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Nikon Z fc Review

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Nikon’s Z fc is an APS-C mirrorless camera that combines Nikon’s new Z lens mount with looks and controls that recall the company’s classic FM and FE-series film SLRs.

The Z fc is the second crop-sensor Nikon camera to use the company’s Z-mount and is built around the same 20.9MP sensor as the Nikon Z50, but it gains dedicated dials for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation to go with its throwback styling. Nikon says it’s aiming the camera at a younger, style-conscious audience.

Key specifications

  • 20.9MP CMOS sensor
  • Burst shooting up to 11 fps with full AF (9 fps with 14-bit Raw)
  • Oversampled UHD 4K video at up to 30p, using the sensor’s full width
  • Fully articulating 1.04M-dot rear touchscreen
  • 2.36M-dot OLED viewfinder
  • Manual ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation dials

The Z fc is priced at $960 body-only, $1100 with a silver version of the 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR zoom and $1200 with the retro-looking 28mm F2.8 (SE) prime lens.

The Z fc will primarily be sold in silver with black leatherette patches, but six versions with colored grip material will also be available in limited quantities. Pink, Mint Green, White, Grey, Amber Brown and Sand Beige versions will cost $100 more than the regular model and, in North America at least, will only be sold through Nikon’s web store.



What’s new

The main thing that’s new in the Z fc is its retro styling and control system based on dedicated control dials. The camera is designed to evoke Nikon’s FM and FE-series SLRs but is also likely to be reminiscent of some of Fujifilm’s digital cameras that reference the same era of SLR design, as well as Nikon’s own Df DSLR from 2013.

But despite the classic looks, the Z fc is a modern camera at heart, offering a few features that should ensure it’s seen as more than just a prettified Z50.

Full-time eye AF in video mode

Unlike the Z50, the Z fc offers Nikon’s full-time ‘Eye Autofocus’ mode while shooting video. When shooting stills, it also includes focus modes that combine face and eye AF with a large focus zone, letting you take more control over where the camera looks for a subject (on the Z50 face/eye AF is only available in the all-area ‘Auto’ AF mode, meaning the camera chooses a human subject for you if there is more than one person in the frame).

The Z50 and Z fc likely share the same ‘Expeed 6’ processor, so these functions could probably be added to the older model via firmware, but Nikon may choose to maintain a distinction between the two.

Fully articulated screen

The Z fc is the first Z-mount camera to feature a fully articulating rear LCD. This means that it can be rotated all the way forward for vlogging (working nicely in conjunction with the video Eye AF function), and also means the screen can be folded in to face the back of the camera, to protect the LCD panel when traveling.

USB power

The Z fc’s USB C socket lets you charge the battery or directly power the camera. Below it is a mic input socket, but there’s no way to attach headphones to monitor the captured audio.

Also aiding on-the-go photographers, the Z fc has a USB-C socket on its side which can be used to power the camera, as well as to charge the battery. It’s a USB 3.2 Gen 1 ‘Superspeed’ (aka USB 3.0) interface which should mean it’s significantly faster at data transfer than the Z50’s sockets is.

Firmware updates by smartphone

The other new feature of the Z fc is the ability for it to accept firmware updates from a smartphone. It’s a feature we’ve seen from other brands and we’ve found it unexpectedly convenient both in terms of finding out about updates, as well as keeping the camera up-to-date.

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How it compares

The Z fc is available body-only, with the Z 28mm F2.8 (SE) prime lens or with a silver version of the DX Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR zoom lens (pictured)

Nikon is targeting the Z fc to a younger audience interested in owning a fashionable camera for sharing photos on social media and vlogging. It’s for “capturing iconic moments” (read: photos for Instagram), according to the company. Nikon has created the Z fc to be the opposite of the ‘boring black camera,’ with a design that traces back to actual Nikon film cameras of old. It’s something to be noticed.

