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[A Photographer's Notes] The Nikon Z f: A Retro-Style Powerhouse

A review of the Nikon Z f with a portrait session in Tokyo, testing its autofocus, video specs, vintage lens compatibility, and usability for professional work.



Nikon has recently come out with the Nikon Z f. It's a small full-frame mirrorless camera with a retro-style design harking back to the look of Nikon's film cameras. I was ever so lucky to borrow a Z f from Nikon for a week to give it a try. I could also see if it would complement my Nikon Z 9 for my professional work here in Japan. 

As a good portion of my professional photography work is portraiture, for my first time using the camera I decided to do a portrait session in Tokyo.

Testing the Zf on Tokyo Streets

Here are some of the interesting aspects of the Nikon Z f that I really wanted to try out during this session:

  1. I am used to the autofocus face-tracking abilities of my Nikon Z 9. Since the Z f now also has the Expeed 7 sensor, I was interested to see whether the auto face tracking was as good as the Z 9.
  2. I have really enjoyed taking videos as of late, so I wanted to see how the Z f's video features stacked up. Some people online have complained about the video specs, especially how the 4k/60 frames are a DX crop. But I wanted to see for myself. 
  3. Since I have a couple of vintage lenses that are manual focus, I wanted to try out the new manual focus face detection option to see if it actually made manual focus easier.
  4. Ease of use in general. The Nikon Z f uses a retro design from film cameras, meaning the shutter speed and ISO are adjusted using physical dials on top of the camera. I was thinking of using this as a second camera when shooting events, so I wanted to see how easy/cumbersome this retro design would be when using it outside.

Auto Face Detection 

So how was it? Face detection was amazing. It worked when I needed it to for both photos and video. No matter the lens I was using, the camera was able to capture my model's face. It could even smoothly change from the left eye to the right, and visa versa, depending on which eye was closer to the camera. I was honestly very happy with the auto face detection capabilities as it made it that much easier for me to concentrate on my composition and directing my model.

With regards to the video I took while shooting … I loved it. Even though it is a DX crop (meaning the video is relatively zoomed in as a smaller portion of the camera's sensor is being used) when shooting 4K 60p, the video clips I got look amazing. And I have no complaints at all about the quality. 

Improved 5-Axis Stabilization

One thing I noticed while shooting video with the Z f was the lighter weight and smaller size compared to the Z 9. That seemed to make it easier for me to keep steady when shooting handheld. Also, the improved 5-axis stabilization the camera provides when shooting video helped as well. Really, for what I was doing it worked amazingly. Using a gimbal would be better of course, but shooting handheld was nice and fast when switching from videos to photos or photos to video. 

The stabilization in the camera also helped when taking photos as well. The Nikon Z f boasts 8.0 stops of 5-axis VR image stabilization. That means it's possible to shoot with a shutter speed 8 stops slower than if no stabilization was available. Thanks to this, by the end of the night I was shooting at 1/15th of a second and the images still look sharp and in focus, so that's great! 

Auto Eye Detection

The last big feature of the camera I was interested in testing was the automatic eye detection when using manual lenses. I suck at manual focus, so I almost never pull out my vintage lenses. But using the facial detection on the Z f when manually focusing really helped get the focus locked on. I was still not perfect, but it certainly helped. It gave me the confidence to try and use this lens even more in the future. 

Furthermore, when shooting with manual focus lenses, you often zoom in on the camera's LCD screen to ensure the focus is correct. In the past, the camera would just zoom into the middle of the photo. But now, thanks to auto eye detection, the camera zooms directly into the model's eye. This makes checking the focus so much faster because you don't have to search around the image when you're super zoomed in just to find the model's eyes. 

The Verdict

In the end, the camera was great to use. I had very little difficulty getting used to the different layouts of the buttons and dials when compared to my Nikon Z 9. Of course, I still had to look at the dials on top of the camera to change the settings here and there. But this was not a burden or the time killer I expected it to be. All in all, I loved using the camera for the night and am very happy with the images I was able to produce. 

As I said earlier, I am considering buying this camera as a second camera for my work. I am very much leaning on the side of picking one of these up as soon as it becomes available. Since it is a very popular camera, that may take longer than I'd like. But I am looking forward to using this camera again when I get the chance. 

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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