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Nikon Z fc vs Fujifilm X-T30: which is the better retro APS-C camera?

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Introduction

Fujifilm has built its X-series brand around cameras that offer classic looks and traditional controls but have the latest camera technologies at their hearts. Nikon’s new Z fc looks to do something similar, but takes a slight different approach and has a famed historic range of classic SLRs to look back to, in terms of styling.

We’re going to take a closer look at how the Nikon Z fc compares with Fujifilm’s X-T30. The Fujifilm has a slightly lower list price, but both cameras are SLR-shaped APS-C mirrorless cameras with control systems based on dedicated control dials, which marks them out as being the most directly comparable.

Fujifilm also offers the X-S10, a slightly more expensive model that adds in-body image stabilization, which neither X-T30 or Z fc possess. However, although the X-S10 has a traditional SLR-like design, its control system is less dependent on dedicated dials, so offers a rather different user experience.

Controls (dials)

The most prominent aspect of both cameras are their dedicated control dials. These were essential controls on SLRs before the 1980s but were progressively replaced in electronic cameras by unmarked command dials that increasingly could be re-programmed to perform different functions in different contexts.

The two cameras differ a little in their approaches: the X-T30 has dedicated shutter speed and exposure compensation dials, and most X-mount lenses have their own aperture rings for controlling f-number. The Z fc has the same dials as the X-T30, plus an ISO dial, but Z-mount lenses don’t have aperture rings (although some have a lens-mounted custom ring which can serve this purpose), so f-number is set using a command dial.

The Z fc’s ISO dial has a locking tab that needs to be held down to change the dial’s position. There’s another push-tab on the shutter speed dial but this only needs to be held if you’re trying to take the camera out of its ‘1/3 Step’, X, T or B positions: it can be turned freely between the numbered positions.

The other fundamental difference in the dial behavior is that the X-T30 uses its dedicated dials to specify the exposure mode, with the camera taking control of any parameter whose dial is set to the ‘A’ (Auto) position. By contrast, the Nikon has a separate P,A,S,M selector in addition to the dials and the camera overrides the shutter speed dial position if this selector is set to Program or Aperture Priority positions.

Controls (other)

Other than the dedicated dials, both cameras have command dials, front and rear, onto which various functions can be mapped. The difference is that the command dials on the X-T30 are ‘pressable’, allowing you to assign a custom function to a press of the rear dial. The Nikon’s dials are larger and feel more decisive in their action, probably aided by them not having to function as buttons as well as dials.

Beyond this, both cameras have a button next to the viewfinder (AEL on the X-T30, AEL/AFL on the Nikon) that can be re-purposed to provide back-button focus activation. The Fujifilm has a separate AFL button but the Nikon’s rear button is more prominently raised from the back of the camera and is better separated from other controls, so is probably more useable.

Meanwhile the Z fc uses its larger size to provide space for a full four-way controller, whereas the X-T30 instead offers an AF joystick. In general we like an AF joystick but we find the position of the X-T30’s to be rather awkward (seemingly a side-effect of there not being the space to give it a better position).

Handling

From a modern perspective, the comparatively flat-fronted designs of both cameras look like a retrograde step, ergonomically, and it’s true that neither camera responds well if you try to wrap all your fingers around the front of the camera, as you would on a model with a large, hand-shaped grip.

We’ve found both cameras can be operated fairly comfortably by crushing them between thumb and middle finger, with an index finger extending up to operate the shutter buttons. The small lip and rubber coating on the X-T30 helps in this regard. Add a heavier lens and you’ll automatically transfer most of the effort of supporting the camera to the hand holding the lens, so the lack of extended grip still needn’t be a problem.

However, while it’s possible to shoot both cameras comfortably for a shot or two, every few minutes, neither would be our first choice for any type of shooting that requires you to hold them in position for extended periods of time in anticipation of a moment’s action: both can start to feel uncomfortably angular if you try to grip them in the shooting position for minutes at a time.

