Nikon Zfc Camera Review

bythom nikon zfc

What is It?

Welcome to my review of the Z50 II camera from...wait...uh, no something's happening here. The ghost of Goto-san has appeared—how is that possible that he's a ghost if he's still alive?—and forced the developers to add dials and make it look retro! So...welcome to my review of the Nikon Zfc (nee Z50 II) camera. 

To understand the above comment you have to ask yourself what things would Nikon have taken from their large bin of technologies and parts to create a Z50 II on a 24-month cycle? Well, they'd have done many things similar to what they did with the Z6 and Z7 when those products were elevated to II status: add USB Power Delivery, add shutter speeds up to 900-seconds, add the Wide-area AF (L-people) and Wide-area AF (L-animals) AF-area modes, make the autofocus performance more responsive in some situations, and so on. 

Well, if you take a Z50, add those II-type things, then put the result into a body that looks much like the old FM film SLRs, you have the Nikon Zfc. No, I'm not being sarcastic or sardonic. I don't have to be, because Nikon did what Nikon did. Any skepticism or mocking would be self-inflicted in Tokyo.

So before we get to the camera itself, we have to discuss Nikon's unique position and why they might have done what they did. 

Not only is Nikon the last to arrive at the serious mirrorless game—they had a not-so-serious early attempt with the Nikon 1—but they're even later to market in the crop-sensor portion of the market (Canon was 2015, Fujifilm 2012, Sony 2010, Olympus/Panasonic 2009). When the Z50 appeared in 2019 with its two DX lenses, Nikon was up against well established competitors, but more importantly, well-established lens sets. 

Nikon was looking for a replacement for the fast-declining sales of their D3500 and D5600 cameras, and it was no secret that the Z50 and the two kit lenses really targeted those customers (though at a higher price). However, Nikon used to have a complete lineup of crop sensor DSLRs (as many as seven at one point, but a solid lineup of four as things started to wind down from the DSLR peak). Nikon also used to have a modest set of DX lenses—20 different models in total—that went with those four camera bodies. 

The Z50 was a stab at trying to re-establish some of that crop sensor DSLR dominance. Again, in a market where other makers already have mature systems. Thus, it was a bit of a stab with a rubber knife. Z50 sales weren't terrible, and the camera itself is quite good, but the Z50 just doesn't make it up the sales charts the way the D3500 and D5600 once did. 

Nikon users were justifiably curious as to where Nikon would go next with crop-sensor Z cameras, with the lower-end consumer hoping for a more compact and affordable Z30 and the serious enthusiast hoping for a performance-oriented Z70 (or maybe Z90 given Nikon naming proclivities).

Thus, the arrival of the crop sensor Zfc—which is more akin to the Nikon Df than anything else in Nikon's lineup—has confused many of the Nikon faithful and even has other photographers scratching their heads wondering what Nikon is up to. Me too. 

Some of Nikon's thinking certainly had to do with the fact that the Z50 didn't exactly catch on fire in the home market of Japan (or other Asian markets that have similar camera preferences). In the Japanese market the two things that rack up the market share (other than low price) are "very compact" (EOS M) and "very retro" (Fujifilm X and Olympus). The crowd interested in video as well as stills in Japan seems to prefer the aging Sony A6000. That didn't leave any room for the more DSLR-like Z50 to succeed. 

I don't think it's a coincidence that the Zfc is being marketed as compact (it is, up to a point), retro (it definitely is), and suitable for vlogging (it is, up to a point). I'm pretty sure that the Z50 II update was derailed into a "let's do better at home" Zfc project. Initial sales seem to indicate that Nikon has had some success with that. However, North America and Europe are now confused as to what Nikon is doing with Z DX. 

So let me begin by saying that the Zfc is (probably) a one-off (or half of a two-off if we see a similar FX version). Nikon is doing what all businesses tend to do these days, which is to look for products that deliver short term results. Somewhere in Tokyo there are documents that say that a Zfc would do that more so than a Z50 II. Therefore, we got the Zfc.

