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[A Photographer's Notes] Testing the New Nikon Z f for Shooting Action Sports

The Nikon Z f proved a powerhouse for portraits, but what about fast movement? This time, it was put to the test with some parkour action near TOKYO SKYTREE.



In my last article, I talked about using the new Nikon Z f for portrait photography. But a large part of my job involves covering action-filled events like the X Games or Red Bull events. So I am expected to have gear that can keep up with the dynamic moments of the amazing athletes. So with that in mind, I wanted to see just how well the Nikon Z f would work as an action sports camera. 

First off, thanks to the implementation of the Expeed 7 processor, the Nikon Z f has the same autofocus abilities as the Nikon Z 9. It can shoot at 14 fps in RAW and 30 fps in JPEG. It also supports filming at 120p. On paper, these features make the Nikon Z f a great action sports camera for any growing amateur and even professionals. The full-framed sensor of the camera also helps, even though it is only a 24.5MP sensor. 

To see how all these features work in the real world, I invited my parkour friend Corky out for a quick session. We went to a couple of well-known spots at the base of TOKYO SKYTREE. It was a great shoot, and here's what we did and how I felt trying out various aspects of the Nikon Z f.

Autofocus: Portraits vs Action 

The first aspect of the Nikon Z f I tested was the autofocus capabilities the Expeed 7 processor provides. I did a few portraits to start the shoot. Just like in the previous test shoot, the auto eye detection of the Nikon Z f was bang on. There were no problems at all. 

But when it came to capturing the action, we faced a few challenges. At our first spot, I set the autofocus to "all-area" to see how well it would pick up and track Corky. The camera picked him up well, but when he was running up to do his backflip off some stairs, the camera seemed to get confused between his shirt and the trees behind him. It's no big issue if you anticipate it, but it's less than ideal. Once I realized that the camera was getting confused, I just let go of the shutter and refocused. After I did that, the camera picked him up right away, and we got a cool shot.

What I found most interesting was that, compared to the all-area focus when taking stills, the constant auto-focus tracking worked perfectly on both times I shot video.

Even with my Nikon Z 9, I almost never shoot action using the all-area autofocus. I prefer to shoot with a smaller focus box that I can move around the display depending on the composition I want. So that is how I set the camera when shooting action at the next couple of spots. Then I had no problem keeping the focus throughout Corky's quick moments. 

Shooting RAW or JPEG

When taking photos of quick action, many people like to use a camera's burst mode to capture the trick with perfect timing. The Nikon Z f's 14 fps RAW is slower than the Nikon Z 9, but it was fine for most of what we were doing. A couple of times, though, I did feel it was a little slow for capturing the timing of some of the really quick movements. But the 30 fps JPEG worked great at these moments. 


In my professional work, I always shoot RAW photos, so I'm not sure how much I would use the 30 fps in JPEG. But it might be useful for beginners and semi-pros who are shooting an action sport they may not be used to. And actually, I am quite happy with the quality of the JPEGs I captured with the Nikon Z f.

Video Quality

On the video side of the Nikon Z f, shooting on 120p at 1080 resolution looks great, and the slow motion is amazing. Of course, having 120p at 4k or something else a little bigger than 1080 would be better. But this camera is probably not geared toward people who would want that anyway. And for its price and size, there have to be compromises along the way. The majority of the videos I produce are at 1080 resolution, so it's fine for my needs. It's a feature I would definitely make use of if I decide to buy this camera.

If you want 4k at 60p, that's also pretty decent for some minor slow motion. But as I mentioned in my previous article, the video will be at a DX crop. It's not a deal-breaker, and it still holds up well in my opinion, but it doesn't quite match the level of video quality I can get with my Nikon Z 9.

The Verdict

So, would this replace my Nikon Z 9 as my go-to action sports camera? No, not for action sports and event shootings. But would it be a great second camera to have alongside my Nikon Z 9? Absolutely, for sure! I also believe it would be an excellent entry-level camera for amateur photographers. The price point is reasonable for what it offers. Also, Nikon has an impressive lineup of both F-mount and Z-mount lenses that can be paired with the Nikon Z f for amazing results.

In the end, I am looking forward to picking up this camera to complement my Z 9 for work. I also see it as a more compact option when out in the street or just doing fun shoots with my friends.

The Nikon Z f was provided by Nikon for the test shoot.


Author: Jason Halayko

Jason Halayko is a professional photographer specializing in action sports and portrait photography. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.


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