Sensor: 20.9MP CMOS APS-C
Image stabilization: No IBIS
Autofocus: 209-point Hybrid AF
Viewfinder: 0.39-inch OLED EVF, 2.36M dots
Display: 3-inch Vari-Angle LCD touchscreen, 1.04M dots
ISO: ISO100-51200 (expandable to 102,400)
Max video resolution: 4K/30p
Ports: USB type-C, Micro-HDMI, 3.5 microphone jack, hot-shoe
Storage: 1 x UHS-I
Wireless: Wi-Fi 2.4GHz, Bluetooth 4.2
Shutter speed: 1/4000 sec mechanical; 1/4000 sec electronic
Shooting speed: 11 fps mechanical; 11 fps electronic
Battery life (CIPA): 360 shots
Size/weight (body inc battery, card): 5.3 x 3.7 x 1.8 inches; 15.7 ounces
Retro is in, if you hadn’t already noticed. It’s why Gen Z are walking around in 00’s flared jeans and oval sunglasses, looking like extras in Mean Girls and listening to Limp Bizkit. It’s why film cameras now cost three times as much as they did five years ago. And it’s also why Nikon, realizing it didn’t have anything to ride the nostalgia wave, decided to reupholster the Z 50 to look like a classic SLR. The result is the Nikon Z fc.
Sitting just above the entry-level Z 30, the Z fc is designed for intermediate enthusiasts, perhaps upgrading from a DSLR or beginner’s camera, who want to take their burgeoning photography more seriously, while also caring about the aesthetics of their kit. Like most mirrorless cameras these days, it’s also a hybrid: designed to be both a photography and video tool, in particular with the vlogging market in mind.
Sadly, when pitted against the photo-oriented Fujifilm X-T30 II and the vlogging-centric Canon EOS R50 — the latter of which holds the position of best beginner’s camera in our roundup of the best mirrorless cameras — the Nikon falls well short in a number of areas. The rest of our Nikon Z fc review will show just how this storied camera company missed the mark with this model.
Nikon Z fc review: Price & availability
The Nikon Z fc was originally released in July 2021 in silver and black, with an all-black and various colored versions released in February 2023. The standard silver and black colorway costs $959 / £899 body-only and is available in two kit options in the U.S., with the U.K. getting a few more. Colored versions all come bundled with a lens in the U.S. for $1,199 and as body-only in the U.K. for £949.
This isn’t a cheap camera. It’s well into the upper-intermediate pricing zone and quite a stretch for a beginner. This is an issue: primary competition is the Canon EOS R50, which packs more on paper and, despite being more recent, can be had for $800 with a lens, undercutting the Nikon by a fair chunk and making itself more appealing to both beginners and budget-conscious intermediate shooters. The Canon EOS R10 is priced similarly to the Nikon Z fc, and offers a lot more for the intermediate market. Put simply, the Z fc is overpriced.
I tested the Z fc with the Nikkor 28mm — a sharp lens with a bright f/2.8 maximum aperture that’ll suit street photography. This lens is absolutely massive for a 28mm, though, especially when compared to Canon’s reasonably-priced RF 28mm pancake lens.
I would opt for the more-flexible DX 15-50mm zoom. The wide end will come in handy when vlogging, fitting you and your surroundings into frame at arm’s length. The telephoto end will give you extra reach when you need it. The zoom is also the more compact of the two kit lenses, making it easier to take with you traveling.
The Z fc uses Nikon’s Z mount, giving you access to a decent range of 39 Nikkor lenses, as well as third party lenses from the likes of Sigma and Tamron — something you won’t get with Canon (yet).
Nikon Z fc review: Design
The Nikon Z fc is lightweight and relatively compact, weighing in at 15.7 ounces with battery and card, and measuring 5.3 x 3.7 x 1.8 inches.
The biggest selling point of the Nikon Z fc is its retro styling. It’s modeled on film SLRs of old, and will look familiar to anyone who has owned or used a pre-90s Nikon. The dials are very similar, with ISO on the left, shutter and exposure compensation on the right. There’s a vintage-feeling pyramid EVF housing, wrapped in grippy material, plus a little digital F-Stop display that takes the place of the old exposure counter display on film cameras — a nice touch, and useful for quickly checking aperture. The 28mm lens is also reminiscent of classic F-Mount lenses. It’s a real looker of a camera.
Unfortunately, this is all superficial. My 1980s Nikon FG feels like a lump of metal. It’s solid and sturdy — enough to last and be shooting after 40 years. The Z fc feels cheap. Materials and controls feel tawdry. Dials are plastic instead of the milled metal you’d find on a Fujifilm. The on/off switch and shutter button are conspicuously tacky and flimsy. Buttons are surrounded by ugly plastic bezels which, while sprayed the same color as the metal top panel, are easily distinguishable as a cheaper material.