As I noted, the Zfc is really a Z50 II, so it's best to describe the camera starting with the things it shares with the Z50. First up is a variant of the 20mp sensor that Nikon has been using for its top DX cameras since 2016. This is a solidly proven image sensor, now with BSI (backside illumination) and apparently with a new fab making it (Tower Semi instead of Toshiba). The sensor does not have an anti-aliasing filter, thus it can produce moire, but it also produces highly detailed results with state-of-the-art APS-C noise handling. ISO ranges in third stops from 100 to 51200, with HI1 and HI2 also available (no LO is available). Full frame 4K video is also an attribute of this sensor, as is 120 fps HD video (I'll get to the video capabilities a bit more later in this section).

No, the image sensor on the Zfc is not stabilized (ditto the Z50). The two existing Z DX lenses both have VR built-in, though. 

The image sensor has Nikon's every-twelfth row phase detect system built in, and the EXPEED6 processor and the firmware for that in the Zfc has been tweaked to provide even better than Z50 autofocus capability (both in speed and in AF-Area choices, which now include Wide-area L-people and L-animals). Both video rolling shutter and Electronic shutter are what I'd call good, particularly for the price. Not up to the stacked sensor capabilities of the top full frame cameras, but certainly about as good as you'll find in APS-C cameras. In other words, the electronics in the Zfc are basically state-of-the-art.

The mechanicals, however, start to show where some of the cost cutting comes from to keep this model in the higher-low- to lower-mid-range pricing. The physical shutter tops out at 1/4000 and a flash sync speed of 1/200, for example. You can set shutter speeds up to 900 seconds in Manual exposure mode, though (by turning on a Custom Setting). And while the body is of a magnesium alloy frame construction, it's not particularly weather sealed, relying on parts overlap more so than gaskets to keep water outside. The bottom plate of the camera and the battery compartment door are plastic, not metal.

Zfc chassis copy

Two mechanical bits do stand out, though: the fully articulating Rear LCD is an upgrade from the Z50's flimsier tilting mechanism, and the dials that distinguish the top plate of the Zfc are not cheap plastic knobs: they're machined metal, engraved, and precisely painted, much like many of you remember from the 1960's and 70's. 

bythom nikon zfc colors

The metal frame of the Zfc has a faux leatherette applied to most of it, but leaves exposed metal at the very top and bottom to provide the desired "panda" style approach. The camera comes standard with a black leatherette, but you can special order it in six "approved by millennials" colors (white, pink, turquoise, gray, burnt orange, or light brown; no, those aren't Nikon's names for the colors, but effectively that's what they look like). In the US, you can only get the color variants directly from NikonUSA at the moment. In some other countries, you may find them at dealers, particularly in Asia. 

Which brings us to the elephant filling the room: the controls (uh, I mean dials).

bythom zfc top

Up top the Zfc has a locking ISO dial, a (mostly) free-wheeling Shutter Speed dial, a free-wheeling Exposure Compensation dial, an Exposure Mode lever, and a stills/video lever. This is basically the "retro" part of the camera, and all that sits on the top plate. The Zfc also has a Front and Rear Command dial, which allows the long-traditional Nikon button-plus-dial control of the camera. I'll talk about how those work in the handling section that comes next, but just by the way I wrote it earlier in this review you're probably anticipating some idiosyncrasies or conflicts. Yeah, foreshadowing.

Nikon's taken a few small liberties it doesn't discuss with image quality you should know about. When you take JPEG images, you only get Size Priority. When you take raw images (NEF), you only get Lossless Compressed. Yes, you still have Fine, Normal, and Basic JPEG compressions, but particularly with Basic you need to be careful at higher ISO values: in Nikon's determination to make that image under 3MBs in size, the compression can get heftier than you're used to with lots of detail and noise. And, yes, you have the ability to select 12-bit or 14-bit NEFs, but a lot of the features of the camera will force 12-bit (e.g. Continuous H (extended)). When Nikon speaks of the Zfc as a "casual" camera—and they do that a lot in their marketing—they mean it. There are many such menu/option simplifications that show up, though none of them really concern me; the reduction in complexity is actually pretty appropriate for a camera of this level, you just need to know about it.