Fujifilm offers an add-on grip (which doubles as an Arca-Swiss compatible base plate), if you want to hold the camera for longer periods. There’s also an add-on grip for the Nikon, but it’s not currently available in some markets, including North America.

Auto ISO

One detail worth noting is how each camera deals with Auto ISO. The Fujifilm has no ISO dial and while the Nikon does, it doesn’t have an ‘Auto’ position: perhaps a downside of too closely mimicking a design approach that pre-dates the concept of on-demand changing of ISO, let alone Auto ISO.

On the Fujifilm you can set one of the command dials to control ISO or assign it to a button (and then change it using the dial). Either way, the camera’s three user-defined ‘Auto ISO’ configurations are available by scrolling down below the minimum ISO setting.

The Nikon has the more sophisticated Auto ISO implementation of the two, with shutter speed limits that not only respond to the current focal length (which the Fujifilm can do), but also let you adjust to use faster or slower speeds either side of these limits, depending on whether you’re compensating for subject movement or well-controlled hand shake. However, with no ‘Auto’ position on the ISO dial, you need to engage/disengage Auto ISO through the menus or add ‘ISO settings’ to the custom My Menu and then assign that to a function button to make changes. With Auto ISO enabled, whatever you select on the ISO dial corresponds to the minimum ISO value the camera will use (so we tend to leave it at the base value, ISO 100).

Viewfinders and flash

Both cameras have pretty similar viewfinders, both built around 2.36M-dot OLED panels. These provide 1024 x 768 pixel resolution but differing optics in front of the display panels mean that the Z fc’s finder ends up being larger. The Z fc’s finder offers 0.68x magnification, while the X-T30’s is only 0.62x.

In practice, neither seems especially large: the eye pieces of both cameras feel quite small and require that you put your eye very close to the camera if you want to see the whole display. Part of the reason the X-T30’s viewfinder optics are smaller is that its viewfinder hump includes a pop-up flash: a feature the Nikon is missing.

Screens

The most obvious difference between the two cameras’ screens is that the Z fc’s is fully-articulated whereas the X-T30’s is on a tilt up/down cradle. Which you prefer will depend on your personal style of shooting, but the fully articulated option is convenient for selfies and vlogging as well and waist-level video shooting.

Both screens are touch-sensitive, but the Fujifilm offers a slightly broader range of capabilities from its rear panel. Both let you tap to place focus, initiate focus, or focus and shoot, and both let you zoom and flick between images in playback. Only the X-T30 lets you use long, directional swipes of the screen to access additional custom functions and only the X-T30 lets you swipe to move the AF point when the camera is held to your eye. Both cameras let you interact by touch with their ‘Q’ and ‘i‘ quick menus but only the Nikon lets you swipe and tap in the main menus.

Autofocus

An example of Nikon’s eye-detection AF, shot with a pre-production Nikon Z fc

The Nikon Z fc’s autofocus is unquestionably better than that of the Fujifilm X-T30, particularly if you want the camera to track a subject. We’re not big fans of the way the system works, particularly – face/eye detection and subject tracking are separate systems, rather than being integrated as is the case with Canon and Sony’s latest cameras – but once you’ve chosen the appropriate mode, the AF works very well.

The X-T30’s autofocus is a little less confidence-inspiring. Its face/eye detection system works pretty well, as does its general ability to focus on the point you’ve chosen, but its ability to track subjects isn’t as dependable, and generally your hit rate is likely to be lower.

The X-T30 can shoot faster than the Nikon (up to 20 fps with electronic shutter), which might give it an edge in situations where a single AF point or AF zone can be kept over your subject. The Fujifilm also makes it easier to switch focus modes, thanks to its MF/AF-S/AF-C switch.

Image Quality

Sample image shot with Fujifilm X-T30 and XF 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 OIS

There’s not a lot to call between the two cameras in terms of image quality. The Fujifilm’s sensor is newer and includes more up-to-date technologies, but the difference in image quality isn’t particularly large, either in terms of dynamic range or low light performance.

