at 9 FPS.
With 4K 30p video that uses the full width of the Z fc sensor, you get quite impressive results. Manage your Picture Controls carefully, and your MP4 video files will look beautiful with minimal need for color grading. Having said that, this is not a video-oriented camera, so I wouldn’t expect it to be a top choice for filmmaking. There’s a mini HDMI mic jack, but no headphone jack.
Design & Durability
Nikon did a great job of combining modern and retro design elements, in a relatively durable body. The Z fc does not have weather-sealing, and some of the parts are plastic, however, the overall feel and handling still give a satisfying sense of tactile feedback. When you’re operating the camera, it is just the right balance of old-school controls, (specifically, your ISO, shutter speed, and EV compensation.
Also, seeing your aperture in a little LCD window that is reminiscent of a film SLR’s frame counter is a very nice touch. Last but not least, the more modern controls of basic command dials, and a physical exposure mode switch are very welcomed, too, since many entry-level cameras only have one command dial, and require you to dig through quick menus to change from manual exposure to aperture priority, for example.
Last but not least, well, I’ll just show you these images, provided by Nikon…
Features & Customizations
I have talked a lot about how you’ll like this camera if you’re specifically interested in the retro style, however, the practical use of the camera isn’t even hindered by its retro design. If anything, its mechanical controls give it an edge over most other entry-level cameras! Whether you’re an experienced pro who prefers manual control, or you’re a total beginner just learning about manual control, you’re actually better off with this camera compared to anything else at this price or lower.
A few of the buttons are customizable, and I wish that there were even more menu items as options, but I think Nikon struck a good balance to avoid overwhelming most photographers.
Thankfully, the Z fc doesn’t require you to dive deep into every page of the menu in order to get the most out of the camera, unlike some competitors (*cough*Sony*cough*) which require hours of menu-digging in order to find various important options, and to put each button and quick menu space to use.
Nikon Z fc Battery Life
The final measure of overall performance is, of course, battery life. With an excellent EVF and a large rear LCD touchscreen, but no IBIS, the battery life is more than adequate for a camera in this class of compacts. It is good that you can use basically the same type of portable battery pack to charge and even power the Z fc via its USB-C port, though, because any all-day photography adventure will definitely deplete the Nikon EN-EL25.
The ~$1,000 range is an amazing value price point for modern digital cameras. Nikon, and other companies, are able to deliver the image results of a professional camera that cost 2-3 times more in years past, while keeping the user-friendly operation of an entry-level camera.
Honestly, I would have liked to see Nikon add just one feature in this sub-$1,000 category, of course: in-body stabilization. No other APS-C camera besides the Fuji X-S10 offers this, though, so there is little precedent for it. Nikon has been known to set the precedent before, though.
To be precise: The Z fc is $956 without a lens, or $1,096 with a 16-50mm kit lens, or $1,196 with the classic-style Nikon 28mm f/2.8 lens. All of these kits represent an excellent value.
Nikon Z fc Review | Compared To The Competition
First, I want to compare the Nikon Z fc against its most direct competition, the Nikon Z50 and Nikon Z30. Then, I’ll compare it against other alternatives, both mirrorless and DSLR.
Basically, the Nikon Z fc is nearly the same as the Z50, with the biggest difference being the retro style of the Z fc. Both cameras, and the Z30, all share a very similar sensor, including most of their AF system, plus many other specs. The biggest difference is in the physical design of each camera, and you probably already know which camera looks moreright for you you as a photographer/videographer.
The only thing left to mention is that the much newer Z fc (and Z30) did add eye detection to the Z50’s face detection, which is a useful bonus for anyone who is going to do a lot of focusing on faces and eyes.
Regarding the Nikon Z30 in particular, which lacks an electronic viewfinder: Personally, I really love using viewfinders even for video, and the Nikon Z 30 doesn’t have one. Meanwhile, the Nikon Z fc has a fully articulated LCD, making it usable for vlogging. Therefore, unless you’re literally always doing nothing but selfie videos/photos, I’d recommend the Z fc instead of the Z30.
Nikon DX mirrorless VS Nikon D500 DSLR
When it comes to alternatives that are not mirrorless and/or not Nikon, a few cameras come to mind. As I mentioned, the Nikon DX flagship, the D500, is still a workhorse of a camera, and a favorite for telephoto wildlife & sports photographers. You get Nikon’s 3D tracking, and an optical viewfinder which is optimal for high-speed subjects.
Nikon Z fc VS Fuji
The other camera that could be compared to the Nikon Z fc is the Fujifilm X-T30 II. Fuji is well-known for retro looking digital cameras, but the options vary greatly in price and specs, so many of them just don’t directly compare . The X-T30 is the closest to the Nikon Z fc, and honestly, it really is close enough that I’d consider it a toss-up if it weren’t for a few subtle factors.
Firstly, I just prefer Nikon’s control layout in general. Part of that is personal familiarity, but part of it is, in my opinion, actual superior design in terms of the combination of dedicated control dials plus modern ergonomic controls. I dislike Fuji’s smooth, tiny little joystick button, as well as some of the other control/interface choices.
Secondly, however, there is no denying that Fuji’s X-mount lens lineup is one of the most complete lineups of any mirrorless camera system. It boasts every possible iteration of professional and semi-professional zoom and prime lenses, from exotic f/1.0 and f/1.2 primes and f/2.8 zooms, to impressive f/1.4 and f/2 primes as well as excellent f/4 zooms.
Nikon’s DX Z-mount bodies can only begin to compete with Fuji’s lineup of APS-C cameras if an FTZ adapter, and also full-frame Z-mount and F-mount lenses, are considered fair game.
Nikon Z fc VS Sony APS-C
The same thing goes for comparing Nikon against Sony. Firstly, though, I must note that Sony doesn’t even offer a retro style camera to compare with the Z fc. Any comparison we can make is mainly academic, which kind of defeats the purpose of the Nikon.
With that said, Sony’s APS-C cameras offer two advantages, generally speaking: autofocus consistency, and lens arsenal. The E-mount APS-C options are expansive, and their Real-Time AF tracking is one of the best algorithms around.
All in all, the Nikon Z fc’s price point of under $1K is not easy to compete in, because most cameras are making one compromise or another, such as missing flagship autofocus, or blazing speed, or dual card slots, or weather sealing, stabilization, etc. A few cameras have one or two of those features, but not all. Personally, I think the Z fc is well positioned among its competition, especially considering its unique offering of style.
Nikon Z fc Review | Conclusion
If you like the timeless aesthetic of the early film SLR era and the tactile feel of mechanical dials, the Nikon Z fc is the perfect camera for you. Raising the camera to your eye and “just taking pictures” is a wonderful experience. Under the hood, the camera’s modern technology does a great job of being there when you need it, keeping advanced operation in a relatively user-friendly package.
All in all, the Nikon Z fc is one of the most unique additions to the Nikon mirrorless lineup, complementing the offerings of the Nikon Z50 and Nikon Z30. The Nikon DX Z-mount lens lineup is obviously far from complete, but between the trio of kit zooms and the impressively affordable FX compact primes, the Z fc should still appeal to many photographers as one of the best retro-styled cameras for everyday life or your next big adventure!
Check Pricing & Availability
The Z fc is $956 without a lens, or $1,096 with a 16-50mm kit lens, or $1,196 with the classic-style Nikon 28mm f/2.8 lens.