The viewfinder is a 2.4m dot OLED. That puts it at about XGA level, and as with the Z50, it's detailed and accurate enough to trust, and doesn't call a lot of attention to itself as "electronic" unless you start dialing up contrast and other parameters. The diopter range on the viewfinder is -3 to +3 (meters-1), and the overall magnification is the same as the Z50 (1.02x when adjusted for DX). 

Meanwhile, the Rear LCD is the typical 3" 1.04m dot TFT display you'd find in this class of camera. Nikon implements a full touch capability into the display, which also functions in the forward-facing Selfie mode (unlike some competitors, who seem to not want selfie-shooters to set or control anything). Speaking of selfies, the Zfc does have a Selfie setting that you can turn on and off. When on, this disables all controls other than the shutter release and touchscreen. 

You're probably wondering about the focus system. Nikon has made some modest improvements over the Z50. Regular range is now -3EV to 19EV (as opposed to -2EV to 19EV on the Z50). And low-light mode goes down to -4.5EV (measured with an f/1.8 lens at base ISO). We still have 209 selectable points, plus the more automated area modes. As I mentioned earlier, we get the same split out of automatic people and animal modes as we saw on the Z6 II/Z7 II, and you have L-people and L-animal modes in Wide-area AF, too. Subject tracking uses the updated system that first appeared with the Z6 and Z7 2.0 firmware, as yes, it can be assigned to a control.

But...we only have one Fn button on the Zfc. We also lost the programmable ISO button the Z50 had, too. Thus, camera customization on the Zfc is constrained. Indeed, too constrained for my taste, since I don't tend to use the dials (more foreshadowing). 

Meanwhile, the Zfc does have one menu feature the Z50 doesn't: Focus shift shooting. I fail to see how that matches up with the selfie/vlogger and casual shooter Nikon is targeting, but it's a nice feature to have in a camera at this price.

I said I'd write a bit more about video. 4K comes as UHD (3840x2180) and is available at 24, 25, or 30 fps with 110Mbps bitrate. HD can be set from 24 fps to 120 fps (including both PAL and NTSC speeds), and there are three additional "record as slow motion" speeds, as well, though they have a 3 minute recording limit. All other video has the usual 30-minute limit, though it isn't just about the old European restrictions here: Nikon's still using the old EXPEED chip black box setting that can only create up to eight ~4GB files for a video, which would also give you about the same time restriction. Video internally is 4:2:0 8-bit, and there is no log form available (though Nikon does supply its usual Flat Picture Control, which does something similar).

The Zfc has stereo microphones just under the lip where the Nikon logo appears on the viewfinder hump, and it has the ability to use external microphones, as well. No headphone monitoring is included. 

I've verified that both the Atomos Ninja V and the Blackmagic Design Video Assist recognize and record video properly from the HDMI connector on the camera, so you have some ability to do better than 4:2:0 8-bit, but at the cost of external complexity/size. 

SnapBridge is built-into the Zfc, along with the requisite 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2. This provides both the ability to move images off the camera to your mobile device, but to control the Zfc remotely, as well. You can also control a Zfc from the Nikon ML-L7 (optional) remote control. 

Power for the Zfc is provided by the EN-EL25 battery, which is rated to 300 shots CIPA. The camera supports USB Power Delivery and can operate while remotely powered. An MH-32 AC charger is supplied with the camera.

As for lenses, only two Z DX lenses are currently available: the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and the 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR.This provides you the full frame equivalent of a 24-375mm focal range in two compact lenses. A third DX lens—the 18-140mm of unknown aperture specification—has been on the Road Map for a long time now, but still hasn't appeared. Ironically, on NikonUSA's Accessories page, the Nikkor Lenses shown as drawings are Nikkor 1 (CX) lenses ;~). Way to go Nikon (buzz, buzz). 

The Zfc is available as body only (US$960), body plus 16-50mm 3.5-6.3 lens (US$1100), or body plus 28mm f/2.8 lens (US$1200). The body+16-50mm kits can be obtained in amber brown, white, natural gray, sand beige, coral pink, and mint green (also at US$1200 in the US). Note that the kit version of the 16-50mm lens has a silver instead of black exterior to look "more retro." Likewise the 28mm f/2.8 kit lens has a special silver ring. Ooh, silver.