Then there’s the top panel itself. It’s metal, yes, but so thin I had trouble distinguishing it from plastic until I read the specs list. You’d expect that from lightweight magnesium alloy, but it runs counter to Nikon’s marketing message that this camera “handles like a Nikon film camera” — those things were heavy, in a good way. All in, the finish is rather disappointing given the money, especially considering the outstanding build quality and feel of the similarly priced Fujifilm X-T30 II.
Buttons themselves are all nicely damped, as are the control dials on top. There’s a 1.04M dot fully articulating screen and a 2.36M dot EVF. These resolutions are on a par for this segment and are adequate for playback, with the EVF much better for checking focus. Both are decently backlit for shooting on sunny days.
Inside the battery and card compartment — which is incredibly fiddly to get open if you have fat fingers like me — there’s a single UHS-I SD card slot. That means you won’t have a backup of your photos if your card goes kaput. It’s not really an issue given this isn’t a pro-oriented camera.
Along the side, you’ll find a micro-HDMI port, a USB-C port and an external microphone port, and there’s a hot shoe on top, giving video creators a few ways to hook up peripherals. There’s no headphone port — a hint at the fact that this camera is geared towards vloggers, rather than more serious videographers.
Nikon Z fc review: Controls
Nikon states that the Z fc “handles like a Nikon film camera”. The subtext is that the nostalgic layout rekindles the glory days of pure photography, and makes this camera handle better than a modern one. But don’t be fooled, because that’s not true.
Firstly, there’s nothing inherently bad with a modern ergonomic camera: they’ve evolved that way for a reason, often handling phenomenally well at pace. Secondly, the Z fc just handles badly anyway. It’s not a pleasant camera to use.
This is primarily due to the ISO dial, which is retro to a fault. To recreate a film camera’s ISO/ASA dials, the Z fc forces you to unlock the ISO dial before turning it, every time. This was necessary on film cameras, as a film roll had a set ISO — you told the camera the ISO and it adjusted metering accordingly. The lock prevented you uncalibrating your camera’s metering and wasting film. But on a digital camera this system is unnecessary and infuriating. Even with my large hands, I was unable to unlock the dial from a standard grip, which slowed me down. Other retro cameras like the Fujifilm X-T5 have option dial locks to fix controls after selecting your settings, which makes much more sense.
Another downside is the convoluted menu system. Even after two weeks with the camera, I was still scratching my head trying to figure it out. For some reason, there are photo and video menus with some settings in, plus another set of menus called the “Custom Settings Menu”, which features another set of photo and video menus with other settings. Why are there two sets of different menus for the same things? It’s pointless, confusing and over-engineered.
To be fair, other controls are well laid out. The shutter dial again features a retro locking mechanism to move between modes, but this one makes sense: this stops you accidentally moving from manual to auto. Aperture control is located on the front control dial. Both are easy to locate and operate with a finger.
There’s a multi-directional pad for AF point control, which is placed naturally to reach when EVF shooting. A customizable info menu allows you to switch relatively quickly to your most-used settings, and there are the usual zoom and AF-L buttons on the back. On the front is a customizable function button that’s well positioned for a quick tap from your right hand, and there’s a secondary dial on the back. All in, this gives you a decent number of control options.
Nikon Z fc review: Autofocus
The Nikon Z fc uses a hybrid contrast/phase detection autofocusing system. It can operate down to EV -4.5, which is half a stop lower than the Canon EOS R10, although the phase detection component in the Fuji X-T30 II hybrid AF can operate down to EV -7.0.
The Z fc focused quickly and accurately in non-detection scenarios. Human detection and tracking works well, with the camera managing to detect and track my partner, even in our relatively dark kitchen.
The Z fc lacks specific detection modes for things like birds or vehicles, as you’d find in the Canon EOS R50 and EOS R10. It has an animal detection mode, but this performs poorly. The Nikon detected my dog, but consistently struggled to find and lock onto her eye, instead locking onto the rear of her head and neck. In the image below, you can see that her eyes and surrounding face are quite soft — the focal plane is around her collar. The Z fc managed no shots with focus on her eyes or face.
The AF in the Nikon Z fc isn’t necessarily bad if you shoot primarily street, portrait or family photography. But if you’re looking for a camera that’ll help you branch out into other adventurous enthusiast areas like sport or wildlife, the Z fc’s autofocus doesn’t have the bells and whistles for the job.
