Taking photos with my 1967 35mm Nikkormat FTN makes me feel powerful. Its all-metal body with mechanical springs, gears, and levers create a loud, satisfying “clunk” with every shutter press and deep “zip” when advancing the film. Its silver metal body with black faux-leather accents has proven to be not only timeless and eye-catching but, more importantly, incredibly durable. And the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings being located around the barrel of the lens make it incredibly quick to control once your muscle memory has been established.
Outside of the great images this camera can capture, using the FTN is an incredibly fun and satisfying experience. And the Nikon Z FC, Nikon’s latest entry-level mirrorless camera, led me to believe that I might, at long last, have a near-exact digital replica of a camera I love so much. Sadly, the Z FC wasn’t meant to digitally replicate a classic but, instead, inspire a new generation to carry a camera outside of their phones.
The Nikon Z FC is a compact APS-C, 20.9-megapixel camera. The body costs $959.95; the $1,096.95 kit I was able to test included a Nikkor Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 lens that retracts when not in use for a slim silhouette.
It’s a retro rebrand of Nikon’s entry-level mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z50, with a few added features, such as full-time eye autofocus while shooting video, the ability to accept firmware updates via an app, a faster USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and a fully articulating LCD screen. Unlike Nikon’s earlier Df, which took a DSLR and stripped out features in the name of its retro rebuild, the FC isn’t hampered at all — it can shoot full-resolution stills up to 11 frames per second and 4K 30fps video for up to 30 minutes at a time.
Photos from the Z FC with the 16-50mm kit lens are sharp with a very smooth and pleasing focus fall-off. The RAW files provide a lot of room for brightening shadows or bringing down the highlights. And I was very impressed with how the Z FC handled grain in low-light situations. Instead of a mess of color blotches and pixelation, the low-light grain has a film-esque, even texture to it that, when displayed on a small screen, such as a phone, isn’t distracting.
Photos taken on the Nikon Z FC with the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens.
The Achilles heel of the Z FC is its slow auto-focus system. Often the camera can’t find any particular object to focus on and will do a fair amount of hunting once a point is locked in. There is focus tracking, in both photo and video modes, that works well in perfect light, but in low light, the camera struggles to hold onto a single point. Also, the green focus assist light is incredibly bright and draws a lot of attention to itself. Pair that with an auto-focus system that often misses the mark, and you might as well be a flashing Christmas tree out attempting to take photos in the dark. The slow kit lens doesn’t help this situation, either; you might have better success with a brighter lens, but I was not able to test that.