The Zfc is made in Thailand (as is the kit lens).

Source of the reviewed product: Purchased from B&H.

Nikon's Web page for the Zfc

Thom's Book for the Zfc

How's it Handle?

I'm sure this will be the most controversial part of my review. It appears that a lot of folk have such a love affair with dials that have numbers on them that this clouds their eyes so much that they ignore some obvious issues. On the flip side, I completely eviscerated the similar dial-type interface bolted onto the D600 to create the Nikon Df. The whole "retro" idea in the first place is highly contentious, enough so that Nikon themselves have tempered the Zfc marketing to use statements about style rather than substance (e.g. "designed in the spirit of classic Nikon cameras" and "this is a camera you think you've seen before").

You won't find Nikon saying that "dials make the camera easier to use." The marketing tends to say "slow down and think about your photography." Uh, okay. But I don't want to slow down so much that I miss a moment.

Okay, ranting done for the moment, let's get to the meat, uh, I mean more ranting...

First up, by designing the camera without a right-side grip (and no thumb rest on the back, either), the Zfc is really best used only with smaller and lighter lenses. A big, heavy lens such as the 70-200mm f/2.8 S just completely distorts the handling experience and probably should be avoided. Even the 50-250mm second kit lens Nikon wants to sell you starts to become a bit of a burden when extended, as at 250mm you don't really have enough grip on the camera to keep it well aimed, and the VR in that lens is going to be working overtime to compensate. If you want to use long lenses, the Z50 is a better choice, as its substantive hand grip will help you stabilize the camera/lens combo.

Nikon showed a right hand supplemental grip at launch, but it is not available that I know of, certainly not here in the US. A better solution is Smallrig's just announced L-Shape Grip.

The slightly better news is the faux leather Nikon uses on the (black) body has some modest bit of grip to it, at least until it gets damp, at which point you have a slippery soap bar of a camera that you hope you won't be bending over to pick up. 

With the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 kit lens, the 28mm f/2.8 special edition lens, the 50mm f/2.8 macro lens, and many of the smaller third-party manual focus primes, the Zfc body handling is much like the old FMn's: adequate to the purpose. If you think you're going to use bigger, heavier lenses, again the Z50 with its substantive hand grip and thumb rest is a far better choice. I simply can't emphasize that enough.

Next up, we have the dials. Unlike the Nikon Df, where I had extreme issues with the dials coupled with the D600 user interface, Nikon's done a better job of integration here. Better doesn't mean perfect, though. Still, at least the Zfc doesn't feel like the Frankencamera that the Df did. 

If you want to have a fine degree of shutter speed choice (i.e. 1/3 stop choices), the shutter speed dial stops being a dial and becomes a switch (set to the 1/3 STEP position). If you need shutter speeds of longer than 4 seconds, well, the dial also isn't going to be of much use there, as you have to again set 1/3 STEP to get to those extended shutter speeds. As with the Df, the shutter speed dial tends to lie to you when you select anything other than Manual or Shutter-priority exposure mode. In video, the shutter speed dial is nearly useless (only works in Manual exposure mode).

My guess is that many of you are going to be using the Rear Command dial to change shutter speeds, just as with the "normal" Nikon user interface.

Our second dial to consider offers up a different problem: Nikon has not put an Auto ISO position on the ISO dial. Nor does the dial set maximum ISO to use when Auto ISO sensitivity control is active. So once again we have a dial that potentially becomes useless or will lie to you about what is set. Heck, if you choose Auto Exposure mode, the dial becomes just a pretty little bump on the left side of the camera (the camera always uses automatic ISO sensitivity control for that mode). If you're not a user of automatic ISO functions, then sure, the locking ISO dial is a nice touch, and allows you to set one-third stop values from 100 to 51200 (plus HI1 and HI2). 

The final dial is the Exposure Compensation dial. Unlike the ISO dial, this one is not lockable (the Shutter Speed dial is freewheeling when used to set a full stop shutter speed, but locks if you set something else). The Fuji-like C position on the dial is for when you want to push exposure compensation to another control, such as Easy Exposure Compensation via the Front Command dial or a lens control ring. In other words, another switch on a dial. Yikes. 

