Nikon ZF Review

Nikon ZF Review

Nikon-Zf-camera

Nikon Corporation, originally established in 1917 as Nippon Kogaku K.K., started out focusing on optics and lenses, quickly earning a reputation for precision and quality. Their first camera, the Nikon Model I, was launched in 1948, marking the beginning of their influential presence in photography. The introduction of the Nikon F in 1959 further solidified their position, revolutionising professional photography with its robust design and advanced features.

In recent years, Nikon has seamlessly blended its rich heritage with cutting-edge technology. The Nikon Zf, for instance, combines a retro-inspired design reminiscent of classic Nikon film cameras with the latest digital innovations. It features a durable, lightweight magnesium alloy body and offers a variety of colour options, delivering both style and functionality for today’s photographers.

Design and Build

What I love about the Nikon Zf is its retro-inspired design, which brings back memories of Nikon’s classic film cameras. This isn’t just about looks; the camera is carefully crafted with a magnesium alloy body, making it durable yet surprisingly lightweight. Plus, the variety of colour options lets me choose one that matches my style, blending aesthetics with functionality perfectly.

Nikon Zf camera frame

The Nikon Zf offers a dual card slot setup, consisting of one UHS-II SD card slot and one Micro SD card slot. This combination allows photographers to utilise different types of memory cards, enhancing versatility for various needs such as overflow storage, backup, or separating different types of files like RAW and JPEG.

The ergonomics of the Nikon Zf are well thought out, providing a comfortable grip and intuitive control layout. Some users may find the grip a bit small, this can be increased with a base plate with an extended grip Nikon Gr-1 (available separately). 

Nikon Zf GR-1 Grip

The physical dials for ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation enhance the tactile experience and make it a joy to use for photographers who prefer hands-on control. The main dials have been constructed of brass and will develop a wonderful patina in time.

The Nikon Zf is designed with comprehensive weather sealing, making it a dependable choice for photographers who frequently shoot in harsh conditions. Its body includes a magnesium alloy top and front, which enhances durability and provides effective protection against dust and moisture. This level of weather resistance ensures that the camera can perform reliably in various outdoor environments, from dusty trails to rainy landscapes

Nikon-Zf-Weather Sealing

The Nikon Zf is available in six (6) different colours and black. The colours are subdued but allow users to personalise their Nikon Zf. Please click below to enlarge.

Sensor and Image Quality

The Nikon Zf features a 24.5-megapixel full-frame BSI CMOS sensor paired with the EXPEED 7 image processor. This combination ensures high-quality images with excellent detail, dynamic range, and low-light performance. The camera supports a native ISO range of 100-51,200, which can be expanded to 204,800, allowing photographers to shoot in various lighting conditions without significant noise issues. Unlike the Nikon Z8 and Z9 models, the Zf does not have a protective shutter when changing lenses, so care must be taken to prevent contaminants from entering the camera body.

 In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)

One of the standout features of the Nikon Zf is its advanced in-body image stabilisation (IBIS), which offers an impressive 8-stop vibration reduction (VR). This system effectively compensates for camera shake, allowing you to confidently shoot handheld. Whether you’re on the move or facing challenging shooting conditions, the IBIS ensures your shots remain smooth and stable without the need for a gimbal or other external stabilisers. It’s perfect for dynamic, on-the-go photography and videography.

Autofocus and Performance

The autofocus system in the Nikon Zf is robust, featuring 273 phase-detection AF points that cover a wide area of the frame. The camera’s Eye-Detection AF and Animal-Detection AF are particularly useful for portrait and wildlife photography, ensuring sharp focus on the subject’s eyes.

The continuous shooting speed of up to *14 frames per second in burst mode is impressive, making it an excellent choice for action and sports photography. The buffer capacity is also commendable, allowing for extended shooting sessions without interruptions.

*(up to 14 fps continuous – 30 fps with electronic shutter pre-capture (JPEG) –186 shot 14-bit Lossless Compressed raw buffer – Pixel shift: up to 32 frames produce a 96mp image)

Nikon Zf - EVF

The Nikon Zf features a 1.27-cm/0.5-inch approx. 3690k-dot (Quad VGA) OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF). Here are some key details about it:

  • Resolution: The EVF provides high-quality visuals with minimal lag, allowing you to see exactly what the camera captures in real-time.
  • Customisable: You can adjust settings to tailor the EVF display to your preferences. For instance, use the “Apply settings to live view” function to synchronize brightness, contrast, and colour between the EVF and the rear screen.
  • Switching: When you place your eye on the viewfinder, the eye sensor activates, switching the display from the monitor to the EVF. You can also use the viewfinder for menus and playback if desired. To toggle between the viewfinder and monitor displays, press the “Monitor mode” button.

