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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 new Z-mount, 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

The Z fc will cost around $960, body only, or $1100 with a silver version of the 16-50mm F3.5-6.3 VR kit zoom (both prices represent a $100 premium over the launch price of the Z50). Kits of the camera with the retro-looking 28mm F2.8 (SE) prime lens will sell for $1200. These will be available from late July 2021.

The Z fc will be primarily be available in silver with black leatherette patches, but six versions with colored grip material will also be available, in limited numbers. 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 own 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 to 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 is able to offer 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).

It’s very likely that the Z50 and Z fc 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)

The Z fc is being launched for $100 more than the Z50 was, with the articulating screen, ‘better’ looks and USB-C capabilities being the main gains over that model. This makes its price comparable with Fujifilm’s image-stabilized X-S10, and a little higher than that of Sony’s un-stabilized a6400.

The comparison with the X-S10 is interesting because, while they share a similar aesthetic, the X-S10 represents a move away from Fujifilm’s use of dedicated control dials, back to something more DSLR-like. The other distinction to note is that the X-S10 costs more when bundled with a lens because Fujifilm tends to kit it with the somewhat better 18-55mm F2.8-4.0, rather than its own retractable power zoom. The less expensive, unstabilized X-T30 is offered with the retractable 15-45mm zoom, at a list price of $1000.

Nikon Z fc Nikon Z50 Fujifilm X-S10 Sony 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 size APS-C APS-C APS-C APS-C
Resolution 20MP 20MP 26MP 24MP
Image stabilizations Lens only Lens only In-body Lens only
Max burst rate 11 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 / type 1.04M-dot
Fully-articulating
1.04M-dot tilt up/down (down by 180°) 1.04M-dot fully-articulating 920k-dot tilt up/down (up by 180°)
Viewfinder res /magnification 2.36M-dot
/ 0.68x
2.36M-dot
/ 0.68x
2.36M-dot
/ 0.62x
2.36M-dot
/ 0.7x
Built-in flash No Yes No Yes
4K video spec UHD 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 / ‘phones Yes / No Yes / No Yes / Yes (w/ inc USB adapter) Yes / No
Weather sealing Claimed Claimed No Claimed
Battery life
LCD/EVF
300 300 325 410
Weight 445g 450g 465g 403g
Dimensions 135 x 94 x 44 mm 127 x 94 x 60 mm 126 x 85 x 65mm 120 x 67 x 60 mm

The Z fc’s specs make it competitive with its immediate peers and its looks will help it stand out. The lack of headphone socket for monitoring audio may undercut its appeal as a vlogging camera, as does the absence of in-body stabilization. Nikon’s kit zoom is stabilized but lens-stabilization can’t correction for rotational movement (roll) like in-body systems can. If you buy the kit with the 28mm F2.8 (SE) prime lens, you’ll have no stabilization at all.

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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. It’s not clear whether this Z fc-GS1 Extension Grip will be available in all markets.

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 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 extensive use of magnesium alloy in its construction. The lack of protruding hand grip 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 to resist moisture and dust (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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Initial impressions

The leatherette coating on the viewfinder hump and the ‘old style’ Nikon typeface helps tie the Z fc back to the company’s classic SLRs.

The Z fc is an undeniably pretty camera, with the leatherette coating on top of the viewfinder immediately recalling Nikon’s much-loved FM SLRs. Other manufacturers have been making classically styled cameras in the meantime though, which has the effect of the Z fc also resembling several Fujifilm models, even though it legitimately has its own lineage to refer back to.

My first impression of the control system is that it’s more coherent than that of the company’s similarly retro (but nowhere near as svelte) Df full-frame DSLR, where the dedicated dials seem to be bolted on top of an existing command-dial-based UI. And it shares a lot in common with the Nikon Z50, one of our favorite APS-C cameras (and certainly one of the most keenly-priced).

Nikon presented the Z fc alongside images of faux Edison bulbs and shelves of vinyl records: its role is as much a lifestyle accessory as a tool for taking photos. But there need not be any tension between these two roles.

I still have concerns about Nikon’s level of support for the DX end of the Z-mount, but the release of the 28mm F2.8 helps; providing a pleasant (though not especially fast) 42mm equivalent option that’s a good match for the camera in terms of size and price, as well as aesthetic.

Nikon is keen to point out that you can mount all its full-frame Z-mount lenses on the Z fc, broadening your options, but the closed world of Z-mount does mean there’s no equivalent of, for example, the eminently affordable Tokina 23, 35 and 56mm F1.4 lenses now available for Canon, Sony and Fujifilm’s APS-C mounts or Sigma’s similarly interesting DC DN trio of lenses.

It’s interesting to note that the Z fc is very close in size to the FM SLR, which makes it noticeably larger than Fujifilm’s X-T30 or X-S10. This affords all its controls a little more room on the camera body, and gives a slightly more substantial feel in the hand.

Ultimately this may not matter. A significant subset of Z fc users may be perfectly happy with the flexibility afforded by the kit zooms or the forthcoming DX 18-140mm, and a further proportion will find lenses such as Nikon’s 28mm F2.8 or 24mm F1.8 are great ways to expand their photography, before perhaps venturing up to full-frame (hopefully in conjunction with a desire for the expanded angles of view that these primes would offer with the larger sensor format).

Either way; I liked the Z50 a lot, and a prettier, perhaps more flexible version for a little more money is something I’m looking forward to spending more time with. There’s little reason to doubt the Z fc’s ability to shoot strong images, the provision of improved video AF is a definite bonus and, to be quite honest, it’s a camera I think will look good hanging off my shoulder. The Z fc recognizes that a camera is just as much a lifestyle accessory as it is a tool for taking photos and there need not be any contradiction in trying to be both.

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Sample gallery

This gallery was shot using a pre-production Nikon Z fc, and may not represent final image quality.

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 own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review).

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