Overall, the dials just don't do much for me, and probably won't for many of you, either. The minute you set Aperture or Program Exposure mode, want third stop shutter speeds, want to use Auto ISO sensitivity control or Easy Exposure Compensation, at least one of the dials shuts down on you. 

So let's talk about who the dials actually work for: someone taking still images using a fixed ISO and selecting full stop shutter speeds in Manual or Shutter Priority exposure modes, basically. So all that hoopla over retro dials is for a smallish subset of the market (and one that doesn't at all match up with the youthful YouTubers/Instagramers that Nikon seems to be targeting with the camera).

The dials themselves are well made. On my sample, the ISO dial is a teeny bit wobbly while the others are very certain. For my style of photography, I'd have preferred an exposure compensation and ISO button, but I can live with those dials.

Nikon has wisely not let the three switches—power, Exposure mode, and still/video— really extend out past the front or rear of the camera where they can get easily moved. Nevertheless, I've noted at least once when I've accidentally moved the exposure compensation dial and it took a moment for me to notice that.

On to some good news: the buttons are slightly more easily found by touch on the Zfc than on the Z50. They're raised, extended, or positioned slightly better than on the Z50, and that's appreciated on such a small camera. 

bythom zfc back

Personally, I like the articulating Rear LCD on the Zfc; I slightly prefer it over the tilting one on the Z50. I do wish someone would take the time to invent a better tilting and articulating display, but I can make do with either. The two things that the articulating display on the Zfc provide over the Z50's tilting one: (1) a better selfie/vlogger position (except if you're using an external microphone, which will partially block your view); and (2) the ability to reverse the LCD during travel to protect it (which I like, since I travel rough; see above photo). The one thing that the Z50's tilting LCD provides over the Zfc's articulating one is that you don't have to extend the LCD alongside the camera to get a tilt for low- or high-angle imagery. I'm in the camp that prefers the articulation benefits over the in-place tilting benefit, though.

As before, Nikon's touch capability on the Rear LCD is excellent, and this is the thing that makes that selfie/vlogger position of the articulating display much more useful: far easier to set the Zfc from the front than it is the Z50. 

But I'm not done dinging the Zfc (you expected otherwise? ;~). The most tangible problem on the Nikon Z cameras so far is the lack of button customization: the number of buttons that you have available to customize as well as the things that you can add to each button. I fear that Nikon is becoming too reliant upon the i button menu. Indeed, they've promoted that button upward above the Direction pad on the Zfc, where it is more easily found by touch (something I agree with, though).

The Z50 has two Fn buttons you can program, the Zfc has one. So where are you going to put quick focus adjustments? On the one Fn button, and then you don't really have much other flexibility left. Okay, you could put it on the red record video button, as well (which by default is programmed to remove the information overlays in the viewfinder, something many will also want direct access to). The problem is that for a very active photographer you don't have many buttons to program and you don't have as many things you can program them to as you might want. No wonder Nikon keeps using the word "casual" in their Zfc marketing.

The round viewfinder "eyepiece" has been getting kudos from users. But with my glasses the Z50 eyepiece mounted on the Zfc is an ever so slightly better choice (I see the full frame slightly better). The Zfc's unique round eyepiece is purely a design element as far as I can tell; you can lift it off and replace it with the Z50 rectangular one ;~).

Yes. I've been harsh on the Zfc's handling, and I'm sure I'll get heated responses over that. While Nikon didn't make all the mistakes they made with the Df, I still find that the dials aren't as well thought through as they could be. That makes the Zfc a slightly more clumsy camera in practical use than the Z50 (with smaller lenses; again, with big, heavy lenses you'll want the handgrip of the Z50). Not clumsy enough that I find it totally problematic (mostly because I'm avoiding the shutter speed dial and Auto ISO sensitivity control). 

One curious note: Nikon has finally given up on the pretension that they make movie cameras. The word "movie" has been replaced with "video" everywhere in the Zfc's menus, something I've been advocating Nikon do for some time now. (Is Nikon listening to me? No. They're just slower to come to realizations. ;~)

How's it Perform?