Nikon Zf Auto Focus Modes

3D-Tracking Mode

This mode is particularly advantageous for photographers capturing fast-moving subjects. By maintaining focus on a subject as it moves throughout the frame, 3D-Tracking ensures that your shots remain sharp and well-focused, no matter the movement direction

Subject-Tracking AF in Video Mode

This feature is tailored for videographers, allowing the camera to continuously follow subjects with precision. This is especially useful for dynamic video shoots where the subject is constantly in motion

Eye-Detection AF

Essential for portrait photography, this feature locks onto the subject’s eyes, ensuring that the focal point remains sharp and clear. This technology is especially helpful when shooting at wide apertures, where precise focus is crucial

Animal-Detection AF

Perfect for wildlife photographers, this feature recognises and focuses on the eyes of animals, making it easier to capture expressive and detailed shots of wildlife subjects

Auto-Area AF

The Nikon Zf’s Auto-area AF has been enhanced with up to 299 points, improving focus acquisition performance, especially with distant or moving subjects. This mode intelligently determines the subject within the frame and focuses on it, which is particularly useful for spontaneous shooting situations

High-Speed Continuous Shooting

The camera supports continuous shooting speeds of up to 14 frames per second (fps) in burst mode. This capability is ideal for action and sports photography, where capturing multiple frames in quick succession increases the chances of getting the perfect shot

Buffer Capacity

The robust *buffer capacity allows for extended shooting sessions without the camera slowing down, ensuring that you can keep shooting without missing critical moments

*(up to 14 fps continuous – 30 fps with electronic shutter pre-capture (JPEG) –186 shot 14-bit Lossless Compressed raw buffer – Pixel shift: up to 32 frames produce a 96mp image)

Manual Focus Assist 

One of my favourite features is the incredible manual-focus assist: subject detection. When shooting in manual focus mode, this Nikon Zf identifies the subject, automatically adjusting the focus point. This feature is excellent for portraits of people, animals, or birds, as the camera instinctively focuses on faces or eyes.

Nikon Zf Shooting Modes

 

The Nikon Zf mirrorless camera offers various focus modes to accommodate different shooting scenarios:

Single-Point AF Mode: With 273 focus points covering 89% x 96% of the viewable area on both the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and LCD screen, this mode allows precise focus. When manually focusing, the active point changes color from red to green when the subject is in focus.

Subject Detection with Manual Focus: The Zf combines automatic subject detection with manual focus. When it detects a subject (such as a face), it frames it with a box. You can then fine-tune focus using the focus ring, and the box turns green when the focus is spot-on.

Additional Features: The Zf includes focus zoom and focus peaking, enhancing manual focusing accuracy.


Creative Shooting Modes

Pixel Shift Mode

The Nikon Zf features a Pixel Shift Mode that enhances image resolution and colour accuracy by capturing multiple shots of the same scene with slight sensor shifts. This mode combines these images to create a single high-resolution photo with finer details and reduced noise. It is particularly useful for still subjects and tripod-mounted shooting, providing a level of detail and sharpness that surpasses standard single-exposure photos. Photographers seeking the highest image quality for landscapes, architecture, and product photography will find this mode ideal.


Black and White Mode

The Nikon Zf’s Black and White Mode allows photographers to capture images with a classic monochromatic look, emphasising light, shadow, and contrast without the distraction of colour. Designed to evoke the timeless quality of traditional black-and-white photography, this mode is perfect for portraits, street photography, and artistic shots where mood and texture are paramount. By adjusting settings such as contrast and filter effects, photographers can achieve a range of black-and-white tones, adding depth and drama to their images.


Starlight View

The Starlight feature on the Nikon Zf enhances low-light shooting capabilities, especially for astrophotography and other nighttime scenes. It allows the camera to focus accurately in extremely dim conditions, down to -10 EV, leveraging advanced sensor technology and autofocus algorithms. Photographers can capture clear and detailed images of stars, landscapes, and other subjects in near darkness without additional lighting, making it ideal for night sky enthusiasts and those capturing low-light environments.


