After a decade of attempting to capture the essence of vintage cameras with modern features, Nikon may have finally succeeded. The company recently unveiled the Nikon ZF, a mirrorless camera that combines retro aesthetics with high-performance specs. Packed with a 24.5-megapixel full-frame sensor, 299-point tracking autofocus with subject detection, in-body image stabilization, and dual card slots, the ZF takes inspiration from Nikon’s analog cameras while offering advanced functionality. Unlike its predecessors, the ZF addresses previous shortcomings by featuring a full-frame sensor and a competitive price of $1,999.95.
Despite its vintage appearance, the ZF is equipped with Nikon’s Expeed 7 processor, the same technology found in its higher-end Z8 and Z9 cameras. Alongside this powerful processor, the ZF boasts impressive features such as five-axis in-body image stabilization, which enables eight stops of correction, 3D tracking autofocus, and 4K 10-bit H.265 video capture at up to 60 frames per second cropped or 30 frames per second full-width. The camera also features an articulating 3.2-inch touchscreen and supports continuous burst shooting up to 30fps. However, what truly distinguishes the ZF from its counterparts is its vintage-inspired design, complete with classic dials, a dedicated switch for monochrome mode, and an audible mechanical shutter that emits a distinctive KACHUNK sound.
The ZF’s aesthetics, sound, and feel enhance its appeal, as demonstrated by the hands-on experience of Becca Farsace, a colleague who got to try out the camera. The ZF specifically targets photographers who admire vintage cameras but desire advanced technology and features that film cannot provide. In many ways, Nikon’s ZF is a direct response to Fujifilm’s success with its X-system, which emphasizes vintage camera aesthetics. Additionally, Nikon aims to entice film enthusiasts and individuals who covet Leica cameras but find their prices prohibitively high. Although the ZF is not as specialized as the Leica M11 Monochrom, offering only a software filter for monochromatic mode rather than a hardware-driven sensor, it aims to capture Leica’s essence through its appearance and magnesium-alloy construction.
The ZF’s vintage facade loses some of its charm when paired with modern Nikkor Z lenses. While there are two old-school style “SE” lenses available (a 28mm f/2.8 and a 40mm f/2), most of Nikon’s current lens lineup does not match the retro aesthetic. Using true vintage lenses on the ZF requires an adapter, which can be awkward. Additionally, while the ZF supports dual card slots, it utilizes an SD and microSD tandem, which is an unconventional choice.
Despite these quirks, photography enthusiasts who prioritize the camera’s appearance and behavior over technical specifications may overlook these compromises. In 2014, Nikon generated significant hype with the release of the Df, a camera designed to evoke nostalgia for traditional cameras. However, the Df failed to achieve widespread success due to its high price tag and stripped-down video capabilities. Similarly, when Nikon introduced the ZFC in 2021, many were disappointed by its cheap plastic construction and the use of a cropped sensor. In contrast, the ZF represents a return to form for Nikon, offering a robust, metal-bodied camera that pays homage to the company’s heritage while featuring its most impressive technology and lenses.
In conclusion, Nikon’s ZF checks multiple boxes for photographers seeking a camera that combines vintage aesthetics with modern performance. With its full-frame sensor, advanced autofocus capabilities, in-body image stabilization, and competitive price, the ZF aims to appeal to photographers who appreciate the look and feel of classic cameras while desiring cutting-edge features. While the camera has some limitations, such as limited lens options and an unusual choice of memory card slots, the ZF represents Nikon’s most compelling offering for both film enthusiasts and those who admire Leica cameras but seek a more accessible alternative.