The X-T30s 26MP chip gives a bit of a resolution bump over the 20MP offered by the Z fc, and Fujifilm’s film-mimicking color modes provide a wider choice of attractive creative options without slipping over into heavy-handing Instagram filter excess. Both cameras allow you to re-process your Raw files in-camera to try out different effects.

Video

Both cameras let you attach mics (though the X-T30 has an unusual, 2.5mm socket), only the X-T30 lets you attach headphones for audio monitoring

Both cameras promise 4K video at up to 30p using the full widths of their sensors. The Fujifilm can shoot the wider DCI (4096 x 2160 pixel) version of 4K as well as the 16:9 (3840 x 2160) UHD version offered by the Nikon. However, there’s a 10 minute limit on 4K capture on the Fujifilm, which may limit the kinds of subject it’s appropriate for.

Just as with stills, the Z fc has the more dependable autofocus (though the non-face subject tracking isn’t always quite as ‘sticky’ as in stills mode), whereas the X-T30 can’t perform subject tracking in video mode at all: you’ll have to rely on face detection if you don’t want to position the AF point manually.

The X-T30 will output a 10-bit video signal and let you shoot with a Log profile to provide more flexibility for post-shot color and tone adjustments if you connect an external recorder to the HDMI socket, but for most video shooters its main benefits over the Nikon are its attractive ‘Eterna’ color mode and the ability to add headphones to let you monitor audio as you’re recording.

Since neither camera has in-body stabilization, you’ll need to use a lens with stabilization if you plan on shooting hand-held with either camera.

Lenses

In terms of the availability of native lenses designed for APS-C sensors, the X-T30 is the clear winner: Fujifilm has built up a broad selection of primes and zoom lenses, often with a choice of high or midrange options in many focal lengths, and third-party makers Tokina and Viltrox make affordable alternatives. The Fujifilm is also available as a kit with the company’s 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 OIS zoom, which is a much better lens than is typically bundled with cameras at this price level.

The Z fc’s main claim with regards lenses is its cross-compatibility. Its Z-mount is shared with Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, meaning there’s a growing range of lenses available (albeit not always ones that are a great match for the Z fc in terms of size, price or focal length). Nikon offers the Z fc either with a compact, retractable kit zoom or with a 28mm F2.8 prime lens, which matches the camera’s classic styling. There’s also the option of adding an adapter to mount Nikon’s F-mount DSLR lenses, which expands the range of choices.

Which approach suits you will depend on what you plan to shoot. There’s an argument that being able to buy full-frame Z-mount lenses reduces the up-front cost of upgrading to full-frame at a later date, but there’s also a lot to be said for buying into a system like Fujifilm’s X-mount, that offers a broader choice of lenses for the camera you’re currently planning to buy.

Wrap-up

In terms of specifications, there’s not much to choose between the Nikon Z fc and the Fujifilm X-T30, and even in terms of performance, what one offers in autofocus prowess, the other counters with slightly better video options and more attractive and detailed JPEG images.

The Fujifilm has a slightly lower list price than the Nikon and has been on the market longer (meaning its street price is lower still), which either lets you save some cash or puts the excellent 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 kit zoom within reach.

However, despite a few foibles around its handling of Auto ISO, and a not-as-slick-as-it-could-be autofocus interface, the Nikon is arguably the nicer camera to use. Matching the dimensions of the brand’s own film-era SLRs means the Z fc is a more substantial camera to hold and one with enough space to ensure its controls don’t feel crushed together.

Fujifilm’s slightly more expensive X-S10 brings in-body image stabilization, but abandons much of the dedicated dial driven approach that makes the X-T30 and Z fc so distinctive, beyond just their looks. Fujifilm’s lens lineup is also likely to be a major benefit for a lot of X-T30 users, but if the lenses you want are available, the Z fc might be the better camera.


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