Movie Mode

The Nikon Zf offers a dedicated mode for video recording, providing various frame rates and resolutions, along with manual control over exposure and focus.


Silent Photography Mode

This mode enables completely silent shooting using the electronic shutter, perfect for situations where noise must be minimized, such as during performances or in quiet environments.


Multiple Exposure Mode

Allows the creation of a single image from multiple exposures, offering creative possibilities for overlaying images directly in the camera.


Time-Lapse Movie

Automatically captures a series of still images at set intervals and combines them into a time-lapse video, ideal for capturing slow processes like sunsets or blooming flowers.

Video Capabilities an In-depth Look

The Nikon Zf is not just a powerhouse for still photography but also excels in video recording, offering a range of features that cater to both amateur videographers and professional filmmakers. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of its video capabilities:

High-Resolution Video Recording

4K UHD up to 60p: The Nikon Zf supports 4K UHD (3840×2160) video recording at up to 60 frames per second (fps), which is ideal for capturing high-resolution, smooth-motion footage. This is particularly useful for shooting dynamic scenes, ensuring that even fast-moving subjects are recorded with clarity.

Full HD up to 120p: For even smoother motion capture, the camera offers Full HD (1920×1080) recording at up to 120 fps. This is perfect for creating slow-motion videos, adding a dramatic effect to your footage.

Advanced Video Recording Features

10-bit N-Log Recording: The inclusion of 10-bit N-Log recording allows filmmakers to capture a wide dynamic range, which is essential for post-production grading. This feature provides greater flexibility in colour correction and grading, ensuring the final footage can be finely tuned to the desired look.

HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma): HLG recording is another high-dynamic-range video option, enabling the creation of videos that are HDR-ready, compatible with HDR displays, and ensuring vibrant, true-to-life colours and contrast in the footage.

In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS)

The Nikon Zf’s in-body image stabilisation is a real game-changer. It steadies your shots, so you can shoot handheld without worrying about camera shake. No need to carry around a gimbal or external stabiliser! This feature is perfect for those on-the-go moments and tricky shooting conditions, making it ideal for spontaneous filming.

Audio Capabilities

Microphone and Headphone Jacks: To cater to professional audio recording needs, the Nikon Zf includes both microphone and headphone jacks. This allows videographers to attach external microphones for higher audio quality and monitor audio levels during recording, ensuring professional-grade sound capture alongside high-quality video.

Nikon Zf Audio / Charging

Additional Video Features

Shutter-Priority Auto Mode for Video: A unique feature in the Nikon Zf is its ability to record video in shutter-priority auto mode. This allows the user to set a desired shutter speed while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture and ISO, simplifying the process of achieving optimal exposure settings during video recording.

Internal 10-bit H.265 Recording: The camera supports in-camera recording of 10-bit H.265 video, providing high-quality video files that are suitable for extensive post-production work without the need for an external recorder.

Extended Recording Times: With the ability to record up to 125 minutes of video, the Nikon Zf supports longer shooting sessions without frequent interruptions, making it suitable for events, interviews, and extended takes.

User Interface and Controls

The vari-angle touchscreen enhances the usability of the Nikon Zf for video recording. It allows for flexible framing and easy access to settings, especially when shooting from unconventional angles. This feature is particularly beneficial for vloggers and content creators who need to monitor themselves while recording. The rear screen has a resolution of 2.1 million dots.

Nikon-Zf-Vari Angle Screen

Images courtesy of Nikon, 2024. Copyright is acknowledged.

Studio ISO Test Results

In this test, we are examining the ISO capability of the Nikon Zf to assess how well the sensor algorithm suppresses noise from a base ISO of 100 up to 51200. Please note that some variances in the exposure values are due to changing light conditions in the studio. The lens used in this test is the Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S.

Please click below to enlarge.

Up to ISO 12800, the noise is minimal and the images are perfectly usable. Beyond that, you do start to notice more noise, which would need some post-processing to clean up. Another highlight for me is the consistency of the colours across the ISO range—no significant shifts, just accurate, beautiful colours every time.