Battery life: Probably the worst performance characteristic of the Zfc, much like the Z50. I'm getting better than the 300 shot CIPA number that Nikon publishes, but only when I'm using the camera constantly. Most of the time, I'm getting close to 500 images per charge in extended photography sessions. In casual use—and remember, Nikon markets this as a casual camera—I'm often close to the 300 number per charge, though.

Buffer: Like the Z50, it seems the top speed of the card slot is somewhere below 95MBps. Nikon says the buffer is 36 frames minimum for raw and 83 frames minimum for JPEG fine Large. I'm actually netting a few frames less than that with the SanDisk Extreme 80MBps card I'm using at the moment, but I'm not finding that to be an issue. For the targeting audience, the buffer is perfectly adequate.

Autofocus: the obvious performance change from the Z50 comes in the Zfc autofocus system. Yes to all the things you might have heard:

  • The Zfc focuses a little bit faster and better in low light and low contrast
  • The Zfc is somewhat snappier to focus on moving targets, particularly in the people/animal modes
  • The Zfc is a little more consistent and accurate with eye focus, and from longer distances

Note the qualifiers (little, bit, somewhat). It was actually difficult to come up with a repeatable session where I could try to verify that, but ultimately I did. To me, the slightly bigger improvement is that the Zfc autofocus sensor position in the automatic modes updates slightly faster, though it is also sometimes a bit more jumpy than the Z50. This is most noticeable with eye focus, where not only can the Z50 be a little slow to move from face to eye detection, but when you're panning or the subject is motion, there feels like there is some lag to the focus sensor position update. The Zfc just seems to find the eye faster and follow it better. 

Manual focus: Wait, what? How can that be a performance section when the photographer is doing all the work? One thing that did a little differently with this review and while writing my book was to use a number of manual focus lenses on the Zfc. The addition of an aperture ring—which most manual focus lenses for the Z mount have—really does make the Zfc even more like using an old FM SLR. You'll usually want to flip the exposure indicators (Custom Setting #F6) if you do that, so that the apertures line up correctly with the metering bar. 

You're also going to want to set up the AE-L/AF-L button to magnify the viewfinder instantly and set Focus peaking to On (leave the OK button to "center the focus position"). Peaking doesn't work with magnification, so you get into the rhythm of using peaking to get you close, magnification to verify/tune. Sure enough, you end up with a very usable old-school, all manual camera. In many ways, faster and easier to use than the old film SLRs. 

Given all the manual focus lenses that have popped up in the Z mount that would be appropriate for the Zfc user, there's a lot to be said for going this route 100% if you're truly old school. 

Image Quality: The Zfc performs the same as my Z50 in every meaningful way I can find. Which is to say: excellent. As APS-C cameras go, don't discount the 20mp sensor on the Zfc: it performs right up there with the best 24mp ones, perhaps a little better in some minor aspects. It's video quality is excellent, too. I consider this as one of those "don't fix it if it isn't broken things," which is exactly what Nikon did. (If you need to see image quality, see my Z50 review). But for those of you who just need something to look at, here's ISO 6400 (from left to right: no NR, low NR, high NR; not a lot of noise to correct, but note the slight color shifts and the detail in the "hair"):


Final Words

The conundrum, of course, is do you buy a Z50 or a Zfc? Nikon didn't make this an easy choice. However, folk that had already bought into the Z50 prior to the Zfc appearing probably have something to say: where is the firmware update that adds the clearly available things that are currently unique to the Zfc (e.g. extended shutter speeds and autofocus additions/performance)? 

Several clues tell me that the Zfc was originally a Z50 II. The biggest of those clues is that we never got an AC adapter solution for the Z50: Nikon was clearly going to target USB Power Delivery to solve that problem (despite the little rubber door on the battery chamber, which surprisingly, the Zfc has, too). Unfortunately, the Zfc hijacked that (as well as the other changes that would have made for a Z50 II akin to the Z6/Z7 II upgrades). So we're left with the original Z50 versus the Z50 II-usurping Zfc. 