Nikon Z fcNikon Z50Fujifilm X-S10Sony a6400
MSRP at launch$960 b/o
$1100 with 16-50mm F3.5-6.3
$860 b/o
$1000 with 16-50mm F3.5-6.3
$999 b/o
$1299 with 18-55mm F2.8-4.0
$900 b/o
$1000 w/ 16-55mm F3.5-5.6
Sensor sizeAPS-CAPS-CAPS-CAPS-C
Resolution20MP20MP26MP24MP
Image stabilizationsLens onlyLens onlyIn-bodyLens only
Max burst rate11 fps (12-bit Raw)
9 fps (14-bit)
11 fps (12-bit Raw)
9 fps (14-bit)

20 fps (e-shutter)
8 fps (mech)

11 fps
Screen res / type1.04M-dot
Fully-articulating
1.04M-dot tilt up/down (down by 180°)1.04M-dot fully-articulating920k-dot tilt up/down (up by 180°)
Viewfinder res /magnification2.36M-dot
/ 0.68x
2.36M-dot
/ 0.68x
2.36M-dot
/ 0.62x
2.36M-dot
/ 0.7x
Built-in flashNoYesYesYes
4K video specUHD 30p/24p
No crop
UHD 30p/24p
No crop
DCI or UHD 30p/24p
No crop
4K 24p No crop
4K 30p 1.1x crop
Mic / headphonesYes / NoYes / NoYes / Yes (w/ inc USB adapter)Yes / No
Dust/moisture resistanceClaimedClaimedNoClaimed
Battery life
LCD/EVF
300300325410
Weight445g450g465g403g
Dimensions135 x 94 x 44 mm127 x 94 x 60 mm126 x 85 x 65mm120 x 67 x 60 mm

Fujifilm has been making cameras with designs comparable to the Z fc for many years, with the X-T30 being the most similar. While very capable for stills and video, it’s not really a vlogging camera, as it lacks a fully articulating display. Technically speaking, Fujifilm’s X-S10 is the better choice for vloggers, trading the manual control dials for a fully articulating display as well as in-body image stabilization, but design-wise it’s a boring black camera.

The Z50 already offered excellent still image performance and twenty ‘Creative Capture’ image processing modes, but the Z fc’s fully articulating screen, capable AF system and external mic help extend its appeal to people wanting to vlog.

On the stills side, Sony’s a6400 is a rival at this price, but can’t compete in terms of design, while Panasonic offers the very compact and very vlogging-focused G100/G110, whose design, again, is unlikely to be much of a conversation starter.

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Body and controls

Traditional body

The Z fc (right) is very similar in size and shape to the FM2 SLR (left), meaning there’s no overt hand-shaped grip.

The Z fc’s body closely resembles both the size and shape of Nikon’s FM and FE SLRs, meaning it doesn’t have the kind of protruding grip that’s subsequently been deemed essential for holding a camera. If you need something more to hold onto, there is a bolt-on accessory grip that screws into the base of the camera. Nikon US tells us it currently has no plans to bring this ‘Extension Grip GR-1’ into the country but Nikon UK and Nikon Europe both promote it as an available accessory.

Aluminum dials

Metallic-finish dials are pretty commonplace, but the Z fc uses solid aluminum dials and Nikon says the numbers are etched into the metal, rather than being printed or stuck on the surface. The ISO and shutter speed dials both have press locks on them, to prevent accidental operation, but this means they require slightly more considered operation.

Dial operation

Although the Z fc ends up looking a lot like Fujifilm’s X-T30, its dials operate slightly differently. Rather than exposure mode being defined by the position of the ISO and shutter speed dials, the Z fc has a separate exposure mode switch. For instance, setting this to ‘A’ for Aperture Priority deactivates the shutter speed dial, regardless of its position.

Generally, the dedicated dials are used for controlling each exposure parameter, with a command dial on the front of the camera setting an aperture value. The exception to this is if you turn the shutter speed dial to the ‘1/3 Steps’ position, at which point the rear command dial takes over control of shutter speed.

One interesting quirk is that the ISO dial does not include an ‘Auto’ position. We couldn’t find an easy way, other than adding ‘ISO Settings’ to My Menu, to engage and disengage Auto ISO. With Auto ISO turned on, the ISO dial ends up defining the minimum ISO the camera will use.

Separate video/stills operation

A small switch at the base of the shutter speed dial lets you jump from stills to movie shooting and back. As with the Z50 and other recent Nikons, you can opt for different settings for both modes allowing, for instance, different white balance and color mode settings for each style of shooting. However, the reliance on dedicated dials means that your exposure settings will tend to carry over, so you’ll have to adjust them somewhat, each time you switch.