Nikon Zf Low-Light Performance

In this test, I mounted the Nikon Zf on a tripod in a dimly lit room, with just enough light to read the top dials. Unfortunately, I forgot to set the white balance to a fixed Kelvin value, so it remained on Auto1, causing some colour variance in the test shots. Despite this oversight, the Nikon Zf handled noise well up to ISO 12800. Beyond ISO 12800, the images showed significant noise, but the noise pattern was consistent across all the shots, demonstrating the Zf’s excellent noise control.

I selected test images with ISO settings ranging from 12800 to 64000 and applied post-noise reduction. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t recommend using ISO settings above 12800 on the Nikon Zf.

The Nikon Zf features a Pixel Shift Mode that is intended to enhance image resolution and colour accuracy by capturing multiple shots of the same scene with slight sensor shifts. This mode combines these images (from 4-32) to create a single high-resolution photo with finer details and reduced noise. The options are:

  • Pixel Shift On/Off
  • The number of shots to be taken and combined.
  • The delay in shooting from Off to 10s

The following images are combinations of shots (4 through 32) using the pixel shift mode.

The images were taken with the Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 lens and cropped to 300% to examine the detail captured in Pixel Shift mode. The detail appeared nearly identical in the comparison. The shots were captured at f/16 and processed using the latest version of Nikon’s NX Studio (version 1.7.0, 64-bit). The files were then exported as full-size TIFFs into Adobe Photoshop, where I cropped them to highlight the same wall section for a closer look.

Chromatic Aberration – Pixel Shift

Chromatic aberrations can occur when using pixel shift in digital photography. This is due to the slight misalignment of colour channels as the sensor shifts to capture multiple frames. Pixel shift technology involves moving the sensor in precise increments to gather more detail and reduce noise by combining these frames. However, if there are minor movements in the scene or imperfections in the lens, this can cause misalignment of the red, green, and blue channels. This misalignment results in chromatic aberrations, which appear as colour fringes along high-contrast edges or detailed areas. These fringes can potentially diminish the overall image quality, despite the enhanced resolution and detail provided by pixel shift technology.

The image below (Pixel Shift x 32) perfectly demonstrates the chromatic aberration issues. The branches were slightly moving in the wind, resulting in significant coloured artefacts

The Causes of Aberrations in Pixel Shift Mode

Chromatic aberrations can appear in Pixel Shift images for several reasons:

Lens Limitations

Even high-quality lenses can exhibit chromatic aberrations, particularly at the edges of the image or in high-contrast areas. Pixel Shift does not inherently correct these lens imperfections.

Subpixel Misalignment

Pixel Shift involves taking multiple images with slight sensor movements. Any misalignment during this process, even at a subpixel level, can introduce or exaggerate chromatic aberrations.

Processing Artifacts

The process of combining multiple images to create a high-resolution Pixel Shift image involves complex algorithms. If the software isn’t perfectly aligned or if there are errors in processing, it can result in colour fringes and other chromatic artefacts.

Movement in the Scene

Pixel Shift works best with completely static scenes. Any movement, however slight, can cause misalignment between the shots, resulting in chromatic aberrations and other artefacts when the images are combined.

Lighting Conditions

High-contrast lighting conditions can exacerbate chromatic aberrations, especially when combined with the Pixel Shift process. Bright light sources or reflections can cause more noticeable colour fringing.

To minimise chromatic aberrations in Pixel Shift images, use high-quality lenses, ensure the scene is completely static, and use software with robust correction algorithms. Post-processing tools can also help reduce these aberrations.

Starlight View

The Starlight feature on the Nikon Zf is a game-changer for low-light shooting, especially for astrophotography and nighttime scenes. This nifty feature allows the camera to focus accurately in incredibly dim conditions, down to -10 EV, thanks to advanced sensor technology and sophisticated autofocus algorithms. Imagine capturing crystal-clear images of stars, landscapes, and other subjects in near darkness without needing extra lighting—it’s a dream come true for night sky enthusiasts and low-light photographers alike. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to test this feature myself, but it sounds like a stellar addition to any photographer’s toolkit.

Please leave a comment below if you have used this feature, it would be great to hear from you.

AF-C Continuous Focus

To test the AF-C mode of the Nikon Zf, I decided to use my beloved Bedlington Terrier, Harry. Unfortunately, Harry wasn’t in the mood for running today and preferred a leisurely walk instead. As he trotted toward me at a relaxed pace, I set the Nikon Zf to high AF-C mode. Unsurprisingly, the camera captured every shot with perfect focus. I have no doubt the Zf would have performed just as well if Harry had decided to run.

