Hands-on with the Nikon Z fc

Nikon has just announced its newest Z-mount mirrorless camera, the retro-styled Z fc, and a silver edition of its 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 ‘pancake’ kit zoom to match. We’ve been fortunate enough to get our hands on pre-production copies of both, so let’s take a tour and take in all the details of Nikon’s latest release.

Nikon tells us that the Z fc was designed to be as compact and lightweight as possible, with the performance you would expect from a modern camera but with controls and ergonomics that might encourage you to slow down a bit. We’ll see if that holds true as we go through our tour, but we have to admit that we find the Z fc to be a truly handsome camera, right down to the 1970’s-inspired Nikon logo on the viewfinder hump.

20.9MP APS-C sensor

At the heart of the Z fc is an 20.9MP APS-C sized sensor backed by an Expeed 6 processor that are both essentially lifted from the Z50 sister model. While we haven’t been able to fully test this pre-production camera, you can expect image quality to be very similar to that of the Z50, which is to say quite good. Resolution is a little lower than competitors, but noise performance and dynamic range should be competitive.

This sensor and processor combo also means the Z fc is capable of shooting video at up to 4K/30p using the sensor’s full width. Again, we’d expect similar performance to the strong showing put up by the Z50. Burst speeds top out at 11 frames per second with autofocus if you’re shooting 12-bit Raw files (or JPEGs), while 14-bit files limit the speed to 9 fps.

One thing missing on the Z fc (and also absent on the Z50) is mechanical in-body image stabilization. This keeps costs and size down, but means you’ll need to rely on lens-based stabilization in lenses which offer VR for shooting at slower shutter speeds and getting smooth video (an electronic stabilization option may help video shooters somewhat).

Front plate and silver edition Z 16-50mm lens

You can get the Z fc bundled with a silver-coated Z 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 ‘pancake’ zoom lens. It’s shown here extended, but it collapses down to become truly compact when not in use. It has Nikon’s Vibration Reduction image stabilization, so this is lens is going to be your best bet for smooth, hand-held video shooting at the time of writing.

There’s also a customizable button seen near the bottom of the camera, and there’s a front command dial for your index finger up near the top. By default, this dial will control your aperture.

Top plate controls

The top plate is chock-a-block with buttons and dials, all with clear labeling for easy reading at a glance. To start at the far left, the Z fc actually has a selector for PASM / Auto shooting modes, so if you’re new to photography, you can easily pop the camera into Auto and get snapping. As you grow more comfortable with the camera, the dials might encourage you to do some experimenting with the more advanced modes.

Next up is the ISO dial, giving you direct control over every ISO sensitivity value the camera offers, including the extended modes on the high end. There’s no ‘Auto’ option on the dial, which is a bit of a shame as Nikon’s Auto ISO implementation is one of the best on the market. Instead, you can enable Auto ISO in the menus, and the ISO dial then sets the minimum ISO value the camera will use.

The Z fc comes with a hot shoe to add an external flash, but unlike the Z50, there is no built-in flash to be found.

Top plate controls continued

Next is the shutter speed dial, giving you access to full-stop shutter speed options. The ‘1/3-step’ setting enables you to use the rear command dial (just visible below the exposure compensation dial) to control your shutter speed. Just underneath the dedicated shutter speed dial is a switch for easily swapping between stills and video modes.

Underneath the combination On/Off switch and shutter button is a small window that displays your current aperture setting, and then finally there’s an exposure compensation dial giving you up to three stops of adjustment in either direction.

Lastly, the dedicated movie record button is in a sensible spot up there on the top right, and can be customized to fulfill another function if you desire.

Rear controls

On the rear of the camera, the ergonomics begin to look a little more like what we’d expect from modern designs. You get the usual controls such as playback / delete buttons, and a good-sized control pad.

The electronic viewfinder is identical to that of the Z50, including its 1.02x (0.68x full-frame equivalent) magnification. It’s bright and usable with a good amount of detail from its 2.36M-dot resolution. The faux-leather texture is attractive, shown here with the fully-articulating LCD folded in. Speaking of that LCD…

Fully-articulating screen

…the Z fc is the first Z-mount camera to have a screen that articulates all the way out to the side. The Z50’s screen can tilt 180 degrees down for selfies and vlogging, but is difficult to use with a tripod or a selfie stick. This side flip-out design should appeal to video creators on the go.

We noted earlier that the Z fc can shoot 4K/30p using the full width of its sensor, and now offers full-time eye detection autofocus in both stills and video (an improvement over the Z50). Full HD recording is available at up to 120p, and users can adjust exposure compensation using the touchscreen if the dial is set to ‘C’.

Side ports

To help you get quality audio to go with your video, Nikon has included a microphone jack on the side of the Z fc (though there’s no headphone jack if you want to monitor that audio). The camera can be powered indefinitely over its USB-C port, which also supports charging the battery while the camera is off, and allows for fast transfer speeds as it’s a ‘Superspeed’ (5.0Gb/s) USB-C 3.2 Gen 1 port.

Finally, a micro HDMI port allows for external 4K video capture or displaying your images on a television.

Battery and memory card

The Z fc uses the same EN-EL25 battery as the Z50, which provides a CIPA-rated 300 shots per charge. In use, your mileage will vary, but broadly speaking, we’d expect reasonable performance that’s good enough for a couple of days of casual shooting, or perhaps one day of focused photography.

Alongside the battery is a single UHS-I compatible SD card slot; that UHS-I rating means that the Z fc can’t benefit from using faster, more expensive UHS-II compatible cards (you can still use them, you just won’t get any extra performance), and you may find yourself waiting for the buffer to clear now and then if you’re shooting some of those 11 fps bursts.

Hands-on with the Nikon Z fc

And that does it for our tour of Nikon’s latest mirrorless camera, the Z fc. Nikon says it will be available starting in late July 2021 in North America, with a body-only suggested price of $959 and as a kit with the silver 16-50mm zoom for $1099.

You can also get it in a kit with the new NIKKOR Z 28mm F2.8 SE (pictured above) for $1199.

Let us know what you make of the Z fc in the comments, and head on over to our initial review for a deeper dive into the camera and its features.

Read our Nikon Z fc initial review

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