Magnesium alloy construction

The Z fc is a pretty light-feeling camera, thanks to the extensive use of magnesium alloy in its construction. The lack of protruding handgrip helps keep the weight down below that of the Z50. In addition to the solidity of a primarily metal shell, Nikon says the Z fc has been designed ‘considering dust-/drip-resistance’ (though neither of the lenses offered as kits appear to make the same claim).

The thin-gauge metal and rather light plastic battery door and viewfinder eye-cup molding make the camera feel less substantial than its metal construction might otherwise imply. However, the dial feel (particularly in terms of the front and rear command dials) helps counteract this impression.

Battery

The battery and SD card both slot into the bottom of the camera, behind a slightly insubstantial-feeling plastic door.

The Z fc uses the same EN-EL25 battery as the Z50 and, since it shares that camera’s screen, viewfinder, sensor and processor, it delivers a very similar battery life. The CIPA rating of 300 shots per charge is reasonable, rather than great, even once you’ve taken into account the fact it’s common to get twice as many shots as these ratings suggest, in day-to-day use.

The ability to recharge or directly power the camera using its USB socket will relieve some of this pressure, especially if you’re already in the habit of packing a USB power bank for keeping your phone topped up on weekends away.

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Handling impressions

By Jeff Keller

When I first picked up the Z fc with its 16-50mm kit lens attached, my first thoughts were ‘wow, this sure is light’ and ‘this can’t possibly be metal’. As mentioned earlier, the Z fc is indeed metal, though it feels very thin on the front plate. The top plate is a different story: it feels solid and the dials are perfectly designed. The display showing the aperture is so small that you can forget it’s there, and the lack of a backlight makes it impossible to see in the dark.

There were some aspects of the Z fc’s design that I didn’t care for. The body is covered with faux leather that I found quite slippery. Let’s hope that Nikon will bring the GR-1 extension grip to the USA soon, which would give me more confidence when holding it. I wouldn’t complain about an add-on thumb rest, either, since there’s not a lot of real estate on the back panel. I wish the menus could be operated with the control dials, which would be a lot faster than using the four-way controller or touchscreen.

Those things aside, the Z fc is a pleasure to shoot with, which is on par with the other Z-series Nikons I’ve used. The autofocus system is responsive, with animal AF picking up the eyes of birds and cats, and face detection locking onto a subject wearing sunglasses (which was a pleasant surprise).

While I have no plans to be a vlogger, the Z fc is more than capable of handling that task, if it’s your thing. As soon as you rotate the screen toward yourself, the camera disables all of the buttons except for the red one for video capture, so you won’t accidentally change a setting. There isn’t a quick menu or a way to start recording via the touchscreen.

I was pleased with the footage I got after recording myself walking around the backyard a few times. The oversampled 4K looks great and the AF system stuck to my eyes like glue, even with glasses. The combination of in-lens and electronic IS wasn’t amazing by any means, however. The Z fc lacks in-body stabilization, but the vlogger-targeted Sony ZV-E10 and Panasonic DC-G100 don’t have it either.

Since many folks are using their cameras as webcams these days, I installed Nikon’s webcam utility software on my laptop to see how things looked. I had no problems using the camera with Zoom and the quality was light-years ahead of the $50 webcam I bought at Costco.

While I don’t enjoy taking videos of myself, I do enjoy sharing my photos on Instagram and Facebook. Nikon’s SnapBridge app has drastically improved over the years and worked almost flawlessly. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but remote camera control and image transfer (to your phone or automatically to the cloud) work well, which allowed me to get my photos onto Instagram moments after I took them.

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Image quality

Our studio test scene was photographed using the Nikkor Z 50mm F1.8 S.

You can toggle the comparison tool above between JPEG and Raw modes by selecting the desired mode in the relevant dropdown. At the top right of our tool you’ll see icons denoting ‘Full’, ‘Compare’, and ‘Print’. ‘Full’ gives you a 100% magnification view of each camera at its native resolution; ‘Compare’ normalizes all cameras to the lowest resolution camera present in the comparison, while ‘Print’ resizes all images to roughly 8MP output.

Colors in JPEGs are pleasing, with the golden yellows, warm greens and vibrant reds we’ve come to expect from Nikon. Like the Z50 (and the Sony), the Z fc doesn’t appear to have an anti-aliasing filter, so detail capture is high, but it comes at the cost of color aliasing and moiré. JPEG sharpening is pretty aggressive, with large radius sharpening causing more halos around edges (also known as overshoot) than competitors like Fujifilm and Sony. Noise reduction is quite effective at removing noise, but it comes at a considerable detail cost relative to the class-leading Sony.