Pro's and Con's of the Nikon Zf

Pros:

Vintage Design with Modern Technology:

The Nikon Zf merges a classic film camera look with up-to-date features, offering an appealing aesthetic for many photographers.

Superior Image Quality:

The 24.5-megapixel full-frame sensor and EXPEED 7 image processor ensure high-quality images with excellent detail, dynamic range, and low-light performance.

Advanced Autofocus System:

The hybrid phase-detection/contrast AF system, including eye detection for humans and animals, is noted for its accuracy and effective tracking in various shooting conditions.

In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS):

An 8-stop, 5-axis IBIS system significantly minimizes camera shake, enhancing the reliability of handheld shooting.

Versatile Video Capabilities:

With support for 4K recording at up to 30fps and Full HD at 120fps, the Nikon Zf caters well to videographers, offering features like focus peaking and zebra stripes.

Intuitive Controls:

The mechanical dials for exposure settings provide a tactile and precise shooting experience, adding to the camera’s overall usability.

Cons:

No Protective Shutter During Lens Changes:

Unlike some models, the Nikon Zf lacks a protective shutter, exposing the sensor to potential dust and contaminants when changing lenses.

Memory Card Slots:

The use of SD and microSD cards, which are slower than CFExpress cards, and their placement, which complicates removal when using a tripod, are seen as drawbacks.

Battery Life:

While decent, the battery life, reliant on the EN-EL15c battery, may necessitate carrying extra batteries for longer shoots.

Cost:

The camera is relatively expensive, especially considering certain compromises like the absence of a protective shutter and the use of slower memory cards.

Conclusions

After thoroughly testing the Nikon Zf, I can confidently say this camera is a delightful addition to Nikon’s lineup, blending retro charm with cutting-edge technology. It’s like having a classic car with a modern engine—vintage aesthetics on the outside, but all the power and efficiency of today’s advancements under the hood.

The in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) system is highly effective, ensuring your shots stay steady even in challenging conditions. Perfect for those moments when you just can’t be bothered to set up a tripod and prefer to shoot handheld.

Creative features like the black-and-white mode add a timeless touch to your photos, while the pixel shift mode ups the ante by enhancing resolution and detail through the magic of combining multiple shots (although in my limited test, I didn’t see a massive improvement). And let’s not forget the starlight mode, which is a godsend for night photography enthusiasts, enabling clear images even when the light is as scarce as a unicorn in the city.

On the video front, the Nikon Zf doesn’t disappoint. It offers 4K recording at up to 30fps and Full HD at 120fps for those buttery smooth slow-motion shots. With support for various codecs and dedicated video tools like focus peaking and zebra stripes, this camera is a robust option for videographers.

Handling the Zf is a joy thanks to its intuitive controls and responsive performance. The tactile brass dials and fully articulated screen make the shooting experience as enjoyable as a warm cup of coffee on a cold day. The autofocus system, borrowed from Nikon’s stellar Z8 and Z9 models, ensures sharp focus and precise tracking, even when the action gets fast and furious.

But no camera is perfect, and the Nikon Zf has its quirks. The absence of a protective shutter when changing lenses means you’ll need to be extra careful to avoid dust and other contaminants sneaking into your camera body. The location of the memory card slot could use some rethinking, especially if you’re fond of tripod work—it’s a bit of a hassle to remove the cards. And the reliance on a microSD card slot? Well, let’s just say those cards tend to be slower and fiddly, especially when you have to use an adapter with your Mac Studio.

Despite these minor inconveniences, the Nikon Zf’s overall performance and features make it a standout in its category. It delivers consistently high-quality results in various shooting scenarios, from fast-paced action to serene landscapes and stunning portraits.

In conclusion, the Nikon Zf excels in both photography and videography, offering a comprehensive package that meets the demands of casual shooters and seasoned professionals alike. Its blend of vintage charm and modern technology makes it a worthy investment for any enthusiast seeking exceptional performance and image quality. Whether you’re capturing the hustle and bustle of city life or the tranquillity of nature, the Zf delivers every time.

Stephen 🙂

Sample Gallery - Click to Enlarge

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One comment

  1. Looks like a nice camera but it would not encourage me to change from what I have. Definition in the various settings is good and iso range is good. Thank you for an honest review that is not always what one gets from the manufacturer

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error: Copyright Stephen Baxter / Gaelic Memories Photography