Nikon Z fc review: Image performance
The Nikon Z fc produces very nice images. Its 20.9 megapixel sensor renders enough detail for casual photography, uploading online or for small prints. In the first of the photos below at full res, the words on the memorial inscription on the bench are clearly distinguishable. In the second image of a dragon statue, the Z fc has captured the extremely fine cobwebs under the dragon’s hat, and on its neck and chest.
Colors in Camera Standard are pleasing, straight out of camera. In the photos above, the camera has captured the warmth of the sunny evening and the vibrant greens and yellows of the grass and leaves. In the image below, the colors of the flower stems and petals are rich and bold, without looking artificial.
The Z fc performs relatively well in challenging dynamic ranges. In the photo below, the Z fc captured the dark shade under the trees, as well as the bright sunlit areas of the shot, without blowing out the brighter areas or sky.
There is also a large selection of in-camera color profiles to choose from: 27 in total. Some profiles can be tweaked with color filters too, giving you more creative choices. Here’s the same image, shot in camera Standard originally, with a small selection of other Nikon color profiles applied in Lightroom.
The Z fc can shoot at a respectable 11fps in continuous burst. Obviously, with only a single UHS-I card slot on offer, buffers fill pretty fast. This isn’t a camera for sports or wildlife photography.
ISO performance is relatively good. The first image below was shot at ISO 100 and is clean and noise free, with the brush strokes and metallic texture of the gold paint visible on the statue’s body and face. Lots of detail is visible in the brown fibrous fur of the toy llama, as are the manufacturing scuffs and marks on the brass greyhound, which has a glistening metallic shine.
At ISO 12,800, the statue has lost a lot of detail in its paint, but facial features are still relatively well defined. The greyhound has lost quite a bit of detail and luster, but still looks ok. The llama has been so smoothed by noise suppression that it almost looks out of focus, and thick noise is clearly visible on the rear wall, but overall the Z fc performed well.
Nikon Z fc review: Video performance
The Nikon Z fc is primarily aimed at photographers, but also has a few features to appeal to the vlogging market. There’s a flip out screen for shooting to camera, and 4K is available in up to 30p, which is adequate for vlogging. For similar money, the Canon EOS R10 can shoot 4K/60p with a crop, which will appeal to content creators wanting smoother footage, while the Fujifilm X-T30 II can also shoot 4K/30, with the added benefit of 240fps Full HD slow motion. Again, there are the creative color profiles for nice-looking content straight out of camera, but that’s something the Fuji offers too, so the Z fc doesn’t really have any standout features versus the competition.
There’s no in body image stabilization (IBIS), which is normal for this segment, but does result in rather shaky handheld footage, as you can see in the video below. For a camera with IBIS, you’d need to step up to the Canon EOS R7 or Fujifilm X-S20, both of which cost several hundred dollars more.
You can record in both MP4 and MOV recording formats, which is nice for anyone thinking of editing their footage, as .MOV files undergo less compression for higher quality material and more editing flexibility. As you’d expect in this price bracket, there’s no access to Log profiles or RAW recording. The EOS R10 does not offer MOV recording, but does feature a HDR PQ gamma correction profile for increased dynamic range.
There’s no headphone jack either. It’s not really a problem for vlogging, but if you wanted to branch out into behind-the-camera work, you wouldn’t be able to monitor audio levels.
Nikon Z fc review: Battery life
Nikon rates the Z fc’s battery life at 360 shots, or 80 minutes of video recording. In testing, a third of a charge netted roughly 115 photos and a handful of short videos using both the EVF and rear display, so you can expect the top end of Nikon’s endurance figures.
This is around 80 shots fewer than EOS R50 (440 shots), 70 shots fewer than the Canon EOS R10 (430), and 30 shots fewer than the Fujifilm X-T30 II (390). So the Nikon loses out for battery life.
Nikon Z fc review: Verdict
The Nikon Z fc is not necessarily an awful camera if you just want to take photos or shoot some video. It’ll produce nice looking images for both, with a variety of creative filters.
The issue this camera has in today’s market, however, is that for similar or less money, its rivals do absolutely everything better. Equally nice images and beautiful color profiles can be found in the Fujifilm X-T30 II, which was released at around the same time and offers the same stunning retro looks, with more megapixels and superior build quality.
Better all-round performance can also be had from Canon’s mirrorless models, if you aren’t fussed about the retro look. While much newer, both the EOS R10 and EOS R50 are priced similarly or lower than the Z fc, so they have to factor into the equation. The Canon EOS R10 will shoot cropped 4K/60p, while the class-leading AF system in both the R10 and the cheaper EOS R50 leaves Nikon’s system in the dirt.
It’s therefore very difficult to recommend this camera, unless you’re absolutely dying for a camera that looks like an old Nikon. But even in those cases, my advice would be to simply go and buy an old Nikon — after all, they’re much better built.