There are two things we measure when looking at dynamic range: exposure latitude and ISO invariance. We’re going to skip over the technical mumbo-jumbo and explain what they mean in the real world.

Our exposure latitude test does what you might be tempted to do in bright light: reduce the exposure to capture additional highlights, then brighten the shadows. The Z fc’s excellent sensor lets you brighten shadows at levels well beyond what one would normally do, with just a modest increase in noise.

The sensor is also highly ISO invariant, which you can see demonstrated in our test scene, where we’ve taken photos at different ISOs and brightened the Raw files. In layman’s terms, this means that you can shoot at low ISOs (to preserve highlights) and brighten the image in Photoshop or similar and get the same result as if you boosted the ISO in-camera.

One last thing worth mentioning is the camera’s white balance system. There are three Auto WB settings: ‘keep overall atmosphere’, ‘keep white’ and ‘keep warm lighting’. We found that, on occasion, photos would have a blue cast to them using the ‘keep overall atmosphere’ setting. If you notice this while shooting, switching to the ‘warm’ option will give you a more realistic-looking white balance.

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Autofocus

There are numerous AF area modes to choose from on the Z fc, including single-point, pinpoint, dynamic-area, wide-area (small/large) and auto-area (small/large). The wide and auto-area modes offer your choice of person or animal AF, and both work well in our experience, from sunglasses-wearing people to shorebirds. The Z fc has no room for a joystick, so you’ll be setting the location of the focus point with the four-way controller or via the touchscreen.

To check AF performance, we first use a single, central AF point with a subject approaching in a straight line. This checks how well the camera can assess the distance of the approaching subject and focus accordingly.

Modern cameras have very little difficulty with this test and the Z fc was no exception. Carey’s bright yellow jacket was kept in focus during the whole run, which was shot at 11 fps using Nikon’s Nikkor Z 70-200mm F2.8 S lens.

The more challenging test has our subject weaving unpredictably, so we can evaluate how well the camera can identify and follow him around the frame, in addition to re-focusing. We put the Z fc into auto-area, selected Carey’s face and fired away at 11 fps.

The Z fc did very well in this test, though not perfectly. On one occasion the camera decided that a person in the background was more interesting than our chosen subject, and focused on them until they were blocked by the bike, at which point the camera switched back to the desired subject.

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Video

The video features on the Z fc are the same as those on the Z50, except for the addition of eye autofocus. That means that you get uncropped 4K video sampled from the full width of the sensor, Full HD 120 fps high-speed shooting, and dedicated video settings (which lets you quickly flip between still and video modes without bringing over any unwanted settings). There’s also focus peaking (for manual focusing), zebra patterns (for judging exposure), audio level control and the ability to set the microphone to better capture voices. When shooting with manual exposure the camera also lets you lock in shutter speed and aperture to get the look you want, and adjust brightness via the exposure compensation dial.

Although it’s not quite as crisp as footage from the Fujifilm X-T30, which captures oversampled 4K, the Z fc still produces very nice looking video. Colors are pleasant and distractions like moiré are minimal. Video captured at 1080p (at both 60p and 120p) also looks solid.

The Z fc offers an electronic image stabilizer, which adds a modest crop. It doesn’t give you gimbal-quality stability, and there’s a slight drop in quality, but if you’re not using a stabilized lens, it’s worth a try.

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Conclusion

What we likeWhat we don’t
  • Classic film camera design
  • Excellent image quality; sensor allows for shadow brightening with little increase in noise
  • Solid 4K and 1080p video quality with no crop
  • Reliable autofocus system
  • Solid, well-designed control dials
  • Still and video settings kept in their own ‘sandbox’
  • Decent amount of video capture controls
  • Microphone jack
  • Convenient USB charging
  • Lightweight compared to peers
  • No in-body image stabilization
  • Images sometimes have a blue cast when using auto white balance, which may require changing settings
  • Lack of joystick slows down AF point selection
  • No selfie-specific features like some peers
  • Camera feels a bit hollow flimsy plastic door over battery/memory card slot
  • Lacks a headphone jack
  • No support for Log or HLG video output
  • Limited selection of APS-C Z-mount lenses
  • Auto ISO function awkward to access or control

Overall

Cropped to taste. ISO 125 | 1/1250 sec | F4.5 | Nikon Z 70-200 F2.8 S @ 270mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

With the Nikon Z fc, the company has designed a capable camera (but not class-leading) for photography and vlogging and also a great tool for this seeking a hands-on experience not found on other Z-mount bodies. It’s essentially a Z50 – a camera that earned our silver award – in a different shell: and that’s a good thing.