Bad call, Nikon. In order to find new customers—again, those young influencers taking casual photos/videos that seem to be the Zfc's stated target—you stepped on the toes of your established customers, and they noticed. Let's hope that Nikon does a firmware update for the Z50 that "fixes" some of the problem, but I'm not holding out for that, as the Z50 is priced lower than the Zfc, so Nikon really wants to sell a Zfc to the Z50 customer. 

That brings me to this: if you were in the market for a DX Z camera, do you buy the Z50 or the Zfc? If you're going to use a long, heavy lens, you buy the Z50 and thus you won't get the modest additions and performance benefits of the Zfc. If you're just looking for a small carry-around camera and are going to stick to small, compact lenses, then you pay US$100 more and get the Zfc. (I'm assuming that the younger influencers that Nikon says they're targeting with this camera aren't reading this site; but for the few that are, buy the Zfc simply because it's better suited for selfies/vlogging.)

It's not that I don't like the Zfc. If Nikon had never made the Z50 then we wouldn't be having the convoluted discussion concerning which to buy, with no clear winner (except for the younger generation, particularly ones who like colored products instead of black ones ;~). But we are, and the Zfc essentially stole the Z50 II's attributes and put them in a different coat that obscures the decision. In other words, if the Zfc were instead simply a Z50 II (e.g. add all the Zfc unique things other than the dials to the Z50), I'd be more fully praising the camera. 

But the retro styling actually gets in the way of fully praising the Zfc. You don't have a firm hand grip on the Zfc, the dials may or may not be useful or even get in the way, and we've lost some ability to customize controls. We've gained an articulating display (that some don't want), USB Power Delivery, 900 second shutter speeds, and better AF performance (including some new useful AF-Area modes), all in a body that's somewhat wider than before. 

Nikon didn't help themselves much with the Zfc. Sure, in Japan and Asia they're sure to pick up sales that were headed to Fujifilm, but in the US I note that the primary Zfc kit didn't immediately sell out when it was first delivered.

In essence, Nikon still has the same problem they had with the Z50: Nikon basically has one tweener crop sensor camera that doesn't have maximal appeal to anyone. Only now it's turned into non-identical twins. We also still only have two Z DX lenses, and only two Z FX lenses that are truly appropriate for the small bodies. So it's time for some buzz, buzz (the annoying sound I make every time I have to write about DX lenses). To wit:

  • A compatible wide angle zoom is missing (and required for vloggers)
  • The 18-140mm superzoom is slow to arrive
  • No Z DX primes have appeared or are rumored
  • For the two Z FX compact lenses that are appropriate: one is in short supply, the other isn't yet available
  • The 50mm f/2.8 macro is a little more appropriate on the Z50 than the Zfc (due to handling issues that would benefit from VR)
  • The wealth of third-party manual focus lenses that are available mostly don't report aperture to the camera, so the (too dark) top aperture display becomes pointless

In other words, Nikon's twin tweener DX bodies simply don't have enough lens support to sell particularly well (BUZZ, BUZZ). Competitors can all point to better lens choice. These are system cameras Nikon, not two-lens point and shoots (BUZZ, BUZZ). Yes, the noise I make to irritate Nikon is getting louder again. 

So no, I'm not going to give a recommendation to the Zfc. It's actually a very decent camera that takes excellent stills and videos. But so too does the Z50. Moreover, those of you who want dials simply want dials, so no amount of discussion from me is going to bring you to your senses and get you to realize that the retro-dial cameras aren't always all that easy to use with the dials. I'm tempted to write "Recommended for Millennials who want to seem stylish or Old Farts who miss their dials," but millennials don't really read this site because they prefer influencer videos, and those old farts simply don't listen to me ;~). 

Update: added comment on Focus shift shooting.

Update: Viltrox is making a set of very useful lenses for the Zfc: 13mm, 23mm, 33mm, and 56mm, all f/1.4 and all autofocus. These lenses work exceptionally well on a Zfc and have an aperture ring on them, which complements the Zfc UI. Thus, I'll now say:

Recommended (2022) (with the right lenses)

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