(Pocket-lint) – Sometimes to go forward one has to go back – at least that’s one theory. Almost 40 years ago Nikon released its famed FM2 DSLR camera, the success of which has clearly influenced the Japanese company to reinvest in that classic visual aesthetic: as the Nikon Z Fc, a mirrorless equivalent, sure does look like a modern digital form of that very camera.
But as with anything from the past there’s a fine line to walk when it comes to retro reinvention. So is the Nikon Z Fc an ideal modern representation of all that was great way back when, or is it more reflection that nostalgic ideas can actually get in the way of greatness?
From afar the Nikon Z Fc is certainly eye-catching, bringing retro appeal in its design ethos. Problem is, up close, it’s rather plasticky and not a patch on Fujifilm’s longer-established X series range in terms of build.
Furthermore, as we thought when the Nikon Z50 was first introduced, having both APS-C and full-frame sensors under the Nikon Z umbrella may confuse some prospective buyers. The Z Fc, which is effectively the Z50 in a retro-styled coat of armour, isn’t a full-frame camera like the Nikon Z6 II – and, as such, its performance and image quality isn’t as mighty (which, sure, is a given).
But while there’s certainly image quality potential here, much of that is dictated by the lenses. And, sadly, Nikon’s DX-coverage lenses in this range are slow and, again, aren’t numerous or interesting enough to compete with Fujifilm’s alternative offering.
Overall we thought the Nikon Z Fc was going to wow us. Instead it’s rather proven that sometimes ideas from the past are best left there. Clearly there’s future potential here, but the lens range needs to further develop before there will be the maturity that could allow the Fc to proudly hang its hat on the Nikon FM2 of years past.
- Fairly priced entry into Z mount
- Decent image quality potential – if you invest in the right lens
- Retro dial-based controls
- Plasticky build quality
- Slow kit lens doesn’t represent camera’s true capability
- Autofocus not a patch on Canon’s EOS R
- Not full-frame – just to avoid any doubts
Design & Lens Mount
- 0.39-inch, 2.36m-dot resolution OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF)
- 3.0-inch, 1,040k-dot resolution articulating LCD touchscreen
- Body dimensions: 134.5 x 93.5 x 43.5mm / Weight: 390g
- Nikon Z mount lenses (DX, not FX coverage)
- 1x SD card slot
When you look at promotional pictures of the Nikon Fc it gives the impression that it’s going to be an echo of classic metal-bodied DSLR cameras, albeit in modern mirrorless form. Problem is that’s just not the case from a physical materials point of view – it’s a predominantly plastic body and really doesn’t exude the air of quality that we would expect from a product such as this.
The lens attachment on the front is the Nikon Z mount, which means compatibility with Nikon’s Z series lenses – but note the sensor is the cropped DX size, not the full-frame FX size as you’ll find in the top-tier Nikon Z6 II.
There’s some exceptional glass available within this range, but the Fc doesn’t really promote that. Instead it comes with a kit lens that’s very slow (in terms of aperture), meaning even when shooting outside on an overcast day at full zoom you’ll be forced into f/6.3 and rarely see the lowest of ISO sensitivity settings. It just feels at odds with what is supposed to be a prestige camera.
Given the Fc’s relatively affordable price tag in this category, however, it’s well equipped with a built-in electronic viewfinder and articulating LCD screen, both of which are useful when switching up how you wish to frame a scene. The resolutions of these panels are roughly on par with what you’ll find elsewhere in the market – although the Fuijfilm X-T30 II edges it.
Tucked away beneath a flap on the base you’ll find the FC’s battery and single SD card slot. No double slot or different card types to be found here, but that’s perfectly amenable in a product of this type. Shame it’s not UHS-II compatible, though, as those faster speeds could be of value when shooting bursts or video.
- Autofocus: 209-area hybrid phase-detection/contrast system
- Functions -4.5 to +19EV
- 11fps burst shooting
- 300 shots a charge
Using the Fc is either straightforward, as you can set it to auto, or far more customisable, given the array of dial controls around the body. You can use the camera in the usual P/S/A/M modes, too, to bypass specific dial selections and base all automated settings around, say, your aperture or shutter speed choice.
The shutter speed and ISO dials auto-lock, so every adjustment will require a press-and-hold of their respective top buttons. That’s great to stop accidental movement from one selection to another, but we would prefer a lock button that could click on or off, for those moments where you know you’ll want to make quicker, say, shutter speed adjustments multiple times in a short period.
Aperture control is adjusted using the front thumbwheel and there’s a small digital window to display the current selection, which is a nice touch. The Z mount lenses don’t have physical aperture rings, as you’ll find in many of Fujifilm’s X-series offerings, but this way of working is straightforward enough.
In terms of autofocus the Fc has a wide automated area by default that can either continuous focus, single focus when instructed, or operate a hybrid (AF-A) of the two. Reflective of what we said already: you can either let the camera figure out what it wants to focus on, or override everything and take customisable control of the focus point, or even manually focus if you would prefer.
The two wider autofocus areas include the option of People or Animal focus, where the camera will automatically recognise faces of humans or animals and acquire focus automatically. In a point-and-shoot method of use we can see this being really useful. Otherwise there’s pinpoint AF or single point options to take more minutiae control – which is our preferred way of working.
Nikon’s 209-area system works fairly well, but it’s not as adept in low-light as we found Canon’s EOS R system to be; there’s also a really over-bright green illumination lamp that jumps into action when it’s not even that dark, which is a bit of a (necessary) distraction.
In terms of out-and-out speed, an 11 frames per second burst shooting mode can capture rapidly, although you’ll want a faster lens option if you intend to be shooting moving subjects – the kit lens just doesn’t cut it.
- 20.9-megapixel APS-C (DX) sensor
- ISO sensitivity: 100-51,200
- 4K video (24/25/30fps)
Unfortunately we had a bit of a disaster during our testing: after weeks of shooting with the Z Fc we suffered a corrupt SD card and lost all of our images. That was the end of that, so while we had been reviewing some of those shots throughout the review process, the ones on display here are a quick-grab backup set. Not Nikon’s fault, though, sometimes SD cards fall into such issues – and we weren’t able to perform a recovery either, try as we might.
Anyway, on to image quality: the Nikon Fc has the very same APS-C sensor as you’ll find in the Nikon Z50. In many regards, really, the Fc is the same as that camera but with a retro coat over the top. As such, the image quality between the two is one and the same.
The Fc houses a 20.9-megapixel sensor, delivering clean quality images throughout much of its ISO sensitivity. Shooting up to ISO 6400 and everything is nice and clear – good job, really, as that kit lens forced this more often than we’d wanted – while the upper sensitivities of ISO 25,600 to 51,200 are a lot more grain-heavy and lacking in detail.
You won’t get the same quality here as you’ll find with the Nikon Z 6 II, but that’s a given as the Fc doesn’t house a full-frame sensor.
And, as we’ve repeated a few times in this review, the availability of APS-C Nikon Z lenses just aren’t up to scratch at the time of writing. That, we feel, is what holds this camera back from better things.
We thought this retro camera was going to wow us. Instead it’s rather proven that sometimes ideas from the past are best left there. Clearly there’s future potential here, but the lens range needs to further develop before there will be the maturity that could allow the Fc to proudly hang its hat on the Nikon FM2 of years past.
Writing by Mike Lowe.