Few will argue with the design of the camera: it looks fantastic. Handling is a mixed bag; the Z fc is light but feels a bit hollow. The faux leather that covers the body looks nice but is slippery in the hand (Nikon offers an optional grip in some regions). The sense of quality from the sturdy metal dials are offset by the cheap plastic battery door.

Speaking of autofocus, the Z fc focuses quickly, detects eyes and faces with ease and does well at subject tracking, though Sony’s and Canon’s AF systems are more robust. The Z fc lacks a joystick for moving the AF point (that’s what the four-way controller or touchscreen are for), and you can’t use the LCD to move the focus point when your eye is to the finder.

ISO 125 | 1/1600 sec | F2.8 | Nikon Z 70-200mm F2.8 S @ 300mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

When used for vlogging, the camera stuck to its subject without any ‘hunting’ and the built-in mic is satisfactory (you can add your own via the 3.5mm mic jack). On the whole, video quality is excellent at both 4K and 1080 resolutions (including at 120 fps), and there are a generous set of capture tools available. If you do a lot of hybrid shooting then the separate setting banks for stills and video will be much appreciated. Something you won’t find on the Z fc is a headphone jack for monitoring audio.

The Z fc’s image quality is also very solid, with plenty of Raw detail capture, low noise levels and plenty of room for brightening shadows. We did notice that JPEGs often had a noticeable ‘cool’ look to them using the default auto white balance setting. Switching to the ‘warmer’ version made color more pleasing.

We think Nikon has succeeded at what they set out to do with the Z fc. It took the guts from the generic-looking Z50 and created an inexpensive camera with a genuinely retro design that dates back to the company’s FM film cameras. The camera is stylish and, dare we say, hip, and will turn a lot of head when you’re out capturing your memories via still or video photography.

ISO 100 | 1/25 sec | F5.6 | Nikon Z 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 VR @ 57mm equiv.
Photo by Jeff Keller

Compared to its peers

The Z fc next to Fujifilm’x X-S10

While we chose the Fujifilm X-T30 as the direct competitor to the Z fc due to all of its physical controls, if you don’t mind losing the dials, the company’s X-S10 is the better choice, thanks to its in-body image stabilization. Both cameras produce excellent still image quality and offer good but, again, not class-leading AF. Both cameras offer Log video output, as well as mic and headphone sockets, with the X-S10 also sporting a fully articulating display. They also have better battery life than the Z fc.

The Sony a6400 lacks the fully articulating display and nifty vlogging tricks of the company’s ZV-E10, but it is more in line with the Z fc’s feature set. The a6400’s image quality is very good and its autofocus is best-in-class. While its 4K video quality is excellent, 30p footage is cropped and rolling shutter can be a problem. Footage capture at 1080p is poor, and the camera lacks a headphone jack. The a6400 has some of the best battery life in the business.

The Panasonic Lumix DC-G100 (G110 in some regions) is designed for vlogging, with its fully articulating display, multi-directional microphone, Log support and a video capture button that you can’t miss. Unfortunately, the G100 didn’t live up to its billing. Its 4K video is heavily cropped, autofocus is prone to hunting and still image quality just can’t compete with its larger-sensor peers.

Scoring

Nikon Z fc
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
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 Z fc is an APS-C mirrorless camera that successfully brings back the design of the company’s film cameras. It offers plenty of hands-on controls, a vlogger-friendly fully articulating touchscreen, excellent still and video quality, and plenty of customizability. It could use refinement in a few areas, but for those looking for an eye-catching camera that can capture the moment for social media and more, the Z fc is a solid choice.

Good for
Those looking for a light, inexpensive and stylish ILC with direct controls and vlogging-friendly features.

Not so good for
Those who prefer a more substantial-feeling body, best-in-class autofocus or a wider selection of native lenses.
86%
Overall score


Sample gallery

Please do not reproduce any of these images without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review).


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